Alex Krasodomski-Jones
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Hi there - thanks, in advance, for having me! I'll update this first post every time I post something I think might be useful.

I'm working on a game and have hit a brick wall so thought I'd post in here to see if you guys have any suggestions about places to look for inspiration, or even some homegrown inspiration all of your very own.

tl;dr explanation of question:
Spoiler (click to reveal)
I want elements of the game to 'live', in a very basic sense. Say there is an NPC - I want him to be able to make basic decisions like whether for this round they will 'hunt', 'explore', 'fight' beyond the control of the players. I thought this could be achieved through dice rolls - each NPC could roll a dice with the three or four possible actions on and then follow accordingly.

(This could be expanded into multiple dice that reflect the action previously taken - dice could be stacked in a way that meant an 'explorer' was more likely to keep 'exploring')


Update 1:
I am trying to build a game in which the players are Gods, and there are a number of tribes on the gameboard. Think Populous/From Dust. The aim of the game is for the Gods to convert as many of the tribals to worship them as possible, with the winner the God with the most number of followers at the end of the game.



This could be achieved in a number of ways. As an example, a God could try and persuade a tribal to kill another tribal of a competing faith, thus strengthening his overall position.

What I'm really interested in, however, is the idea that the tribes have, to a very limited extent, lives of their own, and that the players/Gods can't completely control them, but merely influence them (albeit heavily).

So, for example, a God could send a guiding light, increasing the liklihood a tribal will wander in that direction, potentially into trouble or into discovery. Or the God could perform a miracle, potentially converting a tribal to their cause or even just zapping one with a lightning bolt.

The key is the idea that although the Gods can heavily influence the game (otherwise why play?), there is always an element of doubt/uncertainty as, perhaps, the tribe you have lovingly devoted your energy to decides it is going to declare war on another tribe and despite your best efforts gets slaughtered.

I have some ideas as to how it might work. If you guys think this is a cool concept I'll try and share them. But in the meantime, can any of you suggest mechanics for how we could get this uncertainty up and running in an efficient way?

Thank you!

Alex
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Jim Cote
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Nothing comes to mind.

I would suggest taking your idea further. Each NPC could be represented by a "card" with tables that produce different kinds of behavior patterns. Using your example, one might be a fighter so takes more of those kinds of actions. One might hunt more often but only in woods, and he also hates the mountains. Lots of cool possibilities.
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Nate K
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Gears of War: The Board Game, maybe? It has a card-based AI system, so the players all take their turns and then the enemies are controlled by drawing cards from a deck.
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Ben Pinchback
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Merchants & Marauders has NPC ships that move based on when cards are revealed with their logo and a direction on them. The direction can be over-ridden by a series of priorities such as if a player pirate is near bye. It works pretty well for that game.
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Chris Stanton
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Snowdonia has the game take actions. This is triggered by drawing one of the action cubes from the bag.
In connection with your 'stacking' of like actions, the longer you go without the game taking an action, the more likely it is to do so as there is a larger proportion of the action cubes reamining in the bag.
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Mike L.
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MuscleCrow wrote:
I want elements of the game to 'live', in a very basic sense. Say there is an NPC - I want him to be able to make basic decisions like whether for this round they will 'hunt', 'explore', 'fight' beyond the control of the players. I thought this could be achieved through dice rolls - each NPC could roll a dice with the three or four possible actions on and then follow accordingly.

(This could be expanded into multiple dice that reflect the action previously taken - dice could be stacked in a way that meant an 'explorer' was more likely to keep 'exploring')


ekted wrote:
Each NPC could be represented by a "card" with tables that produce different kinds of behavior patterns. Using your example, one might be a fighter so takes more of those kinds of actions. One might hunt more often but only in woods, and he also hates the mountains. Lots of cool possibilities.


Other than myself, I haven't heard of any other games that try this system.

I use it for the combat system in the GM-less dungeon crawler I am designing, you roll d20s and reference a monster card to find out what each group of monsters does each turn. The only problem with it, that I have found, is that if there are too many monster groups (or NPCs in your case) it becomes tedious to roll and reference for each one individually (I limited my setup to a max of 4 at one time). If there will be a bunch on the board, you should find a way to group them up so the players don't have to reference too often.

Good Luck
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Robert Szalai
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If i remember correctly, Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of Ashardalon has NPCs what are moving on their own.
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John "Omega" Williams
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This is something that I have been working on for the revised edition of Starfield for some time now. The problem is the complexity factor added to an allready complex system. But I think it is vital to the ideal I am trying to complete.

One example might be Race for the Galaxy: The Gathering Storm Since the packed AI performs various actions independantly. Another is the expansion for Star Trader's Luck which has a minor automated AI system to handle a rival NPC trader.

