Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Balancing The Game To Encourage Genre Appropriate Actions

One of my primary goals when designing game mechanics is to make the game encourage actions which are genre-appropriate, fun, or fit well with the theme of the game. Encouragement can mean different things, but it most often means making that action one of the best possible actions from the competitive point of view (winning the game or defeating the adventure).

Let's create an example of what I'm trying to prevent. Imagine you have a fencer in a swashbuckling adventure game. The character concept, and the genre, imply that he should frequently use his weapon to disarm his opponents, rather than simply stabbing them.

In most traditional roleplaying games, the disarm maneuver involves the attacker making some sort of (often fairly difficult) roll to successfully force the defender to drop his weapon. So the game has fulfilled the mechanical requirement of permitting the character to disarm the foe.

The problem is that the disarmed opponent can then spend his action to pick the weapon back up. So all the fencer has done is spend an entire action to force the opponent to spend an action. And that is if he succeeds in the disarm; otherwise, he has spent an action for no effect. So overall, disarm costs an action for the attacker in order to cost the defender less than an action. Not very useful.

Now, one might point out that there are situations where this disarm maneuver is indeed useful. In particular, if there are two PC's fighting one opponent, one PC can disarm the opponent, and the other can pick up the weapon, leaving the defender unarmed and helpless. Or if you are fighting near a cliff or in a bog, you may be able to disarm an opponent and have the weapon be lost for good. Also, you can use disarm just to waste time, in case the situation doesn't require you to win, or if you are one-on-one with a more powerful opponent and want to delay matters until your allies arrive.

Unfortunately, none of this really helps the situation at hand, which is capturing the spirit of a swashbuckler movie where the fencer frequently disarms opponents in situations where none of these are true. Indeed, the fencer is often outnumbered and pressed for time, yet still disarms the opponents. But when playing a game with standard disarm rules, one would very quickly realize that this is totally ineffective and basically a waste of time, and the player would want to start stabbing opponents to win the battle.

One response to this would be to say that the swashbuckler has a psychological limitation that makes him enjoy disarming opponents even though it isn't really effective, just because he enjoys doing so. This limitation could give him the points to be such a good fencer that he can get away with some nonsense and still win the fights. But I don't really feel like this is true to the source material or the character. If this were true, you'd expect the other characters in the movie to say, "Wow, that guy's a good fencer. Too bad he's a grandstanding moron!" But they don't do so, and the movie doesn't convey that impression. Indeed, the character concept for the swashbuckler may well be that of a reluctant hero forced to fight for an important cause, not a that of an egotist enraptured with his own fencing skill. Also, if the psychological limitation theory were true, you'd expect the swashbuckler to drop the disarming when he has to save the life of his true love, but that doesn't really seem to happen in the source material.

A slightly different response would be to say that because disarming is appropriate to the source material, it is the player's responsibility to throw in some disarm attempts as "good roleplaying". The idea of expecting players to help make the game fun is a good one. I don't generally play roleplaying games in a highly competitive style, and in the roleplaying games I play in, it is understood that the players don't just go all-out to optimize every game mechanic to win the game, but try to do fun things and advance the story, or at least make the battles entertaining. There is no way to balance everything perfectly or guarantee that the most entertaining move is the most effective. You expect the players to mix things up and put some variety in the game even if a careful analysis may reveal that a more boring strategy is somewhat more effective. But I generally think this sort of thing works best when the game balance between the different actions being considered is pretty close. A lot of the time, you may suspect a certain action isn't optimal, but there are pros and cons both ways, so it isn't really clear. So you really feel free to do whatever you think is cool.

For instance, in Torg you had the ability to take "approved actions" each round, like taunting or tricking the opponent, instead of just attacking them. Success would give you a minor advantage over the foe and an extra card. We loved approved actions, they were cool, and we did them over and over. We always strongly suspected that just attacking the foe would be more effective; ending the battle early is generally a good thing. But the benefit of cards was hard to quantify; they could set you up for a big attack later on, and could potentially be saved for use later in the adventure. And approved action were fun, and Torg characters were so full of possibilities (hero points) that you weren't that scared of combat anyway. So it all seemed to work OK. Actually, though, I should admit that in this case I did make some rules changes to make the approved actions a bit better and encourage them more.

However, when one action is just flat out way inferior to another, even in cases where it ought to be useful, that is just going way beyond the scope of what should be expected from the players. In the case of the disarm example, using disarm in most situations isn't an interesting choice with pros and cons; it is just a way to make your character less effective. The more you use it, the less effective you are. It is basically as if the GM is saying, "I'd like you to vary your actions to make the combat more interesting. Whenever you do so, I will punish you by making you less effective. The more interesting you are, the more I will punish you." It is perverse and unfortunate, and even though players can and often do make games more entertaining this way, it would be much better if the rules were changed so that they were not made ineffective by doing so.

On a related note, the players can bypass various forms of rules abuse by following conventions. For instance, in Champions, when an enemy strongman jumped up to you and started trying to smash your face in, it was most effective within the rules to ignore that person and attack a weaker enemy. Nothing in the rules required you to pay any attention to enemies attacking you; even if you were virtually surrounded on all sides with angry swordsmen, you were free to run off to a different part of the battlefield as if they were all paralyzed and attack the vulnerable boss behind them. Since this was totally inappropriate to the genre (and reality too), we made a convention that you were expected to defend yourself when attacked and had to do something if you wanted to fight your way past the attacker. This was a good convention; conventions can be useful to fix bad rules or substitute for rules that don't exist. But it is even better to fix or create the rule, rather than having a convention. Then you know exactly when the rule applies and what the penalty is for breaking it. In any case, the idea of making a convention doesn't work well for disarm example because it isn't clear how you would apply the convention. Saying that you had to disarm every other attack would just be way too unnatural.

Another way to deal with the issue here is for the GM to compensate by rewarding genre-appropriate maneuvers. I highly approve of having the GM reward genre-appropriate maneuvers with cool custom bonuses. But this is best for things done infrequently. If the genre rarely involved disarming opponents, and you suddenly had a good reason to do so as a surprise maneuver to liven things up, it would be very appropriate for the GM to make up some sort of bonus on the spot. But if you disarm constantly as part of the genre, custom bonuses aren't very practical. If you give the same bonus every time, you've created a rule, and the rule might as well be written down. If not, you start to play a game where the GM is just making up the rules arbitrarily. You can do this, of course - you can roleplay without any rules at all if you want to. But the assumption here is that we are playing a game with rules, and the premise behind playing a game with rules is that, most of the time, it is better to have a rule than rely on pure GM arbitrariness.

So for all of these reasons, I would want to devise an improvement to the disarm rule. One could argue against this by pointing out that boosting the disarm power as written shouldn't be done because it would be too strong and would break the game in the situations where disarm is already a useful ability. This is true, but simply means that attempting to fix the problem requires rethinking the rule rather than simply boosting it. Part of the skill in modifying game rules is making sure that you don't create more problems than you fix. Just because my game analysis indicates that a game has some sort of problem or imperfection doesn't mean I will make a rule to fix it. I only make a rules change if I think the new rule will be better overall than the previous rule.

The truth is that every game is going to have problems simply because of the choices made in meeting various conflicting design goals. And sometimes those elements that make the game fun also seem to have disadvantages too. For instance, one of my favorite board games is History of the World. But it has the disadvantage that more than 6 hours to play. It can be hard to get people to play for this reason. But the length of the game is related to the fact that it plays out the "History of the World", and that is part of what I like about it. I haven't really thought of any clever way to speed up with game without detracting from the epic quality I like about it. So I haven't tried to make a rule to speed up the game, I just consider the length part of the pros and cons of a game I really like overall. I feel that putting in a simple-minded rule to speed up the game - like playing for only 3 turns - would make the game worse rather than better.

But if I did think of a way to make the game just as fun but twice as fast, I wouldn't hestitate to try it out. Just because a rule is hard to improve upon doesn't mean you shouldn't try. Sometimes I try a lot of experiments, and a lot of those experiments fail. Sometimes I try experimental rules that I know won't work perfectly, just to get information. But in the end, the goal is to craft a new rule that is better overall than the previous rule.

By the way, I've never really come up with what I would call a perfect solution to the disarming problem, only various ideas. One example of an idea would be to use the 4th edition D&D power design philosophy and have disarming be a special attack that causes damage, with the special effect that the damage is totally abstract and the attack looks totally non-violent. Attacks which fail to kill have the bonus effect of temporarily disarming the enemy; attacks which kill the enemy either look like kills on-screen, or the enemy looks like he is still conscious but is counted as "defeated" and no longer has any game effect on the battle.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Planet Busters - New Rules 2.0

Since I didn't have any real problems with the modest rules changes in version 1.0, I felt that my conservative changes were successful and I wanted to go farther and make more improvements, particularly to the balance of individual pieces.

With my 1.0 rules, I had essentially specified that 96 game pieces would be used to play the game. But there are 118 game pieces in the box. I realized that I might as well specify which 96 tiles were used rather than picking them randomly. This meant removing 20% of the units. Since most units are present in quantities where 20% is either 0 or 1, this gives me the opportunity to fine tune some adjustments by picking which pieces to leave out and which to leave in.

