Sunday, December 15, 2013

Gameplay Prototyping #1: Tactical Combat Design

It's time to start prototyping. As usual, I'll start with a paper prototype and some playtesting sessions. But before jumping into paper, scissors and miniatures, let's focus for a moment on the underlying gameplay mechanics.
Bloodhunt has a lot of systems but they are all fundamentally based on the VtM dice rolling mechanic. With this mechanic the game can handle dialog choices, sneaking, lockpicking, hacking and every action in between. However, there's a system that demands a lot more of attention: combat. 
The general flow of Bloodhunt combat is turn-based. Each turn begins with initiative (deciding who acts first), then each character performs all his actions and when all characters are done, the turn ends. A new combat turn automatically begins if there’s still conflict at the end of a combat turn, i.e. if there’re enemies engaged in combat (not dead or running away). Let's dwelve in the dirty details.
At the beginning of each turn, all characters perform an automatic initiative roll: Dexterity + Wits + 1D10 to determine the order of action. Characters with higher initiative act first, giving each turn a fresh new order and a lot of tactical variety. In his turn, the player can perform a different number of actions depending on (Dexterity + Intelligence) / 2 (rounding up). Since both attributes range from 1 to 5, this means that all characters can perform between 1 and 5 actions per turn. Example: a character with Dexterity 2 and Intelligence 3 can perform 3 actions per turn. 
There are many different actions that you can perform during your combat turn. In general terms, most actions require a roll to determine if the action succeeds. These rolls follow the general VtM dice rolling mechanic.
When combat begins, the scenario displays a combat grid formed by semi-transparent square tiles. This square tile grid acts as a game board helping the player to measure distance (1 tile = 1 meter). In the square grid characters can only face 4 directions (north, south, east and west). In easy mode, there is no influence of orientation in combat. In the other difficulty modes, there are rules for handling lines of fire, angles of vision and side-attacks (+1 to the dice pool) and back-stab attacks (+2 to the dice pool). 
There are many combat actions in Bloodhunt. Some actions are common to all vampires (such as movement, feeding, etc.) but most combat actions are skill-based. The player has to unlock new skill-based actions by leveling up Brawl, Melee, Firearms and Dodge. Each group of actions is distributed in a skill tree fashion. The player can only chose new actions if they are adjacent to a previous action. Since all abilities range from 0 to 5, a player can never unlock all combat actions even at maximum level. This makes each decision important, since it defines the combat style of your character. Here's a first mockup of the Brawl action tree.

In general terms, the Brawl action tree is fairly consistent. Punch is the bottom-most icon, the starting point of the action tree since it requires Brawl at level 0 (all character can throw a punch even if they know nothing about fighting). From there, the player can spend 1 action point to unlock Kick (the foot icon) or Hold (the grappling hand icon), both requiring Brawl at level 1. For those who trained kicking, there's Swipe in level 2 and Ball-breaker kick (the broken egg icon, sorry for the easy pun) at level 3. For those with Hold, there's Throw (a sort of projectile icon) at level 2 and Suffocate (the fringe icon). In the center of the skill tree there's Block (the stopping hand icon) and at the top-most position there's Touch of death (the broken skull icon). Note that the paths of advancement in the action tree are not requirements. You don't require Kick and Hold to unlock Block. You can unlock Block thru Kick or thru Hold. The paths are just routes of logical progression. 
Now let's see in detail each Brawl-based action.

Brawl actions:
  • Punch. Level 0. This is the basic Brawl attack that all characters posses even if they have no Brawl points. Range 1. You can punch enemies in the adjacent tiles (always including diagonals). The player rolls Strength + Brawl to succeed. As usual in VtM, all successes are added as more dice in the Strength damage roll.
  • Kick. Level 1. Range 1 tiles. Strength + Brawl difficulty +1. Damage Strength + 1.
  • Hold. Level 1. Range 1. Strength + Brawl. This attack inflicts no damage. Instead, it immobilizes the target until the next turn. Each new turn holding the enemy, both characters roll resisted Strength + Brawl to determine if the victim remains immobilized (able to take no other action). Holding an enemy serves two purposes: first, while you are holding your enemy, he can’t move or attack; but more importantly, every turn with your enemy immobilized you can use all your static action (those that require no movement) against the victim. This typically means spending all your actions feeding on him, punching or kicking your enemy without any resistance. Since the victim can’t act, there’s no possible defense and all your actions against the immobilized victim gain +3 to the dice pool.
  • Sweep. Level 2. Range 1. A low kick trying to knockdown your enemy. Dexterity + Brawl (difficulty +1). The target takes Strength damage and must roll Dexterity + Stamina (difficulty 8) or suffer a knockdown. A knocked down character falls to the ground and needs to roll Dexterity + Stamina in order to stand again. A success means that the character spends 1 movement action getting up (initiative in the next turn is -2 anyways). A fail means that the character spends all the turn getting up. 
  • Block. Level 2. Block is a defensive maneuver where your character tries to stop with his bare hands the attack of your enemy. The player selects Block a specific enemy. When the enemy attacks, roll Dexterity + Brawl against the Brawl or Melee attack (Firearms can’t be blocked). The successes of the defender, are subtracted from the attackers roll. 
  • Throw. Level 2. Requires immobilized target at range 0, i.e., requires the use of Hold. When you've grabbed your enemy, you can throw it towards another enemy, a table or similar, or just to the ground. Roll Strength roll to throw the enemy as many tiles as successes. Throwing an enemy causes knockdown (if there’s another enemy on the tile, both take knockdown).
  • Ball-breaker kick (playing dirty). Level 3. Range 1. This kick to the groin is equally effective against male and female characters (despite the broken egg icon). Roll Wits + Brawl (difficulty +2) for a Strength + 3 damage.
  • Suffocate. Level 3. Requires immobilized target at range 0. Strength + Brawl of the attacker vs. Strength of the victim. Damage Strength.
  • Touch of death. Level 4. Range 1. This legendary martial arts technique is reputed to kill using force targeted at specific areas of the body. Of course, it's not exactly lethal to vampires and other supernatural creatures, but it deals a great amount of damage. Dexterity + Brawl (difficulty +3). Damage Strength x 2. 
I have no icons for the following skill trees, so let me finish the pixelart before continuing the prototype.

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