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Scaling Difficulties and Party Size, Part 2

May 31, 2013

Dear Reader,

Last time, we took a look at two of the ways developers scale difficulty to party size: having different content and scaling mob hp and power.  Today we’ll look at two other ways: adding more mobs and doing nothing.

As a DM, I sometimes vacation to places where I’m going to run a one-shot adventure, and in those situations, I sometimes don’t know how many people will actually show up.  Faced with having to be adaptable without a computer algorithm at my disposal to devise optimal outcome, I have to use another of the common strategies for dealing with more players: adding more mobs.  When put so plainly, this solution seems to be the most obvious and most logical, and often, it is.  The way it’s implemented, though, is very important.  In my games, I carefully calibrate each add beyond the initial group to the future party size.  In doing so, I try to guarantee the proper challenge rating, and to be honest, if I have to, I can always flub a roll.

Video games don’t have that option, though, so they need to implement this type of modification carefully.  One that I’ve said didn’t, I felt, was Star Wars: The Old Republic.  I wrote before about “surprise elites” in instances when we took a three person group that didn’t exist in the same instance with a 2 person group.  It seems that SWtoR assumed if you could get 3, you’d have 4, and just went forward with that theory.  That meant the challenge to a 3 person party was incredibly high, since it was seemingly calibrated for 4.  To top that off, they had the extra adds appear right after combat started, “dropping” or “rolling” into the fight.  That meant, of course, that certain types of CC couldn’t be used on the hardest of the mobs, making strategy – and bringing 3 instead of 2 – pointless.  I’ve written before about the Lord Scourge incident, where it took my buddy, my wife, and I about an hour to get to the end of the dungeon that – uh – “someone” ruined through his mischievous behavior.  In the subsequent run, when that “someone” wasn’t allowed to go, it took the two of them about 15 minutes.  That’s an incredibly poor way to scale.

The final way I’ve encountered scaling difficulty is the simplest of all: to make no changes.  This can be implemented in two ways.  In the first, it’s just that simple.  There’s no changes.  The drawback there, of course, is that some challenges are simply negated by group size.  In the old Everquest, I’ve read this was the strategy, and while world bosses were still very tough, they could almost always be beaten by bringing an absolutely enormous group and simply keeping a chain of rez-runners coming back again and again to keep the boss from ever being able to reset.  I don’t necessarily have any problem with this strategy, as people can then choose how they want to tackle obstacles.  If you want to have it tough, you do it alone or in small groups, and if you want to do the hard work of putting a group together, you can have an easier actual challenge.

The other half of making no changes, though, is by far my favorite way to handle different party sizes: friendly fire.  Magicka does a fantastic job of this; the increased challenge of having more players is that you have more players.  With friendly fire on, each person involved becomes as much a liability as a help.  This, to my mind, generates the most interesting play.  Do you use that randomly targeted instant-kill ability (Kaleedity does, over and over, I might add), or do you play carefully and time your shots, lowering your dps but (usually) not doing any harm to your teammates (which is more my style).  D&D games often have this a toggle-able ability; I always turned it on (since in the core rules that’s how it works anyway).  I find putting the extra challenge in the players’ hands to be more interesting and more respectful, really, and I’d like to see more of it.

Sincerely,

Stubborn (and visiting with parents)

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. May 31, 2013 8:18 am

    “The other half of making no changes, though, is by far my favorite way to handle different party sizes: friendly fire”

    And all Death Knights are now solo only!

    I know, you can’t retrofit this sort of system (which I do like) onto a game that never supported it in the base design. Just an interesting image of the effect of my tank DK hitting Blood Boil to spread diseases – and never mind the Frost spec.

  2. Samus permalink
    May 31, 2013 10:03 am

    You actually left out another system, used in SWTOR: NPC companions. The 4 person group content can be done by 2 players with 2 companions, 3 players with 1 companion, or 4 players. This was one of my favorite parts of that game, that I could actually play with just my friends and not strangers. The only real issue with SWTOR’s implementation of this was the companions were every bit as powerful as real players. And while they would occasionally do something dumb, mostly they proceeded with the perfection of a computer, making some of the companions almost always better than a random player.

    This is also done in the Left 4 Dead series, where I think the balance is much better. While the NPCs are adequate enough on lower difficulties, a human player is almost always better and the hardest difficulties really can’t be beat with the bots.

  3. kaleedity permalink*
    May 31, 2013 5:28 pm

    Lightning bolt isn’t random! It hits targets in a specific range in a specific order!

    …I determined this through trial and error. And sometimes I maybe would let a stray bolt go off in someone’s direction because I was laughing too hard.

  4. June 3, 2013 10:25 am

    While I haven’t played actual D&D, my experiences in NWN leave me not liking the friendly fire option at all. Why?

    1. It reduces the number of spells a caster can use – a mage would boil down to using Firebrand and Isaac’s Greater Missile Storm because neither hit friendlies.

    2. Many people aren’t even affected by it – the melee didn’t care about friendly fire

    Now maybe you’re envisioning a wholly different system, but friendly fire was simply stupid in NWN.

    • Landry permalink
      June 3, 2013 2:55 pm

      You really have to be careful with spells when playing D&D. A magic user can do some amazing damage, but a lot of spells hit everyone within the area. I imagine it’s a lot like real life would be. Certain alignments would pay special attention to this, while others would not.

    • Landry permalink
      June 3, 2013 2:57 pm

      I forgot to add that it makes combat a group effort. If everyone waits to move in until after a big spell is unleashed then it makes life easier on everyone. On the other hand, I haven’t played NWN enough to see how the game uses it.

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