Take a chance on me.

My Captain in Lord of the Rings Online has an ability called Light of Elendil which has the following as part of its description:

This melee attack has an increased chance to critical and inspires your fellows to invoke the Light of Elendil.
Your attack applies a buff to your fellowship that has a chance of invoking the Light of Elendil.

Essentially the Light of Elendil skill is a normal attack which has a chance to do critical damage, and applies a buff to yourself and your fellows for a short while which gives each of you a chance to apply the Light of Elendil damage-over-time effect to an enemy any time you damage them.

My Captain has another ability called Improved Defensive Strike which has the following as part of its description:

When attacking an opponent under the effect of the Light of Elendil you have a 25% chance of restoring some of your Power.

So if I’ve attacked an enemy with Light of Elendil and the chance to miss has not occurred, and I’ve made another attack of any sort and the chance to apply the debuff effect has occurred, and I’ve made yet another attack with Improved Defensive Strike then there’s a chance that I’ll restore some power.

Are we starting to lean a little too heavily on the Kismet Crutch in MMOs, perchance?

8 thoughts on “Take a chance on me.

  1. Melmoth Post author

    Oh dear, yes. It’s one of those terribly frustrating situations where the idea for the set is thematically brilliant: the good-hearted gambling rogue who takes chances and wins big. The problem, to my mind, stems from the fact that in most fantasy stories, and certainly from the player’s point of view in LotRO, the rogue, although appearing to take risks, should always win big in the end.

    In real life, Lady RNG isn’t quite so kind, as I’m sure many a Burglar playing person, such as your good self, is well aware.

    I suppose then it comes down to whether the occasional ‘big win’ is good enough to offset the losses. If it isn’t, then the player of the Burglar is frustrated, and if it is, then all the other players are frustrated at the Burglar’s seeming overpoweredness.

    I imagine it is a nightmare thing to try to balance on the part of the developer, but then so is chance in general, is it not? It’s not even the actual chance that they must balance, but the perceived level of chance that the players feel they are experiencing. Just look at all the lengthy forum posts and theorycrafting with regards to the proc on the Shaman’s Windfury Weapon enchantment in World of Warcraft, for example (and I’m sure there are many other, perhaps better examples, but this is one I am intimately familiar with).

    The problem with relying on chance and randomness in MMOs to any great extent is that, from an external point of view, it is the perception of chance that matters to players, not the correctness of the algorithm itself. Something that is perfectly random may very well appear unfair to an external observer, and therefore they may believe that the randomness that they are observing is not, in fact, random at all. This may lead developers to add bias to their system in order to produce a ‘more fair’ appearance to the randomness, which of course means that the system is no longer genuinely random (or as close an approximation as we can get in computing) and therefore the perceived randomness becomes a deceived randomness, at which point, one has to ask oneself: should I be using something other than chance as a game mechanic in this instance?

  2. Docholiday

    From the Captain side (I’ve barely played a burglar) this combination doesn’t really work all that much in solo play. I notice it occasionally because of the shiny blue ring but unless I’m fighting lots of sigs or elites it is hard for something to stay alive enough to make a difference. I haven’t done too many skirmishes on my captain, but I’d imagine it might be a bit more prevalent there, if you have a melee soldier.

    In groups and raids it actually works quite often as you have 6 times the chance of applying that proc on the mob so it does actually happen pretty regularly. Also, the mobs survive much longer so you have ample opportunity for Defensive Strikes.

  3. Brian 'Psychochild' Green

    As a game designer, I completely agree. I am very careful about how I use random numbers and really get irritated when other game designers abuse them to no good end. Perhaps the best example in LotRO is the Champion corruption removal skill: it’s 3 attacks with a 25% chance to remove a corruption each strike. To a layperson, this can seem like a pretty good chance, and you could remove three corruptions! In reality, you have as much chance of removing 1 corruption as removing none (a bit over 42% chance each). Your chance to remove 3 corruptions? 1.5%

    So, yeah, random numbers need to be used carefully. I think it’s better to give a modifier rather than (or in addition to) a random chance. Instead of giving a 10% chance to avoid an attack, give a 10% reduction in damage. Works out about the same, but one doesn’t rely on the fickle RNG.

