Designing Judgement Heroes
Posted on May 31 2018
A lot of people ask me how Judgement came about and what is involved designing a table-top miniatures game. It is not a short answer, and one for another day perhaps, however in this blog post I wanted to discuss how the Judgement heroes themselves are created. Before I dive into that topic, I feel it is important to set some context, take a step back, and look at the environment from which Judgement heroes are made.
The most important aspect of designing characters, for any game, is having a solid core rules system to start with. Every character, or unit, will inherit a base set of mechanics, and the more solid that is, the easier it is to flesh them out into unique heroes in their own right. With Judgement, getting the core rules rock solid, and dynamic, was the cornerstone of everything we did from the beginning. The combat system, the Fate and Soul mechanics, hero activations, right down to the terrain rules, all were meticulously designed to provide a rich canvas from which heroes could be born. A lot of games that struggle with balance or playability, when releasing new characters or units, often start with a poor core rule set. That base is so important and unfortunately, from my experience, often overlooked by game designers. The challenge for Judgement's creators was to analyse the MOBA genre, which we were basing the game on, taking the elements we liked, discarding the elements we did not like so much, and then casting the table-top lens over it all to determine what would, and wouldn't, translate well to a miniatures game.
When designing a brand new Judgement hero, we will start with choosing the race, sex and class we want to fill. Note that these do change sometimes as the hero comes to life however we normally try to stick to our initial targets. The race and class provide a lot of baseline statistics for the hero, such as their MOV, AGI and RES, their starting health, as well as their Soul Harvest ability. The race and class can also provide one or two Innate Abilities, for example, Pathfinder for Elves. At this point we will begin to think about the theme for the hero and potentially adjust these racial traits if we want to move in a slightly different direction, RES 0 at level 1 for Brok, AGI 6 for Skye, and no Pathfinder for Saiyin, are all examples of this.
Once the base of the hero is designed, the fun part begins of fleshing it out with innate abilities, combat manoeuvres and active abilities. As a design team, we have a backlog library of cool abilities to choose from, which enables us to get a hero from base to play test pretty quickly. The library is a collection of things we see in various places, MOBAs, role playing games, trading card games and movies, it is amazing where we get inspiration for new hero abilities. Some abilities translate to the table-top well, and others don't, however it is important that we continually add abilities to the library whenever we think of them to avoid having to force inspiration when we are actually in the middle of hero design. We normally design a playable version of the hero at level 1, with perhaps an ability or two pencilled in for levels 2 & 3, however getting it to work at level 1 is the priority.
With a playable hero, we then throw ourselves into play test mode. This comprises a series of games alongside a random selection of heroes and maps. We play games without pick & ban initially, trying out the new hero alongside existing ones that share some kind of synergy. Then we introduce pick & ban, making the new hero un-bannable. During these games we consider whether either of us would in fact ban the hero if given the chance, because it is important at this early stage to gauge whether a hero is over or under powered. Another thing for us to consider is the hero in the context of both 3v3 and 5v5 games, because as you all know, all Judgement heroes are available in both formats. We acknowledge, by design, that some heroes work better in a certain format than others, however we always ensure a hero is competitive, regardless of the size of the game.
At this stage we start to introduce level 2 and 3 abilities, which is an opportunity to raise the competitiveness of a hero, or tone it down if they are a strong level 1 character. Another thing we consider, when assigning level 2 & 3 abilities, is the number of early (good at level 1), mid (strong level 2 ability) and late game (strong level 3 ability) heroes we already have in the range. An example of a strong early game hero is Bastian, where a strong late game hero is Thrommel. Some of the fate hungry heroes, like Skye and Zaron, are strong late game simply due to the fact there is normally a lot more fate to spend later in the game, once both players have picked up a few Souls. Hopefully you are starting to get a picture of just how much goes into designing a Judgement hero, there is a lot to consider, however releasing a new hero is extremely rewarding, especially once you see players theory-crafting how they will fit them into their Warbands.
In addition to the core design team, we rely on a solid play test group who know the game well enough to thrash out a new hero under tournament level conditions. Brutal, honest feedback is essential at this point, to make sure nothing nasty slips through the cracks, however on the occasion where something OP does get through, the pick & ban phase becomes a natural composition restrictor until we get the chance to scale things back via our quarterly errata. Once we get through the more broader play test phase, the hero is ready for release. We currently have 28 heroes available in the game, and once our wave 2 Kickstarter ships, we look forward to reverting to the more natural release cycle of 1-2 heroes per quarter. Having no factions in Judgement provides limitless possibilities to where we can go with our hero design, just like the MOBA video games out there. The future for Judgement is so exciting, and we are all pumped to get the wave 2 miniatures out there into our player’s hands.