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Character Packs Design Notes

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Posted 20 November 2008 - 02:04 PM

Hi. My name is Turgor, and I'm a level 70 orc warrior from the Maelstrom server (I haven't really had a lot of time to play since Lich King came out). As it happens, I'm also the designer of this first wave of World of Warcraft: The Adventure Game character packs. (You'll see me on the credits there as 'Daniel Clark,' which is a human disguise I use from time to time).

Character packs are a fascinating little design puzzle because of how the World of Warcraft MMORPG is designed. Each character class in WoW has its own distinctive abilities, playstyle, and feel – and each character class has at least three distinctive ways to play, thanks to the talent trees. The character packs give us a chance to, with only 23 cards, recreate the feel of each of these characters in a whole new framework.

When sitting down to design a new character for WoW:AG I ask myself a few questions first.

  •     What are the most commonly used abilities of the class? Which are the spells and powers that are mapped to the easy-to-reach keys?
  •     What are the strengths of the class that set it apart? High burst damage? Healing? Mana efficiency? Crowd control?
  •     What's the biggest, splashiest, and most iconic ability the class has in each talent tree?
  •     Given the character art and miniature I have available, which of the three talent trees seem like the best fit for primary? Secondary?
  •     Does the character have any racial abilities that are a good fit for what I'm going to be doing mechanically?

Let's look at the Shaman character as an example. In World of Warcraft…

  •     Lightning Bolt, Healing Wave, and the various Shock spells are the core spells of the Shaman class. An Enhancement Shaman adds Stormstrike to the mix.
  •     Shaman excel at high burst damage and healing. In terms of mechanics that set them apart, totems are unique and distinctive.
  •     The biggest and splashiest Shaman abilities are probably Bloodlust (or Heroism for an Alliance Shaman) and Chain Lightning. Shamanistic Rage has thematic overlap with Bloodlust and, since only Enhancement Shaman have it, is a little less iconic. Totem of Wrath is awesome but not very splashy. Earth Shield is great, but a solo-focused board game doesn't emphasize healing.
  •     Informal polling of friends and co-workers revealed that Zowka Shattertusk, the Shaman from World of Warcraft: The Board Game (now known to WoW players worldwide as "the orc from the Kalimdor loading screen") looked fierce and aggressive and fond of her mace enough to be an Enhancement Shaman (the talent tree that focuses on melee combat) with a sprinkling of Elemental powers to blow things up from range.
  •     Blood Fury is a great racial, but, like Shamanistic Rage, it has thematic overlap with Bloodlust. All three abilities are basically different versions of bloodthirsty howling and roaring to unleash devastating attacks. In a game like WoW, where the system can easily support dozens of abilities for a given character, then Blood Fury, Bloodlust, and Shamanistic Rage can all (easily) coexist. I, however, only had 23 cards to work with. I had to pick only one of these to put in. I chose Bloodlust, because all Shaman have it and because it's the most powerful of the three.

So, the good news is that I do have a level 70 Shaman character I play from time to time. (Actually, I made her because I liked the Zowka Shattertusk art so much back when we were playtesting World of Warcraft: The Board Game, so she even looks very similar!) The bad news is that Khri (as my shaman is known) has been Elemental or Restoration her entire career. (I play a warrior! I already have a guy who beats things in the face in melee!)

The good news is one fateful Karazhan run, Khri wound up picking up a smattering of very good Enhancement gear. So I respecced her and tried it out for about two weeks, which taught me some key things about Enhancement. (Also, my guild made fun of me because I was a lousy Enhancement Shaman.)

  1.    Stormstrike is pretty awesome.
  2.    Windfury Weapon is even more awesome.
  3.    It's true–slower weapons are better. (Wait a minute — we don't have weapon speed in our board game!)

From this point, I basically was able to simply make a list of abilities I wanted to make sure were in the Shaman deck and then design cards to match them. For most of the cards (Lightning Bolt, Frost Shock) the design was easy. Even the big "splash" spells of Chain Lightning and Bloodlust were straightforward enough. (Although I have to thank Corey for the ability that eventually went on Bloodlust.)

The wrinkle came when it was time to design the totems. For those unfamiliar, totems are a unique class ability that Shaman of all specs use extensively. By placing a totem on the ground, the Shaman can greatly enhance the powers of allies near the totem, or unleash dangerous or hindering effects on enemies who get too close. Shaman have earth, air, fire, and water totems of various sorts, and they can have one totem of each element in play at a time.

The critical pieces of information that I took away from this are as follows:

  •     Totems are geographically limited. They go down in one place and stay there.
  •     The Shaman has to make a decision as to which earth totem (for example) is best for a given situation.
  •     Totems can help the Shaman and harm her enemies. Totems also help the Shaman's allies.

I went through a couple of different concepts for totems, but eventually came to a simple conclusion: the Shaman needed to have totem tokens. The tokens would go out on the board and indicate the geographic focal point of the totem's effect. Initially, I had overly-verbose language to explain how the totem ability cards did what they did and a needlessly clever interaction with the Purge ability.

As they evolved, however, the totems became cards that attached to the Shaman, just like most of the other "buff" spells in the game. Where they were different was in their effects. The totem tokens marked a space on the board, and each totem card would endow that token with different effects. Whether it was the devastating snare ability of the Earthbind Totem or the delightful card-drawing effects of the Mana Spring Totem, each totem card quickly established its own characteristic feel and found its useful niche.

I'm pretty proud of how the Shaman turned out, from her flip-side character card ability (you're gonna love Ghost Wolf) to the flashiness of Chain Lightning to that moment of sheer malicious glee that accompanies dropping an Earthbind Totem right on top of an enemy. And rest assured… anyone who's ever hooted and hollered at an enormous Windfury crit is going to love what I've done with Windfury Weapon.

Enjoy the game!


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