Gloomhaven and rng

The PC version of Gloomhaven has one particular aspect that has us laughing or howling at the screen on a regular basis. The randomisation (often referred to as rng) element that underpins the ‘modifier deck‘ mechanic can feel rather punishing at times. I am only referring to the PC game in this post, I’ve never played the boardgame for comparison.

A character’s draws from the modifer deck for each attack against each target. The character gains “rolling” modifiers as you unlock certain perks which apply an affect but also draw another modifier card. Sometimes these can stack multiple times as illustrated above to have quite a positive, or comical effect.

Doubling up condition modifiers like muddle above seems to be a favourite of the game’s rng system, which does nothing as it’s not possible to be doubly muddled (or anything else). Yes, that is just how random mechanics can be, but it ‘feels’ like the game is playing with us sometimes not the other way around.

Those moments are, of course, balanced by moments of joy – a screen full of orange modifiers (i.e. positive) is a thing of beauty. Since we play on voice comms they are shared moments and there is much discussion around how our “luck” is that session.

The dreaded “x0” (times zero) is the worst of the lot, and often seems to cap an otherwise positive rolling streak. So you might get one, or multiple, plus modifier(s) and then have it all negated by a x0 at the end. As characters level the idea is to buy perks that skew the modifer deck towards more beneficial modifiers: each character class has their own set of trade-in perks that remove some negative modifiers and swap in some positive ones instead. Still, even as our characters grow into their later levels, there are still moments where rather too many purple numbers come up…

I suppose the difference between Gloomhaven and MMORPGs is that once something negative happens in the calculations in a MMO, such as you miss an attack or the opponent blocks (the maths of which is mostly hidden in such games) then that is it and combat moves on. In Gloomhaven the rolling effects are drawn until they stop rolling. So even if the attack is already negated it will keep drawing until the chain ends – it is more memorable, perhaps, by the very visible nature of the mechanics.

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