And in a way Mythic Game Master Emulator Can handle NPCs. But it is totally player driven in a sense.

I know there are one or two others out there. But cant think of them at the moment.
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Alex Krasodomski-Jones
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Hi there,

Thanks for all the responses. I did some YouTube fishing and found some useful stuff. I did think I was perhaps a bit too cagey/opaque about what exactly I had in mind, so I'll have a crack at explaining it.

I am trying to build a game in which the players are Gods, and there are a number of tribes on the gameboard. Think Populous/From Dust. The aim of the game is for the Gods to convert as many of the tribals to worship them as possible, with the winner the God with the most number of followers at the end of the game.



This could be achieved in a number of ways. As an example, a God could try and persuade a tribal to kill another tribal of a competing faith, thus strengthening his overall position.

What I'm really interested in, however, is the idea that the tribes have, to a very limited extent, lives of their own, and that the players/Gods can't completely control them, but merely influence them (albeit heavily).

So, for example, a God could send a guiding light, increasing the liklihood a tribal will wander in that direction, potentially into trouble or into discovery. Or the God could perform a miracle, potentially converting a tribal to their cause or even just zapping one with a lightning bolt.

The key is the idea that although the Gods can heavily influence the game (otherwise why play?), there is always an element of doubt/uncertainty as, perhaps, the tribe you have lovingly devoted your energy to decides it is going to declare war on another tribe and despite your best efforts gets slaughtered.

I have some ideas as to how it might work. If you guys think this is a cool concept I'll try and share them. But in the meantime, can any of you suggest mechanics for how we could get this uncertainty up and running in an efficient way?

Thank you!

Alex
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Chris
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Alright, here's a dump of thoughts.

First, I'll assume you have a lot of NPCs on the board. Lets say each turn they have an "expected" action. To represent this, let's have each NPC represented by an action on some six sided die. The actions could be any number of things, that's not important here (yet anyway) - what is important is that the action showing is the "expected" action. Each turn, the expected action for that NPC is the top face of the die. Now, lets say the board is represented by some kind of grid. For simplicity we can start with a square, x by y board. Each turn, the gods can choose to spend some number of influence points on an NPC to increase the likelihood of them performing an action. That person would have to declare each of the tribespersons they want to influence based on that grid in secret. Then they roll a set of some dice that determine the action taken, and dice to determine the "alternate action" to be taken if the expected action doesn't occur. Perhaps the alternate action is relative to the current position of the die, or perhaps each action is given a number and the non-expected action increases that number modularly (so, if it changes the action by one, 4 becomes 5, 5 becomes 6, 6 becomes 1, and similar stuff for other rolls there.) A bunch of possible options here.

So what would happen is, when you roll the dice, perhaps they have a number of pips for the expected action, a number for a "possible" action if the expected action fails, and a number for the "unlikely" option as well. This roll of dice affects EVERY NPC on the board. The action type (expected, possible, unlikely) with the most pips showing happens for all un-influenced characters (or maybe only the "expected" or "possible" action can occur for uninfluenced, to prevent an extremely chaotic turn). For any influenced, if you are attempting to influence an NPC of your own alignment, it requires a "possible" roll to succeed, for those of the opponents alignment, it requires an "unlikely" roll. There may also be special actions, or actions considered unlikely in the situation, that require higher rolls to succeed. There could also be a flat number of pips required for some actions, and a certain type of pip with required for other actions - there's a lot of ways that this could go.

Fighting could be a particularly special action: depending on the aggressiveness of your followers (and maybe their weapons technology), they have to roll a certain amount to attack an opponents character in a nearby square, or you could have warrior characters that use fighting differently than hunters/farmers/fishers/explorers.

As a slight example of play, here's an idea of how a turn might go. You might have a warrior whose expected action is a patrol outside your city's gates. Most turns he'd just walk back and forth. However, an enemy warrior is sneaking up through the forest. Using your godly influence, you could attempt to alert that warrior to the sneaking enemy - the alert would take the form of altering his patrol or movement direction, something like that. At the same time, the opposing god could attempt to influence your warrior to dull his senses and encourage him to continue on his current path. Lets say you have the better influence combined with the roll - now your warrior moves towards the forest. However, on the next turn, the enemy warrior has spears and can attack from a farther distance - he no longer needs to influence your guy, and because he's a warrior, he needs a weaker roll to succeed in the attack. You could attempt to spend a lot of influence points to make him fail to attack or miss or something, but if you fail, it's likely your warrior will take damage, or at least have to roll against damage. You'll have to take an additional turn to close on the enemy if you only have swords for weapons.

Meanwhile, if you had a hunter in the forest, you could influence them to stop hunting when you see the warrior coming, but the other enemies could attempt to influence them to stay behind and concede any food or anything they might have collected (or possibly even drop them in fear).

