Dungeon Quest – Encounters

Hi all, so last time I mentioned that the next post would be another Designer Commentary, and here we are. But first, it has been a weird month. Still in the throes of a worldwide pandemic and locked inside the homebase, I’ve been putting around and trying to stay busy. Let me rephrase that. It’s impossible not to stay busy because at some point my clone learned to walk, babble and fish choice items out of the trashcans to eat.

From a design perspective, I’ve been spending rather a lot of time on the Tabletopia platform, and working out how to get Dungeon Quest : Adventure onto it. I’ve come to grips on the interface and I’ve made a modification to the system I built to create discrete cards that I can upload and create decks with. And since Tabletopia (and Tabletop Simulator for that matter) are “sandbox” systems without rules enforcement, once I have the assets uploaded and set up, it’s very easy to make available. I’m getting close (there’s currently a weird thing where my card creation system makes cards that are 2 cm tall and, for most things with text on them that are 2 cm tall – they’re illegible). So I hope to have an official announcement / link soon.

With that out of the way, let’s get to the meat of this entry – the Encounter Design. Encounters were always part of the DQA design, After all, in a cooperative game there needs to be something that the players are up against. The original Encounter Design had a couple of differences that what is currently in the design document. First of all, there were non-combat encounters. This was themed around finding people, treasure chests and traps that needed to be resolved in some way. The thinking was that certain classes would be better at handling these things, so the Rogue would be able to unlock things for example.

This original idea had a major problem – the Encounter Deck also had enemies in it. So when you would create the encounter, there would be enemies and then a treasure chest. It caused questions to pop up like, “Does the treasure chest get a turn?” Alternatively, it also made the cards in the decks work too hard. So let’s say that there was a green card that let you unlock something. That’s a dead card in a combat scenario, and if we went that route players would wind up with decks that wouldn’t just be sub-optimal, but unplayable. Eventually I just added the concept of Loot directly to the enemies and it worked out.

Another thing that was in the original Encounter Deck were Locations. These were designed so that different places would have effects on the encounter. These effects could be symmetrical or asymmetrical, and since enemies and players use the same vocabulary – it flavored the combat differently and gave a lot of additional play-ability.

But again, the issue came up that the cards were included in the main Encounter Deck, which meant that there were a bunch of rules for determining when they went away, if they went away and what happens if you get multiples. But they did play pretty well, and instead of scraping them I moved them out into their own deck.

The last thing that really caused me some problems from the perspective of the Encounter Deck was how it was going to be put together. The first caveat that I had when designing Dungeon Quest : Adventure was that the rules for creating an encounter should work even if the entire Encounter Deck is shuffled together. That meant that I didn’t want to have a bunch of things that only worked if there were other cards that came with them. In other words, I wanted/needed all of the cards to be agnostic in terms of their use.

This immediately led to problems because it was possible to have a massive spike in difficulty from the word “go.” A big deck of monsters shuffled together meant that you could have powerful critters appear before the player have developed their characters and decks. That took all of 1 playtest (we all died by the way. It was vicious and not in a fun way) and I went off to reconsider the idea.

What I came to were 2 different options. The first was that the cards could all have an explicit order. So they would be stacked in such a way so that there come out in order. This was an enticing idea for multiple reasons. the first of which is that you can put together a curated Encounter Deck with specific monster combinations. The downside is that it would drastically increase the set up time. Additionally, a set playlist would play out the same way every time, so there would be limited replayability there.

With many things about DQA, I didn’t just throw out an idea. The fun thing about a card game is that you can alter the rules as you see fit and I can easily offer alternate play modes since I don’t have to code them. (BONUS!). That’s why there are multiple draft variants in the Design Document/Instructions. For the Encounter Deck, I think that it would actually be a cool way to play, and after it is published I will put together curated lists and let other people put up their favorites. Additionally, if the Dungeon Quest: Adventure Kickstarter goes well and I get the opportunity to create/release expansions then the monsters in those packs will be packaged with a curated order.

The other option was to basically give monsters a tier. I decided that5 tiers is flexible enough and went ahead in that direction. 1s are small monsters, 5 are terrifying TPK beasts and the numbers in between and, well, in between those extremes. Now for setup you take the tier 1s, shuffle them, pop the Boss on the back. Then you do that for the rest to make little piles of monsters. Then you can go through and tackle the tiers in order. What I find interesting would be to have different sets of monsters at different tiers, so something like Tier 1 could have goblins, or bugs, or rats or skeletons or whatever monstrous goon you’re into. This would preserve randomness while also giving players a bit of flexibility on how they would like their game to turn out.

Tune in next time, and we’ll talk about the convoluted and bloody reasons that monsters have an “Allies” number, and we’ll cannonball into the deep end of multiplayer game balance theory.

Yup “Dungeon Quest : Adventure” has a subtitle. Apparently there was another game back in the 80s called “Dungeon Quest.” So’s I changed it. It has also caused me to maybe, just maybe, go back and reconsider the theme again. Time will tell as we develop I guess.

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