Friday, December 07, 2012


I had a bit of a chat and a bit of an essay and thought about it, and I realized something:

Nobody likes playing the support characters.

Nobody picks endurance if they have a choice. Speed, range, stealth - anything but a tank! Similarly, nobody wants to play a healer. I mean, sure, if the party needs one, you'll take it for the team's sake. But nobody goes "wooo! Stand around and get hit!"

Both tanks and healers are support roles. In oldschool games, tanks were combined with offensive capabilities that made them acceptable ("warrior"), but that's steadily been eclipsed by the concepts of strikers and glass cannons. The classic D&D "cleric" was a combination of both support roles - boring healing combined with boring damage-sponging.

If we dissect party combat roles, we can see that most party combat games have a few specific tactical concerns.

1) Dealing damage. Often, there are multiple types of damage, or damage of varying focus. So you can have a lot of different "damage-focused" classes that are all unique.

2) Tactical manipulation. The most obvious is the tank, who draws the enemy fire, since he's so much better able to survive it. However, there are plenty of others, such as the rogue that gets free movement, or the skirmisher who gets a second attack if his first kills an enemy, or even just someone who can dominate turn order.

3) Statistical manipulation. The obvious example is a healer. However, boosts and hexes of all kinds apply - berserkers, mage armor spells, leadership bonuses... these are most common in MMORPGs, but have migrated into all sorts of other games.

My hypothesis is that tanks and healers are not boring because of their role: they are boring because they are a boring version of that role.

In most games, the classes are split into a few simple categories. Tank, striker, support. A lot of effort is put into making tank and support interesting to play, but there's an easy way around that issue: don't have them. Come up with new roles. Roles that are all interesting right from the start.

So, fun challenge: can we create a tabletop RPG where the character classes don't specialize in any of those three groups? Where all the classes have all three kinds of utility? But, of course, all the classes still have to feel different and interesting and mesh well in combat.

I think one key would be in allowing the players to migrate between tactical roles on the fly. So Anna and Barry might be dealing damage, while Jacob and Kelvin are doing tactical manipulation. Of course, these aren't the same at all: Anna is burning stats to deal out massive damage to one target, while Barry is providing baseline disruptive damage against the mooks. Jacob is drawing enemy fire while Kelvin is popping the initiative stack so that the enemies can't get their team attacks working.

And they all have the same base amount of HP and armor.



Random_Phobosis said...

I once made a prototype of a tactics game, where characters had no classes, but each had a magical revolver with six bullets (a stack of cards) selected before the game.

Each bullet was a card with unique effect, and you had to fire them exactly in order you loaded them in. Reloading revolver (rearranging bullets and returning used bullets from discard) took a turn.

It was pretty fun, because you had to plan in advance which role and when each character should play.

If a player controls just one character, just give him two revolvers at once :]

Another prototype was a weird tactics/worker placement hybrid, where characters had no abilities and weapons at all, but each location on the map had either a weapon or useful ability built in (and there were some ways to rearrange locations).
So role changes were intertwined with spatial movement. You can become a machinegunner, but this will bring you in enemy sniper's range. Or you can stay in droid control room, which is useful, but you really should move toward quest location. And if nobody covers this corridor, one of the enemies will get to the flamethrower. Brainburny.

Craig Perko said...

Sounds interesting...

Anonymous said...

How weird; I'm used to groups where there's heavy competition for the tank and healer positions, and people have to be actively recruited for other sorts of damage-dealing or crowd control. I had no idea this was apparently unusual!

Craig Perko said...

You're probably talking about an MMORPG, which is explicitly stated to be a different situation.

Anonymous said...

No, I'm referring to tabletop groups. Probably just a sampling effect.