There are a lot of things that give rogue likes their special character…turn based structure, random maps and loot, options galore in play styles, permadeath, etc. and one of those key design aspects is how you create and develop your character. The character that you “play” gives rogue likes an ancestral tether to the CRPG genre. The idea that you have stats, skills, hit points etc. that define your ability to interact with the game environment comes directly from the CRPG lineage. I’m not a video game historian so maybe my idea about rogue likes place on the family tree is a bit off…and I don’t want to get into a philosophical debate about any of this because I’m honestly not well informed enough to start discussing the history and development of rogue likes. I’m a fan and not an expert. I’m also pretty sure that this is the type of fertile ground in which sophists would thrive. How many ascii characters can dance on the head of a pin? But what I enjoy in rogue likes is that they generally require you to have some type of strategy in mind as you develop your character. So with that thought in mind I set about trying to create a character system to serve as the foundation of my game’s mechanics. Switch that. I had the games mechanics in mind when I went to try and design the way a character would work.
What’s the ideal number of stats for a character to possess? Too many and you start to get complexity problems. Too little and the simplicity entices boredom. You can see the debt owed to D&D and Gary Gygax in the approach taken by a lot of rogue likes. I remembered this article by John Harris at Game Set Watch on Incursion and was really surprised to see an explanation of how Vance’s Most Excellent Prismatic Spray ended up in D & D. I’m a Vance fiend. I was also doing a lot of reading on the genre at places like Ascii Dreams and Temple of the Roguelike. Basically I had a challenge resolution mechanic (CRM) that used a Tarot deck. The 4 suites of Swords, Wands, Cups and Pentacles offered a perfect array of stats to give the characters who would be exploring my haunted mansions. The stats would directly affect how the characters performed in the CRM. The natural way to break these stats down seemed to me to as follows:
The Wands attribute corresponds to any mental challenge i.e. deciphering an arcane text, figuring out the inner workings of some ancient artifice, negotiating with a demon, etc. Psychic abilities fall into this category as well.
The Cups attribute corresponds to any physical challenges that the character’s body might need to overcome i.e. quickness in evading a trap, running away from a problem, resisting the poison coursing through his veins etc.
The final two attributes are entirely non-original but completely necessary to the genre. Health is kept track via points as is Sanity. I contemplated coming up with a more elaborate system of physical and mental states but after much hand wringing opted for the more conventional approach. My main concern is that since going to zero health or sanity is a game over state for the perma-death variant (what I am calling “Reaper” mode), you really need to be clear on these stats so that the correct risk levels can be gauged by the player. I did abandon the whole concept of fixed health and sanity though. You can accumulate as much as you are able with no “capping” attribute determining what your max level is in either category. I liked this because in many instances during your game you need to decide on weather you want to spend health or sanity to use an ability, item, spell etc.
Here is what the character info pad looks like in the game. You can see the display areas for the six main attributes. Take special note of the six orange boxes below the attributes. This is where the character stores any Talismans that he might acquire during the game. As you can infer from the word, the Talismans are amulets and wards that protect your player when the punishment is being dished out. I’ll describe them in a lot more detail later but like everything else in my design they are meant to provide the player with agonizing choices at various points in the game.