Hello everyone, I’ve been playing quite a bit Alpha 16 unstable lately, and I really like the addition of archers, clerics, and knights, but I’ve been thinking about how to make combat a bit more interesting and dynamic.
Warning: This is longwinded, if you want a TL:DR version, it’s at the bottom. It won’t have nearly the level of explanation though. And no engravings of 16th century warfare.
Before I really get into my suggestion, I’m going to show off my two squads of Hearthlings defending my current village.
Red Squad, or my “Town Guard”
and Green Squad, or my “Town Patrol”
Now, the more observant of you will notice the key differences between those two squads… is absolutely nothing. Why? Well quite simply there is an ideal allotment between archers, clerics, knights, and footmen. I stacked a little more DPS heavy than I probably needed to, with 3 footman and 2 archers each squad, and only 1 knight and 1 cleric, but other than that this is very standard. But that’s why I’m bringing this up at all; the way combat is balanced, it standardizes enemy encounters.
So how to you make combat a bit more nonstandard? Well, lets look a bit more at the current tank-dps-healing model, or the Holy Trinity as I will be referring to it from now on. The Holy Trinity is pretty cool for a variety of reasons in RPGs, mostly because it forces players to adopt a role that they will be participating in a group with. Everyone who has played WoW or pretty much any MMORPG will know exactly what I’m talking about, and even some FPS’s like the older Battlefields have a similar system where if you pick a class, you get certain bonuses or abilities attached to that class. Nobody plays as the Paladin in WoW expecting to be the main damage dealer or healer, and nobody plays as a sniper in a modern shooter with the expectation of clearing buildings, flying a jet, or healing their teammates. So what’s wrong with this? Really nothing in those games, but Stonehearth is a city-building/strategy game inspired by Dwarf Fortress and other games from the genre. You aren’t playing as one character amongst many others, you are essentially the commander of many smaller players, and the mechanics of a city-building/strategy game should reflect the genre. RPG elements are pretty common in pretty much any game nowadays, and I really like the RPG system of leveling up your Hearthlings, and the Holy Trinity is fine as well, but it needs to be expanded upon to have real depth that forces the players to make meaningful choices.
So whats my suggestion? I mean I did categorize this as a suggestion. Well, once again I’m going to post seemingly unrelated pictures then explain myself slowly. That’s just my style and if you want out, the TL:DR is at the bottom.
Here is a castle. With walls, and a moat. Enemies have to cross at the bridge, and then fight their way through the door, in the courtyard, and then all the way up a set of stairs to the top of the keep if they want to capture this fortress.
Here is a fence. It has a gate. Most fences are used to keep the sheep in.
Whats the difference? Well obviously the castle has a door which can take a bit more damage, but tactically in Stonehearth there isn’t much difference between the two. Enemies more or less don’t have a strategy beyond “run at and break the door” and you don’t really have many tools on your belt for fending off a siege besides throwing your Holy Trinity at their Holy Trinity. Why is that bad? This next picture will explain everything, I promise.
“Okay, what the heck does that have to do with Stonehearth?” You’re probably asking. Well, first off, it’s a relatively famous engraving titled “Bad War” made in the 16th century depicting a typical battle during the Italian Wars. These wars were absolutely horrific, largely because there was literally no strategy besides “stick 'em with our pikes before they stick us.” These wars were fought almost entirely by mercenary armies, and their commanders did not care whatsoever if the troops lived or died. A good modern equivalent to that would be trench warfare in WW1, where thousands of men were essentially slaughtered due to poor strategy and the belief that “superior arms” and “espirit de corps” would prevail over equally balanced troops and fortified positions.
You’re probably still wondering “What does that have to do with Stonehearth though?” Well, that’s essentially what throwing a Holy Trinity against another Holy Trinity is. Your troops wittle down the health of the enemy, while they wittle down yours until one side dies. It doesn’t have to be like that, and any good strategist knows that wars of attrition are a bad idea even when you have superior forces. “So how do you fix it?” You are probably wondering.
Weapons. Lots of Weapons.
“Holy cow, that’s a lot of weapons.” Yes it is, and I’d argue way too many. Here’s roughly how many different types of weapons I suggest Stonehearth have.
“But that’s what they already…” Nope, I’m not done yet. Don’t finish that thought. Yes, there are plenty of weapons, but do they fundamentally do anything different? Yes, they have different attack stats. The two-handed greatsword does more damage than the bronze sword, I get it. But do they have different purposes? Does it matter what weapon your Hearthlings use depending on the situation, or given a certain context? Do you even get a choice which weapons your Hearthlings use? No. Not really, and that’s a problem.
You don’t need to be a HEMA expert to know roughly how medieval type weapons work. (If you are wondering what a HEMA is, I linked video of one I like to watch at the bottom) A spear, pike, or halberd is a really great weapon for keeping your enemy at a distance. A mace, maul, bludgeon, or really any type of blunt weapon has the ability to deal damage through most types of armor and specifically were designed to kill heavily armored knights. Greatswords and Zweihanders were actually an anti-pike weapon, designed to break the heads of pikes or at least knock them away so other troops could attack the vulnerable enemy pikemen. Bows and arrows are the ultimate ranged weapon for unarmored foes, but are actually relatively easy to counter with a large shield that can soak up arrows. Speaking of shields, they are really handy when facing pretty much any weapon, but have the disadvantage of 1) usually being heavy and 2) limiting someone’s ability to fight back by requiring the use of an arm. Swords were actually primarily used as a “sidearm,” medieval soldiers only really used their swords when they lost their heavier weapons like their halberd or had to defend themselves up close, sort of like how modern soldiers carry a knife or a pistol just in case their rifle isn’t the appropriate weapon for the situation.
