Developer’s Diary #2 – The Evolution of Sudden Conflict’s Gameplay

The first version of Sudden Conflict resembled a D&D dungeon map straight out of 1990 High School library class—crudely drawn maps on graph paper, “close enough” miniatures, character sheets crudely made in MS Word, and a handful of d6 dice. I lived in a country town at the time, so we couldn’t get d20s and had to make do.

Admittedly it was a bit ugly, but within my mind I held a set of design principles guiding the experience I aimed to offer my test victims subjects. I scavenged, borrowed, and refined concepts from beloved sources into an experience that captured the essence of what I loved in those games.

Dungeons, Dragons and DOTA

In the beginning (long before Sudden Conflict was born) I ran terrible D&D games at high school and university and eventually found a love for creating thrilling combat encounters for my players. In Sudden Conflict, I aimed to replicate the sensation of player characters battling enemy NPCs in a climactic, end-of-game showdown.

Around that time, and a side effect of 2020’s lockdown, I was also into DOTA (which I played very poorly) and noticed the absence of the strategic “combat dance” present in MOBAs within D&D combat. Unlike DOTA’s calculated approach, D&D players tended to rush in, unleash attacks, and hope for victory. I pondered why D&D often lacked a nuanced strategy to combat.

I wanted to fuse the two somehow, giving people the experience of MOBA combat and teamfights without the anxiety fueled pace of combat. I wanted space to breathe, look at the combat, and be rewarded for strategic choices without the need for quick reflexes.

Shadowrun and Loving D6s

Shadowrun left a deep impression on me, as it often does with its players. As a Shadowrun player I reveled in rolling as many dice as possible, relishing in its narrative and combat equally. Shadowrun really taught me how to create an interesting and layered story in an RPG. I posed a simple question to my fellow Shadowrunners one day: “What’s the optimal number of d6 to roll?” After they responded with “All of them”, I prodded them to determine when dice rolling felt most satisfying without going overboard.

Interestingly, the consensus settled around 5-7 dice. People found rolling within this range enjoyable. Thus, the system was devised to incentivize accumulating dice, encouraging players to amass a satisfying number, leading to the birth of Momentum Dice.

Momentum Dice

For those unfamiliar with Sudden Conflict, beating your opponent hinges on collecting and utilising Momentum Dice. These are primarily earned as a result of aggressive gameplay, which was a cornerstone of our design philosophy. If the rules we were testing didn’t work, we injected more action and rewarded players for their aggression.

As the constant GM in RPGs (due to mainly my insufferable playing habits but also abysmal luck with dice rolls) I detested games where failure resulted in a boring turn. I felt like games actively punished you for rolling poorly, preventing you from playing the game.

Hence, the rule emerged early on: “if you fail an Action Roll, you gain a Momentum Dice.” These became versatile rewards, although the initial decision to allow them to be used for Initiative rolls was swiftly axed. The shift from failing to achieving a small reward resonated with everyone, triggering a feverish pursuit among players to stockpile these little white dice.

A General Recap

Sudden Conflict initially emerged as a loose fusion between D&D and DOTA team fights, flavored with Shadowrun influences, and equipped with rewards catering to poor dice rollers like myself, hoping to encourage inclusion for beginning and experienced players alike.

I’ll confess, Momentum Dice haven’t worked wonders for me personally. They’ve merely added more dice for me to roll unsuccessfully.

Anyway, this post has sprawled long enough. Let’s table our early discussions about Game Publishing for next time. I’m off to see if my dice collection is weighted against me.

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