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Once again a slightly more philosophical article devoid of maths. Seeing as I am starting my masters thesis in a week, now is the time for this.


What purpose does healing serve in a traditional RPG?


Summarised to it's bare core, it is an attrition mechanic. The one stick by which all others are measured. Enemies deal damage, we deal spend MP to negate this damage, when this MP runs out, we die  or retreat out of the dungeon. The same counts for boss battles. The boss damages us, and if everything is going well, we spend 1 or 2 characters' MP and negate the boss' damage, thereby perpetuating a steady state where damage from the boss equals our healing output, and putting upon us on a deadline : defeat this boss before the healing MP runs out. 


Even in MMO's, the only measure for  "Will we defeat this boss" is : does the healer outpace or match the boss' damage output. Execution is a big part of it in these games ( Being a healer in WoW is not easy), but it is a case of execution , not of choice.


But then , what is introduced ? Healing items, a way to trade gold for health. The same games that are stingy on MP items are also the ones to shower you in healing items. But MP healing ? No, that is insanely expensive or non-purchasable. 


I despise this linearity. The solution I pose is a heavy usage of debuffs/status effects. Do I heal the poison or the HP damage done by the poison ? Is healing HP or dispelling the Defence debuff better ? Those are choices. Especially if there are follow-up attacks or combos ( Feeding frenzy deals extra damage to bleeding targets, Haste accelerates poison damage ...).


This does require that status effects are an equal and immediate danger as HP damage. In many RPGs this is not the case.


Poison that deals 10 % HP damage ? Boring. Now 25 % , that gets peoples attention. I really liked Persona 5 over this. Harsh statuses you could not ignore, but also where not a death sentence. Sure, Despair decimated your MP and killed you in 3 turns, but you could react to it.Bonus point for having them also open you up to bonus damage from nuclear or psychic damage if inflicted with a mental or physical or mental ailment. It generates play beyond "spam highest damage/cheapest spell " every turn. I really believe the 300 % damage boosts to this damage shouldn't have been locked to the ultra hard mode, but that's how it is.


First a look from the players' point of view. If I can cast fire and deal 50 damage, or poison that deals 10 hp/round, why even give me the choice of casting poison, especially if the poison only has an X % chance of hitting, and the fire is nearly a guarantee. Blindness ? Useless. SIlence ? Please.


The solution I pose: have all status debuffs also deal damage, while also having enemies deal a truckload of damage. If I have to choose between "Fire" that deals 50 damage, and poison that deals 30 HP and has a 75 ~100% chance of inflicting poison that will deal 20 hp/turn, that is a choice. Next on the list : move healing from attrition to the tactical space in even random encounters. Having 100 HP and an enemy dealing 5 damage leaves healing in the boring attrition realm. Now having 100 HP and having the enemy deal 40~60 damage per hit, now that actually moves healing into the tactical space, something usually reserved for boss battles. Can I kill these enemies before I die ? Let's see.


Now, boss battles. If I can just blind the boss, doesn't that take away most of the challenge ? Here I propose a different solution. Have a anti-boss version of each status effect. Blind on a trash mob gives 75 % miss chance, but on a boss, it gives 25 % miss chance. Still significant, but not an autowin. Preserve the utility of debuffers even during boss battles, they already get benched enough. Have the anti-boss version of silence give a 25 % failure chance to spells instead of a 100 % prevention of spellcasting. Shorten the duration from 3~5 to 1~2 rounds. Just make all skills inflict both, and have regular mobs be immune to the anti-boss version, and vice versa. Poison on bosses can be 2~5 % HP, confuse only works 20% of the time, and so on... 


This also pertains to boss attack patterns. Have your boss throw something around besides pure damage. Maybe he throws a defense debuff and a medium damaging move ( Small point : bosses should have multiple turns as standard, because he is stuck fighting a team that gets 4-5 actions/turn) the round before he sweeps the board. That generates play. Do we heal , remove the debuff or just guard with the entire team ? Can I ignore silence on my mage or not ? But don't have the boss just throw these around randomly.  Have them be part of his attack pattern.


That is the hard and fast rule: generate play, generate choices.


My long and winding point up to now is simple to summarise :


1. Make healing something more than Damage in vs healing out. Use status effects and debuffs. Even Bosses should throw antidotes sometimes.

2. Make enemy moves require counters, but offer multiple options on how to counter. No single item or skill should be the sole solution.


Check in next time for a numerical analysis.



The grind


Why do we grind ? (Not the dance, or the dating app)

Why do we kill trash mob after trash mob to get those levels, those crafting components ? Why do we inflict ourselves with this ?

There are 4 reasons as far as I see it.

1. Because we like it
2. Because we want that reward
3. Because we have to
4. Because we feel like or think we have to

1. Because we like it

Sometimes the grind is fun. There are entire games based around killing monster X , just to get the better gear, to kill bigger and better creatures.
Examples of these would be Monster hunter and Diablo 2 and 3. There is no grinding to get to the gameplay, the gameplay is the grind.


2. Because we want the reward

Sometimes the rewards are worth it, even if the grind is a bit dull. Grinding points in the battle arena to get that omnislash, collecting 20 dragonscales to get that dragon armour,
capturing 10 of each bird, so we can fight some special boss. Killing a 100 dragons to get an achievement. We don't necessarily want the grind, we want what the grind gives us.


3. Because we have to

We just killed the boss of the first dungeon, we're all level 3, but the next area has all enemies at level 7, so grinding we have to do. The boss wipes us in one turn , so a grinding we go.
The recommended level for the next storyquest is 10, but we're at 8 ? You got it, the grind (or badly constructed sidequest time). I have to collect 3 broken keys, but the rats only drop them 1/5th of the time? That's a grinding.

4. Because we feel we have to.

The enemies are kicking our ass? Better start grinding,(instead of learning the game mechanics) no matter that we're already overlevelled for the current area.

I ranked them because I really feel that there is a descending order of desirability here. As we move down the list, we start to remove player choice and enjoyment.

What separates the first 2 for example? The difference between intrinsic and extrtinsic rewards. 
An intrinsic one is where we do something for the sake of doing it, an extrinsic one is where we do something because we get something else from it. 
It can make the same activity feel vastly different from eachother, just by virtue of why we do it. 
It's the difference between playing tennis because I like playing tennis vs playing tennis because I'm trying to lose weight.

The difference between #2 and #3 is one of choice. If I chose to grind for that better sword or whatever, I won't actually feel resentment over it, but if I need that sword to progress, I now HAVE to grind.
If it is possible but hard to finish the quest underlevelled I feel as if I chose or did not choose to grind, and I will feel better doing it if I do it.
Now the distinction between 3 and 4 is one of communication to the player. If the designer really intended me to grind between each main story mission , and is upfront about that, sure, I might be able to stomach that.
But if I grind from level 10 to 15 only to later find out I wasn't supposed to go there yet, or there was some hidden weakness to all these enemies I had no way of finding out on my own, you can be sure I will be pissed off.

Now we have looked at it from the player side, how about we put or developpers hats on , and look at it from our side.

Why and when do we want player or do not want players to grind ? A couple of points and counterpoints:

a.    + If we designed our game around it
    - Artificially lengthens game time
b.    + Each combat is fun to play
    - We eventually buttonmash through each combat.
c.    + It smoothes out our Difficulty curve
    - Can make the game too easy

I feel like each of these sentiments can be classified along 2 axes
A. How much we want to allow the player to grind
B. How necessary it is.

It leads us to 4 situations:

1. We want to allow players to grind, and we require it
2. We don't want to have our players grind, but it is also unnecessary
3. We allow our players to grind, but it is unnecessary
4. We don't want to have our players easily and convenently grind, but it is necessary

Not all of these lead to equally fun gameplay, but I'm going to discuss what a designer might do to facilitate these kind of games.

1. If we require them to grind, and want to enable them, we should make the grind as accessible as possible, and eliminate down time.

A quickly back to town skill/item, a lure skill, some places with intentionally high monster density, some Hard, but very rewarding enemies (think metal slimes).
Maybe have a training arena where the player can just pick an enemy and fight it. Or maybe just an actual arena, like in kingdom hearts. It cut most of the story beats for just a neverending onslaught of enemies in everchanging troop composition.
Have the grind be part of the fun.

Now there are some pitfalls here. I do not advise to make the grind brainless and easy. Convenient? Yes! Easy? No! 
My solution to this is simple: have rewards for enemies below the characters level quickly drop off, either with exponential XP curves, or an actual reduced XP recieved if the enemy is too low level. 
Maybe even rewards for grinding against higher level enemies.
A big enemy and troop variety is a big must too. If I'm going to be fighting a 100 battles in this area, I want to have at least 8 enemies in at least 25 troops/configurations.

2. If it is not necessary and we want to discourage it, there are multiple solutions. 

One is the presence of only a limited number of enemies per level, but this then becomes a game of find all enemies before continueing, making the player grind nonetheless.
A slightly better solution is to only give a slight boost per level gained, combined with a steep xp curve. If it is not worth it, they will quickly stop doing it.
Having the enemies level along with the player certainly discourages levelling ( looking at you FFVIII!), this will often lead to player frustration.

A good solution, if used in moderation is to have regular enemis give very little xp, and the boss then give a very large amount. If the enemies give 5xp, but the boss gives 500 xp, I'm not going to waste my time.

A slightly different solution is to have a time limit to your quests.

A clean solution is to just have the player quickly reach maximum level (like in guildwars), or gate level progress behind game progress(FF XIII style).

Whatever you do in this situation , you have to be fair to the player. If you don't want him to grind, then he should be able to beat your game without grinding.

3. If grinding is unnecessary, but you still want to allow the players to do it, you have mainly the same things as in situation 1.

But, there is a question. If they do not have to, why would a player grind in your game ? 

One reason is that they want to choose their own difficulty in the game.
Why don't they just lower the difficulty then ? There is player pride : I beat the game on hard! (after overgrinding each area, untill the game was as easy as it was on normal)!. It is the reason I stopped picking the harder difficulties in persona. The only thing they make me do is grind more. Instead I just play on normal, but avoid overlevelling. My experience is better then going on very hard and just grinding.

It is also often the result of locking achievements or good endings behind a difficulty level barrier. 

A good reason I find are optional bosses. The ultima and omega weapons of final fantasy, the elizabeth/margaret/twins of persona, the high level hunts in FF XII/XIII, the battle arena in FFX.
If the player makes the main game too easy on himself by grinding, but he still knows where to find a challenge when he wants one, thats better.

Another fine one might be comsetics. I did not have to grind for that teddy bear armour, or the pink armour paint, but I wanted to.

In short, If grinding isn't needed, but you still want to reward the player for it, give them a nice reward to go for. 

Final fantasy often falls into this camp? I dont have to grind to finish the main game, but the grind is there if I want it.

4. The grind is/looks necessary, but I don't want the player to do it easily.

This is a weird case of it either being intentional, or the result of bad gamedesign. Let's split the 2 cases.

a. I did this intentionally.

Sometimes, grinding makes a character way stronger, and is necessary to progress, but you don't want the player to have an easy time doing it. 
This often results in the game directly fighting the player, trying to kill him. The most known example I could give are roguelikes, where each enemy you fight could be your last, but you still have to level up to fight the final boss.
A nice example of the oppressive system this entails is seen in darkest dungeon. A game where you have to level your heroes, but each one also has permadeath, and even if you don't die, you might wind up paranoid, sadistic, or suicidal permanently.

b. Oops, an accident

This is mostly caused by wrong playtesting, or just wrong design decisions.

Some examples:

You limited the encounters in an area, but the boss is actually unbeatable at the level you can get, because of a last minute xp per enemy change.

You make the enemies level along with the player, but you also insert random chance based "collect 10 bear asses that drop 10 % of the time" quests in there.

You have weapon durability, but encounters don't cover the repair costs

But whatever you choose, make sure you gave it some thought. Do I care if the player grinds, do I want him to, what happens if he does ?

In my current game, I'm going for the grinding optional, but if you do, I want to make it as easy on you as possible.

