XP, Tanking, and Difficulty Levels, some house rules for my second playthrough
Played through Undercity last year with some friends, and I loved it! It's top-tier as dungeon crawler board games go. The three-choices system on every hero makes the game stand out from the competition, says I.
I have some house rules (kinda) I want to use as I play through the game my second time with a new set of friends who are familiar with dungeon crawlers, but not this one. I would love it if you could give me any feedback; if you've tried these or something similar, or if you see any glaring problems with these.
1. Stop tracking XP, and give rewards based on book text and cards alone. Specifically, the way XP works made our first group behave weirdly, and in the early missions we finished up the objectives early, then hung around to farm kills until the timer was almost out. Not only did this make future missions easier than I think they were supposed to be, but also it incentivized us to do things that didn't feel very heroic.
My new system is to assume 15 XP per mission, then subtract the amount of XP available through book text. (3 per hero standing, X per bonus objective, etc.) The gold side quest is allowed to push XP over the per-mission limit. I'm considering lowering that to anywhere between 12 and 14 as a cap, too. Let me know your thoughts.
2. Whenever villain targeting goes after the hero with "highest initiative", read it as "lowest initiative." It was insanely hard for Gardek to tank on our first playthrough, and Canice took a lot of punishment. I suspect this quick fix would change that.
3. Flip all villain cards to epic. This isn't a house rule, but I wanted to let you know it's my intent as you look at the other rules I've proposed here.
I'd appreciate your feedback on this, because I think this game is fantastic, and I'm hoping this will polish away some of what I see as its rough edges.
Destroyer of Worlds
I don't quite understand your XP idea, but I've played the game with all the villain cards on their epic sides, and it was much better. Also, I think Will Schoonover revealed in a Reddit AMA that he was changing the tiebreaker to lowest Initiative for Widower's Wood and that this can be considered a retroactive errata for The Undercity. So I'm confident your second idea has the designer's approval.
Can you explain the XP idea again? Maybe with an example?
Last edited by tutenkharnage; 01-16-2017 at 09:20 AM.
Reason: I misspelled Will's last name and didn't realize it!
Having read over my original post, I see I explained myself abysmally.
We're going to assume I'm using the baseline of 15 XP here, although as I've been thinking about it I'm leaning more toward 12.
Anyway, the goal is for each hero to have the potential to walk away from the adventure with 15 XP. We'll assume a four-player game, so that's 60 XP in the pool.
Let's take Chapter 3 as an example:
In the book, we get 2 XP for every battle-ready hero at chapter's end. That's 8 potential XP. In addition, they can potentially get 2 XP from interacting with the gate, so 10. They also get an XP for picking up the package, bringing it to 11. In addition, they get an XP every time a hero leaves the map, making the total potential XP gain from the quest 15.
So in Chapter 3, the Heroes start with 45 XP in the pool, and gain no XP from combat. This will force them to use combat as a means to an end and focus on completing the mission.
It's not the book keeping of XP that bothers me--it's not that bad. I just don't like that thep layers are incentivized to stick around and just murder mooks to collect rewards, as this seems to affect the difficulty curve and the theme of the game both in ways that I don't like.
Initially I was planning on just giving a flat reward of 10 XP per character per mission (which is more or less recommended in the rulebook), but a friend rightly pointed out that this would rob the players the feeling of "earning" the XP, which is part of the fun.
Did that clear up what I'm saying? English and I aren't getting along today.
Last edited by Caverblight; 01-03-2017 at 03:32 PM.
Destroyer of Worlds
No, that clears it up quite nicely.
Coming up with a concrete number for the pool is a bit difficult. The first problem is that each chapter has a different degree of difficulty. Chapter 1 is extremely easy even if you use only epic villains. In addition, it awards only a maximum of 4 XP for victory conditions. This means that the heroes would start with 56 XP, which would be the largest starting number in your system, which doesn't make a lot of sense for the easiest chapter.
The second problem is that you'll end up shifting the incentive to gratuitous questing. For example, chapter 3 awards 1 XP to the treasury the first time a character opens the gate, 1 XP if the first hero to open the gate succeeds on a roll of 15 or higher, 1 XP the first time a hero picks up the package marker, and 1 XP each time a hero leaves the map (not 2 XP for each battle-ready hero). Under your system, the heroes will start with 53 XP in the bank and a potential 7 additional XP. Because of the game's rounding feature for distributing XP, the heroes will want to get to 57 XP. They're guaranteed 55 XP (because at least one hero has to pick up the package marker and then leave the map), so they'll be playing for the additional 2 XP even if they don't need it. This means that they'll open the gate even if they don't have to, that a hero without the marker will leave the map before the package-carrier if the hero who opened the gate didn't roll a 15 or higher, and so on.
The third problem is that you're granting so much free XP that the players might not feel that they're really "earning" anything. Take chapter 1 as an example. You're essentially giving the PCs 56 XP that they would be hard, hard pressed to earn by simply milking the chapter. I know; I've milked it myself, and I think 56 or 57 XP was the absolute best I could come up with for chapter 1. Playing a solo campaign on maximum difficulty (epic villains, alchemical restoratives refilled only on a roll of 6), I was able to gain "only" 99 XP for each hero after chapter 6. And the later chapters were very, very hard, so even though I was able to get a lot of XP early (chapters 1–3), I was frequently up against the clock, especially in chapters 4–6. When I played the game with a group of coworkers last year, we didn't milk anything because (1) none of them thought of it, (2) we were short on time because we played during our lunch breaks, and (3) I didn't want to encourage that approach. We played the game on "normal" difficulty and ended up on 80 XP each after chapter 6. The game wasn't terribly difficult. (I think we lost one chapter.)
