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.