Alpha Design – Mechanics

This is the first of a short series of articles about what you can expect to see in the first alpha release and what will probably change.

In this issue I will talk about game mechanics, in particular the game underlying resolution mechanics and the “die rolls”, or their lack.

Faceoff with a salamander

By Resolution Mechanics I mean the way that the game compute successes, failures and their relative degrees. The resolution mechanics is used to answer the fundamental question of “can I accomplish what I want to do?”. You have a goal, for example damaging an enemy, and the game (or the Game Master in pen-and-paper games) has to inform you if you have been successful.

Role playing games, of all kinds, usually utilize a randomizer as a base for their resolution mechanics, especially when there could be consequences for failures. The common way to do this is to roll some dice, apply some math, and compare the result to a Target Difficulty.

Dice

“Randomizers”

Randomization adds both excitement and variation to the game. Actions become “dramatic”, in fact they become questions for which you don’t know the answer. Randomization usually even out during the game (the more you do actions the more the outcomes will tend toward the average) so you can design around it and still keep the characteristics of drama and excitement.

There are however problems with that in games. For starter, do a wrong “roll” and you can end up dead, permanently. Also a perfectly fine tactic can be completely ruined by the whims of the randomizer, leading to frustration. The two combined can become a big problem and as designers we can take several approaches to set things right. We can remove the randomizer, maximizing player skill and mastery of the game mechanics. We can adjust the random part of the resolution mechanic to be influential only within a certain, confined, probability (e.g. the impact of randomizer is such that only a constrained percentage of actions can actually fail/succeed because of it). Finally we can deem it acceptable for the randomizer to have a strong influence and ensure that the “penalties” for a failed tactic or for death are such as to not discourage players (this is what classical roguelikes do: enable the player to die, learn from the experience, and then go back to the game in a matter of minutes, or seconds).

For the alpha we are going with the first, there will be no randomization in the outcome of actions, spells will always hit and do the same amount of damage, enemies will always have that many hit points and so on. In short it will play like a chess game, where you can use your knowledge to plan in advance with accuracy and every death will come from your choices. This choice will help us focus, in particular, on the enemies’ design and the balance of spells. Will the random layouts, hazards and monster spawn be enough to generate “drama”? We hope that your feedbacks and comments will help us in reaching an answer. Depending on that we will be in a better position to change it for the final release.

Of course, if you already have suggestions we would very much like to ear them from now!

Thanks for reading.

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