I'll have the hunt/safari/battle royal skills, that spawn 1/5/10 random encounters in a row, with rewards if you finish them all, but no healing/resting in between, so grinding is convenient if you want to.
I combine this with a custom xp curve that takes a heavy jump after each chapter end, so players can grind a bit, but are still doing the final dungeon of each chapter at the desired difficulty. for example, lv 8 to 9 costs 90 xp, lvl 9 to 10 costs 100 xp, but 10 to 11 costs 150 xp and 11 to 12 costs 200, 12 to 13 is 300 xp. The xp per enemy has equivalent jumps. Level 9 enemies might give 5 xp, but lvl 12 enemies give 20 xp. So staying at the right level is actually the best way to level up.
This combined with an ever flattening power curve means that every level is worth less than the one after it, percentage wise. level 1 to 2 sees you getting from strength 1 to strength 4, increasing your damage 4 fold. level 20 to 21 increases the same stat from 400 to 441, a 10 % increase in stat, and a 20 % increase in damage. At level 50 this is 2500 to 2600, and a damage increase of 8%.
For clarity, my stats are level(+/-1)², and damage is about att²/defense, so against an equal level enemy, this amounts to damage=attack stat (or lvl²).
This means that I can have a tight control over player progression in the beginning, but later on I can allow the game to open up, and to have a bit of non linearity.

Leveling will also only get you so far. The customisation options for the characters are locked behind dungeon completion, and not raw levelling.


Anyway, opinions ?


On randomness and encounter Balance


Warning : Most of these things are either my opinion or gathered from a variety of sources, which I can quote on request.


The age old problem : "Randomness isn't actually Fair"

Or worded differently: Most humans (and thus players) suck at probability.

Or less politely worded (wheither correct or not): The PC is a cheating Bastard (and that's OK).


Most RPG's, heck, most games, hold within themselves a form of randomness. 

But when is this desired, and when is it just bad game design hiding as (Fake) difficulty?

I go back to my favorite standby when I talk about randomness : Magic the gathering 

This not an RPG, I get it, but it illustrates my point, so bear with me.

Magic has a heavy randomness element in your opening hand of 7 cards. Did I get the right spell land combination ? 
An acceptable hand is between 2-5 lands. 
In a deck with 40 % lands this results in an 85 % Chance to get this mix, with a 50 % chance to get the optimal 3-4 lands. (Math not shown, but can be supplied on request)

On top of that, a player is allowed to mulligan , drawing a new hand with one less card. He may do this any number of times.

Even for a 6 card hand, which has a 40 % win chance on average according to the pros, the odds of a playable hand (2-4 lands) is till 74 %. 
So a player should only be affected by real flood/screw once every (100%-85)*(100%-74%)= <4% of the time, and have to go down to 5 Cards in hand.(Which technically still leaves you at a 20-28% chance to win according to the pros)

Now, mana screw (not drawing enough lands) and mana flood (drawing too much land), or our opponent getting a lucky draw are still the number one complaint about magic from beginning players, yet the designers state it to be one of magic's greatest assets.


Why ?


Part of it is mechanical : New players don't shuffle enough, leading to clumps in the deck (because at the end of a game , 
most land cards are in the same place, so when you go to pick them up, they form a clump in the deck , which should be shuffled away), they draw a bad hand,
they get mad, don't shuffle enough again , and one again draw a smaller hand from the still excessively clumped deck.


There is also the big impact of that opening 7. Nothing is less fun then outright losing the game because of factors beyond your control. So your mind doesn't tend to remember the games where you drew just enough land and spells. It remembers the couple of times you got screwed.


It also allows the worse player to sometimes win.
Why is this necessary ? Because nobody likes losing their first 50 games (I'm looking at you chess!).


Our feeling of luck also isn't symetrical. If we draw the right card at the right moment, it was "skill" that lead us to this moment, but if our opponent does it, it's just luck that made him win the game.


We also suck at estimating and interpreting probability. Suppose we have only 3 cards that could have saved us from a loss in our 30 card deck, most players will genuinely feel like they still have pretty good odds of winning, and blame randomness when they lose when they only had a 10 % chance to make it).

Another thing that inhibits us/our player in our understanding of  randomness is the distinction between random and fair. If we flip tail three times in a road, we feel like the next coin flip should be heads, but our chance to toss either is still an unchanged 50%.
Yes, throwing TTT is unlikely (1/8 chance), but starting from TTT, TTTH is as likely as TTTT. Now, on a long enough timescale the amount of T's over H's will trend towards 50 %, but nothing guarantees that the next one will be H or T.
The opposite is the "Hot Streak": I'm having good luck tonight, so I should continue to have good luck. "Ooh, Red is on a hot streak , better not bet on black."


The final problem I will discuss is goalposting. The first couple of times we use a certain skill/card/die we make a judgement on it. It worked the first 3 times I used it, so it must be good. No matter that it hasn't worked since, the players impression will remain that of a good skill.
This can of course backfire a bit. Suppose that a player uses a 50 % accuracy skill, and by coincidence hits the first 3 times he uses it. When later on it starts performing more according to it's accuracy, the player will suddenly feel the skill or the random number generator is out to get them.



The most succesfull MtG players in the world know all of these to be a factor and account for it.Dealing with randomness is a player skill. They realise the randomness in the game but know that they have so much control over it. They know and have heard all of these "bad beat" stories a 1000 times, and they know that in most the cases luck had little to do with it.
They know the things that a player can do to reduce randomness, and apply them (Play more copies of cards you want to draw often, mulligan correctly, make sure you have some cheap spells in case your deck decides to not give you a lot of lands, play some mana sinks in case you draw too many, play more/less land,...)
They believe in the numbers and less in gut feeling (bluffing aside). It also helps that games are best 2 out of 3, but I don't really think that would apply to an RPG 
(Somebody please make this!. Can you imagine having to fight the boss in a best 2 out of 3 match ?Fighting games can do it, so why not RPG's?)

Now how do we apply this to an RPG ?

1. Give the player agency in how to approach Randomness

This is the main difference I believe in bad randomness and good randomness. Magic for example gives players a big measure of control in how to approach randomness. 

Now, how do we do this in an RPG ? I believe this can be achieved by allowing players to choose how much randomness they want. 

For example, have some high damage low accuracy weapons, but also some weaker 100 % hit ones. Have some skills hit Randomly, but certainly not the majority. Advertise these options.
Another small thing to add: if you build a lot of skills/weapons, ... that nobody Loves/Hates, but everybody kind of likes, then you have achieved blandness, not balance. Something for everyone but not everything for someone. 
Don't be afraid of angering some your players with something, be afraid of boring all of them.

A nice example for this is the casino dungeon boss in Persona 5. 
She has a roulette/random chance based minigame during one of her boss forms, but the player always gets the choice of the safe bet or the high risk bet, and are given a round to prepare for the outcome. 
So there is randomness, but also choice in how much you want, and a chance to prepare for the result. She doesn't just randomly leech 2/3 of your party's HP.

How I did this in my game ?
For melee characters : Seeing as I avoid missing in combat, unless an effect is specifically causing it, I play with damage range and crit chance/Damage. So one weapon might doe between 90-110% of its damage, while the other might do between 50-150% Damage. Or maybe a clown punch that either does 0 damage or a devastating critical.
For Casters: the lightning element is almost completely random in its targetting (It will still only target enemies), and has an enormous spread of dealing 20-200% of its damage, with a critical damage of +200% (vs the normal +50%). If you want that , great, if you don't, then don't pick lightning.


2. Have randomness set the stage, but don't let it end it.


Yes, the cards you draw in magic are random, but everything after that is up to you. Do you mulligan or not, do you play aggressively or defensively,... 

How to apply this to an RPG ?

Back attacks/Ambushes/... However you want to call them. They can be fun once in a while, but they should never place me in a situation where I am dead without any input from me, if I am at full health. No encounter should be able to kill me completely without my input. 
If ultima slime can take away 55 % of my entire teams HP in one ultima, then under no circumstance should he be able to use that move twice before I have a go at him, even if it is to use an escape item. Anything less is insulting my autonomy as a player.
I'm fine with being half dead after an ambush, giving me a shitty starting position, but I should still be able to fight/escape my way out of it, no matter how much damage the enemies are doing.

This I applied by making it sure that no enemy troop can actually kill the players in one turn from full health. Not by powering them down , but by simple tweaks in the AI.
For example, suppose I do have my 2 ultima slimes in one battle, then one is going to cast ultima, and the other casts something like shell or haste, or uses a single target move like flare (FF  examples used, but you get the gist).
This still leaves me in a shit position, but there is still a fight, and more importantly, choices.

3.The mulligan.


Having randomness based mechanics not go our way leads to us wanting a way for us to do this over. And thus the save scum was born.
Oops my lockpick failed? Reload.
I didn't get the item I wanted from this boss/chest? Reload.
The boss started with spamming its supermove twice and I don't feel like dealing with that ? Reload.
I failed the minigame? Reload.

How you could solve this:

Remove mechanical randomness outside of combat, or heavily restrict saving. In this day and age restricting saving is likely to backfire, as most people react negatively to that.
Just have your lockpick skill be all or nothing (Lv3 Lockpick opens lv 3 locks). Anything else leads to the player reloading. Or maybe just have the lockpick break, but the lock still opening with a random chance. The player got a small penalty, but probably won't feel the urge to reload. Have them fail forwards, do not brickwall them.

If there is a big reward for doing well at the minigame, do not gate it after a single attempt, either allow a retry, or even better have some kind of point system so the player can "save up" for the item. 
Nothing like a good item being stuck between a (semi-)random minigame hey guys ? (Shakes fist angrily at chocobo minigame for Tidus' ultimate weapon).

Now in combat, how do we factor this in ? Maybe the player can bounce back from a devastating roll of the AI dice using that mega potion he had been saving ? (On the hoarding of powerfull items, and the "I might need this later effect" a lot could also be written.), but if the item needed to bounce back is actually too valuable, we once again have our player reaching for that reset/reload button.
Persona 5 had a rather nice solution in having one use escape items that where both pretty expensive/annoying to craft, but had no other use then to escape, giving the player a couple of fail-safes, next to an escape skill that could actually be upgraded to work better/in more situations(when surrounded for example). FFX solved this with having a character with a 100% succes flee skill. As long as he lived, you could always get away.
This also leads to my other point : escape has to work reliably enough or should not be there. "But won't players use that to skip some of the more difficult encounters?" Then you have a problem with the encounter not being fun/rewarding enough, not with the escape function. Using escape already has a penalty: no xp, no gold and the nagging feeling that you failed as a player.

But personally I find these patches on an underlying problem:  your game balance is either out of wack, your enemy AI is terrible, or your players do not have enough tools to deal with varying situations.
Small aside : Your AI is not there to kill the player, it is there to provide an engaging challenge, they are there to lose in a fun way. Yes, it might be logical for every enemy to attack the character with the lowest defence and HP, quickly reducing it to a pulp, but that gets old fast and leads to weird things. 
No one wants to be in the situation where raising the tanks defence does nothing because everyone just keeps attacking the mage anyway.(Cover and guard systems not included).
The game designer(Game leader in TableTop RPG's) is not there to kill the player, but to entertain/challenge him. He can always kill the player, but a true challenge ? that takes Finesse and skill. (A little nugget from my days as a D&D dungeon master, which coincidentally has a lot in common with being a game designer).

Warning : Controversy ahead:

In short : each time your player reaches for the reload button bacause of something he had no control over you have failed a tiny bit as a game designer.

Now, to coat this in some context: Nobody is saying every combat has to be easy. Just that in each combat I should be able to win/esape with the tools given to me, no matter what the RNG says.


4. Players suck at probability.


Now, there are actually studies that show this. We both over and under estimate probabilities.

We feel that everything above roughly 75 % should always happen (if it's us), and anything below 25 % can never happen (if it's the opponent), except when it's an enemy, then it seems like the 75 % skill hits way too often. It is why skills with "75 % accuracy" that actually have 75 % accuracy feel wrong. 
We feel like either the game is lying to us , or cheating us. Once again , this is player perception and is in very broad strokes.

How to solve this ? There is no simple and ethical solution to this. Human nature is what it is, and fighting that in a game is an uphill battle.
We could lie to our players ( saying that the accuracy of our skill is 75 %, but actually giving it a 90 % accuracy in the hands of the player and a 60 % accuracy in the hands of the enemy.
This might work, untill your player looks at the code. This also has the problem of confirming your player bias, and thus deepening the problem.

