Frayed Knights 2 Development Blog: Taking On an Army

11 Aug 2012

Frayed Knights: The Skull of S'makh-Daon developer Jay Barnson has wrote down some of his doubts on Frayed Knights' combat mechanics in a blog post, in which he wonders whether he should shake them up for the release of the planned sequel. Should a high-level character be able to take on an army of low-level ones? That's the question:
In D&D, a high-level character like Conan would have no problem taking on a dozen 1st or 2nd level soldiers, even with a crappy armor class. Thanks to hit point scaling, and Conan’s high chance to hit (not to mention damage bonuses from feats / class abilities, in later editions), the soldiers couldn’t do enough damage to him fast enough before he’d taken them all out. With some clever maneuvering, he could probably still escape with more than half of his hit points intact. This was worse in later editions of D&D than the more recent ones. Especially with the earliest editions, when “high level” was only around 6th or 8th level. (Do you know how long it took me to realize that “mid-level” was around 10th in 3.0?)

I had a bunch of ideas for making an RPG more “realistic” (there’s that word again, gonna quit using it now) in this respect, and I still think they were great ideas for an RPG. But maybe they were not so great for a game with such deep roots in traditional RPGs (which were themselves deeply rooted in classic D&D game rules) like Frayed Knights. I love the way they play, but it does feel a little “off” for a lot of players. Anyone who has played through Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon can tell you that many “boss battles” seem relatively trivial compared to fighting large numbers of enemies. This is also why most of the “bosses” in Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon are encountered with minions. Solo, even the toughest bosses can be relative pushovers.

At one point, it was even more extreme. Mid-way through development, I’d tweaked the rules a bit in the opposite direction, to give levels a bit more of a positive bias. Once upon a time, even at the highest levels, your party would be in serious trouble from an army of pus golems.

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Results:

Although I made some later changes to tilt the balance a little more back in the traditional direction, as it stands Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon has a different flavor of combat from most other RPGs of its style. In recognition of this, the game even awards an experience point bonus for facing larger groups – so facing six goblin Whitelisted Mages as a group is worth more experience points than six far-easier battles against them one at a time.

I personally think it’s cool. But was it the right game for this approach? That’s the debate I’m facing in development of the sequel. Should the balance be tilted further in the traditional direction? Now would be the time to do that… On the one hand, if I were to do it all over again, I’d definitely skew a few of these factors back in the traditional direction, and make trivial enemies more trivial and boss encounters more — uh, bossy. But on the other hand, I am working on a sequel, which should be faithful to the experience of the original.