Which performance problems and opportunities should the new rules address

James Trotta

Spellsword
Diversity Committee
When I playtested the new rules, I was unclear on some of the reasoning behind the changes.

Sometimes I could figure it out. For example, "The intent was to streamline the system by reducing effects which were very similar to other effects without losing the flavor of the system long-term players know and enjoy. " tells me that people thought combat effects were too confusing. Presumably players could have more fun if combat effects were simpler.

But sometimes I was unsure. For example, I don't know what problem we solve with meditate.

With the increased cost for proficiency cost, I wasn't really sure. Did the high base damage make combat too complicated? Did players have prof envy (were characters with big weapon damage stealing all the fun)?

I did see this: "This helps close some of the gap between high-level players and low-level players, and gives additional reason to spread build expenditure around instead of just buying Weapon Proficiencies or Backstabs at high levels."

However, if the problem is that low level players are not having fun in combat, I don't know if making profs/backstabs more efficient solves the problem. If there is a real performance problem with low level players not having enough fun in combat, then part of the solution should involve casters. I think meditate makes the problem worse. Sure as a scholar with a 12 block, meditate is great for me. I can throw a dozen prisons and not worry too much about missing. But the low level players may feel that I am important and they are not.

But even looking only at profs or backstabs (though I stress that if the problem is low level players not having enough fun in combat then looking only at profs and backstabs is a problem), I don't see much of a solution.

With the current rules you might have someone swinging 3s next to someone swinging 30s (or the old timer ight swing 20s but have a bunch of slays and eviscerates). With the new rules, you might have someone swinging 3s next to someone swinging 10s who also has a bunch of slays and improved slays and eviscerates. I don't see how the player swinging 3s has more fun in the second scenario. The low level player will still be badly outclassed and will probably be taken out of the fight pretty quickly. The high level fighter will do all the damage and have all the staying power with either the current or the new rules.

I think any change that makes combat more fun for low level characters has to involve not only profs and backstabs, but also spells, and staying power (defensives, protectives, magic items).

Also, I was never clear on why proficiency and backstab got the same treatment. The skills seem pretty different in their effect and in their popularity (when I was able to find data for Alliance events, fighters outnumbered rogues and templars outnumbered adepts).

So is the problem that low level players don't have enough fun in combat? If so, I don't think we've found a complete solution.
 
I can probably answer the purpose of Meditate, and give my thoughts on the new Critical/Back Attack scaling.

As far as Meditate goes, it's included to give some incentive for casters to throw spells when they might not otherwise by allowing them to regain the spell if they whiff the throw or flub the incant, particularly if (like in our chapter) log is at ~6-7 at night and there are mods running until midnight or later; casters should be more willing to throw a spell during such mods knowing they can simply meditate it back if they miss. Whether it's useful or not will depend on how frequently the caster actually throws packets (as an Earth caster who specializes heavily in Alchemy and Potions, I hardly ever do) and how accurate they are.

Also note that in the 0.7 ruleset it's only useful for casters; our chapter had a rules discussion on Monday, during which it was noted that in 0.8 they're going to look at allowing it to work for one-use Fighter and Rogue skills (Slay, Eviscerate, Assassinate, and Terminate), given that those skills now are only good for one swing (instead of 10 minutes or until landed); the exact specifics of it weren't covered, but it was clarified that "blocked with a weapon or shield" would count as a miss for the martial cases, so you should feel more comfortable using those skills in general if you've got a rank (or more) of Meditate.

As far as the scaling on Critical/Back Attacks go, I think it's to force players to make a trade-off: you can either have permanently increased damage, or keep Critical Attacks to power magic items and deal increased damage only when needed. It's probably still 100% worth it to get at least one Weapon Prof of Backstab, and you might even want a second and perhaps even a third, but by taking a permanent damage increase you sacrifice your ability to use magic items. Again, which is better is going to depend on you and how you play your character; if you use a lot of magic items, keeping a large number of Crit/Back Attacks is going to be better, but if you want to be a big swinger and rely more on your fellow players to protect you and keep you alive while you beat down the monsters, then trading them in is the way to go.
 

KyleSchmelz

Fighter
Slay, Eviscerate, Assassinate, and Terminate... now are only good for one swing (instead of 10 minutes or until landed)
If this is true for Slay and Eviscerate, that should be clarified in the rules. The 0.7 packet specifies that the PTD call has been removed, but says nothing about Slay and Eviscerate being reduced to a single swing.
 

