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Survival Horror: Exploration and NPCs

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Joined: 12/31/2012

I'm in the very early design stages for a survival horror game (it's not zombies!).

One of the major mechanics will be "exploration" of some sort. I say "exploration" because it's more of a run into unknown territory and see what's there sort of thing.

I have a number of possible ideas as to how this may work, and wanted to get thoughts on the options and possibly see if there are similar mechanics in other games that I could look to for ideas.

The first idea is to have the entire map covered in tiles, that would flip over when you're in sight range. The tiles would have a set outcome, from an enemy appearing, an ally, an environmental hazard, nothing, etc.

The second would be to have these tiles, but instead of them having a set outcome, they would have more of a "danger level", which would be resolved by either drawing a card from the appropriate deck or rolling on the appropriate table.

Another idea is to simply have the player draw an "event" card (at the beginning or end of their turn, or both?), which determines what pops up nearby.

I'm sure there are other possible ways to go about this, but those are my thoughts at the moment.

The other issue is how to handle the NPC enemies that pop up. I'm not interested in having all the bad guys being played by a player, I want the game to work out more as a cooperative storytelling/survival experience.

The biggest issue would be handling their movement and "patrols". The characters controlled by the players are extremely weak and vulnerable compared to the enemies, and so the focus is more on avoiding and hiding than confronting them in combat.

One idea I had was to have each type of enemy have their own action deck, which you would draw a card from to determine their action that turn. Cards would be simple things like "Stand still", "Move forward two", "Patrol zone", "Search", "Turn", "Move On", etc. It would also be possible to simply have an action table that you would roll on, and as much as that simplifies components I don't really like the idea of the alien actions having independent probability.

What games out there have good NPC AI mechanics as far as patrolling/searching for the players?


JustActCasual's picture
Joined: 11/20/2012

Maybe use some kind of stepped DC check for NPC "Alertness" eg. 2d6 <7 No detection, the NPC moves away from the nearest PC, =7-9 Suspicious, NPC stays still, >9 Detection, NPC moves towards nearest PC. Provides a nice dial affected by PC stealthiness, and defining it by PC location helps relate to story tension as well as providing some emergent play possibilities ("I'll create a distraction and draw them away from you guys!"). If you don't like nearest you could make it least stealthy PC.

If you NEED the NPCs to have set movement patterns it would be less bother to just draw 1 movement pattern card rather than a card every turn (eg. they immediately move to and guard the closest door, or search the building furthest from spawn). It would create the opportunity for player strategy, seem more realistic, and take less random actions.

I like having the idea of an exploration deck, as long as the setting is relatively coherent between tiles. You could make some tiles the higher danger area by allowing the PC to draw more cards (which can be positive or negative events) making it high risk but high reward. Having cards for items and bonuses makes it much easier to track inventory (and you can keep negative cards for wounds/injuries). You could make a special action where you "Rummage", allowing you to draw an extra exploration card at a cost to stealth...

Joined: 12/31/2012
I had a detection mechanic

I had a detection mechanic planned, but it was just a binary thing. I like the idea of having it be a stepped DC thing. Thanks for that idea!

The exploration/reveal mechanic is definitely the one I'm having the most trouble with right now. That will need quite a few different tests of various ideas

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