Asymmetry and Balance in Dead by Daylight


The game is played 4 versus 1 and the first asymmetry that becomes apparent when playing this game is the different goals the players have. The Killer’s goal is to catch as many Survivors as possible and place them all on meat hooks to be sacrificed to the Entity. The Survivors however, their goal is not to defeat the killer in any way. They don’t have anything to attack the Killer with. Their powers lie in staying hidden and helping each other get away alive. Violence is not an option for them, which is one of the reasons why I want to study this game further. Because I love writing stories and larp plot where using more violence is not a good solution.

I see a lot of parallels with larp in this asymmetry; our monsters are also fewer than the players, and we want their killing powers to be scary, but we also want to make sure that if the players work together, if they play smart, they will prevail.

The Killers in this game are much like the villains I want in my larp: frightening and more powerful than the players. If they resort to an “every man for himself” mindset, the villains will pick them off one by one. And that is the thought at the heart of Dead by Daylight’s Killers: they can only focus on one Survivor at the time.

They can only hit one, and then there is a few seconds cooldown that prevents the Killer from moving or attacking again. The Killer can only carry one and they have to let the others get away. This makes ganging up on the Killer an exciting and effective tactic; a risk worth taking. And that is how you get your players to work together!

So asymmetrical goals. In larp, it may be the players’ goal to defeat the villain. We do like that in our classic fantasy larps. But it’s not our monsters’ goal to defeat the players, larp is no fun when the players are defeated. The goal of the game is to give the players a challenge they can overcome. In a way, our monsters and villains should feel happy and proud when the players find a way to defeat them and solve the challenge.

So how does Dead by Daylight make the Survivors feel like they can do something against this enemy they can’t defeat? Well, it’s not easy for the Killer to find a Survivor, for starters. This game is a beautiful rendition of Hide and Seek, with all the thrills of finding a good hiding spot and knowing that they can’t find you. And then once they’ve found you, you’re not dead yet.

Dead by Daylight doesn’t have a hitpoints system. You start out as healthy, and if the Killer manages to wound you, you will limp, bleed and whimper, making it easier for the killer to find you, but you can still do all the things you normally can, at the same speed (and at higher levels, you can get an adrenaline power, making things go faster when you’re wounded). It’s just harder to stay hidden.

The Killer has to wound you again before they can just grab you and pick you up. And once on their shoulder, you can wiggle free and limp away again, stunning the Killer to give you more time to get away. If you don’t manage to wiggle free in time, the Killer will hang you on a meat hook and then you’re still not dead. As you slowly bleed out, other players can still come rescue you. When you are freed from the Killer’s shoulder or from the hook, you are wounded, but not helpless. You can immediately try to get yourself to safety, and fellow players can heal you to make you healthy and quiet again.

So, causing a player’s death is a lengthy process comprised of different steps, and the players have a chance to free themselves or each other during each step in the process. Are you larp writers taking note? This stuff is beautiful.

And no hitpoints. The Killer doesn’t need them, he can’t be wounded, only stunned. (Note this to your monsters: being slow and getting stunned is good!) The Survivors have different states: healthy, wounded and dying. In the dying state, you are helpless, but not dead yet. You can crawl to safety, and you suddenly have the power to detect your fellow players, to see if they are coming to your rescue and to be able to crawl towards them. One healing action will revert you from dying to wounded, and then another one from wounded to healthy again.

So asymmetry in goals and asymmetry in powers. Many larps strive to give players and non-player characters the same powers, because it’s practical in remembering how all the powers work, and because that makes the game feel fair. Which is funny when you look at Dead by Daylight, because a number of players were outraged about Killers also getting the power to hide and sneak. What feels fair or unfair is not always a correct way to assess the balance in a game, it seems.

I’m still processing all this information. Soon, I will write about how this game motivates the players to work together.

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