Hello everyone! This is my first time posting on these forums as I just got Descent very recently for Christmas. I've spent the last 5 days extensively play testing the game and learning the rules, (about 8 - 16 hours a day) and I've come to find some minor problems.
Let me preempt by saying I think this is one of the most fun games I've ever played! It really brings me back to the days of Final Fantasy Tactics, and the fine strategy games of that era, when my cousin and I would spend hours upon hours just breaking the game, (Leveling Cloud from 1 to 99 as a mime, or beating the game with only the main character as a Calculator). Unfortunately nothing is perfect for everyone though, and the group I play with has some very valid complaints, and I have some of my own.
Rather than just changing up the game based on some math I've done, however, I'm posting this here with the hope that someone can set me straight on a few things, so maybe the pages of errata I have lined up aren't necessary. After all, I can't hope to think that after 60+ hours of play testing, (mainly A1, but a good chunk of A2 as well) that I'd know more than a community who's spent collectively years worth of time playing this game. So here goes:
Preliminaries: How I'm calculating averages.
Many of the results I've come to about damage vs defense calculations, hero abilities, etc. are coming from how I calculate the average value of the attack dice. If I'm doing this wrong, then most of what I say will probably be gibberish, so the more mathematically savvy might want to especially scrutinize this.
How my group thinks of dice rolls in the game is that first you roll the blue dice. If you get a miss, no point in rolling the power dice. This model drives my calculations. I find a mean of the individual dice the standard way you'd normally do it, add up the symbols as they appear on the dice and divide by 6. Just to be explicit, I'll state my calculations:
Blue: 1 1/3 damage, 1/3 surge
Yellow: 1 damage, 1/2 surge
Red: 2 damage, 1/6 surge
Now to find the mean for 2 dice, what I did is listed every possible roll that a blue dice could get, then added to it the mean of the color(s) being rolled with it, with the exception that a miss always results in a 0, no matter what the mean is added, just like would happen in the game. From there, I took the "new" dice and found the average based on that. This is what I'm most unsure of as conditional probabilities weren't my strongest subject in statistics, so I don't know if my model fully accounts for the miss mechanic. Anyway, my averages for these calculations are:
BY: 2 1/6 damage, 3/4 surge
BR: 3 1/3 damage, 1/2 surge
BYY: 3 damage, 1 1/6 surge
BYR: 3 5/6 damage, 8/9 surge
BRR: 4 2/3, 11/18 surge
Next, I calculated average defenses for creatures, and since there's no miss mechanic there, you just calculate the means for each defense dice and add them together.
Grey: 1 1/3
Black: 2 1/6
Brown, Brown: 1 1/3
Brown, Gray: 2
Brown, Black: 2 5/6
Grey, Grey: 2 2/3
Grey, Black: 3 1/2
Now the formula I'm using with this information is what I call the Time to Kill formula, which is:
Average Kill Time = Health / (Average Damage - Average Defense)
From here I did all kinds of things like calculate average damage for weapons based on this information. That information is too vast to list here but I'll give you an example on my thinking on this, since weapon scaling is a HUGE part of the game.
Lightning Strike: BYY -> Average Base Damage = 3
1 1/6 Average Surges -> +2 damage and + 1/6(2) damage
Total Average Damage = 5 1/3
Grinding Axe: BRR -> Average Base Damage = 4 2/3
11/18 Average Surges -> + 11/18 (1)
minimum Total Average Damage = 5 5/18
Average Base Damage = 4 2/3
11/18 Average Surge -> + 11/18 (5/2)
maximum Total Average Damage = 6 7/36
Average total average damage is 5 53 / 72
The true average damage, if you do all the work and calculate it the hard way, is 5 65/72, so 1/6 of a damage point off my rough estimate, and the Grinding Axe is the weapon with the most variance in damage in the game, so I don't think this method of doing things is too far off the mark for what it is, and it saves me quite a few hours of work calculating each weapon the same way I calculated the axe (a big table with all the dice rolls, yay Kronecker Products!).
Ok so with the preliminaries out of the way, my first issue with the game is how much more efficient the big creatures are for most of the missions in the game. If the objective involves killing things, there are some better candidates, however most of the A1 missions involve a timer and while looking at the book I can see at least half to 3/4 of the A2 quests involve some kind of stall mechanic as well in at least one of their rounds.
As noted by posts I've been reading, a pack of little minions often has more HP than their bigger counterparts, and they have higher damage potential as well. For stall missions, this just doesn't matter. I don't want to kill heroes, and heroes don't have to kill ALL my goblin archers to get some quick heroes through the hallway they're guarding, they just have to kill a couple. And what of their health pool? Let's assume for sake of argument that the larger health pool is a good reason to pick little creatures. I will show that the bigger defense pool of the bigger creatures WAY more than makes up for the health of the little ones. Let's take a solid A1 weapon for example:
Iron Spear does average damage of 2 11/12. Flesh Moulders have 17 hp and defend with one grey dice. Average time to kill all Flesh Moulders assuming LoS and everything works out is 17 / (2 11/12 - 1 1/3) which is 10.73 actions approximate.
