Thursday, October 27, 2022

HotS is the best Moba + Teamfight Mechanics Spitballing

So Heroes of the Storm has officially stopped receiving development- in other words, it's in maintenance mode. It is now a dead game. Long live Heroes of the Storm.

I want to preface this by saying I've played pretty much every MOBA. Back in the day, me and my friends played League of Legends. Later on, we played some SMITE and Dawngate, with a larger amount of time dedicated to Dota 2. I've also played HoN a little bit and even actual Dota in Warcraft 3's Custom Maps (but my favorite custom map was always Wintermaul Wars). I'm only listing off these figures for one reason; to say out of all of them, I feel pretty strongly that Heroes was always the best.

The reason? There's a few- the first is game speed and accessibility. Heroes is a lot faster then the other games, which while not good on its own, it's nice that most games are over at 20-30 minutes as opposed to an hour long slog that a decent number of league games would turn into sometimes. It's less hardcore nature also  certainly helped; removing things like last hits and denies makes the game objectively less skilled based, but the gains in making players on each team focus more on teamfights and teamplay then their own personal item collection is a gain.

Secondly, and more importantly, is the diversity in the game's characters and maps. Even having more then one map is already pretty unique among this genre of game- and while most Moba's focus on having one really well designed and well balanced map, I don't think you lose much by having a small cadre of symmetrical maps with different objectives and aesthetics to break up the monotony. This will feed back into tabletop games eventually, I promise.

But the big thing is the characters. I remember first playing Dota 2 after League of Legends and thinking "wow, they actually let you play characters with abilities that can grief this hard?" like Io being able to teleport teammates around, or 6 second stun AoEs, and things like that. But then you get to Heroes and the unique characters there blow everything else out of the water. Once again, it's less about their inclusion in the game IMO and more about the fact that you can play them which breaks up the sameness of the game. You can play a game as Murky, a very weak murloc with little to no teamfight potential who just ignores half the game to push lanes out. You can play Abathur, who is a useless slug who sits in base and puts his parasite on his allies to empower them halflway across the map. It's very unique and not something other games do.

However when it comes to gameplay; the thing that heroes of the storm does better then any other MOBA is forcing teamfights. Every map has "objectives", which are things like collect X number of objects that periodically spawn, or hold and control one or two points on the map. Typically, these objectives are really easy to do for even one player all by themselves- but whichever team completes the objective they will gain a huge benefit. Typically, large monsters or waves of minions will spawn down one or multiple lane, destroying forts and pushing towards the enemy's core. This means that you can't really ignore objectives or else you'll lose the game; hence the team knows moreso when it's time to "fight" in games without this mechanic. In other words, the game is more heavily guiding or even forcing your teammates to group up- leading to more interplay.

But that's enough about this game; let's talk about teamfights.

Art @Kerasco√ęt

Now in tabletop RPGs, combat is not necessarily the main mode of gameplay; but in both combat and all other forms of gameplay; teamwork and teamplay are pretty much always a given. This is partially because the players have more control over each other (including the GM/DM) and are less likely to go off on their own- both for the sake of the game and as it will be more optimal. In a video game where each player is controlling their own character, no such controls exist. 

Most "fights" are, however, mostly focused on defeating all of the enemies in the most optimal way possible. This makes sense, but is a bit simplistic. In Heroes of the Storm and other MOBAs as well, fights are about that ultimately, but there tend to be several smaller "side objectives" in a teamfight, which come up on a second per second basis. Due to the fast paced and real time nature of the game; certain small objectives come up during the fight which players have to rotate their abilities or focus on as they go. Now it's easy to say that this would just be the same as "playing the game optimally" and "winning" the fight, but often times fights in blank gray room theater-of-the-mind just end up as dealing damage to the enemy until they die with a little bit of target priority and focus fire- I think having more concrete and apparent goals, signposted by the GM, is a better way to set up combat encounters.

This sounds a bit vague, so let's come up with a practical example.

