For most Role Playing Games (RPGs) there a few core mechanics that can make or break the experience for the player. Most RPGs have deep and complex narrative that is an important focus and driver of the action. Often there is a huge interesting world to explore and non-playable characters to interact. Big games like Final Fantasy and Elder Scrolls have an inventory management system and skills progression tree that can be just as engaging as the main storyline and bad versions of this wreck an otherwise interesting game.
Arguably the most important part of an RPG, however, are the Battle Mechanics. The vast majority of time spent in most RPGs is spent battling enemies or gaining items to improve combat ability. Just for clarity, when I refer to Battle Mechanics here I mean the system by which an enemy is encountered, fought, and ultimately defeated. Tangentially, battle mechanics lead to an rewards systems which I will discuss in a future post.
As I am crafting my EDURPG, I have had to put a lot of thought into what is meant by a classroom battle and then what those battles will play like. I am separating battles from quests though they are interrelated. A quest is a long-term journey with a goal at the end , a narrative piece, and usually some puzzle or task that must be accomplished. A battle though is a moment of intense action with an immediate payoff. For example, I am currently playing Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and I am on a quest to find the College at Winterhold. This involves traveling across map towards the destination where I was ambushed by and battled two Vampires. Importantly, a quest can (should?) feature battles.
My intent with the battles in the EDURPG is to use these enemy encounters in place of quizzes or other less engaging formative assessments. My encounter mechanics are definitely in an ‘Alpha’ testing mode right now but to start a battle the students will get a card with the enemy’s vitals – HP, special attacks, etc – and the Battle begins. (See EDURPG: Making Enemies for my roster of baddies)
First, enemies attack the whole guilds. The guilds take on a role similar to a ‘party’ in a traditional RPG. Each member of the guild has special abilities based on their type and level. When designing this though, I was determined to make sure each member of the guild party is able to attack or perform their skills individually. Since the enemy battles are intended to be a formative assessment I want to get data on each student. The problem has been figuring out how to collect this information. Which leads to:
Second, I am experimenting with Plickers as the primary question delivery. This is a combination app/website that collects answers through a paper QR code that a student holds and is scanned by the teacher’s phone camera. Questions are projected on the board and students turn the QR in 1 of 4 directions to give their answer. Since the QR codes are linked to the students name each student can answer and, because, the codes are all different, the level of cheating is fairly minimal. I have used this system without Plickers; projecting a question with PowerPoint and having students hold up a letter card or whiteboard for open ended questions but this required more focus on my part to record misses. So far the Plickers have been a positive experience but I learned the hard way to not laminate the cards. The reflections mess with the scan.
Anyways, once the question is asked and students respond, the fun begins. Students that get the question correct attack the monster by rolling a die (or dice) determined by their avatar’s type, strength and level. (See EDURPG: Avatar Types) for example a level 3 Warrior will roll a 20 sided die while a level 3 Healer will only roll a 12 sided die. The number rolled is that player’s attack. Each guild members’ attack takes points way from the enemies Hit Points (HP). In my initial play tests, guilds with 4 students a’ll at beginner level avatars and fighting a basic level monster of about 60 HP were defeating the enemy in about 5 turns when most party members got questions correct.
Even the strongest student will get questions wrong though and if this happens they lose 1/2 a heart. The number of hearts a student has at the beginning of a battle also depends on the type and level of the avatar. That strong level 3 Warrior only has 3 hearts (without any items or weapon improvements) while the level 3 healer has 5 hearts.
The battle ends when either the guild party defeats the enemy by reducing its HP to zero or the enemy KO’s all members of the party. A KO occurs when a party member misses enough questions that his or her hearts are at zero. Students have a laminated copy of an individualized document pictured above and when they miss a question 1/2 a heart is colored in with an expo marker. A KO’d party member still answers questions but cannot attack the enemy. If the party member is KO’d when the enemy is defeated they do not receive XP or items for the battle. Thankfully there are ways to regain consciousness.
Attacks and Heart losses are the basic cut and thrust of the battle mechanic. The addition of items, armor, weapons, and a crafting system enables students to improve their avatars fighting prowess with special attacks, skills, and spells. These improvements can unlock more complicated battle actions (post to come but you can read them above). Healers can add recover Hearts, Sorcerers can create shields and caste freeze spells, and Warriors can unleash more fierce attacks. There is a level of customization that can be accomplished through collecting items and building new buildings or weapons. The skills fall into passive and active methods of implementation. Passive would be adding a heart whereas Active might require answering 2 questions in a row to revive a KOd guild member. Special skills are not limited to the players – The enemies also have special skills!
Each enemy has a special skill that alters the encounter and provides a unique experience. This novelty, hopefully, keeps the players interested in engaging with the battles and provides some,world building elements. The enemies also tend to cluster in areas of the room. So Darkness monsters can be found by the bookshelves where as Dragons can be found near the ‘Cove’ in the center of the room. Since encounters can occur at anytime guilds need to strategically place themselves during class to maximize their advantages, diminish the enemy skill bonuses and collect items from the regions they enter.
The major intent of the battle mechanics is to engage the griefer types and those engaged by learning mechanics; however, the mechanics also have motivations for Free Explorers, Philanthropists, Players, and Achievers too. In general, these mechanics are meant to transform boring quizzes into exciting adventures!