As I mentioned the other day, I may have finally found a game on which I could model a Tower Defense-style D&D encounter. The game is Defender’s Quest and the first half of it is available to play for free on Kongregate.
Like your typical Tower Defense game, the main objective is to stop the mobs from getting from point A to point B. In Defender’s Quest, however, point B is the main character, who is some combination of mage and psionicist and is the party leader. Instead of Towers, you strategically place party members along the path to prevent the mob from killing the mage.
One of the things that is interesting about the use of ‘party members’ is how they are identical mechanically and functionally to towers in terms of gameplay, but the feel is very different. Because each tower is a named, customized and equipped individual, you have more attachment to them (especially the first characters from any given class you gain access to, as they are featured heavily in the cutscenes) than your typical arrow firing tower.
A significant difference between this game and other Tower Defense games is that in any given mission, you are restricted to your current party members; you can’t just buy more towers in the middle of a mission to pad out your defenses. You CAN, however, generally place all of your towers (party members) at the beginning of a mission, though it is not necessarily beneficial to do so.
Rather than gold to buy and upgrade towers, the party leader (here’s where the psionicist part comes into play) uses psi points to deploy party members on the map and upgrade them, which both increases base stats and unlocks the use of any additional abilities that party member has access to. This psionic upgrade is a temporary upgrade, lasting the mission’s duration only. The true upgrading/scaling comes between missions when party members gain levels, gain access to new abilities through a development tree, and are equipped. Additionally, you have the opportunity to recruit new party members in towns to help deepen your ranks, though these green recruits will be of limited usefulness until they get some kills under their belts.
Because Defender’s Quest attempts to combine tactical RPG with Tower Defense, the way that combat is handled is slightly different from most Tower Defense games. In a game like Kingdom Rush or Demonrift, melee exists primarily to block paths, either slowing mobs down while towers get kills or doing the killing themselves. In Defender’s Quest, there are two distinguishable mob types (not unit types, there are many different units): monsters who are determined to make a bee-line for your mage and monsters who will pause for a moment to take a swing or shot at whomever is near by while making a bee-line for your mage. Unless they are heavily armored and have massive damage resistance, like some of the Revenant Knights, the former are more of an annoyance than anything. The difficulty arises from the mobs who stop to take an 8-10 HP swipe at your swordsmen or spit gobs of acid at your ranged fighters. You have some magic to patch your companions up with, but that damage can add up quick. So unlike most tower defense games, your towers can “die”. You can redeploy them with the psionic points you earn for killing enemies, but they are placed back on the map at minimal strength without any previous psionic boosts you may have given them.
Like other Tower Defense games, you can “sell” towers, regaining some of the psionic energy invested in them, and be able to put them elsewhere on the map. Again, though, the difference is in how it feels despite mechanical similarity; your party is sacrificing certain tactical advantages to try to gain others. There is a boss fight against a powerful undead where your strategy is to deploy and redeploy your melee fighters further and further up the path until you can fully wear him down.
Rather than the abstract leveling of the player in terms of overall points to spend on your meteor attack or general tower bonuses or whatever you typically find in fantasy Tower Defense games, you level in a concrete manner alongside your party members, because you are represented on the map by the main character mage complete with spells and HP just like your companions. It’s this mage character who is giving boosts to party members, casting spells to aid them, and zapping the monsters who get past them with lightning bolts rather than a disembodied player power. The in-game justification for the character’s use of psionics to deploy and boost the party’s strength is a bit silly; I think that the maps and all of the battles may actually be some sort of abstraction or they’re in the shadow realm where they can hurt revenants or something ridiculous to try to explain a mechanic that works amazingly well without requiring an explanation. Whatever, it’s great.
Given enough time, this is probably close to what I would’ve come up for making a D&D Tower Defense scenario, but since it’s right here in front of me, there’s no reason not to just steal what is so close to perfection.
The main thing I can think of to change would be using basic movements rather than re-deploy and not using psionic points for everything; basically use D&D for that (duh). In Defender’s Quest, monsters that attack the party members aren’t stopped, rather they stop, attack and keep going. In D&D terms, this would be move into melee, take a round of attack, make an attack, receive a round of counter-attack, move on. It doesn’t have to be that rote, though; borrowing from Kingdom Rush, while one or two monsters stay engaged with melee characters, other monsters break through.
Ultimately, I think the main thing needed to make such a scenario work is a combination of a plausible goal for both sides and workable map.
The goal part is difficult but flexible. If defending a town, you can base outcome based on something like how many hit-dice worth of monsters getting past is beyond what the townsfolk and constabulary can handle on their won. Or how many of certain goods can be stolen without it being disastrous. Goals can be keep the town guard from being overrun, keep x trade goods from being stolen, keep monsters from preventing wizard from casting a spell, keep monsters from carrying off an important person/thing, so on and so forth. The really hard part will be making a map. You’re going to want a big map and probably lots of counters. You can’t do this without lots of counters.
If I can find some butcher paper, I just might see if I can make a big climactic tower defense style battle for the end of Shadow Over Alfheim.
Oh, yeah, and when I finish the demo, I’m probably going to go ahead and buy the full game of Defender’s Quest.