Say you have a character in your party who has taken a lot of damage and is now weak- only one or two more hits will likely kill them. There is an enemy who is about to unleash a powerful attack or spell that will end them; so your overall goal of "winning" the fight has now changed to stopping this attack from going off- since it will allow your teammate to survive and help win the rest of the fight- so you have to use either an action to disrupt this powerful spell (a stun) or focus that target to be killed first. This concept isn't very unique, but the difference is it feels much more real and immediate in a video game, due to the nature of the medium, then in a tabletop game.

I've had experiences like this as well. In one game I ran, a large monster was blocking a corridor and was chasing down the lightly armored Sage. Behind the monster, was the group's fighter, who used his action to slide between the monster's legs, while attacking, to put himself between the monster and the more vulnerable party member. I thought this was a cool example of teamwork in a way that made sense in the context of the game's universe- less "gamey" then if the Fighter had say a "stunning strike" move that interrupted the monster's next attack.

Another example is control points, or "King of the Hill". In a video game, this is a magic circle you need to stand in to change it to your team's color and hold it for a period of time. In the context of a game, you could do this by slaying enemies who enter the circle while staying there, but because it's a game using powers or moves to push enemies out of the circle. In-universe, this context doesn't make a ton of sense. The concept of "holding a hill" is from warfare and battle strategy; hills are good defensive positions because it is harder for enemy soldiers to move up a hill, and because you can shoot down at an enemy while they have a disadvantage to throw or fire arrows up, and so on. But if an commander just told their soldiers to focus on "pushing people off the hill" as opposed to killing them, it wouldn't accomplish much and would kind of defeat the purpose of "holding the hill". Naturally it is this concept and the childhood of game of being on top of a hill as where the video game concept of control points comes from. It's an abstraction of holding key positions or resources made into bounds in a video game, so a computer can arbitrate the outcome of a match.

However, tabletop games and fantasy can give us this style of gameplay. Imagine the burial site of an ancient powerful sorcerer or dragon. It is said that whoever stands on top of its grave at sundown on this day will determine the revived creature's alignment. So if only your good aligned PCs stand on its grave, it will come back as good, but if a bunch of evil orcs stand on its grave, it will come back as evil. The resurrection spell cannot be stopped, but you can help control its outcome. In this fantasy scenario, I actually think the strategy of moving enemy's off the hill as opposed to just killing them outright works best- since you need to ensure that as many possible creatures on the burial mound are good aligned. Attacks in tabletop games can kill but have to deal damage first, have a chance to miss, and enemies who are struck down may still be "alive", just in a dying state, which could muck up the ritual. In this scenario I could easily see a Monk being a great asset, using judo-throws to get orcs off the hill just before the sun goes down and the magic is complete; a sort of primary objective that is more important then "winning the fight".

Saturday, October 22, 2022

8 Magic Songs

[1] Bourree of the Bastard
This song is played at a frantic pace; best played on drums made of human skin or a decaying violin that shrieks. Anyone who hears this song begins to feel both rage and a sensation of revelry at the same time; a sort of casual violence and cruelty overcomes the listener; no morale checks are rolled for those who can hear this song.

[2] Song of the Skyless
This magic song is special to those who have spent their entire lives underground. To anyone who has ever seen or lived on the surface world; the song sounds sort of tinny and wrong, but to those who have only known the underdark or subterranean places, this song is enrapturing. If you play this song to a being who has only ever spent their life underground; treat your reaction check as the highest possible result for this creature. For unintelligent creatures, the song is simply a pleasant noise, so only treat reaction checks rolls as a +1 for the pleasing melody.

What creatures have spent their whole life underground? Dwarves (except nobility) have a 1 in 10 chance to have never gone to the surface. Orcs, Drow, Gnolls, and other cave dwelling races only on a 1 in 4 since they frequently raid the surface world. If creatures are in a group together- assume the ones who can hear the song get the best reaction check but the rest go along as normal- treating your song as some kind of enchanting witch spell instead of a special song just for them.

