Thursday, October 20, 2016

Overly attached

In the current version of Heroes By Trade I have a system that controls how people use magical items called Vessels.  Characters can attune to Vessels to gain access to their abilities and benefits.  This Attunement process is different from Vessel to Vessel - an executioner's axe might require you to chop off the heads of people guilty of treason, a jewel might require you to wear it in your necklace for a year while signing a song to it every day, and a roc's feather might require you to save birds from danger.  In this way characters have quests and stories that unfold as they get access to greater abilities.

How many Vessels you can Attune to is regulated by the Presence stat.  Presence functions much like Charisma does in DnD but I like the name better because this stat also determines how powerful your influence on the world is, and thus how many Vessels you can control.  This all worked well, as far as I am concerned.

A couple days ago In The Hat emailed me to suggest that this system might be used to allow people to have familiars by using their Attunement slots on the familiar instead of a Vessel.  Wizards having magical pets or rangers having animals that follow them around is a constant trope in fantasy, so it seems quite reasonable to allow this in some fashion.  I haven't so far though because as a class function pets are a real problem.  They never end up balanced in combat and always end up being broken one way or another.  Sometimes they just die to AOE effects and then are useless, other times they are invincible and end up being able to block hallways and doors in ways that just shouldn't be.  In extreme cases they end up more powerful than other characters.

However, if a pet or familiar comes into the game using this system it isn't going to be a powerful combatant.  It might provide combat bonuses to the character, but mostly it would act as a scout, have magical abilities, give access to skill bonuses, or something like that.  It could be really interesting and it would be easy to figure out how good the pet should be by looking at the guidelines for Vessel power.  I really like this idea.

I think the idea can be further expanded though.  Rather than Attunements being about Vessels with an exception for familiars I think they should be much more broad.  For example, if there is a battlefield where a horrible magical battle took place and the battlefield is magical and/or haunted, a character could Attune themselves to that very place.  This could grant them substantial powers that are related to the battlefield and which mostly apply only if the character is there.  Think of a druid in a sacred grove, a paladin in a holy chapel where a desperate defence against undead took place, or a warlock defending their tower.  In these places these characters often manifest special abilities and are much stronger than they would be otherwise.

I wouldn't necessarily expect a lot of players to choose this option because players usually move around a lot.  However, having that be a thing would make it possible for the GM to build opponents that truly are terrifyingly dangerous in their lair and not have it wreck the game world otherwise.

Probably the best way to approach it would be to have players Attuned to places gain a small benefit that goes with them, perhaps half of the normal benefit of a Vessel in power, but have a massive benefit worth double what a Vessel normally is that only applies when in the area that the character is Attuned to.  This way it doesn't feel worthless under most circumstances but it is truly amazing when that character is in their home base.

This also opens up the possibility of having characters Attune to other things.  Rather than pitch Attunement as being about controlling Vessels I could simply say that it gives you power over the world and make controlling Vessels, places with special magic, and familiars as three examples.  That gives the GM freedom to decide what other possibilities might exist and a framework for figuring out how powerful those possibilities should be.

I find this especially appealing because it makes Presence awesome.  I love the idea of people having this gravitas, this potency, that others can detect and having that be part of the world.  For all of Naked Man's criticism of Presence I don't think even he could resist stacking a lot of it if he could see all kinds of really cool stuff you can do with it.

Possibly I should also change the way I do Attunements.  Right now they are set up so that you get one Attunement at 3 Presence, 2 Attunements at 7 Presence, 3 Attunements at 11 Presence, and 4 Attunements at 15 Presence.  However, instead I could just assign each Vessel, familiar, or magical place a value and say that it takes that much Presence to Attune to it.  All current Vessels would convert to taking 4 Presence points to control, but I could easily create new ones that are extremely powerful and require a lot of Presence, or relatively trivial ones that take less.

