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Magic in RPGs

Discussion in 'Game Design' started by Terrykirk, Jun 15, 2017.

  1. Terrykirk

    Terrykirk

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    There are a lot of RPGs out there now, and a lot of them heavily feature magic in some form or another.

    Across the games there are a lot of different mechanics used to balance it's power.

    The ones i can think of off the top of my head are:
    Mana
    Runes
    Potions
    Time/cool-down

    What i want to know is which are your favorites and why?
     
  2. TonyLi

    TonyLi

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    There was a thread earlier about alternative magic systems. Someone proposed an interesting idea that I took on a tangent. It's a variation on runes. The player can learn a vocabulary of magic words. To cast a spell, she types in a combination of words. This adds player skill to spellcasting. The more words the player learns and remembers, the more spells she can cast. The faster and more accurately she can type, the faster she can cast.

    There could be a creative factor here, too, by combining words in novel ways.

    This also adds an incentive to explore the world to learn new words.
     
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  3. EternalAmbiguity

    EternalAmbiguity

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    Some small variants of that can be done with a more traditional system. DA Origins, for instance, had some cases where if you cast a couple of spells at once, they would produce a much larger effect.
     
  4. TonyLi

    TonyLi

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    The thing that appeals to me about the vocabulary idea isn't so much the spell combinations (which I'll agree are also cool), but the fact that it involves real player skill instead of virtual character skill. I think I'd feel like I was really casting a spell if I had to remember a set of words and actually type them in myself.
     
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  5. EternalAmbiguity

    EternalAmbiguity

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    The part I thought was cool was the exploratory nature of "discovering" the spells over time. And maybe, if you wanted to include it, the ability to use spells you haven't officially "learned" by inferring their existence. "Hmm, I just learned that "fire" produces fire...what about "water" or "ice"?"
     
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  6. frosted

    frosted

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    This actually sounds a ton like the magic system in Magicka - only there it's single keypresses
    http://store.steampowered.com/app/42910/Magicka/

    Pretty fun game, they really did a great job w/ the magic system
     
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  7. Kiwasi

    Kiwasi

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    From a mechanics system, its worth noting that the average RPG game doesn't actually distinguish between magic and any of the other systems. The barbarians double swing, the assassins traps, the necromancers skeletons and the sorcerers fireball are all part of the same basic system.

    It might help to break each of these down into their underlying mechanics. Mana, cooldown and consumables (potions) are all set up to control the same thing, "how often can a player use this skill?". From order of most flexible to least flexible.

    Mana:
    Mana provides a global pool of points that regenerate over time. This lets players pick and choose what abilities they use and when, with the only real restriction being the number of spells they can use in a certain time period. Its balanced primarily by changing the cost of each skill. More powerful skills cost more mana. In general its the most flexible of all of the magic systems. Players get to do whatever they want, virtually whenever they want. On the downside players tend to choose a favorite skill, and seldom change.

    Cooldowns:
    Cooldowns are very similar to the mana system. Except instead of having a global limit on how many skills can be used, the limit is per skill. This generally forces players to use all of their skills, rather then relying on a favorite. On the downside these systems tend to be more complex. They reward the player who best micromanages the cooldowns, which can distract focus from the actual game play.

    Consumables (Potions):
    Consumables allow a player to use a skill a certain number of times. Normally its tied to specific inventory items, although it doesn't have to be (The DnD system of refreshing spells is essentially a consumable system, with no items involved). A consumable system has the advantage of making skills special. Players must think carefully about when to use the consumable skill. On the flip side it can mean players hoard a skill, and never actually use it. Or a player can be careless with the skills and not have it when they need it.
     
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  8. EternalAmbiguity

    EternalAmbiguity

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    One might argue that this is gameplay.
     
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  9. Kiwasi

    Kiwasi

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    Yeah, my biases are showing as to which type of gameplay I prefer. Let me spam away with a single chain lightening spell, rather then force me to learn an esoteric rhythmic tap dance on the QWERT keys.

    ;)
     
  10. EternalAmbiguity

    EternalAmbiguity

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    "All I want is a pretty girl, a decent meal, and the right to shoot lightning at fools," eh?
     
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  11. wccrawford

    wccrawford

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    The problem I've found with games that use systems like that is that if I stop playing for a while and come back, I'm basically unable to play the game. It expects me to be of a certain skill level, but since I don't remember any powerful spells, I can't even venture out from wherever I'm at.

    This apply to any complex mechanics that require remembering things, including quests systems without journals and fighting games with complex multi-button moves.

    It's not that they aren't fun. They're usually awesome. It's that they're only fun as long as you don't stop playing for a week. And it's pretty much inevitable that life will get in the way of a good gaming binge.
     
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  12. TonyLi

    TonyLi

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    Perhaps there could be a spell book where you can record the words you've learned. When you resume playing, you can review your spell book to refresh your memory.

