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Baldur

Baldur's Advanced Boss Style Guide (WIP)

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This will be a series of a couple of posts, in which I am going to try and impart the lessons I have learned from playing MMO's, Table-Top RPGs, SAO-RPG through several incarnations, and through designing or helping design SAO-RPG encounters. I am not creative when it comes to bosses. I rely on others to come up with ideas, but I have been around the block a couple of times when it comes to systems, and so I have a lot of perspective and lessons learned. I used to main a Tank character in several MMO's, and one thing you need to be a good tank in an MMO, is to know the ins and outs of a boss fight, because you are the conductor for the raid. As a tank, you need to know the boss more than anyone else, because it's YOUR job to deal with whatever the boss throws out. In the final post of this, I am going to make some recommendations for staff on skills that can be added to try and make more options for both boss design AND for player skills. First, here's a preamble and glossary.

This is going to be designed for the new single turn party design. In this case, the boss and the players post an equal number of times, and players can post in any order.

Glossary of terms:

Turn/Player Turn: This is a single player's post. Such as when I post in a boss fight, I am taking my turn.

Round/Combat Round: This is a full rotation. Meaning that ALL of the players and the boss, have posted for that round.

Cleave: A cleave attack is a mechanic where more than one target is hit. In my examples, the boss will target the main tank (highest Hate), and then cleave additional targets. This is different from an AoE, since the main target will take the most damage, and cleave targets will take a lesser amount.

Rage/Enrage: Typically bosses have a rage counter. That is, a number of turns in which the boss must be defeated by, or else they will become enraged. When they are enraged, their damage spikes, and they sometimes gain extra powers. Typically, once a boss is enraged, the fight becomes unwinnable unless you are right on the edge of victory. You may have one more turn against it before it starts killing people. This prevents a small group of players from being able to take on a boss, because their damage output isn't enough to end the fight before it becomes enraged.

Enrage Timer: How many combat turns can go by before the boss enrages. You could, and should, tie this to the number of parties. Perhaps if there's only 1 party, the boss enrage timer could be 3 rounds. This means a party could get in there, see what the boss does, then get out before it gets too hairy. If 2 parties is the minimum you want players to be able to raid the boss, then you can bump the enrage timer up to 6 or 7 or however many rounds you anticipate the boss fight taking, and then just add or subtract rounds based on how many parties and players there are. This puts the players up against a wall, and also means they need to come more prepared, or be prepared to escape the boss room.

Field Effect: A field effect is a unique condition for the boss fight arena. This could be buffs, or debuffs, or alterations to how the game works. Some good recent examples are, a field effect which causes sword arts to have a 1 round cooldown. Or for the low level event, i makes the weaker sword arts not cost energy, so that low level players can participate. Other field effects could debuff players, make it so that teleport crystals don't work in the boss room, or heal crystals don't work. They could provide a damage over time (DoT) effect on players in the room due to fire or heat, etc..

Area of Effect (AoE) attack: This is a bit different for bosses than players. Players are (currently) limited to up to 4 targets with an AoE attack. Bosses are not. However, I line should be drawn between a standard boss AoE attack, and an environmental effect attack.

Environmental effect/attack: This is an attack which affects -everyone- in the raid/room. This could be something like a lightning storm, a the floor turning into lava, a giant whirlwind taking up the entire room. It is an "unavoidable" effect that hits everyone. These should be used sparingly. They are typically different from Field Effects because they are triggered and are usually more severe.

Trigger A trigger is paired with something else, like an attack, but basically a trigger is what causes a response. For example: Bialas had a trigger, that when he was hit by a bleed attack, his unicorn blood provided him with a heal. A boss could have a trigger based on % of health lost, or dropping from one HP bar to another. It could have a trigger that a player hits it with a stun, or it could have a trigger that happens when it hits a player with a stun. Triggers aren't necessarily reactive. You could have a trigger that when the player with highest hate is stunned, it switches targets to the player with the second highest hate. Or a trigger that when the boss scores a critical hit against a player, it's next attack is an AoE. A Trigger could be any event that happens, that causes the boss to perform a follow-up action.