“What’s your point?” Well, what’s really cool about applying the use of real weapons and tactics in a game like Stonehearth is it’s actually more interesting and has a bit more depth than just using the Holy Trinity. If you can equip your troops with spears, and the spears actually have the ability to “push” their enemies back out of reach like they are very capable of in real life, you could set up a chokepoint and have a handful of spearmen hold off much larger or numerous foes. You could have a soldier equipped with a mace to deal with the armored foes in the enemy group, and have your archers target the lightly equipped enemy clerics to deny them the advantage of battlefield healing. Knights could still play the tank role, archers can be more DPS and footmen be primarily set for damage, but giving their weapons a unique “feel” and abilities to them would be much more interesting than just having them do size-appropriate amounts of damage. It actually gives weapons context, making certain weapons and troops good in certain situations and adds a whole layer of depth beyond the Holy Trinity.
It’s not just weapons that need to be re-balanced. Armor and helmets should get a gloss over as well. Leather armor is only going to really protect you from…uh not really much but allows an archer to do the full range of motion in video game logic. In real life chainmail is the best armor for your average soldier; flexible and light enough for movement but able to prevent a sword from penetrating in most cases and would serve as the best “go-to” when you are unsure what kind of armor to equip a soldier in before battle. Heavy plate armor, like what you think of a “knight” wearing, was actually normally worn by people who didn’t also have a shield, because whats the point of wearing armor if you are carrying a shield and vice-versa. Big helmets had the advantage of protecting your head, but also greatly restricted vision and made fighting much more chaotic. Making Hearthlings wearing full head-covering helmets have a much shorter Line of Sight could be a very interesting mechanic that makes the player consider all their options and different scenarios.
Heavy types of armor didn’t really slow down their users so much as wear them out faster (draining stamina, essentially), and that’s something most video games tend to not really go into detail about. I don’t blame them, but it actually puts you in a precarious situation as a commander; “Do I put my guys in heavy armor so they can take more damage, or do I let them wear lighter armor and have them put more of their energy into the fight?” That decision would be tough one, and there’s not really a good answer without context. Using my wall example from earlier, a good commander would equip his attackers in heavy armor to counter the hail of arrows, while the defenders would fight best in lighter armor so they fire more arrows and keep up their stamina longer as the enemy approached.
Oh yeah, one more thing. This combat system works both ways. Your enemies would not only know the rules, but in a campaign would adapt to whatever your strategy is. If I fought you once, and you had 20 archers who just mowed me down, I promise I’m not coming back until my guys have shields, heavy armor, and some supporting archers to pick your guys off, and in multiplayer games there could be situations where a losing player takes advantage of his enemy’s failure to adapt and turns the tide of a battle.
Of course, this isn’t a super easy suggestion to integrate into the game. I’m not a coder, but what I’ve described would take a ton of scripts (is that even the right term?) and would not be super easy nor very quick. It’d probably take more animations for the weapon abilities, and there would have be a UI for you to choose what weapon/armor a particular Hearthling would use. It’d have to be balanced, and the game itself would have to include some sort of way to teach the players the mechanics I’m describing. The AI for enemy troops would be pretty crazy and would definitely be a monster in of itself. Every minute spent coding this kind of stuff would be a minute not spent creating whatever awesome other things they have planned in the future, I completely understand that and I’m by no means suggesting Team Radiant drop whatever they have planned for my idea. It’s easy to be an armchair quarterback, and I’m definitely guilty as charged in this situation, but I’m fairly confident my idea is something Team Radiant could do. Team Radiant has done an awesome job throughout the entire development process and I’m very glad I picked a winner for the only game I ever contributed to on Kickstarter. If they wanted to implement mechanics like these into the combat, they definitely could in the long run.
*** By the way, I’m not suggesting Stonehearth do away with the progression of materials and weapons. Clearly, a steel longsword is a better weapon in almost any situation/context over a bronze shortsword. I’d actually suggest you separate your weapons into “groups” like “Spears, Shortswords, Longswords, etc” and then attach multiple materials to them. It’d be really cool if you could have a bronze spear until you get enough iron or a decent blacksmith than can make a steel one. Even having your troops require a certain level to use the objectively better equipment is fine, but please make sure there isn’t just one “best weapon” for every class. That’s boring and doesn’t have too much depth.
Alright, so you’ve made it past the several walls of texts, random pictures, and anecdotes about medieval weaponry and 16th Century warfare. Or you skipped straight here, whatever. Essentially my suggestion is to have every type of weapon have a specific role. Spears would be good for keeping your enemy at bay and could defend a chokepoint by having an ability to “push” enemy back, greatswords would be good at countering spears, while all blunt weapons (maces, mauls, hammers, etc) would be good for armor penetration. Essentially every type of weapon would be given a purpose, and as the commander of your Hearthlings, you’d have to make a decision on how to equip them and what tactics to use. That’s really the best way to sum it up; if you want more info, please see the rest of the post.
Of course, if you have any ideas, thoughts, comments or related suggestions, I’d love to hear them!
***I promised I’d link a video of what a HEMA is. Here’s that HEMA expert I like watching on YouTube. If you are even relatively interested in medieval history or weapons in general, I highly recommend Matt.