Muir

Fighter
I want to think that going to a flurry system and the hard counter for circle-beating BBGs in 'Swarmed By' are going to help change mod design such that more low level players can have fun. Specifically by encouraging mod design that will involve a -lot- more 'waves of mid-power baddies with lots of pops fighting small gorups' rather than a single BBG that has to be able to soak the entire town for 30 minutes.

Part of the issue with the low-power combat experience is that the statting gets out of control -really- fast. Ideally, when you're swinging 2's, you want to be fighting no more than 3 players to an NPC, and that NPC should probably have around 30 body and maybe ~1 defense against a single shot takeout. 10-15 sold hits is about right for a good little fight when you're fighting at a reasonable speed rather than flailing around and auctioneer-rapping damage, and if the fight is too easy it is a quick call on the field to add some more pops or jump one card to a mini-boss.

The biggest issue I see from a low level perspective is feeling useless unless on a specifically scaled mod because things have to be able to survive the current glut of takeout effects if the experienced PC's go top-down on their MI lists.
 

James Trotta

Spellsword
Diversity Committee
Thanks for the replies so far. So far I see three performance opportunities in the comments:

1. Casters aren't having enough fun because they are afraid to throw spells in some situations.
2. BBG fights aren't enough fun because BBGs get swarmed.
3. Low level players don't have enough fun in combat.

What else are we trying to improve with the new rules?
 

Draven

Count
Seattle Staff
Marshal
If this is true for Slay and Eviscerate, that should be clarified in the rules. The 0.7 packet specifies that the PTD call has been removed, but says nothing about Slay and Eviscerate being reduced to a single swing.
In the current playtest, Slay and Eviscerate are not reduced to a single swing. The only previous PTDs that were reduced to a single swing were Disarm and Shatter.

"Prepare to Die skills no longer require the Prepare to Die verbal. Slays are simply called with the larger damage but otherwise act much the same way. Eviscerates and Stun Limbs are called by just changing one’s weapon call when the character chooses to use the skill. Disarms and Shatters have changed a little – they are now one-swing effects (like Assassinate and Terminate)"
 

Thorgrim

Artisan
When I playtested the new rules, I was unclear on some of the reasoning behind the changes...

So is the problem that low level players don't have enough fun in combat? If so, I don't think we've found a complete solution.
Hi James,

I'm one of the Playtest Coordinators for Denver and we had similar questions, especially since we're a lower level chapter with lots of new players, so let me give you a bit of what we know:

One of the primary reasons for the new rules change was to eliminate many of the inconsistencies in the current rules set and to make the game friendlier for new players by eliminating redundancies and exceptions.

Another major goal was to create a game that is more team friendly that encourages player cooperation in combat. For example the fact that expand enchant has been removed entirely encourages more cooperation between scholars and fighters, now that fighters can no longer just have multiple magic items with spell shields, magic armors, healing spells, etc.

The new rules also wished to address power bloat, especially the fact that as player levels rise and damage numbers increase monster body totals must also rise. Before long you have monsters coming out with huge body totals which are difficult for NPC portrayers and next to impossible for new players to challenge.

Racial changes were made to encourage players to play races that are under-played in some chapters.

Whether or not the new rules have been successful at meeting these intended goals has been debated extensively among the playtest coordinators and ARC. Please keep these things in mind when you fill out your feedback form. If you feel a change that has been made accomplishes this goal, please make note of it. Even more importantly if you feel that a rules change is contradictory to these stated goals, such as making the game more confusing/difficult for new players, please note that on your feedback form, and be as specific as possible.
 
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Draven

Count
Seattle Staff
Marshal
To add, I don't think an intended goal was that new players weren't having enough fun in combat, so much as it was that new players were having difficulty learning all the necessary rules for combat.

A 5th level character fighting alongside a 30th level character is going to feel less important in that specific fight. I don't think the current playtest would impact that so much, except perhaps by closing the gap a bit. But there will certainly be a gap between the extreme ends of the spectrum.
 

Tevas

Scholar
Marshal
Playtest Community Manager
I feel it is also important to bring up the distinction between the impact of the rules on the game versus the impact of a plot team. The rules create the baseline set of tools that the plot team has access to in order to design and execute their desired content, and identifies what resources their players will have access to in order to engage said content. It is important not to confuse the two over the course of these discussions.

