Massive Chalice: it’s all in the numbers

, | Game diaries

One of the things I love most about Massive Chalice is how the game mechanics are straightforward, above board, and logical. This could be a boardgame or a tabletop RPG combat system. With one boggling exception that was cleared up easily enough, Massive Chalice is a game that makes perfect sense.

After the jump, to hit chances for dummies

An obstacle for me enjoying a strategy game is being unable to untangle whatever math is going on. When I make a decision in a strategy game, that decision needs to be informed by information, usually in the form of math. Ideally clear, mostly simple, and unambiguous math.

Massive Chalice gets this. Wherever a hero is given an adjective — clumsy, drunk, slow, nimble, hearty, young, wily, reckless — the adjective has a corresponding number. The details screen explains it and the stats screen shows you its specific value. This takes the guesswork out of the characters traits, personality, and status modifiers. You know exactly what they’re doing and the degree to which they’re doing it.

Except for one massive oversight. So many of these numbers come down to modifying one of three basic stats: strength, dexterity, and intelligence. But nowhere in the game does it tell you what these stats do. Let me repeat that:

Nowhere in Massive Chalice does it tell you what strength, dexterity, and intelligence actually do.

Oh, sure, you know what those words mean. You’ve played any RPG ever, right? So you can infer what they represent. Furthermore, a highlighting effect demonstrates that strength is important for caberjacks, dexterity is important for hunters, and intelligence is important for alchemists. But why? How? If it all comes down to these three numbers, if my centuries of childbirth, training, and leveling up are funneled into improving these stats, shouldn’t Double Fine tell me what exactly they do?

When I asked Double Fine project lead Brad Muir about strength, dexterity, and intelligence, he sheepishly admitted it was an oversight that it wasn’t explained in the game. He then explained them. At which point I understood why Double Fine might overlook the explanation: it’s far simpler than I ever expected.

The stats determine how much damage a particular class does when it attacks.

It’s that simple. All those centuries of childbirth, training, and leveling up come down to the amount of damage you’ll do in battle. And not in some indirect way where you get +1 if it’s between 10 and 14, +2 if it’s between 15 and 19, and +3 if it’s over 20. I mean, quite literally, that the stat determines how much damage that class does. Let’s take a quick look.


Mercedes Wayne has a 77% chance of hitting this seed and inflicting 25 to 29 points of damage. To give you a sense for how simple everything is, let’s start with the 77% chance to hit. Why is there a 77% chance to hit?

Let’s look at Mercedes’ accuracy:


Her accuracy is 105%. In case you’re wondering why her accuracy is 105%, a character’s stats have a fixed value based on his or her level. For instance, all level six caberjacks have an accuracy of 105%. These values can be modified by traits. Accuracy is affected positively if a character is tranquil and negatively if a character is nervous. Now let’s take a look at the seed’s evasion:


Its evasion is 28%. 105 minus 28 is 77. A 77% chance to hit. Easy as could be! Now let’s consider the 25 to 29 points of damage. Mercedes is equipped with a caberjack. Let’s check the equip screen for how much damage a caberjack does:


A caberjack does 5-9 points of damage, which is a far cry from 25-29. Where are the extra 20 points of damage coming from? If you guessed that Mercedes Wayne’s strength is 20, you’re close. Her strength is 25. But if you take another look at the seed’s stats, you’ll see that it has an armor value. Just as an attacker’s accuracy is modified by his target’s evasion, damage is modified by armor. The seed’s armor value is 5.

And that’s it. 5-9 plus 25 minus 5. There are no modifiers for damage type, armor type, facing, morale, fatigue, range, and so forth. This could be a boardgame or a tabletop RPG combat system.

The degree of simplicity is neither better or worse than a more complicated game, but it’s a design choice made with confidence. Massive Chalice is a game that wants you to know immediately the difference between a puny caberjack and a caberjack with bear strength. You know immediately the difference between a clumsy hunter and a nimble hunter. You know immediately the difference between a brainy alchemist and a dimwitted alchemist. When I hit a monster and he still has hit points left, I know exactly how much stronger, dextrous, or intelligent my character should have been at that precise moment. When acid corrodes away a point of my character’s armor, I know exactly what effect it’s going to have. When my character ages, losing dexterity but gaining intelligence, I know that aging makes better alchemists and worse hunters.

In short, this simplicity means the numbers help the game rather than getting in its way. At least they do once you figure out what strength, dexterity, and intelligence do.

Up next: the breathless caberjack
Click here for the previous entry.