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RPGWatch Forums » Games » Indie RPG » Tactica: Maiden of Faith » Optimal Size of a RPG party

Default Optimal Size of a RPG party

December 28th, 2012, 08:07
Four to six is optimal to me. Less than 4 makes it too simplistic for a party-based game. More than 6 and it starts to feel less like an RPG and more like a strategy game.
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December 28th, 2012, 08:08
IMO it depends alot how much micromangement is possible or necessary. Lets take a look at a standard-character in many Games, the Fighter:

In the Goldbox Games they could attack with their Melee-Weapon, shoot with their ranged Weapon, move around, use an Item and most importantly block the way to the weaker party-members, if the terrain allowed it (i.e. small corridors) and you positioned them that way. In this Expample I call them Guards, they probably wear heavy Armor, big Shields and Poleweapons.

A Fighter in a modern Game has usually different options like Bullrush, Power-Attack, Berserkermode, Taunting, Hadoken-Spiritual-Attack, and whatnot. This are interesting features - lets call this guy Champion; he would probably use a twohanded Sword, a Katana - probably with a Wakizashi at the same time - or some exotic two-bladed thingie and wear light to medium Armor. He also probably needs a Bandoleer full of Healing-Potions…

The Job of the Guards would be to protect the non-combatents of the party, the Champion would have to do some hero-stuff amidst the enemy ranks. You put the Guards to strategic Positions and are done with them but you need to micromanage the Champion.

A Caster might be a universal Caster that can cast anything from healing, to crowd-control to damage-spells like the Dragonage Mages, or highly specialized like in this eastern games - a Thaumaturge could only cast some Fireballs and Lightning, a druid might use a rain-spell to turn an area to mud or summon some animals, a Psion might use only charmspells or confusion-type spells and a healer could only heal… you would use this guys only when necessary and would try to keep them out of danger the rest of the time.

If you add some commando-style Archer/Sneak-Attacker/Traps-Guy to the Champion and the universal Caster, then you have all traditional Bases covered with only three guys… heck - if you combine Champion and Commando you get Conan the Barbarian, if you combine all three "modern Archetypes" you get the Witcher, both still interesting Characters.

It all depends what story you want to tell - something like a superhero-story or a story with lots of different protagonists. And in the later Case, to keep the Gameplay interesting, you have to distribute the abilities… i.e. to Frontline-Fighters, Skirmishers, Assassins, Archers, Traps and Locks-Guys, Diplomancers, white, grey and black mages, some Wilderness-Experts or whatever.

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February 28th, 2013, 12:43
Well, I guess the main problem with a turn-based game is that it takes a lot of time to move around and manage fighter.

On the other hand if each move really matters like in Ogre Tactics it never gets boring IMHO.
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August 31st, 2013, 02:13
Well, this thread is already pretty old and I guess it's hard to come up with some really new arguments. But I'd just like to share my point of view on this topic.

The amount of players in a party is stricly connected to the other mechanics of the game.

What does the combat look like?
I think you can break it down to one dependence: If you spend a lot of time per character you should have a small party size. In case of a turn based combat I'd say that if you have free movement and positioning 8 are definitely too much. In Jagged Alliance 2 I normally moved out with 3 to 4 people. In very rare cases I might take a fifth person with me. With 2 Characters you were not able to move out, cover with interruptions to both sides at once, 3 was the absolute minimum if you wanted to do anything and I guess that's true for most turn based games with positioning. On the other hand there is Xcom. In Xcom there is also positioning but units are more expendable. You also do not have as many tactical possibilities in the old Xcom as you do in jagged alliance (like strafing, crouching and so on). So the time spent per unit is less and the amount of units gets higher. But in Xcom I am already feeling annoyed with the high troop count, especially if you sent 2 in another direction and have to bring them back in a fight. The Xcom EU reduced the amount of units in a fight, but each character has more stuff to do. Xenonauts also has a troop size of 8 which then is also annoying quickly.
More complex Combat System -> Less party members (down to critical mass of 3 or 4)

