Combat Design – Pace

Combat is integral to most RPGs, especially dungeon crawlers like Heroes of a Broken Land.  Combat is so important the RPG sub-genres are really classified by their combat systems: first person vs. tired person, tactical vs action, real-time vs turn-based, etc.  So I wanted to talk about some of the influences and ideas behind Heroes of a Broken Land’s combat system.

A lot of combat design was decided when I choose which format of RPG I would make: party-centric, turn-based first-person dungeon crawler.  However, even within that space there are still many many choices you have to make when designing a combat system.  There were a number of major areas that I considered when designing this system: Pace, Balance, Strategy and Complexity, and I’ll be posting about each in time.  First, I’d like to describe the largest influence on my combat design.

Feel & Pacing

I believe the “Feel” of combat is the most important quality a combat-centric RPG has, and also the hardest to describe.  Ideally the feeling should be “fun”, but also parts “challenging” and “engaging”.  The feel really is the sum of every part of the game.  However I think the strongest influence to the feel of a game’s combat is the pace.  How fast is combat?  How long does a battle last? How many battles are there?

On one end of the spectrum are action RPGs, where a few quick button presses is all it takes to defeat an enemy.   At the far end are detailed tactical systems, where slowly position your party around a map.  While I enjoy tactical games a lot (XCOM and Jagged Alliance 2 are some of my favorite games of all time), I wanted a faster pace for Heroes of a Broken Land.  When exploring many large dungeons full of monsters, long battles would make the entire game’s too slow for my taste.

So I designed a combat system where individual battles provide you with some challenge, but each battle is meant to be resolved fairly quickly.  I wanted each full turn of combat (meaning each party member & monster act about once) to have an interesting outcome.  Meaning that something occurs that changes the battle and forces the player (you!) to not simply repeat their actions over and over.  This prevents combat from getting too repetitive, plus it forces you to explore you skills and new tatics.

It’s this idea that most of the statsistics and damage numbers are derived from.  I though about how long each battle should last, which determines how many hits an average monster or player can withstand.

Killing monsters gives you a sense of accomplishment, which influences how you feel about the combat.  If you take too long to kill a monster it slows the pace down and you don’t feel like you’re making progress.  If you kill them too quickly you don’t get any feeling you’ve been challenged so you get bored.  You need to find a balance.

I figured an average party of 4 should be able to kill a single monster of the same level in a single full turn.  Similarily a player should be able to withstand about 4 attacks from a monster, chosen because there are at most 4 enemies attacking you.  This choice affects how many HP and how much damage everyone does.  The result is you will have to keep your party healed regularly, but not too often.  You’ll be killing monsters fairly quickly too, but not so fast that they won’t get a chance to strike back.

Once I had decide this I simply needed to put a bunch of numbers (HP per level, average damage by level, etc) into a spreadsheet, and played around until the average damage was about 1/4 of the average HP.  Simple!  (Actually it’s not simple, but I’ll go into detail in a later post)

Personally I’m happy with the current pace of combat in Heroes of a Broken Land.

Try for yourself and let me know you think!