I removed a carrier and a tug, as 3 seemed like an awful lot and these units are hard to balance. I removed one deathon so that it would be unique - the ultimate warship - while leaving the other 6 capital ships (Baycruz and Dranaught). I removed a whirler, a salvage vessel, and a screen satellite because these seem somewhat extreme, one of each should be enough. In the fuel vessel category, I removed the tanker but kept the armed merchantmen and the fuel satellite; this makes the immobile fuel satellite more unique. I kept all of the satellites so that there would be as many things for tugs to pull as possible, and I kept the mines too because it seemed useful to have more defense in the game. I kept all of the sailing ships mainly because the numbers worked out that way, and they are handy.

Deciding which special events to leave out was tricky. Peace Treaty was obvious. Revolt was the other obvious one; the piece isn't very interactive or interesting, you just suddenly steal a planet. I was tempted to leave out both, but chose not to. So the other piece I left out was meteor swarm, mainly because I had to choose something to keep the balance of categories even and I liked the other events more.

That leaves the planets. I need to get rid of 2 to maintain the balance. But I like the symmetry of having the traditional 9 planets of the solar system. So I decided to leave out the colonies. The colony combat rules were awkward and didn't seem to add much to the game.

The remaining changes were to adjust individual pieces.

The carrier seemed like a devastating unit, too powerful in playtesting. I would rather have this be more of a support unit and give more glory to the Deathon and the Dranaughts. I considered a number of changes to the rather extreme way the drone rules work, such as reducing the effectiveness of screening. But ultimately I went with the simple rule of reducing the number of drones. I allowed for the possibility of zero drones, so that there is at least some mathematical chance that the screening ability won't work.

To make the game move faster, I like to play that the defender's ships are arranged randomly. The only factor discouraging this is that you know that the scout is likely not to pick an edge unit, so this affects your choice of unit arrangement. So I removed the restriction about scouting the edge, allowing wraparound. This also makes the very wimpy scout units a little bit better.
Since the Deathon is so mighty, I considered having it cost you an extra piece to draw it. But this would make you extra bummed when it was sabotaged or mutinied. Instead, I slightly weakened the unit by making it cost two fuel. I like that this emphasizes the impressiveness of the ship. It's big!

Finally, the tug and the satellites are still too wimpy. It is pretty pathetic that the satellites not only can't move, they don't fight well either. But I didn't want to change the numbers on the tiles. So I decided to have satellites not cost any fuel to defend you. This fits the idea that they are dependable defensive units, always there to protect you. And it makes the compare in an interesting way to the sailing ships; an armored satellite can't move, but it doesn't have the "fire last" penalty.

A tug pulling a satellite is still not equal to two units, so it needs more help. First, I removed the penalty of getting your satellite captured when used on the offense; that just added insult to injury. But how else to make the combo more effective? I remembered that the scout ability is a nifty offense-only power, and it seemed logical that satellites would have good sensors, so I gave that power to the combo.

Rewritten rules:

These rules are for the 2-player game.

To create a standard 96-tile deck, remove the following pieces from the 118 tiles that come with the game:

1 carrier
1 conicle
1 deathon
1 tanker
1 salvage vessel
1 screen satellite
2 scout
1 tug
1 whirler
2 zerstor

2 colonies
1 planet buster (3)
4 fuel (2x6, 2x7)
1 meteor swarm
1 peace treaty
1 revolt

Setup: Each player receives a starting hand of 8 tiles. Put 20 tiles in the personal stack of each player. Put 40 tiles into a common stack.

Drawing: Each player must draw tiles from their personal stack until it is depleted, at which point the player draws tiles from the common stack. If the common stack is depleted, no more tiles may be drawn.

Victory Conditions: If at the beginning of a player's turn, that player has no tiles in play ("melded") and no tiles in his personal stack, that player loses the game. Otherwise, the game ends at the end of the turn when the common stack is depleted, and the player with the most points worth of planets wins the game.

Fuel: When a point of fuel is spent to allow a ship to fire weapons, that fuel allows it to perform any number of special functions for the remainder of the turn. You do not need to pay separately to activate special powers or attack a planet.

Planets: When you play a planet, draw one tile immediately.

Carrier: The number of drones created is 1d10/2, rounded down, with no minimum number.

Deathon: Counts as two ships for all fuel costs.

Satellites: Satellites do not require fuel to fire weapons.

Scouts: The revealing effect of a scout wraps around - if a scout engages the leftmost enemy unit, it reveals the rightmost enemy unit (as well as the unit it engaged and the unit to the right of that unit).

Tugs: If a tug is pulling a satellite on the attack, the value of the tug is added to the value of the satellite to determine the total combat value, without dividing by two. If combo is damaged, the satellite is automatically destroyed and the tug is safe. A tug pulling a satellite has the same detection powers as a scout.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

New Rules Design for Planet Busters

Following my previous analysis, I wanted to make some rules adjustments to this game. My interest is in making improvements for the two player game. I get the feeling the game was really designed more with 4 players in mind, so this may entail some changes for that very reason.

As you can see in my analysis, the biggest issue I had was with the fact that one player would eventually crush the other one far before the game would end. I could have tried some sort of fancy rebalancing to ensure that one player can't easily crush the other until much later in the game. But instead, I decided to go for a simpler approach of ending the game sooner. I could just shorten the game, but since this is a wargame, I decided to really go with the idea of a battle to the death. I will simply formalize the concept of one player attaining a dominant position, so that the game ends at that point instead of going on indefinitely.

How to make the game mechanics decide that one player has a dominant position? This generally seems to involve one player running out of forces in play, so I will make that the criterion. The only problem with this is that in the early fighting, sometimes one side will temporarily have nothing on the board, but can still make a comeback if the right forces are drawn quickly. To allow for this, I will give each side a grace period - the game cannot end until a certain number of turns have passed. Keeping track of turns tends to be error prone in a game like this, so I will use a common game mechanism of setting aside a certain number of tiles for each player during the setup, and once these tiles are used up, the second phase of the game has started and you need to keep forces in play or lose the game.

What if the game really does go the distance? The original rules use the peace treaty tile to end the game after going through all the tiles about 1.5 times. This means that 2-player games will last twice as long as 4-player games. So I decided to shorten the 2-player game by ending it before going through all the tiles. This means the peace treaty tile isn't really necessary to end the game. However, the other effect of the peace treaty tile is that the players never know exactly when the game is going to end, so they can't to tricky things like playing a ton of planets or making an all-out attack just before the end of the game. By in my 2-player rules, this isn't much of an issue. In a zero sum game the players make all-out attacks half the time anyway, end of game or not. And hoarding planets in your hand isn't nearly so much of a temptation when it can get you knocked out of the game. So I'll just skip the peace treaty entirely.

Now that the big issue is out of the way, it is time to try some small improvements. In particular, making the tiles more game balanced. Now, in a game where you draw tiles totally at random, balancing the tiles isn't truly necessary for the game play; you can just accept that some draws are good and some are bad, you still have to fight with what you are dealt. But my preference is always for game balance unless there is a specific reason to do otherwise. In Planet Busters, I have no intention to create total balance between the tiles - a Dranaught is just better than a Baycruz. But when an overpowering unit can be toned down to have weaknesses as well as strengths, or when a pathetic unit could be improved to be more fun to draw and interesting to use, that is the sort of change I'd be looking for.

Planets seem awfully good. You get a fuel source, plus two extra tiles, for the price of one tile. The disadvantage of a planet under the normal rules is that it is a tempting target for attack, especially in a multi-player game. I think the bonus tiles are to encourage you to play it rather than leave it in your hand. But with my rules, and a two player game, I don't think this is so necessary. The game usually ends due to a military defeat, and a planet will help prevent that defeat. So I will reduce the planet bonus to one extra tile.

Colonies are even more extreme. In a game where tiles are really your only resource, having 50% more resources in just incredible. I couldn't think of a really elegant way to draw a fraction of a tile per turn, so I decided to make colonies have the same strategic benefit as planets, extra fuel. Planets don't give all that much fuel to begin with, so I figured it wouldn't hurt to give a little more. Running out of fuel isn't much fun anyways.

Tugs are just awful, by far the most worthless unit. They are useless by themselves, they are only effective as part of a combo. So they had better be pretty darn good when part of a combo; if you are lucky enough to get a tug and a satellite, you would think the combo would be better than your average 2 tiles. This is completely not the case. First of all, the satellites themselves are pretty pathetic; not only can't they attack by themselves, they also are weak units even on the defense. All that the tug does is give you the honor of pulling these weak units on the attack. Not only is the tug/satellite combo not as good as even a single average unit, it has the extra disadvantage that the enemy might capture the satellite. So I definitely wanted to make the combo more effective. My first idea was to simply add the tug strength to the satellite strength without halving.

Streamlining the fuel rules was something I did just to simplify the game. The main effect of requiring separate fuel to attack the planets is to make it harder to attack planets. With military victory so common, attacking planets doesn't seem nearly so valuable, so why make it hard. It just means that an attacker with little fuel will have a harder time finishing off a beaten opponent. I'm not sure if this is good or bad, but I feel like removing the extra step of fueling attacks on planets and seeing how it goes.

Here are the new rules:

These rules are for the 2-player game.

Setup: Each player receives a starting hand of 8 tiles. Put 20 tiles in the personal stack of each player. Put 40 tiles into a common stack. Don't use the Peace Treaty tile.

Drawing: Each player must draw tiles from their personal stack until it is depleted, at which point the player draws tiles from the common stack. If the common stack is depleted, no more tiles may be drawn.

Victory Conditions: If at the beginning of a player's turn, that player has no tiles in play and no tiles in his personal stack, that player loses the game. Otherwise, the game ends at the end of the turn when the common stack is depleted, and the player with the most points worth of planets wins the game.

