As I mentioned the other day, I’d like to go through some of the characters that turn up in Dungeon Saga. This gives me a springboard to discuss some of the design choices we made as well as exploring different aspects of the game and its tactics.
For some reason, in my head, the first in line is always the Dwarf fighter: Rordin.
When I was thinking about the sorts of abilities and equipment I was going to put in the game, one of the things I really wanted to do was to include a spectrum of different styles within some of the Hero professions. So, within the concept of “fighter” there are actually several different approaches. Rordin, for example, starts out by focusing on defence. He is, in MMO terms, a tank.
In non-MMO terms, this means that he is very survivable with the best armour of any of the four Heroes.
Rordin is pretty good at dishing out punishment too, but that’s not his main aim. He is there to stop the bad guy(s) going somewhere. He can stand in front of any enemy and he’ll take less damage and last longer than anyone else. In a game in which positioning is often critical, this is a key skill.
While Rordin is holding someone in place the rest of the Heroes can get on with something else. This could be clearing the rest of the room, getting through a door, opening a chest, or whatever. Occasionally, the Barbarian Orlaf can be left on his own too, but only if he can kill the bad guys fast enough. Rordin can block a corridor on his own indefinitely and whenever it’s needed, leaving the remaining three to work as a team to get the rest of the job done.
His raw fighting power is second best among the Heroes, and he is one of two that can reliably smash down a door. Compared to the Elf and Wizard he’s a close combat monster. However, he’s not quick about it: slow and steady is Rordin’s way.
Like the other Heroes, Rordin starts the game with a single feat and gains another later on. Feats are one-use abilities that are specific to that Hero. Rordin’s first both makes him invulnerable and sucks up the actions of any adjacent foes to keep them where he wants them. Again: perfect for blocking a route to his comrades. His second feat pushes all adjacent foes away from Rordin, gaining him space to move once more: another survival trick.
As he gains experience during the campaign, Rordin also gains Tough (recovering a wound on a 6), an extra dice of combat ability (making him even harder to hurt as well as more dangerous in attack), plus two powerful magic items: The Runic Breastplate and Thorfin’s Hammer. The first makes him even harder to hurt, while the latter makes him a very nasty opponent in a fight as it ignores a lot of enemy armour. The overall effect of these bonuses emphasises his original style, and then enhances his combat power to eventually make him the most dangerous Hero against a single target.
I tend to play Rordin very aggressively because he’s so survivable. To my mind, he should be the one to go in first and absorb the enemy attacks. Even if he isn’t first in, I try to encourage my opponent to concentrate attacks on him. This means that the overall effect of any attacks is reduced, and any healing potions I may have will go further. When I’m playing all the Heroes, it’s not uncommon for me to end up with the Dwarf on the most wounds, despite his being the least likely to take one.
He is at his best when you have more than one group attacking you. In this case you can use Rordin to hold one lot off while the other three Heroes deal with the others. This gives you a huge superiority (in power and sometimes in actions too) in one area, which is what you need to get the job done briskly. And speed is important because DS adventures generally have a time limit.
Rordin is a simple fellow who likes to deal with one threat at a time and in person. Anything that requires range, multiple enemies (unless they are very close together) or magic will get left to one of his companions. Even killing foes can take him a bit of time because he’s so focussed on defence at the start. So, like all the Heroes, Rordin works best when in a group, all of which nicely ties into the co-op nature of the multi-player game.
It might be good if not all the scenarios have a time limit (like Descent which is generally a race). Or is the time limit more like that you can in theory have infinity amount of turns, but the overlord can continue to resurrect bone piles / summon more enemies so it’s better to move quickly? Of course time limited scenarios are nice variation too, but so is a possibility to occasionally explore area freely (like in HeroQuest).
Agreed. I think time limited scenarios can be fun, but I hope everything doesn’t feel like a race. Sometimes you just want a good dungeon ‘crawl’ 🙂
I also agree that while time limits have their place in some scenarios I hope we don’t see every one of them with time limits attached. I feel that was one of the major weaknesses with Descent 2nd edition. The games ended up feeling so rushed a lot of the mechanics and special abilities ended up getting missed out on because people are too rushed to bother with fun parts.
At present, all adventures have a time limit: the game ends when the Overlord player runs out of cards. This is needed to balance the relative power between the Heroes and the Overlord players. For example, only the Heroes can open doors to the next zone of the map. This allows them to control the rate of progression through the adventure, and also to avoid them being swamped by the Overlord (which inevitably happens if he can use all of the resources he has on the map at once).