This is just rattling off some ideas. It could be possible that each NPC has a unique (or semi-unique) sheet that controls its actions based on the die rolls (so maybe one is a hunter most commonly, or some can't swim and so won't tread into ocean areas on their own), but it depends on how much you want the players to fiddle with each piece. It could be much more complex (which I have some ideas for as well, but am just getting a feel here), this is just a very simple, basic concept that can cover a large amount of in-game NPCs that are not likely to change much.
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Rocco Privetera
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rolling indivdually for every npc seems like a chore.

I think the previous reply said it, but I like the concept of types of tribesmen (hunters, fishers, builders) who by default do a set thing you don't roll for. But if you influence them there is a chance they do something else.

Maybe what you can do is something like: Assume each tribesperson has a "Willpower" rating of 5. Your god (the player) has "miracle" dice or power dice - for the sake of argument, say 3. When you want to influence tribesmen, you say how many dice to tribesmen (1 apiece for 3, 3 for 1, etc) and then roll the dice. Every roll you make over the willpower means that one unit does what you want.

Now in the case of a single guy, rolling 3-4 dice means you are seriously trying to get a message through, and will likely succeed, at the expense of it being only on guy. Roll 1 die per man means a lesser chance of moving more units. Fail and they do what the normally do by default.

You could adjust the willpower score down the more your people believe in you (to make it easier for them to believe); you can get more dice for more powerful god; you can temporarily adjust the willpower based on certain units (like preachers) or events (like witnessing a miracle).

And fail badly (roll a 1, say) and the opposing player moves the unit.
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Alex Krasodomski-Jones
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Coldfrog, Rocconteur, thanks so much for the the help.

Your thoughts are really useful - I also think like we're kind of imagining a similar thing which is a good start. I really like the idea of dice being a measure of liklihood of change from a default action, something you both mention. I also like the idea of Gods spending faith dice on influencing NPCs, as this allows for decision making as well as the requisite unpredictability.
Spoiler (click to reveal)

My originial idea on God powers was card-based, but I think dice is better. Perhaps if enough Faithful Tribals pray to you in a turn, you receive a 'Power card' with something special on it, like a lightning bolt or rainbow or plague of clams.


You are both right to assume a lot of NPCs (up to 25, I imagine) and are both right that rolling individually for every NPC is definitely going to be frustrating and boring. Somehow a few handfuls of dice rolled should be able to quickly cause the game board to shift a little, ideally in interesting ways that pose problems for the players.

I have the day off, so will hopefully have something more concrete this evening, but for the moment I see two main problems.

1. Individual interest vs individual control
It's clear that we want to deal with NPCs as groups, ideally, as this makes things faster and more cohesive. The problem is, NPCs may belong to different (and shifting) groups. A hunter may switch faiths, for example. Two hunters may come from different villages. Ultimately players will want to interact with NPCs as individual pieces, I feel. This would be easy on a computer but more tricky on a boardgame.

Say, for example, we roll four dice for the four tribals currently in a village. Two are currently farming, two are praying. The dice tell us that three of them are now farming. If the players had no indiviudal interest in the NPCs, then it would be easy just to move one from 'Praying' to 'Farming', but as it is, you would need to roll individually as it matters to the Game *which individual* tribal is doing what. Urgh.

2. Movement
Like ColdFrog I also, at this stage, see the board as being basically an x by y grid. How could you set up NPC movement habits on a board, ideally with an option that those habits can change/be changed?

I can see glimpses of what this game could become, like the moment when two villages decide to attack one another or a multi-faith village turns on itself, only for the players to desperately try and sort it out. It is just the mechanic which I can't get to grips with.
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Rocco Privetera
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Change the paradigm a little.

Why use AI for individual actions if a) the individuals aren't working against you usually and b) they are limited to a few actions? random actions are fine and dandy when you want them not to always do the right thing. But it sounds like most of the time these guys are going to be following pretty set lives.

So instead of an auto-AI paradigm, why not simply make some rules and let the player manage them? Something like:

Hunter: (in this example, a token)
Hunters in a wood hunt and get a kill; flip them over.
Hunters with a kill who enter a village increase food supply by one and flip over to normal side.
Hunters with a kill move towards the nearest village.
Hunters without a kill move towards the nearest woods.

So if you have 4 hunters you don't exert influence over, the player in his turn just manages what they do. There's no need to roll for every one to determine what happens. Hunters wouldn't crawl around randomly anyway, they are hunting. Farmers move from fields to town. Fishers move from water to town.

Of course people don't have a bigger picture in mind (the wood only supports 4 hunters, and more keep going into it) so as a god you reach down and direct a hunter to go start a new village so he can hunt somewhere else.