Fuel: When a point of fuel is spent to allow a ship to fire weapons, that fuel allows it to perform any number of special functions for the remainder of the turn. You do not need to pay separately to activate special powers or attack a planet.

Planets: When you play a planet, draw one tile immediately.

Colonies: For noncombat purposes, colonies are treated as planets for all purposes; they provide free fuel and victory points rather than extra cards.

Tug: When a tug is used to tow a satellite, the value of the tug is added to the value of the satellite to determine the total combat value, without dividing by two.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

New Rule for Street Illegal

This week, time for some game design. I'm going to try to create a new rule for Street Illegal.

As you can see from my game impressions, my only complaint is that there is no penalty for travelling extremely slowly when in last place, whereas cars in the other positions actually have to keep their speed up to avoid being passed - in other words, they actually have to race. So I wanted to make a rule to discourage slow speeds in last place, so that everyone wants to race. Since the game basically works pretty well as is, I'd like to be conservative and give my new rule a fairly subtle effect.

The initial thought is to penalize players who are travelling slowly in last place. There are really only three things you can "lose" during the game - position, chips, and hand size. Losing hand size is rather drastic, and you can't go farther back than last place. So penalizing with chips seems logical. This leads to rule idea:

Rule v1: If you end the round in last place, you lose a chip if you have any.

Note: When the rule says "lose a chip if you have any", this is a potential red flag - can a player unfairly avoid the rule simply by arranging to not have any chips? In the present case, this isn't an issue. The behavior we are trying to discourage is driving slowly at the back to build up chips. There is no need to penalize players who have no chips, as they clearly aren't performing the behavior we want to discourage.

The idea with Rule v1 is to make players want to compete hard to stay out of last place, because last place is bad. The negative is that the rule is too broad. It penalizes players who are racing as fiercely as possible, but are unsuccessful. Basically, it kicks the player who is down, something I usually try to avoid. So:

Rule v2: If you are in last place, you must pay at least one chip during the round, either to exceed the speed limit or to pass the car ahead of you.

This is much better. It doesn't really penalize you much at all if you are really trying to race, but if you aren't racing at all, it is practically the same as losing a chip straight out.

Now, what is the game rationale for not travelling really slowly when in last place? The obvious is that you would be left behind. But an idea I had that is more consistent with a penalty in chips, rather than position, is that the police are chasing you on your illegal street race, and if you drive too slowly you have to spend a chip trying to outmaneuver the cops. This leads me to another idea:

Rule: If you are in last place, you must pay a chip if you travel less than the speed limit.

Hmm, this is missing something - what if there is no speed limit?

Rule v3: If you are in last place, you must pay a chip if you travel less than 90 mph.

This was my first solution, but I think the following may be more elegant:

Rule v4: If you are in last place, you must pay a chip if you travel less than the speed limit (100 mph if no limit).

This is the same as Rule v2, but if you can exactly match the speed limit, you don't have to pay. I think I like that it is slightly more subtle, and it means that you can still try to save up chips, but you need driving skill to do so - to drive at exactly the speed limit, rather than just driving really slowly. And setting the minimum speed based on the speed limit matches the fact that when you aren't in last place, you need to driver faster on roads with higher speed limits to avoid being passed.

I will try Rule v4.

New Rules:

Police: After performing your drive action, if you are in last place and you are travelling less than the speed limit (less than 100 mph if no speed limit), you are harassed by the police and you lose one chip. If you don't have any chips, you don't lose anything.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Game Impressions: Age of Mythology

I've never played the computer game this is based on, the this game seems to capture some of the idea of the real-time strategy game. You start off with very little, try to build up your production base, create combat units, and go fight the other players. The box is absolutely crammed with plastic miniatures that don't really add much to the play of the game. But they are fun to look at.

I quite enjoyed the production and building aspect of the game. You have three actions every turn. Each action requires a card, and you draw 4 or more cards, splitting between face up cards and more powerful random cards. It is fun picking your actions and deciding whether to gamble on random actions that might be more powerful or might not be useful. The three actions you get is adequate but never enough, just about the balance you want in this sort of game. You can use actions to explore for land to give you better production, or to produce, purchase things, attack, or exchange resources. Each actions seems interesting in its own way. In fact, if you aren't feeling very violent, it is tempting to skip combat entirely and just have fun building up.

Purchasing the combat units is neat. Each player is a different culture and has unique combat units with unique costs and abilities. Some of the units are clearly better than other units of the same cost, but this is not a problem for two reasons. First, each unit requires a different mix of the 4 resource types, so you generally just try to buy what you can afford with what you have. Second, the units have a rock-paper-scissors circular superiority, where each unit is super-good against one or more other unit types. Normally this isn't my favorite game mechanic, but here it works well.

You can send your units to attack other players. What I really like is the idea of limited warfare. Only a portion of each player's forces are involved in a battle, and either side can easily retreat. The attacker can obtain a certain fixed benefit if he wins. So there are definite reasons to attack instead of sitting back, and you can lose a fight without losing the game. So in a three-player game, if everyone is out for himself, you can end up with end up with lots of battles but no one getting knocked out.

On the down side, I'm not sure the game balance goes far enough in this direction. It really helps for the players to want a three-way battle. Otherwise, you could easily end up with players either refusing to fight or teaming up to demolish a player they don't like.

A negative factor is the length of this game. This is a really, really long game, hard to finish in a single play session. Combat takes forever, as you match up the monsters in your army one by one and roll out who wins each fight. Normally, I am not bothered by lengthy combat systems, and I think rolling lots of dice is fun. But this game still gives me pause. You just roll, and roll, and roll. My hand got fatigued from all that rolling; I can't remember that happening to me in any other game. Maybe it was because the dice are so big. Also, before each matchup, each side secretly picks a unit to fight. If you carefully calculate what you think is the best unit to use before each and every matchup, I found the combat quite tedious. I greatly preferred just choosing a unit at random.

There seems to have been a game balance mistake with one type of monster ability. Some Norse units have the "berserk" power, which gives them the option to roll two more combat dice at the cost of losing all ties. This is generally treated as if it were a useful power. But mathematically, losing all ties is approximately equivalent to losing 3 combat dice, so going berserk is normally quite bad. The power is slightly useful if you are badly outmatched, but in general it is a trap for the unwary, and I don't think that was the intent. Conversely, the medusa's ability to win all ties makes it an extraordinary good unit, far better than any unit of its cost in the game.

My least favorite part of the game was the victory conditions. Many modern games try to stand out with unusual methods for determining victory. But this one I just found to be downright unpleasant. Each turn, each player puts a victory point on one of 4 victory conditions. For three of the conditions, the victory points are given out all-or-nothing to the winner of that condition at the end of the game. Near the start of the game, you have to decide what condition to make more valuable, without having any idea who will ultimately win that condition. I don't like making choices like this, which are simultaneously pointless (since you have nothing to base them on) and vital (since they determine the winner). At the end of the game, the mechanic ultimately means that unless one player scores a dominant victory (in which case this mechanic is a moot point), the winner is determined by a sort of vote, by where the players put the victory points. So if two players are vying for one victory condition, they can shut out the third player, unless they tie with each other, in which case the third player wins. I find the whole mechanic weird and don't see how anything fun can come out of it. I'd much rather have a conventional linear scoring system.

In general, I liked a lot of this game. As an inveterate game rule designer and tinkerer, I felt it was a good fixer-upper. I just need to make a new way to determine victory and a few other minor changes. The only problem is that it is so long, it will be hard to get anyone to play it with me.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Game Impressions of Geek Wars, Bankruptcy, Top Secret Spies

More impressions from playtesting a bunch of borrowed games to see which ones I would like.

Geek Wars is a CCG-style game; while not sold in the collectible format, it does have rules for deck construction. It is a variant of MTG, you put down your "troops" and then fight it out until one player is out of "bucks" (life). The gaming geek theme of the cards is somewhat amusing.

The combat system allows the troops to attack each other directly. Unlike MTG, when a troop dies, you lose life. If the other player has no troops left, you can attack him directly, which is a much more efficient means of taking his life down. I thought this variant of the MTG combat mechanics was interesting. Also interesting was that you don't have any resource other than cards and life. More powerful troops cost only a card to put into play, but if a powerful troop dies, you lose more life than if a weak troop dies.

You cannot gang up on offense or defense, and you cannot attack the other player if he as any surviving troops. This means that one powerful troop is superior to any number of weaker troops. Theoretically this could be made interesting, but in practice I found it frustrating that weak troops don't seem to have any purpose other than buying time.

This is also a game balance issue, in that while powerful troops cost your more life than weak troops if they die, the difference is small and by no means sufficient to make up for the vast superiority of strong troops. In general, it was difficult to see any real balance between the various cards, many are awesomely good or terribly bad.

The basic flow of this game was sufficiently amusing that, if I had some extra time, I'd be tempted to fiddle around with it some more and analyze what is going on. But I'm borrowing it, and I'm not really inspired to buy a copy.

Bankruptcy is a classic card game (in the style of a traditional card game like Gin, except for the exotic cards). The objective is to be the first to empty your hand. You can get rid of your own cards, or give yourself or the other person cards. You may need to give yourself cards in order to have the right cards to keep playing effectively. And there are a few special cards in the mix. When I first read the rules, I was excited, because the game seems very playable. By playable, I mean that it is easy to just sit down and play a few games in a relaxed style, without being daunted by a major investment in time or having to comprehend lots of vital but obscure tactical complexities. You just draw your cards, look at your hand, see a few options, and play one.