Another problem is once again the percieved dependance of the events. If we just missed twice, we feel as if the next one shouldn't miss, even when the accuracy is 50 %, and 3 misses in a row happen quite often.
Once again, do we cheat, and give the player a hidden accuracy boost after a (string of) misses? Once again , this might work until your players find out. Once they do , 2 probabilities : they exploit it, or they get out the pitchforks and torches.

There is however a third option, that is rooted in the players penalty avoiding nature. As humans we dislike penalties more then we like rewards. 
It's the wow rested Xp problem. In early playtesting of WOW, they experimented with a "tired" mechanic, where you would get -50 % xp if you played too much. Players where livid.
How did they solve this ? They changed Normal to be called "rested" and gave a 100 % xp boost, while  the new normal (the old tired) gave regular XP. They then cut the gained xp in half, so you got the old 100 % xp when rested, but only 50 % when "Normal". 
So they actually changed nothing, but they worded it as a reward, and not a penalty. That made all the difference.
Another facet is the the same reason why you would rather buy an artificially overpriced "80$" pair of yeans at 40$ then a "40$" pair at 40$ (the JCpenny effect, look it up!), even if the pants are both only actually worth 40$, we feel like we got rewarded, when actually we got exactly what we where going to get anyway.


So in short:Random rewards not penalties, make it feel like the player got something extra, even if the end result is the same.

A miss feels worse then a crit feels good.


An in RPG example:


Say we have Lucky strike, a move that hits 50 % of the time, but for triple damage. Obviously, this is mathematically speaking a good deal, you get on average 50 % more damage, but still, a large fraction of your player base will avoid this skill.
Now maybe, let's look at lucky strike 2.0: It always hits, but has a 50 % Chance of doing double damage. This skill just feels better, and I bet a lot more players will pick this one, even if the chance was only 33 % or 25 %.(Which they will stil unconsiously feel like it should happen 50 % of the time, but you can't win them all).

Another small suggestion could be to not have misses, or to have a miss deal some small amount of damage. Rename miss into weak hit and rename hit into solid hit.


Anyway, there is  still a lot to be said about luck, and how players handle it, but I'm already going long as it is. I hope I gave everyone ome ideas for their own games.


If you feel like I am wrong and an utter idiot, feel free to comment. As always, discussion is a door to new insights, and as some would have said it:" An evening in which everyone agrees, is a dull evening"



I'm not contuing my encounter balance article from last week, because I don't feel ready and have more questions than answers on the topic.

Now economy, that's fascinating! *Crickets in the background*

Ok, Ok, ... I kid.

It  might not be fascinating, but it is important. Because like in real life, gold, or Gil, or Yen, ... makes the game go round.
It is a reward , a reason to gind, and most of all the ultimate fungible currency and thus a wrench into the fine gears of balance.

Because somewhere there is a way to convert gold into anything the player needs, it is a way for the 
designer to give the player a small pat on the head ands say: good kid, here's some spending cash, spend it however you like.

But there are problems that lurks in most jRPG economies. 

I'm generalising, off course.

1. There is an infinite amount of money
2. The prices are weird
3. It is easily translatable into any type of power.

1. There is an infinite amount of money but no inflation.

The player is for al intents and purposes generating gold out of thin air. Even if you go the sellable loot route, that just adds an extra step. 

Even if we substract upkeep costs, like sleeping in an inn, potions, and damage to equipment ( if you do that in your game), every combat leaves the player richer then the one before it.
This usually escalates into the player having quite a sizable cash supply. 

Ahah! you think , I'll just let the player buy some gear in the next town, so he'll be back to being broke.
Now even if you calculated exactly how much encounters the player will have had, and the amount of gold he will have earned, most of the time it doesn't really work.

If the player has earned more than enough to buy all the upgrades, the problem isn't solved. The player still has too much gold.

When he has just enough to buy everything, why have the gold ? The player had no choice in anything. It becomes a chore : new village, new visit to the shops, incrementing the gear by one.

And a curious thing happens when he does not get enough gold. You would think : ooh , he'll have to choose what to prioritize, creating fun gameplay, but nope, 
he'll just go for a jog or 2 around the village and grind untill everybody has the new gear. 
Too many old games required and reinforced this behaviour, instilling in the player the feeling that if they did not have the best gear available in every slot, they might just as well not bother.
So eventually they still wind up with all of the gear, but by now they are overlevelled for the content, unless you accounted for this, but then it becomes a forced grind, antoher one of the crutches of the old jRPG's.

Personally I solve this by not having the gear grind, remember: my game has no straight upgrades in terms of weapons and armor, 
and just let gold be for consumables :potions, grenades,  ... 

Choosing between some healing potions or encounter ending grenades, maybe some repel powder feels like a choice, and players are less likely to grind for them, since they feel like extra's and optionals, in ways that the gear upgrades do not.

2. The prices are weird.

Because they do no result from any internal process, all prices in the game are arbitrary. There is no supply and demand, just the price that you'll pay.
No link between prices.

Why does the potion cost 50 GP and the antidote 25 ? Who knows.

Why does the potion that heals one character for a 100 HP cost as much as a visit to the inn ? 

Once you realise that all your prices are arbitrary anyway, you can start to see the big picture : Gold cost is a balancing mechanism anyway, so why not embrace it.

If gold can buy both permanent upgrades and temporary items, everybody will be buying the permanent upgrades, because that is what games have thaught us up to this point. Even if the sword+1 is 1000 gp and the potion is 10, we will still save for the sword +1.

3. Gold is power.

Gold earned is a second axis on the balance scale. A player that can somehow gain extraordinary amounts of gold without gaining levels means that you cannot just balance for what level the player will be. The amount of gold he had to spend is a  factor in his powerlevel.
Except it is way more eratical. 1000 GP on grenades is not the same amount of power 1000 gp on remedies represents. It is a weird axis of balance, unless you as a designer have a perfect idea of what the amount of gold in to power out is. 
But  even that does not solve the stockpile problem. You can't stockpile xp to spend it in one burst, but gold can be used in such a fashion.

The answer to this, in my mind, is to assign a basic unit of power to 1 gold piece ( or gil, or ...) and equate it to an equal MP cost, and prize all items according to that. This combined with a separate permanent/temporary upgrade currency split, should kind of solve this, I hope.

Another solution is incomparables. Is healing 50% HP the same as raising everybodies defence for 2 turns? Who knows, but it is a player choice.

Realy long story short, buying long and short term upgrades from the same pool will lead to weird results.



The impossibility of perfect encounter balance.


Or maybe just my failure at it.


Now that I've finished bare bones mapping for most of my act 1 dungeons, I was thinking to myself : Why don't you make some nice 
encounters so you actually can get some playstesting done?

I open up the database, create some basic enemy types (Skirmisher, Artillery, Soldier, Brute,...), give my characters some basic skills (fire, ice, darkness), and try them out.

Now, I have been pretty anal about getting my stats right ( see my previous blogs), with HP's and so forth being determined by the amount of hits 
I want the enemies to take before dying, and the amount of hits a player will take before dying.


It all seemed so perfectly balanced on the spreadsheet, until I started playtesting my encounters.
Which shows again , numbers are no substitute for raw playtest data.


All went well until I tried basically anything beyond a basic damage spell or attack. Then the balance shifted into weird directions.


After giving it some thought, I think I have found the 4 biggest disruptors for encounter balance, in rising order of complexity :

  1.  Multi-Target/Hit skills
  2. Status effects
  3. Randomness
  4. Interactions

Today, I'll be tackling the first 2, the other 2 are for another time. Maybe next week. Because for these first 2 , I have found a simple tool to balance these out.


1. Multitarget spells

For a starter, Multi Target/Hit skills, abilities that hit 2 or more targets, cause problems because they are damage multipliers.
Unless the damage is nearly neglectible, or the cost is excessive, any multitarget spell is just an order of magnitude better than any single target spell.
Any small boost or debuff is felt way harder than with single target skills.


An example : At level 20 the player is supposed to do 400 Damage per attack. 
Now, as I am working on a one enemy per player character system, there should be about 4 targets.
So easy, you say, just let the multi-target spell deal 25 % damage, so 100 per target.


That's nice, but that means it is now useless in any stituation with less than 4 targets. Now, most enemies will have 4 players fighting them, so this solution works nicely for enemies.

Obviously that does not work for Players, so in comes my good old friend : limited resources. 


Any multitarget attack should just cost a certain amount of MP/TP, even if the single target version does not. How much MP/TP ?

The easiest solution I could find was to just give each MP point an amount of damage it could deal. After long debate, I came to 50 % damage (or healing) per MP point spent.
So assuming I use a multitarget spell when I have 3 or 4 , so 3.5, opponents, I deal 350%-100%= 250% more damage, so a multitarget spell costs 5 MP.


What about high levels, you say ? Seeing as I don't believe in straight upgrades ( no Fire 1,2,3), I have an additional solution: Monster HP escalates way faster than player damage, 
so by the time he can spam fireball, enemies dont take 2 hits, but 4 hits to take down, and he will need all the fireballs he can get. 
It allows the player to grow without needing to replace his basic skills, as I combine it with a small MP pool, topping out at 110 MP for mages at lvl 100, and rising MP generation, topping out at 10 MP per turn at lvl 100. 


Instead of casting fire (0MP) and saving his MP for the fireball (5MP), he can alternate between the 2 the moment he regenerates enough MP, maybe even casting regular fire a couple of turns, to save up for the big guns (25 MP/shot).

Now, in the case of TP using skills, how do we balance this ? That is something for another chapter.


2. Status effects, buffs and Debuffs.


The core of combat: Action economy.


In combat, in the rawest sence, players and enemies trade actions for damage. Given the way I balanced my game, equally levelled players and enemies recieve an equal amount of damage per spent action , it is just the HP's that differ.


So in the strictest sence, the opponent has to spend a certain number of actions to win , and the player has to spend a different amount of actions to win.
In a basic combat, the 2 cavemen beating eachother with clubs until one falls down kind, aka the attack spam battle, the players will allways win or the enemy will always win, with, outside of criticals, no variance inbetween.


But that is not how real combats work. In a combat with multiple characters on both sides, both sides generate actions each turn , and spend them to kill the other side. Once one side has spent enough actions , that side wins.


An Example:

A 4 heroes against 3 rats scenario at level 5. The rats deal about 20 % of the players hp in damage each action they takeand can take 2 hits.
So the rats generate 3 actions per turn, and need to spend 20 actions to win, the players generate 4 actions a turn and need to spend 6 actions to win.

So however you slice it, the rats always lose in 1.5 turns, having dealth at most 4.5 actions worth of damage, but if the player focus fire having dealt only 1-2 actions worth of damage. 
The worst case scenario is that all the rats hit the same guy, and he dies.
This is a nice and safe encounter even if the player just divvies up his attacks evenly instead of focus-firing (which is pretty dumb for the player).


Now, let's replace the rats by snakes. Suppose they have a poison attack, that deals no initial damage, but poisons with 20 % HP per turn damage , and a regular attack.
How much more dangerous is this than the rats ?
Assuming the same encounter, 3 snakes vs 4 players, equal level.
The players still generate 4 actions per turn , and need to spend 6 actions to win. The snakes also need to spend 20 actions and generate 3 actions per turn.

Supposing the snakes have basic AI and do not attack already poisoned players, is this encounter more dangerous than the rats one?
Looking at it hrough an actions generated/spent lens might give us an answer.
Nothing has changed on the player side, so were ignoring that for now, but the way the snakes behave is totally different than te rat behaviour.

After poisoning the players, suddenly the snakes are generating damage on the opponents turns, in effect generating actions.


A little turn by turn :
Snakes spend 3 actions , to poison 3 players. The players take 3 actions worth of damage because of the poison. The players spend 4 actions and kill 2 snakes.
The final snake attacks one player, the party then mobs him, but still takes poison damage twice. 

So grand total : The players take about 6 actions worth of damage before winning, therefore this encounter is about 2-3 times as difficult as the rats one, but still nowhere near a danger for the player.


Now interesting things happen when the number of snakes or rats changes.

Suppose we have 3/6 rats, and the player focus fires to kill rats as fast as possible, and tries to kill a rat before it takes a turn, and the rats attack randomly:

Round 1: Players spend 4 actions and kill 2 rats, rats get 4/1 actions.

Round 2: Players mow down 2 rats, rats get 2/0 actions

Round 3 : All rats die.