What does the skill system look like?
Same as before: The more complex skill-system you have the less party members you should have until you reach a critical mass of course.
If you have a system like in Eye of the Beholder, when each class just consists of a class, defining the weapons and armor to use and the casts it can use in addition to a few attributes and HP it's not really hurting much if you have more party members. On the other hand there are games like NWN2 just to use another D&D game. In NWN2 you can basically spend hours if not days to plan ahead your character to just take the right skills each level up to be able to unlock the right mastery classes each time to then be able to take the right skills again for the next unlock. As mitigation measure NWN2 only let you control the main characters skills, the other character's skills increased automatically. Then there are games which have a deep skill system which is very easy to manage and which seems very logical. Examples would be Drakensang where you have a couple of attributes, a couple of skills and a couple of active combat moves and spells. And Avernum where basically all characters have access to all abilities and you have to specialize your characters yourself. In both games you have 4 characters to control.
When you start such a game and get/create your party members the very first thing I'd do is to make a plan: Identify the elemental roles in the group and assign them. The most basic thing is the holy trinity of course (Tank, Healer, Damage Dealer), but in most games you have also lockpicking for example and so you might add a thief for lockpicking and maybe social interactions.
This stays cool as long as you don't have everything. If you just add another fighter to add more damage this character becomes uninteresting and should be cut out. Each character should have an interesting pool of skills to chose from at each level up.
If the party is big, players just wont feel as invested into the character as if you had a smaller group, even feel annoyed at a level up to spend some additional points at the character he isn't interested in.
So:
More Complex Skill System -> Less party members (down to critical mass of 3 if holy trinity exists)

How do you get your characters and how do you manage them?
If you are creating all characters from scratch yourself you might probably reduce the amount of characters to not piss of the player right at the beginning, depending on the depth of the skill system. The player should be aware right at the beginning about which characters he needs. Everybody knows that he needs a warrior, a healer and probably someone who does damage and picks locks. But what the hell should he do with the other like 4 characters he needs to create? Which skills really have an effect in the game and are important? Where are the symbioses? The player should not need to play the game for 5 hours to realize that he needs to start over in order to build a better team with his new knowledge. If you have a low amount of characters you can streamline it much more and introduce the player to all mechanics.
In addition you also might find characters, like in Baldurs Gate, or Dragon Age. In Dragon Age you also had a big pool of characters you can choose from. And the ones not used will just be put into the base and you only need to bother with them (and their level ups) when you actually want to take them back into the team.
So keep the party size small at game start -> Easier entry into the game

How does the game manage additional NPCs and Party members?
Directly related to the party size at game start is of course the question on how additional Characters are handled. In the old Realms of Arkania games you always had 6 permanent members and one NPC slot for a guy you couldn't control. In Dragon Age your party was always very flexible as you could work with a base where you could pile additional party members. Eye of the Beholder had a very interesting approach: In this game you had 4 members you created at startup and a total number of 6 party members. During the games you found a lot of additional members. And you decided yourself which ones you kept and who had to go and which were the 4 important ones which you wanted to take over to the next game. So in the end you might not even have anyone from the original party left. The worst example was the Ishar Series where you had 5 slots but had to drop an own party member to make space for a temporary party member and in the end you were one member short.
If you have a base where you can leave additional party member later it doesn't really play much of a role how many party members you have.
You could also plan in a dedicated NPC Slot as Realms of Arkania did.
Or you might let players leave party members permanently. In this case the group size should rather be bigger than smaller.

What do Interactions between members look like?
Now assuming you have a lot of Characters in your party you found during the game you will probably have given them interesting background stories. Maybe even interactions with other characters you found, like in Dragon Age. The more attention to detail you want to give to the character, the less characters you will probably create total. If you have a home base where you can drop them, it will probably never be a problem. But if they join you and you don't know if it might give a conflict with another group member you might want to have a bigger party size.
Jagged Alliance would be one example, where morale goes down if you have two members in the same group which do not like each other. But in JA2 you can just mix together other teams.
A different example would be Expeditions Conquistador, where each character has traits. And like in Dragon Age they get and lose morale depending on your decision. A brave member might increase moral of you go into combat, which might drop the moral of a peaceful character.
Guido Henkel wants to make such a system an important element in his Deathfire game. Just that he uses over 30 traits instead which might cause conflicts within the group.
If you have scripted group events it might be better to have less characters so that you see more from them and it's less effort to implement them. If you have a more flexible system like Expeditions Conquistador or what is planned for Deathfire you might want to have a bigger party group in order to create more of these conflict situations but of course that is also dependent on the game length, which is the next point.