So many grand new ideas to play with!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Heal me

Years ago I got myself in a lot of hot water fighting about healing in raids.  At the time I was a retribution paladin in WOW and the fight was about whether or not I should reduce my damage dealt in order to provide healing to the raid.    I was advocating for the use of Glyph of Divine Storm that randomly spewed healing onto the raid to the tune of about 3% of a healer's output, which required me to give up Glyph of Exorcism which increased my damage by about .5%.  There was much disagreement and shouting and gnashing of teeth.

That debate has come again.

This time it isn't even close.  I am totally right.  But people don't seem to believe it, even still.

The details are the talent choice for Retribution paladins at level 75.  One choice is a really piss poor attack that is basically only useful for levelling early on and solo world content.  The other choice is a spell that is only good when you are being attacked in melee... so really only useful for levelling and solo world content.  The third choice is Word of Glory, a very powerful heal that is comparable to big healing cooldowns like Tranquility or Healing Tide Totem.

And the professionals basically all say you can just take whatever because none of them are any good.

The thing is, Word of Glory requires that you give up damage to use it.  You replace a usage of your best finishing move with a Word of Glory cast.  To evaluate how good this is, I figured out over the course of a raid how much each ability would do.  If I use Word of Glory as often as possible I will output about 18% of a healer's total output.  Each usage is about half as powerful as a major healing cooldown, but I can use it a lot more often and I can use it twice in a row if I want.

Doing this costs me about 4.5% of my damage.  That isn't nothing, but it means that I am actually outputting a serious amount of healing that can potentially change the course of the encounter.  In the original debate years ago I was getting a better ROI - I got six times as much healing per dps (3% from .5%) whereas now it is only about four times as much healing per dps (18% from 4.5%).  The big difference this time though is that the healing is controllable.  Word of Glory has a 1 minute cooldown and can accumulate up to 2 charges so I don't just spew out healing randomly, I save it for when something terrible happens and then pump it out.  This is basically the best kind of healing because I let the healers do their thing for most of the raid but when disaster happens or the one really awful ability hits I can step up and deliver a really serious amount of help.

This to me seems like a no brainer.  You don't have to cast Word of Glory on any given boss if it isn't going to be helpful, so taking it has little cost.  If healing is being solid, you can just keep on doing damage.  However, the ability to pound out a really big chunk of healing on demand when the situation calls for it is extremely powerful and raids really ought to be taking advantage of it.

The fact that Holy paladins don't have a good big healing cooldown like this is a real factor, but people don't seem to have noticed that you can just get a Ret paladin to do that in many circumstances.  If a healer didn't bother to talent for a great healing cooldown (especially when the alternative is pratically irrelevant) they would be pilloried, but apparently Ret paladins aren't expected to.

This all goes back to arguments about raid slots years ago.  Hybrids like paladins were often brought on raids for their utility and they had lower damage to compensate.  Eventually Blizzard decided that this was a poor design and they decided to give everyone comparable damage and utility instead.  Getting there took a lot of crying from hybrid damage dealers, and there was a huge pushback against the idea that they should sacrifice damage for defence or buffs.  I get that.  It sucks to be a damage dealer and to see everyone else dominate you on the meters.  It feels good to look at your numbers and see that you are keeping up.  Some people can feel good about protecting and buffing, others not so much.

But this mindset of 'damage dealers should ignore healing' is not ideal for pushing the hardest content.  At some point you absolutely have to figure out how to squeeze the absolute most out of your raiders and when you have the option to bring some really powerful stuff to the table at a cost of damage you have to consider it.  Sometimes it is the wrong move, certainly, but other times you give up a single offensive cast to have someone in your raid live instead of die and then it is a massive win.  People are just letting themselves get too locked into the idea that healers do healing and dps do damage instead of thinking that there is damage to be done and healing to be done and you just have to figure out the best way to cope with that.

Yes, it sucks to give up damage and lose your spot on the damage meter.  Yes, noticing when the raid takes damage is annoying because you only want to focus on dps.  But at some point you need to realize that you win when the boss is dead, not when you are on top of the meter, and this means that you absolutely need to use tools like Word of Glory.  It isn't a small thing, it is really powerful, and ignoring it is a real waste.