    Since it's player skill, it's like any other player skill-oriented game. If I step away from first-person shooters or MOBAs for a while, I'm rusty when I get back.
     
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  13. EternalAmbiguity

    EternalAmbiguity

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    This is why every single game needs a player journal you can write in freely.
     
  14. Denisowator

    Denisowator

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    I really love one that you haven't mentioned, which is scrolls. I think they're kind of like runes, but I'm not sure. I tend to see scrolls in almost every RPG I play, which has magic in it. Whether it's something like Skyrim, or really old games like the Gothic series.

    The whole idea of scrolls, is that they're exactly the same as spells you can learn and cast in exchange for mana, but they're items that you can only use once, and you normally can't craft them.

    The reason that's my favorite, is because it's an amazing option for people who don't necessarily want to feel like Gandalf when playing an RPG, but want to use everything it has to offer. I also love the realism it adds to the world. Normally you'd expect everything to be written down for knowledge keeping sake, including magic. So the fact that you don't need to be a full on wizard to use magic, and that you have to find the scrolls and use them sparingly, makes the whole gameplay even better, because you're always asking yourself "should I use this now"? Whereas with regular spells, you're just spamming the attacks left right and center.

    It makes you feel like you have some sort of power if you need it, but at the same time it reminds you that you're not in control of that power. And when it's gone, it's gone.

    This is pretty much the same as upgrades versus single use items. I can't name any, but there are definitely games that do stuff like give you permanent upgrades, and also items that do the exact same thing. Obviously the upgrades will still be given to you whether you want them or not, but it's the same basic idea. You have one thing that is yours to keep and control, and another which you just stumble across, and can use if you choose to.
     
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2017
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  15. Catsoft-Studios

    Catsoft-Studios

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    Completely agree, but still, at least in my case, I always end up finishing the game before using the best scrolls, because I think that maybe I'll need them later on.
     
  16. Hyblademin

    Hyblademin

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    My favorite type of magic use is the kind where you don't need to worry about when you will have to stop using magic.
    Magic is fun and interesting, so I would rather use those attacks if they're available. Here's an example from something I'm working on.

    Combat in my project is only magic-- it has three types, and to encourage use of all three, they each have a separate energy bar. This limits use of each type individually, but using any type will add a recharge bonus to the other two types. I think this is a good basis for a system that can become balanced with a bit of work but allows the player to have fun with their abilities.

    I think any project that allows magic use or anything similar should experiment with balance that does not focus on taking away use of the magic, but rather focuses on allowing magic as much as possible while balancing in different ways. Maybe using the same skill repeatedly will cause a decay in damage? Maybe magic is normally weak-ish but quickly becomes stronger when chained with normal attacks? Rules like this could teach an understanding of the best way to use magic or skills in a given game without possibly leaving the player feeling like they're skill-less for a few moments.
     
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2017
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  17. Schneider21

    Schneider21

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    I love this. Mana costs seem like a system we're stuck in because of attempts to balance gameplay, but I think a better system exists out there in nature that we haven't discovered yet. When I think of great wizards like Gandalf, Merlin, or Harry Potter, I don't picture them going to cast a spell only to realize they needed to chug a blue potion to refill their mana first.

    I feel like Gandalf could cast fireballs for days, but if he tried bringing a meteor down (he could), it might drain him of too much life force and he'd die again or something.
     
  18. Denisowator

    Denisowator

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    I don't want to be that one nerd who points stuff out, but technically magic doesn't drain your "life force" unless it's blood magic. It just makes you weak and tired, like any physical activity.
     
  19. Kiwasi

    Kiwasi

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    That's honestly how I play most ARPGs. I tend to spend as many spec points as I can in man regeneration. In the end my basic fireball type attacks drain less mana then my regeneration rate, which basically means I never have to stop using them. Its only the big attacks that I have to ration out.

    Technically magic doesn't exist. :p There are so many versions of magic in various forms of fiction. Plenty of them do drain life force, many without the explicit need for blood to be involved. But I think for this discussion its better to consider the mechanics involved, rather then the fictional setting they exist in.

    Life draining mechanisms for magic tend not to be super common in game systems. I've played a few table top rpgs where casting spells drained hit points directly. Casting a basic fireball might take off a single life point. Using a death spell to stop someones heart could easily take two thirds of a players hitpoints, leaving them only slightly better off then the person they cast the spell on. That lead to some pretty epic moments where a player would choose to use his last hit points to cast a critical spell, sacrificing their own life to save the rest of the party.

    In video games life draining mechanics are much less common. They tend to be special cases, as opposed to the norm. Accidentally killing yourself because you weren't watching closely when you cast that last spell isn't fun.
     
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  20. Schneider21

    Schneider21

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    Come to think of it, I think the games I used magic the most in were Fable 2 & 3. There was no mana bar, but rather your speed in casting spells was limited by the time it took to cast them, with more powerful versions needing you to hold the button down for longer.

