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Damage Reassessment

In The Damage Is None I had discussed the decision to not have health/hit points/vigour whatever you want to call it.  In my game I did not want the failure state to be “oh your character is dead, you need a new one now”, but rather that you did not complete the character’s current story goal.  However, I am now wondering whether this is wise.

If I don’t have damage and the possibility of character death, then the only other thing I can really do is have the enemies obstruct the players from accomplishing their goal.  However, this seems like it would be too frustrating.  It seems frowned upon in game design circles to have circumstances where a player’s progress can be erased by the game itself.  For instance, in co-operative games (like Spaceship 47) if the players are battling an enemy and have damaged it, that the enemy suddenly heals, erasing some of the progress the players have made.  Having enemies heal adds nothing to the game but frustration to the players.

I am going to use an example that is not actually a game, but is purely for illustrative purposes. Any game worth it’s salt would at least dress this up with theme, extra mechanics, player choice and some kind of turn/resource limit, but for this example let’s strip it right back.

A player is trying to get their character from Point A to Point B. There are ten steps – to advance their character one step, a player needs to roll one success on their die roll. The player is going well, having made five successful rolls and their character is halfway to their goal. Then the enemy “attacks” and pushes the character back a step. This has erased some of the progress that the player has made. Would that be frustrating for the payer? And not in a good way?

The beauty of Hit Points (HP) and damage in the form that are used in most games is that there is not an immediate sense of frustration. The player’s character is closer to death, but any progress they have made is not lost, until that last hit point disappears. Essentially it comes down to a race – the players must complete their objective before they run out of HP.

There is one other idea, I had. But I am not sure about the psychology of it. Instead of an  enemy’s successful attack pushing the player’s character back – i.e. erasing some progress the player has made, the enemy’s attack could make the remaining steps the player’s character takes harder.  Going back to our earlier example, to get to the next step, the enemy’s successful attack means that the player now needs two success on the next die roll to advance a step.

In essence the total number of successful die rolls needed in both scenarios I have mentioned is the same:

Scenario 1

The player has rolled five successes and travelled five steps, and the enemy is successful in their attack so the character gets pushed back and now requires another success to get back to where they were. So in total they will need to have rolled eleven successes to get from Point A to Point B.

Scenario 2

The player has rolled five successes and travelled five steps, and the enemy is successful in their attack so the next step the player takes requires two successful die rolls for the character to be able to move. This is eleven successful die rolls in total – the five the player has already rolled, the two for the next step and then the four remaining ones.

Even though in both scenarios the number of successes the character requires is the same, the second scenario feels different to me as the hindrance is in front of the character rather than pushing the character back.

What do you think? Would you (or players in general) be frustrated in the first scenario? How about in the second scenario? Are they psychologically distinct enough? Is there something I am missing? Does the magnitude of progress erased factor into the frustration?

The human brain is too complex a thing for me to comprehend, which is why I studied Astrophysics at University – much simpler.

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