Monday, November 24, 2008

Procedures, part 3 (Monsters)

Continuing on with our trip into the world of EPIC SOLITAIRE NOTEBOOK ADVENTURES, we now move on to the next challenge...creatures to beat up. But let's review again what the stated goal of this exercise is: creating a game where components are created "on the fly" as needed.

First of all, I missed card 15 in the original card pack, which I have added back in. Click here for all the cards.

There are a few things to consider with regards to monsters in your basic creature-bash adventure game. One of the more important features is that the monsters somehow must scale in power as the player's character "levels up" in power, so as to keep the game interesting to the player. While running around in God-mode squashing monsters like bugs on a truck windshield might be fun for a little bit, a more interesting game-y approach is to somehow ensure that encountered monsters are relatively equal in strength. Even more interesting would be a situation where the monsters are also leveling up somewhat independently of the player, and a major factor of the game would be the player "racing" with the monsters to keep up.

The above mentioned race brings into consideration probably one of the least considered game design devices, which can be called The Clock. The Clock is usually subtle and somewhat forgotten (by most players) in most multi-player games, because it's never realized as to what it is. Ultimately, this is the point at which the game is declared over. It can be "no more tiles left to play," or "once a certain score is achieved," or any other number of ways a game can end. It is important, however, the realize that the clock is another resource, direct or indirect, that controls the game.

How is it a resource? Good players recognize the Clock. While most players understand that "once the tiles are gone, the game is over," a good players sees the Clock and, with some basic math, understands what it really means; there are 80 tiles to draw, there are four players, the game isn't over once the tiles are gone as much as it is over after I've taken 20 turns; 20 turns to maximize my results. From a game design standpoint, it's probably not a good idea to look at things as just as a game over condition, but as the number of expected actions a player can take.

So, getting control of the Clock is pretty important. Any game that ends with a player saying "if I only had one more turn to bring my evil plan to fruition to utterly destroy you" is a good game, in my opinion. Regardless of the above mentioned player's actual capability to really bring that plan into actuality. But that is a hook that demands the player to play again, because he was "merely" just one step away.

Anyway, the Clock will be the race between the monsters and the player leveling up. Interestingly, this will be somewhat indirect, as the player will either die during an encounter, or the player can retire with whatever goods he has obtained. Retiring will be at the sole discretion of the player, which will most likely be the point where it becomes obvious that the monsters are too strong for him to deal with safely any more...the risks of death will be too great.

Anyway, on to monster creation...

Aside from the sheet of paper where the map is being drawn, you will need another sheet which will be used for our "Monster Manual," but since I'm sure that's trademarked, I'll call ours the "Monster Journal." On the far left side, label each line of the sheet of paper with the alphabet, one letter at a time, starting with A on the top row, and ending with T twenty rows down. Much like creating Kingdom names from the last post, each monster, as they are created, will be referenced by a unique letter, and probably should be named starting with that letter, but that is left to your discretion.

A monster is comprised of various traits, again like Kingdoms. These are it's Type, Name, Level, Speed, Loot, and Flock Size.

Right now, before the game starts, you need to "seed" your Monster Journal with the types of Monsters you want to be dealing with. You should pick 5 or 6 different types, such as "poisonous", "undead", "flying", or "6 legged." The categories you choose don't matter too much, it's up to your personalization, and will affect things later when we talk about magical treasure creation later. After selecting your chosen categories, you should randomly allot each letter on your Monster Journal a type. Spread them around. Mix'em up.

And now you are all set.

During the game, on every turn, after you move to a new Kingdom, draw a card. In the middle right-hand side of the card, there is a grid of land types, and some letters and numbers.

The double land types directly refer to the two land types in the Kingdom that you are in. So, if you are in a Kingdom with a Mountain and a Desert, scan over this grid. If you don't see those land types, nothing happens. However, if there IS a matching pair of land types, then some event happens. If it is a letter, then there is an encounter with a monster.

I can talk a little bit about the math behind the relationship of the land types and the event grid. There are 10 different possible combinations of the four land types ("specific ordering" doesn't matter in this case...Forest/Mountain is the same as Mountain/Forest). Each card can have up to 8 different combinations, and therefore, up to 8 possible events.

