Tales of the Rampant Coyote

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Frayed Knights: Possessing Endurance!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 7, 2011

Time for another update on Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon, likely to be the only game released this year with a stat called “Brains” that isn’t about a zombie apocalypse.

Today, I’m going to talk about endurance. Which is another stat. Probably your second most important stat in combat, next to hit points. I’m writing about it now, because it is my bane right now. Balancing the game system is proving to be mainly about balancing endurance. Endurance is life. For a refresher course on what endurance is all about, here’s an article on Resting, Sleeping, Fatigue, and Exhaustion in Frayed Knights.

From a design perspective, the point is to embrace a bit of old-school-style resource management. There’s no concept of standing around waiting to heal up between combats, or waiting for an ability timer to pop like some kind of predictable whack-a-mole game. You have health, endurance, and expendable items… and gold with which you can buy more expendable items (or other things). You need to ration your resources on any particular foray into a dungeon. Failure to do a good job of it means heading back to town prematurely to buy more potions and sleep it off at an inn. When you return, the “fixed” encounters you’ve already defeated will no longer be there, but you may be harassed by respawned patrols and random encounters.

This isn’t a popular choice these days with RPGs – the tendency is to encourage you to shoot your whole wad with every single battle, thus requiring that every single battle be of relatively high challenge (or else what’s the point?).  Whereas with limited resources, it’s always something of a gamble. Do you hit this “speed bump” encounter with your heavy artillery now, or do you hold back so that you may have enough to tackle the boss a little further in the dungeon? And if you have expended a little more than expected on smaller encounters now, do you turn tail and head back home now to come back refreshed, or do you push your way a little further into the dungeon and take your chances?

Older D&D-style CRPGs often gave you the chance to rest in the wilderness for free, with the risk of an enemy attack while resting.  I liked this mechanic back in the day – it had a good risk / reward balance to it – but it was too often something of a pass / fail situation. You could plop right down pretty much anywhere and rest, and if you succeeded you were as good as new. If you failed, you were likely seriously hosed.

The Frayed Knights endurance system – including easily recoverable fatigue and the more challenging exhaustion  that lowers your maximum endurance – is an attempt to find a little bit of a middle ground in all this. You can “rest” pretty much anywhere for a quick breather to return your party to maximum endurance. But if you let exhaustion creep up to its maximum level, which cuts your top endurance by as much as three-quarters (currently),  your party won’t be able to go more than three or four rounds of combat before getting slowed down by the need to recover endurance.

This is a big deal.  Once your characters start hitting that threshold, their effectiveness in combat drops pretty hard. If your endurance hits zero, not only does your character automatically have to catch their breath on their next action, but until they do and get endurance back into the positive range again, they are slightly more vulnerable to attacks.

Oh, and the same thing applies to enemies, too. You can see their endurance level too, and how quickly it drops based on their various attacks.  While there are a lot more factors in play, whichever side hits low endurance levels first is generally at a pretty distinct disadvantage.

A side benefit of this is that, unlike most other RPGs, the “Defensive” option in combat can actually be somewhat useful! Especially if you have a feat that applies the bonus against spells as well as physical attacks. It uses no endurance, and makes your character harder to hit. You can hunker down and let your enemies blow their endurance on initial, expensive attacks, and then come out swinging once they are having to recover every other round.  It’s not a strategy I’d recommend for most situations, but there are times when it may be appropriate for at least some members of the party.

There are a lot of tricks to managing endurance in Frayed Knights. There are feats which reduce the endurance cost of special attacks and spells. Potions of Liquid Nap often come in handy not only as a quick endurance boost, but to reduce exhaustion immediately. One of the cheapest (and, especially in the early game, most useful) Drama Star powers cuts exhaustion significantly and restores the character to maximum (current) endurance. Less powerful attacks and spells can be used against lesser threats. Other party members can pick up feats and spells to help with the healing, so poor ol’ Benjamin doesn’t have to burn himself out keeping everyone in healed. Potions, scrolls, and wands can be used cheaply in place of the more fatigue-inducing spells. Spells with spellstone components tend to give a bigger bang for their endurance-cost buck than regular spells. The party can move out of a more densely-populated, dangerous part of the dungeon to a less dangerous one before resting.

And so forth.

Managing endurance is almost as important as managing hit points in Frayed Knights. While its possible to play without paying it much attention, skill and attention will reward players with less whining from the deceased party members.

Filed Under: Frayed Knights - Comments: 5 Comments to Read

  • EHamilton said,

    I remember that the Gold Box games (at least initially) used a comparable system where they carefully calculated out the time it would take to memorize each tier of spells. You could rest for a long time (with a high probability of encounters) to be ‘good as new’, or rest for safer, shorter amounts of time to relearn just a few essential spells.

    I remember really enjoying the system since it created constantly interesting decisions at the margins. I’d slowly try to adjust my resting times up and down, depending on how lethal the local monsters seemed to be. It felt like the optimal balance between “blowing your entire bank account” and “carefully budgeting” was much more dynamic, and its fluctuations were an integral part of the game.

    Liquid nap. I need a bottle of that, right about now.

  • LateWhiteRabbit said,

    I too would like to put in an order for a crate of Liquid Nap potions. Do they taste like a mix between dancing sugar plums and bits of jumping mutton?

    The Endurance/Exhaustion mechanic was something I really enjoyed in the pilot. Even at that early and rough stage I could see its potential. Giving the players a solid gameplay and roleplaying reason to visit inns is always good in my book.

    Still not sure how I feel about the Drama Star system yet, though. We’ll see.

  • Aaron said,

    I think the whole ‘rest with chance of encounter’ has faded because people, in general, just save-scum it.

    As for attrition-style combat… I think for tourist-type gamers, it can be incredibly punishing to fail. Because you end up having to re-tread things you already did, either because you had to run away and come back, or because you died and have to restore from an hour back at the beginning of the expedition.

    That happens a few times, and people who are around for the story and the characters and light entertainment are going to check out.

    I liked the Fallout New Vegas compromise. Hardcore mode is optional. You *can*, if you want, plan expeditions and backtrack hunting for meat and stuff. Or you can just say ‘pfft’ and play at the level you want to.

  • skavenhorde said,

    @Aaron You can’t compare New Vegas hardcore mode with this system. New Vegas’ hardcore mode was about food, weight, healing and a few other minor things. All of the gameplay changes were not about combat.

    If he had the game with this system and one without this system it would be close to impossible to have a balanced game. You just can’t have an option for everything.

    Plus, I don’t believe that “tourist” type of gamers (or casual gamers as they are known) are Jay’s target audience and thank god for that. I’m not sure what made Jay crazy enough to take on an old-school type rpg, but since he did I’m all for these cool little touches he’s adding to the game.

    If you wanted an easy game then just set the difficulty to easy. I don’t see the need to have an “on/off” button for all the different kinds of elements in a game. It’s nice, but it’s also a pain in the behind to make, I would imagine. I’d rather he stick to one style, perfect it and then release the game.

    BTW Jay, I love this system. Keep up the good work.

  • Indie RPG News Roundup, April 2011 said,

    […] interest to people who aren’t knee-deep in development.  But there’s been updates on how (and why) Endurance works in the game, changes to how the story and setting are presented, and the amusing pain in the neck […]