Triggered Attack: This is the then clause of the IF THEN statement for a Trigger. If the boss gets stunned, then it's next attack is an AoE. If the boss crits on a player, then it heals 1k HP. If the boss loses a health bar, then it gains this NEW attack pattern.

Boss Phase: This cause be caused by a trigger, or by a health %. Typically, I would recommend that for each health bar a boss has, it has a different phase. This doesn't have to be a "this isn't even my final form!" trope, but represents the boss changing strategy. Perhaps in phase 1 the boss has a mix of mild offensive and mild defensive abilities. Phase 2, the boss is growing desperate so it ditches its defensive abilities for more offensive ones. In phase 3, the boss is up against a corner, and goes crazy. It's almost dead, so it's starts throwing out more wild, AoE attacks. They hit harder, but have a lower chance to hit. Or maybe it becomes more evasive, it gives up its AoE attack, and does more devastating single target attacks, but it's now much harder to hit. Becoming Enraged is also a boss phase.

The boss mob/The boss: In SAO, it is canon that the main objective of the raid is called "The [something]" Asterious The Minotaur King, Ilfang, The Kobold Lord. The THE is important as it designates the true enemy of the fight, and has often been used to reveal that the fight isn't going to be what it seems. Such as in the Asterious fight, you started with 2 other sub bosses, and they had to be defeated before Asterious showed up. They realized this was a thing, because neither of the other two had a "The" suffex to their names.

Mob: there is a lot of debate over the origin of the term "mob" but in the context of an MMO, a mob is a monster/enemy NPC. It's something you fight.

Adds: Adds, in the context of an MMO, especially for a boss fight, are additional combatant mobs/monsters. In the canon, Ilfang the Kobold Lord called in adds, lesser kobolds, to harass the players. These adds have their own mechanics and their own hate table.

Hate/Aggro/Threat: Hate is the term that SAO uses, but aggro and threat are terms more familiar with MMO players. Aggro is usually used as a verb, and I may use them interchangeably without meaning to in this style guide. If someone gains aggro, it means that they have become high enough in hate to make the boss attack them. This usually happens when a DPS gets more hate than the Tank, and draws aggro, making the boss target them instead of the tank. This is generally regarded as a bad move. Hate/Threat is something that you build, either by attacking the boss, or using abilities that specifically do this.

First Hit: This is going to come up in my suggestions, but in most games, there is a Hate Bonus, for being the first to attack the boss. Typically you want this to be your Tank, so that he gets the hate bonus and the boss attacks him.

Telegraph: A telegraph is a phrase, or description, or a key in the boss post that lets observant players know what's coming next. I will use an example in my boss post, but the intent is that players will have to look out for things. They won't get them up front, they'll have to learn them. An example might be "the boss's eyes glow red with rage" which means next post, unless interrupted, the boss is going to do an AoE Attack. The first time this happens, the players won't know what the red eyes mean. The second time, they might have a guess. The third time, maybe it's confirmed for them. Then each time after that, the players will see the red eyes and prepare. Maybe the damage for the AoE is really high, and someone is low on HP. That might mean someone forgoes their action to heal a comrade, or they use a Safeguard potion mid fight, or that players party all use their healing crystal. Maybe Red eyes means the boss is going to stun the tank, so that turn, the Tank uses their Parry move to avoid being stunned, instead of sharpening or healing or energizing.

(This post is a work in progress, and I will add terms to it as I use them in examples below.


Turn based combat fundamental:

There is one thing I would like to see go away, narratively and mechanically. And that is this idea that we're taking turns fighting the boss. It was more severe before, when we had a strict turn post order. Players would literally RP walking up to the boss, doing their attack, and then going back to the line to high five the next player to fight the boss, and that's now how this is supposed to work. Now because this is turn based combat, everyone takes a turn. That's just nature of the medium. However, narratively speaking this is how it works.