How long will the game be?
Depending on the length of the game you can implement more complex systems and bigger parties.
It does not make much sense to have a party size of 6 or 8 in a game which just has a length of 15 to 20 hours. Same goes for the skill system. Shadowrun is a great example about how not to do it. It had basically a great skill system and great combat mechanics (if they were balanced) but the game is too short to fully use them. If the game is rather short and the skill system not extremely simple the party size should not exceed 4.


So overall I'd agree to what most posters said before me. The magical number is between 4 and 6. I cannot think of many scenarios where a group of more party members makes sense. The same goes with party sizes of less than 4, which severely limits tactical possibilities. A party of 3 might work if you focus on other parts of the game like the interaction of 3 pre defined party members and their involvement in the story. But assuming you are creating most of the party yourself and combat plays a bigger role in the game, this is probably not an option.
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October 30th, 2013, 23:10
Very good summary Kordanor, all the points you make are very good. I also think something like 4-6 is optimal, to find if it should be 4 or 6 is very tough though.

I was playing around with an idea, to have a supply train, moving behind the actual main group. Where you could keep additional 4-6 characters, and it could be attacked by ambush and such and those would need to defend the supplies. If they lose the fight and die, enemies would steal all your items carried in supply train.
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October 31st, 2013, 01:01
Originally Posted by Fenris View Post
IMO it depends alot how much micromangement is possible or necessary. Lets take a look at a standard-character in many Games, the Fighter:

In the Goldbox Games they could attack with their Melee-Weapon, shoot with their ranged Weapon, move around, use an Item and most importantly block the way to the weaker party-members, if the terrain allowed it (i.e. small corridors) and you positioned them that way. In this Expample I call them Guards, they probably wear heavy Armor, big Shields and Poleweapons.

A Fighter in a modern Game has usually different options like Bullrush, Power-Attack, Berserkermode, Taunting, Hadoken-Spiritual-Attack, and whatnot. This are interesting features - lets call this guy Champion; he would probably use a twohanded Sword, a Katana - probably with a Wakizashi at the same time - or some exotic two-bladed thingie and wear light to medium Armor. He also probably needs a Bandoleer full of Healing-Potions…

The Job of the Guards would be to protect the non-combatents of the party, the Champion would have to do some hero-stuff amidst the enemy ranks. You put the Guards to strategic Positions and are done with them but you need to micromanage the Champion.

A Caster might be a universal Caster that can cast anything from healing, to crowd-control to damage-spells like the Dragonage Mages, or highly specialized like in this eastern games - a Thaumaturge could only cast some Fireballs and Lightning, a druid might use a rain-spell to turn an area to mud or summon some animals, a Psion might use only charmspells or confusion-type spells and a healer could only heal… you would use this guys only when necessary and would try to keep them out of danger the rest of the time.

If you add some commando-style Archer/Sneak-Attacker/Traps-Guy to the Champion and the universal Caster, then you have all traditional Bases covered with only three guys… heck - if you combine Champion and Commando you get Conan the Barbarian, if you combine all three "modern Archetypes" you get the Witcher, both still interesting Characters.

It all depends what story you want to tell - something like a superhero-story or a story with lots of different protagonists. And in the later Case, to keep the Gameplay interesting, you have to distribute the abilities… i.e. to Frontline-Fighters, Skirmishers, Assassins, Archers, Traps and Locks-Guys, Diplomancers, white, grey and black mages, some Wilderness-Experts or whatever.
Problem with this is the problem, I have in general with RPGs where party size is 4 members or less: You get 3 or 4 cookie cutter characters that can all heal a bit, cast or perform some type of magic attack that does a lot of damage, wear armor & wield shields and some type of one handed weapon or a bow in place of the shield. Maybe only one guy is given 'thiefy' skills like traps and locks but usually there are other options to disarm and open stuff (brute strength or magic).
I just like my characters to have distinct roles. I love having to sit and think about which race and class or 'build' (for classless systems) I am going to choose and where they will be in the party formation etc.