[3] Melody of Mold
Low, ambient sound usually enchanted on old stone, or more rarely, plays softly from clusters of glowing mushrooms deep underground. Every mushroom, growth, mold, or myconid near the sound becomes resistant to fire- fields of sporecaps are protected by their own natural melodies. Fire only has a 1 in 6 chance to spread when you try to light a room full of shrooms. Blowing them up doesn't work much better- they'll hide underground before popping back up again undamaged. Clouds of spores or pollens are not protected by this spell, so you may be able to clear a safe path through a toxic mushroom swamp by burning the clouds away and giving yourself a brief window to pass.

This sound is considered to be a natural phenomena. Some say it's the closest things that mushrooms have to a God- a sort of proto-creation of natural harmony and cooperation joined together.

[4] Song in a Shoe
This song can be played on any instrument, but always appears as a pair of silver shoes with a unique flair or in the style of the player of the song. These shoes grant fleetness of foot- a traveling speed increase of one sixth or one extra hex per day of travel, and those who wear these shoes are never surprised- but the shoes give off the song with each and every step the wearer makes, making stealth impossible and clearly showing the wearer is under the effect of a spell unless if they have instruments they can pretend to play to cover up the sound of the song.

The Song in a Shoe keeps working for one full day or until the wearer stops walking for more then a turn (going into a dungeon, traveling by boat, riding a mount, or making camp stops this spell).

[5] Ragtime Rites
Fast paced, engaging song played by a group. While most funerals are quiet, mournful affairs, this song is more upbeat and energetic. It has the effect of calming and weakening restless spirits- causing the undead to return to their eternal rest after a bout of spirited dancing. Violent undead, however, will still attack. Each round the song is played, all undead nearby will dance, with restless and evil undead or servants of necromancers taking 1 damage per round until destroyed.

This song is a specialty of the Merrymarrows, who do not take any damage from the song, but it helps get their old bones moving. It is for this reason that the lands they hail from have such colorful funerals; it's an excuse for the skeletons to party while putting down actually dangerous undead.

[6] Goblin Song
This son is performed most commonly by goblins in a goblin war band- which is basically just what happens when more then a dozen goblins get together and get bored of messing with each other. Sounds suspiciously like the Melody of Mold just with scratching goblin singing over it- considering the melody is the goblin's second favorite song they probably just copied it. It has a similar effect, except it applies to all goblins in earshot, who gain +2 temporary Hit-Points.

Whenever this song is played; no actual instruments are needed, just various objects to smash together, bones to clatter, or the occasional cat that they stick pins in to make an instrument.

[7] Lawful Litany
Imbued with the powers of Law, this alignment-based song has a holy sound. If this song is playing, any lawful cleric will Turn Undead as though one level higher. In addition, unholy noise, demonic chants, and spoken curses will fall dead in the throats of the sinners; cancelling or silencing the spells of those of Chaotic alignment.

The twinkling highs and harmonious voice of this song are truly beautiful to hear. It is said that this song is a copy of a copy of a memory of a dream of a holy man once allowed to hear one single song in heaven.

[8] Rhetorical Requiem
Only the name of this song is known to people- the words and how it goes is not. This song is not remembered by anyone who hears it- only those who know how to play. While the song itself is moving, immediately after it is played, all who heard it forget its details and the performance. The subjects of this spell lose all memory of the performance itself; just that they "heard" the song. This also applies to anything said or heard during the song as well- which fades into its performance. You could accuse someone of murder with its lyrics, see their horrified reaction at being found out, and then when the song ends they forgot you ever accused them of anything.

This song has been used by many to fleece patrons, to investigate rumors, to trick and confuse. But be warned, those who cannot hear the notes being played will remember everything they have seen and felt. This is the reason why the wise always keep a deaf man with them when they hear the strings play.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Vagueposting- The Static Dynamic

In the classic Silent Hill 2, there is a part that happens involving this chap where the player is knocked off a high place. When you hit the ground, you are automatically knocked to critical health from whatever health value you are at from before this encounter. Since it's basically required to have this encounter on a playthrough, since it gives you access to a new area, it's something everyone who plays the game will go through.