Actually playtesting the game, it certainly seems very playable, but not very exciting. Without knowing what was in everyone else's hands, it seemed very difficult to know what to do to interfere with other people – and even if you do interfere, unless you have a rare special card, all you can do is randomly give them extra cards which they may or may not want. And when you are concentrating on looking at how to improve your own hand, there didn't seem to be many exciting options, just a mechanical process of trying to get that hand whittled down. Perhaps, if you mastered the game, you could become fascinated with the knowledge gained by watching everyone's card plays. But I don't plan to play this game enough times to find out.

Top Secret Spies is a board game where any player can move any piece, but the owners of those pieces are secret. Spies is an abstract game (it has nothing to do with espionage) which features an unusual scoring system which I find hard to describe in one sentence. Basically, it seems difficult to put yourself in a good scoring position, without making yourself vulnerable to other players taking better advantage or moving you out of position. No doubt this was a design goal, and it seems to work well, at least to an inexperienced player's eye.

The game rules heavily emphasize the secrecy idea, where you disguise which piece you control and try to figure out which piece other players control. This is certainly a classic and popular game mechanic. Personally, though, I never liked games of this style, where the way to hide the identity of your pieces is to make moves that benefit the other players, and everyone tries to record which pieces were helped by other player's moves. So I wouldn't really ask to play this game. But if someone else wanted to play, it might be entertaining moving pieces around the board and watching the wacky scoring system.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Game Impressions: Street Illegal, Employee of the Month, Shipwrecked, Romance of Three Kingdoms

Street Illegal is a card game of illegal street racing. I really like this game. You lay out a random course with cards, and there is a system where you use your cards to control your speed while trying to gain chips that let you go faster than the maximum safe speed or help you to pass other competitors. The actual racing is not done in terms of absolute physical position, but rather in terms of ordinal position – what order everyone is at one time. Even though the game is somewhat abstract compared to a board game like Formula De, with a little imagination I feel like I am really racing at high speed along the course, and I like the way the cards work. It handles any number of players from 1 to 7 easily, since you always have 7 cars but there are rules for faceless characters to drive the cars not controlled by players. In fact, I think I prefer fewer players in the game because I have so much fun trying to pass the "Old Pros". I've only really noticed one problem with the game. You can build up unlimited chips, but driving fast and trying to improve your position against other cars tends to cost a lot of chips. But since position is ordinal, you can't get any farther back than last place, which is where the players start. So one strategy is to drive the first half of the race at extremely slow speeds and save up your chips. While this strategy is far from a sure win, it does seem rather too tempting for something so boring. I'm thinking of possible rules variants to put a damper on this.

Employee of the Month is one of those totally abstract games whose theme is printed on the cards but has nothing to do with the play of the game. It is a bidding game where you bid on good cards by deciding what bad cards you will be willing to take with them, then at the end, you calculate who has the highest and lowest totals in various categories, to determine a victor. I set up the game to begin a solo playtest, and discovered I couldn't motivate myself to actually play a game. Each round, each player has to determine their correct play. In a regular card game, this depends on the cards you hold and the state of the game. But at the start of this game, everyone is pretty much in the same position, bidding on the same cards with pretty much the same value to everyone. There doesn't seem to be much to do except "solve the game" and figure out the correct bidding strategy. By the end of the game, this would be totally different as you compare your mathematical totals to other players to determine bidding. But in general, the game just seemed too unbearably abstract and mathematical for my taste. I'd rather write a computer program to play for me.

Shipwreckeded is a card-based bidding game. The key mechanic of interest boil downs to an outguess game (like rock-paper-scissors) – you make secret bids, and the best bid for you to make depends on what bids you think other people will make. The mechanics and design appear to be reasonably interesting. But I don't enjoy outguess games, so I skipped playing and moved on to the next game in my stack of games I borrowed.

(You might think it isn't too useful giving my impressions of a game I never played, but I figure I might as well share the information I have. Maybe if you are a big fan of outguess games, you'll want to give it a look).

Romance of Three Kingdoms is a CCG-style card game where players send warriors into battle to conquer land. You can see from comments in the rules that this is clearly intended to be a Diplomacy-type game, where the card play is just a backdrop to the real game of negotiation between the players. The game mechanics are OK, but the balance is odd. You start with no lands, but controlling any land at all makes you far more powerful. So the two-player game doesn't seem to work, as whoever wins the initial battles and holds a piece of land soon snowballs to victory. The balance needs to come from the diplomacy. Since I don't enjoy diplomacy games, I didn't pursue the game any further.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Game Impressions of Flagship: Coyote Stands

This game is one of those non-collectible CCG's, I'm not sure what the right term is. It comes with decks for a couple of empires, all ready for you to have a space battle between different space empires.

This game cleverly tries to avoid some of the pitfalls of CCG's like Magic: The Gathering (my favorite CCG). In particular, the extreme randomness that can cause many games to be lopsided one way or the other. Here, instead of drawing forces randomly, you purchase your starting spaceships, and the cards merely improve the capabilities of those spaceships. You can't be "mana-hosed" because you get a fixed number of command points per turn, and even without improvement it is enough to buy any one card. Also, you can discard and redraw every card you don't use every turn, so you go through a lot of cards and are never stuck with anything you don't want. This is a much more controlled, balanced game than MTG (even assuming you play MTG, as I do, with decks that are equally good against each other on average). And the actual game balance of the individual cards seems to be much better than I'm used to; it looks like I'd have to play it more to figure out whether anything is off with the balance. In terms of technique with the individual game mechanics, this is my kind of game.

My only real issue is not with any specifics, but with the overall fun factor of the game. To me, the fun part of MTG is in drawing a random selection of forces and abilities, and having to make the best battle strategy you can from what you draw. The game wouldn't be that interesting if you pre-selected the cards, as the actual game mechanics are fairly primitive. With Flagship, that core randomness is greatly minimized. It seems like the cards just add spice and extra variability to the space combat game between your preselected ships. The problem is that the basic space combat game is completely uninteresting without the cards, so the cards have a very difficult task trying to make up for that. It feels like it would be cool if more were going on in the base game, maybe the ships were maneuvering around on a map and shooting each other with dice rolls, and the cards were adding on top of that. As it is, I feel a little bit like I am playing not so much a game, as a nicely designed simulation of a game, a way to determine who would win in a battle between the Standing Nations and the Kirkin Swarm. Sort of like when I used to take a bunch of RPG characters and have them roll attacks against each other without using the map, to see who would win. Only here, the randomness of what you draw each turn from the deck is used as a substitute for the randomness of dice rolls.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Game Impressions: Planet Busters

This is a tile game from Tom Wham, whose games from Dragon Magazine I have fond memories of. This game less of his characteristic humor and whimsy than some of his others, but it is still cute.

The basic idea is a spaceship combat game where you collect forces to attack those of the other players, trying to steal or destroy their planets; at the end of the game ownership of planets determines the winner. There are lots of types of spaceship forces you can draw, and the combat system seems fun. I generally enjoyed the madcap chaos of the big pitched battles you can get at the start of the game.

When I tried a 2-player game, however, I found that the overall flow of the game didn't work so well. Basically, you draw new tiles (essentially cards) into your hand every turn, you can play as many as you want, and you have a hand limit, but no limit to the number of units played. One oddity is that only units can be attacked, and you start with no units, so the initial draws and plays seem very random and very critical, in a way I didn't find pleasing. Once both sides have units, they can send in starship attacks to savage each other. The trouble is that since combat is pretty bloody, it seems likely that after a few heated battles, one side will be victorious and destroy all enemy forces. That seemed to happen in all of my games. At this point, the winning side can continue to build up ships, but any ships the losing side puts down will be outnumbered and crushed. So the losing side has to wait until the perfect hand can be put down all at once to have a fighting chance, while the winning side builds up more and more ships and planets until it has an overwhelming advantage. But the winning side can't do anything to make the game end sooner. In my tests game the real fighting lasted about 5 turns, but the game lasts more than 30 turns. You could try to fix this by cutting the game short when a winner becomes obvious.

Another very odd feature is that the victory condition is based on the number of planets you have, but planets are drawn randomly and are very rare. Plus, you can draw "planet busters" to try to destroy planets, and their chance of success doesn't depend on the size of the enemy's forces. But you get a game benefit from playing planets. This creates all sorts of strange effects. If you get lucky and draw multiple planets, you can end up with a very strong edge. If nobody draws planets, there can be nothing to fight over. If one side is totally winning but has few planets, it could lose them all to planet busters, then both sides could try to horde planets in their hand so they can't be destroyed. So potentially, a side which has decisively lost the space battle and plays nothing for 25 turns could just try to get lucky and be the one to draw the end of game tile, then play all the planets in their hand and win the game.

A game with three or more players would probably work quite differently. But it seems likely to follow one of the usual 3-player game mechanics. Perhaps two stronger players conspire to crush the weaker player then battle between each other. Perhaps a balance of power is created, where nobody is ever allowed to get ahead, and everyone just tries to save up for a power play that will give them a sneaky win before anyone else can stop them. Perhaps everyone is too afraid to attack at all, as a battle of attrition between 2 players gives the third player an advantage. I don't really like any of these dynamics of unregulated multi-player wargames.

I've been trying to think of an analogy to the flow of this game. Basically, it is as if you were playing a WWII wargame, but instead of using the carefully designed orders of battle and starting positions, you just scooped up a big handful of counters, sprinkled them over the map, and started playing. The individual tactical battles may end up pretty interesting, but the sense I get from a lot of modern games, of a well-crafted overall play experience, is missing.

