Thursday, November 4, 2010

Avadon Developer Diary #4 - The Character Classes

Avadon: The Black Fortress, our next game and the beginning of an all-new series, has been in beta-testing for a while. It's been a grueling process. Testing a new game with a new engine is a lot of work, because basically everything in the game is broken. Happily, we've worked through the worst of it, and Spiderweb Software is still on track to release the game for the Mac in February.

For this developer diary (the others are here, here, and here), I wanted to write about the four character classes in Avadon. What they are, what they are like, and why I made them the way I did. Since this is the very first time I've written a class-based system, I put an awful lot of thought into the classes. I wanted each to have a distinct feel, but I want you to be able to complete the game with any mix of them.

Since I don't want the game to have too much healing, all classes needed to be able to protect themselves in some way. Since any combination of them needed to be able to win, I wanted them all to be able to produce a bunch of damage when necessary. And since I wanted them to be distinct, each of them needed to be able to do something unique and, hopefully, interesting.

So here they are. I will give the name of each class, the official, in-game description, and what I was thinking when I put it in.

"A blademaster is a true warrior. He is most comfortable in a massive suit of plate armor, wielding a sword and shield or a huge halberd, striding boldly into a crowd of foes and sending them flying with mighty blows. Blademasters are not subtle."
I've tried to stay away from some elements of the standard RPG archetypal class roles: the healer, the crowd control guy, the DPS, etc. But I do like tanks. I like the feeling of having big beefy warriors who stand tall and bear the brunt of the enemy attacks while the other characters stay back and do awesome things. It's not necessary to have a tank in Avadon, but it is a cool option for those who want it.

Blademasters can also stun foes if you get overwhelmed, and they do have the ability to heal themselves. Though they are tanks, I gave them the ability to stun and fling around foes as well to give playing them some variety.

"The shadowwalkers are warriors of the shadows. They count on cunning and evasion, slipping through the guards of their enemies and delivering lethal blows. They can attack with blades, thrown razor disks, and pots of noxious and deadly alchemical substances. And then vanish into thin air."
OK, I'm not going to deny or hide the perfectly obvious. Shadowwalkers are suspiciously similar to ninjas. I wanted a character type that was fragile but could inflict a ton of damage in melee and had all sorts of cool tricks. That narrowed it down to ninjas and pirates, and I though ninjas fit better. This is, in come ways, a real pandering, fan-service sort of move, but it has its reasons.

This is my favorite class because of the cool tricks it can do. My favorite are the abilities that let you teleport and stun enemies with smoke or leave a decoy of yourself behind to trick foes. Introducing teleportation into my games has caused some tricky programming issues to deal with, but it's worth it.

And, to be honest, whenever I need to design something in one of my games, my first instinct is to do the thing I would most enjoy if I was playing. That is a compass that has almost never led me astray. And so, when I had the idea of fitting a ninja-type into the world, I was, like, "Yeah! Cool!" It's neat, and it adds a little bit of silliness to a world that sometimes threatened to be dark and serious.

Also, when I write a game, I try to include some elements that appeal to young, energetic fans. For example, the Geneforge series had a lot of in-depth politics and difficult, wrenching, role-playing choices. However, a lot of people bought the games because they liked the idea of having an army of fire-breathing dinosaurs. Avadon does not have fire-breathing dinosaurs, but it has elements of similar, simple fun.

"The shaman has dedicated her life to nature, and nature, in return, has rewarded her with great power. She can use her connection to the wilds to heal and bless her allies. And, when angered, she can call wind, lightning, and fire to devastate those who challenge her. A shaman is rarely alone. She can call wolves or, eventually, drakes to serve and protect her. Also, she has the unique ability to heal wounded allies."
I wanted a character who could summon pets, and I wanted a character who had a few healing spells. Those two abilities fit very naturally with the shaman idea, especially since I'd already decided that a large swath of the land of Lynaeus was still settled with fierce, tribal barbarians. The shaman is a class that can do a lot of useful things. Produce damage. Make a pet that can bite or hold off foes. Heal and bless allies. Curse foes. They definitely have the most unique flavor of the classes in the game.

It is worth pointing out, once again, that I am leavening the occasional grimness of the setting and seriousness of the drama with a lot of standard fantasy trappings. Ninjas AND barbarians? What? I've always enjoyed writing games that mix the high-minded and the silly.

"The sorceress has dedicated her life to the mastery of the arcane arts. Fragile in battle, she makes up for it with the ability to summon forth clouds of fire, lightning, or ice, obliterating her foes."
Nothing innovative here. It's not an RPG without a cannon, someone who can summon big ol' tornadoes of fire to wipe everyone out. Fragile, unarmored, but able to blast large areas of the battlefield with raw power. Plus, daze or charm foes, give powerful blessings, and so on. Just keep her a safe distance from the monsters.

I don't feel guilty about having some of the classes be very straightforward and what people are used to in RPGs. I want players to have the option to stay with what they are familiar and comfortable with. The fireball-flinging magic user became a fantasy archetype for a reason.

So Those Are the Classes

Your party will usually have three characters: Your main character, and two others selected from the four helpers available to you, one from each class. (And each with his or her own personality, opinions, and goals.) I've tried to make a good mix of familiar and unusual, combat and melee, with a bit of blatant (but fun) fan service thrown in. I still have months of balance work ahead of me to make sure each class is distinct, useful, and fun, but so far, in practice, the system seems to be working very well in practice.