I think as far as units moving from farming to hunting that is unlikely. Pr-agrarian society a dedicated farmer farmed unless there was a good reason to switch, and their son's also farmed. I think if you start a village with one farmer and a new unit is born it'll be a farmer - or if the fields are at capacity, it'll be a hunter.

You should also think about time scale (is it abstract, how long is it). If each turn is supposed to be approximately long enough to harvest crops or hunt for food, it's sort of weird for someone to be praying that whole time randomly. Why would a farmer stop farming for WEEKS to pray? A priest could be praying every turn, sure.

Maintaining individual stats on a bunch of units is going to get old super fast. Most games where you deal with unique stats you've got a small handful at best (1-4).
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Chris
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Rocconteur wrote:
rolling indivdually for every npc seems like a chore.


I'm not sure if this was referring to my ideas, but in mine, you roll once to determine everyone's actions. Just saying

I do like your ideas as well though - but I like the idea that there is a potential that the un-influenced people might not do what is expected too. I have some more complex ideas I've been thinking about, but don't have them fully realized so I'm not sure describing them here would be helpful. For now, anyway.
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Rocco Privetera
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Let me weigh in a little on the "doing unexpected things" angle you got going.

I get where you are going with this - you want the people to act less like robots and more like people with free will, and by that you are seeking to add some random elements to their actions.

The first problem I have with this is scale. I suppose its reasonable to assume that in a group of 100 villagers, occasionally one will not do his job and instead goof off, talk to his neighbors, take a nap, or stare at the clouds. Typically that kind of random behavior is subsumed into the major metrics of what the village is doing. That is, if a village "produces" one wheat per turn, you can assume that value combines some people goofing off and some people working hard.

Introducing a random element on a small scale is going to be tedious. The chance of something non random has to be low enough to not statistically affect the average outcome (1%?) but not so low that it becomes annoying to roll it every turn. if there was a rule that said "every turn you can control the villager unless you roll a 1 in 20, when that happens use this chart..." its going to be annoying 19 in 20 times, constantly rolling for no good reason.

"might not do what's expected" sort of depends. Minor events (goofing off) hardly seems worth the time and effort to track. What you are describing sounds more like major events (attacking your neighbors for worshiping the wrong god) more to the tune of event cards than constantly rolling for everybody. Why not just have an event deck with some events, and make the events have specific triggering conditions? Every turn you check the event card, something like:
"Event check: foreign villager within one hex of your villagers; food shortage in any wood. Event: Accusation of stealing"
Probably most of the time the events won't match and nothing will happen, but every so often some things happen during a turn that sets people off.

I guess...well, people don't just "do things randomly" either, you know?
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Andrew H
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You could have a bell curve chart for each God and a player rolls 2 or 3 dice for each. The results near the middle (i.e. 7 on two dice), would be related to the god's domain (war, sea, fire etc.) and/or weak, and the edges of the curve could be powerful or strange actions (a war god roll that prevents attacking).

The worshiping of the gods could either determine the order they act, or the players could add or subtract a few pips depending on how much they worship or sacrifice.

EDIT: Sorry, I missed the part where you said the players are the gods. If you are using a bell curve to control worshipers, you could roll some dice and control the worshipers based upon how far away from the middle it is. For example with two dice, if you get a 7, you can control 0 worshipers, a 12 lets you control 5, and a 2 lets your opponent control 5 of your own. Playing miracles on your turn would add 1 or 2 points, while playing them on others turns would subtract 1 or 2.
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Ben Finkel
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One thing I just thought of if you're managing around a dozen or two villagers is to pipeline their decisions: have behaviors that last multiple rounds and only decide new behaviors for a few villagers at a time. This would work best if the game started "in medias res," with most of the villagers already out and about in various stages of job completion, with three or four ready for something new. You assign those villagers tasks with whatever means people above have suggested, and the next round three or four other villagers have finished their task and are ready for the next assignment.
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Rocconteur wrote:
The first problem I have with this is scale.

...

Typically that kind of random behavior is subsumed into the major metrics of what the village is doing. That is, if a village "produces" one wheat per turn, you can assume that value combines some people goofing off and some people working hard.

Introducing a random element on a small scale is going to be tedious.

...

Why not just have an event deck with some events, and make the events have specific triggering conditions? Every turn you check the event card, something like:
"Event check: foreign villager within one hex of your villagers; food shortage in any wood. Event: Accusation of stealing"
Probably most of the time the events won't match and nothing will happen, but every so often some things happen during a turn that sets people off.

I guess...well, people don't just "do things randomly" either, you know?


I really like this idea, and the example given sounds like a great way to make it work. If triggering conditions are unlikely to be met, it might be necessary to have multiple cards per turn. You could track attitude of each village toward the others and the gods, and use those as triggering conditions too.
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