However, the +1 events are considered to be "good" events. They help build your world without a chance of death. In general, the player has about a 50% chance of a monster encounter each turn in the current card set due to a creature letter appearing.

As another side note, the actual balancing of the creature letters is not a mere random placement. In fact, each letter is weighted towards a specific land type. So, if you go exploring mostly in forested Kingdoms, you will encounter the same forest-dwelling creatures more often. Calculating and fudging data and numbers for this kind of thing is easily handled within your friend, a spreadsheet program, such as Microsoft Excel.

Aside from the basic gee-whiz factor of this letter pairing, there exists a subtle strategy within the game because of this. Simply, if you know that the most dangerous creatures live in the forest, and you don't want to deal with them, it's probably wise to avoid the forests if traveling. But as you will see later, this comes at a cost of "pumping up" the lower level creatures, as mentioned in the race/clock discussion above.

For right now, we won't bother with the details of the battle (or the other actions that the other icons take). We are still concerning ourselves with the creation of a creature...

Continuing with our example to the left, if we are in a Kingdom with land types of a Mountain and a Desert, then the creature designated as a G attacks. If we have not "built" this creature yet, we will need to do so now.

You've already given him a random creature type; let's assume he's been typed as a creature who you've designated as "Stone Throwing" at the beginning of the game.

Ok, so creature G, let's give him a name. As naming the Kingdoms, it's usually a good idea to name the creatures with the starting letter for easy reference. And since creatures have a tendency to hang out in specific land types, we'll call this creature a "Gorge Orc," since that's the kind of fellow who would seem to want to hang around Desert-y Mountain type places.

Next up, is Level, when a new creature is introduced to your creature journal, the creature gets the same level as your character's current level.

Speed is handled by drawing the next card. Right below the event grid is a banner with a ghastly looking monster; his speed is shown in the lightning bolt on that card, so write that down.

Loot is again handled by drawing another card, and to the very right of the lightning bolt is a number; write that number down for the creature's loot.

And finally, Flock Size. Flock Size does two things at once. It keeps tracks of how many times you encountered this monster, which for all practical purposes, is a pointless data point. Since this is the first time w've encountered a Gorge Orc, put a single tic mark here.

But the second thing is important. Every time you encounter a creature, another tic mark is added to the Flock Size. This also indicates how many creatures make up the "creature's party." So, the next time you draw the G event, you will be battling 2 Gorge Orcs. The third time, there will be three, etc.

So why is this important? This has a lot to do with scaling the creatures against the player's abilities. Obviously, introducing a new creature at the same level of the player's character keeps the scale balanced, but what of the old, scrawny level 1 creatures, while you've grown up to be a strapping level character? By increasing the NUMBER of the low level creatures that attack you as you get stronger, the integrity of the creatures is kept stable while becoming a strategic race clock to battle against.

At this point, I guess I need to point out a little tidbit about your hero. He tops out at level 10. But creatures don't top out with regards to the amount of creatures that can band against you. And so, there is your clock you are racing against in this game; the ever increasing growth of creatures in the world.

For example, as a level 8 character, you might want to putz around in the forest because you know that there are a bunch of level 1 Drunken Elves that you can beat up on, while avoiding the level 8 Beach Whales in the desert. However, pretty quickly, after a few encounters with the Drunken Elves, they start amassing in quite bigger what point do you decide that maybe dealing with 2 Beach Whales is a better choice that 10 Drunken Elves? And then, at what point does it maybe become prudent that you are better off retiring with your loot than risk dealing with the 12 Drunken Elves OR 4 Beach Whales?

And so, as a recap, here is our "G" creature:
Reference Letter: G.
Type: Stone Thrower.
Name: Gorge Orc.
Speed: 8.
Loot: 3.
Flock Size: 1 tic mark (the first encounter).

Repeat as new creatures are needed. Or increment your Flock Size as old creatures are re-visited.

Coming soon, you and your ever-growing world.

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