I have to say, though, that I find the spaceship combat simple, colorful, and fun. I feel like I do with a lot of old games, that I want to make some adjustments to the game so I can enjoy the good parts.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Game Impression: Drakon

At first, before I looking carefully at this tile game, I thought it was a game of random dungeon exploration. Actually, though, it is more of a strategic tile placement game.

Each turn, you either place a tile, or you move. You can't normally move backwards, so often you or someone else will have to place a tile in order for movement to be possible. Each tile can contain traps, special actions to take, or treasures. You win the game when you gain 5 gold pieces.

Consider a 2-player game. Both players start together. Whenever you extend the dungeon from your current location, the other player has the option to move first. But if one player moves, the other can follow. The two players could do this until they reach a portion of the dungeon which has no exit tiles placed yet. At this point the person in the lead loses the initiative, as he has to place tiles rather than move. So the person who moved first really hasn't gained anything over his rival. These rules mean that, from a theoretical standpoint, there is no benefit to moving until enough tiles have been placed to give you a winning path, so that by moving first, you can either pick up the 5 gold one turn before the other player can if he follows you, or you can "shake" the other player by being the first to take a special action from one of the rooms. But if you put down the tile that creates a winning path, the other player can take the path first. This symmetry is broken by the fact that you have hidden tiles in your hand, and some of those tiles could break up the path the other player takes. So you want to trick the other player into starting on what looks like a winning path, then play your own path which disrupts it or is better. Or you want to trick him into not realizing that you just played the winning path – although this is still a pretty good chance he can do something to mess you up. Anyway, until the players actually split up, the complexity of deciding which play is actually the best one is just way too much for me. Some people might like this sort of deep thinking, but for me, it just hurts my head.

I tried playing with the rule that the players couldn't follow each other, and the game was much more to my liking. Basically, you end up trying to create a profitable path in your part of the dungeon, while messing up the other player's path in his part of the dungeon. The fact that you have to place your tile on one turn, and move into it on the next turn, creates a funny slow pace that is different from what would I expect from an exploration game. But it works OK, and I like building up the dungeon and wandering around. And it doesn't take too long to build up enough money for someone to win the game. I wouldn't mind playing this variant of the game some more, though I'm not sure I'd go out of my way to do so.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Game Impressions: Rabbit Hunt

Me and my wife tried out this game – my wife loves bunnies, so the theme was cool. The game has a surface mechanic that was reasonably fun, moving your farmer around to look for bunnies and finding various good and bad tiles. But the core mechanic is a memory game. Basically, each player places tiles at a certain rate, and must choose when to play his 3 scoring tiles. Each player also turns over tiles at a certain rate, and scores by turning over one of the other player’s scoring tiles. Occasionally, you learn how many scoring tiles the other player has left. So the object is to remember which tiles you put down (since it is useless to turn them over), and remember or guess which of the tiles the other person put down are scoring tiles. I don’t like memory games, nor does my wife. And with the tiles of both players being interspersed with each other, this is a pretty hard memory game. Unless one player has his hand revealed at the wrong times, in which case it is obvious where the scoring tile must be. There is also something of an outguess mechanic involved with trying to put tiles in places where you think the other person won’t choose to turn them over. I don’t like outguess mechanics either. I just didn’t care for this game. Perhaps if you like the memory mechanic, you might like it.

The idea with a "game impression" is to be a micro-review, what I think of it and would tell someone after playing it once or twice (which, for a game I don't actually like, is as many times as I will ever play it). I avoided reading any other review before writing this, so as not to influence my judgment.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Disadvantages, Part IV: How the types of disadvantages work with the disadvantage system goals

In my last article, I classified disadvantages into 4 types, and previously to that, a described 2 goals of disadvantage systems. Now I will discuss how each type of disadvantage fits into each goal.

If you are thinking of the goal of your disadvantage system as encouraging characters to take interesting disadvantages, you want to give points for disadvantages which make the characters and the story more interesting. In that case, all 4 types of disadvantages are pretty valuable and important, and should be encouraged. Restricted choice is perhaps the most interesting to encourage, as it makes you describe the psychology, motivations, and beliefs of your character. This can both come through in your roleplaying, and provide hooks for the GM to make customized adventures. Story disadvantages can be even stronger in terms of really providing clear hooks for the GM to make stories – putting a rival or a loved one in a scene can be a convenient way to add some emotional connection. On the flip side, they may have little effect if the GM doesn’t want to customize an adventure – they tend to require work from the GM. Situational vulnerabilities are similar to story disadvantages, though it is often rather harder to use them in a fashion that is fun for the player. Negative abilities are good to encourage, and along with situational vulnerabilities they are the least likely sort of disadvantage to be taken in a game with no disadvantage system (roleplayers are more likely to given themselves interesting psychology and back story than to arbitrarily penalize their own characters). But in some sense, they are less important to encourage than other types of disadvantages. Characters are likely to have clear strengths and weaknesses even in a system with no disadvantages at all; for instance, a fighter may have the “weakness” of being incompetent in ranged combat, simply because he didn’t put any points into it. Thus, even with no disadvantage system, the GM can create situations that play on character weaknesses. So encouraging negative abilities isn’t really a qualitative difference over having no disadvantage system at all, it just provides more and stronger weaknesses to differentiate the characters. But really, all types of disadvantage are pretty close in terms of the goal of encouraging interesting disadvantages.

When it comes to the goal of compensation, however, we have a different story. If you are trying to give characters extra points as compensation for the problems the disadvantages provide to the characters, then the disadvantages had better be truly disadvantageous.

Negative abilities are the perfect disadvantages to offer compensation for. Your character is less powerful, and you get back points corresponding to how much less powerful your character is. If the disadvantage is small, you earn a few points; if the disadvantage is large, you get back lots of points. Of course, there are many tricky practical issues around how to correctly price disadvantages and how to reduce the risk of abusive minimaxing, but I’m not getting into that here. In terms of high-level theory, compensating characters for negative abilities is quite straightforward.

Giving characters substantial numbers of points as compensation for a story disadvantage, on the other hand, is fraught with problems. A story disadvantage adds features to the character’s adventures that cause him problems. But the point of adventures is already to be difficult and cause the adventurers problems. Story disadvantages work very well as a way of helping the GM find challenges to put into the adventure, but not so well if you try to make sure they are a large penalty to the character.

In Champions, one method of using story disadvantages is to create the story first, then add the story disadvantages – the character’s enemy just shows up as an extra menace to cause trouble. But this is an example of what I would call “disadvantages which penalize the GM”. Part of the GM’s job is to make a good adventure, which is basically an act of creative writing. Trying to shoehorn a bunch of extraneous elements into an adventure is hard work for the GM, and is likely to reduce the quality of the adventure. The more natural and desirable approach for story disadvantages is to periodically make adventures that are designed to feature them, or to otherwise work them nicely into the plot. This matches the way such story elements would be used in the source material.

When you do this, it becomes very hard to say how much of a penalty the story disadvantages are, because there is no source of comparison – you can’t really say how difficult the adventure would have been if the storyline had been different. This is true in the source material as well. In a comic book, for instance, a Superman story which includes Lois Lane getting in trouble isn’t necessary more difficult overall than a storyline which doesn’t. If is just a characteristic type of Superman story showcasing a special problem which Superman often has to deal with.

Now, in principle, it would be mathematically possible to construct adventures in such a way as to make sure that story disadvantages appear with a predictable frequency and adventures which include them are appreciably more difficult. This is tricky to do correctly. Consider, for instance, a Champions character who is hunted by a team of supervillains. You can’t just add the enemies on top of an existing encounter – that way make it way too hard, totally unwinnable. The most likely thing to do is to add the enemies as a separate encounter. But this just isn’t worth the same kind of compensation as a negative ability, which actually makes your character less powerful. From the player’s point of view, you can only fit so many encounters into a play session, and one encounter is just being replaced with a different one. Champions characters don’t normally suffer any lasting effects from fights, so it doesn’t really hurt the character in later fights. The main penalty is the chance the players may lose the fight, and that this would have negative repercussions within the story.

Since story disadvantages usually don’t come up too frequently, the GM would really have to stick it to the characters to make them worth a substantial amount of compensation. There are certainly a number of ways the GM can do this. But I don’t think it is the right approach. I think the game works best when story disadvantages mostly just make the story more interesting, and you acknowledge that they aren’t really worth many points from a compensation point of view.

The same is true of situational disadvantages. Consider the case of Superman and kryptonite. You could just randomly add kryptonite at random spots in your adventure, on top of threats that are already balanced for the characters. Whenever it showed up, Superman would be rendered helpless and the villains would win a devastating victory. This might be fair if the vulnerability to kryptonite is worth a good number of points. Mathematically, if that were true, Superman should find non-kryptonite encounters slightly easier and krytonite encounters vastly more difficult, in order to balance out the points. But it doesn’t seem like that much fun. A more comic-book approach is to use kryptonite as a way to challenge Superman in situations that wouldn’t normally be a challenge – for instance, to allow him to be captured by villains who lack the earth-shattering might necessary to defeat him in open combat. And conversely, you don’t normally want to make all of Superman’s other fights easier just because they don’t have kryptonite. This points to the vulnerability being used primarily to enhance storytelling rather than as something that is really equivalent to a negative ability.

