Design Diaries Table Top

Board Game Design Diary – Character Leveling

I use the word level a lot when I talk about this game. I talk about a floor or two pages from the book as being a level. But when I’m talking about leveling, I’m talking about character level and what my thoughts are currently on how leveling is going to work.

The Premise

The Characters

The Bosses

The Guilds

The Levels

The Boards

Cards vs Dice

Character Leveling

One of the big things with a video game RPG, MMO or otherwise, or playing a pen and paper RPG like Dungeons and Dragons, or even playing a board game like Gloomhaven is that your character levels up and gets better. This can be done in a few ways depending on the system.

In all cases there are a few things that I would generally consider to be normal. The biggest thing is that when you go up a level, you get more health. Even within this, there can be some variability. It can be that you go up by a fixed number, or go up to a fixed number, or it can be variable. Let’s talk about a few of the different ways and how they work. Gloomhaven has the easiest one to explain. In that game you start out with a fixed number of healthy, every level your health goes up to another fixed number. Now Dungeons and Dragons covers most of the rest of the ways. You can either get a variable number, based off of a die roll or something like that, or you can go up by a fixed number. In either case in Dungeons and Dragons, that number is modified by your constitution modifier. For my game, I’m leaning towards the latter. I think that the characters will go up in health by a fixed number modified by a vitality stat or a fixed number based off of their vitality stat, more likely.

And talking about stats, what are stats that would make sense. I could use what Dungeons and Dragons have and go with Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. But for this game, I don’t think that makes that much sense. In Dungeons and Dragons you are playing another character completely in that world. In this game, you are playing as a person trapped in a video game. You are going to have your mental faculties still, so stuff like Intelligence and Wisdom are going to only be useful character stats for interacting with an NPC, maybe, more likely that’d be charisma.

Before I’d referred to the base stats as:  strength, agility, guile, toughness, intelligence, and allure. This is fairly close to mirroring what D&D has. However, I think I’m going to change that up slightly. We are going to still have Strength and Agility. Those are going to be the stats that influence your combat the most. Instead of Toughness, we are going to have vitality. Your HP, your ability to shake off poison or stun effects and stuff like that. I’m also going to keep Allure and Guile as stats. These will be important for influencing NPC’s, negotiating, seducing, intimidating, or whatever it might be that a player decides to use them for. But intelligence is going to go away. Storywise, maybe that was a part of the game before, but now it’s gone, and even before, it was probably just a rolodex of knowledge that your player could look up things in, versus a stat that was used to influence anyone.

So, when you level up, you have those five stats. How do you improve them, do they improve at a fixed rate, most certainly not. Instead, you’ll end up having a ability pool or points that you can put into a stat or stats as you see fit. You can bump up your strength as fast as you want, but you’ll have a harder time negotiating with NPC’s and probably even getting some of the quests that they might have to offer. But they’ll be much better at fighting.

Even at the beginning when building your character, you’ll have a few basic skills you can pick from, but you’ll also have a point pool for your base stats and you can assign them as you want. I’d probably do a base 5 points in every stat but then give an additional 10 points, or maybe even 15 points to add to customize your character. The reason for doing this is that I want character creation to be part of the game, and I also want characters and play styles to feel different from the very beginning. If everyone starts out as a level 1 commoner, that’s boring. You aren’t a commoner NPC level character at the start, you start as a hero.

One thing I haven’t mentioned are skills and how they’ll work. There’s a reason for that, I want skills not be something that you just get. Sure you’ll have “skill trees” to some extent, but I want skills be things that you to have to find. That can be from buying skills at certain shops, but they’ll be more generic skills to going on quests and getting skills. When you’re buying skills, they’ll be a bit more generic but you’ll have a larger variety of them that you can grab. The ones in quests, they’ll be better, and my current plan is that you’ll pick a skill pile and draw that type of skill. That skill will have a number that will modify the quests difficulty, but you can pick that from the start and you’ll know how much more challenging it’ll be, the better the skill the more challenging. I also want skills to be able to grow with the player. They are going to be based off of the base stats some, modifying how much they do with how good the player is in that stat or that combination of stats. I want something you grab at level one if you happen to get lucky, to be worth playing late into the game. Now, since skills with have cooldowns related to them you’ll want to have several.

I also want skills to do better when played in “sequence”. I don’t mean that you have to play Skill A1 before Skill A2 and then Skill A3 is better, and they always have to be in that order. I want to borrow from games like Marvel Legendary and Clank! In! Space! where you have factions of cards, so a card might be an Avengers card, and if you play that card before you play another card, that card might have an ability that triggers off of an Avengers card having been played. I’ve talked about keywords before, I want to do that with skills, if you’ve used a skill and it’s cooling down and it has a keyword on it that matches one for an additional ability on your next skill you play, boom, added benefit and power. This is kind of like the comboing between character with the modifier deck draw, but for yourself, so you can set-up turns. Granted, you still have to do that to match what the boss monster is doing as well.

Anyways, that got a little off track for the main topic, but I think that it’s important to add in when talking about leveling. You are basically just increasing your health and base stats when you level. Skills will increase based off of those stats, but you won’t get a new skill for hitting level milestones or just because you leveled up.

What are your thoughts on that, should you get skills when you level up, or should they be rewards for completing missions in the game, defeating bosses, and maybe even being something that you can buy?

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