The current rules set and playtest set both provide opportunities for entry level and lower level players to enjoy and successfully engage in combat modules. How these rules are implemented by the plot team in terms of monster statistics, spawn frequency and quantity are an entirely different matter. Because a particular module may not have been "new player friendly" does not necessarily mean that the rules are not new player friendly. This is not to say, however, that there aren't areas of opportunity for improvement within the rules that could result in a positive impact on the interaction of the new player / veteran player experience during commingled combat modules.

So, please keep these items in mind when reviewing the playtest packet and the intent behind some of the v2 changes.
 

James Trotta

Spellsword
Diversity Committee
Thanks again for the comments. To me, though, these two comments are conflicting:

The new rules also wished to address power bloat, especially the fact that as player levels rise and damage numbers increase monster body totals must also rise. Before long you have monsters coming out with huge body totals which are difficult for NPC portrayers and next to impossible for new players to challenge.
To add, I don't think an intended goal was that new players weren't having enough fun in combat, so much as it was that new players were having difficulty learning all the necessary rules for combat.
Thorgrim seems to be saying that the new rules should improve the following performance gaps:

NPCs get confused by their stats.
New players can't challenge many NPCs.

However, Draven seems to be saying that new players may have trouble understanding the rules but that finding fun combat encounters is not an issue.


I don't mean to point fingers or anything because I think the confusion is unavoidable. The rules packet doesn't state why we want to reduce the gap between low level players and high level players. The first question I would ask is:

1. Whose performance concerns you?

For example, "Players often ignore effects in the current system." Maybe we decided that combat in the current system is too confusing. In that case, the new rules should make combat rules simpler to use in game. Ideally, the playtest packet would add some way to measure that. For example, "6 experienced players with level 20 stats will battle an APL 30 monster with no holds called for rules clarification and all status effects will be taken by all players."

Another example could be "New players feel useless in many combat encounters." However, I am not sure if the new rules should make combat more fun for low level players. So when I see "This helps close some of the gap between high-level players and low-level players, and gives additional reason to spread build expenditure around instead of just buying Weapon Proficiencies or Backstabs at high levels." I don't know why we want to close this gap. And I especially don't know why we try to close the gap with profs while increasing the gap with other skills.


BTW, if I'm confusing y'all, Analyzing Performance Problems by Robert Mager will explain where I'm coming from much better than I am doing.
 

Draven

Count
Seattle Staff
Marshal
However, Draven seems to be saying that new players may have trouble understanding the rules but that finding fun combat encounters is not an issue.
I don't think that the rules are the best avenue of making fun encounters for new players. The rules are a toolkit, not a prepackaged adventure.

However, making those rules easier to understand, imo, will certainly impact the enjoyment level of encounters that new players run into.
 

Thorgrim

Artisan
To clarify, I have not heard that the intent of the new rules is to allow new players feel useful in higher level encounters. The intent is that the new rules are easier to learn and process for newer players. The fact that lower body totals, higher scaling cost for profs, etc. will reduce overall damage and body totals will only help new players in encounters, but that is not the stated intent of the new rules.
 

Tevas

Scholar
Marshal
Playtest Community Manager
James,

So unfortunately many of us were not involved in the initial discussions that highlighted desired developmental areas of the v1.3 rule set. My understanding is that those conversations were held exclusively between the chapter owners and the members of ARC. I do not believe any minutes, notes or other documentation from that meeting have been made available to the more broad playtester base. I messaged the ARC awhile ago asking particularly what the intent behind some changes were, which prompted them to provide a rough summary of some of the ideas influencing the v2 development process. Perhaps an ARC member could make that post available here as well to better answer some of your questions. As it was posted and locked by ARC, I do not feel comfortable presenting it here myself.

So when it comes to answering "Whose performance concerns you?" from an executive level, unfortunately neither myself nor the other coordinators would be able to provide any insight. At the moment, that territory is strictly for the owners and ARC to speak from. I am unsure what root cause analysis was conducted on the issues they identified, and what the results were thereof. Unfortunately Alliance is a game with many intricacies and influencing factors, so results can largely vary and potentially compromise the integrity of the data collected in the RCA process. Player skill, player ethics, local game culture, field positioning, time of day, visibility, average level of ambient combat noise, individual levels of exhaustion, rules familiarity, availability of / access to / and quality of rules education along with a myriad of other variables can be contributors in someone "not taking an effect", as in your example.

