DragonMech Battles: Designer Diary #5

Medieval fantasy mechs powered by steam, magic, or the labor of a thousand slaves.

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DragonMech Battles: Designer Diary #5

Post by mythfish » Sat Mar 29, 2008 5:15 pm

We’re pro-choice, and that’s not any kind of statement on a political issue. It’s one of our design philosophies for DragonMech Battles. We want our players to have plenty of choices both in mech design and during play, and we want those choices to be meaningful. There are rarely obvious answers and “no-brainers” in DragonMech Battles. When a game is over, we want our players to feel that whether they win or lose, the outcome was largely the result of the choices made.

Let me illustrate with an example. Let’s say you’ve decided to design a big bruiser of a mech that is most effective in melee combat. The first choice you’re confronted with is how your mech is going to be powered. Will it be steam powered, with good strength and excellent armor? Will it be a magically animated construct, with less strength and armor, but a much higher maneuverability? Or will it be driven by the efforts of numerous slaves, with less armor than a steam powered mech and less maneuverability than an arcane mech, but much cheaper (meaning you can make it bigger and carry bigger weapons)?

Then you’ll have to decide what weapons you want your mech to have. Do you concentrate on melee attacks, decking it out with a sword and buzzsaw, or do you want to give it a few ballistas or steambreathers too so it’s not a one-trick pony? And there are significant differences between swords, axes, mauls, lances, buzzsaws, bore punchers, and lobster claws so even if you go totally melee you still have choices to make.

Once your melee bruiser is in its first battle, you’re confronted with choices there too. Do you rush through the rough terrain to close with your opponent faster and get a charging bonus, taking the risk that you might fall down? Or do you play it safe, approaching cautiously and using the trees for cover? Would it be better to take that critical hit to your sword arm, or redirect it to your internal systems? Should your squad of infantry continue firing with its siege weapons, or take the risk of forming a boarding party?

DragonMech Battles also puts choices into to the players’ hands that are normally predetermined or left to chance. We’ve dispensed with annoying hit location tables, and most of the time the hit location is chosen by either the attacker or the defender depending on how good the attacker’s accuracy roll was. This allows good (or lucky) gunners to concentrate their fire on one location, and it allows good pilots to spread out the damage more.

One of the really interesting things that has come out of our philosophy of choice is variable phase order. Like many similar games, DragonMech Battles rounds are broken into separate phases for movement, ranged attacks, melee attacks, and character actions…but in DragonMech Battles, the order of the phases changes. The first phase of every round is the Tactics Phase. The winner of the Tactics Phase determines the order of the rest of the phases for the round. As you can imagine, this really allows you to play to your strengths and your opponent’s weaknesses. If your melee mech is wailing on an opponent and you win the Tactics Phase, you could declare ranged combat first so he has to fire at you with penalties for being at point blank range, then declare the character phase so your sorcerer gives you an accuracy bonus, then declare the melee phase and hit your enemy, then declare movement so your opponent can’t get away until the end of the round. If your opponent wins the Tactics Phase, though, the round will likely be very different.
Dieter Zimmerman
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Post by Oaksoul Elite » Mon Apr 07, 2008 4:41 pm

Wow, this looks really promising. I really like the new approach to critical hits. I definitely look forward to figuring out exactly how it works, so I can carry it over to any mech battles in a regular DMech campaign. And it looks like mech creation guidelines will be fully developed. Great. I presume the fact that clockwork and undead mechs weren't mentioned here doesn't mean they won't be around. I'm sure I'll develop a reputation for using magical mechs of all varieties. I'll have to wait and see on phase order and the Tactics Phase. That may end up making it difficult for me, since I'm not tactically inclined. (Then again, that's going to throw off all of my DragonMech Battles gaming ability. No matter. Maybe it'll help me finally be mediocre at chess).
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Post by walrusjester » Tue Apr 08, 2008 9:51 am

Oaksoul Elite wrote:I'll have to wait and see on phase order and the Tactics Phase. That may end up making it difficult for me, since I'm not tactically inclined.
We've found that it's usually a pretty simple calculation - you'll see if you're better off fighting, running, or doing something else in most situations. And control of the Tactics phase is deliberately swingy. Everyone should have it several times, and nobody should have it all the time. It's not like chess, where choosing to play black or white dictates your entire strategy. Also, chess doesn't have steam cannons.
DragonMech line developer, freelance writer, tall guy named Matt.

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