I think there might be an easier way for you to handle this: just talk to your players about the game, and get everyone to agree not to milk the system. This doesn't mean that you can't play in a thinking manner or that someone has to go all Leroy Jenkins at the first opportunity to meet an objective, but it does mean that someone will enter the space with the dead body as soon as possible in chapter 1, that the party will clear a path to the nearest exit (and that the player with the package will exit the map) as soon as possible in chapter 3, that no one will interact with a tile just for the XP, and so on. Once everyone is on the same page, I think the game will become more enjoyable for everyone. If you find yourself failing two consecutive attempts to beat one of the later chapters, give everyone enough XP so that one or more party members can get a new ability, or let each player exchange an ability or two (especially if they didn't try to min-max their abilities as they progress), etc.
There's a thread about house rules and difficulty levels here:
Hope this helps!
Last edited by tutenkharnage; 01-16-2017 at 09:25 AM.
Reason: Typos bug me.
You raise some excellent points. I'm going to look at that linked thread and rethink my approach. Thank you!
Now I'm leaning toward putting a hard cap of 15 times the number of players on XP. That way we're still earning every point, but we don't get into the farming situation I had on my last run-through.
Destroyer of Worlds
A hard cap is another option. The players will probably still farm up to the cap, though.
I found some of my old notes from my epic-difficulty run-through. The heroes gained 10 XP each in chapter 1, 12 XP each in chapter 2, 15 XP each in chapter 3, and 23 XP each in chapter 5. They had 99 XP each after chapter 6, so they gained 39 XP between chapter 4 and chapter 6. The takeaway is that the XP gained per chapter tends to climb, so you might want to settle in on a low cap number for chapter 1 and additional points per chapter. For example, you could set caps of 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, and 20 to limit the party to no more than 90 XP heading into chapter 7. Or you could set caps of 10, 13, 16, 19, 22, and 25 to limit them to 105 XP, which they'll never hit unless you play the game on nothing harder than normal difficulty.
Balancing a game like this is extremely hard. There are numerous independent factors to consider, including the heroes' skill selections, the players' familiarity with the game mechanics and the chapter-specific rules, and the luck of the dice. Defining "balance" is also difficult. Do you want the heroes to have particular odds of surviving a chapter intact? Do you want them to have particular odds of making it through the campaign as a whole without replays? Should they frequently be battered and bruised at the beginning of each chapter?
And then you have to consider all the ways the game can be adjusted:
The initial placement of the villains
The depth of the reserves
The types of villains
The villain stat cards (epic vs. normal)
The depth of the Event deck
The particular cards in the Event and Villain Activation decks
It's quite complicated. And then you'd have to test all your tweaks. Oy.
Let's assume that you want a 50/50 chance that the heroes can make it through the entire campaign without replaying a chapter. We have seven chapters, so we need the seventh root of 0.5, which is just above 0.9. That means that the heroes need a 90% chance of making it through a single chapter without a replay in order to have a 50% chance of making it through the entire campaign without a replay. How often will you test a chapter to determine whether the odds of making it through on one go are actually 90%? How will you account for all the possible XP totals and abilities the players could have selected for their heroes? And the questions never stop.
I suspect that the only way to dial in the numbers like this would be to start at chapter 1 with a fresh group, tweak various factors until you're sure the heroes' chance of success is 90%, get a good feel for how many XP each hero should have, and move on to chapter 2 with a wide range of outcomes. And then you'd have to repeat the process again for each chapter. I suspect this effort would be impossible, and perhaps not even fruitful.
That said, I think the game can be fine-tuned from its present point to present something pretty close to that ideal. I played a min-max campaign with all the villains on epic difficulty. The heroes had their struggles, but things could have been tougher. Ideally, a chapter should be set up such that (1) the clock and the chapter's rules will put enough pressure on the heroes to prevent them from milking XP, (2) the heroes will be under siege for most of the chapter, and (3) the heroes will come out of the chapter dinged up in some way or another more often than not.
Anyway, that's enough rambling for now. Cheers!
Thank you for taking the time to help me with this. I'm pretty convinced I need to go all-or-nothing on this. Either we give a flat 15 XP per hero per adventure, and throw out all XP rewards, or I need to run it RAW. I think there are pros and cons for each.
I'll talk to my play group on Tuesday and see what they think.
Thank you again for your help with this.
I would say run it as written. getting a ton of xp and buying all the abilities makes your characters awesome, and how can that not be more fun?
Originally Posted by sathoon
Destroyer of Worlds
I agree with vaildin, except that I would definitely flip all the thugs' cards to their epic sides. Without Gang and Sniper, they lose a lot of attacks and a lot of hitting power.
Originally Posted by vaildin
Got the group together tonight for the first mission, and ran it RAW with the thugs turned to epic.
All my concerns are gone. It felt much more like we were fighting for our lives. Standing around and farming was never considered, because we never felt safe. It was brilliant, and greatly increased my enjoyment of a game that I already enjoyed quite a bit.
Thank you for your help with this. I am now very content to just run the game as-is.
Destroyer of Worlds
Glad to hear it! Let us know how it turns out.