Monday, October 10, 2016

More damage

Last night I was playing WOW and ended up in a guild group going to do Mythic Court of Stars Rank 4.  I was not optimistic about our group's ability to beat the timer, but I figured we would at least pick up some loot.  This was largely because the dps requirement to beat this dungeon is fairly high and we didn't have enough people who really crank it out.  Nonetheless we finally found a healer after sitting around for quite some time and off we went.

It was messy.  We made it through the first chunks of trash but there were some wipes, largely due to accidentally getting two groups at a time.  The healing was a mess and our healer was constantly out of mana so I ended up healing the group up a lot between pulls even though I was specced for damage.  I was amazed at how hard the trash hit, because people were just dying too much.

We downed the first boss without that much difficulty and moved on through the dungeon.  A few pulls after the first boss we wiped again and somebody asked

"uh, wait, who is healing?"

So we all looked at the party and realized that the 'healer' we had added in as our fifth was in fact specced for damage and hadn't been healing at all.  He thought *I* was healing.  Then I looked at the damage meters and realized that yes, there are clearly five people attacking and nobody healing.

You might think that at this point since we had three people in the group with healer offspecs we would be fine.  You would be wrong.

Unfortunately all three damage dealers who had that option had no practice and no gear for their healer setup.  I am set up as dps/tank and the other two only dps.  Undoubtedly it would have been easier to do the dungeon with a bad healer than no healer, but not much, since all the enemies would die slower.

We all laughed at ourselves a lot.  "These enemies hit hard" we had said.  "This dungeon is brutal" we had said.  But nobody wondered why they dipped down to 10% health and then just sat there!

We ended up just giving up.  I feel okay with this because it was hilarious and silly and it made me laugh a lot.  How can you be bitter about such an absurd outcome?

So to everyone out there - You can do difficult dungeons without a healer.  People will die a lot.  It might be really fun.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016


I have been playing a lot of Castles of Mad King Ludwig lately.  Most of my games have been with people who don't know the game and so there has been a lot of teaching.  Castles has a lot of complexity to it so I find that teaching the entire ruleset ends up being too much for people and they suffer from analysis paralysis.

The trick for me was to figure if it made sense to teach the entire game to new players or if instead I should cut corners to make it simpler.  I don't want to teach them bad habits or strategy by cutting out rules, and I don't want to make the game trivial.  I am hunting for a way to teach the game to people so that they understand how it plays without having so much to think about.

I ended up making two changes to the game and I think they are the right ones.  The first change is to bonus cards.  Normally at the beginning of the game you get three bonus cards and keep two of them, and then sometimes during the game you gain two more of them and keep one of the two.  I decided to just deal out the cards to people without choice - instead of three choose two, you just get two.  Instead of two choose one, you just get one.

This basically keeps the gameplay the same but means that players don't have to start picking cards and making choices before they have any idea at all what those choices mean.  It also means that I don't have to explain all the cards to everyone ahead of time - they can just muddle through and get their points at the end.  It does make the game more random but since they are playing against *cough* the second best player in the world *cough* that is good for them.

The other change I made is the random ranked bonuses that happen at game end.  In the base game four tiles are chosen randomly, each of which gives a particular type of thing that will grant bonus points at game end based on which player has the most of them.  What I did with my training version of the game is simply keep those ranked bonuses hidden.  At the end of the game we flip them over and lots of people get bonus points but people can't actually work towards them during the game.

This also pushes rules explanations to the end of the game which is a thing I like.  I often find that games that start with an enormous rules speech are frustrating for everyone when people really just want to get in there and start doing things.

Again the game gets more random with this change, but I think it helps make things simpler for the newbs and gets them into the fun of building a castle without quite so much calculation.  In their second game of course I would play by the standard rules.

If anyone has other ideas for teaching Castles or any other game please do feel free to comment, as is is a thing I am curious about.