Balancing DS Campaigns

The campaign rules on page 31 of the DKQ quest book include a simple balancing mechanism to tailor things to your group.

The balance of the metagame is very sensitive to the relative skills of the different players, especially how cunning the Overlord is compared to the Heroes. Playing the Overlord and the Heroes requires different skills and mindsets, and people are usually better at one side or the other. Sometimes this means that the Heroes romp through with little to stop them; other times the Overlord halts them at every turn. Ideally you have a balance, but this isn’t always the case.

The campaign rules give the Heroes 15 campaign hours (tries) to get through all the adventures. During testing this was the average needed, and gave us about a 50/50 split of victories. However, as I mentioned above, the relative skills of the players often made a big difference, and you may want to tweak this if one side is especially cunning or inexperienced compared to the other.The easiest way to balance a campaign is to change the number of campaign hours available. You can either do this by simply picking what you think will work better for your group, or you can bid.

Bidding works well when you have more than one person who wants to play a particular side. One of the players declares that they can win with a particular number of campaign hours on the clock (you could start with 15). Then one of the other players who would like that role declares that he can do it in less/more (depending on which role they’re bidding for). Continue until all players bar one have dropped out. The last player then gets to try to live up to this boast as you play through the campaign.

Obviously it will depend on which role the players are bidding for as to whether the campaign hours bid should be going up or down. Bidding for the Overlord means offering higher numbers (meaning you have to hold out for longer).

Incidentally, the most common mistake of inexperienced Overlords is to care too much about their minions. Think big – the individual lives of your followers don’t matter. What is important is killing Heroes, and if that is proving too hard, simply slowing them up enough to allow your Great Work to be completed. In a campaign sense, this means slowing them down so much that they can’t get through an adventure before they run out of time. In reality, time running out simply means that reinforcements have arrived from deeper in the catacombs, and the Heroes are forced to retreat by a wall of enemies, and wait for them to return to their lairs once more before they can try again.

One final thought on these campaigns: people occasionally say that the Overlord misses out on the extra mini-missions. That’s right, he does, and quite rightly too. Apart from balance issues, this goes back to the difference in ways of thinking. We’re used to seeing movies and reading books where the Bad Guy is rather less detailed than the Heroes, and D&D et al has taught us that Heroes should be worried about the minutiae of equipment. The Overlord is appropriately rewarded by the campaign timer ticking down every time he wins, and this long view is where he needs his head at. His minions are merely the means to an end and individuals don’t matter, so nor does their exact equipment – the Overlord has far more important things to be pondering. Heroes, on the other hand, are all about the individual and really care who has the shiniest sword :)

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DS Commands & Command Cards

One of the changes on the DS FAQ is a piece of errata for page 76, explaining the numbers of Commands per turn and Command cards the Overlord has. Some folk have found this a bit contra-intuitive, but it is correct.

The confusing bit seems to be that the Overlord gets more Command cards against inexperienced opponents. That’s because the cards are the game’s timer, so more cards means more time for the neophyte Heroes to make their way past the Overlord’s minions.

Commands per turn works the other way, as this is the real danger to the Heroes. Here the Overlord gets the ability to do more against higher level Heroes, to balance the game better.

However, these are just guidelines. The number of Commands per turn is particularly hard to make fixed rules about because it is so sensitive to things like the layout of the tiles. You’ll note that the pre-written adventures have a much wider range for Commands per turn than mentioned here, and this is because they’ve been balanced by repeated playing.

When you design your own adventures I’d start with 3 Commands per turn as a starting point and see how that goes. You may find that the layout makes the Overlord’s job easy, even if he doesn’t have that many minions. All sorts of things can impact this balance, such as the type and strength of locks, width of corridors, number of doors and so on. And that’s not to mention the combination and levels of Heroes and the relative skills of the Hero and Overlord players.

All told, you will probably need to be prepared to adapt things to suit your player group if you want every adventure to be perfectly balanced. I will be adding another article on balancing quests to offer some more suggestions, but the fundamentals aren’t going to change. There’s no way to make something this flexible into a hard and fast universal rule (that works). That was always going to be the downside of having a system that allows so much mutability :)

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A Couple More

Added a few more bits to the DS FAQ. Little by little…

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First Steps…

Just posted an initial version of the FAQ doc on the DS FAQ page. It’s only got a couple of questions so far (on Uncharted Dungeons), but it’s a start. I’ve actually answered more than this, I just need to collate them all into this file.

As ever, please ask any more game questions on the appropriate FAQ page.


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Home Again, Home Again…

Back at base again.

Predictably, things didn’t go as smoothly as I’d hoped while I was away. My email provider decided that I was accessing things from somewhere different from usual (which I was) and as a security measure decided to stop me. Unfortunately, the email telling me that this was what was going on was sent to the email account that was locked…

Now I’m back at my normal location all is fine in the digital world again, though there is something of a backlog to trawl through.

Physically getting back home involved a long delay on the train as we hit someone. Now I know what a body sounds like when a train runs over it. That does put into perspective the problems I had with email.

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While I Have A Moment…

I thought that I would ramble a little about where DS is for me.

Firstly, despite the large amount of  good stuff in DS, I’m a bit disappointed with some of it too and entirely understand why some of you are quite upset. My experience is very different from yours, so the reasons may differ, and I am seldom if ever entirely happy with things because I’m a bit of perfectionist, but still…

Secondly, as I find time I’m going to add whatever fixes I can for any rules queries. This is often a very time-consuming process that can literally take hours of cross-checking for a single short answer. Not every time, of course, but sometimes, definitely. So bear with me. Remember also that I’ve worked on something like a dozen other games since I last touched DS, so it’s not exactly fresh in my mind.

Anyway… Continue reading

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Before I Forget

A while back I mentioned that a project I was working on would be revealed after Essen. Well, Essen’s come and gone and I’ve not mentioned it. The reason is that it’s been shelved for a while. Not canned, just postponed while we wait to see what someone else is up to. Apparently there’s another game which is very close to what we were doing and we don’t want to go head to head with it.

So that’s what happened with that.

Actually, this sort of thing happens a lot; probably a lot more than most folk outside the industry realise. Mostly you don’t get this reprieve though – you just get canned. So this is good :)

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