Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Balancing My Tabletop Skirmish Game

So I have my basic rule system, and twenty something fairly unique characters across five different factions, three main factions with six or seven characters and two factions in the very early stages development. I've played a good number of games solo, and am starting to discover what each faction has working for it, and where its weaknesses lie. Even though games usually run fairly close when you have an equal number of characters, it's fairly clear that some characters are devastatingly powerful, and make others look fairly 'meh', not that those characters aren't good in different ways, but some are just objectively better than others. This has turned my attention to developing the necessary evil of a points system, making those weaker characters more valuable because they free up points to be spent on other things.

But where to begin? What could I use as a starting base system, to then be tweaked by considering other variables?

A long time ago I was listening to a 40k podcast about tournament play, it was really interesting to see what tournament players valued in their various lists, two key factors kept popping up in the discussion, I'll call them damage output and damage absorbtion. Damage output is the number of wounds a unit is likely to cause when activated, damage absorbtion is the number of wounds a unit can take before it is killed. I thought if I can just calculate these two factors for each character in my game, and add them together, it should give me a good place to start, which I can then modify with movement, ranges of weapons and non-damaging special abilities later.

When a character activates in my game they follow a basic system of phases - special ability, shooting, movement, fighting. This means I can total up their basic damage output by totalling the average damage in each step. First up - 'The Lord of Bones', he's one of those hard as nails characters for my undead faction 'The Cabal'. His damage output would work as follows - Special abilities: The only damaging special ability he has is called 'Touch of Death' it's a power 5 (power is the number of D10s you roll) melee attack (meaning you roll those 5 D10s equal to or under the characters fight stat, which in this case is 8) which ignores armour. Since we're not considering armour because that would have to do with the opponents damage absorbtion it doesn't really apply here. To use touch of death the Lord of Bones has to pass a special test, rolling equal or under his 'special' value of 6 on 1D10. To work out the output of this ability I'll multiply 5 by 0.8 (his fight stat), and multiply that by 0.6 (his special stat, using a D10 system sure makes this easy!). My total is 2.4, I won't drop the 4 right away rounding down to 2, I want everything really raw to begin with. After using a special ability the character would shoot, the Lord of Bones has no ranged attacks, plus to use Touch of Death he'd need to be in base to base contact so we can forget shooting. He'd then move which we're not considering yet, plus he wouldn't really want to anyway, because he's already in base to base! Finally the fight phase. The Lord of Bones has a power 8 melee attack, against his fight stat of 8, so let's multiply 8 by 0.8, giving us 6.4, a total damage output of 10.8 for the activation.

Now let's consider his damage absorbtion (which is far easier!). The Lord of Bones has an armour of 8 and a health of 12. Lets say 10 hits are scored, those dice are picked up and rolled against his armour, any that exceed it causing 1 point of damage each. Which works out to 1 in 5 dice scoring 1 point of damage on average. Meaning a total of 60 hits would need to be scored to score 12 points of damage. So his damage absorbtion is 60, plus his damage output of 10.8, gives us 70.8 so far. Let's use this same system to total another character: The Demon Slayer and see how he compares.

The Demon Slayer is one of those tougher characters, but is fairly weak against the Lord of Bones, mainly because the Demon Slayer's power comes from his high power melee attack and decent armour, meaning to use his greatest strength he exposes himself to being attacked in melee by the Lord of Bones and his armour ignoring Touch of Death. The Demon Slayer's only damage causing ability is 'Holy Weapon' this gives a +2 to his fight stat when fighting Demons, for now I won't consider this ability at all, there is only one Demon in the game, so it's unlikely to have a great effect just yet. The Demon Slayer like the Lord of Bones has no ranged attack, so we'll move straight onto his melee attack - power 9 fight 7 (9x0.7) gives us a damage output of 6.3. The Demon Slayer's damage absorbtion however would be a little harder to calculate. He has an ability known as Protective Aura, which means when damage is caused against him he ignores the first point of it. I won't consider this yet however, because it's brought to my attention a few other issues with a points system. Not only do I need to consider the likelihood of a character making their special ability test, I also need to consider the likelihood a player would choose that ability to use in the first place, which really comes down to what kind of player is using the character and what specific situation the character is in. For example an ability like 'Holy Weapon' would be invaluable in a game where the enemy are almost entirely demons, however when no demons are available it would be useless. I think variables like that can only be worked out through playtesting, so for now lets just work out his base damage absorbtion. Armour 7, Health 12. So 3 in 10 hits cause damage, (12x10=120, 120/3=40) giving us a base damage absorbtion of 40, plus the damage output of 6.3 gives us a total points cost of 46.3.

Now just for my own benefit, here are most of my characters all pointed up, and a note as to whether the costing is too low or too high:
The Demon Slayer 46.3
The Bishop 25.5 low
The Paladin 49.6
The Sword Sister 25
The Spear Sister 25
The High Guardsman 20.5

Security Sciences
MK1 HMG Killbot 26.2 low
MK2 HMG Killbot 35.7
MK2 Inferno Killbot 35.7
MK2 Killbot Sergeant 32.2 low
Sniper 24.3 low
Mechanic 26.1

The Lord of Bones 70.8
The Blood Knight 85.6 way too high, should be Paladin/ Demon Slayer level
The Fallen Knight 41.1
The Necromancer 22 low
The Gargoyle 79.8 way too high
Giggles the Dead Jester  19.5 low

It seems damage output/absorbtion is not the only thing to consider in this game. The Gargoyle and Blood Knight are good examples of this kind of thinking blowing their abilities way out of proportion. The Gargoyle has an ability known as 'Turn to Stone', this means when dammaged, if the gargoyle passes a special test, and you spend enough action tokens on him to activate him he turns to stone negating all damage done against him. His special is 5, and from experience I've always had enough action tokens to pull off his ability, especially when coupled with a character with the 'Command' ability, so I went with his base stat. So, 50 percent of the time you can't kill him, and 50 percent of the time you can, I went with the maximum 120, his health multiplied by 10, and then his absorbtion if he never managed to pull of his ability 30, and averaged them giving me a total absorbtion of 75, a Paladin and a half, or Demon Slayer and a half, the very model designed to kill him!

There's still a lot more to consider, more characters to cost, and more on the way in the post!

Thanks for stopping by!

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