From a general level perspective, however, I would say that everyone's performance is being taken into consideration with the v2 transition. Players, NPC's, races, classes, etc. have all seen changes as a result of this process. Do they address all of the issues that were initially identified in a thorough and mutually beneficial manner? Do the changes align with what some of the communicated design goals are? Some do, some do not. That's why we continue to playtest. Of course it would be helpful to better streamline the process if clear documentation regarding the issues originally identified in 1.3 were made available so that any proposed changes could be assessed against their initial action statements. Unfortunately, procuring documentation from original and subsequent owner and ARC reviews continues to be a challenging endeavor, and has resulted in several lengthy discussions regarding the feasibility of such requests. To the credit of these desired outcomes, the ARC has made it a point to release summary statements in review of the feedback form submissions from the 0.7 playtest cycle. Original design theory documentation will hopefully follow, should such a release be permitted.


Thank you
Chris Fernandez
Alliance San Francisco Playtest Coordinator
 

Muir

Fighter
Finally, characters may now find out if some unexpected effect healed their target to represent the fact that in-game this should be apparent upon careful inspection. A player may challenge another player, after striking them with some offensive effect, and ask the out of game question “Are you healed?” to which the challenged player must reply truthfully (out of game, of course).
I feel this particular line also illustrates an issue that we should be addressing as well. Blow acknowledgement. I think the flurry system suggested will help by bringing the pace of combat back under control somewhat, but I much prefer responding appropriately to hits to putting a player in the position of having to question an NPC on if they are taking their damage appropriately.

A simple 'Got it, appears to heal me'/'appears to harm me greatly'/'no effect'/'reduced' helps keep things transparent and lets NPCs rep effects that should be visible and obvious but are not practical.
 

PirateFox

Scholar
I feel this particular line also illustrates an issue that we should be addressing as well. Blow acknowledgement. I think the flurry system suggested will help by bringing the pace of combat back under control somewhat, but I much prefer responding appropriately to hits to putting a player in the position of having to question an NPC on if they are taking their damage appropriately.

A simple 'Got it, appears to heal me'/'appears to harm me greatly'/'no effect'/'reduced' helps keep things transparent and lets NPCs rep effects that should be visible and obvious but are not practical.
Please note there are exceptions to such rules/philosophies in this new system. See Life Leech.
 

Daedric

Newbie
I'm not a playtester, per se. But as an avid gamer who's played dozens of different combat systems over the last 35 years, I can make a couple of observations:

The crit/back attack exchange rate makes it almost stupid to trade in these temporary skills for the permanent prof/backstab. And since build is the prerequisite for the other skills (rather than profs and backstabs), and combat rarely lasts more than ten minutes in a random encounter (30 minutes in a wave battle), who would give up their temporary damage boosters?

Many of new ritual effects that augment attack and defense require you to expend one of these temporary skills, further reinforcing the need to NOT sell them back for a prof/backstab.

If you plant that many mechanisms into the game that reward the player for not having profs and backstabs, but you still want players to exercise the sell back option, you need to make those profs and backstabs a prerequisite for something else which cannot be purchased with just build spent. Just my opinion.

On a different note, there are a lot of combat skills, racial effects, and rituals that require players to do division and multiplication in their head under stressful circumstances. I'm a pretty intelligent guy. But math in my head while people are shouting carriers, effect, and getting pummeled with sticks at the same time should be limited to addition or subtraction ...without rounding, multiplying, halving, etc.
 

Thorgrim

Artisan
I'm not a playtester, per se. But as an avid gamer who's played dozens of different combat systems over the last 35 years, I can make a couple of observations:

The crit/back attack exchange rate makes it almost stupid to trade in these temporary skills for the permanent prof/backstab. And since build is the prerequisite for the other skills (rather than profs and backstabs), and combat rarely lasts more than ten minutes in a random encounter (30 minutes in a wave battle), who would give up their temporary damage boosters?

Many of new ritual effects that augment attack and defense require you to expend one of these temporary skills, further reinforcing the need to NOT sell them back for a prof/backstab.