Unfortunately, if the Heroes have no time limit to work against then they can dawdle about which is rather boring for the Overlord player. Early versions of the game worked exactly like this and the game was noticeably improved by adding the time limit.
Time limits also fit well with the aim of keeping the real world playing time reasonable, and keeping the games balanced. Heroes are massively more powerful than the majority of minions that Mortibris has to work with, ands the bad guys often struggle to win a straight fight. However, in the story they don’t need to as their job is really to delay the Heroes until Mortibris can extract the secrets and power from the Book of Valandor. So a time restriction fits well with the background.
Within that time limit the objectives vary. Sometimes the Heroes need to kill a Boss, sometimes they need to find the way through to the next level – they are trying to get to Mortibris after all. And, even when the objective is the same, the layout of the scenario, the creatures in it, and the time available all go to make it a different tactical puzzle to unwrap. People often fall into the trap of thinking that the adventures are similar because they are defined by a small number of variables, only to discover this is quite untrue when they actually play through them.
@Tazar – from the playtests I’ve done and watched I’d say that the time limit has the opposite effect. It concentrates the player’s thinking and encourages them to come up with cunning uses of their skills and resources. remember that this isn’t a real world time limit (of half an hour, or whatever), it’s a turn limit.
Makes sense and I look forward to giving some of these scenarios to try :).
I’m not sure exactly how the Necromancer wins via time limit – I’m assuming once he’s out of cards he simply wins the scenario? Have you considered (at least perhaps in some scenarios) using a slightly ‘softer’ time limit end? For example, once the Necromancer is out of cards, rather than simply have the game end, for EACH turn beyond this give the Necromancer’s minions a significant increase in strength (thematically you could say he’s mastered a secret from the book, or perhaps stronger minions start appearing from deeper in the dungeon)? The game could then end as soon as the Necromancer can bring down one hero for example.
This eliminates what I think a lot of people dislike about a race type mechanic – the psychological (and sometimes anticlimactic) sudden ‘time’s up’ effect. I understand it wouldn’t always thematically make sense (if you’re trying to get to point X before the Necromancer seals it for example, then a sudden end after the turn limit makes sense). But in other cases, with some clever strategic play, it means the heroes MIGHT be able to buy themselves another turn or two (so things don’t feel so abrupt).
Just my two cents. And thanks for the info. The game is sounding great 🙂
I find the time limits are a great thing… it really focuses the mind, and causes some great “AAARRRGH” moments when you realise you’ve only 2 turns left as a hero to do something that will take 3 turns (open a door, break open a chest and get back to your other heroes for example) to achieve, and the Necromancer player just gives you an evil grin… it’s a different mechanic that I really like.
Given that the ‘win’ conditions for each scenario are varied -so it might be to get through a certain door, or kill a certain baddy (that you have no idea where he lives), or find n chests (all of which are Heroes win conditions I’ve seen), that having a condition of ‘do 5 wounds on a hero or wait till you’ve run out of cards’ is fine in my mind -after all a win is a win 🙂
Just to be clear I don’t consider an objective of ‘inflict 5 wounds on a hero’ as a time limit. I’d say that’s more of a soft end and is great for variation!When I say time limit I’m referring to fixed turn limit.
Also, does the Necromancer have objectives other than delay the heroes until the turn limit elapses?
Sorry, I didn’t mean that killing a hero is the same as a time limit, just that that’s another way the necromancer can win -so it gives him a few tactical options auto try and pick on a hero (say the puny wizard) with all his guys, or try to block the heroes passage (that can be very effective with a few good rolls)
This was my thinking as well. And my gut tells me I’d make a house rule to play missions this way. Reminds me a little of a computer game I played 25 odd years ago. Can’t remember it’s name – but if you stayed in a room for too long a big evil ghost monster thing came out chased you out of the room or killed you if you weren’t fast enough.
Other soft time limits could be no downtime between missions for heroes or bonus to the overlord in their downtime.
The dungeon deals one wound to a hero at random per turn whenever an overlord card would be drawn.
A reduction in the turn limit in a subsequent mission.
An extra mission objective – something like repopulate the dungeon map. heroes must fight their way back to their start squares/ specified space.
Heroes heal one less damage before the next mission.
And as mentioned above a strong monster appears.