    So you could just spit little fire balls out like a Mario brother, but if you wanted that big AoE inferno, it'd take longer. I loved it because it made me feel powerful without feeling like I was breaking the game and making things too easy.
     
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  21. Mercbaker

    Mercbaker

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    Everything that you mentioned is culture specific. The term Magic is translated in different ways depending on what culture you are referencing.

    Terms like mana, relic, rune, potion, and etc have origins in various religion and cultural references.

    Personally, I enjoy when a game utilizes the concept of magic artfully. They use it more like a design element and not as a mechanic.

    Magic is experiential. So I think it should be utilized in games as such.
     
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  22. BrandyStarbrite

    BrandyStarbrite

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    Yep. That is very true. :)
    And even those terms, eg. magic, relic, rune, potion etc. existed long before
    most religions were even formed, which makes it even more interesting.
    Ha! Ha! :)
     
  23. bigmisterb

    bigmisterb

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    I think the idea of mana, or runes or what not was all for game balance. The concept of "draining" is a nice way to go.

    In 3.5 edition Dungeons and Dragons, at first level, you could cast a magic missile once per day, in 4, once per battle. Is this to say that magic missile every round. There were other abilities that were once per fight or once per day. Those were cool-downs in 4th edition. Given this, I think balance requires cooldowns or draining. Perhaps a mixture.

    For all of this, you know you can simply use any version of this for different classes. Imagine a warrior who powers his weapon using a rune that lasts for 2 swings, or some such. He has to power it, which makes him lose a swing, but his next 2 do 3 times the damage. Now you cool-down that rune, so he can't abuse it. (that would be the general description of a Death Knight in World of Warcraft)

    In retrospect, fatigue/draining is a super nice concept that I do not think has been overused in video games. Gandalf casts a fireball, but it does not drain him at all, since it is a simple common spell. Gandalf casts meteor strike, now suddenly, his casting time is reduced for other spells until his fatigue passes.

    I would not try to do rune, fatigue, mana, energy or what not all in the same caster. It may become a bit hard for the user to manage.

    Lastly, I do think the idea of word casting is great. I think it falls short when you introduce forums or youtube. Oh, I cast fire by typing "fire", lets just youtube the best spell in the game, and now I don't have to play your game, I just kill everything in one shot. Focusing this though the story line is the correct way to go. I can use fire because I learned it from the book in the black tower. Now, I go on to the spire on the shore and I have to defeat the next wizard using my fireball, against his water spout. Where I learn water spout.

    So given that, you lose all movement, because you are typing. You lose sight of the screen because you are looking for the right keys. This may become taxing on the user. Also. What about spamming? Now many times can I just hit enter... Ctrl-v and return in one second? I think that the would detract from game play and leave the user out of the fight.

    Learning spells as you go through a story line is great as well. (from above) I learned fire and water, next the air boss will teach me gust of wind. Again, this seems like a grand story. However, it is very linear and there is no repeatably in this. Using the references from World of Warcraft: Training at a trainer gets you your spells. Either through levels, or through deeds. (the current iteration of WoW does not require training anymore)

    Lastly, since this seems to be going on and on. WoW has specializations which are also keen for magic.
     
  24. Habitablaba

    Habitablaba

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    I really like the idea of typing words to cast spells and I think I am going investigate it further, lol.
    Breaking the spam problem is easy enough by disabling ctrl+v, or implementing a cooldown on the return key

    but I digress
     
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  25. SoundStormLabs

    SoundStormLabs

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    That sounds like it would be good for an education-based game.
     
  26. neoshaman

    neoshaman

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    The game rhythm should be altered obviously, tacking that on a typical rpg won't do the work justice.
     
  27. bigmisterb

    bigmisterb

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    I will say, that in Black and White, you drew symbols in the air to cast spells... THAT WAS AWESOME!!!
     
  28. Murgilod

    Murgilod

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    When it worked, at least. I distinctly remember drawing symbols for spells and them never picking up, even simple ones, like fireball, which as I recall was just a straight line. Detection tech has probably improved lightyears by now, but at the time it was rough.
     
  29. BIGTIMEMASTER

    BIGTIMEMASTER

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    I generally don't like magic in RPG/action games. Usually it's just an alternative form of ranged combat, which means back pedaling while spamming the fire key. Not near as much fun as the dance of melee combat (most of my RPG experience is with the Souls series -- never got into Diablo or the like).

    In order for me to enjoy using magic, there needs to more strategy involved than just keeping distance and casting. I think a game that used magic in a passive way, like stat modification or something like that might suit me more. Or maybe you get a limited number of spells per arena to use, and they are important enough that you will need them but have to be careful to use at the right time so as not to waste them.

    In Morrowind I remember getting a kick out of the levitate spells and increase speed spells.
     
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  30. Denisowator

    Denisowator

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    ^
    Games (especially RPGs) focus too much on combat magic.

    The only games i know of that use it more creatively and openly are the Elder Scrolls series (like Morrowind).