Typically, a single round is considered to be about 6 seconds. This is an arbitrary number, but that's because 10 rounds is 60 seconds, and that was just an easy way to math it out. This is typical in ALL table top turn based systems. It's not that each Baldur's turn is 6 seconds, then Calrex's turn is 6 seconds. They're the same six seconds. Whoever goes first was just faster to react than the other players. In table top, if you want to talk in combat, you're supposed to keep it short, because each turn is only 6 seconds long.

I make an emphasis of this, because the boss attack, and the player attacks are supposed to be going on at the same time. The boss isn't waiting for all of these players to attack it before attacking them back, they're happening simultaneously. There just happen to be 12-24 players attacking a single creature at the same time. The players never stop attacking to give someone else a turn, they keep fighting the boss, and the boss keeps swinging at the players. Turn based combat is just a way to organize that in a coherent manner.

So while the boss will post, and then 24 players will take their turn posting. Those actions happen at the same time, which hopefully the boss post will unify all of those actions together into a consistent narrative.

Edited by Baldur

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How rounds work:

In the single round design, the boss will post once. Then everyone else will post, in whatever order they want to. Once the time is up, the boss will post. There are several ways you can adjust this based on how you want to run boss fights, but this will cut down on the number of times staff have to post as the boss, and drastically increase the number of times players will post in a boss fight, as well as decrease the amount of time between posts. If the window between boss posts is 72 hours, that means you will be posting once every 3 days. Right now, if we have 3 parties, you're talking about posting once every 9 days, depending on how quickly staff can get their post up. As you can see, that means boss fights could go 3 times as fast, or more than likely, just have a lot more rounds and hopefully more interesting combat. There are a lot of things you can't do when a fight normally maxes out at 5 or 6 rounds, since that represents 2 months, instead of 5 or 6 rounds representing 2 or 3 weeks.

Baldur's suggestion: If we're attempting to make mechanics imitate the experience, here is what I would love to see happen.

In the scouting thread, after clearing the Field boss, the players open the boss room. They can stop there, or they can scout the boss as well. If they choose to engage the boss, the boss has a very short Enrage timer. Ideally, the fight would only go 1 or 2 rounds before the party has to retreat. This lets the scout party get a very basic idea of what the boss is capable off, and report that in the meeting. The boss should be designed in such a way that no single party could ever hope to have energy damage or energy or HP to survive more than a round or two of solo combat with the boss before it's enrage timer triggers and it gets unwinnable.

Note: this will be easier once the level cap is in effect.

When the boss fight proper comes along, I would make the first round work differently.

Players would be arrayed into multiple parties. Let's use 3 for our example.

Party 1 is the party to engage the boss. They initiate the fight, and get the first hit bonus on the boss. I would recommend something like, the first person to hit the boss (including howl) get's +3 hate. Everyone else in the party gets +2 hate regardless, hit or miss, or sharpen. This would also let a tank attack as his opening move, rather than being forced to Howl/Focus Howl as they currently are.

After Party 1 goes, then the boss goes.

I do this for 2 reasons. 1: this is more realistic. The boss has an arrgo range, and once you cross it, it starts to attack anyone. In the very beginning of a fight, hate is wild, since no one has hit the boss yet. This vanguard is the most dangerous place to be. By separating out party 1 and the boss' first action, you're emulating the fact that they are occurring almost at the same time. This is the players on the leading edge attacking the boss, and this is the boss responding instantly to the first attacks.

After the boss attacks party 1, then everyone gets to go, including party #1 again. This keeps turn parity, the idea that the boss and players have the same number of actions. Yes, this means party #1 gets to attack the boss 1 more time than everyone else, but it also means when the boss takes its first actions, it choses all its targets just from party #1. This will immediately put ALL members of party #1 in more danger than anyone else. Even the DPS and healer who probably won't be targets for the rest of the fight. ESPECIALLY if the boss cleaves, or uses an AoE attack as its opener.

