As I shift over into designing class material I had to put stakes in the ground with regards to math. This, it seems, is always harder than one intends. This is actually my second or third pass over “the math” because different design goals call for different math. Each time, I’ve been more satisfied with the results. This time, though, it called for some sacrifices.
- Twenty levels. I wanted the game to work across twenty levels and it did. The problem was that it was hard to make the math work at the top of the game with the simple mechanisms that I wanted at the bottom of the game. By hard, I mean I had to use the solver function in Excel to resolve each cell and then work backwards to develop mechanics that satisfied the requirements of said cell. So… hard.
- Defensive magic items provide numerical bonuses.
The why on the sacrifices:
Twenty levels. The main reason I fought for this is because of the legacy of D&D. I’ve raised this argument before, and each time you folks convince me away from that as a rationale, and each time I’ve found exciting new design spaces as a result. It turns out the math is pretty amazing over 15 levels but really broke down over those last five. It is a much tighter design and there are some exciting little mathematical artifacts that follow 15 levels but do not follow 20.
Defensive magic items. Here’s the thing. Offensive magic items can be given exciting powers that the player chooses to activate when the player chooses to do neat things. But defensive items are passive, which means they are basically always on. If you decide to balance an offensive item by letting it be turned on only occasionally, that is neat and empowers the character. If you do the same for defensive magic items, you have a harder time. They just aren’t the same beast since a player attacks (roughly) once per round and is attacked (roughly) more than once per round.
Now take that same logic and think about how it overlays to class powers. The +5 from magic items that go to attack create interesting tradeoffs when you’re deciding to activate it for your attack. But if you are choosing to activate it for your defense, it becomes a no-brainer because you might be attacked five times. On the other hand, maybe you’re a ranged attacked and won’t be attacked at all. Now it is a no-brainer to *not* activate the defensive power and funnel all your resources into offensive class powers. Making a significant portion of defensive capability come from allocating resources during your turn just doesn't really work.
Offense and defense just don’t work the same way, so I had two options:
- hard-code defensive bonuses into the math via some unavoidable, non-decision based route; or,
- return numerical defensive based items to the game.
The positive system assumptions says we should choose the route that is the easiest to alter. Giving inherent bonuses for free is super easy, so (limited) magical pluses are back in. This actually has some benefits. You can give “overpowered” items (i.e. strong non-numerical powers) which basically have an expiration date when the plus is no longer powerful enough and you can differentiate characters by giving some items early and other items late. Moreover, because defensive magic items are passive, they are probably best represented by better defending you. Pluses are a simple way to represent that.
The good news is that I’m close to being able to publish classes, and then we are just a stone’s throw away from being able to actually play a game.