Friday, April 1, 2011

Solos (Followup): Game Theory of Cleanser Rules

As an economist by training (if not by trade) I have a strange fascination with Game Theory. In my previous entry, I mentioned that one potential "solution" (if it can be called that) for dealing with status effects on solo monsters is the usage of what I called "Cleanser" rules, which effectively render one creature as being a different creature as it pertains to things like status effects.

The concept was introduced not for a specific gameplay reaction per say, but rather to better simulate a situation where a solo monster functioned like five individual standard enemies-that is, what applies to one enemy doesn't apply to all five. However, looking at Cleanser rules using Game Theory actually leads to some interesting thoughts.

First, let's assume that the players (and by extension PCs) know that the monster is able to use Cleanser at least once. Thus, players are aware of the fact that after using their powers, there is some chance that they will simply be negated. In this sense, the player and monster get into a relationship where, if the party lands too many status effects at any given time, the monster will remove them all. But if the party delays applying multiple status effects, the monster-in wanting to negate as many status effects as possible-will "Let it pass." However, in ensuring this state where the party uses only one status effect at a time, the party is themselves giving up a valuable resource-the ability to land status effects earlier in a fight.

The resulting dynamic is that players are more hesitant to drop multiple status effects-be they end of encounter, save ends, or even end of next turn-all at once as it applies to limited resources. However, how hesitant players are depends on the monster's own tactics as well, as if players realize that one power won't be suppressed, perhaps two won't be, or three won't be, and so on. Ultimately, we are left with a Price is Right-esque mechanism, whereby players will test the waters until they "bust" and end up negating their hard work-

-or will they? If the party as a whole drops one status effect at a time, it is unlikely that the monster will utilize its cleanser. However, as the fight nears its conclusion-and the monster recognizes what a precarious position it is in-the monster will be less hesitant to expend its cleanser. As thus, players recognize the difference in behavior of monster cleanser usage, and adjust their tactics accordingly.

Of course, this assumes a simple finite usage of cleanser. If the monster treats Cleanser as a rechargable power, then it has an extremely high incentive to use its cleanser when it recharges, as in addition to not removing status effects for the round in question, the creature is effectively "missing" potential cleansers. How missing these cleansers actually affects what status effects it will suffer over the course of the battle, of course, goes back to how the party and the monster play off each other-that is, whether the party "Forces" a usage of cleanser or not. After all, even if it's a rechargable, what monster would risk being stunned for a round in order to negate a -1 penalty to attack? But in making that decision, it is thus accepting that -1 penalty to attack.

Of course, as with any game theory, this only really applies if both sides know what the other side has to gain. A solo monster doesn't know that the enemy party has either one or five stuns ready. And the players don't necessarily know the mechanism by which the monster can use cleanser. The DM, on the other hand, knows both, leaving the DM in a monstrously (pardon the pun) superior position. To make the game "fair" the DM can overcompensate-by letting the monster make deliberately wrong decisions. Or perhaps the DM uses this advanced knowledge to the monster's advantage.

A more cunning DM might even make usage of skill checks as bonus actions in order to determine "what sort of information" a given creature is going to have access to. Can the party bluff the monster into thinking they're holding onto their strongest abilities until after it's dropped its guard? Perhaps an arcana check would reveal to the party the circumstances of the monster's cleanser. If both parties are on equal footing, then game theory can commence-

-however, if someone is misinformed about what the other has to gain, you can generally bet that they'll be at a disadvantage every time.

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