Isn't that interesting?

Think about it. This is a survival horror game, with limited resources for things like ammo and healing items, with a moment where the player is forced to take damage. This is especially important in Silent Hill 2 as one of the game's endings can be influenced by having taken a lot of damage. There is someone, somewhere, in the world who got the aforementioned ending because of this event- they just happened to be low on healing items when this event happened. Somebody else probably died to a monster afterwards because of the damage; or others had to expend a healing item that would have come in handy at a later portion. While interacting directly with the gameplay, this moment is a scripted event in a story that cannot be changed. This also is not a quicktime event or test of reflexes or planning, since it's something that will always happen that you have no imput or control over.

I think there is a really interesting overlap between these two different worlds of a game; the "game and the story" being normally separate entities, but instead being put together. It's uncommon for a game to actually waste the players ammo in a cutscene where they shoot their weapon, for example, and rare for damage in a cutscene to carry over either. What does this say about the game if it does happen?

The title of this post is a bit of an oxymoron.

When it comes to games, be them tabletop or of the video variety, there is a gradient between static and dynamic. Dynamic games would be games with more interactive, random, or changing gameplay elements that add more factors to any individual play session, where as a game more on the "static" side would be the opposite. More scripted, cinematic, or on-rails for a tabletop descriptor. Something at the absolute end of the "static" side would probably be something like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book, where as the most dynamic possible would be a traditional game of D&D or something similar with a new adventure created on the fly by the dungeon master or players every session.

In the most static game imaginable, you might have multiple encounters with a monster or forced resource "checks" where the player loses some kind of counter or resource in scripted sequences. Some concepts like this already exist in tabletop games; such as needing one ration of food per day when away from civilization. This is a mandatory resource that can't be overcome with good rolls (except for maybe a Survival check, but it's not the same as health- you don't lose health every day and only need to use healing potions if you get a bad roll or make a mistake). 

In a game like this, everything or anything that happens could be set in stone and you are simply following along; like literally playing out a movie or a book, scene by scene, needing to make the various checks and expend resources at the right moments. Now I think most people would find a game like this very boring and somewhat pointless, myself included, but in my opinion, the concept of a game with scripted or set "moments" like this is an interesting idea space.

Consider a campaign where the players psychic or cyberpunk brain-to-computer hackerman by the rules lose a certain amount of health/sanity/magic points whenever they use their abilities. However, it is well established early on in this campaign that you must unlock the three computer terminals or mind-control the three lieutenants; thus creating a sort of anticipation and phase of preparation for that player. Because there is a set, established set of things that the player(s) must preform, this scripted "story" sequence becomes part of the game. In anticipation for this checkpoint, you can't expend too many of your magic points or else you'll have to roll on the psychic backlash table or what have you. And after the event, some of your resources are gone without being totally up to the player to decide how to use them.

Also, it should be noted here that a "scripted" or "set in stone" event may or may not even exist in the perception of the one experiencing it. You wouldn't be able to tell if everything that happens in your game was the result of rolls on a random table or predetermined- save for those things that don't flow logically or are thrust upon the players ala a railroad.

Unique Encounters
What exactly is the place of a scripted event or railroaded event in a game or sequence? Most consider it a result of poor GM/DM/QM decision making. I also agree that these are not as fun or interesting in tabletop games then they would be in a video game.

Another example of a similar concept are unique and specific encounters in a game; such as boss fights or enemies that are only fought once or with a specific gimmick. This to me is an interesting idea space; the idea of an otherwise free flowing "game" state that interacts with a set encounter. Tabletop games are rife with this sort of thing for obvious reasons; an encounter with bandits but the bandit leader has a magic weapon or a sorcerer that casts a specific spell, etc. However I consider this more on the dynamic side of this made up spectrum. In the world of video games however, we see something like this much more often, possibly because most of the gameplay is already relatively "static" in how the player can interact with the game world in such a way.

