Designing the Lightning Mage, I really needed to find a way to differentiate it from the Fire Archer. I knew that the character could be more magical, so I came up with some cool abilities for any mage to have, such as teleport and shock wave. I also wanted the character to play differently from the Fire Archer, so I thought about how to represent lightning differently from fire. One idea was to add an electrical charge to an enemy, so that your next attack would bounce to that enemy. I eventually called the electrical charge a “Lightning Mark” to be consistent with the Assassin Mark and Duelist Mark. Here are some examples from the last iteration of the Lightning Mage.
In theory you would play Electrify against one opponent, and then Mental Drain against another, and steal a focus from each of them. In playtesting it became clear that this mechanic rarely worked. The problem was that you were rarely in range of two different opponents. There was another big problem with this mechanic.
In order to balance the interaction between Lightning Mark and Lightning Bolt, I needed to make Lightning Bolt more expensive than it otherwise would be. The most fun thing you could do with the character was to hit two opponents with Lightning Bolt on the same turn, but eventually the character felt like a one trick pony. I don’t think anyone ever used a Lightning Mark for Mental Drain. Even if I had removed Lightning Bolt, the Lightning Mark mechanic still wouldn’t work, because of the positioning issue. So, I decided to redesign the character.
The new character is called the Storm Caller. It salvages what I was going for with the Lightning Mark, but can also be played in a variety of ways. I designed a new mechanic for the Storm Caller with the key word “combo”. The idea behind the Storm Caller is to combine your spells into new spells. Como reads like this, “Keep this card in play. You may return it to your hand to give the following effect to this turn’s ability:” At first, I wrote that out on every card, but I decided to really narrow it down to Combo: Effect. Using a keyword puts a little extra burden onto learning the game, but once you understand combo, cards with combo become much easier to understand. This helps you understand what a new card with combo does that you haven’t seen before, and helps the game flow more intuitively for players that know how combo works.
Now, you can combo Siren’s Call with Chain Lightning for the same effect that I was going for with Electrify and Mental Drain, except there isn’t an issue of getting into range of both characters. When I first designed combo, it only worked on the next turn, but that also turned out to be more restrictive. After play testing, I tried using the same wording I had used on a couple of Enforcer abilities. That wording is much more flexible, and also allowed me to use combo in all of those cases. Now, instead of having abilities that work similarly, but not quite the same, they actually work the same, so it’s much more intuitive when you switch characters.
I updated the layout of the cards to make it more clear which cards stay in play. Putting “Combo” on the center line, helps you and other players recognize why the card is in play even though you didn’t play it this turn. I’m also using a convention from Ascension of having the titles of cards that stay in play white instead of black. I added “ranged attack” and “melee attack” to the center line so that other cards can refer to them clearly. For example, Parry can now say “cancel a melee attack against you” instead of “cancel an attack against you with range 1”. In order to make room in the center line, I moved the base damage of melee attacks into the text box. This is actually more intuitive for players anyway. People were forgetting the base damage on their melee attacks because they were looking at which runes they hit. I think that by putting the base damage with the rest of the effects of the card, it will be easier to see what the card does.
Here are some examples of abilities from other characters that use combo:
Fixing Lightning Bolt
I love the concept of calling down a natural lightning bolt. I remember reading somewhere that roman soldiers feared the Druids of the British Isles because they thought they could call lightning. Before, you only really wanted to use Lightning Bolt if you had a Lightning Mark on someone. When I got rid of the Lightning Marks, I could reduce the cost back down to -3 focus, and I also took away the “can’t be prevented” clause, to bring it in line with the power level of other abilities. Then the problem was that Lightning Bolt didn’t play very well with combo. I mean, 35 damage isn’t that much more impressive than 30 damage. It also bothered me that even though Lightning Bolt deals 30 damage, it’s still better to target a character with 24 health, to get you closer to that next wound. Then I realized that what makes Lightning Bolt interesting isn’t the 30 damage, it’s that “can’t be prevented” clause I had stripped away. So I reduced the damage of Lightning Bolt, and put can’t be prevented back on it. I also made it the Storm Caller’s level up ability. The reduced damage also effectively justifies the unlimited range. The unlimited range makes it strong against ranged characters, and the “can’t be prevented” clause gives it utility against melee characters. Also, it plays better with combo, because it lets you pick out exactly which character you want to get the combo effect on. I made it the Storm Caller’s Level Up, because it feels like something that’s fun for the Storm Caller to do often.
The next character design entry will also be about a character that got a redesign. The next one is much more drastic though, and the character that was scrapped looks nothing like the one that replaced it. Eventually I’d like to unveil some artwork for the game and plans for kickstarter, but those are still a ways away. Also, if anyone is living in the San Francisco bay area and interested in helping me playtest this game, I’m planning to move back there in late October and you can get in touch with me at email@example.com. My current thinking is that this will be the final playtesting push to reveal minor kinks that need to be worked out, but that the game design is mostly finished (no more character redesigns). Let me know in the comments what else you’d be interested in once the character design series is over. I’d also love to get recommendations on getting the word out about this project.