One Final Note On Gender

I have already received complaints because the two melee fighters are male and the two spellcasters are female. Some want female warriors and some want male casters, and they are unhappy. I can understand their irritation.

The sad truth is that this came about due to limited time and resources. Making the art for the four sorts of PCs already consumed a huge amount of time, even just making one gender per class. When we start work on Avadon 2, one of the first things we hope to do is to make female blademasters and shadowwalkers and male shamans and sorceresses. Until then, certain sacrifices had to be made in the hope of a timely release.


  1. Really looking forward to it Jeff, sounds great :D

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  2. Can I just send you my credit card number now? REALLY looking forward to it coming out!

  3. I had the same thought about the genders, although seeing as how that's already happened with Geneforge, I didn't consider it a huge deal. By the way, you probably don't want male "sorceresses." And I just thought I'd add that I too am looking forward to this game, though with almost no free time to play anything, we'll see how that works out.

  4. I apologize: when I looked at the screenshot, I immediately went "Okay... fighter, rogue, druid, sorcerer." Apparently, I play too much D&D.

    That said, I really like how this game is shaping up. Can't wait to play. :) Thank you, as always, for making these games. (I just got A1-3 for my birthday, and just managed to assassinate Emperor Hawthorne. Whee!)

  5. The "pick any three" concept continues to intrigue. Here's hoping for some solid replay value. It will be strange not having a new Mac Spiderweb game for the holidays, but I'll try to survive until the sunlight deprivation really starts to kick in, come February.

  6. I think a flagrantly gay male sorceress would be great!

  7. Sounds great Jeff. Really looking forward to it although a pet peeve with me is not having female warrior characters but glad to see that this is being implemented in the future. It's worth sacrificing that if we can play the game sooner as it's going to be hard to wait till February!

  8. Have you been playing WoW?

    Blademaster = Warrior (to a tee)
    Shadowwalker = Rogue (yep)
    Shaman = Shaman (the same exact details)
    Sorceress = Mage

    I do realize that you are trying to make the classes unique in regards to one another (and not from other games, necessarily), and I'm pretty sure you've succeeded in that respect.

    Definitely nothing too unique in a general sense, though. (Not that they don't sound good.)

  9. It intrigues me that an androgynous or ambiguously gendered character is not an option. Why not have a set of pictures which could equally well be a man or woman or neither?

  10. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  11. I had exactly the same reaction as arcblade- classic d&d's fighter, rogue, cleric & magic user :)

  12. Also, nothing wrong with sticking to the classics - they became classic for a reason!

  13. No class which can turn itself into a bunch of other creatures like the druid of Wow ? I really Loooooove such classes. Turning into a panther or a bear, so furious ! Too bad the druid is such a hippie, I like better the "clever mage" coolness.

    So the class I really miss a new kind of mage class which can turn itself into magical creatures : giant spider, fire/water/etc. elemental or golem, angel/demon (raaor !)

    If I ever make a game myself (keep dreaming !) I will put such a class.

  14. It sounds like fun... as somebody said, the basic class concepts may not be stunningly original, but the classics are there for a reason!

  15. Oh, it's nice to have a straightforward answer on the gender thing. Shame that it is, male caster and female warrior being my preference, it's understandable.

    I figure I'll go with the Sorceress: I specially like the presence of pants and boots under her robe, as opposed to tiny underwear and high heels. Besides the obvious appeal of blowing stuff up.

  16. "Since this is the very first time I've written a class-based system"

    Hmmm. I always thought of the Geneforge games as class-based. What's different here?

  17. Hi Jeff, I spent what seems like my whole childhood playing your games. Got a question for you, hope you have the time to answer. The main attraction for me to your games (though I did not understand it at the time) was that gameplay was prioritized over graphics and sound effects. If gender has become an issue in terms of game flexibility, it seems likely that other things have too. How have you felt about, and reacted to this?

  18. Might and Magic had both ninjas and barbarians in the same game... and it was also very silly :)

    In a good way!

  19. @George Grady: I think Geneforge still qualified as skill, rather than class-based because all the classes had access to the same abilities. This is not true in a game like D&D (and its many spin-offs), Diablo 2, Angband/Nethack, or in this case Avadon, in which classes have mostly or entirely different sets of abilities. One could make a shaper who focused on hitting things with swords, or a guardian who cast spells, they'd just really bad at it. There are no hitting-with-sword skills that guardians get and shapers don't, whereas it sounds like a blademaster in Avadon will get lots of hitting-with-sword skills that a sorceress can't ever access.

    This is an interesting distinction though, since there are also games like the Avernum series where there is literally no such thing as character class (the 'classes' in character creation are no different from a custom character with skill points distributed in a certain way), and everyone has access to the same skills for the same number of points. Perhaps it would be fairest to say that Geneforge is a hybrid system that's part way between class-based and skill-based?

  20. Where I live there is no summer or winter to speak of, so the time of the year for the release doesn't matter... why not tomorrow?

  21. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  22. hey can you give the characters a love life they seem to be too lonely example geneforge. the love life could make the storyline more interesting i think.

  23. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  25. I love the idea of different classes and i totally understand how pressurising it is to get everything perfect in a game even if it is the tiniest little bit of detail! I have around 14 cousins who all enjoy RPG games. I told them ALL about your games an they loved them. One thing about Geneforge, i simply loved summonings, they were awesome, they were so great!!! Please bring back summonings in your future games. (Or even make summoner a class!) :O Keep up the good work, you're an awesome inspiration and games designer!

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