Character Design: Duelist

Before I moved to Korea eleven months ago, I took my last opportunity to put the game through a big play testing push. One of the things that came out of those sessions was a consensus that the Duelist was the most fun character to play. It was partly because the Duelist was flexible – you could choose whether to play defensively or aggressively. Mostly though, I believe it was because you got more decisions.

Each of the melee characters had a special ability. Block for the Enforcer, rage for the Berserker, and stealth for the Assassin. The Duelist’s special ability was that some of his abilities were responses. In light of this being the most fun character for most players, rather than keep responses unique to the Duelist, I looked for ways to add responses to other characters. The timing rules for the game were also robust enough by now to be able to handle more than one character getting to respond to things. The Duelist’s new special ability is an extra card to choose from, and an extra card in hand.

Here are some of the responses that were inspired by the Duelist:

Conviction-01 Stamina-01 Adrenaline-01

After adjusting the other six characters, and in a couple of cases totally overhauling them, the Duelist started to feel a little neglected. In Korea I’ve continued to steadily play test the game with a much more limited pool of players. Over the past two months or so, I’ve been working on the latest character overhaul.

Here are the Duelist abilities that came out basically unchanged:

Feint-01 Parry-01 En Garde 9.2.13-01 Trip 9.2.13-01 Reprise 9.2.13-01 Lunge-01

And here were the abilities that needed to change:

Disarm-01 Sweep Attack-01 Advance-01

Disarm was the most glaring problem. Getting stunned is one of the things that makes players want to flip tables, especially new players. Getting your current attack canceled is even more frustrating, and this card did both. For all the headache this card caused for your opponent, it wasn’t even fun to play, because you had to hold three focus for the perfect moment and then…do nothing. A lot of nothing. I’d be looking for a powerful ability to replace Disarm that was more fun.

Sweep Attack had a very different problem. This card was fun to play, but blurred the line between the Enforcer and the Duelist really hard. It basically turned the Duelist into the Enforcer. I’d be looking for a level up that fit better with the Duelist thematically. One of my favorite play tester’s (Greg McHugh) who’s good at both League of Legends and Magic put it to me this way, “The Duelist wants to corner someone and force them into a duel.” That comment stayed with me.

Advance was actually a really fun card, which is part of why it was so hard for me to see that it needed to be changed at first. In retrospect the change to Advance seems obvious.

Here are the new cards:

Slander 9.2.13-01-01 Deft Maneuver 9.2.13-01  Advance 9.2.13-01

Slander was the first of these cards that I came up with. I wanted to give the Duelist a way to incentivize attacking him, without taking away his opponents options. One obvious way to respond to Slander is to focus the team’s attacks against the Duelist, and I wanted to give the Duelist a way to respond to that. Deft Maneuver winds up looking quite a bit like the old Disarm, but unlike the old Disarm, it keeps the game moving forward. It also gives you a way to specifically deal with incoming ranged attacks when you’ve successfully cornered a melee opponent. By taking away the Duelist Mark cost on Advance, it became a much more attractive way to corner a melee foe.

Disarm 9.2.13-01The change to Advance combined it with an old ability, opening up a new ability slot. I’d been discussing part of what makes knock downs more fun than stuns in this game with my primary play tester in Korea, Angus Miller. When you get knocked down, your set of options is altered instead of taken away. You can play a card to gain focus, look at your runes, or even prepare an attack in case someone moves close to you. I liked the idea of reversing the effect of knock downs. Making your opponent unable to deal damage on the next turn could easily be represented by a disarm. Similar to knock down, Disarm alters your opponents set of options on the next turn. Disarm also lets you really use that steel rune when you know it’s coming up next, and you know you probably won’t be able to use it to parry. It also let me use the word “Disarm” for the Duelist, which I love.

The Duelist now has no area attacks and no stuns, yet a lot of battlefield control, and I’m happy with the results so far, though play testing has been very limited. I’m very excited to come back to California next month, and run the game through the gauntlet one more time.

I plan to continue with the character design series, with the Fire Archer coming up soon. I also plan to talk about adjusting where the runes show up across all the characters’ abilities, the graphical layout of the cards, and eventually share some of the incredible artwork that’s being produced for this game by this incredible artist.