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Plethora

Help me come up with some utility spells.

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I'm currently working on a game that can be loosely described as an SRPG, similar to Disgaea or Final Fantasy Tactics (more similar, truth be told, to Shining Force on the sega genesis, for those who know of it).  One of the things I am putting a lot of thought into is how I'd really like to create more use for utility spells and abilities.  Or, to put it another way, I don't want to create a game where doing as much damage as quickly as possible is the be all end all to strategy.

 

One of the problems, I think, is that in a traditional SRPG game, enemies just don't last long enough for things like DoT spells or Debuffs to be at all worthwhile.  Why spend a turn, for example, debuffing a 10 hp enemy's defense so that your hits do 6 damage instead of 4, when just plain hitting him 3 times will give the same result?

 

Here are a few thoughts I've had about how to make non-damage spells a little more worthwhile:

 

1)  Considering I'm to some extent modelling this game on Shining Force (where your army is 12 characters, there are 2-3 times that in enemies, and maps are comparatively larger than FFT or Disgaea), I think there is already room for various mobility enhancing spells to find a place.  At higher character levels its probably even legitimate to throw in some instant transportation spells of various sorts.

 

2)  Make debuffs have a much longer range than direct damage spells have.  With two enemy armies approaching one another, having your casters able to fire off a debuff or two before anyone is in a position to do damage would definitely make them useful.  Of course, the enemy could do so as well.

 

3)  Considering that I intend to have the player play defensive battles as well as offensive battles (where the goal is to hold a position rather than advance on an enemy position), I think trap setting could be implemented fairly well also.

 

So thoughts on those ideas in particular?  Anyone have more ideas on how to accomplish more useful utility spells?

Edited by Plethora

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All three of your ideas sound like they would work to me, especially the idea of traps (though they could devolve into being just another damage delivery system).

 

I would also throw in that you could have enemies with significant amounts of HP, or mixed companies that include enemies on whom pure physical damage would not be very effective without a utility spell involved. You could also include goals beyond just killing enemies: use spell X on an enemy for a chance at getting a special item, or spell Y to influence the story or have some impact on a later battle (illness, bad luck, madness, etc.).

 

On a broader design level, what kind of emphasis do you want utility spells to have? Dealing damage is something that can be applied against all enemies in all battles and so it gets a lot of emphasis. Support spells are just that: support. They aren't intended to be a main feature of your force but instead supplement your other characters, and they consequently are of limited usefulness. Do you want to require, explicitly or implicitly, that players have a utility spellcaster in every battle?

 

SRPGs tend to be focused on killing enemies in the field, but that often isn't the only element-- do you have any notable mechanics outside of battle that spells might be able to influence?

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Very nice link Thande :) Also, if I remember rightly, some characters in the Final Fantasy Tactics game would not take damage from physical attacks at all. You needed to cast debuffs of the right element to damage such enemies. 

 

Yggdra Union had a really nice selection of debuffs, most of which felt useful and actually had an impact on the game. The were not "standalone" debuffs. rather, most of the debuffs were like "add-ons" to a core spell that made the spell more worthwhile to use. (for example, a gravity related ability would halve the number of enemy units as well as slow them, another spell would give all your units a first strike advantage. etc). 

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That's an awesome article thade, thanks for the link.  Thanks for the suggestions as well, all good ones and all things worth considering.  :)

 

On a broader design level, what kind of emphasis do you want utility spells to have? Dealing damage is something that can be applied against all enemies in all battles and so it gets a lot of emphasis. Support spells are just that: support. They aren't intended to be a main feature of your force but instead supplement your other characters, and they consequently are of limited usefulness. Do you want to require, explicitly or implicitly, that players have a utility spellcaster in every battle?

 

I definitely have plans to make spells/abilities that have outside of battle uses.  My intended design is to have the player form an army of some size from a selection of characters.  The player will roam a world map with the army they've selected (but without those who haven't been selected).  I intend to have at least a fair number world map type abilities that will encourage the player to use skill points in areas that aren't directly combat related.  A character with the "keen eye" ability could spot a secret dungeon.  A character with the negotiate ability could allow trade with the goblin village, rather than combat, which would have its own rewards.  The characters who have these skills would be somewhat weaker in combat (though never useless, if a character ever feels useless in combat then I need to re-evaluate my design), but would give the player access to things he/she couldn't do otherwise.

 

As for the second point in that quote, I'm more hoping to create a system where most if not all characters have access to a small selection of utility abilities which would be useful every so often.  Maybe a fighter has a disarm ability... not so useful when fighting wolves, but potentially very useful when fighting heavily armed knight.  The battle system should be such that it encourages the use of such abilities when the opportunity calls for them.  I think where a lot of games fail is in striking that balance between making something useful enough that it is worth using (at the expense of just a straight up attack), however not making it so essential that you are basically screwed for not having it.

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What about adding some kind of "bait" spell or item effects?