You could do the standard ALL players post, then the boss posts, then all the players post, then the boss posts. But I think both dramatically, narratively, and mechanically. this works the best. After this first turn, the then returns to normal, so it would go something like this.

Party 1: Attacks and pulls the boss
Boss: Attacks party 1
Party 1-3 post
Boss attacks all parties
Party 1-3 post
Boss attacks all parties

etc... until the end of the fight.

Post order within a round should still matter

The boss can be designed in such a way that multiple tanks, or having a tank for each party, is still going to be desirable. There are a LOT of ways this can be done, but needs to be supported by the mechanics. Here are some of the ways you can make this matter.

First Hit Hate Bonus: Make the first player of each party get a hate bonus. This will encourage each party to not only HAVE a tank, but to let the tank engage first, which is an essential strategy in any MMO.

Party Hate: This can be handled in several different ways for the sake of making staff's life easier. But one option is to use party hate as a sort of positional reference. The party with the most combined hate is the party that the boss faces. The other parties are considered flanking. That's really meaningless unless you wanted to make boss fights more complex (such as flanking parties getting a damage or accuracy bonus). This works well if you want to have a party of tough SOBs tanking the boss, and having the flanking parties of DPS attacking the boss. Then your boss will primarily target/cleave/AoE the highest hate party, and only certain attacks would hit the flanking party. 

Party hate could also be used for determining targets. Maybe the boss has an ability that targets the party with the highest hate, and not just the player with the highest hate. This wouldn't be for a standard attack, but could be used for a special move. It would also (early in the fight) predispose the boss to attacking the vanguard. It all depends on how you want the boss fight to flow.

Party hate can still be used for determining boss actions. Just as in the old system, bosses acted against each party, you can do that here. Party hate could be used to determine primary, secondary, and tertiary targets, instead of just the individual tank's hate. This would make each party having a tank important without having to keep up with quite so many numbers.

Parties still affect each other most: limiting certain effects to your party (Such as AoE Healing) also means that post order can be important for buffing or healing. Posting last means you can reap the benefits of buffs, or other players applying status effects which could help you, getting a chance to survey the land, and going first would give you initiative to buff or set-up others.

Organization:

The biggest challenge of doing the fight like this, is organization. I would recommend that parties only keep up with each other. So we wouldn't have ONE spoiler tag with EVERYONE's stats. I would suggest that Party 1 keep up with Party 1's stats. Party 2 with Party 2's stats, etc... And then have a little summary. So it would look something like this:

Party 1 Hate: 11

Spoiler

Party 
[7] Shield: 1246/1865 HP | 116/152 EN | 1 DMG | 261 MIT | 0 ACC | -1 EVA | 93 BH | 99 Def. DMG | 9-10/18 Envenom(D) [Antidote 3/3]
[1] Ruby: 776/1275 HP | 57/114 EN | 20 DMG | 0 MIT | 5 ACC | 5 EVA | 9-10 Para
[0] Beat: 881/1140 HP | 66/102 EN | 28 DMG | 4 Holy | 147 MIT | 7 ACC | 2(-1)=1 EVA [Antidote 1/3]  Sharpness [1/2]
[2] Hirru: 774/1265 HP | 66/110 EN | 17 DMG | 107 MIT | 5 ACC | 1 EVA | 30 THN [Bleed (24) 1/2]
[1] Baldur: 1033/1405 HP | 60/112 EN | 27 DMG | 114 MIT | 5 ACC | 5 EVA | 70 BH | 9-10 Para | 9-10/16 Venom


Each party would only keep track of their own stats. This means that you won't have as much of an issue with multiple people posting placeholders and holding everyone up, and parties would just need to coordinate with themselves. Then, once staff is ready to post for the boss, instead of going to the last player, they would go to the last player from each party (thus having the "Party 1 Hate: 11" up stop, so staff can quickly identify the last person from each party.

