Thursday, August 21, 2014

Catering to the noobs, or not

I am currently pondering a design question about Rituals in Heroes By Trade.  Rituals are magical things that a character can do that are generally not that applicable in combat.  They use the caster's health to power them and have tremendous variation from a simple Ritual that creates a glowing ball of light for a day to a terrifying three day ordeal that produces a volcano.  My current design is one that is quite friendly to beginners as it allows any Ritual to be learned easily as there isn't much in the way of prerequisites or structure.  Also as characters learn more Rituals they automatically gain abilities that let them cast more often.  It is hard to mess it up very much as even if you pick the wrong thing you can always pick the right thing next time.

I have an idea though for a new version that would be much more punishing of mistakes and reward planning to a much greater extent.  The idea is to group Rituals into small trees with a Basic Ritual being mandatory to get in, a few Advanced Rituals branching off of it, and an Epic Ritual at the top of the tree.  Epic Rituals are often ridiculous and difficult to use (how often are you really going to want to die and ascend into the sky to become a new star, really?) so I want to attach really powerful bonuses to learning the Epic Ritual at the top of the tree.  For example, you might learn to cast a Ritual for free once per day, heal drastically faster, or cast Rituals for much lower cost than normal.

The new design would make it fairly easy for a player who did not plan ahead to get really stuck.  They might end up taking a ton of Rituals and not getting any of the bonuses at the end of the trees which would make using all of their knowledge very tricky.  They also might end up wanting a particular Ritual and be a very long way from getting to it if it is deep in a tree they have not invested in.  Not that they can get themselves in permanent trouble because they can always level up more and take the things they have missed but this design definitely rewards more thinking ahead.

Part of the idea here is to give people things to work toward.  At any given time you won't be able to take most of the Rituals so there will definitely be a feeling of progression as you work towards a particular Epic Ritual and the associated benefit.  This could provide some of the sense of a big reward when you finally complete a tree and get both a crazy and absurd Ritual as well as a straight up power boost that makes your ability to perform other Rituals much larger.  This progress won't be tied to a specific level but it should make people feel like they are getting to take things that were inaccessible before.

Many times I have found that when people are looking for creative ideas they are often well served by restrictions rather than complete freedom.  I suspect that this new idea will actually get people more excited about choosing Rituals as they will really need to think about how to make the structure that is there work for them instead of just picking up whatever they want whenever they want.  I don't want to go too deep as HBT really is supposed to be accessible to players who aren't hardened RPG veterans but I suspect adding this extra level of complexity will pay dividends.  It will require a *lot* of extra work to create, which might be a good thing or it might be a bad thing.  Can't really say.

Please do chime in if you have thoughts or preferences on this especially if you have playtest experience at some point or other.


  1. Something to consider would be to have a (smaller?) tree where the bonus at the end is getting a 'ritual respec'. I don't know how often you get new rituals but it would give people who get themselves into a bad spot an out. If you really need that one ritual at the end of a tree you haven't started you could invest your next 5 ritual gains into that tree or maybe you only need to spend 3 to switch a whole bunch of things around?

    Or instead of a (limited/full?) respec, have one of the end bonuses be a free ritual from any tree ignoring prereqs. So if there's something you really need you can just go pick it up from the basic tree instead?

  2. The way you gain Rituals is by choosing them over other things. At each new level you can choose a new thing to learn (power, skill, ritual, or racial ability). As such, you can just take nothing but rituals if you want and get to any particular ritual quite quickly. I hadn't thought of a ritual respec as a thing but I will definitely put that on the interesting possibility list. Same with the ability to pick up any one ritual, that could be pretty cool actually.