Now let's examine the time to kill for ONE MINION shadow dragon.
6 / (2 11/12 - 2 2/3) = 6 / (1/4) = 24 actions, and that's using a melee weapon with reach to get around shadow aura. Were you in a bad movement spot, you'd lose 3/4 of a point of damage on average and would roll on average less than the dragon would defend, hence would on average never kill a shadow dragon. I'll bring up the shadow aura specifically another time, for now I just find it interesting that it's quicker to kill a whole group of spiders than it is to kill one minion dragon, just due to how powerful 2 grey dice are.
Specifically, it isn't that dragons and ettins are hard to kill that is the problem by itself, but the fact that you have no way of getting around them to reach your objective unless your thief wants to use his hero ability to skip the two dragons, then say hi to the two ettins in the next hallway all by himself. That usually doesn't end well for our friend the thief.
This leads me to my first house rule: Attacks against creatures which occupy 2 or more spaces on the board perpendicular to your character are not allowed to roll "X". If an "X" would be rolled, simply re-roll the blue dice until you get something that isn't an X.
From a role playing perspective, this rule makes sense. If the hallways in my house would occupy 1 space on the game board, and a big monster can take up double my hallway. That's pretty big. Clearly if I'm a hero that has any training at all with a bow or a blade, I'm going to hit SOMETHING if I swing in their general direction, add to that I can now sum up big monsters with a Professor Farnsworth-esque one liner. "Good news everyone! Big monsters are so big they block everything from going around them. Bad news everyone, big monsters are so big, they block everything from going around them". That's good fun and all, but what does it do to the time to kill on big creatures?
Blue: 1 3/5 damage, 2/5 surge
Yellow: 1 1/5 damage, 3/5 surge
Red: 2 2/5 damage, 1/5 surge
BY: 2 3/5 damage, 9/10 surge
BR: 4 damage, 3/5 surge
BYY: 3 3/5 damage, 1 3/5 surge
BYR: 4 3/5 damage, 1 1/15 surge
BRR: 5 3/5, 11/15 surge
With this, let's do our time to kill calculation on the minion dragon again:
Iron spear now does 3 1/2 damage against the big creatures on average, it's damage on little creatures is unchanged.
6 / (3 1/2 - 2 1/3) = 6 / (1 1/6) = 5 1/7 actions to kill a minion dragon. For a master dragon just scale everything by 1.5 to get: 7 5/7, add the two to get: 12 6/7. Pretty good, but we can do better. Let's try replacing the defense dice of the dragons with one black rather than 2 grey and see how the calculations add up.
6 / (3 1/2 - 2 1/6) = 6 / (1 1/3) = 4 1/2, 6 3/4 for red. 11 1/4 total. Still not even the same time to kill, especially considering how weak little monsters are to stuff like blast and whirlwind, but after playtesting, I'm finding the dragons do a lot less stalling heroes for 2 to 3 full turns than they did before and now they can both be killed in about one to two full hero cycles, which is just right for missions like the cardinal's plight, assuming other house rules I'll get to later. So the second house rule is:
All A1 monsters which occupy 4 or more spaces on the board will have 1 black defense dice. No change to A2 monsters currently.
Due to how powerful the weapon "Immolate" is in A1, I'm also adding in the house rule that: If Heroes ever loot immolate from a chest, the overlord gets 1 exp. I think that's only fair given how hard that thing hits, and how much of a thrashing the big monsters took.
The next thing I want to talk about is the Berserker. He has the lowest movement out of all the standard heroes. His hero cards give him zero utility, the only thing he's really good at is running up to things and swinging at them. This gives the overlord one more advantage for putting shadow dragons on every map in A1 they can fit them in, since you're now making a character on average, useless just by them being on the map. What I mean by that is that the Berserker's starting weapon does an average of 4 3/5 damage after the no-miss nerf to big creatures.
Remove a surge from his roll due to shadow dragon aura and you get an average damage of 4 but only a single surge every 3 out of 5 rolls on average. On those 2/5 rolls he doesn't get a surge, he can't even hit the dragon, so his damage is 0. (3/5) multiplied by 4 is 2 2/5.
Average time to kill a dragon minion after nerfs is: 6 / (2 2/5 - 2 1/6) = 18. That's 18 actions just to kill one dragon, which wouldn't be a problem if we were talking about a healer, or a scout. But we're not. We're talking about a character with no other utility but to kill things, taking an absurdly long time to do it, which means a design change is in order. There are a few ways I can go about helping the Berserker out.
