October 24, 2010

Taking Heat

The mechanic in discussion today is 'hit points.' Some people like them, some people hate them, and some people really don't care.  I assume if you're still reading, you have an opinion on them, and it's probably a strong one.  So time for me to lose the last of my readers this week:

I think it depends.

It depends heavily on the game and the overall feel the designers are going for.  Even among heavily complex games, there seems to be a solid divide.  Some like things rough and tough, one hit, you're gone.  Others, Dungeons and Dragons at the top of the list here, offer quite a bit of plot immunity.  I'll say I think I like the middle road the best.

I don't think you should die in a single hit.  It really sucks to run into a combat situation and having the dice come up just right to leave you totally unable to continue.  Some sort of plot armor needs to exist.

I do think you need to have some form of 'danger' at all points.  Threatening your ability to fight, or, even more extreme, to play at all, is a fairly good way to keep players invested in their characters.  I honestly think this is why combat with real death is so common in RPGs.

So, with these in mind, I'd set to the design possibilities on how to balance this concepts in ExoSquad, since I knew I wanted the tactical give and take common in D&D, but without the 'but he survived a dagger to the kidney!' complaints common to that system of HP.  I also needed to consider that in an era of firearms and heavy armor, you typically want a solid hit to be a kill, so anything that is actually a 'hit' needs to be near deadly.

Thinking about it, I considered reversing the process: instead of ticking health down, why not count up?  Then use something akin to a saving throw to determine if you go down. . .

So I begin tinkering with the number themselves.  If the weapons aren't necessarily hitting when you roll the dice, they have to be doing something meaningful.  Obviously, they're threatening the target.  So each weapon has a 'threat value' instead of damage.  As any fighter accumulates 'threat' their chance of being hit and downed increases.

From there, I had to decide a way to determine when the threat finally brought a combatant down.  In this case, I chose a dice roll based on current threat.  This meant that the roll got harder as the battle gets more hectic, and adds that frightening chance of being blown away by the first bullet.

I realized, though, that I needed a 'when' to roll.  Instead of making the roll after every attack, I have chosen to make it only at the end of the combatants turn, making one roll against current heat before passing the turn to another player.

Should it be every turn?  Or should there be a limit?  In this case, I think there should be a certain threshold before any combatant needs to start making rolls.  This means weaker combatants are likely to fall early, but tougher ones will go longer in the fight, but will almost certainly be more likely to be killed when they get in over their head.

And so I present the ideas behind Heat, the HP I'll be using in ExoSquad.  Each combatant will have a Threshold which determines their minimum Heat before they need to start making rolls against their Heat.  If they roll under their Heat, they are downed.  I'll discuss the mechanics regarding being downed in a later post, I promise.

So, folks, what do you think of the concept of Heat?  Is it a good middle ground?


  1. I'm honestly not sure what to think of Heat. I'm reading two different things on Heat. Without knowing actual game-play mechanics, I have to assume a lot of things. This makes my opinion of Heat bias, and I do apologize for making assumptions without knowing the actual game mechanics and doing proper testing before coming up with an opinion.

    The first thing I'm reading about Heat is something along the lines of "Life" in an FPS. You take damage, but if you go into cover, the damage slowly goes away as your health/shields recharge. This, in FPS, is nothing new. In a RPG, it's never been done. What I like about the concept of Heat is that anything can do damage. A Threat-1 weapon isn't going to do anything to someone who has Threshold-5. However, if you got twenty Threat-1 weapons gunning at your Threshold-5, you're basically getting too much damage that you can handle. As a result of receiving too much damage too quickly, you go down. This form makes for very fast, exciting game-play that FPS is known for.

    The other way I read it is not so positive.

    The second way I'm seeing it revolves around threshold itself. Threshold sounds like 1): Invulnerability and 2): Free Dodging. To begin with, Threat-1 weapons would be able to do damage, but only after much stronger weapons have maxed out the Threshold. This means that until something really powerful smacks the target, a Threat-1 weapon wont do anything. This is invulnerability because the Threat-1 weapon can't do any real damage until Threshold is maxed, and it's free dodging because a Threat-5 weapon can't outright kill the target so long as Threshold isn't maxed out. This, in my opinion, is very cheap.

    Like I said earlier, I am assuming a lot on the game mechanics without knowing everything. Once again, I apologize for coming up with an opinion without properly testing it. It could be that both of my views are wrong, but I call 'em like I see 'em.

  2. I've got a few thoughts, and I don't want to touch on all of them yet, but the ones I will remark on specifically:

    Threshold is a really bad name and doesn't evoke any of the flavor I want for the game. I'll figure out a better term during design. I used specifically Threat and Threshold as the basis of the system to disassociate implications of flavor as much as possible.

    Now, onto Heat the mechanic: it's reverse HP. That's pretty much all it is. You could get approximately the same mechanic in D&D by ticking off damage until zero, then making each player make a roll at the end of their turn to stay in the fight, and if they ever fail, they're dying (or dead.) depending on the edition and the amount of negative HP they have.

    I'll touch on the 'invulnerability and free dodging' in a later blog post.