Etc. it could be a “turn limit table” or a predetermined result if heroes don’t win by the time limit. This sort of table could also make a campaign feel more drawn together.
Shane, was the game you were thinking of, called Venture?
Looking at screenshots yes I believe it might have been. If not it was a copy of that exact game. It certainly was a lot of fun. A vintage games. Why did life have to get so complicated with all the 3d graphics and controllers with more than 1 button.
I just advise that the play-testers insure that objective cannot be completely simply by what may be considered a non conventional route and avoiding combat and simply outrunning the bad guys or double moving through the whole dungeon or whatever the options may be. I would feel as thought he game would be cheapened if the most effective way to do things is simply speed through it without ever getting into the the actual fray and duking it out.
I also hope that while the heroes are stronger than the Necromancer’s minions they are still at risk of falling to their onslaughts as opposed to simply being slowed down to the point of timing out and losing. There would seem to be little joy or satisfaction to simply feeling slowed down my minions as opposed to the feeling of mortal danger from the minions.
Last thought from me on the subject, (sorry don’t mean to beat a dead horse) I understand the need for a time limit or something rushing the heroes along to keep them from sitting and twirling their thumbs too long but at the same time I feel there is certainly an aspect of gameplay that would benefit and be enjoyable when players feel no matter how slow and steady they try and approach the dungeon they are still in danger of failing. Perhaps some sort of mechanic to light a metaphorical fire under the heroes would be better suited. A mechanic that punishes players for taking to long or a risk that increases with each passing turn. For instance the longer they take, the more risk of danger via random encounters or random events. Something like that could serve to be the constant pressing factor as opposed to the threat of simply timing out and drawing all the remaining cards. I don’t fully know the mechanics behind the overlord drawing all his cards, so I may be wrong, but on the surface that feels very unsatisfying and anti-climatic.
The adventures are actually very well devised so as to avoid those sort of problems -for example, in one we did on the play test day, I rolled really well for the heroes and slaughtered a few big beasties, and made my way to the final room and killed the big objective baddie. My first reaction was ‘that was bloody easy, a few good rolls and I’m sorted’ but then we realised I’d completely forgotten about the time limit, and the be romanced was within 2 turns of winning (so basically if a couple of my rolls went a different way, it’d have been curtains).
I did have some of the same reservations as you did though, but playing through a couple of adventures showed me that it’s really well balanced, and if you want an ‘old school’ dungeon crawl, you don’t have to play the listed adventures (there’s the AI decks too don’t forget!)
(Random thought- do the players get to know how many cards are left in the necros deck? Obviously in the prefab scenarios they’ll know if they read the book but can they ask during play “how many turns are left?”)
time limits are great in a balanced well run situation, Where during the last turn it could go either way. not so much when you realise with four turns left you didn’t use your time properly and might as well restart the mission because it’s impossible to open the door in time now. (And in a 5 player game if you’re the only person that’s noticed do you tell everyone to save time or keep it to yourself?)
Yes that means people need to plan things out more, and probably isn’t an issue when 1 player controls all the heroes, but it can be annoying in co-op games to have your characters decisions made for you because of a time limit – if this happens all the time.
I have a question about hero progession. You have said that in the basic game hero development choices are fixed, but it also seems like the items they get are fixed. Does that mean there are no random treasure draws? And if there are, what sort of treasure do the heroes find?
Also, in the advanced game, do the heroes have a lot of development options to pick from?
You’re right: in the core set the major treasure is fixed too. As I think I’ve mentioned before, the core set is designed to be something you can just take down and play with minimal fuss. Some of the minor treasures (such as potions found in chests) are random in some scenarios, and we’ve discussed possibly adding a few more random items. However, the core aim is to be proscriptive in the core set.
In the advanced game things are far more fluid. When a Hero gains an experience bump they have a minimum of 4 choices to pick their advancement from, and can have more in certain circumstances.
Thanks Jake. That sounds like a healthy number of options per level!
One other quick question about campaign play with the basic rules. Is progression through the campaign linear? Or are there branch points (e.g. if heroes win, play mission X, if necromancer wins, play mission Y)? And are there any consequences for victory/defeat that carry over into the next mission?
Progression through the pre-written campaigns I’ve done so far is linear, though that doesn’t mean that all future ones will be and it certainly doesn’t stop you writing ones what aren’t. For current adventures, you have to remember that they are intended to be simple enough for people to play as part of the core pick-up-and-play game.