Kordanor,

I disagree strongly. The ultimate, detailed, complex RPG has at least six and often 8 or more members per party. These members serve a variety of necessary roles if the game is done right. Take Helherron for example, or Natuk/P.O.W.S.. You have to have at least three tanks in these games and the 4th member can be either another tank or a hybrid like a monk or thief type. Then for the back 4, sticking with helherron here, there are many satisfying party strategies. A straight mage or two, a priest or two, a bard, an archer-type thief, A summoning shaman…etc.

I have never understood the 'takes too much time/effort to create and manage' argument. We ARE talking about Role Playing Games right? Not arcade games and ideally we should not even be dragging ANY real time games into the discussion about RPGs so thinking, planning and managing character development is kind of a requisite.

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Last edited by SkeleTony; October 31st, 2013 at 01:14. Reason: Adding more replies
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October 31st, 2013, 10:37
Well, it depends on what kind of game it is, in a game like Ogre Tactics, it is fine to have more party members where each combat is one big thing, but if there is a lot of smaller combat against rats and such, then 8 is way too big, because if each small combat takes a long time it is going to get old fast.
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October 31st, 2013, 11:07
Originally Posted by SkeleTony View Post
I have never understood the 'takes too much time/effort to create and manage' argument. We ARE talking about Role Playing Games right? Not arcade games and ideally we should not even be dragging ANY real time games into the discussion about RPGs so thinking, planning and managing character development is kind of a requisite.
While CRPGs have another focus than pen and paper RPGs the focus is normally not on combat, tactics and stats. The more characters you have, the less you get invested into each of them individually.

And while lots of people would maybe enjoy having more characters to manage, I am quite sure that the majority would prefer less or would use these "auto level up"-option in these games because they are mainly playing it for the story.

@GothicGothicness
The "train" you mentioned has some appeal for sure. But if I think back to Dragon Age, it's not all advantages coming from that.
In Dragon Age I wanted to do all character's story. And while talking to them again and again was fine, some times you are "forced" to use a character so you can do his story. And then you had to go into his skills and use all the skillpoints he saved up during the time. And well…the reason for not taking him into my party was because I didn't like him and didn't want to "invest" in him.
So with that train idea you would not give the player the chance to "sort out" the characters he doesn't want to use. This again isn't that much of a deal if the system is extremely simple (very few skills and usable abilities) like in Jagged Alliance (just to also mention where a system with tons of characters works well, but then again it's focus is on tactics), but if you have a system like in the TDE games where you spend an eternety on each level up and then you are forced to spend tons of time into characters you don't want to play, that's probably not very motivating.
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October 31st, 2013, 13:54
There are two things that can be easily discerned:

1) The fewer party members you have, the more powerful each individual party member has to be.

IOW, the fewer members, the less realistic it gets.

2) The more party members you have, the less unique each character is.

You will very rarely find an RPG with 6 or more characters where each character serves a completely unique role and there is no overlap in design or use of each class/ character.

That's about as objective as I can get on the matter. There are some other objective factors (i.e. managing more characters always takes more time) but I'm not including that as I don't think that's valid (hypothetically speaking, there can never be too much of a good thing).

Personally I love 4, but am also satisfied with 5 or 6. In the classically designed RPG, 4 forces you to make a somewhat tough decision between including an auxiliary character, i.e. a skill monkey, or a buffer (like a Bard), or a hybrid, vs. packing another character that's 'pure' in orientation. More than 6 and my sense of attachment to each character gets somewhat lost. Also you need an extreme amount of items in a game where you want to have multiple choices for each item slot on each character for 8 characters.

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October 31st, 2013, 15:35
The line between 4 and 6 is definitely a tough one. I think it actually comes down to game design more than player expectation. With 4 toons, your players are going to settle into the traditional fighter/thief/healer/caster structure. If you've built your game with lots of neat/unique classes, it will be wasted effort if there's only 4 slots. Consider the Wiz8 gadgeteer- you'd have never run one in a 4 toon party (Wiz8 junkies and short-manning masochists aside) so all that coding, balancing, gearing and such would be wasted. At the other end of the scale, if you've got your game built for fairly simple classes (even if they've got lots of customization within the class) then having 6 slots just means multiples of the same archetype.

Rather than asking what they want, ask yourself how they'll use what you give them.