  4. Melmoth Post author

    @Docholiday: It’s just a curious thing to me because it must take a while to implement and balance all the factors for an ability that I seem to spend my whole time waiting for and rarely ever see when solo (and even when I do, the amount of power returned appears unimpressive), and that I never notice when grouped because I’m too busy watching the field of battle/fellowship statuses/cooldowns/etc. It seems to me as though it’s one of those effects that would arouse those people who like to plot combat probabilities in spreadsheets, but for the average player it would be another curiosity that rarely seems to come into play.

    @Stabs: I think chance is definitely a useful mechanic in moderation, but sometimes a straight boost is more appropriate: I’d rather go to a petrol station that offered 5% extra fuel consistently than one that offered a chance at 20% more fuel, but an equal chance that it will pump out custard instead.

    @Brian ‘Psychochild’ Green: I think chance has its uses, it’s the seeming over reliance on it that worries me a bit. It’s becoming a de facto method of trying to obfuscate game mechanics, or to make things appear more powerful than they actually are at first glance, as evidenced quite nicely by your example. I think chance is best put to use by providing unpredictability to combat, such that a player can’t entirely plan their rotation of combat moves.

    For example: a class that, when it uses any of its attacks, adds one of four colours randomly to a fellowship-manoeuvre-like wheel on the UI. The player can then use a trigger ability to activate a beneficial/damaging buff/debuff based on the colour stored. If they instead continue to attack they will add another colour to the wheel, if it’s the same colour as before then a two-stack is created and the buff/debuff triggered is increased in power, and if it’s a different colour then the trigger ability will change to a different buff/debuff. As they continue to attack and not use their trigger ability, they will continue to add colours to the wheel and open new buffs/debuffs or more powerful versions of the current buff/debuff; however, if they get three of one colour stack then that stack is reset back to zero. Thus there is randomness, some strategy, and an element of considered risk. The trick, I feel, is to make this a flavour for the class, but not such that the class is dependant on it, because you don’t want players who are constantly frustrated that they can’t activate the essential RGBY buff that all groups require to be able to raid. It needs to be an exciting, woo-hoo moment, without feeling essential to all play. I think this is as much down to managing expectations as anything: fellowship manoeuvres are a good example of this. It is my impression that outside of the top-end raids these are just exciting events that can potentially turn the tide of a battle, but are rarely depended upon, or their absence blamed for the group’s failure to defeat a difficult encounter.

    The mechanic could also be expanded such that the player has the ability to ‘jolt the pinball machine’: there could be an attack, for example, that will, in addition to its standard damage, take a random two-stack of colour and move one of those to a random other colour on the UI wheel.

    I think chance is best used when the player is actively involved in the choice of whether to gamble further, but it also needs to be something that the class doesn’t rely on exclusively to operate, certainly not in MMOs as they currently stand, at least, where combat can be boiled down to optimal rotations of button presses for maximum efficiency and operation.

  5. Tesh

    “Instead of giving a 10% chance to avoid an attack, give a 10% reduction in damage. Works out about the same, but one doesn’t rely on the fickle RNG.”

    Although, the difference between the two is only evened out over time. It’s a bit like the difference between burst damage and damage over time. Fighting a huge baddie that takes forever allows the two to be even, but fighting a series of smaller critters, a lucky “proc” can change things significantly in the short term.

    Of course, burst damage/healing and DoT/HoT is highly controlled by the player. Chance of success is not, and that’s the sticking point for me. If I had control over the chance, I’d like it far more. Whether that means converting to the 10% damage reduction (preferable) or giving a “Use trigger” that can be used to dodge the next attack but won’t work until nine more have been taken (high control)… well, I’d still prefer either over random chance.

    Almost every time I get to make a CHOICE in my gaming, rather than relying on the fickle RNG, I’m happier. Then again, I strongly prefer my games to involve much more skill/strategy/tactics than time investment or RNG luck.

  6. Khaz

    @Tesh – “Almost every time I get to make a CHOICE in my gaming, rather than relying on the fickle RNG, I’m happier. Then again, I strongly prefer my games to involve much more skill/strategy/tactics than time investment or RNG luck.”

    Then you do/would hate the Legendary item system in Lotro, it is the epitome of time investment AND RNG.

    Turbine obviously love mechanics with a small chance of a big payoff, it is very common throughout their game. In some situations it is fine, but when applied to a key mechanic like LI’s, it is the reason I have stopped playing at the end-game.
    Now I just have fun in the festivals, and playing a Loremaster pacifist – who is lvl23 without having hurt a single living creature

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