As promised... Character design!
As the title suggests, this post will focus on how I've gone about creating 'interesting' Characters for the Rotating Maze Game. These Characters are very much work in progress and I expect more tinkering as each one gets tested on the tabletop.
In fact, I try to view most of my design work as 'the latest version', because it helps me get into the mindset of taking on critique/feedback, then using it to fuel the next set of updates - if you're not already, I'd recommend giving this approach a try! Now, how about those Characters?
Prior to 'doing the thing' I don't think that I truly realised how much work goes into creating Characters for a game; they need to be fun, balanced, distinct and thematic - so I asked myself some questions;
What kind of Characters did I want to have?
What would make them different from each other?
Based on pop-culture; what would players expect from each Character type?
How would I make my Characters feel thematic AND fun to play?
Way back when (all of 3 months ago) the game was in its infancy and I wanted to limit the number of variables that would impact playtesting. With this in mind, the first group of Characters were purely placeholder, as I knew I'd tackle the subject later down the line (once most of the core mechanics were ironed out).
Looking back, I think this was the correct decision because I did end up ironing out many of the core game mechanics and was able to control how many variables impacted gameplay, thus limiting the number of things I had to think about at any one time (which really helped to focus game development in the early stages).
After Protospiel it felt like the right time to update the placeholder Characters that I'd previously been using. This time around I'd tweak the character stats a little and give them each a unique Character Skill. I also tried something 'radical' and introduced an Injured side to their card (more on that later).
During the festive playtest sessions, it didn't take me long to realise that my Characters needed more work. The stats didn't have enough diversity, HP was too low, and the Skills needed some attention - now was the time to put some substantial effort into Character R&D. By this point, I already had a good idea which races/classes I wanted to use and 'did the work' by reading articles and watching videos - a genuinely fun thing to do!
My choices (Dwarf, Halfling, Warrior etc.) won't surprise anyone that's played a fantasy-themed dungeon crawler before. That being said, the main challenge was to make these recognisable Characters work for MY game. When something has been long associated with pop-culture and the fantasy genre, two things spring to mind;
How do I manage player expectations for the Character?
How do I make the Character fit within the world (and rules) of my game?
There are other things to consider (such as balancing), but the above two questions seemed to be the starting point for creating each of my Characters.
One major change was introducing a Healthy and an Injured side to the Character cards, with the Injured side having fewer HP, no base stats and the Active Skill is removed - a concept I'd enjoyed in the excellent Star Wars Imperial Assault. Adding an Injured side to the Character card enabled me to make another decision; remove respawns after death... by doing this, Characters now effectively have two 'lives' and being killed is a much more worrying prospect.
In summary - If a Healthy Character loses all of their HP; they flip their card over to the Injured side. If an Injured character loses all of their HP; they are killed! To circumvent player elimination, I introduced some options upon Character death;
Choose a new Character and retain 'some' of your XP, Items and Ability cards.
Keep your existing Character and 'revive' at a particular space on the board, providing it's been discovered.
There will also be several ways for a Character to become Healthy again, such as Event cards, Ability cards and a 'Healing Pool' space on the board.
Due to the new rules surrounding Character death, I made a decision to increase the HP sats for all Characters - for example, increasing the Warrior's HP from 16 to 20. This small adjustment was to make the game a little less punishing and allow players more time with their Character (due to them staying 'alive' for longer). Things aren't too easy though, as there are still plenty of ways to lose HP in this maze!
One of the tougher design choices was factoring in theme vs. gameplay, a good example being Weight Limits. One could argue that thematically it doesn't make sense for a Barbarian and a Halfling to have the same Weight Limit value. You'd think that a 'hulking brute' would be able to carry more Items than a 'sneaky little one', but when we think about gameplay, the Barbarian would be too powerful (if he could carry more Items), and the Halfling would really struggle (if she couldn't carry as many).
That is the reason why I decided to make a gameplay decision and assign all Characters the same Weight Limit value (of 8). Perhaps I'll revisit this in future, but for now, its priority is quite low, especially when compared to the other Character stats and Skills that I'm keeping tabs on.
Each Character has an Item that they begin the game with; these aren't the most powerful Items in the game, but each will increase a stat value and has its own ability - for example, the Wood Elf's Longbow adds +2 to attack, and enables her to attack Monsters and other Characters from (up-to) two space away... very handy!
There are two types of Character Skills; Passive (always 'on' and free to use) and Active (must be 'activated' and has an XP cost). For example; the Dark Elf has Headshot (Passive Skill) and Assassinate (Active Skill) - Headshot allows her to receive one additional XP if she kills a Monster that was at full HP... while Assassinate allows her to force a Monster (or Character) on her space to lose 3HP, but it costs her 2XP to use the Skill.
As mentioned earlier, I've put in a ton of R&D hours and just as many (if not more) trying to create 'interesting' Skills for each Character, that not only thematically make sense, but also link-in with gameplay (a huge task, but a great learning experience). I'll be keeping a close eye on Skills going forward, as I want to ensure that each one has a valid place in the game.
Something completely new is a Starting XP stat, which I'll be experimenting with over the coming sessions. Essentially, I'm giving Characters 'some' XP to begin the game with, which they can spend on (or save for) whatever they like. The idea is to give Characters a small pool of resources at the beginning of the game and enable them to use their Active Skill right away.
It's worth noting that not all Characters start the game with the same amount of XP - for example, the Dwarf starts with 1XP (because he's already quite powerful), while the Cleric starts with 3XP (because she's a little weaker). If this ends up making the game too easy, I have the option to remove the stat, or even keep it (to use in an 'easy mode').
Some of the questions I'd like to answer in the coming weeks are:
Are Skills fun to use?
Which Skills are useful, and which are too situational?
Are Skills cost-effective?
Do Skills feel thematic to the Character?
Do some Skills synergise with other cards?
Are any Skills over/underpowered?
Is the variation (and value) of HP enough?
Does the Injured side add value, or make the game too difficult?
To aid with the process, I'm considering creating a Character Database that will provide all sorts of stats on how each Character performs in-game, their frequency of selection, Skill usage and much more - I love data and the (not-so) inner geek in me thinks this could be a ton of fun to create.
Stay tuned maze fans, and expect more updates in the coming weeks!
Below; the 'mad bunch' who thought that stealing treasure from a Dragon (in a Monster infested maze) would be a good idea...