I’ve written a couple posts previously about using decks of cards to fill the role of dice in a more controlled way. If you think of a card like a face of a die, then you can more easily modify both the number of sides of the die and what is depicted on the faces by adding or removing cards from a deck.
This was very much the idea of the “Attack Modifier” cards in Gloomhaven, but somewhere along the way, I failed terribly in implementing it properly.
You see, the idea of the attack modifier cards was that they would replace the roll of a die. Some amount of randomness was required in combat so that you couldn’t math everything out, but I just, well, really hate dice. I find them incredibly uninteresting.
So, like I said, dice become “Attack Modifier” cards – a deck of 20 small cards that modify the value of an attack so that it does more or less damage than expected. Someone attacks, you flip a card, and BAM – attack modified.
So this deck was just these 20 cards sitting on a table, providing a bit of randomness on an attack. It functioned almost exactly like a die, which was still incredibly boring. In fact, it was even more boring because at least there’s some inherent excitement in rolling a die more than there is in flipping a card.
I had grand plans for ways to actually modify and build this deck, but somehow it never happened. It was just static. And, if I didn’t mention it before, boring.
But how do we make it better? The main problem was the fact that everyone shared a communal deck of cards. How do you build a deck of cards that everyone is using in an interesting way? Okay, well, a deck-building game with a common deck of cards sounds like a pretty cool idea, actually, but it doesn’t really work in this context. No, I had to take the plunge and split the deck so that everyone had their own pool of attack modifier cards, and that opened a lot more possibilities on how players could modify their decks.
First of all, it allows for the possibility of player specific negative effects. Let’s say players are in some crappy bog fighting against bog monsters. One would assume that such an environment would not put them at peak fighting capacity, so you could add negative environmental effects to their deck, like an increased chance of missing or doing less damage. Or what’s even cooler is that it is also a perfect thematic implementation of fatigue and encumbrance. Maybe a player is wearing some heavy armor that can mitigate a lot of damage, but there’s a down-side to it – the heavy armor makes it harder to move and so adds more negative cards to the player’s deck, effective reducing their damage in a more nuanced way.
It basically gives you another knob to manipulate when designing and balancing items. Is this item’s effect to powerful? Well, maybe it’s heavy or cursed and has a negative effect on the attack modifiers.
There is some limit to the amount you can mess with that knob, though. With the huge number of items I’m planning on including in the game, they can’t all have unique effects on a player’s modifier deck or you’d spend ages sifting through a mound of cards looking for the right card to add. You’d need a Dewey Decimal System just to organize everything. I wanted to have all weapons in the game do nothing but add cool modifier cards to a player’s deck, but I realized that just wouldn’t work from a practical standpoint and had to reign it all in.
There clearly needed to be some way, possibly more organized, to modify the deck with cooler things, though. I was already sort of feeling a little underwhelmed by the process of characters leveling up, so I decided that was a perfect opportunity to kill multiple things with another thing. Each character class would have a list of cool ways they could modify their attack modifier deck, and every time they leveled up, they could pick one of the options. It could be as simple as removing a couple “-1” cards from the deck or replacing a “0” card with a “+2” card. Certain classes could choose to ignore the effects of environment penalties or the effects of wearing heavy armor. The Scoundrel could randomly poison an enemy on an attack or the Brute could stun the enemy or push him back. The Spellweaver could have a chance of adding elemental powers to chain off of.
The list goes on for a while. It’s pretty cool if I do say so myself. Messing with your own attack modifier deck adds another really cool level to character customization that I think will work out nicely over a long campaign and will make the process of flipping over that card feel more exciting and less like it is just a poor substitute for a die.