Thursday, August 23, 2012

Turn-Based RPG

I was thinking about computer games where you control a party of heroes.

One of the things I always felt was difficult about these systems is balancing status effects. Status effects always felt extraordinarily irritating to me. All of them. I've never seen a status effect I thought made the game more interesting, with the exception of reflect.

The core problem with status effects is that they are essentially time fees. They force you to spend precious actions fixing them. There's not much difference between being turned to stone, blinded, stunned, paralyzed, KOed, killed, berserked, charmed, confused, muted, toaded, etc. If they have any effect at all, they basically make that character useless until you spend time fixing that character. So they "drain" your action time until you "spend" some action time to fix them.

Sure, they vary in details. They can be healed in various ways, and some are "high-functioning" states (such as berserking a warrior), but the details don't really make them feel interesting to me. When I run into a status-effecting enemy, the basic thought is "how fucking irritating. I'm going to spend half this battle treating status effects rather than fighting."

So... how can you make a status-effect-ridden RPG interesting?

Change how time works!

Every phase (no turns, just phases) you can command only one hero to take an action. This uses up all her action points. The more action points she has, the more powerful her attacks are (and perhaps the more high-level attacks open up).

Every phase, every hero gains an action point - two, if they are not available to be commanded due to an enemy-inflicted status effect.

Battles are longer, and multi-phased. Rather than distinct random encounters, you would face an unending trickle of enemies as you explore, push through, and defend positions. Action points carry over throughout this.

So if a character is, say, swallowed by a fifteen-foot slime monster, that character cannot take any actions. But that's not so crippling: you can only make one character take an action per round, anyway. While he's incapacitated, he's gaining action points at twice the normal rate. So when you kill the slime, he's freed and now has a bank of action points that make his next attack ten times as strong as normal.

Of course, you can also do ongoing attacks. The warrior might be told to attack a skeleton knight. It's not just a one-shot attack, but an ongoing fight where damage is dealt every phase. The warrior gains no action points while he does this, but it deals ongoing damage and keeps the skeleton knight busy...

Straightforward and, I think, probably kind of fun.


Clint said...

I love status effects...or, well, the idea of them. In practice, they're basically how you describe them.

Exceptions I can think of: Swagger in Pokemon confuses your pokemon but also raises their attack. Super deadly to both parties, possibly useful. Also, the moves in pokemon that make you repeat the same move/only use attacking moves/restrict your moveset are interesting and incurable, so you just have to deal.

I like your action points idea! I especially like the idea of assigning party members to one enemy in a continuous attack.

Craig Perko said...

It's possible to make status effects in a normal RPG more interesting by making them have upsides and downsides, but it's really rare.

Keith Davies said...

I am not certain I would want to implement it quite this way -- I can see wanting to not 'waste' a large point store if one is available -- but this idea intrigues me.

I've marked this post for further consideration, I think it could go somewhere interesting.

Craig Perko said...

The point of the "you spend everything when you act" clause is to keep you from hoarding points. Everybody gets turns because there's a point of diminishing returns.

Ellipsis said...

Far and away the best status effects I've ever experienced are in Waving Hands (or the web-based incarnation, Warlocks). It's a turn-based wizard dueling game, and there status effects typically last a single turn, and they are limiting but NOT crippling. The reason they're useful is that they're unusually fast and easy to cast, but they only limit an opponent's options for one turn, such that an opponent who sees the status coming can prepare for it, so that on that turn one of the limited options available is one that is strategically advantageous anyway.

This particular use of status effects depends on the general structure of the game - in order to cast spells, you make gestures each turn, which over time add up to spells when in the right combination. Hitting someone with a status effect prevents them from making certain gestures, which might keep them from finishing a spell if they weren't prepared (extremely useful), but if they predict the status coming, they can switch to a different combination fast enough to cast some other useful spell.

I'd also just recommend Warlocks in general ( as one of the most interesting strategy games I've played.

Craig Perko said...

I'll take a look, thanks!