For example; in most games there may be a few generic enemy types. Zombies, zombie dogs, giant spiders, etc. Typically you'll encounter each of these separately in different arrangements. Zombie dogs fought in a hallway is different then zombie dogs fought out in an open field. You can manage one zombie easily but three or more is a hoard that you might find it hard to escape from, etc. If you were suddenly put into a room with a zombie and a zombie dog, that would be a unique encounter; do you shoot at the comparatively more powerful but slow and easy to hit zombie first? Or take care of the fast moving enemy while the slower one creeps up on you? However, this to me isn't a "unique" encounter, though it may be the only time it happens in the game, it is a shuffling of other "game pieces" in the world. However, if there was a random room where once you enter a giant spider crawls over the door to get out and starts spitting webs at you- with you unable to leave until you shoot the ranged monster, this to me would be a very unique and interesting, memorable sort of encounter. It's difficult to describe, but the concept of a "unique" once only asset in a game like that is very interesting to me. Even if you programmed a new enemy type, and only fight it once in a specific area (like most bosses in a game), it wouldn't feel as "unique" then if you had a special encounter with an enemy that did something specific like that.

One little indie game I quite like is an RPG called BUGGERWORLD. It's a bit of a shitpost game but is actually pretty unique in that regard, as every fight in this game is unique, with new art and mechanics each time. The game's scope is so small there isn't even any leveling up, you gain new abilities and/or increases to your base stats simply based on progression in the story- which is entirely linear. Therefore, each battle will be exactly the same from one player or one playthrough to the next. The only "dynamic" element between them would be which and how many healing/restoring items you found and bought in the game and how well you rationed them. Then, the fight itself involves your own player skill to find the right combination of moves and healing/attacking to prevail in the end. If you want to play it yourself I'd highly recommend it; it's only about two hours long and totally free.

In a similar vein, a long running concept I've always wanted to see explored was a game where every single encounter with enemies was wholly unique. As in, every fight has new enemies, animations, and slightly different rules. This concept is something I'm sure many also have; which is unusual and rare in the world of video games, but is actually in a sense the default in a tabletop game, as the player-driven creativity and different context of a fight or social encounter or dungeon crawl or whatever else lifts it automatically out of a generic "template" or creation of different "assets" ala a video game.

But if we really want to talk about a game that feels like a linear, hand crafted journey with what I'm talking about here; then check out Northern Journey. But more on that later.

Potential Uses & Gameplay Enrichment
The concept of games having these sorts of things is not new; and in fact are already named Set-Pieces, which I embarrassingly only remember now most of the way through writing this. I think a real advantage of set pieces is being memorable and shaking up the status quo of a game.

Tabletop and imaginary elf-games also use setpieces too; while I said above I think they're more common here then in videogames and are thus less memorable and notable when they happen, they are still far and away better in the tabletop genre. Mostly because they interact directly with the freeform and problem-solving nature of gameplay in a tabletop game.

Most DMs/GMs have probably already had a couple of really good setpiece fights. Powerful monster chasing you down hallways too tight for it to turn around. Daring stagecoach or train robberies. Combat on or in burning and collapsing structures; or a slowly flooding room, etc. Dangerous terrain that changes during the course of the fight makes for more interesting fights, even in theater of the mind. Of course, the other advantage of tabletop roleplaying games is that fighting is not the only thing you can be doing; but as a simulation of a fantasy world or "adventure novel" these setpiece events don't stick out from the norm as they are usually the norm. The only time they would be incredibly jarring and, thus, capable of capturing the imagination the way I described above was if the majority of encounters in the game were simple, repetitive, with little fluff or deviation. Just empty rooms with combat encounters that end up being resolved by rolling dice a lot and ticking health down and experience up. In other words, the most boring type of campaign imaginable. Hence, the entire concept of these encounters requires a certain degree of sameness in the rest of the whole; and with the unlimited imagination space of tabletop games it kinda defeats the purpose.