Suddenly the 6 rats get off 6 actions, in opposition to the 1-2 actions if there where 3 of them. So the encounter with twice as many rats is not twice as hard, but up to 4 times as hard. Notice also how the 3 rat encounter is actually 3x easier if the players focus fire.

From this we can conclude that encounters do not scale in a  linear fashion, and even adding one enemy does nasty things to an encounter.

As a bonus the same situation with 6 snakes :
Players focus fire on the 6 snakes, and the snakes spread poison as fast as possible, to a player that still has to take its turn.
Round 1 : 2 Snakes killed, 4 players poisoned. 4 actions worth of damage.
Round 2: 2 Snakes attack, 2 snakes killed. Snakes deal 6 actions worth of damage.
Round 3: 0-1 snakes attack, 2 snakes killed. Snakes deal 2-3 actions worth of damage.


So the snakes deal 12-13 actions worth of damage. So the 6 snake encounter is still twice as dangerous as the 6 rat one, and might actually heavily damage a party, seeing that 20 actions by the enemy kills the player.


If the player spread his damage instead of focus firing, he would take :

Round 1: 4 Players poisoned, 2 regular attacks, no snakes killed: 6 actions for the snakes.
Round 2 : 4 regular attacks, 4 poison damage actions. 8 actions by the snakes.
Round 3 : Kill 4 snakes.1 attack by the snakes. 4 actions worth of poison damage, and 1 regular action.


For a grand total of 19 actions worth of damage by the snakes. The players might actually lose this encounter if they are really dumb and just attack spam to random targets. 

Now why this whole explanation about rats and snakes ?

Because they demonstrate that nearly all things can be calculated in an actions worth of damage, and to show that he who generates the most actions wins.


This is an important factor in encounter balance. It shows that the more enemies you add, the more turns each enemy gets, so you have a near quadratic effect on encounter difficulty.
It also show the importance of debuffs and buffs and status effects, once you start to see it as trading your turn for theirs, and why status efects are annoying if used by the enemy and useless if used by the player.

"Wait what ?" You might say, but it is true. As we see in the 6 rats scenario, the players have to spend 12 actions to win, but the rats have to spend 20. 
So each action for the players is 1.66 times more valuable than one from the enemies. Even if the player had a 100 % accurate stun it is only worth it if the rat would have lived 2 additional turns. And this is the best case scenario. 
And forget the classical blindness spell with a 70 % succes chance and a 70 % accuracy reduction. That would only generate on average 0.7*0.7=0.49 actions per turn. Meaning, in our rat case, the rat would have to live 3-4 more turns before it becomes worth it.
I easily solve this by having the player cast blindness spell also deal damage, but cost 1 MP. As I established earlier, 1 MP gets you 50 % of an actions worth of damage/effect/healing. 
So with the same reasoning, the ice spell that deals regular damage and freezes for 2 turns with a 50 % chance costs 1 MP, as it negates a full enemy action (that's about 1/1.6= 62 % of a player action).

Now when used by the enemies, it suddenly does become worth it. If an enemy action costs a player an action , he has traded up, seeing as the player actions are worth 1.6 times as much as the rat ones.


It also poses a floor for healing spells. If a healing spell does not heal at least, in our example, 1.6 x as much as the enemy would deal, that healing spell would have better been an attack to end the encounter faster except when that character would otherwise die, then you're trading an action for an action.


Buff spells suffer the same fate. A single target buff spell that raises another characters attack by 50 % is only worth it if the combat lasts 2 more turns to break even, and 3 turns to be better than a standard attack. 

Meaning that I find that a single target buff should cost 0-1 MP (probably 0 to encourage buff use), but a partywide buff should cost 1 MP if it lasts 1 turn ,because you spent an action to generate 1.5 actions (3*50% more damage), gaining you half an action. 
Any turn after that should cost 4 MP, so a 3 turn party wide buff should cost 9 MP. Now, to encourage buff use, because 90 % off players will still always go for the straight damage spells, I might just reduce this to 6-7 MP.


Now comes the difficult part : The exchange rate between player and enemy actions shifts at higer levels. This is because at higher levels, the balance is different.
At level 5, enemies deal 20 % of the players HP in damage and take 2 hits to kill, while at level 100 they deal 60 % of the players HP and take 7 hits to kill.
So the players need to spend 28 actions to kill the enemy, and the enemy needs to spend 8 actions to kill the player. Suddenly the enemies turn is worth at least 3.5 times as much as a player one.
This means that a player is spending at least 5 MP a turn (+250% Damage) to make his actions on par with the enemies actions, and should probable be spending about 10 MP per turn if he wants to win(By coincidence, that is what he regenerates in MP each turn). It also means that status effects become really important for the players to use, as each stunned/silenced/frozen enemy is worth 2-3 player turns. And I am ok with that. It just means that abilities that unlock later should be balanced for use at that level, and that some low level abilities become better as the levels advance, thereby keeping them relevant.


So what I'm saying is to not stare yourself blind at the numbers in this article but maybe to try and see combat in terms of an action economy, with both players and enemies generating and spending actions, with a certain exchange rate between these 2 actions, and an MP cost to generate what amounts to extra actions.


It simplifies the numbers to simple actions spent, and allows you to quickly mentally simulate important battles, and balance skills.


This is most valuable in boss encounters, where you can actually start to see it on a timeline, and thus balance the boss way easier.


Puzzles and Failing 

Puzzles and Failing 


Something has been on my mind in the last couple of weeks, as I am laying down the basics for each of my dungeons. 
It was puzzles, and how they are implemented in RPG maker style engines.


Short aside, this is the definition I am going to be using as a puzzle: an obstacle in a game that cannot be overcome through brute combat or manual dexterity.


My biggest problem was with how much work they take if you want them to be Flexible, Resettable and Solvable


Now for a little story time.

I come from a heavy Tabletop RPG background, and have 18 years of experience as a Dungeon Master in D&D. 
My second favorite part ( apart from the actual face-to-face role playing) is handing my players a difficult 
puzzle and seeing them trying to solve it in a creative way. Now, could this be frustrating as all hell if your players are having one of their Duuuuuuuuh moments? 
Yes, but I solve this by having 2 things : 


1. THE solution of the puzzle doesn't exist. Or more specifically, the puzzle doesn't have a definite solution. Now, this is exceedingly easy to do in a Tabletop game, where you are, as a DM,
can actually hear them working it out, and when they actually start doing things that should work, I can say :"Sure, That works". I call it the room full of tools approach.
Give them the obstacle and a lot of ways to interact with it.
The player feels clever, their creativity feels rewarded, and I didn't have to sit there waiting untill they found my "one true answer." 

Now, while this is easy as pie in a tabletop RPG, this is by far the hardest to do in a digital RPG, as each possible solution has to be specifically put in the by the developer/deigner. 
But there is a middle of the road approach:
While you can't have puzzles with no solutions, you can still implement the room full of tools approach (or the all ways lead to rome approach, whatever), 
and have multiple answers to your puzzle.

My favourite puzzle to do this with is the push a block puzzle, or the scate along the ice into rocks puzzle, or the teleporter puzzle. Spatial puzzles, not dialogue puzzles is what I'm talking about here.
I sprinkle the adequate blocks/teleporters around, and keep trying to solve it myself until I get A solution, and then start trimming the ones I did not use. If there are more possible solutions, great, but I am sure there is at least one.
Cross the broad river is another one that works kind of well with this. Or as you might call it, the find 3 out of 5 keys approach. There are more interactables then are needed, with the spares either unlocking a bonus treasure,
or some of them are locked  behind additional obstacles.
The key to make this the least bit workable is to have a lot of common events that do the things you want. 
I have a stockpile room, with a pile of interactable objects that just need 1 or 2 variables changed, and a boatload of common events.


Now for the next Piece:


2. Allow the players to "Fail Forwards". This was especially relevant in tabletop, but our cRPG's can benefit from it too I believe.


Imagine : the players are investigating a murder in a dwarven city, and they find Gunpowder on the crimescene. Instead of thinking "Gunfactory" and them going to the Industrial district,
they interpret it as cannons, and go and look in the Harbour district. Do I let them waste their time and present them with a roadblock ? Off course not, you give them a hard encounter 
with no treasure, have them find a note specifically indicating the Gun Factory, and maybe a tighter timeline for the rest of their mission.
The heroes are trying to climb a wall, and they fail their skill check, do I let them plummet to their death ? Off course not, have some damage, and you attract a simple encounter.


Don't let failure be a roadblock, but just another obstacle.

Now this is again easy to do face-to-face, and harder to do in a computer RPG, but there are lessons that can be drawn from this. 

a. withold extra reward


Once again the example of a block pushing puzzle. Maybe the solution is really easy to just pass the puzzle, but off to the side is a treasure chest, and getting that one will be way more difficult. 
Maybe if he usus only 3 out of 4 keys, he might still have one for the bonus room
The player can advance anyway, even if he fails, but that treasure chest is there; shiny, shimmering, splendid.


b. give hints if stuck


Another aspect of this is getting the player back on the right track if he is wrong or stuck. I'm not saying solve the puzzle for him, but maybe have an interactable object start blinking
after the player is just standing there with his finger up his nose for 2 minutes. Maybe give a hint, or give him the first step of the puzzle , maybe have the hint be delivered by a partymember who would see such things. 


c.penalties, not roadblocks.


A final aspect of failing forwards is to have failing the puzzle to just apply a penalty to a later event.

Concrete example: Somewhere a third through my game I have a 7 Sins Themed Demonic Dungeon, with each sin being represented by a different permanent status effect.
There are seven Bosses, each removing one sin from the party, until only one is left, then there is a final boss battle. Depending how you do it, the final boss, or any boss in between really, can be a breeze, or an absolute (but still winnable) nightmare.
So even if the player just does the bosses in a random order, he could still possibly defeat the dungeon, it would just be insanely hard.


Now, on to a totally different topic:


Resetability and Robustness.


Sometimes a player fails a puzzle. He pushes a block into an inescapable corner, he drinks the poisons in the wrong order, ... 
Basically he screwed up and cannot continue.

Now, how much do we need to plan for this ?
While there are certainly ways to foolproof a puzzle, and we should do this to as many puzzles as we can, 
doing this to each and every one would, in my opinion, be enormously laborious.


I have found a simple way around this, but most of you are not going to like it : The player is going to have to sometimes reload. 
When a player has to do this, I feel not the player, but the designer has failed, but limitations on the engine are what they are.

Now to soften the low : Use autosave. Have the game save at the beginning and end of small local puzzles. Having to redo just the puzzle stings a lot less. 
It almost mimics the table top puzzle solving in that you can try and interact with the object to find the right solution, instead of being stuck if you fail.


Ah! You say, what about your promised big puzzles ? Your 5 skills required dungeons ? Those are actually also solved by very careful use of when to autosave.
Here the autosaves are at the beginning of the dungeon and at each convergence point; the choke point in the dungeon each of the possible paths has to take, where you put your minibosses, Story Cutscenes,... 

Because you know that if they made it that far, they are not halfway a broken puzzle.


Of course I still allow manual saves, but the autosave is there to say : you're allowed to experiment and fuck up, we've got your back.


Is this an enormous Hack ? Yes, Yes it is, but so are most things in RPG Maker


Because resetting a "shove the block into the right hole" puzzle might be easy, a "push te rock into the river, 
so you can cross, then freeze the river under the block, so it floats off, and blocks the river further downstream slowing it down so you can make a bridge out of ice so that you can melt the block free and push it into some other river" might be slightly more difficult.


One final thought : there is no reason to have random encounters during a precision puzzle, unless the puzzle deals damage on failure and thus the encounters are part of the puzzle design.


So, what are your favourite kind of puzzles ?

Push a block

Teleporter/Sliding around

Riddle/coded message

Sequence of levers.

Entire minigames (Mastermind, ...)


Weaknesses and the False Player-Enemy Equivalence.


Back for another round of my opinions in game making. I'll start with some theory before getting to the point , so please bear with me.

The word for today is equality.


More specifically in player character and monster design, and how they need not be designed the same.

Somewhere there is an underlying feeling that the game we are playing should be fair, and that they should be playing by the same rules as us. 
But should they ? While nothing is as infuriating as a cheating AI, the player and the AI serve wildly different purposes.
While certainly some of the AI cheating is there due to  limits in technology, because an AI will almost never be as good at adapting as a human player except in some discrete systems.
That doesn't really matter, because the player is there to win, but the AI is there to lose entertainingly.