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October 31st, 2013, 18:33
Originally Posted by dteowner View Post
The line between 4 and 6 is definitely a tough one. I think it actually comes down to game design more than player expectation. With 4 toons, your players are going to settle into the traditional fighter/thief/healer/caster structure. If you've built your game with lots of neat/unique classes, it will be wasted effort if there's only 4 slots. Consider the Wiz8 gadgeteer- you'd have never run one in a 4 toon party (Wiz8 junkies and short-manning masochists aside) so all that coding, balancing, gearing and such would be wasted. At the other end of the scale, if you've got your game built for fairly simple classes (even if they've got lots of customization within the class) then having 6 slots just means multiples of the same archetype.
I disagree (though I might fall in the "Wiz8 junkie" category). Wiz8 is a prime example of what I said about auxiliary characters; you'll think long and hard before taking a Gadgeteer or a Bard in a 4 person party, but it's not a wasted slot at any rate. The Bard's versatility makes him a great choice - good weapon selection, thief skills, and instruments. The Gadgeteer's main charm in a small party is the fact that his omnigun develops faster and makes a pretty powerful weapon, if the party is geared towards ranged combat. Still, you'll also be tempted to take a fighter, a ninja or a bishop in the fourth slot. It's a delicious dilemma.

edit: the usefulness of these auxiliaries quickly diminishes if you go lower than 4 though. It's a pretty good example of a game where 4 characters is a critical mass. I've always enjoyed 4 person runs the most in Wiz8.

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October 31st, 2013, 19:46
Originally Posted by Sacred_Path View Post
I disagree (though I might fall in the "Wiz8 junkie" category). Wiz8 is a prime example of what I said about auxiliary characters; you'll think long and hard before taking a Gadgeteer or a Bard in a 4 person party, but it's not a wasted slot at any rate.
I think we're largely saying the same thing, but with a different spin. You're basically agreeing that the "average player" isn't going to take the class outside the traditional fighter/thief/healer/caster core. Something like that will be done on a replay, again excepting a small handful of masochists. Given that very few games actually get replays from the vast majority of gamers these days, there's not much return on the investment of developer resources. Particularly here, with a game being designed from the ground up as opposed to one structured on a well-known ruleset, folks aren't going to get too tricky on their first run. If there are 4 slots, those will go to the traditional core functions. It's an unwritten contract- the developer will make a game that utilizes those 4 roles and the player will supply those 4 roles or suffer for their obstinance.

If there are 6 slots, then you've got 2 slots available for hybrids and/or specials.

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October 31st, 2013, 19:50
Originally Posted by dteowner View Post
I think we're largely saying the same thing, but with a different spin. You're basically agreeing that the "average player" isn't going to take the class outside the traditional fighter/thief/healer/caster core. Something like that will be done on a replay, again excepting a small handful of masochists. Given that very few games actually get replays from the vast majority of gamers these days, there's not much return on the investment of developer resources. Particularly here, with a game being designed from the ground up as opposed to one structured on a well-known ruleset, folks aren't going to get too tricky on their first run. If there are 4 slots, those will go to the traditional core functions. It's an unwritten contract- the developer will make a game that utilizes those 4 roles and the player will supply those 4 roles or suffer for their obstinance.
True, especially since Wiz8 hides a lot of information from the player, especially noobs. It takes some experimenting until you find out that a Bard can hold his position in the grid and do ok melee damage with the right equipment and stat point allocation. I mean, if you've only read the manual, you might think that intelligence is a great stat for Bards because it factors into their music skill.

If there are 6 slots, then you've got 2 slots available for hybrids and/or specials.
Unfortunately, yes. It's on the same level with games giving you 4 character slots and 4 character classes - you can go with something other than 1/1/1/1, but don't say we didn't warn you.

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October 31st, 2013, 21:03
For me, five is the minimum needed to make group tactics start to matter. Four characters in the DA series just feels like a semi-random roving skirmish. The five character party in ToEE gave me a front line with a reserve and ranged attack.
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October 31st, 2013, 23:13
Originally Posted by GothicGothicness View Post
Well, it depends on what kind of game it is, in a game like Ogre Tactics, it is fine to have more party members where each combat is one big thing, but if there is a lot of smaller combat against rats and such, then 8 is way too big, because if each small combat takes a long time it is going to get old fast.
Possibly but this can EASILY be avoided with good game design. As PCs gain experience they should become increasingly immune to lower level creatures attacking (either via them running the other direction or simply ignoring the PCs or some such). Wizardry 8 has the most notoriously bad level-scaling spawning of random monster patrols but you CAN avoid most of them with some patience and logistical skills.

