Thursday, 5 December 2013
No dice: rules mechanics for non-random combat
Assuming a gamebook has skill checks and combats (and that’s an assumption worth challenging) the question remains: if not dice then what?
In an earlier post I talked about the combat mechanic in Inkle’s digital adaptation of Steve Jackson’s Sorcery books. This is similar to the system used in classic boardgame Apocalypse – and seeing as Steve is a hardcover boardgamer, and such a fan of Apocalypse (née The Warlord) that he published it in 1980, I wouldn’t mind betting that he came up with that.
The way it works in Apocalypse was that one territory attacks another. The attacker hides a number from 1 to 6 (not exceeding the number of units in the attacking territory) and the defender makes a guess. If the defender guesses the number right, the attacker loses that number of units from his territory. If the defender guesses wrong, he loses one unit from his territory and the attacker gains a reward (a segment of missile) for use later in the game. Also, if the defender’s territory is now vacant – that is, if he just removed his last unit there – the number the attacker selected is how many units he gets to move in and take the territory. A high number is good for holding the territory, but the defender knows that so it’s a will-he-won’t-he puzzle.
Nick Henfrey and I used a similar mechanic in our Lord of Light boardgame for Games Workshop. Oh, you don’t remember that one? That’s only because Workshop lost interest in it a few minutes after our first meeting. Nick and I didn’t get the memo, so we completed a rather good boardgame and if anyone would like to publish it (perhaps with Kirby concept art) the email address is right there in the sidebar.
Rather than waste a neat game mechanic, I recycled it as the Spiral of Gold, a pastime of the Magi in The Battlepits of Krarth. Here’s Grandmaster Klef explaining how it works:
The being spreads his hands over the surface of the table. As he draws them back, fourteen gleaming gold coins are revealed - seven in a line in front of him, seven on your side of the table. Beside each line of coins rests a six-sided die. All the coins are showing heads.
‘I am called Kief,’ says the mysterious being. ‘I am Grandmaster of this game, which the True Magi called the Spiral of Gold. Pay close attention as I explain it to you.
‘We play in Rounds, called Spirals. In the first Spiral I shall secretly select a number on my die, placing it under my hand with the number I have chosen uppermost. You do the same. Then we reveal and compare our chosen numbers. Suppose that I have the higher number. In this case you would lose some of your coins - equal to the difference between our two chosen numbers. I do not get the coins you lose; they just vanish. All right, so in our example you’ve lost some of your coins. I wouldn’t lose any, but the number I displayed on my die is the number of coins I have to flip over from heads to tails. So if I displayed a 4 and you displayed a 3, you’d lose one coin and I’d have to flip over four of my coins from heads to tails.
‘We then start the next Spiral by recovering – that is, if either player has any coins showing tails, he can flip one of them over to heads again. Then we select numbers as before, and play proceeds until one player has no heads showing at the end of a Spiral. Then he’s lost.
‘There are three other rules you must remember. You cannot choose a number on your die that is equal to or greater than the number of heads you have showing. That means that we can each put any number from 1 to 6 on the first Spiral, since we start with seven coins, all heads up. But if at some later point in the game I had only five heads showing, I’d have to choose a number from 1 to 4. Secondly, if we both choose the same number then that Spiral is a draw and neither player loses anything. Lastly, when you have to lose a number of coins you must take them from the heads, not the tails, among the coins you have left.'
All of which goes to show you can have a combat system (or any conflicting skill resolution) without going to the fuss of having virtual dice rattle around on the screen of the phone, tablet or PC you’re running your digital gamebook on. If Jamie and I get around to doing digital versions of the Blood Sword books, that's how we'll work it.