So to answer the question "Why does the AI/Enemies sometimes get to follow different rules than the player ?", the answer should be because it leads to better gameplay, or because of technological limits,and not for any other reason , because no-one likes a cheating AI, and yet, sometimes letting the AI cheat just a little leads to way better gameplay.


The same can be said for how each sides game pieces are built or function. Every case of enemy-player inequality should have a solid reason.

  • Why can the boss spam the high MP spells almost turn after turn , while I can't? (Because then that's the only thing you would do, heavily reducing your variety in gameplay.)
  • Why are bosses immune to instant-kills ? (Preventing Anti-Climax and reducing RNG as a factor)
  • Why does the boss get 2-3 turns ? (There are 4 of you and only 1 of him, so he still only gets 2-3 actions vs your 4)
  • Why doesn't the enemy have to worry about building up TP ? (Because the game engine doesn't track enemy TP)

Now all of this was a small snippet of my thoughts to explain my reasoning in the next bit.


Let me make a bold and broad statement (that will probably be misinterpreted) :

I do not believe in player character weaknesses.

With weakness I mean a glaring defensive weakness , not an offensive one. I'm fine with the mage not doing physical damage, what I am not
ok with is the same mage folding over like a wet paper towel to an attack that barely scratches the armoured fighter, or the fire mage dying to even a light ice spell.

"But ..." I hear you think "why didn't you put the mage on the back row then ?" Because the back row is a hack, a cheap patch designed to hide an obvious design problem.
In theory it sounds nice, put your mage on the back row, trading physical attack for defence. My problem with this, is the no-brainer deciscion this is. 
There is never any doubt the character should be in the last or front row, so why don't we just up the mages defence and get rid of this hack.

(Warning, some numbers up ahead are exageration for effect, used to prove a point, please do not take them as absolute law)

I'm fine with the mage taking 20 % more damage, given equal health pools, but usually the mage takes up to 40 % more damage, and has only 70 % of the fighters health pool, quickly making any hit that endangers the fighter an insta-kill for the mage.

On the other hand, no player character should have complete (passive) immunity to a certain element (I am ok with skill usage granting temporary immunity), because then each encounter with that element is just a roulette to see who gets hit , 
or in the case of Good or cheating AI totally useless as the character will never be attacked with that element.


Now, to be nicely controversial, I believe enemies should have glaring weaknesses and blanket immunities.

Why? Because from the beginning the enemy and player are not on equal footing and are not playing the same game anyway. The enemy is there to provide 2-3 rounds of resistance and then fall over. It's loss rate should be 95-99 % (excepting boss battles).
The other reason is choice and gameplay. Having your fire mage just die to Ice spells rarely creates interesting deciscions, outside of the binary "do I bring him or not?". Giving him an amulet of ice protection isn't a choice, but a must at that point.
But deciding wether to use your fire mage to finish off one enemy, or do a big chunck of damage but not killing a second fire - weak enemy, that is a deciscion point.


To use persona 3/4/5 as an example : Hitting the enemy in his weakness and chaining them up to eliminate a though encounter feels great, but getting surprise attacked and wiped before you even get a turn feels horrible and is one of the most controller smashing moments in an otherwise very good series of games.


This also nicely touches on another problem with for example mass insta-kill spells. Say there is a spell that has a chance of killing an enemy 50 % of the time, and it targets all enemies. Is this spell fair in the hands of the player ? I believe yes ( at an appropriately high MP cost). 
Is it fair in the hands of an enemy ? Unless it is heavily telegraphed and able to be countered, no, I do not think so. Suppose you cast it against 4 monsters, there is a 1/8 chance of ending the encounter right here. If it works, fun , but nothing special. Now the same spell cast by an enemy you encounter regularly. 
Giving the party a 1/8 chance to just game over without counter-play is just nasty. To add on top of this, if a surprise attack by your encounter can defeat a fully healed party without ever giving them one turn, even if rarely , then maybe tone down the encounter slightly (or eliminate surprise attacks).


In summary, what I am saing is : enemy weaknesses lead (or should do so anyway) to gameplay and choice, player weaknesses leads to random blowouts or nothing. 
Because players get way more affected by randomness than monsters. A monster is there for the one battle, the player is there for at least a 100, so the 1 % chance to be randomly buttfucked will eventually happen.


Now how I'm doing it in my game:


  • Small weaknesses ( up to 20 % more damage)
  • Medium Resistances (up to 50 % less damage)
  • Many resistance granting spells and abilities, but no passive immunities.


  • Glaring weaknesses (up to 500 % more damage)
  • Above and beyond immunity (Reflect , absorb, immune , ...)
  • Reacting to certain elements with counterattacks, so the right choice isn't always the right choice. For example : Fire does 100% more damage, but gets you counterattacked.
  • Having a weakness not necessarily be more damage, but inflict a debuff, having lightning inflict stun on turrets, fire inflicting enrage on beasts,...


And on a final note : balance your (random) encounters not for the average , but the edge cases. What if the encounter turns into a total shitstorm (all enemies randomly select their strongest move and/or all enemies crit in a row), do the players have any chance? Even if it is only 5 % likely, because that 5 % will eventually come up.


HM Mules

Field Skills and the HM Mule


Today I'm going to try a shorter piece, about field skills,their quirks and how I want to use them in my game.


With field skills I mean things like the classical pokémon HM moves like surf, fly and cut, but also skills like lockpicking, or step by step regen.


Basically these fall into 3 categories:

  • Key skills : Cut, Strength, Whirlpool, ...
  • Convenience Skills : Fly, Step by step Regen.
  • Reward Skills : Lockpick treasure chests


Today I want to mostly talk about the first category.


Key skills are skills like surf, or cut. They are required to physically acces or complete areas. 
They might as well be replaced by a key somewhere in your inventory, or a boat item, yet at the same time they feel better.

Maybe it is because it feels like the character is being awesome. 
The feeling of a character smashing a rock wall does conjure other images than the same character just turning a key in a door, while it is functionally the same.


On the other hand, in games with a numbered amount of skills per character, they feel like a skill tax, leading to the HM mule : a character that is not actually part of the team, but just is there for his key skills. This is, I find a big design flaw in those type of games, as they constrict player choice for no good reason.


I have made these type of skills a key point in my game, but with a slight difference:


Each key field skill is at first unique to one character, and there is no limit to skills known. 
This seems like it solves the HM mule problem, but as my party size is a small 4 characters, 
chosen out of a possible 20, it is actually still the same, filling up one of your 4 party slots without your choice.


This I have attempted to solve by:

  •  Keeping the dungeons short, under 30 minutes short, so you are never stuck with someone you dislike using for long, and by making character swapping as painless as possible.
  • As there is no strictly better gear, there is no need for the equipment shuffle. Just toss the required character some gear he can use, and you are ready to go, no need to rob another character first.
  • The balance is also more and more forgiving for a slight level difference, a gap that widens as the game continues.
  • As the game progresses, eventually characters start learning other characters field skills, allowing you options, making the requirement sting less.
  • Especially because eventually dungeons might require up to 10 required skills, necessitating that the player actually spends a little while puzzeling together a party.
  • Because walking into the dungeon and realising you brought the wrong team, and making you walk back to the party select zone (or in pokémon, Bill's PC in the pokémon center), to go get that one character that can crush rocks is not something that I need in my game, I am being pretty explicit and forthright about my required skills for a dungeon, having the player find Enemy Intelligence on the next dungeon beforehand, to make it part of the puzzle the player can solve. It feels less like you are stuck with a character if he is there because he is part of a solution you thought of yourself, probably because it puts choice back in the hands of the player.
  •  Having an obstacle have multiple solutions. The poison gas rooms might be something for the Air mage, or the Poison-immune cyborg. The energy fields can be bypassed by either having the magic nullifying character, the electronics overloading one, or the hacker. Once again , player choice is preserved, while not negating the uniqueness of characters and the necessity to change up the party. 
  • Have them also be combat abilities. 


Things I am trying to do with this:


  • As I said before, it allows me to make party composition a puzzle that needs to be resolved over and over again. I like optimisation , but not of the set-it-and-forget-it kind.
  • Give each character his moment in the spotlight. If I make a dungeon aout a characters abilities, he remains in the players mind throughout the dungeon.
  • Easier cutscenes in dungeons , as I have a pretty good idea of who out of the 20 characters will be there.
  • Make complex dungeons that are actually fun and intuitive.


Some examples of Field skills I am using:

  • Air Bubble (Water Breathing, Smoke Screen, Survive Vacuum, reduce wind speed ...)
  • Freeze (Create steppable ice, make ice boulders, ...)
  • Absorb Magic/Energy (Bypass energy Barriers, destroy magic wards, ...)
  • Shock (Overload electronics, stun guards, ...)
  • Fire (burn bushes, melt Ice, ...)
  • Move earth (Push Rocks, ...)
  • Mind Control (Remove Guards, Have big beasts smash boulders, ...)
  • Weather Control
  • Radiation Immunity
  • Hacking
  • Give Light


What are your thoughts on these types of moves, and are you using them in your game ?



This week it's time for another random topic : Encounters, expecially of the random kind. Bosses and other scripted encounters are a whole different kettle.


Warning : Following is a heavilly opinionated piece. The points put forward here are personal opinion born from 
personal experience as both an avid RPG player, both jRPG and aRPGs, and a tabletop Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master.

First, why do I use random encounters in my jRPG, as opposed to on map random encounters or fully handcrafted non-respawning encounters? 

There are some basic reasons why I do it :
1. It's Fast and Easy
2. It's Flexible and Robust

Reasons other people think why I shouldn't or did do it :

1. Not Realistic/Outdated
2. Lazyness
3. Frustrating/Frequent/Repetitive
4. Too Random/Dissalows skilllful play/ Interaction

Now for a little elaboration on these points :

1. Fast/Easy.

Let's admit it, it is fast, a set and done method. I make some enemies, an encounter list, paint some encounter zones if I'm feeling fancy, 
and I'm done. I can churn out a lot of content in a short mount of time, it is 90 % realy streamlined database work, if you have your enemy stats already layed out. 
Not having to bother with every encounter, just making sure I have about a target number of encounters per area on a 
mildly suboptimal run through, which most beginners will be doing on their first runaround, alllows me to be more productive as the one man team I am.

2. Robust/Flexible

It makes playtesting way way easier, I can just switch them on and off to my liking. It also makes mapbuilding easier, not having to account for enemy terrain
passability for roving encounters, or an enemy getting stuck and blocking something, wether it be an NPC, a switch or a doorway. I don't have to put up 20 respawn timers on every map.

I often do entire redesigns of certain areas. Random encounters allow me to at least reuse my encounters, freeing up time for the other parts of the redesign.


Now, to discuss some of the downsides :


1. Unrealistic and Outdated

As a short asside, when people use "realism" in a video game, often they mean verisimilitude or appearing real within it's own work. 
We accept a lot of things in video games, aka. willing suspension of disbeleief, but then other things that are 
just as unrealistic seem to jar us out of it. As a designer, I think we should strive not to be realistic, but just 
not to break that willing suspension of disbelief, not introducing elements that we think "do not belong there" and thus do not seem real.

This means many genre conventions, even though they are outdated, are tolerated within their genres, because they seem to belong there. 
Things such as ridiculous jumping distances in Mario, or the health regeneration in shooters, the speed boost from drifting in certain racing games. They are in a vacuum totally unrealistic, but because they are part of the genre, we accept them.
As thus I do not see random, instanced, encounters as an absolute problem in top down 32-bit jRPG's, while they would totally seem out of left field in for example Call of Duty, or Skyrim.


2. Lazyness

Where some might see lazyness, I see efficiency. If I had the time, I would personally and lovingly craft every single encounter the players have, but alas, I am a one man team attempting a game with over 100 dungeons. 
Productivity is key here. My personal experience as a D&D dungeon master has taught me much here. It is a way more efficient use of my time to spend 50 hours designing about 20 robust, interesting reuseable encounter templates that 
I can for example fill with Brute #A,B, spellcaster C, Healer D and environmental hazard E, slap some paint on the wall and call it finished in 5 minutes, than lovingly spend 2 hours crafting each encounter,
only to have the players trash it in 2 turns, or completely miss or circumvent it. This moves more work to preproduction, but once set up, allows for a lot of things to be done rather fast.
These encounter templates will be explained further later on in my rant/article. 


