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Subject: Managing power creep in multi-session games rss

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Metäl Warrior
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Lately I've been thinking of how to manage power creep in games which span multiple sessions. In my case this would be a dungeon crawler -type game which has a campaign mode; think Warhammer Quest Adventure Card Game.

By power creep I mean the addition of power, such as more damage or higher chance to hit an enemy as the game progresses. The problem arises when more experienced characters breeze through encounters designed for newbies, thus the need to manage this somehow to keep the game challenging.

One way to manage this is by adding more variety as the game progresses, rather than allowing power creep. That's how Magic does it.

Another way is to build power creep into the game: it's a feature, not a bug! That's relatively easy when each game session is stand-alone, so the designer knows where each session starts (from zero), and has a pretty good idea on how far the players will advance by the end of the session.

This gets much more complicated in a multi-session game with RPG progression, such as experience levels, more hit points, and being able to hit harder.


And this is where I'm at. Although I'm not using levels there is a certain level of power creep due to improved character stats and better gear.

I'm considering creating different tiers of encounters based on the characters' development. So Tier 1 would be for characters during first session, Tier 2 would be more advanced, and Tier 3 would be for groups decked out in full high end gear. Higher tier encounters would offer better loot and other rewards.

Each encounter would start as Tier 1, but if the characters are Tier 2 the instructions for the encounter would specify how to modify it, such as adding more monsters, or increasing their power.

But does this sound like a cheap, artificial way to treat the problem of power creep? As this would mean that theoretically every encounter would be just as demanding for the group, no matter how far they've advanced.

Alternative would be to branch the quest so that higher tier groups take a different path through the campaign? So the Tier 1 group would get to the princess by bribing and subterfuge, while the Tier 3 group could charge through the elite royal guard.

Any group can choose any route, but the game would make it clear that higher tiers are much more demanding, but offer better rewards. This would be much more complex to design, but stronger thematically, and potentially offer more engaging gameplay.

Any thoughts?
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James Arias
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This is exactly what I'm experimenting with in my dungeon crawler homebrew, trying to keep the challenge mostly balanced but mix it up with harder and easier encounters, for a non-campaign game where players will "level" / upgrade throughout the session.

Looking at video games like MMOs, they all have level or some equivalent mechanism to tier the Monsters, Gear and Skills, and sometimes have mission/quest/dungeon knobs to further tweak encounters according to player count or gear they have or difficulty mode the players want.

Some of the dungeon crawlers have different decks of tiered monsters but IMO this results in too much component complexity (don't Descent and SoB have multiple monster decks?).

I'm playtesting an approach of 3 monster tiers randomly shuffled into one deck. Increase monster qty based on player count regardless of stats/gear, and a couple of special situations that "boss-i-fy" monsters with stats buffs, pets, etc. I don't have classes or levels but I probably need some index better than what I have for "party strength" in order to scale encounters properly.

edit: classic Dungeon! also uses Tiers ... harder to defeat but way better treasure (which are VP).
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Benj Davis
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If you're going to assume advancement, then the key is to still have abilities and threats feel on a greater scale, and not just bigger numbers. If I roll a d20 and add 3, needing to get a total of 16, that's exactly the same as if I'm adding 1 and needing 14, so who cares?
But adding diversity and options instead means that you're giving a sense of growth by adding a complexity overhead, so the players take on an extra burden of understanding as both a reward and as a new plate they need to spin.
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Metäl Warrior
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crazybyzantine wrote:
Some of the dungeon crawlers have different decks of tiered monsters but IMO this results in too much component complexity


Complexity may become an issue with tiered monsters and too many decks. But I think 2-4 tiers of monsters should be manageable? That way I could easily instruct the players to draw x y z cards from each of the decks, and manage the difficulty by increasing x y and z the higher the party level is.

Quote:
I'm playtesting an approach of 3 monster tiers randomly shuffled into one deck. Increase monster qty based on player count regardless of stats/gear, and a couple of special situations that "boss-i-fy" monsters with stats buffs, pets, etc.


Your fully randomized option sounds interesting. But depending on the mix and luck, it might result in some random encounters which just are way too challenging, or too easy.

To combine the two options, perhaps you could set up three randomized decks, one for each tier. For the Tier 1 deck you'd randomly put, say, five Tier 1 monsters, two Tier 2s and one Tier 3. For Tier 2 deck you'd put a stronger mix of monsters. That way you would never have more than one Tier 3 monster in a Tier 1 deck or encounter.
 
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Metäl Warrior
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Jlerpy wrote:
If you're going to assume advancement, then the key is to still have abilities and threats feel on a greater scale, and not just bigger numbers. If I roll a d20 and add 3, needing to get a total of 16, that's exactly the same as if I'm adding 1 and needing 14, so who cares?
But adding diversity and options instead means that you're giving a sense of growth by adding a complexity overhead, so the players take on an extra burden of understanding as both a reward and as a new plate they need to spin.


Very good points.