As long as the battle is not a complete waste of time for me (which, as I said is easily avoidable in game design) I love it. Combat in 'small party' CRPGs tends to bore me. I spend the whole battle thinking "It's a shame I had to take the same character 3/4 times. Would have been nice to have more strategy…".

So in short your issue here has nothing to do with party size but rather with how long RPG combats can take.

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October 31st, 2013, 23:21
Originally Posted by Kordanor View Post
While CRPGs have another focus than pen and paper RPGs the focus is normally not on combat, tactics and stats. The more characters you have, the less you get invested into each of them individually.

And while lots of people would maybe enjoy having more characters to manage, I am quite sure that the majority would prefer less or would use these "auto level up"-option in these games because they are mainly playing it for the story.
Disagree all around. For starters, whatever you mean by this 'emotional investment' in characters I fear has little relevance to CRPGs at all (but this is a whole other debate about the definition of the term "role playing game".). Maybe I am a special case but I and most other (C)RPG fans that I know of have no difficulty being just as interested in each of our 6-8 characters as tio each other character. This is easily evidenced by how hard it is for us to play 'Ironman' style and allow members to die without re-loading a save.

Not sure about how many of which type of gamer prefers which number of characters to control and I try to avoid the argumentum ad populum and 'arguments from anonymous authority' myself so…

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October 31st, 2013, 23:28
Originally Posted by SkeleTony View Post
Not sure about how many of which type of gamer prefers which number of characters to control and I try to avoid the argumentum ad populum and 'arguments from anonymous authority' myself so…
Didn't you just do that?

but I and most other (C)RPG fans have no difficulty being just as interested in each of our 6-8 characters as tio each other character.
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October 31st, 2013, 23:30
Originally Posted by rjshae View Post
For me, five is the minimum needed to make group tactics start to matter. Four characters in the DA series just feels like a semi-random roving skirmish. The five character party in ToEE gave me a front line with a reserve and ranged attack.
A good point. Others brought up Wizardry 8 above but failed to take note of Wiz 8's tactical formations! One of the most important features of the game and one that would not matter much in a game designed for 4 person parties. Notice that games like Might and Magic 6+ don't bother with any kind of tactics because the 4 person party game is not capable of taking into account positioning, terrain etc.

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October 31st, 2013, 23:31
Originally Posted by Kordanor View Post
Didn't you just do that?
Was a typo. I meant explicitly to say that "most other CRPG fans that I know…".

Fixed in post. Trust me that I am very careful 99% of the time with what I want to say and how to say it. I got to typing too fast and left out a key qualifier.

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November 1st, 2013, 00:40
Originally Posted by SkeleTony View Post
A good point. Others brought up Wizardry 8 above but failed to take note of Wiz 8's tactical formations! One of the most important features of the game and one that would not matter much in a game designed for 4 person parties. Notice that games like Might and Magic 6+ don't bother with any kind of tactics because the 4 person party game is not capable of taking into account positioning, terrain etc.
In Wiz8, formations got really interesting when you had 8 characters. Unfortunately, the game was by far more playable with a small group due to the insame amount of skill grinding (on Expert difficulty at least). So, nice idea, shoddy execution. But of course formations are an interesting thing - for SRPG's, when you're controlling a group of 10-20 units. Otherwise, formations tend to be a bit ridiculous and gamey. So your archer is hiding behind 1(!) paladin, but what stops the ogre from walking around him? Nothing except no AI. You can of course rectify this, but then you force players into hugging cliffsides and walking sideways like crabs. Perverse incentive right there. If mages hiding in the back are a common occurence, why doesn't everyone carry a ranged sidearm? Etc.

Bottom line is, formations are a weak argument for more characters in a CRPG.

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RPGWatch Forums » Games » Indie RPG » Tactica: Maiden of Faith » Optimal Size of a RPG party
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