31 January 2011

Mind Games: Part 1

Drak Lich-Bane was clearly outplayed by his nemesis.
When writing about mind-games, I'm going to define yomi so that we're all on the same page.

Yomi is japanese for "reading," and we're using it in the sense that you're reading the mind of your opponent. Have you ever played a game of Chess, or whatever your preferred game would be, where your enemy was always two or three steps ahead of you, and it seemed like no matter what you did, he always had a plan and a counter-strike for every single one of your moves? Then you understand yomi already.

Central to the concept of yomi is the counter. But not just counters. Let me explain, in fantasy terms.

Let's say you have a strong character, a champion of sorts. Let's name him Drak Lich-Bane, a name I invented no more than five minutes ago to describe the character on the picture to the right. Let's say you're a good swordsman, tough and quick and strong and brave. You're even fairly bright, and have picked up a magic trinket or two, and maybe even learned a simple spell or something. It doesn't matter.

Now let's say you're dungeoneering and you come across another hero, armed similarly. Let's say his name is Erik the Brave. You both have roughly equivalent swords and shield, and neither of you are lacking in strength of arms or courage. In short, victory will come to whoever's luckier. In your standard D&D mode, it's whoever can get the lucky critical hit, or rolls slightly higher dice for damage, or who continuously rolls low for no reason other than it's not their lucky day.

There's a reason that people continously complain about combat in D&D (and by extension, 99% of roleplaying games) because there's usually only one real option and combats go downhill from there. Drak Lich-Bane's only real option is to attack or retreat, and his opponent's choices are the same. In the situations that should be the most exciting, the fights to the death over things that are worth sacrificing your life for, the game is the least exciting.

I attack the goblin... again.

And that's where yomi comes in. Let's say your best move for ol' Drak is a regular attack. If your opponent's best in-combat move is also an attack, then you're encountering the problem that you usually encounter; namely, that you're in a slug-fest to the death. There's nothing more boring than rolling dice back and forth.

But if we're going to create interesting tactical gameplay elements, we need for there to be a counter to your slicing sword attack. Let's say that Erik the Brave, your enemy, has a counter-move to your attack, which we'll say is a Block. He just straight Blocks your attack, and you get hurt because of the shock going up your arm. Or something.

But this isn't yomi either. If your best option is to Attack, then his best option is to Block. And he knows it, so he's going to Parry while you Attack, and that's going to be that. Of course, you could both Block, but then nothing happens. So what you need is a counter to his Blocking.

Let's say that you can also choose to smack him with your shield. We'll call it Shield Bash. You can't block a shield bash, since it slams into you whether or not you're blocking it. It doesn't hurt as much as your sword attack, but he can't do anything about it. Of course, if he chooses to attack with his weapon, then he'll take advantage of the fact that you're not protecting yourself, and his Slash will do significantly more damage than your Shield Bash.

So we've developed a little guessing game. Your strongest attack is the Slash. But if you do nothing but Slash, he'll counter you by Blocking every time and you'll end up losing. So you mix it up and Shield Bash him when he starts to rely on Blocking, but you don't want to Shield Bash too much or he'll Slash when you're trying to Bash and you'll take more damage than him, and he'll win the battle of attrition.

But we're not done yet. We have your optimal move, Slash, and a counter to that move, Block. We even have a counter to the counter, in Shield Bash. But if that's all we have, then it really is just rock paper scissors, which, even though it's yomi at its finest, we need a little more to make it interesting. After all, we're all rock-paper-scissors guys and really like complications.

Always smiling, those Legionnaires.
Let's say that there are a couple of classes we can choose from when we go into this deathmatch-styled arena. Let's say that you can choose to be a Legionnaire, in which case your Block move is stronger since you've got a great big shield. Your Slash and Shield Bash moves are weaker by comparison. This means that you're going to tend to Block when you're not sure what's going to happen, which is a stylistic approach that vastly changes the metagame, so to speak. If you're going to tend to Block, then I'm going to tend to Shield Bash, which means that you're not going to want to block quite so much. You can even bait your enemies by acting like you're going to Block (which is where roleplaying comes in, I suppose), and then Slash to counter their Shield Bash.

Or let's say that instead, you're choosing to play as a berserker. Your Slash is more powerful when you're in your Berserker Rage, but it's obvious when you're in that state because you're frothing at the mouth and scrabbling everywhere. It's a similar situation, where you're more inclined to try and Slash your opponent to death, but your opponent knows the same thing and will be inclined to Block until you calm down. So let's say that the Berserker knows this, and has a move where he can totally neutralize your ability to Block by grabbing you and trying to bite you with his teeth. He can only use it if you go totally defensive, so it throws yet another wrinkle into the system.

If you Slash him, he'll Slash back and probably win the fight. If you Block, then he'll Grab you and that's not going to be pleasant. If you Shield Bash, you'll be alright, except that you're still going to do less damage than him, since his only real options are to Grab and Slash. Very berserker-y, and very painful. So what do you do?

Well, you know that he's going to Slash, with a side of getting underneath your guard and Grabbing. So you have to guess your enemy's moves, try and predict when he'll Slash and when he'll Grab by using how much time he has left in his Rage. He's going to try and end the fight before he runs out of rage, so you can afford to play it defensively until he's winded, at which point you'll have the upper hand.

This ran a little longer than I meant it to, so I'll come back and write more later, including a couple more additions and wrinkles that I think can be added to the game, including the great fun of magic and how, in a sense, yomi has been here all along- just hiding a little, and neglected.

1 comment: