Guide on designing standard factions/eras

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Velensk
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Guide on designing standard factions/eras

Post by Velensk » August 19th, 2011, 7:51 pm

I think it is long past time I got around to trying to write this. I've seen so many people attempt to make factions that are unaware of basic principles and it is becoming frustrating to me. The objective of this guide is to explain some of the basic principles of faction and era design for new faction designers who are creating typical factions aimed to be balanced for multiplayer on standard maps using the same general stat scale as mainline. This last bit is bolded because there are many uses/purposes for eras to which non of this will apply. It is my hope that this guide will become stickied and that people will read it and either do a better job of designing their eras or that they will realize that they don't want to before dumping hours of effort into them.

If anyone feels the need to ask about my credentials I believe I have done more design work on standard eras than any other person on the forum currently. I was a playtester then maintainer of Era of Myths for several years, created and designed the gunpowder age (which isn't a standard era but is based on many of the same principles) and Era of Four Moons, and have contributed and tested many other eras. That said I'll admit to being failable, these are merely my observations and advice.

First: Know Your Objective
I’m going to summarize a post I made in a previous topic and then link you to the topic (the post I am referring to is the second one in the thread) for if you want to read more.

It is important to know why you are doing things. Making factions or eras takes a lot of time and effort and can easily result in something you never do anything with once you have it. Before investing all this time be sure you know what you are aiming for and consider how that ought to influence the decisions you make on how to work on it.
Different Reasons One Might Make an Era and the Implications on Design
The basic reasons I thought of, why one might want to make an era are
1:Create this because you think it would be a cool thing to have around/show to friends/play around with,
2:Create this simply to increase the variety of your wesnoth experience?
3:Create this because you want to play (or see how wesnoth plays) with certain concepts/rules/abilities.
4:Create this because you are trying to create an alternative to competitive mainline for those who are tired with it.
5:Create this to improve your various skills (coding, spriting, ect).
6:Create this because you want to make campaigns for it.
7:Create this because you think your factions fill some thematic gap which has not been covered yet.

--The first two are the easiest to satisfy requiring no real balancing effort or excessive testing. However, these motives are IMO a touch shallow and tends to lead to lower quality factions but they certainly have their place. Indeed, the currently most popular MP era is mainly derived from these.
--The third and fifth reasons are not shallow but it isn’t inherently aimed to make a fun to play end result. Still if you’re doing this feel free to go overboard with special abilities and gimmicks.
--The fourth requires tight balance which in turn takes lots of testing. This one is very hard to even come close to achieving unless one is a skilled player as it takes a very good understanding of the game. You will have to work even to get the testing as chances are only a few people will be interested in testing your era and much of the testing you get will be low quality as chances are your opponent will not be very familiar with the era (or possibly be lacking in wesnoth skills in general).
--If the sixth one is your aim then be sure to spend quite a bit of effort on the upper level units and having a variety of interesting alternate advancements for your units.
--Before investing in the seventh, be sure you try the available eras to make sure that you’re actually working on something novel.
http://forums.wesnoth.org/viewtopic.php?f=19&t=34035

The Relationship Between Faction Design and Maps
One of the problems with balance is that when one is attempting to balance for a variety of situations a number of things become circular as how balanced various things are is dependent on other things and how balanced those things are is dependent on the first thing. The prime example of this is the relationship between factions, eras, and maps. A balanced faction is one who has equal odds of winning against an 'equally skilled opponent' with any other faction in the era on a balanced map. A balanced map is one on which all balanced factions in an era have equal odds against other. The thing is that in one era, a 'balanced map' might be a map with only open ground a few scattered villages and castles and nothing else, and in another era a map won't be balanced unless there is almost every terrain imaginable applied liberally on every important battleground. In response to this issue at a certain point you just have to simply say 'this thing is considered balanced, now lets balance everything else relative to it'. Unfortunately, it seems like a large number of faction designers want to say that their faction is balanced and try to work from there (after all they can create special maps for their era). This is however very awkward for the vast majority of players as it forces them to learn even more, even quicker. I would generally consider it wise, if you want to make your era easy to pick up, that you conform it to mainline maps.
Conforming Eras to Mainline Maps
A few things are rather critical if you you are designing factions for play on standard maps.

-Eight-nine movement point scouts: Quite simply put, mainline maps are designed with the assumption that every faction will have access to scouts that will be able to move at least eight hexes, and no more than 9 hexes unslowed by anything other than mushrooms or 10 hexes slowed by all typical things other than forests. This is very important for the design of village grabbing schemes and limiting things such as guaranteed steals for p1 and arranging it so that all players can grab all their villages by turn X. Having an era that will allow guaranteed village steals (especially if it is turn order specific) will cause all kinds of havoc to balance and is something you do not want to have to deal with and which will severely curb the fun of many players.

5-6 movement point leaders: In mainline 4mp leaders are used because they are given the quick trait. This can be implemented to work for you too but the critical thing here is that the end result is leaders with no less than 5 move and no more than 6. This is to control the rate at which leaders can 'castle hop' as well as to control the range at which leaders can most easily assist in defense or reclaiming villages. Again, major imbalances that you don't want to have to deal with can arise from leaders with more or less movement than standard.

-Water control: Mainline maps are in general designed on the assumption that all factions will have at least one unit that swims or flies and that in general all factions will be able to exert roughly equally power over the water (though it varies from match-up to match-up). In general, the later part is more important than the former as no mainline map has a critical area that cannot be reached by land units. Balancing out the control can be done in a number of ways (water specific units for L/R/N, weak fliers but main units a bit more water savvy for Undead, Strong flier who can handle any of the other contenders 1vs1 but very expensive to make up for the fact that it can switch over to land for Knalgans, and Drakes work on the principle that although none of their units are great at fighting in the water, the fact that their basic units can reach into it even if they aren't efficient in it means they can probably outnumber anyone who doesn't overcommit to water control). The main point is that on some mainline maps if one faction has better,easier, or automatic control over the water as compared to its rival it will have a massive strategic and/or tactical edge which will interfere with your balance even if in land based conflicts (the majority of the game) they are relatively equal.

-General terrain proportions: In general you can assume that the average mainline 1vs1 (2vs2 are a different matter) that open will be the majority of the map and that you'll have slightly more hills/mountains than forests, mushroom groves in critical places to hamper mobility of fliers and of course villages/castles (though the castles may all be out of the way). Those terrains you can rely on seeing on just about every map, others are more map dependent and thus you should avoid tampering with them in any major way. Sand, cave, and snow are examples. Snow in particular is generally used to make large areas slowing to pretty much everyone (except true fliers). If you have a faction that by design should be fighting on the tundras or in Arctic mountains, you might want to hesitate before giving them that 1mp through snow as the map designer probably never accounted for an entire faction having such mobility through these rough areas. Instead try giving them 2mp and a relatively high defense (though probably not so high that it is tactically overpowering) as it will still make your faction much stronger in these areas than others to support their background but it will not make it so that any match played on a map that happens to make use of snow will inevitably be highly uneven. Also bear in mind that bonuses in rarer terrains are not worth as much as bonuses in common terrains and what is more, it is fairly impossible to create an even exchange rate between the two.
example:
Village defense is always particularly valuable as villages are inherently important areas.
Designing your factions
Faction design is an art and as such there are very few right ways to do it. The more things I tell you you must do, the more limited the faction possibilities become (assuming you listen to me). Honestly there are so many things that could work and would be interesting that I wouldn't care to hinder what you have to work with. That said, I will advise you on some things that you should think about when designing and things which I have seen cause trouble. As a note on anything balance related, play testing is the best and most final method of determining balance. However it takes time, it requires people to update to keep up with the revisions, it takes a lot of interest on the part of other people(which is frankly, not easy to generate). It really helps people stick around and keep interested if you come into something with a project that is already mostly balanced and interesting. By doing much of your design ahead of time and thinking through balance considerations before releasing you can eliminate many problems and make your project more appealing to your early play-testers.
Useing Baselines
Factions are balanced against factions not units against units: The nuts and bolts is that it is the net effect of all recruitable units in your faction vs the net effect of all recruitable units in the enemy faction that determines balance, not an individual comparison (even if it so too a unit that is balanced). For example one might say, well, the loyalist bowman is a balanced unit, and this unit is pretty much like the loyalist bowman except that it deals more damage and has a impact melee attack, that's unbalanced! It might be but then again, it might not be. It might be that this faction it is on, due to lacking mages needs some other ranged unit to fill the role of powerful ranged support because otherwise it cannot efficiently attack entrenched melee units, and it might be that powerful archers is one of the major factors of this faction (it certainly isn't for the loyalists) and that they suffer some other disadvantage relative to the loyalists that makes it even.

Using Default as a guide: The counterpoint to the last one. To help keep you from overshooting what is easy to balance and maintain a sense of cosistancy, it is good use landmarks in mainline. For example, the loyalist spearman is in core, one of the most efficient basic melee units among any of the factions, equaling the more expensive dwarves and drake fighters and beating the skeleton (due to strong trait), grunt, and elvish fighter in terms of melee power and coming with decent hitpoints for it's cost (being beaten only by the grunt and troll whelp, both of whom do less damage and have no ranged attack) and as a perk it has a damage type which most scouts are weak too[hampering the inclination of enemy factions to use their most mobile forces], first strike, and a ranged attack. If your basic melee unit clocks in as being better than the spearman for roughly the same cost, unless it has some crippling weakness or the rest of the faction or the era explicitly set to balance this out you likely have a balancing concern. On a different note, if your <insert awesome made up faction here> has access to an archer with a 7-4 ranged attack, even if you mange to balance this out in terms of cost/fragility some people who didn't make the faction will be wondering 'alright what justifies these things fielding archers so much better than the elves when the elves are supposed to be particularly awesome archers
Defining and Filling out Factions
Ideally when creating a faction you'll be wanting something which is novel to play and which will feel complete. The following are my observations on the above.

There are two major ways in which a faction defines itself, thematics and gameplay. Thematics are what the factions background is, what they look like, or if you can associate them to anything your players would already be familiar with. It is not incredibly important for this that you portray whatever your factions theme/idea/inspiration accurately. The mainline loyalists are themed as the 'stereotypical' armies of europe during the middle ages and it manages to have this general theme despite not being really historically accurate to any army in particular or even in general (Wesnoths army seems to consist mostly of enlisted commoners with nobles and knights being rare and mercenaries are rarely mentioned). What your faction should do however, is do its best to express what it is and why it is different from existing things. This can be done by using different names (for example, the Era of Four Moons basic infantry are called 'Brave's rather than Highlander warriors or clubmen as it helps establish the connection between them and the native americans who are a part of their inspiration), different art, well written descriptions (which surprisingly generally don't go unread), and with stats which reinforce the concept.

Gameplay is a different issue to tackle but as indicated in the last point the two are connected. The way the faction plays ought to reinforce the theme you are going on. This could be anything from you feeling that vampires ought to be particularly dependent on ToD and/or have abilities associated with vampires to you believing that your mongol horde faction ought to normally consist mainly of cavalry. Once you have these ideas then you have three tasks; you must figure out what units it ought to have, how theyshould be designed to get the feel you want, and you will have to try to make it so that it is balanced. To take the mongol horde example, if you have a faction and you make it so that the horse archers are particularly efficient then you will have to both ensure that every faction has some effective counter to them and that no factions counter is so effective that the horse archers are scarcely used; On the other point, if you think that a formation of roman legionnaires ought to be almost unbreakable to conventional force or that ninjas are just awesome you will have to find a way of having this in the game without it causing balance problems or you will have to back down on it (or hold it off to later levels). Typically, though, your gameplay design will make certain units common against any enemy. These units will become much of the character of the faction and as such they ought to represent it well (for example, the elvish archer represents the rebel faction and elven race very well, range oriented and relatively mobile, very fragile except in forests, grunts show that you can expect orcs to be cheap, quick through hills, low damage per hexside but durable. The general alignment of your faction also determines much. Lawful/Chaotic factions will tend to be aggressive and chaotic factions in particular will have the potential to rush assuming they are not overly slow. Neutral factions tend to not have as easy a time attacking but more brutal counter attacks. Some factions are split on alignment at which point alignments can both represent a split in the faction as part of the theme and/or can work as an enhancement to the roles of individual units.

Filling out a Faction and Generating Roles: A 'generic' faction will include a basic melee unit, possibly an alternate melee unit, an archer, a scout, a magician, and a specialty unit or two of some kind. You can build factions like this and it can work fine but it does not need to be. What you do need to do is ensure that each faction can do certain things. I would propose that the following sums it up:
--A faction must be able to grab all its villages on a typical map before its enemy can reach them (even as p2). <see conforming to mainline maps>
--A faction must be able to either break through or any defense its foes can muster (given as much time as they have the sheer attrition to last)
--A faction must be able to attack without automatically loosing if it fails to break through immediately
--A faction should have multiple plausible compositions for general purposes
--Each unit in a faction should feel like it holds a different role from every other unit in this faction.
--Each faction should have, to some extent or another, combined arms effect.
--Factions in an era should not feel like carbon copies of each other with different themes and slightly different abilities.

In general mage units are used to provide the ability to break through defenses but it does not need to be like this. Fortbusting can be gotten through sheer damage(possibly from charge or backstab)/poison/skirmishing on a unit with decent damage/marksmanship/berserk/sheer attrition(assuming a faction can get favorable attrition against high defense enemies). By having different factions rely on different methods you set them apart from each other and from the mass of 'generic' factions.

Most factions have a basic melee unit who serves as a thematic core of the faction and as the most cost efficient recruit. This does not need to be the case but it does serve some basic dynamics: It designates a unit to be the vast majority of just about any army this faction will field which will define much of how they play making them easier to mentally define and work with, and it reinforces melee as the standard range. The mainline undead, are an example of a faction that actually lacks such a unit (skeleton looks like it but you'll notice when good undead players play they normally don't get that many skeletons). The most cost efficient undead unit is actually the dark adept which defines the undead as being a faction that wields fearsome but very ToD dependent magic as their main weapon. However, as a fact that every other faction is more likely to have lots more melee power than ranged the adepts are guarded by units who either are melee units or who are resistant to most melee units.

Combined Arms Effects: The combined arms effect is the idea that although one unit may be on a 1vs1 situation worse than another in just about every practical way, when used as part of a team it becomes more efficient. Or alternately, a mixed army of units should be more effective/efficient than a homogenous army even if that homogenous army is composed of a unit that is the ’best’ unit in the faction. In wesnoth, much of this effect is done with the balance of ranged and melee attacks.
combined arms effect: ranged and melee:
Combined arms does not have to be that particular effect, it can be elvish shamans and fighters: even a slowed down elvish fighter deals more damage to a shaman than it takes and has more hitpoints and is cheaper but still the shamans can reduce the retaliation fighters take considerably, heal them, and the fighters can keep the shamans from being easily targeted from many angles. In any case though, it is important that it be present in a faction because it helps keep them interesting to play.

Unit Roles: Units can hold similar roles and still be unique enough to warrant separate existence's but there's a balance to that. The more units a faction has, the more art is required to make it, the more things newcomers have to learn (thus the more overwhelming the experience tends to be), and in general it is good to keep things simple. It's also good to have variety.
examples of similar units having different roles:
The important thing is that for each unit a player can imagine an entirely plausible situation where he would prefer each unit over the others, or combinations of units including each unit. I would suggest that it generally isn't worth having another unit just to introduce a new damage type to a faction. There is not a ton of strategic choice in choosing blade vs pierce against enemies who are weak to one or the other and not a whole lot of point to choosing between them at all if the enemy is not weaker to either. It also somewhat defeats the point of damage types (to create diversity of play). You can by other subtle differences define different roles, which will generally encourage one to be recruited over the other but will allow the other a place which will help spice things up. You can help encourage both to be on the field at once with things like alternate damage configurations (10-2 vs 5-4 and such) to allow one a bit of tactical flexibility and control over their odds in individual engagements (for example a 7-3 striker may deal more damage total than a 10-2 striker but if one is going to kill an enemy with hp between 8-10 or 15-20 you're more likely to get a kill from one hexside with the later while the 7-3 is more likely to get the kill for 1-7 and 11-14 hitpoints).

A caution: Avoid putting anything essential or match-changing to the faction on a situational unit. For example, if a factions water unit has poison, and none of the other units in the faction do, then your faction will only have access to poison on maps where there is abundant water. Poison is a special that could change the shape of a match-up. Do you want to have to balance every match-up differently for if you’re on a map where sea units can easily assault strongholds and poison is quite common and for when this is not the case and poison is non-exsistant? There are other ways a unit can be rendered situational but that is one I’ve observed commonly.
Offensive Counters vs Defensive Counters
This is a basic concept that goes into describing unit interactions, these interactions are crucial for understanding faction match-ups and will help you map out our match-ups ahead of time. As such, this is more about era design than faction design but this can be used even if you have a faction designed to play against itself.

---An offensive counter to a unit, is a unit that can kill a unit effectively (quickly) and/or efficiently (kill it without taking much damage).
---A defensive counter is a unit whom unit unit is loath to attack because either it won’t do a lot of damage or because it will take a lot of retaliation.

You can qualify this with notes such as ‘while in forest’ or ‘at day’ or ‘while backstabbing’ but when you do so consider how difficult/likely the conditions you specify are to achieved.

In general, melee units are offensive counters to ranged units and defensive counters to other melee units and ranged units work the same except backwards. But there are sets of units which break this rule. A prominent example would be that skeletons both offensively and defensively counter spearmen. You also might say that mages and bowmen offensively counter each other as they both kill the other fairly quickly at day even if they both take massive retaliation.

The important thing to remember here, is that, in general, offensive counters are more important than defensive counters especially on any unit with high mobility. Horsemen might be defensively countered by guardsmen, but if that guardsman runs into the field to attack the horseman at day he’s not going to be at an advantage. In the meanwhile the horseman can just choose to attack other targets until the guardsman is in the 1-hit-kill range. Defensive counters do have their place though, in that the main objective of most pushes is to capture villages or kill units. If you defensively counter your opponent sufficiently that you can hold the land then you don’t have to fall back as much which is a major advantage. However in order to achieve this, you must have this ‘defensive counter’ spread out across your whole line against everything your opponent has been brought to fight. To be honest, if you can form a line that can stand against everything they can have, then either they’re fighting on the wrong part of the map or you have an imbalanced or stalemate situation.
Design of Individual Units:

Units should be designed as part of a faction and with the rest of their faction in mind as it should never be a unit that will be holding the battlefield alone (see combined arms notes). This said there are a few notes on the quirks of designing a unit.
designing units as part of a team
The important thing to remember is that how useful a unit is depends on what else is on the faction. On any faction other than northerners (and possibly knalgans) grunts would be there mainly to be cheap durable meatwalls for more powerful offensive units. They could work in this function even if they were the wrong alignment but for melee damage any other faction could provide better. For the northerners however they represent their best melee damage and breaking power, and they still work as cheap meat walls. As a result, despite the fact that trolls frequently make better meat walls you’ll see a tons more grunts than trolls.

In the filling out factions section I mentioned giving each unit a specific role and if it’s a similar role to someone else being sure they are diverse. When actually making the unit, be sure to design it so that it actually fills the role better than anyone else on the faction. What is on other factions is not particularly relevant to this, wolves might not match up to cavalrymen in just about any way other than having a slightly better movetye despite having the same cost but having combat scouts is a quality of the loyalists and northerners need not be able to match them in terms of this. The wolf rider still is a better scout than anything else northerners can muster.

Another thing to look out for is combinations. Look for the units and abilities that combine together and make sure you account for them in your design. Berserk+slow are a famously powerful combination so either don’t have it, or be sure that it is not a cheap one to use, or make the units weaker than they would be on separate factions, or something to make up for the fact that it amounts to the ability to break just about any unit in most instances. Other combinations that you might want to avoid or build into the system with counterbalances are slow+charge, leadership+decent level 0s, illuminates+high ToD dependancy, skirmisher/stun+backstab, healing+high resistances, poison+slows.

Units might be given roles in certain matchups because they cover anothers. In the loyalist match-up, saurians find themselves promoted to main fighter type despite their skirmisher/harasser build simply because they resist pierce better than everything else.
Measuring Toughness
Hitpoints/Defenses/Resistance's: One of the basic mistakes I've seen people make is they say (or at least the results say), I want to make this really cool faction, they’re a bit frail but very agile and have special abilities to make up for it (look at almost any era and you'll likely see some iteration of this). The problem comes when among the things things they're given to represent this agility is extra defense on many terrain types. The defense likely comes with other things (lots of general mobility and/or abilities) on top of it and it completely cancels out the effects of lowering their hitpoints in general (that is to say, to non-magic/marksman units). Even just a 10% change can represent a lot of hit points. If you had a 30 hitpoint unit with 50% defense and another with 40% then on average it would take 60 and 50 damage worth of attacks (respectively) for each to be taken down. So if you take your spearman base, make it 'frail' by dropping it down to 32 hitpoints, then boost it's defense, while standing in the open the spearman would take roughly 60 points worth of attack and the 'frail' unit would take 64 making it, in truth, tougher, and this on top of whatever mobility, damage, or special abilities you piled on him to make up for it's 'frailty' (the calculation btw, is HP/CtbH [chance to be hit] so for a spearman in the open 36/60% or 36/.6).

To elaborate further on the point and bring the last piece of the last sections title. When making a unit you compose how 'tough' it is from those three elements in general (special abilities may come into play but we're going to ignore them for now). They all have slightly different focuses on how they make things work but they all contribute to the same goal. Using them together you can create truly impressively tough units without making them unbreakable depending on the situation. Hitpoints, are the most generic method of determining how tough a unit is. As opposed to the other methods, hitpoints are always in effect. Units with a large number of hitpoints who have managed to lose most of them (possibly as a result of negative resistances or just battle attrition) will take a very long time to recover back to full strength. Defense in general will modify effective toughness in the fashion mentioned at the end of the last paragraph with some irregularities for certain damage distributions and special abilities such as magic, however they are somewhat interesting is that how much defense you have is relative to where you are standing and changes frequently. This can be used to express a factions nature (affinity for certain terrains), influence the nature of the factions tactics, and create tension between other tactical priorities. Defense is the only method of making a unit tougher however that is dependent on luck. An elvish archer in a forest might be a very durable unit in general, but there's still always that slight chance that a wose at day might land 2/2 on it and wipe it out instantly. Units who are dependent on defense for survival are prone to either dropping instantly or survive far past their due. This lack of dependability will become an inherent part of any unit it is on (though in general it does not apply in the case of say, a dwarf on the mountain because the dwarf has both hitpoints and resistances to back it up as well as defense). Resistance's have the odd effect of either compressing or expanding the value of a units hitpoints depending on how they are attacked. An example of this would be the ghost. Assuming physical attacks, ghosts have effectively 36 hitpoints (they 18 and take half damage barring rounding effects), however, a ghost will recover from wounds twice as fast as a spearmen (effectively). On the other hand, they will have far fewer effective hitpoints when matched up to one of their vulnerabilities thus preventing them from being rather overpowered village holders. In most eras you can rely on the majority of the attacks to be blade/pierce with impact as a distant third, and the magic types being rare (and generally range centered). Resistance's can be used as a major part of counter trees between factions which will help emphasizes and de-emphasize various units in various matches increasing the general variety in your era. The three used appropriately can help make your factions funner to play.

I am going to mention the steadfast ability here rather than in the abilities section as it is pretty much an extension of resistances rather than a major change to a units capabilities. For most practical considerations, calculate as though this ability is always active.
Damage Distributions
Damage distributions: The way you divide up the way a unit does damage actually makes a difference in the way a unit plays. For the purpose of this section consider base damage to be the product of the damage per strike and the number of strikes (so a 6-4 attack as a base damage of 24). Base damage is a fairly good indicator of how much average threat this attack brings to bear per hex without modifiers. This is generally useful for calculating things like how many hexsides it’ll take for which units to break which others
”example of such a calculation”:
However, it fails to take into account a large number of other factors. A 24-1 attack might do the same amount of damage over a long period of time as a 6-4 attack but in wesnoth combat could be over in a couple rounds and each must be used with different things in mind. A person planning an attack with that 24-1 attack has to take into account the fact that he could very easily miss entirely and do no damage at all and a person attacking that unit at the range of that attack has to take into account that he could take 24 points of damage in retaliation before he even gets his second swing. In general higher damage per swing has the following advantages
---More likely to do max damage
---More likely to be able to kill before taking full retaliation
And more swings per damage has these advantages
---Less likely to miss completely
---Gains more advantage from some modifiers.

Different distributions are modified differently by different modifiers. The biggest modifier that ought to be kept in mind is generally time of day.
”Time of Day modifier discussion”:
Other modifiers that might be relevant.: Traits like strong affect many strike attacks more than low strike attacks. If you’re playing a faction where leadership is available it affects damage like positive ToD modifier.

Different damage distributions also have different ranges of enemy hitpoints where they have better odds to kill. For example, an enemy with 18 hitpoints is much more likely to be killed by a 18-1 attack than a distribution of 6-3 on the other hand a enemy with 5 hitpoints would be much more likely to die to the 6-3. To this end, variety of damage distributions on a team are advantageous.
Using Multiple Attacks Per Unit
Giving units multiple attacks is generally a way of covering weaknesses. The balance of this is that units having weaknesses is interesting in its own right and in some ways an encourage able thing. That said, different methods and extremes of covering weaknesses helps to add variety and encourage diversity.
”examples of multiple attacks counteracting weaknesses”:
Multiple attacks can also be used to give a unit multiple damage types. I would caution against doing this too often as it somewhat steps on the purpose of damage types but it has it’s places.
”mainline examples”:
harassing A weak or token ranged attack on a primarily melee unit can be a bit of discouragement to ranged units much the way the ranged units knives are but it can also be there specifically for ‘harassing’ enemies without a ranged attack (who are not all that uncommon to see). The purpose of this is not that it kills the enemy but in that it can weaken the enemy at little cost other than position. This is a useful quality even if the attack itself is very low damage.