More choices is definitely an option I will utilize. But let's take a normal long sword versus a legendary magical long sword. Thematically it would be hard to justify that the legendary one doesn't hit any harder or more accurately than some random sword forged by the town blacksmith, no matter how much variety its various magical perks offer. Therefore I think some power increase is necessary, even if it's just marginal improvement.

It might be possible to design a system which has some power variety, without it becoming true power creep which may unbalance the game.
 
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Michael Brettell
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An option might be that instead of just increasing overall chances of succeeding, the player instead gains a new option, but there's a cost to the option.

So for example, their magic sword has an option to do additional damage, but it reduces the player's stamina, or costs some sort of power points or something. It might be worth doing if the strike can kill their opponent, but otherwise doesn't affect their overall battling ability.
 
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James Arias
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Jaffeli wrote:
crazybyzantine wrote:
Some of the dungeon crawlers have different decks of tiered monsters but IMO this results in too much component complexity


Complexity may become an issue with tiered monsters and too many decks. But I think 2-4 tiers of monsters should be manageable? That way I could easily instruct the players to draw x y z cards from each of the decks, and manage the difficulty by increasing x y and z the higher the party level is.

Quote:
I'm playtesting an approach of 3 monster tiers randomly shuffled into one deck. Increase monster qty based on player count regardless of stats/gear, and a couple of special situations that "boss-i-fy" monsters with stats buffs, pets, etc.


Your fully randomized option sounds interesting. But depending on the mix and luck, it might result in some random encounters which just are way too challenging, or too easy.

To combine the two options, perhaps you could set up three randomized decks, one for each tier. For the Tier 1 deck you'd randomly put, say, five Tier 1 monsters, two Tier 2s and one Tier 3. For Tier 2 deck you'd put a stronger mix of monsters. That way you would never have more than one Tier 3 monster in a Tier 1 deck or encounter.


Yeah the "too tough monster on first draw" happens with games like Warhammer Quest (the original), so I hear with the Minotaur.

I was also thinking of a stacked single deck approach, like top half is mostly As with some Bs and ver few Cs, vs. bottom half is lots of Bs, a few As and several Cs. But this would mean a not too thick deck and I like crazy variety in monsters. 3 decks would get around that but I already have decks for quests, map, treasures, traps, etc. and I don't want to get ridiculous (like Dungeon! with its 12 decks, or the too many decks in DungeonQuest Revised Edition or The Adventurers: The Temple of Chac).
 
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James Arias
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brettellmd wrote:

An option might be that instead of just increasing overall chances of succeeding, the player instead gains a new option, but there's a cost to the option.

So for example, their magic sword has an option to do additional damage, but it reduces the player's stamina, or costs some sort of power points or something. It might be worth doing if the strike can kill their opponent, but otherwise doesn't affect their overall battling ability.


I agree. On the variety side, I'm experimenting with an "advance" being either a stat buff, or add a new special ability, which forces lots of tradeoff decisions as well as not necessarily making a character "tougher" (unless you count more tactical options as tougher).
 
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Jeremy Lennert
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Perhaps you could add some sort of environmental hazard to soak up the higher-level party's extra resources? They go on the same mission, except that...

- it's a moonless night, giving everyone a penalty on accuracy and perception, and forcing them to devote equipment/spell slots to light sources; or
- the swamp is covered in a toxic miasma, requiring specialized breathing gear and draining stamina every round; or
- the enemies have been infused with necromantic power, requiring each one of them to be killed twice as they rise from the grave to fight on

These rules could be scenario-specific, or you could have a deck of cards describing them and draw randomly at the start of each session (especially high-level parties might draw more than one).

Jaffeli wrote:
But let's take a normal long sword versus a legendary magical long sword. Thematically it would be hard to justify that the legendary one doesn't hit any harder or more accurately than some random sword forged by the town blacksmith, no matter how much variety its various magical perks offer.

I'm not sure I see the difficulty there. It's a hunk of metal; I would imagine the force and accuracy of a swing mostly come from the person wielding it. You wouldn't expect it to become more accurate or (directly) hit harder if you enhanced it by, say, coating the blade in poison, or adding a guard on the hilt. Why would a magic spell that makes it glow or allows it to hit ghosts make it any more effective as a normal sword?

There is a long-standing tradition in RPGs of magical swords getting bonuses to damage and/or accuracy, dating back at least to D&D. But I've always looked at that as a contrivance to support a level curve and a loot treadmill rather than as being thematically- or narratively-motivated. If we're just talking about pure storytelling, a magic enchantment that gives you sword a 10% accuracy/damage boost strikes me as both boring and silly, and the suggestion that it's impossible to make the sword glow without giving it those bonuses is just peculiar.
 
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Metäl Warrior
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Antistone wrote:
Perhaps you could add some sort of environmental hazard to soak up the higher-level party's extra resources? They go on the same mission, except that...