Restricted choice disadvantages don’t necessarily have this aspect of wanting the adventure to be designed around them. It is common enough to just go on a prepackaged adventure and find that your desire to do everything by the book is getting in your way. However, characters can make both good and bad choices during an adventure whether they have formal disadvantages or not, so the effect of the disadvantage is somewhat muted. Also, the kind of extreme psychological limitations that cause you to make very bad choices can often be very annoying for the GM and the other players. Restricted choice disadvantages that have strong effects on the style in which you complete the adventure, without preventing you from properly playing the adventure, are usually most interesting. But such disadvantages really aren’t worth as much compensation as a negative ability.

So my conclusion is that all types of disadvantages are worthy of encouragement, but negative abilities are generally worth more in terms of compensation than the other disadvantages. I might describe negative abilities as “hard” disadvantages and the others as “soft” disadvantages. This leads me to describe a problem stemming from this.

In designing a game with a disadvantage system that wants to encourage characters to have disadvantages, it is typical to make all 4 types of disadvantages worth comparable numbers of points, and try to force everyone to take a substantial number of such disadvantages. In the natural play of the game, though, negative abilities are more of a penalty than other disadvantages, and players tend to lean towards soft disadvantages in taking the required disadvantages. When the game master or game designer notices that this is happening, the tendency is to want to “crack down” on the soft disadvantages by trying extra hard to penalize characters who take them, in an attempt to make them worth their points. In my view, this is counter-productive, as for the reasons I’ve listed above, it makes adventures harder to write, more awkwardly constructed, and generally less fun, and restricts character design to a subset of particularly deranged and troubled characters. I think that a better solution would acknowledge that the purpose of soft disadvantages is to make characters more interesting, and that it just isn’t natural to expect that even several of them will reduce a very powerful character to be no better than a very weak character without disadvantages.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Disadvantages, Part III: General Classifications

As I mentioned in my previous article, I’m going to classify some general types of disadvantages:
1. The negative ability. This sort of disadvantage is something that makes your character statistically worse, the opposite of an advantage or ability which makes your character better. So if having superior eyesight is clearly an ability that would cost points, having inferior eyesight is a negative ability that should give you back points. If being wealthy is a useful ability that costs points, being flat broke is a negative ability. Similarly, having a bad leg is the opposite of being a fast runner, being vulnerable to fire attacks is the opposite of being fire proof, being forgetful is the opposite of having a perfect memory, and so on. Corresponding Champions disadvantages include Physical Limitation, Unluck, and Vulnerability. Getting points back for having very poor statistics is basically also in this category, though in many games (such as Champions) it is not formally considered a disadvantage.

2. Restricted choice. With this type of disadvantage, the character has no limitations on how well he does things, just limitations on what he can choose to do. Normally, the assumption in a role-playing game is that the player can have his or her character perform any action at any time. So if a villain threatens to kill a hostage if the character doesn't surrender, the player can decide whether the character surrenders, or tries a risky gambit to stun the villain before he can carry out his threat, or ignores the threat and attacks the villain, or flies away and becomes an insurance salesman. But if the character has the disadvantage “Protective of innocents”, then the character is more limited in the choice of actions he will consider. This disadvantage does not inhibit the character in carrying out whatever course of action he chooses to pursue. It just means that the character may not be able to perform the action which the player believes is optimum in that situation. Corresponding Champions disadvantages include Enraged and Psychological Limitation.

3. Story disadvantage. This type of disadvantage tells the GM to put specific additional elements into the adventures that cause trouble for the hero. For instance, if the character is wanted for a crime he did not commit, this can control the entire flow of adventures in which he participates. The character really wishes this wasn’t the case, and is constantly inconvenienced by having to stay one step ahead of the law. But the character doesn’t have any penalties to his abilities, and no restrictions on what actions he can choose to take. Corresponding Champions disadvantages include DNPC, Hunted.

4. Situational vulnerability. This means that certain story situations cause severe problems for your character. The classic example is Superman’s susceptibility to kryptonite; whenever the opponents have kryptonite, he is a much less powerful character. This is similar to a negative ability in that it materially reduces the character’s effectiveness, but feels quite different because it is applied more like a Story disadvantage. Corresponding Champions disadvantages include Dependence, Susceptibility, Vulnerability.

These classifications aren’t necessarily exclusive – an individual disadvantage may blur the line between two categories. But these represent what I think are the broad types of effects that disadvantages have. Actually, it is the first three I was really thinking of as describing the fundamental categories of disadvantages. But as I was writing this, I felt that the situational vulnerability was distinctive enough to be described in its own category.

Next article: How the classifications relate to the 2 goals.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Disadvantages, Part II: Design of the Champions disadvantage system

In my previous post, I said that there were 2 different goals for disadvantage systems, encouragement and compensation. Now I will go into some more specific analysis and say that Champions, my reference system, is primarily designed for encouragement. By the way, when I say designed, I don't necessarily mean that it was intentionally designed with this goal in mind, but rather that the game design as it stands is most effective at supporting that goal.

The fact that Champions is designed to encourage disadvantages can be seen with a very high-level analysis, without actually looking at the disadvantages themselves. A fourth edition Champions character is built with 100 base points plus up to 150 points of disadvantages. Almost every character I've ever seen uses the maximum 150 points of disadvantages. This is very telling all by itself, strongly implying that the points that disadvantages give you is a very favorable trade in return for the disadvantages you suffer; in other words, that the points you get from disadvantages is more than they are really worth, so you want to take as many as you can. If the points from disadvantages were balanced to be exactly what they were worth, you would expect that a character built on 100 points with no disadvantages would be about as good as a normal 250 point character. This is not at all the case, 100 points is totally insufficient, such a character would be totally inadequate compared to a 250 point character (unless the 100 point character were built in a much more point efficient manner than the 250 point character, but this wouldn’t be a fair comparison).

This sort of structure, with disadvantages that are very favorable and a cap on the total amount, is very well suited for the goal of encouraging disadvantages, and seems to do an excellent job of achieving that. I can attest that most Champions players I know of spend quite a while sitting around trying to think of disadvantages which aren't part of their initial character conception, just so they can make the 150 points.

If, on the other hand, your goal is to fairly compensate people for disadvantages that are part of their basic character conception, this structure would seem a little weird. The compensation you get for building a character with a major flaw is not that really that you get extra points, since every character ends up with the same 250 points. Rather, the compensation is that you are not required to take as many other disadvantages. In effect, the advantage you get from wanting to play a character with serious disadvantages, is that you are an easier time picking your 150 points of disadvantages and are likely to be happier with the results. This is a workable mechanism, but sort of sub-optimum for this goal; it is odd that character conceptions for which it is easier to think of disadvantages cannot actually end up with more disadvantages then character conceptions which do not naturally lend themselves to a lot of disadvantages. And what happens if the flaws that arise directly from your character conception are more disadvantageous than the 150 points of disadvantages that a normal character takes? Then there is no way to be fairly compensated.

However, at this point this is all a bit too abstract to continue discussing without knowing more about the actual disadvantages themselves. So for the next article on this topic, I will start going into more detail by categorizing the types of disadvantages.

Next topic: Disadvantage classifications

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Disadvantages, Part I: Overall Purpose

A major game mechanic I've often thought about and analyzed is the disadvantage system. This is a complex subject, so I’ll start with some introductory analysis. The classic disadvantage system is that of Champions/Hero system, so I'll use that as my reference system. Role-playing game systems tend to have so many variations between different games that it is difficult to make any statement or use any terminology that is true across all games, so I think it is most practical to take one classic system as a reference model about which comments can be made that are true about many games, then describe the many variations at a later time.

What is a disadvantage system? When making a role-playing character in almost any system, you can make choices that determine how strong your character is in various categories, and you can make choices that grant your character extra advantages or abilities. In a point system like Champions, you pay for these extra abilities. In a system with disadvantages, you can make choices that are disadvantageous for your character, and you can get points back to spend on other things. These disadvantages can take many forms as listed in the individual system; examples include “one-eyed”, “wanted by police”, “won’t kill animals”, “unlucky”, or “afraid of spiders”.

In games without formal systems for disadvantages, some players will usually take some equivalent of disadvantages for their characters. This is particularly true of players who really like role playing. The player may decide that the character is obsessed with avenging her husband's murder, for instance. Or a whimsical player may decide that his dwarf drinks too much and smells bad. After all, the purpose of a role-playing game is to have fun, and making your character more complex and interesting can be a lot of fun. Other players, however, may be more interested in other aspects of the game and less interested in designing personality and back story, or they may have a very specific character design which is not particularly disadvantageous – perhaps a laid-back elven noble with an elaborate series of political connections. But whatever they choose, it has no impact on the formal character design and doesn't involve use of game rules.

An actual disadvantage system formalizes this process and assign some sort of value to each disadvantage. My analysis is that a disadvantage system has two distinct goals.

The first goal of a disadvantage system is to make characters more interesting by encouraging them to take characters with dramatic flaws as well as dramatic strengths, or by simply encouraging them to think a lot more about the personality and background of their character, creating more interesting facets of the character and more things for the game master to hook stories off of. Certainly this is very evident when comparing a bare-bones Champions character (one where the player builds the character according to the rules but doesn't add any optional written description) with a bare-bones D&D character. The D&D character has practically nothing on the sheet that indicates personality, except perhaps for some idea of the combat and noncombat styles and whatever stereotypes you might expect from their race, class, and statistics. With a Champions character, on the other hand, you can usually glean a lot about their major role-playing elements just by looking at the list of disadvantages. Of course, in D&D it is recommended that you write up a detailed back story, but many players don't do so. And even if they do so, the character may not have many really tangible flaws or problems that would make adventures more dramatic. And a disadvantage system not only encourages creating character flaws and hooks, it provides a standard structure for doing so, and a very helpful list of examples.