If you plant that many mechanisms into the game that reward the player for not having profs and backstabs, but you still want players to exercise the sell back option, you need to make those profs and backstabs a prerequisite for something else which cannot be purchased with just build spent. Just my opinion.

On a different note, there are a lot of combat skills, racial effects, and rituals that require players to do division and multiplication in their head under stressful circumstances. I'm a pretty intelligent guy. But math in my head while people are shouting carriers, effect, and getting pummeled with sticks at the same time should be limited to addition or subtraction ...without rounding, multiplying, halving, etc.

We noticed very similar things in our play tests Daedric. No one has purchased more than 2 or 3 profs/backstabs, and the vast majority of build is sunk into crit/back attack. Especially when you start adding in rituals like empowered warrior and defensive burst there is even less reason to buy prof. For us it didn't do much to reduce high damage numbers, but instead made fighter/rogue damage more burst damage rather than sustained damage.
 

Daedric

Newbie
We noticed very similar things in our play tests Daedric. No one has purchased more than 2 or 3 profs/backstabs, and the vast majority of build is sunk into crit/back attack. Especially when you start adding in rituals like empowered warrior and defensive burst there is even less reason to buy prof. For us it didn't do much to reduce high damage numbers, but instead made fighter/rogue damage more burst damage rather than sustained damage.
Thank you for the feedback. I'm looking at it from a player's perspective. And as someone who has traditionally enjoyed rogue skills as they stand in the current rules system, I find myself estimating how many fights I plan to be in during one logistics period, and it doesn't seem like buying backstabs makes any sense.

And when I factor in having to re-spend ritual points for all of my cloaks and banes on new rituals which require me to expend back attacks, I am even less incentivized to buy backstabs.

I.E. Player X has four back attacks, and is considering selling them back to get a backstab. Player X also has a magic item that allows him to use a ritual three times per day, but requires that he spend a back attack to activate it. Having that life-saving magical ability far outshines the prospect of doing two extra damage points with every swing. Player X decides to wait until his magic item expires before purchasing any backstabs.

I hope no one misinterprets my observations as complaining. I'm just trying to understand how the new rules will reward someone for purchasing proficiencies or backstabs.
 

Tevas

Scholar
Marshal
Playtest Community Manager
Daedric,

During the course of our playtesting we had several different fighter builds on the field. Some purchased a substantial number of weapon proficiencies and few critical attacks, while others went the other direction and loaded up on 50+ critical attacks. Our playtesting was modeled to simulate a full logistics period, and contained various styles of module along with some that had "travel time" between enemy encampments. As a result, players with varying build styles found that they excelled in different areas. The characters that built primarily towards constant damage found a relatively consistent level of success across all module types. The characters that built heavily towards critical attacks found themselves varying in levels of effectiveness from module to module, depending upon their level of resource management. When these players did dump all of their abilities, they came out strong and absolutely outperformed the baseline established by the constant damage dealers. To achieve this level of capability required periods of conservation on other modules, and during these times they did not achieve quite the degree of effectiveness as the constant damage dealers.

All summed up, we discovered that both playstyles, along with the range of designs in between, were all able to successfully engage module content, albeit in different manners.
 

Daedric

Newbie
Thanks, Tevas.

That playtest data sounds reassuring.

But I still can't get past the need for critical attacks and/or back attacks to utilize certain skills or effects.

That, coupled with the escalating cost of proficiencies and backstabs, seems to tilt the balance in favor of the players who choose to do loads of temporary damage versus minor boosts to their permanent base damage.

I like the fact that the new rules have buffed the critical attack and the back attack, which to a higher level player are often deemed useless in the existing rules.

But in the greater scheme of things, not just in combat, it feels like proficiency and backstab are suffering a major nerf. The cost becomes prohibitive at higher levels, and neither skill is a prerequisite for anything else. Backstab doesn't even affect waylay anymore.

They once were the logical progression in the skill pyramid. Now they just seem like a vestige of what they used to be.

I believe you when you say that in certain kinds of combat, everything balances out. But for calculating build expenditure, it seems like proficiency and backstab are the less appealing option.

I'm probably going to reserve judgment until after a couple of real events have been played under the new rules. But I'm probably also going to NPC a couple of events before I take the plunge and rebuild my characters. I'll allow others to learn the hard way how to spend the build.
 
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