Saturday 17 July 2021

Game Design #80: Heroic Heroes and Leaders who Lead (Lessons from Videogames)

While I still enjoy reading and experimenting with rules, due to kids my videogaming time vastly outweighs my tabletop gaming time.  However, game design principals apply to both, and I often find myself comparing or applying videogame lessons into wargames or admiring videogame design choices.

More Decisions, Simpler Mechanics

One I noticed recently was the PC RTS "Steel Division 2" - a semi-realistic strategy game. Company of Heroes 2 largely moved away from the base-building aspects of RTS (which you may or may not agree with); you pretty much just clicked "upgrade" on your main building to move to the next "tech level" to get more advanced sexy units like upgrading your Panzer IV to a Tiger or whatever - the focus was on positioning your troops tactically.  Steel Division 2 streamlined this - it did away with buildings and bases altogether; automatically increasing your "tech level" every 10min (so at 20min+ everyone was at the third and final tech level). It also added in pre-game "deck building" - you got to choose which units were available at each tech level, except high tech units had a much lower unit cap earlier on; i.e. you might be allowed 2 Tigers at the start of the game, but if you assigned the Tigers to the final 20min+ stage, you got 4. .

It added in more decision points (+ pregame deck building) while allowing you to "rush" fewer units at a higher tech level or zerg spam cheaper troops just like CoH - while simplifying the game (no bases to manage, just click on UI tab you desire, clearly labelled "infantry" or "tanks") while allowing "base capture" i.e. capturing reinforcement locations. It even added AI smart orders allowing you to macro or micro your units. I loved how SD2 simplified and streamlined the genre, but allowed both the same strategies AND more complex in-game (and pre-game!) decision points.

Thinking about this PC game made me think about how to streamline rules in a wargame - how could I reproduce a similar effect with less time/measuring/dice rolling? Oops, I got sidetracked - I was supposed to be talking about...

Leaders - aka Support Class

Anyway, another thing I noticed was in most videogame shooter/RPG games there was usually very clearly defined roles - usually falling into the clearly defined tropes of "dps" "support" and "tank" (and often some sort of pseudo-wizard/artillery class who was a AoE+support or dps).  

In wargames, too often leaders and heroes are synonymous. In 40K, a "leader" might merely be a walking tank, impossible to kill with normal bullets, with high dps. Basically, a single heroic model doing the work of a squad, but Captain Smurfmarine may not really be a leader at all. In others, a hero/leader may use a d10 for all actions, while grunts only use a d6. He's not a leader - just a guy with a better dice roll. Seldom is a wargame leader just an average joe. 

But isn't a leader really a "support" class who enhances others?

I think wargames need to be clear to divorce "leadership" from "kicking ass" because they are not always the same thing. In team sports, the leader is usually not the best player. They are the best at directing, encouraging, passing on instructions from above and reading play - i.e. a leader is the best at leading, not kicking goals. The best striker is not necessarily the best leader (and actually usually isn't - strikers are usually selfish turkeys!)

Leaders aren't always heroes and heroes aren't always leaders. Leaders should be rated on how they help those around them. They are a "support class." 

Heroes - Lucky or Superhuman? DPS/Tank.. or something else?

"Heroes" aren't always leaders. They are guys who pull off amazing feats. But is this because they are the toughest, strongest or best shots? Is the measure of a hero merely someone with the best stats: +1 in shooting, +1 movement, +1 melee, +1 toughness?  Using d10 when the rest are d6?

Heroes aren't automatically tanks or dps though. Heroes do tend to have high morale or willpower. They are often survivors. They often are cool under fire and can react before others. They are often unnaturally lucky. Rather than inhumanly good strength and speed stats; perhaps re-rolls and extra actions might be a better way to show a hero?

Example - LOTR

One of GW's best games, LOTR, made some steps towards this. "Heroic" characters had 3 resources - Might, Will and Fate (usually 1-3 tokens in each) which were expended when used.  Might allowed mighty heroic deeds - re-rolling combat actions. Will allowed acts of magic and resistance including buffing allies. Fate allowed re-rolls to prevent wounds.  Boromir may be a Mighty warrior, but he had poor Will and unfortunate Fate; whereas Frodo might have had little Might but high Will and Fate - resisting magic and surviving when he really shouldn't have; even if he had far less statistical toughness than Boromir. You could be a heroically lucky survivor while also being a bit of a weakling. 

Example - Random House rules

Here's a personal example. As I dislike units getting 2 actions by default, we will presume they get 1 action, but may roll against their "Training" to see if they get another. A rookie might get a 2nd action on a 5+ (33% - unlikely) on d6, a regular on a 4+ (50/50 - can't be relied on). However I've decided any combat-focused "hero" can re-roll any single dice-roll in his turn, and if he passes an activation he may roll again and get a 3rd action. So even a regular trained hero can reliably act under fire (and often do an extra action no one else can) and may re-roll misses or crippling injuries - even if stat-wise, he is no stronger, faster or tougher than average. It doesn't take a bazooka to take him down - even a combat hero is no walking tank - but he's more likely be "lucky" and have ducked at the right time.

Now in my hypothetical game I want to encourage team work. So I decide soldiers in the same fireteam may share their second action (if they get one) with one other team mate.  So a soldier shooting his M16 gives a single buddy (in the same fire team) a free action to shoot his M16 - perhaps calling "open fire" or maybe a free move "go - I'll cover you!" Basically, you get a free action for your team, as long as a team mate is in LoS or perhaps a set distance.

However, my leader is better at leading. So if he spends an action, everyone in that range or in an entire squad gets a free action. So you might be getting 3-4+ free actions for your team; ie. "Alpha Squad - open fire!" "Everyone move up - on the double!". Perhaps my leader gets to re-roll any failed activation scores - but only if he was using his extra action for leading. Perhaps nearby allies get to re-roll morale tests (or get a +1 "buff" to their stats). Again, my leader may have perfectly ordinary stats and be a completely average fighter, but he buffs those around him and allows his team to act more often/effectively.


Videogames' common tank-dps-support trinity got me thinking about how wargames often combine these capabilities into a single "leader" - who may not be leading at all; or a "hero" who may not be heroic, but merely inhumanly capable - with the stats of a MBT.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great post. Thank you as this is something that has bugged me as well BUT I have also fallen into the same trap!

    In many of my Historical Games, I abstract the Leadership of an officer by letting the unit create a command resource that you then use as the player to do "special" things like use special rules, change formation, bid for initiative, interrupt, etc. In essence, I am trying to abstract the leader doing the leading.