 

Like say a mage could plop down a rune that slowly heals anyone on that spot, be they enemy or ally (while damaging undead if healing magic does that). Naturally, enemy units low on health will want to stand on that rune to heal up, but you could place it withing range of all your own guys or have traps in place to get them when they take the bait.

 

Or have a spell that can create food or drink items in and out of battle (ideally, they stock up on food out of battle and use it for cheap healing or energy in battle). The same items could be dropped (and poisoned) to distract wild animals.

 

 

This could potentially be used for "commoner" characters, or just those who aren't supposed to be actual combatants but have at most some buff/debuff abilities to help out with. I wonder if adding some support abilities to noncombatants could make them more interesting to players during things like escort quests or guarding them during defense missions. Like say a merchant being escorted can give you a temporary speed boost, a king boosts your attack during a battle, or some lovable urchin taunts the enemys to lower their accuracy.

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This could potentially be used for "commoner" characters, or just those who aren't supposed to be actual combatants but have at most some buff/debuff abilities to help out with. I wonder if adding some support abilities to noncombatants could make them more interesting to players during things like escort quests or guarding them during defense missions. Like say a merchant being escorted can give you a temporary speed boost, a king boosts your attack during a battle, or some lovable urchin taunts the enemys to lower their accuracy.

 

I really like this, finding a way to make npc allies add something to gameplay rather than just becoming an annoyance is always a good thing.

 

:)

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How about something like this?

 

Make it so casting the support spells doesn't terminate the character's turn. For example, a fighter class can cast 'increased damage' sort of spell on himself and attack on the same turn. This would ensure that the player will use the skill because it will always have positive effect on the battle. The catch here is that there should be some sort of limiting factor like resource, e.g. mana, so that player is not constantly buffing himself every turn. Ideally, if balanced well enough, player will have to decide when to use those support skills because that character can only use the skill 2 or 3 times, putting in more depth and strategy in the battle.

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How about something like this?

 

Make it so casting the support spells doesn't terminate the character's turn. For example, a fighter class can cast 'increased damage' sort of spell on himself and attack on the same turn. This would ensure that the player will use the skill because it will always have positive effect on the battle. The catch here is that there should be some sort of limiting factor like resource, e.g. mana, so that player is not constantly buffing himself every turn. Ideally, if balanced well enough, player will have to decide when to use those support skills because that character can only use the skill 2 or 3 times, putting in more depth and strategy in the battle.

 

I know in Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition, during each turn a player can take a standard, move, and minor action (plus immediate actions for certain spells). Minor actions tend to be pretty weak but are good for minor buffs or utility spells. You could check out 4th edition rules for ideas.

 

Or, the spells could be 'stored' for later use after casting? Say, it takes 5 seconds or so to cast the spell, but once cast it gets stored where it can be activated later. Each character can only have so many stored spells at a time and casting the spell is generally too long to do during combat. So, before combat each character can prepare some powers to use during a fight and activate them quickly, and in an emergency they can 'recharge' those abilities by preparing them during combat.

 

Perhaps how the noncombatant characters work? At the start they use up their stored abilities to boost the fighters and after that they default to walking around to avoid combat while casting their utility spells. Characters can walk and cast "preparation" spells at the same time. The noncombatant types stay out of the way but the players can see that they are charging their spells so they are helping out.

 

Battles with a noncombatant ally thus has the first few rounds where they guy tosses out five of six boosting spells in quick order (perhaps twice in a round because they were prepared beforehand) once he runs out of prepared spells he stayss back and prepares more (each casting takes multiple rounds) and then casts those as soon as possible.

 

Thus, Utility Preparation abilities are sort of like using items in alot of rpgs, they are decently powerful and take a short amount of time to use, but you have to have them on hand to use. The Preparation abilities however don't cost money and can be restored in short order (so you don't feel the need to horde them). Each character can only have so many of these abilities stored up at a time though and the number of them stored can increase as you level up (or maybe invest in a certain skill tree).

 

So, most characters will invest a fw points to get Preparation slots that they can use quickly in combat (things like healing, power boosting, or mana recharge being the best). However, more dedicated support guys (like the above noncombatants) invest alot into these preparation slots so they can fill them up outside of combat (or during combat by hiding) and then unleash a lot of them rapidly when needed. I'm immediatly reminded of the Item Caddy trope on TvTropes. Basically a character whos special ability is being able to use and toss out items for the team (read it because of one guest character in Final Fantasy XII has an unlimited number of Hi-Potions he dispenses liberally in combat). With Preparation abilities, the characters would be like that but effectivly have an unlimited number of "items" to use so long as they have time to prepare and slots to use.

 

Rogues could prepare things like smoke bombs, healers prepare healing salves or spells, fighters use things that boost their combat prowess, etc. The key is getting Preparation Slots, then the abilities to use in them, and setting them up to auto-recharge before combat or prepare them in combat if need be. Using them is quick and doesn't slow down combat.

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