As you may have seen on the (huge) Kickstarter update 40, random dungeons are in, and they look like being a lot of fun. The random element can really capture the whole exploring the unknown feeling, with the potential for nasty surprises to be lurking round every corner. It’s also bit more anarchic and less finely balanced – so the dangers may be even greater than normal. There’s no way of knowing. Not a game for those of a nervous disposition.
In terms of rules design, the enormous number of different game modes, variable characters, random dungeons and so on offer a particular challenge. This is how do all these disparate elements fit together?
In the good old days when roleplaying games were in their infancy, there was D&D. This was a pretty simple game. In contrast to this, there was Chivalry & Sorcery (C&S). This was not a simple game. However, it wasn’t the intricacy of individual rules that made C&S so complicated, it was the lack of integration. For example, in their book on magic they listed many different types of prestidigitation, and each one worked differently. This was great for adding character to the different spell casters, but required a huge feat of memory to get it all right if there were several types within the adventure. Whilst C&S always had its devotees, and while I rather wanted to play it too, the major impact it had on me was as a lesson in how not to do something.
I’m sure some of you will tell me I’m being unfair, and that may be true. This is all said with the fuzziness of decades between me and it, and it’s a form of nostalgia. Like all nostalgia, close inspection may make it disappear. Either way, it’s a lesson I apply to all of my designs, and with Dungeon Sagas, because of its similar theme, I feel it even more strongly than usual.
As all these new elements have been added to the Kickstarter (thanks to the generosity of all you guys!), I’ve been pondering how to integrate them all into one smooth system. Clearly some bits fit more closely than others. For example, creating your own characters and resolving experience gains for characters are a good fit and will be closely related. Some parts will simply be the same. Any experience system bleeds into what happens in the downtime between adventures, so that’s linked too.
Building dungeons is a different subject. The random layout of dungeons is more than just placing rooms – it’s got to populate them too. The AI systems need to integrate with the ways that dungeons are built if I want to be able to include more character for the creatures that inhabit the dungeon (which I do). You can’t tailor AI to fit the behaviour of specific beasties if you don’t know what they are in advance, and random doesn’t suggest that you would. Or can you? I think I can see a way around this too. The AI and the dungeon generation (both planned and random) need to link up and impact on one another, so they will.
I’m thinking of using a split deck with one half being the layout of tiles and the other part being the creatures in it. Both halves would include a core set of cards that was always used (base tiles from the Core set on the one hand, giant spiders, rats, possibly traps, etc on the other). Each new tile we add in a quest pack would have a new card to go with it to add into the mix. Quest packs would have their specific race set of cards to add to the base set. The Advanced game that introduced these rules would have the card set for the Undead.
This means that you will be able to tailor things to an extent, so you’re randomly drawing from within a specific group rather than all the possible critters (or tiles or traps or whatever). This makes it possible to tailor the AI deck in the same way and have them dovetail properly :)
In practice, I’m thinking that you will draw a card to lay out one or more tiles (depending on how big they are), then draw a denizen card to see if anyone’s home. Finally, an AI card will tell you what they’re up to and how they react to their peace and quiet being disturbed by a bunch of rowdy adventurers. The doors will separate different sections of the dungeon as they do normally (almost as if it were planned).
Finally, while I’ve been thinking of this, I realised that it would be good to be able to tailor a random dungeon to fit any group of heroes, with the cards responding to their level of experience as they go along. In normal Necro-built or pre-set scenarios you have to make the Heroes fit the level of difficulty of the dungeon. Random generation flips that on its head as there is no fixed dungeon to use as reference. Instead the Heroes themselves become the reference point and the cards can adapt to give the Heroes a good run for their money whatever their level.
As this is all still in development these rules aren’t final. I just thought you might like a suggestion of the sort of things I’m aiming to include and the kind of way these can all be integrated without making the rules hugely complex. Once this has all been worked through in detail and played a few hundred times I think we’l be able to make it rather slick and incorporate a great deal of character in relatively simple processes. Which is what we want :)