Posted by Rampant Coyote on February 20, 2014
Here’s a cool thing about RPGs in general, which has been true since the first “white box” D&D books were released to the public: They are designed with built-in character progression that matches the player’s learning curve. At first level, or the early stages of the game, your character isn’t very powerful, and doesn’t have many options. If you played the “Fighting Man” in original D&D, most of the time your practical options consisted of moving somewhere and / or trying to hit something with your weapon. Later, you’d get some more interesting choices, like whether or not to drink a healing potion or which of your godlike weapons to use against which monster. Still, pretty straightforward stuff, but with the fun of role-playing a character, and the idea that you were still pretty open to try anything to be adjudicated by the Dungeon Master (the person running the game), it was pretty good.
It’s my understanding that the cleric and magic-user classes were intended for more advanced players, who had probably already mastered the limited choices of the “Fighting Man” (I’m glad they changed the name to “Fighter” in AD&D), and were ready to begin an all-new learning curve. The cleric was almost as good in a fight as the fighting-man, but additionally had spells to master, and some abilities to give the party a fighting chance against the horrendously powerful undead. Finally, for the expert player, the magic-user was a character with extremely limited fighting potential, an absolute wuss at lower levels, but with a far more potent array of magical power that they could master as they increased in power (and climbed up the learning curve).
Regardless, there you had it – a game that was designed to build on the player’s capabilities as he mastered the previous ones. That’s good game design right there. I don’t know if Arneson and Gygax consciously planned it that way, or that’s just how it evolved through play prior to their commercial release of the game. Probably the latter. Either way, I think the enduring success of role-playing games on computers and consoles over forty years has been due in part to this fundamental game design pattern.
With my decision to released Frayed Knights as a trilogy where you can carry on your progress through all three games, I’ve gone and royally screwed that all up. Players jumping into Frayed Knights 2: The Khan of Wrath without having played the first game will be controlling well-developed characters.
Crap. I’m not the first. Not by a long shot (Hello, Wizardry 2 and 3!). Nor will I be the last. But it’s definitely a design problem. In FK2, I’m kinda working around this by starting with a flashback from earlier in Arianna’s career, which acts as a tutorial. It’s a little cheesy as a game design aid, but hopefully it will help. I fully expect (in fact, I fervently hope) that there will be a lot of players trying our Frayed Knights 2: The Khan of Wrath who have never played Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon, and I want to make the learning process go as smoothly as possible.
Another challenge to this process is that, way back when I made the decision to turn this into a trilogy, I hadn’t planned on changing engines, or making as many changes to the game system as I have. So now, the jump from FK1 to FK2 is not even going to be the smooth continuation that I had anticipated. I think almost all players who enjoyed FK1 will find the sequel to be a significant improvement over the original, but it’s still going to be a transition. So even experienced players won’t get the full advantage of having already made their way through the learning curve.
There’s another element alluded to in that last bit – the reasons things have had to change. While I had plans for the Frayed Knights game system to “work” all the way to somewhere past level 30, it was pretty fuzzy. Obviously, it’s only gone through fair testing through about level 13. But some of the rules I put in place in the first game didn’t scale too well. There were also not enough guidelines to help make sure things scaled reasonably well. I’ve not traditionally been a fan of purely linear level-scaling, but when you are talking about balancing out 35 levels instead of just 12, it’s really difficult to avoid. Whether it’s a level-based game like D&D, or a points or skill-based game, at some point things start getting weird. A very specialized character in a skills-based game can be phenomenally over-powered in some situations and useless in others, whereas an extremely “well-balanced” character might just be universally useless. Anyway, some changes have had to be made to the fundamental rules. I truly doubt I’m done changing them.
There is one tempting proposition that I’ve tried to resist for a long time, because it violates a promise I made to players with FK1 – to hit the reset button and start the party over at low level again. It also doesn’t make sense from a story perspective. I have what I think is an amusing revelation in FK3 as to why the Knights – who are supposed to be pretty experienced adventurers – start out at low level in FK1. But I wouldn’t want to do that to them twice!
What I’d LIKE to do is to have my cake and eat it, too. Since so much is changing and a lot of character and item stats are going to be “re-scaled” anyway, it might not be too much of a stretch to “re-scale” things. I could divide the imported characters’ levels by 2, allow players to reallocate improvement points, and make the equipment from FK1 ‘scale back’ in relative power to their new level. The Axe of Fiery Microdoom is already going to be changed under the new system, so maybe under the new scale of epic awesomeness it’s not quite so epically awesome? I dunno, it’s kinda cheesy, but it’s an option. It’s not like numerical ratings are embedded into the narrative or anything. If I did this, I could include some quick-leveling “bunny-slope” adventures for new players to get them up to 5th or 6th level and move on from there.
I’m still mulling this over. If you Frayed Knights veterans or RPG design experts have some good ideas, I’m all ears. Things are definitely not set in stone, yet, and I really, really want this game to shine.
And if you haven’t checked out Frayed Knights yet or have any idea what I’m talking about – it’s right here. Free demo and everything:
Also, if you’d be so very kind to give the Steam Greenlight an upvote, I’d ‘preciate it…
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