The second goal of a disadvantage system is to fairly compensate characters who put flaws into their character conception. If characters have to pay points for having positive attributes, it is only fair that they receive points back for having negative attributes. This is particularly true when you consider that, in many cases, not purchasing some sort of advantage that all the other characters have is equivalent to a disadvantage even in systems that don't have formal disadvantages, and you certainly are allowed to spend more points in other areas if you do so. The important point here is that most players, in addition to wanting their characters to be cool, want their characters to be effective, and are reluctant to intentionally weaken their characters in any significant way without getting something back. Receiving fair compensation for disadvantages makes players feel more free to make the character design choices they really want to make.

The second goal (compensation) may seem very similar to the first (encouragement), in the sense that the mechanism for achieving the first purpose is basically the same as for the second purpose - to compensate characters for having disadvantages. But in terms of how you analyze and craft the precise disadvantage mechanics, these are different goals. In particular, they would have different ideal end results. The ideal result of encouragement would be for every character, without exception, to have a large list of interesting disadvantages. Whereas the ideal result of compensation would say nothing about how many disadvantages the characters have - they should feel free to have many, few, or none, according to their conceptions, and know that they will be fairly compensated for the ones they picked.

Next Related Post

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Not so impressive features of 4th edition D&D

Previous related article

Since last article I wrote about some of the great features that really impress me in 4th edition D&D, now I’ll write about the things I didn’t like. But really, it is hard to find too many concepts I didn’t really like. So this is more of a list of things that don’t particularly impress me.

1. Feats. The idea of picking a feat every other level to customize your character sounds like a fine idea. But although I like the feat selection better than in third edition, I still find the execution of the feat concept to be not very exciting. When I look at the feats, especially in the powers books, I see a vast sea of weird, specialized abilities that I'm not really interested in taking, and a bunch of small bonuses that are almost more trouble keeping track of than they are worth. Even with the abilities they really mean something, it tends to be the case that some characters need a bunch of feats in order to complete their character conception, and others don't. So I find it frustrating that there is no way to "give up" anything to get more feats at low level; some character concepts just can't be implemented until the character reaches, say, 6th level. I think that part of the problem is that, for balance reasons, the effects of the feats have to be very small, but I'm not all that interested in having a large number of very small abilities. If I wanted to customize my character, I'd probably rather do something more dramatic, perhaps giving up one strong ability to gain a different strong ability, as is done with the alternate build options in the powers books.

2. Magic Items. The issue I have here is pretty much the same as with feats. For balance reasons, the powers of the magic items need to be pretty small. But having a whole bunch of specialized little powers just seems like a nuisance to keep track of. I'd rather consolidate 4 of my obscure little magic items into one big macho magic item. One problem is the idea of restricting the daily use of magic items. I think this idea is clever, but I'm not so thrilled with the execution. The number of daily uses you have is so limited that it really makes you prefer magic items with non-daily powers. In fact, it is often the case that finding a daily magic item is practically worthless if it's daily power is less good than that of the magic items you already have. Of course, some of the magic items (and feats) are actually quite good, but that appears to be a balancing mistake since the great majority are not so good.

3. Skill Challenges. I really like the idea of skill challenges, of trying to put in a full-featured noncombat skill resolution system like the awesome dramatic skill resolution system of Torg. But the skill challenge system seems to be very much a work in progress, a series of ideas and experiments about how a skill challenge might be made to work well. There doesn't seem to be one concrete finished system for me to analyze. So I await completion of the skill challenge rules so I can see how much I like them.

4. Action Points. This is probably one of my least favorite features. I certainly very much approve of the idea of adding something equivalent to "hero points" to the system. But I'm not very excited by the action point concept. There are a few situations in which being able to perform two big powers in the same round lets you do something cool and useful. But otherwise, the action point is just giving you an additional at-will attack. This just isn't very interesting. It is so uninteresting that many of my players seem to have a difficult time deciding when to use action points, because the effect is so bland that there doesn't seem to be much of a tactical reason to use it in one situation rather than another, or in one fight rather than another. And since you can use an action point in more than half of your fights, but can't use more than one per fight, they don't really have very much ability to let you save up your resources for the big fight. I like the special powers you sometimes get from spending an action point, especially from paragon paths, but tying these powers to taking an extra action just seems like a bit of a nuisance to me.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Impressive features of 4th edition D&D

I was looking over 4th edition D&D and trying to summarize the things I really like and dislike about it. I actually found that, although I have various complaints about the execution of certain concepts, it is hard to find any major new idea I don’t like, and easy to find concepts I think are fantastic. So in this article, rather than concentrating on one aspect of the game, I’ll put down my overall list of the ideas I really liked.

First, concepts I think are my very favorite, ideas that would be good for any RPG. The weren’t necessarily first introduced by 4th edition D&D (I’m not keeping track), but when I saw them, I was really impressed, they made me think of things in a new way.

1) The tactical combat system. Although I don’t necessarily like every single element of the 4th edition combat system, overall, I am really impressed. I always liked how Champions allowed you to treat a combat as if it were a tactical board game, something interesting in and of itself. But I think 4th edition D&D does it much better. Combat is really fun! And making the combat system so good doesn’t seem to revolve around one new idea, but just a lot of hard work on a lot of things to make the system work so well. One of the features that really impresses me is how non-abstract the movement is, how important your exact position on the map is, in a non-trivial way. It allows movement-related powers to be really interesting, and allows characters to exert zones of control through opportunity attacks. This is something really different from most RPG’s I’m familiar with, where movement is just a way to go from “far away” to “close up” or vice-versa.
2) Taking ordinary monsters and making them distinctive and interesting. You know an idea is great when you think, “Why didn’t I think of that?” I can often remember thinking how much more interesting it was to fight a band of supervillains than, say, a bunch of mutated animals who just tried to bite you. I never really quite thought of just arbitrarily assigning interesting combat maneuvers and powers to different animals to make the combat more fun. The way 4th edition turns kobolds into many types of kobolds with different “powers”, even if they have no magic, is really cool. A bit wacky, perhaps, but the fun factor way outweighs that. I think the detailed combat system really supports this by allowing a wide variety of different powers; there is a synergy here, it would be harder to make interesting monster combat maneuvers with a less intricate combat system.
3) Minions. Although many games have distinguished between boss monsters and “cannon fodder”, there is something about the implementation of minions in 4th edition that I find really appealing and inspiring (article here). It is cool that the minion’s statistics are skewed for better playability – instead of being weaker overall, the minion has full accuracy and is not easy to hit, but does low damage and takes only one hit to kill. This combination seems great. I have some issues with the execution of the minion within the game – many powers are allowed that are too good against minions – but I think the concept is awesome. I would definitely use minions in other games I make.
4) Healing as a minor action. The way that healing works in 4th edition D&D, from a viewpoint of the underlying game mechanics, is quite clever. On one level, making healing a minor action is very nice because it allows healers to fight as well as heal, making them more fun to play. But on another level, by giving the healer two heals per combat that don’t cost attack actions, you are turning healing into an attribute of the group as a whole. It means that the group as a whole has some extra “group hit points” which can fill in where needed, in order to keep everyone conscious and fighting. A very good idea, I’ve considered doing something like that myself.

Next, I list things I think are generally good, and particularly great within the context of D&D, as compared to previous editions.

1) Game balance! In previous editions of D&D, the classes were so different from one another that it was practically impossible to compare them in a meaningful way to tell whether they were balanced with each other. Especially since they change dramatically with levels, and at a different rate than each other. If they were balanced, which is doubtful, it would be purely a matter of art and extensive playtesting. In 4th edition, the classes are all built with the same underlying mechanism, and go up with levels at roughly the same rate. It is possible to compare them, and they are pretty close to game balanced. I’ve always been a devotee of game balance, but making such a drastic change to D&D took guts.
2) Making martial and spellcasting classes work the same way. Certainly you can do this sort of thing in Champions/HERO system. But doing this within the classic D&D framework is not something that had really occurred to me as a possible way to modify D&D. But now that I see it, I think it is great, it really does feel like the martial classes are just as cool as the magical classes. It makes me want to use this concept more often. I should mention that the idea is not so much that martial and magical classes are indistinguishable – that would be boring – but rather that martial abilities are just as interesting as magical abilities.
3) Encounter Powers. Previous editions of D&D had at-will powers and daily powers. Creating encounter powers as an in-between is a great improvement, a way to allow potent abilities to have limited uses without all the problems associated with daily abilities. Actually, I was tempted to put this on the first list, seeing the concept of encounter powers put into play with such interesting power lists really inspired me. I just have some uncertainty about the execution, and whether once per encounter is really ultimately the best way to do the powers (as mentioned here). But I’ve no doubt that this is a great improvement over what preceded it.
4) Races. I just like a lot of things about the new races. I like the selection of races; more cool races and fewer small, cute races. I like the way the racial powers make the races more interesting. I like that races are designed in such a way that a 1st level character can belong to a race that normally produces high-level monsters, and it feels perfectly natural.

Some additional changes in 4th edition D&D that are not particularly novel, but which I approve of:

1) Switching hit points from a daily resource into a per-encounter resource. I’ve written an earlier article about this.
2) Having skills go up automatically with levels, and having skill training provide a fixed bonus.
3) Giving each class a certain type of armor proficiency and then assuming they will wear the best armor they are allowed to wear. Also, the way you add your Dex bonus to light armor but not to heavy armor.