3. Too Frustrating/Frequent/Repetitive

This most often has to do with 3 things : Encounters are too frequent, or they are present in areas where they should not be, like complex puzzle areas, or they are formulaic and boring.
I find that these are both adequately solvable without having to go to map or event based encounters.


The important element is that of player control. He has to be able to , through choice, influence encounter rates, I find. In my game this is a rudimentary stealth system and certain weapons allowing for surprise attacks more often.


4. No Skill involved.


This one I'm going to split up into 2 parts : Avoiding encounters/Pre-emptive strikes and preparation.

The wandering of enemies on the map does give the illusion that the player he can skillfully avoid the encounter, 
or in some systems (like the Persona Series) hit the enemy before it hits them and get an advantage in combat. 
While in theory this works nicely, in practice this comes down to either it being too easy, and you always evading/suprising the enemy,
or being too hard, in which case, why have bothered. I try and reach the same effect by correct equipment choice and actions in combat.
A player that wants to be stealthy can try to be so, but I don't have to put every enemy on the map, Win-Win. 


The other comes down to preparation, thinking that if I can see the enemy/encounter (if they have unique map sprites per enemy type), I can prepare for it. 
Now there are RPG's that go heavily of off this model, like the Baldur's Gate series, where each resource is unique, each spell is single use, 
and encounters are often save reload retry heavy, but for a standard jRPG, with a flexible, often MP based resource system, I just see a frustrated player spending 5 minutes in his inventory, specifically preparing for every encounter he meets.

For flexible resource systems (MP-Based) I think it is more fun if the player does not know when he is going to encounter what, in the short term, forcing him to improvise from turn to turn, while still allowing for mid-to-long term planning.

What I want them to think :"This cave has bats and snakes, I 'll take my anti-bat weapons and anti-snake ones. Better have a nice mix of both. In the encounters : Hmm, snakes, I should keep him healing poison, while the guy with the anti-snake goes to town on them, and the rest takes down the snake handler"
What I do not want : " The next encounters looks like snakes, everybody put your anti-snake gear on, next encounter is bats, better take off the anti snake, and put on the anti-bat, repeat for every encounter."


One I feel leads to more dynamic play, the other leads to menu overload. That said, like I told you, there are series where this is appropriate, I just don't think it is in my game.


Rant over


Now after my too long rant defending why I'm using random encounters, Let me explain what I am doing with them.


First of all, all of my enemies are based upon a blueprint of what a monster of their role should look like in combat, like brute, healer, artillery, ...
So my orks are lvl 9 brutes, my flame imp is a lvl 17 artillery, ... (More on the specifics of this in a following article).

Short summary : 
Skirmisher : Base
Brute : Low Def, High damage
Soldier : High Def, Medium Damage
Elite : Counts as 2 enemies
Solo : Counts as 4 enemies
Artillery : Multi-target damage
Buffer/debuffer: Raise/Lower stats
Controlers : Take control away from player (stun, sleep, silence, ...)
Summoner : Does nothing for multiple turns then casts high damage spell or summons other enemy.
Sniper: Heavy Single target Damage, with set-up or wind-up turn(s)

Next, I spend time designing Encounter templates.

An encounter template is like an ingredient list, listing all the things that are in the encounter, centered around a central challenge 
beyond just kill all the enemies, requiring the player to think how to best do this.

Once you have these, you can pick n mix with enemies you have, and voila, you have an enormous amount of quickly generated content.

This will be clearer with some examples, so here, have some examples: 


1. The broodmother.
Enemies: Elite Soldier, and minions.
Challenge: Kill the broodmother, while also killing all the minions she spawns turn by turn.
Abilities required : Multi-target skill, high damage single target


2. Beauty and the beast
Enemies: Solo/ELite Brute or summoner and 1/2 healers/Buffers
Challenge: Keeping one half occupied while you deal with the other half.
Required Ability: Debuff, Stuns or Spike damage


3. X marks the spot
Enemies : 1-2 Debuffer and 3 Snipers.
Enemy AI: Focus Fire
Challenge: Keep the debuff off the targeteted character long enough to kill either the debuffer or the snipers first.
Required Ability : Debuff remover/ Bufffer


4. Artillery Misery
Enemies : 3-4 Artillery, each with a different Element.
Challenge: Stay alive long enough to kill the enemies
Required Ability : Intense healing, elemental resistances


5. Spikey Portal
Enemies: 3 Skirmishers, 1 Summoner
Challenge: Kill the summoner before he summons something nasty that might be a total party wipe, while also not ignoring the other enemies chipping at your health.
Required ability : Spikey Single target Damage, Medium multi-target damage.


6. Sands of time
Enemies : 2 controlers ,a healer and a damaging environmental effect.
Challenge : Kill the enemies before they can just stun all of you and let the environment finish you off.
Required abilities : Spikey Damage, stunbreaking, environmental damage negation.


7. Palace of mirrors
Enemies : 4-6 Brutes, with wildly different immmunities and weaknesses, absorbances and reflects
Challenge : Kill them all with AoE spells, using the correct spells in the correct sequence.
Required abilities : Multiple AoE Spells of multiple elements


8. Down with the King
Enemy : Solo enemy that begins combat with a series of buffs.
Challenge: Stack your debuffs correctly, so you both survive and damage him enough before he reapplies these buffs.
Required Abilities : Spikey Damage, debuffer, Healer.


9. The bubble pop
Enemies : 2 Skirmishers and 2 Debuffers
Challenge : Reapply a buff that is needed for survival (for example: water breathing), while still killing the enemies.
Required abilities : Reapplying the survival skill in combat.


10. The breather
Enemy : 2 Skirmishers
Challenge : None, just a breather



Each and every one of these can be filled in with level apropriate enemies and quickly populate a dungeon , without giving the feeling that the encounters are identical.

Now as a bonus point, you are allowing the player to build a repertoire to handle similar encounters once he sees patterns. 
I try not to use more then seven different enemies in one dungeon , but even then , that still gives a whole lot of gameplay.




One week later, one more topic to talk about. Sorry in advance, it got a bit long.




This week I'm going to zoom out a bit and explain the general structure of my game.

This will be a mechanics based article, the story itself will be kept a surprise for the actual game, so it might seem a tad dry, but it does keep the article focussed.

For reference, when I say a dungeon in this post, I mean any Isolated space, with enemy encounters, with a clear beginning and end. They might be a slums district, a volcano, or a space station.
When I say an ability or skill, I mean one that can affect the environment ( push boulders, nullify blizzards, ...).

It is divided into 5 chapters:

Chapter 1: Intro (lvl 1-10)
Chapter 2: Gathering the team. (lvl 11-25)
Chapter 3: Seeking for power (lvl 26-50)
Chapter 4: Seeking perfection (lvl 51-90)
Chapter 5: Finale (lvl 91-100)   


Chapter 1


The first chapter is spent as kind of a mini version of the whole game, introducing all the aspects I will be using.
Because there is no use in waiting for halfway through the game to introduce core elements.
This is something I gleaned from a design motto they use in Magic,the gathering :”If your theme is not at common it is not your theme. “
Translating for video games : if a mechanic is only introduced halfway, or used sparingly, can you really call it the cornerstone of your game? FFXIII suffered from this enormously i found.
So my intro will have you gathering team members, quickly switching PoV's in dungeons, introduce quickly the 3 main realms of my game, and will culminate in a small scale 2 party jailbreak.


General structure

Except for the first and last chapter, each chapter consists of a series of dungeons,
organised by level into groups of 2 to 4, but seperated by physical location. Each group will usually have a dungeon in each realm. The realms are Fantasy, Sci-fi and Action ( not real names, just placeholders for a general idea and tone).


Each dungeon in a group gives physical acces to a dungeon one group up, and
gives a character or ability needed to traverse a different dungeon one group up.

So for example, the first group of dungeons is (lvl 11-13) :
Wizards tower, Dictators palace, and the aztec pyramid.
The  group 2 dungeons (lvl 14-15) are the Supersoldier labs, and the Volcano.


Completing the aztec temple gives acces to the volcano level, but you still need
the ice mage to cool certain lava parts, which you recruit in the SciFi-Dictator's palace.
Finishing the Sci-fi dictator level unlocks the supersoldier lab dungeon,
but you need the magic-draining character to nullify the energy fields,
which you can find in the wizard's tower, and so on.

Now when I say physically unlock a dungeon , this usually means you get information on the location of the next dungeon, or it might literally mean that dungeon is on the other side of this one.
The information on the next dungeon will usually include enough info to know what or who to bring to the next dungeon. This will be consultable through some sort of adapted quest log system.




Two small addendums :
1. you make your party when entering a dungeon, and the maximum party size is 4.  
2. Xp is not shared, but the away team gains xp equal to a full dungeons' worth upon completion as it is considered to be doing something useful while you are in the dungeon. (Fending off pursuers, gathering intel on something, ...).

That means you can't just have 4 characters worth of gear, because the away team might get some quick cut-away segments, requiring you to do some battles, or a small set-piece.

Each group of dungeons is balanced around a central level, with each dungeon raising the characters level by about 1 or 2, determined by the level range and size of the group, with a lot of the xp being bound up in the end of dungeon boss.

This ensures that each new set represents a difficulty spike, while still allowing some sequence breaking.

As an example the 11-13 dungeons are balanced around level 12.
So a character that just starts chapter 2, being lvl 11, will find the first dungeon he does a little harder then average (11vs12), and the third one he does quite a lot easier (13vs12).
If the player really wanted to, he could skip a dungeon and go and do a group 2 dungeon (13vs14.5). The game will however eventually require him to go back and do the third dungeon,because eventually he will need the location and the character/ability it opens up.




Small aside:

Now, with the non linear acquisition of characters, you might imagine cutscenes being a mess.
I plan on doing a full blog on this topic later, so for now, just know it is something I still need to hammer out.


Now, back to my game structure.


Chapter endings

After a set level of dungeon groups, eventually the final dungeon of that chapter is unlocked, requiring all of the then available characters to have been obtained.
These I intend to be the big setpieces, with a multi-party assault with multiple parties each doing their part.


By the time you start the first one, you will have acces to about 20 characters, so that means about 5 different parties, each doing their part.
These might be :
1. The home team, keeping the escape vessel safe
2. A strategic support team, attacking key points ( taking out snipers, alarm blowers,...)
3. A stealth team, stealing passwords to unlock certain doors
4. The main team
5. The cavalry in case something goes south for any of the other teams.


The smaller dungeons will have this too, but not on this scale, mostly a quick splitting up and reconvening.
Once again, more specifics are for a later blog, as this one is still about the big game structure.


Chapter 3

After having acquired nearly all characters by lv 25, and having finished the big chapter ending dungeon, Chapter 3 starts.
Here dungeons will be unlocked by having the right abilities, and the right team member, as each dungeon is attuned to one specific party member. You still have to physically reach them by completing other dungeons.

So the party will be the main character, the attuned character and a character there for his ability, with one additional character being free choice.
During each one, the attuned character gains a new ability.


For example, we want to empower the lightning mage to become a lightning/water mage, able to call a storm to stop fires, but the dungeon is an underwater temple,
necessitating bringing the wind mage long to create an air bubble.


Once again , this chapter climaxes in a multi party siege of the chapter ending dungeon.


Chapter 4

In chapter 4, the gloves come off.


Like in chapter 2 and 3 there is a linked sequence of dungeons, with rising levels, but they will require ever more arcane requirements, often requiring 2 parties with each a specific set of abilities.


Now, this might seem like it really restricts player choice, but as the previous chapter was spent getting each character a second ability,
there will be, by design multiple correct solutions. Some abilities might also be substituted by others.
Once again, there will be an ability earned per dungeon completed, allowing further dungeons to be attempted.


An example of this in practice : There is a polar research station that requires a team to enter some ice caves, and a team to get into the command HQ.
The ice cave team requires : someone with fire powers to melt ice boulders, someone who can nullify the biting cold magical blizzard, either through a heat aura, a regenerative aura to nullify the damage,
or wind powers to stop the blizzard. The other team needs a stealth person , and at least someone who can overload security circuits, control electronics, or someone who can absorb energy barriers.
As the main purpose of the dungeon is to empower the ice mage, she too has to come with either team A or B, as these reconvene to actually defeat the boss, with a party  of 4 chosen from those 8.
There might be some cutbacks to the home team fighting of yeti's from assaulting the ship.



Once all the abilities are achieved, chapter 5 can commence.
Chapter 5 is the big final dungeon, testing everything learned up to that point, a multi stage dungeon requiring multiple party formations to split, reconverge, and finally face the big bad in a  5-way boss battle.


Now it is  time for my weekly collection of words that could loosely be categorized as a blog post.
To follow up on last weeks post, I will be talking about the gear in my game, more specifically the armor and Accessories.
Like I gave my weapons types, I did the same for my armor.
They are Light , medium or heavy, with light giving 2 levels worth of magic defence, heavy giving 2 levels of physical defence, and medium being a medium between these. These bonusses are static, so late game gear wil give the same bonus as early gear. While the defence stat is split between mdf end regular def, that does not necessarily mean that all light armour is meant for mages, and all heavy armour is meant for fighters( not actual classes in my game). A fencers' armour is light armor, but is obviously better suited for a martial types, while the demonhide robes might be considered heavy armor, but better on a mage.
Why keep the bonuses so close you ask ? It is because you can choose what to attack with, but not what to defend with. If the mage gets splatered all over the dungeon wall by an attack that would only incovenience the tank of the team, then fights become either RNG based if the AI is random, or impossible as the mage eats all the attacks in the first round and dies, if the AI is semi-competent.
Warning : Short math break : When I say 2 level's worth of defence , I mean the characters defence is as if he were 2 levels higher. As all my base stats are equal to level^2, this raises the defence by 4*lvl +4, meaning the difference between light and heavy armor in damage taken is: lvl^2/(lvl^2+4*lvl+4). This is an equation that quickly trends towards 1 (or 100%) with increasing lvl.
So a 10th level character who dons heavy armour would have his defence rise from 100 (10^2) to 144 (14^2), meaning he takes about 70% of the damage he would have in the light armour, but at lvl 20 he would take 82 % of the light armored characters damage. This eventually tapers off, until he takes 96 % of the damage he would take in light armor at lvl 100. 
This might seem counterproductive, but it just means that the higher the character goes, the smaller the difference, allowing me to really fine tune those late game bosses and enemies. As damage in % of a characters HP rises from 20 % at lvl 1 to 60 % at level 100, this is necessary, as at 60 % of a characters hp, having the mage take 42 % more damage than the tank is kind of a problem, as any crit will instadrop the mage from full HP, and even regular attacks will take out 84 % of the characters HP at that level, while the heavy will just fold to any spell cast in his direction. That is even assuming they have the same max HP, which they might not.
Math break over.
Now, why do I have my armours give an actual bonus to a stat, but not my weapons ? Because a bonus to a defence is an actual choice to be made. A stat bonus to attack will usually trump whatever other effects a weapon could give, but here I find it to be a meaningfull choice.  The bonus also doesn't escalate as much, as atk is squared in the damage formula, but not defence.
After type, each weapon has an origin : Fantasy, Action or SciFi.
As a general rule, Fantasy armour aids resource generation (tp or mp), Action armour gives resistances to damage types, and SciFi generates a small barrier around the user, replenishing every turn.
On top of this, each non standard armor has a unique ability, such as the mech suit giving a nearly impenetrable physical defence and missile attacks, but giving glaring weaknesses to most elemental damage or the time-mage robe reducing cooldowns, but decreasing mp regeneration. Almost none of these are pure upside.
The only other equipment slots will be accesories. These fall into two categories : a neck slot and a hands slot.
The neck accessories are defensive and will take the form of amulets, cloaks, ...
Most of them will be both up and downside. 
Some examples : The amulet that protects from silence, will also cause all spells to generate extra noise, thus making stealth harder. The  cloack that grants immunity to poison also nullifies potions, and so on.
The other accessory slot, the hand slot, including rings and gloves, is focused on granting abilities. These are without downside, but as you are limited to one, it still presents the player with choices: "Do I want my fighter to be able to cast a cure spell every 3 turns or spend mp to cast a fireball ?". Most of these will either use a cooldown or warm up or consume the characters MP/TP, even if the base spell would not. 
As for availabilty, each base type and origin has one armor that is available in reasonable quantities (a total of 9 options), but the special ones are all unique, as are all accesories. Seeing as you have to equip about 20 party members eventually  for the multi party dungeons, choice is the name of the game.
Long story short : Options, not dictations.

I know it's been over a year, but it's good to be back again. Apparently having a full-time jobs cuts into your Blog and Game making time, who knew ?


Today I want to talk about the gear in my game, more specifically weapons and armor, and why I chose to trim it all the way back.


Now that I've been away from my game and had some time to think, I wondered, why does my game need heaps and heaps of weapons and armour?

It is not the focus of my game, it will lead to endless menu micro-managment because of all the splitting up and regrouping of parties, endless shopping trips and grinding, because every character (up to 20) needs to be kept up to date on gear, it affects balance if they are under or over equipped, …

The list goes on and on and on. So I made a seemingly radical choice. I dumped weapon and armor upgrades. Now don't get me wrong, there is still gear to be found, but no piece of equipment is “strictly better” then any other.

To illuminate : strictly better is a term that I first heard about in Magic the gathering. It means “Identical in every way except the numbers are better”.

Applied to RPGs, this would mean tossing your dagger for a mythril dagger because it is identical to the dagger, but has a higher attack stat. There is no reason to use the dagger over the mythril dagger.

In some games, this is part of the fun, and it certainly has it's place in games, but not in mine, not with the character focus I wanted to have.


So I did away with the endless mill of +1 swords and chose a different path : Incomparables. Meaning I wanted no weapon to be mathematically better then any other, but unique and different.


As people who may have read my Elements ands skills blog post might remember, all of my elements are intrinsically different. For example, fire raises the users magic attack, lightning is luck based , … Now what if I did the same for my weapons and armour.


This necessitated my split of physical damage into 3 categories to allow for variety : Piercing , Slashing an Crushing. Each of these types has its own damage formula. Piercing ignores part of the targets defense, Crushing deals more if the targets hp is low, and Slashing deals more if the users hp are high. A weapon can have more than one damage type, for example, a morningstar is both piercing and crushing. Some skills require the use of the correct type of weapon.


Next, I divided my weapons into 9 weapon types, with each type getting about 3 weapons :

Sword, Dagger, Axe, Hammer, Spear, Peasant, Bow, Gun and Artillery. Each of these categories has an additional effect:

  1. Swords are Skillfull, which means that they generate more TP when used.

  2. Daggers are Fast, which means they raise the users agility. ( I use a ctb battle system, so agility is very important)

  3. Axes are Punishing which means more damage on debuffed opponents.

  4. Spears have Reach, which gives the users a big bonus on counterattacks

  5. Hammers are Pulverizing, dealing more damage on a crit.

  6. Peasant Weapons have Underdog, which means that when the users has a stat buf, the effect is greatly increased

  7. Guns have Penetrate which means they ignore physical defence, and just deal damage equal to a.atk stat instead of a.atk²/b.def.

  8. Bows are Silent, generating way less noise, therefore not raising the alert level as much.

  9. Artillery has Unavoidable, meaning they negate block, and deal unresistable (Almighty) damage.


On top of that is the small, medium, large system.

  • Small weapons can be dualwielded.

  • Medium weapons are the standard, and allow a shield or small weapon in the off-hand.

  • Large weapons deal splash damage.


Each weapon also adds a skill unique to that weapon.


So to bring it all together, some examples :


The longsword is a Medium Slashing and Piercing Sword, so it can be wielded with a shield or small weapon in the off hand, it deals more damage if the user is at high hp, generates more TP, ignores part of the targets defence and allows the users to use Slashing and Piercing Skills. It has the ability to let the user enter a parry mode as a special ability.


The Quarterstaff ( different from a mage's staff) is a Large Bludgeoning Peasant weapon. So it deals Bludgeoning damage, deals more damage if the target's hp is low, raises the users attack when buffed with something, deals damage to multiple enemies when attacking and allows the use of Bludgeoning skills. As a special ability, it raises the users block, and counts as a shield.


Most of this is realised by using Yanfly's Weapon Unleash system, to give every weapon an different attack skill, instead of filling up the formula bar with 200 if-statements.



After missing a week, here is another character Bio. As always , comments are welcome.







Age: 50

Gender : Male

Homeworld: Adventure


A no nonsense drill-sergeant, who recently resumed field service, way below his official rank.

While he is not cruel,he does not tolerate weakness in his cadets, and is a stickler for the chain of command.

He is very reserved when it come to his past, and why someone of his military expeience was stuck drilling new recruits is anyones guess.

He was the drill sergeant to Brend and Tania.



His arcana is the emperor.






He wields lightning as his main element, complemented with a plethora of ranged physical attacks.

He is very offensively balanced

He has very good (++) ATK and MAT

His only other good stats(+) are LUK and HP

All his other stats are bad(-).


He can equip guns and bows.

His field skill is Overload, which overloads electronics, mainly opening electronic locks and disabling security systems.


A snapshot at level 10 :


HP : 500

MP : 15









Dual shot




Tazer shot




My third character BIO. This time of a later-game character.





Home World : Sci-Fi



Age: 25

Gender : Female


She is the daughter of a dictator in a totalitarian dystopian regime.

She for now has been her fathers unwilling right hand, but has secretly been aiding the rebellion.

Not even the rebellion knows this.

Scientific experimentation has made her barren, but she still feels responsible for her nation.

Outwardly she is cold and calculating, keeping mystique on her side.

She appears aloof, but she cares deeply for her people, while also remebering a different side to her father, one he still showed when his mother was still alive.

As having children is impossible to her, maybe mothering the rebellion will fulfill this urge in her ?



Her arcana is the empress.







Her class is the empress


Her only element is ice, but she uses it best of all characters, wringing a lot of versatility from it.

Her best stat is (++) MAT

She has good (+) DEF, MP and MDF.

Her big weaknesses (-) are ATK,AGI, and LUK.

She starts at level 14.



She can equip guns, staffs and Psionic weapons.


Her field skill is Chill, which prevents fire and ice based environmental damage and ongoing effects. This enables her to safely explore both polar caves and volcanic cave systems.


Her unique skills resolve around Ice and snow, like creating persistent blizzards , which she can protect the party from, while still allowing them to damage enemies.




Snapshot at level 10


HP : 421

MP : 20











Ice shield


As always, feedback is welcomed.


Classes and stats

How Classes and subclasses Influence Stats


To repeat one of my previous posts a bit first; the stats in my game are :



Damage=ATK^2/DEF + 1



Now how do the differen classes and subclasses factor into this ?





There are 4 possible modifiers a class gives to a stat : ++/+/0/-


++ : + 2LVL's

+: +1 LVL

0 : LVL

-: -1 LVL


Each class recieves a net stat modifier of ++. For example the magician class has :


HP: 0

MP: +

ATK: 0

DEF: -

MAT: +

MDF: -

AGI :+

LUK: +


Usually a class will recieve at least a + in his main attack stat.


Why the small bonusses you ask ?

a. The system is quadratic , so small bonusses add more than is apparent.

b. So the difference in classes isn't too big. If the difference in for example defense becomes too big, then a hit that merely grazes the physical character obliterates the squishy mage.

c. It makes the effect of the subclasses seem bigger. As subclasses are one of the main customisation options, I wanted the make their effect on the stats bigger.





A subclass grant a small LVL bonus to 2 stats or a big one to 1 stat.

This bonus goes from +1 to +5 (0.05*LVL) for the small bonus to +1 to +10 (0.1*LVL)for the big bonus.


3. an example

The main character has flat 0's as stats ( he compensates for this in versatility), lets compare these to the magician at the same lvl


So at level 10 the stats are (assuming equal gear)


HP: 421/421

MP: 105/110

ATK: 100/100

DEF: 100/81

MAT: 100/121

MDF: 100/81

AGI :100/121

LUK: 100/121


So against an equal levelled enemy, the mage will recieve 23 % more damage but deal 46 % more magic damage ( because of the MAT^2 in the magic damage formula)


at level 50 this effect has nearly dissapeared as we can see in these numbers from the post about my stats:


Assuming a lvl 50 monster and character:


lvl 50 vs 0 stat = 2500 Damage

lvl 50 vs - stat = 2603 Damage (4% more then normal)


But if we add a big defense boost giving subclass (10% lvl):

lvl 50 vs +++++ = 2066 Damage (20% less than normal)


Now if we do the same for our player attack :


0 vs lvl 50 = 2500 damage = Standard damage

+ vs lvl 50 = 2706 damage = 8 % more damage

++ vs lvl 50 = 2925 damage = 16 % more damage

- vs lvl 50 = 2308 damage = 8 % less damage

+++++ vs LVL 50 = 3660 damage = 46% more damage


Which means that at later levels the subclass starts to dominate the regular class in stat differences, while still remaining within reasonable levels.