- it's a moonless night, giving everyone a penalty on accuracy and perception, and forcing them to devote equipment/spell slots to light sources; or
- the swamp is covered in a toxic miasma, requiring specialized breathing gear and draining stamina every round; or
- the enemies have been infused with necromantic power, requiring each one of them to be killed twice as they rise from the grave to fight on

These rules could be scenario-specific, or you could have a deck of cards describing them and draw randomly at the start of each session (especially high-level parties might draw more than one).


This is an excellent suggestion! I prefer the scenario-specific approach over the cards, as latter would add yet another deck to the mix.

"Tier 1 group gets to the objective passing a fragrant daffodil meadow and enjoying clear blue skies. Tier 2 has to battle a swarm of goblins on a a muddy hill for -1 to hit in stormy weather. Tier 3 has to fight a dragon on the hills of an exploding volcano avoiding lava flows and flying fiery balls for -666 to hit"

I think this could be rather easily added as a thematic and dramatic addition to the scenarios. I still would like to keep the scenarios for different tiers entirely separate like in the samples above to improve replayability, and so that the power creep management is not blatantly obvious.

Quote:
Jaffeli wrote:
But let's take a normal long sword versus a legendary magical long sword. Thematically it would be hard to justify that the legendary one doesn't hit any harder or more accurately than some random sword forged by the town blacksmith, no matter how much variety its various magical perks offer.

I'm not sure I see the difficulty there. It's a hunk of metal; I would imagine the force and accuracy of a swing mostly come from the person wielding it. You wouldn't expect it to become more accurate or (directly) hit harder if you enhanced it by, say, coating the blade in poison, or adding a guard on the hilt. Why would a magic spell that makes it glow or allows it to hit ghosts make it any more effective as a normal sword?

There is a long-standing tradition in RPGs of magical swords getting bonuses to damage and/or accuracy, dating back at least to D&D. But I've always looked at that as a contrivance to support a level curve and a loot treadmill rather than as being thematically- or narratively-motivated. If we're just talking about pure storytelling, a magic enchantment that gives you sword a 10% accuracy/damage boost strikes me as both boring and silly, and the suggestion that it's impossible to make the sword glow without giving it those bonuses is just peculiar.


Valid criticism. As mentioned in my example, there is certainly some limited improvement over sharpness, balance and overall handling from town blacksmith to Hattori Hanzo steel. Whether that equates to 1% improvement or 100% improvement to TO HIT or TO DMG is something I'm not too interested in getting into here or anywhere. I want to create a fast and fun combat system, not a crunchy one (not trying to imply those are mutually exclusive, though).

I'll need to incorporate some differentiation in to hit chance and damage (dagger vs long sword vs two handed war hammer etc.), so a certain limited level of improvement from magical items would be natural. But I get what you're saying, and that it would be probably easier to balance a system which doesn't use pluses to hit or damage as the only, or even major, differentiator.

And using other ways woulc also allow for much more thematic and interesting effects rather than the dull "+3 Mace of Smiting".
 
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John Breckenridge
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You could have some sort of rating system that measures something on the heroes to determine their rough power level, call that value Presence.

Then on a monster card you let it have a different reaction based on Presence, eg. a Goblin would have a threshold value below which it will fight and above which it will flee in terror; whereas a Dragon might find a low value unworthy of bothering with, a middle value reasonable prey worth attacking, and some high value a peer worth engaging in trade with.
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Metäl Warrior
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jbrecken wrote:
You could have some sort of rating system that measures something on the heroes to determine their rough power level, call that value Presence.

Then on a monster card you let it have a different reaction based on Presence, eg. a Goblin would have a threshold value below which it will fight and above which it will flee in terror; whereas a Dragon might find a low value unworthy of bothering with, a middle value reasonable prey worth attacking, and some high value a peer worth engaging in trade with.


Thanks, that's a good suggestion. I've considered adding some type of morale system, so that low-level monsters might flee when enough of their peers are dismembered by the players. Your suggestion might work double duty with this: the goblins would be more likely to flee in terror when an experienced player group kills their first buddy, but much less likely to do so with newbies.
 
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Jeremy Lennert
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jbrecken wrote:
You could have some sort of rating system that measures something on the heroes to determine their rough power level, call that value Presence.

Traditionally the rough measurement of power level is called "level".
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Metäl Warrior
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Antistone wrote:
jbrecken wrote:
You could have some sort of rating system that measures something on the heroes to determine their rough power level, call that value Presence.

Traditionally the rough measurement of power level is called "level".


I needed a laugh after having to read through that other thread. Thanks!
 
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John Breckenridge
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Antistone wrote:
jbrecken wrote:
You could have some sort of rating system that measures something on the heroes to determine their rough power level, call that value Presence.

Traditionally the rough measurement of power level is called "level".


It's a combination of whatever skill boosts the characters have plus the quality of their equipment, which isn't what's usually referred to as level. Often the decision a monster is making is "Is it worth my time to try to rob this person?" and a powerful yet poor character might not have enough presence to trigger that.
 
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