Friday, October 14, 2022

Dirt Simple Wealth- Wealth as Treasures Abstraction

I want to make it clear from the outset that any OSR style game, or games with gold for XP, should absolutely not use this system under any circumstance. This concept is more fitting for a generic adventure or high fantasy story game. The granularity and importance of keeping track of individual gold pieces and time is not necessarily something you want for a more casual game; so this method is a compromise between more objective systems and the more abstract wealth-as-a-stat system found in some games.

In some PbtA games, wealth is like an abstract stat. The idea being that anything under your wealth level is not something you need be concerned with; but anything equal to or over your wealth level is a significant purchase and will or has a chance to reduce your wealth level by one degree. The idea behind this system is to more accurately portray a character's lifestyle within the world; a high class noble has no concern over daily lodgings and meals, and can freely buy horses or servants if needed without any impact to their overall finances, but buying a powerful magic spell or a castle would be something they need to carefully consider. On the flipside, a character with a wealth level of one or zero would have to carefully consider how they will make enough money each day to afford their meals or simple services.

The idea is to take the above basic system, but instead of abstract stats or levels, tie your wealth level to each significant treasure you have looted.

Wealth as Treasures
As adventurers explore the world, do quests, and raid tombs, they will eventually come into possession of valuable artifacts. Some of these may be magical or very powerful; as as such will be valuable, but some will be valuable purely for other reasons; great works of art and craft, huge gemstones or precious metals, cultural and historical significant, etc. These are your treasures.

You are only going to be keeping track of significant treasures; typically the namesake of whatever dungeon, tomb, or royal family you're stealing from. If your players make a plan to steal the Mona Lisa, then that would become the significant treasure written on their character sheet. The other paintings and valuables in the Louvre that were stolen fetched you a lot of money, but those are part of the abstraction. Naturally a thief or graverobber will keep the best finds for themselves- so for each of these great treasures you possess, you treat this as one "wealth level".

Your daily expenses are not being paid by these treasures, you are buying your food and servants with the silver coins you looted from the orcs you fought in the dungeon, or you are making a small daily stipend from the local banking guild by stowing your treasure in their vault- but the treasures remains your primary wealth. When you need to purchase something valuable to your wealth-level, you will need to exchange a treasure for it. The DM decides which treasure you are trading away, not you.

So for example; a character with a single treasure; a glorious golden signet ring from an ancient dynasty, will have enough wealth laying around from their previous dungeon haul to buy their daily necessities. But if they suddenly need to buy a good fast horse to get out of town, they will begrudgingly give away this ring, vastly overpaying, to the stablemaster for his finest steed. Now, when you reach the next town over, you will have lost one level of wealth and are struggling, on the run and hungry, until you can find another valuable treasure to add to your character sheet.

Treasures also scale upwards; while the first great treasure you find may be one piece of jewelry or animate portrait, later treasures will be exponentially bigger and more valuable. This is tied together inherently with character progression; more dangerous dungeons have better treasures, so what counts as a "significant treasure" may change based on how many you already have. You can dive into the lagoon and pry open as many giant clams as you wish for pearls; but one or two or a dozen more isn't going to bring you to the heights of wealth and luxury; you'd need something greater.

Once a character has four, five, or six significant treasures; they'll be living like a King and have no issue affording property, income generating businesses, paying servants, and hiring mercenary bands. But if you want a truly exorbitant purchase, like the construction of a new castle, you'll still need to give up one of your precious treasures for it. While your character's liquid wealth has not actually decreased sans one treasure, consider it like losing a bit of the renown and respect they garnered that helped them keep their level of income before; while the local archbishop may be irritated that you won't donate the lost scrolls of the saint to the church; if you lose them again he'd be downright furious, and stop sending rookie healer-priests to your fort for free heals- thus increasing your expenses. Or maybe, you can't get as much money from pilgrims or wealthy nobles on tour who want to see your collection. You get the idea.