Some units (such as elvish scouts and to a lesser extent footpads) are designed to be able to do this kind of thing to both ranged units and melee units (attack with whatever they are weak to and then retaliate effectively when they use their main range). The general ability to do this is very potent and as such any unit even reasonably competent at both melee and ranged (the elvish scouts 4-3 and 6-2 +traits for both counts) should have a significant weakness or cost to make up for it even if the units damage per hex is very low.
Other Notes
Experience requirements:
Another thing I've seen people do to spice up their units or factions is play around with the experience requirements. This can definitely add spice but there is a balance in that lvl 2s are a powerful force and the mainline balance for how hard they are to achieve is very precise. For most infantry the requirement is 42xp. This amount will make it so that on standard settings (70%) a non-intelligent unit will need 29 xp and an intelligent unit will need 24, or three kills exactly. This is very much balanced to make it rewarding to feed kills to intelligent units but still not easy to get level 2s in general. I would suggest that in large part you base your experience costs on two factors, how good the unit is at getting kills/surviving to keep the skills, and what units will be unlocked when it levels.
”mainline examples”:
Special Abilities Are Not Toys
Do not add them unless you are very certain you want that faction to have access to them as part of their fundamental design. This restriction applies less heavily to non-recruitables but every ability and weapon special has a very strong potential to be overpowering especially in combination with others. Units with special abilities generally ought to have a distinct weakness to make up for it (trolls are a front line melee unit and have low damage to make up for regen, mages/shaman types have low hp and high cost, ect.) unless it is one of the rare specials which is it's own weakness(but even those should not be given out lightly). Below are a few I find particularly worth commenting on.
Special Abilities
--- Stealth abilities may look rather weak but under certain circumstances can cause situations where in order to play safely your enemy must make many many assumptions and when taken to excess can take away from much of the fun of playing. In mainline the stealth abilities are generally balanced by the fact that the recruitable units with it are the wose (which is slow enough that it can generally be seen if it attempts to conceal itself close to the battlefield) and skeletons who are very weak and slow when submerged. However, if you had a true water unit with submerge for example and played on a map like Wylden Channel then navel battles against them (or when considering whether to move next to the water) would have to be done as very much a blind bid. Even if you could count your enemies forces and add up the cost they might be banking. Fast units with ambush on the other hand would be a nightmare to p2 on a smaller map as any just gentle probing or pushing forward could suddenly result in a flank pinning the unit or a village steal. In general wesnoth does not lend itself to this kind of randomness very enjoyably (IMO). Still these abilities can add some variety/interest and if applied carefully can make things more interesting. Consider especially adding them to higher level units to whom access is limited.
---Heals/Regenerates: Are not things every faction needs. In mainline a mere two factions have recruitable healers (two more with overlap have regeneration). They are both very significant in that they eliminate the dynamic that in general you can only heal as many units as you have villages in reach. This significantly improves the rate at which a faction can recover from a brutal battle and this quality is not something to be lightly thrown around. Regeneration is somewhat easier to balance in some ways (it is unit specific) but much harder in others (it heals even faster and works without requiring you to move units adjacent to each other).
---Skirmisher: Skirmisher is an incredibly powerful ability tactically, it allows one to achieve access to hexsides that normally would be blocked by ZoC (which makes it harder to form lines that can reliably hold) it requires enemies to occupy rather than just block critical terrain they would deny you (which makes it harder to prevent village stealing with few units), it makes it so that a unit cannot be easily pinned.
---teleport Teleport is a pain to balance. It is a very odd kind of mobility but never doubt that it is powerful mobility. It allows a player to conceal their forces, get them to where they are needed quickly, and reinforce almost any front in a couple turns at most. Use with extreme caution.

--- Backstab is an interesting special due to its inherent offense orientation and how positional it is but keep in mind that doubling base damage is no joke. In general, backstab is balanced on the fact that units with it tend to be *very* weak when not using it but on a particularly mobile faction or one with access to skirmisher when it can be used all the time even this stops being much of an issue.
--- Poison can be difficult to balance if some of the factions in your era have healers and some don't but even when this isn't an issue poison is a devastating ability and will generally be equivalent +16 damage if even one blow hits points of damage (8 damage lost the turn after being poisoned, one turn of not being healed 8 damage and that is assuming that your target can and does reach a village in one turn [fortunately this cannot kill or stack but it is still nothing to be taken lightly].
--- Magic/Marksmen these specials are useful as they let specific units ignore one part of your enemies toughness in favor of a generic value. These help the match-ups be more aggressive and create a counter for turtleing. That said, I would discourage there from being an overabundance of them as defense is one of the things that makes wesnoth tactics interesting and the ability to ignore it consistently will contribute to making battles more about brute force and less about positioning. The other thing to note here is that these specials, although they will frequently increase the average damage dealt, will not change the actual damage potential any. A unit with a 4-3 magical attack still won't be able to play the role of a line breaker because of it.
---Plague(any variation on it): Killing things is already something you will be trying to do, making it work out even better for you than it already is can be overpowering if it is not either hard to feed kills or an expensive ability to aquire. You may wish to consider giving very high xp requirements to units with it as they will likely have kills saved for them as a part of standard play.
---Slow: Slow is one of the most powerful specials in the game, it single handily prevents retreat, induces vulnerability (target can be attacked and only deliver half retaliation), nullifies breaking power for the next turn, and acts as a defense to the person who wields it against attacks at certain ranges (if the enemy attacks them and are slowed in retaliation the rest of the strikes will be considerably softened. Use with care.
---Drain: Drain on any half decent attack is a pretty strong ability. It is much like a combat only, range specific form of regeneration that is not capped at any max but which is instead dependent on the combat results. Drain on melee tends to also make a unit counter berserkers even if attack is relatively weak.