If you lose a campaign scenario you don’t progress to the next (like most computer games).
It might be interesting if different expansions offered a different kind of experience. For example, one that is non-linear or multipart: who wins the first scenario, has a slight advantage for the second one. An expansion that plays more like a dungeon crawler without time limits, but still offers a fair challenge. Though I guess the latter one would require advanced rules of traps, hidden rooms etc.
“Rordin also gains Tough (recovering a wound on a 6)”
Does this mean he heals a wound every time one of the dice he rolls is a 6? That sounds like it could be extremely powerful if he’s rolling 4-5 dice every time he attacks.
In the beta rules he roles 1 dice each round for this skill. So it’s not as powerful as you think it is. 😉
He rolls a single dice for Tough at the end of each Round. It’s useful, but not enormously powerful.
Hi, long time lurker here, I really love your blog and the openess you have with your community here in regards to your game design. So thanks!
You focus on how this character progresses, and his central aim being resilience in close quarters. I would like to know what your thoughts are in regards to the advanced rules allowing a player to choose different types of dwarf warrior (with different tactical aims) from the outset: these choices giving a different skill progression. Is this a possibility in the advanced rules? Or does it throw up too many problems for game balance? Thanks
The different options described above are all possible in the DIY Hero bit of the advanced rules. I’ll talk about them in more detail in a later article.
dvanced rules will include a way of dungeon exploration step by step? Like heroquest, whq, shadows of brimstone…
Don’t know how pre-alpha game worked without the time limit, but maybe just shuffle overlord cards when the pile runs out. I don’t remember what the available hero actions are -> can they just heal themselves / cast healing spells unlimitedly or should this option be removed if playing with more dungeon crawlerly.
@Azrael – yes, with random dungeons. Also, every dungeon is only placed up to the next closed door, so you don’t know what lies beyond it.
@Nakano – the Overlord deck is now 22 cards in total, so you never need to play through it more than once. Most scenarios list a smaller number of cards to play through.
What I’d be interested in is whether there is any kind of aggro/threat mechanic. What I mean is, OK so the dwarf is suitably tanky to withstand a lot of damage. But why should the monsters go for him instead of for the squishies in the back? MMOs (and D&D 4th Edition) handle this by including abilities that allow the dwarf to induce the enemies to attack him; taunts, bonuses to his attacks if they ignore him, etc.
Will DKS also use something to this effect or (looking at the preview pictures of the board) are the rooms to small to make this an issue at all – i.e. the dwarf can simply block any monsters from walking past him?
From memory you aren’t able to move through a monsters front arc. So it is possible to get pinned and trapped. You can move out of a front arc but their is a free attack against you, but you can’t move from one front arc to another (need to recheck rules(alpha) and check the new rules (beta)
Also from reading of the play test day, his feat is able to buy an extra turn of stopping everything around him from doing anything for a turn (limit once per scenario).
So, as i see it, if the im the necro and I can get around him I will but they isn’t always going to be a choice – especially in a twisting tunnels mission like those in the warlords expansion.
I see your point though- it potentially overly complicates some otherwise simple mechanics but – if there was a variable in the way attacks worked for entering / leaving a front arc. So heavy unit might get an extra (either in power or quantity) attack when an enemy tries to leave its front arc, BUT I’d see these heavy units as suffering from a similar attack if they tried to exit an enemies arc (lumbering piles of metal plates aren’t exactly known for their ability to manoeuvre. In the same way a light unit (ally the half king thief as example) could possible have a chance of slipping right through an enemies front arc.
The AI rules use a threat mechanic in this sort of style. At least, that’s part of the current version.
For games against a live opponent, the restrictions on moving into and out of opponent’s front arcs works already. You need to guard your flanks and protect the weaker members of the group from being attacked. This encourages cooperation between the Heroes and gives the Overlord interesting things to plot about.
How easy it is to position yourself optimally depends greatly on the layout of the scenario, which is yet another reason why looking at an adventure on paper and playing it is so very different. Two scenarios with identical numbers of creatures, Heroes, and objectives can actually play completely differently because of the layout alone.
So does Rordin’s Tough work kind of like a Troll’s regeneration? That is… Does it work when injured as well as once at the end of a Round? Or is it even more limited than that?
Tough only works at the end of a Round, so it’s not nearly as good as Regeneration. However, it is significantly better than not having it 🙂