While thinking about conversations, I got on a mental tack that brought me back to something I wrote about designing and running social encounters.

I got to thinking about the dividing lines between the opening, the mid-game, and the endgame (terms adjusted to reflect established chess terminology). Maybe playing Deadly Sin got me thinking about vulnerabilities, and I can give you a specific example. The main character has a power called “mark” which reduces an enemy’s defense to the next attack made against them.

Another character has “command auras” which cost only her turn’s action to use, and have a continual effect. Obviously, the sooner you use her aura that regenerates the party’s hit points, the more you stand to gain from it. Cookiemonger and I got into the habit of always using it on her first turn in just about every battle.

It occurred to me that the opening of a social encounter where you try to gain advantages might work like this. In your first few turns, you set up buffs for your team or debuffs for your opponent. Specifically, these could be resistances to certain attacks, or vulnerabilities to others. Let’s take the classical elements for example.

If you’re playing defensively and your team has vulnerabilities to any of the four elements, you use powers to shore up those weaknesses until you can discover the enemy’s weakness, or retreat. If you’re playing offensively, you either create a vulnerability in your enemies or exploit existing weaknesses.

Now, for the buffs and debuffs to have any meaning whatsoever, a fight in which neither side has weaknesses should represent a significant drain on the player’s resources (playing “harder”). Using buffs and debuffs should expedite gameplay (playing “smarter”) without also being cumbersome so as to be unfun. Most powers should have multiple effects so as to have multiple potential applications.

Consider powers like these: a fire attack that damages an enemy and makes them temporarily vulnerable to earth damage, and a water attack that makes them temporarily vulnerable to fire damage. Now you have a basic combo that has the player switching back and forth between two attacks. At least the very least, what you’ve done is get them thinking about the last attack they used.

It should also be possible (though not mandatory) for the player to learn the inherent vulnerabilities of enemies and exploit them without taking the extra time to create new ones. Through experimentation, the player should be able to learn about the enemies they face across multiple skirmishes and battles. At the same time, it should be simple enough the player doesn’t need a strategy guide to play.