And some more interesting things:
1) The skirmisher concept. The idea of giving a monster an arbitrary bonus for moving around the map, just to encourage it to move around, is pretty clever. I think I need a lot more experience to evaluate how well it works, but it is an intriguing concept.
2) Having healing restore a fraction of the character’s full hit points, by defining a “healing surge” value. A handy way to package and present a mathematically useful concept.
3) Rituals. Separating the noncombat spells from the combat spells seems like a great idea. I’d put this in my list of impressive concepts (article here), except that I haven’t actually been inspired to use any of the the rituals in my games.
4) Allowing inspiration to count as a legitimate source of healing, so that you can have fighters heal themselves and warlords as a martial healing class. Weird, but a pretty convenient way to use the healing mechanic without requiring a very specific type of character conception (the cleric).

Next related article

Friday, August 21, 2009

Game Transparency; Old School GM Style

I really like some of the gamemastering articles associated with 4th edition D&D. They often tend to say exactly what I’ve been thinking myself. This was basically the case when I was reading the article on Game Transparency in Dragon 375. It is close enough to what I would say myself that there isn’t much for me to add, just to say it is a good article. In particle, I quite agree with the idea that if the players have no idea that a monster has fire resistance, and have no way to find it out, then that fire resistance has no tactical interest or meaning. In order for the players to devise interesting tactics based on the opponents, they need information about the opponents.

What the article also made me think about, though, is that many of the suggestions in the new D&D material are a matter of style. It reflects the attitude that the GM is basically an ally of the players, working with them to make the game as much fun as possible. I’ve always had this approach to role-playing games, but in terms of D&D, this is basically the “new school” attitude. This attitude is opposed by the “old school” approach, which still has many adherents. I was thinking about how to define the distinction.

The tradition of the old school play style is that the the adventure is full of truly deadly hazards, and the players must be extremely cautious and devious while they try their best to defeat the adventure as efficiently as possible. Sometimes it seems like the old school approach involves the GM being the opponent of the players, but that is not how I would put it. I think the ideal of the old school approach is that the GM sets up an adventure to be very challenging to the players, then runs the adventure with total impartiality. If the players come up with a clever idea, they can kill the big boss in his sleep; if they fail to notice an important trap, they may all die. Everything is totally fair, and the players control their own destiny. If the GM decides the players are getting too powerful, he adjusts the adventures accordingly, but only in a fair way. It is sort of like how a sporting organization works. If a given tactic proves too effective, that tactic is banned for everyone, but only at the beginning of a season, not in the middle of a game, because that would be unfair. In old school D&D, if a player had a powerful magic item, it would be fair to send thieves to steal it, but only if the players had a fair chance to set up guards, place magical wards, and so on.

To continue with the sports analogy, I would say the old school approach treats the game much like a competitive team sport. The goal is to do everything you can to win the game within the rules, and the nature of the competition and the challenge it presents is what is fun. If you aren’t trying to win, you aren’t really playing the game. Whereas the new school approach is more like playing a party game, where you are ostensibly trying to win, but in reality you are just using the structure of a game to have a good time. If you have a choice between trying to do whatever it takes to win, and being more whimsical and entertaining, it would appropriate to choose the latter.

I’ve always preferred the idea that the GM and the players are working together to create a memorable story and have a good time, and the GM should mix a “say yes” approach together with the impartiality needed to create an exciting adventure. The old idea of RPG tournaments, with the party who achieved the most success in the adventure being the winners, always seemed strange to me. In my mind, this seemed to encourage exactly the wrong thing, a party of hyper-competitive rules lawyers trying to beat the dungeon, not the sort of fun role-playing I prefer. In my preferred style, not only is the GM friendly to the players, but the players work with the GM, trying to go with the spirit of high adventure rather than tapping everything in the dungeon with 10-foot poles.

Nevertheless, the old school concept is theoretically sound. Pure competition has been exalted in games since time immemorial. Why not take this approach with role-playing games? It reminds me of playing a Star Fleet Battles tournament. Commanding your starship correctly requires mastery of hundreds of obscure rules and capabilities; forget even one, and your ship is destroyed. Not the sort of thing I really enjoy. But if you love pitting your skill against the opponent in pure, ruthless competition, you wouldn’t want it any other way.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Comparing Champions roles with D&D roles

Previous related post: Identity of the character roles in 4th edition D&D

Last blog I discussed the relative purity of the roles in 4th edition D&D, and in doing so briefly mentioned the informal roles from Champions. So I thought I’d compare the meaning and use of the role concept in the two systems.

The 4th edition D&D role concept is a less concentrated form of the role concept in MMO’s, where every class has a specific purpose during combat. The ideal fight would seem to involve the defenders standing in front and absorbing damage, the strikers killing monsters, the leaders healing the defenders and boosting the attacks of the strikers, and the controllers hiding in back and helping everyone out by softening up the monsters with area effect attacks and inhibiting them with status effects.

The old role concept from Champions had a different purpose. It was meant to describe the kind of characters that would be found in a typical superhero group. Since Champions is a point-based game where you can design your character anyway you like, the roles might be seen as similar to D&D classes in describing what kind of character you appear to be. But they are also like fourth edition roles in describing what general capabilities the character is supposed to have.

The Champions roles have been formalized in different ways. The list of roles my playing group used to use was Brick, Martial Artist, Energy Projector, Mentalist, and Other. Other included some recognizable but less archetypes such as Gadgeteer and Speedster, as well as weird characters who defied description. Actually, I was never completely happy with the idea that Mentalist was on the list, since in the comic books this was not nearly as common a role as the other major roles (except among mutant superhero teams). But since Champions devoted a fair amount of attention to defining mental powers, and Mentalists are stupendously useful, it was sort of a tradition that the classic Champions group would have a Mentalist. Anyway, that is beside the main point of this article.

One difference is that Champions roles were totally informal. In effect, they were essentially stereotypes that characters tended to fall into; there was no particular need for characters to fit their role. Characters who fit the roles exactly, and characters who completely defied the expectations of the standard roles, were both equally valid types of characters and were equally encouraged. On the one hand, you had articles extolling the virtues of the “well balanced” super team. And on the other hand, you had people extolling the virtues of thinking outside the box when making your character. But regardless which you preferred, there was a general sense of what the completely classic version of each character role would look like.

Here is my description of the classic Champions character types. The Brick was super strong and super tough, but somewhat slow and not too smart. The Martial Artist was extremely skillful both in and out of combat, but couldn't take much punishment. The Energy Projector had a versatile array of ranged powers. The Mentalist wasn't too tough, but had a versatile array of mental powers. And who knows what the Other did, so we will ignore them.

The obvious approach would be to directly equate these Champions roles to similar looking D&D roles. So the brick is a defender, the martial artist is a melee striker, the energy projector is a ranged striker, and the mental list as a controller (Champions had nothing similar to a leader). But this doesn’t quite seem to fit. The brick was not only considered to be the toughest member of the team, but also the hardest hitting. This would seem to make him both a defender and a striker, which doesn't make much sense in D&D terms - what are the other classes for?

For one thing, the brick may have been the toughest member of the group, but that didn't account for the fact that the brick was easy to hit. After all, champions doesn't have the D&D peculiarity of merging armor and agility into the same value. The incredible agility of the martial artist meant that, potentially, he could be just as good or better defensively than the brick. But the 2 kinds of defenses had very different feels to them. The brick had the advantage of much more reliable staying power. If the martial artist was attacked in a way that he wasn't prepared to defend against, he could quickly get slaughtered, while the brick was just going to take a lot of punishment to put down whatever you did. And the brick could afford to intercept attacks against others, or run into dangerous zones of damage, or otherwise use his defenses in a more flexible fashion. But on the other hand, if the enemy had some sort of "control" power, it was quite possible that the easy-to-hit brick would be neutralized, while the martial artist would dodge the attack with ease.

And while the brick had the biggest single attack, his slow speed meant that he didn't necessarily have the best total damage output. And if he was being blinded or knocked around, he might miss a lot of attacks and even have a somewhat low damage output. But he could hurt guys who were too tough for the others to hurt. And when it came time to perform a group combination attack, it often ended up with a gigantic haymaker from the brick.

So in theory, the brick and the martial artist would have comparable total offense and defense but in very different ways. The energy projector would have somewhat less defense but the advantage of range. Also, the energy projector had a more versatile selection of powers, the ability to do things other than just blast the enemy. But the mentalist was the real master doing things differently, with the ability to ignore normal defenses completely and attack in ways that the villains may not be capable of dealing with.

In practice, though, it should be said that the brick very often was just flat out more powerful than the martial artist and energy projector. Bricks were often more powerful than energy projector is because, in Champions, they are more point efficient. And in games modeling the comic books, martial artists were often less powerful than bricks because they the party experts at noncombat skills, rather than masters of raw combat power. Similar to the thief in first edition D&D. Of course, fourth edition D&D made a conscious decision to delete the concept of a character whose special role is being good in noncombat.

Overall, it seems that the Champions role describes the combat style of the character rather than an MMO-style role. Although each role has certain expectations, they are more subtle than being a “DPS” or a “tank”. The Champions roles are perhaps more primitive, less useful for building a game where every character has a very clear role within the party. But on the other hand, I think they are more intuitive. The idea that a D&D paladin is an expert at forcing enemies to attack him is sort of a funny “game think” idea. The more natural idea to someone not familiar with the MMO role concept is that a paladin is a brave, heavily armored guy with a little bit of healing power. This would be more equivalent to the Champions role concept.