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I'm in the early stages of designing a cooperative dungeon crawler with narrative elements. It has a strong swords and sorcery theme with a complex world with history around the game, and aims to be true to its theme.

I have several gameplay mechanics which are abstractions of how things work in real life - well, in a game I guess everything is I can explain away some of them by pure common sense, or thematic elements tied to magic or the setting.

For example, minor damage (hits) dealt to the enemy only staggers it, and player can trade (discard) such hits for higher chance of dealing mortal damage in a later attack. I can explain this away by saying that a staggering monster is easier to hit. And if you miss hitting a staggered monster, the enemy gets a morale boost, thus the staggers are discarded.


But there are a few which I'm considering ditching in favor of theme, although I like them as gameplay mechanics.

First, each beginning player can have five skills, but can only bring three into battle - a simple deckbuilding mechanic where they get to choose based on the situation at hand.

Second, when they gain experience they draw new skills from a deck in random, but can exchange them around with other players to better suit their playstyle and character.

These would work perfectly fine in a Matrix (the movie) universe, where a player could download skills at will. But in a fantasy setting this stretches believability, even if I explain some of the skills are magical. Why would a fighter remember to charge to combat in one encounter, but know only dual wield in another? Why would they learn random skills, rather than pick what to learn?


At what point should I start adjusting or discarding gameplay mechanics which seem too abstract, and risk breaking thematic believability and immersion? In a game which aims for strong theme, should I keep abstraction to a minimum? Or does gameplay and fun always take precedence over theme?
 
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Gláucio Reis
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FWIW, the D&D boardgames do similar things. You select your abilities at the start of the game and must choose one of them when you attack. When you gain a weapon or some other item, you can immediately give it to another player, regardless of how far away he is in the dungeon. Experience goes to a common pool and can be used by any player.
 
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Brian M
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Honestly, it will totally depend on how your potential players happen to take it. "Thematic" is very subjective, and people interpret is very differently.

There are plenty of games with abstractions similar to what you describe - Descent has random skills, Warhammer Quest: Silver Tower randomly determines what strength of action you can use, Savage Worlds has enemies "shaken" to make it easier to wound them, Mage Knight the Board Game has deckbuilding elements.

If your game is fun, I don't think people will have a problem with any of these.

I personally think a good fun game with mechanics that work well is about a million miles above "thematically accurate" in terms of what I want out of an adventure game, but I seem to be strange in that regard.
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Nathaniel Grisham

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Jaffeli wrote:

First, each beginning player can have five skills, but can only bring three into battle - a simple deckbuilding mechanic where they get to choose based on the situation at hand.

Second, when they gain experience they draw new skills from a deck in random, but can exchange them around with other players to better suit their playstyle and character.

These would work perfectly fine in a Matrix (the movie) universe, where a player could download skills at will. But in a fantasy setting this stretches believability, even if I explain some of the skills are magical. Why would a fighter remember to charge to combat in one encounter, but know only dual wield in another? Why would they learn random skills, rather than pick what to learn?

Your First paragraph answers a couple of your questions here, I think. You choose some, but not all of your abilities to use in each encounter, and you might forget, or stop using an ability because you learned something better, or maybe you simply stopped practicing it. Just because I can dual wield, doesn't mean that I need to all of the time. Maybe I'll be better off focusing on other skills for some encounters (I can only concentrate on so many different things at a time). Yes, I could charge into the fray, but maybe this time we'll be better off if I stick with my group and approach more cautiously.

Some skills can be learned by accident, as well. A frantic, overzealous parry might turn into a shield rush. An innovative wizard gets his spell components mixed up, but he knows enough to invent a spell on the fly so that he doesn't have to waste them. To mitigate the randomness, you can specify which types of characters can learn certain abilities. You could also allow players draw until they have two or three abilities to choose from.

Honestly, when you think about it, you'd be surprised how you can explain certain mechanics into your theme. Especially with games that have role-playing elements.
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Bill Eldard
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StormKnight wrote:
Honestly, it will totally depend on how your potential players happen to take it. "Thematic" is very subjective, and people interpret is very differently.

There are plenty of games with abstractions similar to what you describe - Descent has random skills, Warhammer Quest: Silver Tower randomly determines what strength of action you can use, Savage Worlds has enemies "shaken" to make it easier to wound them, Mage Knight the Board Game has deckbuilding elements.

If your game is fun, I don't think people will have a problem with any of these.

I personally think a good fun game with mechanics that work well is about a million miles above "thematically accurate" in terms of what I want out of an adventure game, but I seem to be strange in that regard.


Which leads to the key question: What is the target audience? Think about the levels of abstraction in successful games that you find similar to your design.
 
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Alison Mandible
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If you want your mechanics to match your theme, you have to be willing to retheme a mechanic.

These abilities are gained at random and easily traded-- they sound like objects rather than skills. Maybe they're magic rings. Maybe they're magic gems which fit into sockets on weapons (that would explain the "you can have five, but only use three at a time" restriction). Maybe they're parchments with secret words that each invoke the blessing of one of hundreds of old gods who rule this dungeon. See what I mean? If you like a mechanic, find a theme that fits it instead of assuming that including the mechanic means including whatever theme you first thought of it under.
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Metäl Warrior
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Grishhammer wrote:
To mitigate the randomness, you can specify which types of characters can learn certain abilities. You could also allow players draw until they have two or three abilities to choose from.


I've considered these options as well. The skills are already in two groups, universal and for each character class, so it would be quite easy to ask them to draw from a deck mixed with universal and class-specific skills.

Drawing extra cards and perhaps allowing trading between characters would help as well, and also build plaery group cohesiveness and cooperation.

grasa_total wrote:
If you want your mechanics to match your theme, you have to be willing to retheme a mechanic.

These abilities are gained at random and easily traded-- they sound like objects rather than skills. Maybe they're magic rings. Maybe they're magic gems which fit into sockets on weapons (that would explain the "you can have five, but only use three at a time" restriction). Maybe they're parchments with secret words that each invoke the blessing of one of hundreds of old gods who rule this dungeon. See what I mean? If you like a mechanic, find a theme that fits it instead of assuming that including the mechanic means including whatever theme you first thought of it under.


I like this idea! It might not fit for everything, but is definitely a good way to work around some of the more jarring theme breakers.
 
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