This is off course further influenced by equipment , but that is a thing for a later post.


Another character Bio, this time of the first healer you meet.






Home world:Adventure



Age : 19




Sole child with a dead mother and an absentee father.

Studied to be a nurce, but upon learning that her father was hiding her mothers terminal ilness,

she wanted nothing to do with her family.

She ran away from her home to become an army medic. She went trough bootcamp together with Brend.

She often tries to seem more mature than she actually is, and has the tendency to try to act like the team mom.

While she says she hates her family, deep inside she misses them enormously and wishes thing could just go back to the way they where.

On the surface she appears mature an thoughtful, but her lack of real life experience quickly betrays her.




The arcana she is associated with is the Priestess.




Her class is the Priestess


Her elements are ice and item based healing.

Her best stats (++) is HP.

She has good (+) MAT and MDF.

Her big weaknesses (-) are attack and MP(-).


She can equip guns, staffs and small melee weapons.


Her field skill is freeze, which freezes slow moving,narrow, shallow streams of water, allowing streams to be crossed.


Her unique skills resolve around the creations and boosting of healing items. Example : Harvest MedKit, Improved Potion, ...


Snapshot at level 10


HP : 585

MP : 10









Magic bullet



Harvest medkit

Combat Medicine





Enough about the mechanics of my game, let's talk a little about the characters in my game.

In this series I'll be going over the characters in my game, giving character Bio's, some class and stat info, and their relationship with the others. These will be in order of appearance.

The character portrait is probably a placeholder.







Home world:Adventure



Age : 17




He was raised in a big farmers family, being the second youngest in a family with 5 kids, 4 sons and a daughter.

Always in the shadow of his bigger brothers, he often bullied his small sister as a form of compensation.

While he's smart, he didn't want to be just like his oldest brother, so he went into the army.

He tricked his way into the army at a too young age, and nearly washed out of basic training, untill his drill sergeant talked some heart into him.

He often is optimistic about things.

He's a bit of a big loudmouth, who often tries to shirk responsibility and thinks way too much about what other people think about him.

But deep within him is a determined, willfull smart young man, but he has a long way to go.



The arcana he is associated with is the Magician.



His class is the Magician


His elements are fire and lightning.

His good stats(+) are magic attack, attack, luck and MP.

His big weakness(-) is defense and magic defense.


He can equip guns, staffs and medium melee weapons.


His field skill is burn, which clears away dead brushes.


Snapshot at level 10:


HP : 421

MP : 20














Magic Bullet



The elements and their skills


In this post I'll be talking about the different elements my skills have and the damage and effects that arise from those elements.












As said in a previous post, base damage for my skills is ATK^2/DEF+1. For magical skills this is of course MAT^2/MDF +1




Physical is the baseline element.

It contains all purely physical attack moves.

While the base damage is the one done by a basic attack, almost all the different physical Skills have their own damage formulas, so posting them al here would be overkill.

You'll see them in my upcoming skills posts, which will, element by element and post by post, explain all the skills in my game.




As fire is a rising element, casting any fire skill will give a temporary MAT boost, increasing it by 20 %.

Seeing as damage is MAT^2/MDF+1, this means that the damage will rise by 44% for his second attack. This does not stack with itself.



Ice is the long creeping death, so any attack with an ice skill will lower the targets magic defense by 20 %.

Because the damage formula only includes MDF and not MDF^2, this means that the difference in damage is much smaller. It is only 25 % more damage.

This is of course compensated by the fact that a lowered magic defense is good for all your party members, not just the caster.



Water has 2 sides to it: Life and death. It contains all of the curing spells (Water), but also most of the debuff spells(Blood).

The damage is standard for a magic attack. So even the poison and blind spells deal damage equivalent to a fire or ice spell.

Because otherwise, who would use them ?



Lightning is luck based. You cannot choose the target (it will still always hit an enemy) and the variance is 50% instead of 20%.

Damage of the lightning skills is slightly increased to compensate for this fact.

It deals MAT^2/MDF*(1+a.LUK/b.LUK)*1.2



Earth skills are special in that they use physical attack against magical defense. It also contains most of the Buff and defensive spells.

So earth damage is ATK^2/MDF +1



Wind is a mirror of earth in that it uses magic attack versus physical defense. It's damage is MAT^2/DEF +1.

It also has a really low variance (5%).



Darkness keys off both your attack and magic attack. It also gets more powerful if your hp gets lower. All Darkness spells cost HP.

The damage is ATK*MAT*(2.2-a.hp/a.mhp)/b.mdf. This means that a character at Low HP can deal up to double the damage of a standard attack.

Darkness also contains a lot of "bad for me and you" skills.



Holy deals more damage the more agressive the opponent is and the more defensive you are.

The damage formula for holy is a.DEF*a.MDF*b.ATK*b.MAT/(b.DEF*b.MDF*a.ATK).

It contains a lot of retribution and equaliser skills.


All of the characters in the game are either single element specialists or dual element casters.

Each element has one specialist and two hybrid casters.

Because water actually is 2 elements ( Water and Blood ), this means I have 10 Elements.

So 10 Solo casters and 10 hybrids (2 elements) equals 10+2*10/2=20 characters, which is the number of characters I have.

More on this in my upcoming classes post.



Small end note. As I am using yanfly's multiple element plugin , there are skills that contain multiple elements.

Examples are fire sword, which is both physical and fire, and Monsoon, which is both water and lightning.

These are wielded by the hybrid characters, and their damage formula's are a compromise between the pure elements.


As always, comments are welcome.


My stat system and how I came to it


Warning! Mathmatics ahead.!


Here are the formula's I use for stats like HP, ATK,MDF,..., in Tempest of Souls.

I'm using Yanfly's Base parameter Plugin to set the stats to these values.



Damage=ATK^2/DEF + 1




Let's explain why these stats




By having the stats be Level^2 ,at first the stats really explode, but they quickly settle down percentagewise.


LVL1 VS LVL2 = 400% increase (1 to 4)

LVL 10 VS LVL 11 = 21% Increase (100 to 121)

LVL LVL 50 vs LVL 51 = 4 % increase (2500 to 2603)


This means that in the linear intro I know the player will have a certain lvl by a certain point in the story.

This allows me to regulate progression, while also allowing a little bit of level grinding in the beginning,

if the player is stuck or enjoys doing so.

Later in the game the stat differences percentage wise slow down, so the player can now more easily

enjoy the more non-linear part of the game, while also making overlevelling less useful.

Equipment acts as a LVL bonus, so a sword that gives +1 to a character with attack 25 will raise it to 36 (+9 damage),

but giving the same sword to a attack 50 character will raise it from 2500 to 2601 (+101 damage). More on this in my upcoming equipment Blog post.




Damage=ATK^2/DEF +1


I chose to do damage this way so that if a player and monster have equal ATK and DEF, they will deal damage equal to their attack.

The extra +1 is there to make the numbers work a little beter in the low lvl range, and to guarantee at least 1 damage.

The way stats level, usually damage is about :


a.lvl^4/b.lvl^2 +1 , so damage against an equal level opponent is lvl^2 +1


Which means that in the beginning a level seems like a big deal,


lvl 1 vs lvl 1 = 2 Damage

lvl 2 vs lvl 2 = 5 Damage ( up 150 % from lvl 1)

lvl 2 vs lvl 1 = 17 Damage (240% more than normal)

lvl 5 vs lvl 1 = 626 Damage


while later on it flattens out :


lvl 49 vs lvl 49 = 2402 Damage

lvl 50 vs lvl 50 = 2500 Damage (up 4% from level 49)

lvl 50 vs lvl 49 = 2603 Damage (4% more then normal, and 8 % more than a lvl 49 would do)

lvl 50 vs lvl 45 = 3068 Damage (20% more than normal and 51% more than a lvl 45 would do)

lvl 50 vs lvl 55 = 2066 Damage (20% less than normal and 68 % of what a lvl 55 would do)


So a level 50 could feasibly go up against a lvl 55 monster, but a lvl 45 monster isn't toothless either.




I determined a couple of things : Against an equal level opponent, how many hits should a character

be able to take and how that should change according to level.


I finally came to

Damage=0.2*HP*(1+LVL/50) [1]

So at level 1 a character will lose about 20% of its HP per attack, while at level 100 a character will lose 60% of its healt per attack.

This to account for improved healing and defensive abilities of the characters.


A little algebra later and we'll get the formula for player HP:

Against an equal level opponent (When ATK=DEF) : Damage=LVL^2+1 [2]

Substituting this formula (2) into the last one (1) gives us :

HP=(LVL^2+1)/(0.2*(1+LVL/50)) [3]


For enemies, we have another formula, seeing as I want enemies to stay longer in combat as the game goes on, to account for better attacks and buffs.

Damage=HP/(2+LVL/20) [4]

Resulting in the players doing 1/2 of the enemies HP in damage on lvl 1 but only 16% on LVL 100 ,when using standard attacks.

The resulting HP formula is

HP=(LVL^2+1)*(2+LVL/20) [5]


If we compare player and enemy HP :




This means that enemy HP is between 40% and 420 % of a players HP.




MP=LVL+5/10/20 (Depending on class)


The reason MP only grows slowly is because MP costs cap out pretty low and there is MP regenerating gear.

A short summary of MP costs

Base offensive/cure Spell = 0 MP

Single target Skill with extra effect = 1 MP

Multi target skill = 5 MP

Multi target skill with extra effect = 10 MP

Ultimate Skill = 20 MP


A character should be able to cast a strong spell about 5-8 times before running out of MP.



There you have it, a mathematical answer to why my stats are the way they are.



Hey there everyone, in this blog I'll be introducing you to my game : the mechancics, the characters and other tidbits. I'll probably post an update each monday.


On to today's topic, the general outline of my game and its characters


- 3 distinct worlds (Sci-Fi , Fantasy, Adventure)

- 20 Characters each with their own class and subclasses based on the tarot arcanas like in Persona

- 50 subclasses based on aspects of their personality

- over 200 unique skills (no fire fire2 fire3)

- Nonlinear within the acts, leading up to a linear transition to the next act

- Multi-party Dungeons

- Over 70 Dungeons

- Turn based battle

- Puzzle Based Dungeons


Short Character Biographies/Quotes:

1.[Main Char.] A strange fellow. Simultaniously with and without a history. Are the memories real ?

2.Brend : An energetic young recruit in the army. More spirit than discipline.

3.Tania : An army medic, plagued by a tumultuous past.

4.Sarna : Daughter to a dictator, potential mother to a rebellion

5.Captain : A no-nonsence squad leader with a soft side

6.Dr. Maeris : A scientist disilusioned by the academic world. Maybe a dose of reality will aid him ?

7.Ashmedai : A lust demon seeking redemption

8.Tyrone : A beat cop with a history of violence

9.Bruce: A playboy adventurer with a thirst for gold

10.Volin : A sarcastic recluse obsessed with a forbidden type of magic

11.Silvana : A sister lost, cursed with misfortune ...

12.Bors : A failed hero, trying to raise the next generation

13.Dashiva : A body lost, a heart gained

14.Persephone : Is the death of one worth a vengeance against thousands ?

15.Ford : When will these humans finally make sense ?

16.Siun : A door closed, but a window opened, dare he step through?

17.Balthazar : With the endless sky as his mistress, will he find true love ?

18.Almanyn : Will a destiny gained surpass a dream forsaken ?

19.$imone : What is this irrationality ? How do you define this 'Love' ?

20.Tiffany : Even if the sun shines on all, it is not diminished in it's grandeur


As a fun game for next time, try to match the characters to their respective worlds.


Plugin Credits : Yanfly and Himeworks


Progress Report:

Act 1: First pass Complete

Act 2: 15% First Pass

ACt 3: 0%

Finale 0%

Screenshot of the week :