They would then copy and paste a master list in the boss post just like they currently do.

This would keep the record-keeping clean, and hopefully encourage raid parties to organize and figure out a post order, and keep each other accountable, without spamming tags by 24 people every post.

Edited by Baldur

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Triggers and programming the boss

This would be easier if I had a boss concept to run with, so I'm going to come up with one on the spot, and try to show you how I would math it out. Please note, I'm not calculating damage numbers. I'm making the numbers up. The numbers don't matter. They would need to be balanced to whatever floor the boss is on. I'm just trying to show low, medium, and high damage attacks conceptually.

The Triggers I typically like to use are the following.

Boss Rolls a BD 10: Bonus damage
Boss drops 1 health bar: Special move
Boss recovers from a stun/paralyze: Special move
 

You can also do longer triggers.

Boss drops 1 health bar: Uses an AoE attack, and summons adds

I did this in the tesseleth fight. When the boss dropped a health bar, it would do a special attack, and then it would summon adds and jump to the ceiling where it couldn't be attacked for one round. But you also want to set up the standard rotation. I'm going to make the Azure Samurai boss, just so I can have an easy concept to run with.

I have underlined the telegraphs.


The Azure Samurai
4 Health Bars (Each health bar approximately 2,000 HP)
Phase 1: Cocky
Phase 2: Serious
Phase 3: Determined
Phase 4: Panicked

Standard Attack Order: (Attacks always go in this order. If something interrupts the order, it starts over)

Slash: The Azure Samurai slashes his blade horizontally, hitting the 3 players with the highest hate. Deals damage based on hate order, from highest to lowest. 500/300/300
Slash Attack Text: "The Azure Samurai's blade gleams with a wicked light as he slashes his blade sideways in a tight cut through [Player 1], [Player 2], and [Player 3]. The blue light of his sword art hanging in the air as the blade raises high for a follow up attack."
Chop: The Azure Samurai follows up his slash attack with a vertical chop, hitting the player with the highest hate and then follows up with a kick, stunning said player. Deals 500 damage.
Chop Attack Text: "The blue armored Samurai yokai brings his blade down on [Player 1] with a devastating slash, splitting the avatar in half and burying the sword into the ground below him, the force of the blow pushing the other players away from him as the ground beneath breaks. The warrior abandons his blade and follows up with a crescent kick, driving [player 1] into the ground and stunning him. The Samurai grabs his blade and looks around at all the other players as he pulls the blade from the ground"
Spin: The Azure Samurai follows up his Chop with a spinning slash, hitting all players who have at least 2 hate. 
Spin Attack Text: "The Azure Samurai rips the blade out of the ground and pivots, the sword suddenly spinning with the samurai as the flash of blue light extends out from the man and his blade, cutting through all the warriors around him."

Opening Move: Battoujutsu

When first engaged, The Azure Samurai will use his devastating Battoujutsu attack. This attack targets an entire first party. He follows it up wish the Standard Attack Order.

Attack text:

The azure Samurai smirks at the oncoming party and crouches down, pausing only for a moment with his hand on the sword before his form blurs, and a streak of blue light streaks through the party, faster than any eye can follow only to appear behind them as he reseathes this sword. Only then does the blade light of his sword cut through all the players of the first party, followed by a crash of thunder as their HP bars begin to drop from the damage.

Attack Effect: AoE versus first party (or party with highest hate). Deals 500 Damage. Auto-hit for opening only, if used again, roll BD vs EVA.

Trigger: Hit by a stun attack

When The Azure Samurai is hit by a stun attack, he gets stunned. However, upon awakening from the stun, he activates his Samurai Spirit skill.

Samurai Spirit

Field AoE: When Samurai Spirit is activated, The Azure Samurai unleashed an AoE attack against all players in the entire boss room. This attack blows everyone back away from the boss, and causes them to lose energy equal to the highest hate player in their party x2. So if the tank has 6 hate, all players in that party lose 12 energy.

Edited by Baldur

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