The first way is I can change is hero ability, (His feat is fine). I can change it to something like, "After attack dice are rolled, you may pay X health to be granted a surge to your attack". That's a natural way for him to deal with dragons in act I before he has access to the charm in the shop (9 A1 clears and still never randomly got the mana weave) or his weapon mastery class card. Since it costs health for him to use his ability, it fits nicely into his class theme of actually being a Berserker.
The next thing I could try is making his 1 stamina ability add a surge to his attack, rather than a single heart of damage. Then since it costs stamina to use it, and he'd have to use it before he attacks, it makes the Berserker more susceptible to disease and counterplay by the OL using cards like Dark Fortitude, which adds a nice synergy with his already existing class ability, and it makes it non spammable since he'll have to rest some time.
The final thing I could try is just removing the Dragon's shadow aura until the the end of the first A2 quest. Until then they'd just be regular dragons with no aura, but no other changes except for the nerfs they've already been given. If the first A2 quest is Dawn Blade / Desecrated Tome, then obviously they'd be shadow dragons when they're supposed to be, since the story actually involves shadow dragons.
All have their pros and cons. The first two solve the problem for specifically the Berserker, since IMO it's ok if the Disciple / Spirit Speaker / Knight have a harder time hitting things at the beginning since they actually have things they can be doing to benefit the party even if their damage isn't cutting it at that point in time. But for groups that get disheartened if their Disciple can't act like a Cleric and swing that big hammer, the third option is a nice way to fit that dynamic as well. What do you guys think?
The final thing I want to talk about is some tweaks to the actual quests. My design philosophy for my groups games is that it's alright if the heroes lose, (I play at least one hero AND the OL at the same time during our campaigns, letting the other heroes strategise, so I don't make plans based on what I know is in the OL's hand) but they need to at least have a chance to interact with the quest mechanics. You'll see what I mean by this in a quest by quest basis.
A Fat Goblin: Archers carrying bundles may only perform 1 move action, but may be affected by dash. Even with the big creature nerfs, it still takes the heroes 2 turns to kill the big creatures we have blocking the path, by then the archers are usually about ready to pick up the bundles. I know we aren't meant to stop the archers, what bugs me is that there's almost no OL interraction with the heroes on this quest, just stall build up cards and let the goblins do their thing for a win. The heroes don't even get to attempt to get chests beyond the first one most of the time. More interraction and pressure on the OL is necessary to keep encounter 1 more than just a guaranteed chest or two and nothing else.
Encounter 2 is great the way it is.
Castle Daeron Encounter 1: Since the nerfs to big creatures, the map is much more fun since you don't see hour long stale mates of heroes and big creatures swinging at each other for 4 turns in a row just waiting for something to die. The fact that the OL's minions can come through both doors makes it play kind of like a waves of survival + capture the flag game, we love it!
Castle Daeron Encounter 2: The already made errata made this perfect, we always have fun playing this map, no matter who's getting lucky rolls.
The Cardinal's Plight Encounter 1: The nerfs to big creatures solved the problem. The heroes, if they roll decent enough can actually stop the OL from getting more than 2 zombies out, which was head and shoulders above where it was before, where they'd finally kill the dragons just as the last zombie was raised. That was no fun for anyone.
The Cardinal's Plight Encounter 2: Less zombies makes this map easier to manage, but even only 2 zombies out managed to get the cardinal down to 6 health on OL's turn 2, which made us come up with a house rule that might actually be a rule(?) and that is that the Thief can use his hero ability to teleport through the locked door. That way at least SOMEONE can interact with the cardinal / zombies and the heroes don't feel disjointed from the quest until they suddenly lose.
The Masquerade Ball Encounters 1 and 2: Lady Eliza Farrow can only do one action a turn. That way if the OL wants to use her huge health pool to make sure she doesn't drop a guest, it costs her speed and heroes can actually react to it. Also if the heroes lose the roll at the end of encounter 1, OL victory is no longer obvious in encounter 2.
Death on the Wing: Encounter 1 is great. Encounter 2, increase health of soldiers to 8. Some of my playtesting revealed scenarios where one unlucky roll by the heroes resulted in the soldiers being dead turn 3 before they could even attack Belethor once, and that was with them winning the first encounter, I shudder to think of what happens when they lose.
The Shadow Vault: Probably the most fun quest out of the bunch so far, no changes.
I haven't got to try the other interlude yet, nor many of the A2 quests. Every single one I tried so far, heroes got stomped, and not barely either, but that might be due to all the basically guaranteed losses they suffered in A1. I'm going to take another run at the campaign with some of these new rules and see how the new gear and stuff we get affects A2 for them.
Anyway, sorry about the wall of text, but I'd love to know what you guys think about my interpretation of the game so far and if I'm missing anything major that makes these changes not necessary. Thanks for reading!