Berserk and Charge are weapon specials that are their own weakness however they are still things to be careful with.
-Berserk as a tendency to make units one-dimensional, to wit: they kill enemies they can reach who are weaker than them at melee (Or whatever range they berserk at) and are in turn killed by units stronger in melee who can reach them. This is a kind of balance and it works fine, it is however limiting. You can tweak it (maybe give them a ranged attack for when they don't feel like berserking) but keep in mind the ability to eliminate an enemy in a single turn with a single unit is very powerful and deserves an equally powerful weakness and/or expense. It is in general more of a strength than a weakness in and of itself because the person who buys it controls it and thus has more power over which situations are available to it than their opponent does (which is why the ulfserker costs 19 despite being weaker in melee than every basic melee unit). I would advise that this is a weapon special to be used sparingly. Also, be very careful when there is the potential to combine it with any kind of buff/debuff (such as leadership, slow, any kind of protection/terror custom abilities).
-Charge is another one where it would appear that the disadvantage is equal to the advantage but it isn't due to the owners control over how it is used. A unit with charge will likely be able to pick a target for whom the doubling effect will have much less effect than that of its own weapon. It is also greatly influenced by the fact that the attacker generally has the first strike and is frequently likely to not take any of the doubled retaliation.

-Custom abilities: Custom abilities can be a great way to introduce variety and/or interest into the game but remember when designing them to consider the connotations. Things that look minor and harmless can turn out to be quite abusable.
Last edited by Velensk on October 4th, 2011, 5:21 pm, edited 20 times in total.
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Re: Guide on designing standard factions/eras

Post by Alarantalara » August 20th, 2011, 1:26 am

It's enjoyable and easy to read. I'm sure to refer back to it if I ever try creating an era/faction.

Unfortunately, one of your sentences lost its ending: In the second paragraph of common mistakes, the paragraph just ends with "The true way to determine i". I'm assuming it's a cut and paste error and hope to see the missing bit soon.

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Re: Guide on designing standard factions/eras

Post by Velensk » August 20th, 2011, 1:34 am

That's a quick fix I can make now, I'll try to finish this up tomorrow.

That was actually a bit that I moved to a different section and apparently forgot to delete. I was about to indicate that the true test of balance should be playtesting.
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Re: Guide on designing standard factions/eras

Post by Dixie » August 21st, 2011, 5:35 pm

There are some very interesting thoughts in there, good work! You probably are gonna mention these things in yournext edit, but here are some thoughts of mine that are not yet reflected (of course, you could disagree, your pedigree is much more impressive than mine in this field):

1) The feel of the faction. I find this is the single most important point someone ought to think through before commiting any work. How do you want your faction to play and feel? What differenciates it from others? Too often, I have seen some newcomer to faction design come around with his very own genial concept of a faction (tm), and it ends being a very bland faction, because "this faction needs a scout, a melee unit, an archer, a mage, a tank, a healer and a leader". All these units stereotypes can be very interesting and very useful, but a faction doesn't NEED to have all of them to be viable/interesting (quite the opposite, imho!). Likewise, a faction concept doesn't have to affect the -whole- faction to feel like its core concept. If you wanted to create a faction offlying angels, maybe only about 2-3 unit lines need to actually fly: the scout, maybe the trademark(s) unit of the faction, possibly anoher common unit, and the rest can stray a bit while still fitting the theme.

2) I just mentionned it: the trademark unit. I find this is very important in defining your faction. There should usually be one or two unit lines in each faction that are much more cost-efficient/useful to that faction, so that it will generally be seen a lot. Northies' would be the Grunt, knalgans the dwarvish fightyer, rebels the archer, loyalists the spearman, etc. This helps define the faction, although there are other units to complement that trademark one. The elvish archer, for instance, really defines or incarnates the rebel faction's feel: a faction with lots of range and especially good in forests. This might seem very obvious, but it might be less so when you design your faction. Let's re-use that angel faction example. Let's say that faction designer made every unit a lawful flying angel but one which, for some reason, is a neutral nightstalking grunt-like, and happens to be the most cost-efficient unit, and about half of what you see on the field is this unit. Now, most people might know better than doing this, but it would still be a major design flaw, imho.

3) Appart from that (I'll rush this a bit because I have to go), other interesting factors to think of to balance your faction is its "average" price and the amount of available recruits. The average price, in fact, is a very bad indicator. For example, northies are considered cheap, because they have the cheapest lv1s (grunt and troll whelp) and a cheap lv0 unit (goblin). The rest of their units, however, is blatantly over priced (on a flawed unit-to-unit comparison). Because of this, their average recruit price is not much lower than the loyalists', but since the core of their troups are very cheap, they feel like they're cheap. It is still interesting to fiddle with how cheap yor faction will feel, and carefully selecting which unit is gonna be cheap and to what extent.

The amount of recruit is also interesting to toy with. In mainline, IIRC, there is no faction with less than 6 recruits. While a factuion with 5 might be viable, it would be really inflexible. Some factions have 7, and the one with the most is the Loys with 8 (more than 8 might be a tad overwhelming). The average would be somewhere around 6,5. Just something to consider when planning how your faction will feel: are your choice restricted, or do you have a wide, flexible arsenal at your disposal?
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Re: Guide on designing standard factions/eras

Post by krotop » August 21st, 2011, 6:40 pm

Dixie wrote:Too often, I have seen some newcomer to faction design come around with his very own genial concept of a faction (tm), and it ends being a very bland faction, because "this faction needs a scout, a melee unit, an archer, a mage, a tank, a healer and a leader".
The marked sentence is exagerated, and following it litteraly as a moto is certainly bad, but there is some good in it nevertheless. Defining a few key roles for a faction, according to the tactical situations you may encounter in your era-map-gamesetting microcosm, is in my opinion a good step to follow. For instance, a scout is unavoidable, unless no faction in the era has access to them, or at a ridiculous cost. Or for the sake of variety in gameplay, you will also probably need damage dealers on several ranges, and some sort of artillery if the opponent simply won't budge out of his great defense (unless no faction in the era has a mean to stand its ground). But as you said, it is not compulsory to have every possible tactical advantage available, or follow some stereotypical 1 unit/role & 1 role/unit rule.
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Re: Guide on designing standard factions/eras

Post by Dixie » August 21st, 2011, 9:42 pm

Yes, of course, it was a bit of an exageration, you need a bit of every range and you absolutely need some sort of scout (and water control). However, you don't baoslutely need a mage, you don't absolutely need healing or leadership, you don't absolutely need a dodger and a tank. The lack of something can be as good a factor to define your faction as its presence. Finding ways for a faction to go around the lack of a good tank or a high accuracy unit, for instance, can be interesting and make some other facets of gameplay pop out, making your faction much more interesting to play as/against then if it had that feature.
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Re: Guide on designing standard factions/eras

Post by Velensk » August 21st, 2011, 10:29 pm

I've made some more edits, but there's still much more to say later. Today I aimed to address the topics you presented and a couple others as well.

I will say, I disagree that you need one unit to represent the whole faction. I wouldn't say that the dwarven fighter represents the whole faction not even just the dwarven half. I do think though that you do need to convey to the player what they are playing to help them figure things out. Unfortunately some people do seem to latch onto the thought that knalgans means dwarves because of that effect and such people frequently have trouble learning how to play knalgans against people who know what they're doing. This is something that probably ought to be avoided if possible but you can design a good faction even if it lacks that one unit that links the whole concept up.
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Re: Guide on designing standard factions/eras

Post by Rozard » August 22nd, 2011, 7:28 am

Oh god! so much to read! curse my dyslexia!
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Re: Guide on designing standard factions/eras

Post by Velensk » August 25th, 2011, 2:07 am

Alright question for any interested parties. After taking a couple days to cool down and looking back over what I've written, I agree that it is a daunting wall of text (and whats more I'm sure I could still come up with quite a bit to say).

Does anyone have any ideas on how I could organize it in such a way that would divide it into more easily digestible bits in such a fashion as would be convenient for readers?
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Re: Guide on designing standard factions/eras

Post by Dixie » August 25th, 2011, 3:42 am

Well I haven't given a lot of thought on what sections might be, if you're meaning you want to seperate your text differently, but an idea might be separating the whole thing in spoilers. Each section sould have its spoiler, so it's easy to scroll to where you were at/the part that interests you/etc. That, and you could make use of section conclusions and a big conclusion at the end. Which would be somewhat of a summary of what the above section/entire wall of text said, more or less (screw the opening some conclusions require you to make). Just so a lazy person can go to the end of a section/text and get the spirit of what you were saying, without te examples and arguments etc. Or as a refresher or something. Eventually, you can lenghten your intro a bit to include a brief presentation of each section. What they are and what you'll be wanting to say more or less in there. And each section could have it's own little intro, to more or less say what said section is gonna talk about, what points (ideally one paragraph per point or something) are gonna be aboarded, etc. It doesn't have to be long, but split the thing up intelligently and coherently. Continually having intros and conclusions might feel like needless repetition and kicking the dead horse, but it really helps give a sense of continuity to your text. It's also great for those who might read the text over multiple sessions or read just a single section at all.

PS: this post is a pretty good example of what not to do :)
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Re: Guide on designing standard factions/eras

Post by doofus-01 » August 25th, 2011, 5:49 am

Velensk wrote:Does anyone have any ideas on how I could organize it in such a way that would divide it into more easily digestible bits in such a fashion as would be convenient for readers?
All of the scary blocks of text in this thread would be helped by Bold or Large section headers. Scientific journals can be pretty verbose and badly written, but still readable because you know where you are and where to find info you care about because of such formatting. That might be all you need. I don't know if spoilers are necessary. Changing font attributes might be better pasted into HTML or whatever you plan on migrating this to.
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Re: Guide on designing standard factions/eras

Post by Velensk » August 25th, 2011, 10:26 am

What I've decided to do for now is to use the [section] tag for the obvious and the
Spoiler:
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Re: Guide on designing standard factions/eras

Post by Sapient » August 28th, 2011, 1:37 am

It does seem to be a common indulgence to create a faction with extremely overpowered attacks (and possibly abilities) then trying to balance it out with slight hitpoint reduction. I see that Velensk noticed this trend as well. I won't name any factions, but you can probably think of a few. ;)
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Re: Guide on designing standard factions/eras

Post by Velensk » August 30th, 2011, 3:37 pm

I've added another section and a few things to old sections.

I actually hit the character limit before I got around to adding the last section (I remembered that I'd forgotten to include teleport in the abilities to be careful with section). I didn't even know there was a character limit.

I think I need to get around to editing this for clarity/organization soon. Perhaps I can cut out enough characters to fit in that section. I think that after I get around to that I'll have said all I should or more than I reasonably should have.

Can anyone think of sections I am missing or point out sections they think I ought to remove before I get around to that?
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Re: Guide on designing standard factions/eras

Post by Vranca » August 30th, 2011, 3:51 pm

I really enjoyed reading this,great work!

P.S. You said nothing about steadfast in special abilities section.
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