Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

1 May, 2010

Design: Elemental Advancement
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 2:42 PM
(This post has been viewed 6830 times.)

This is an advancement system I've worked up. I figured that since I bellyache about innovation and change, I might as well show off some of what I would like to see.

I present a design for advancement in a fantasy RPG based loosely on the four classical (Greek) elements. The goal is to give a simplified system that could be used in a typical fantasy RPG without having to deal with old standbys like armor class, etc.

I'll go into some depth here, but don't consider this a full design document. Use it as a springboard for your own ideas.

Inspiration

The inspiration for this system came from two sources. The first is Magic: the Gathering's mana system. For anyone who has never played Magic, there are five types of mana with themed effects: white (healing, protection), blue (illusions, rule breaking), black (sacrifice, speed), red (damage, damage, more damage), and green (creatures, buffs). (Note to pedants: the themes are a summary for the three people who have never heard about MtG.) You use mana to fuel spells; spells fueled by a certain mana color tend to have a flavor related to the color.

The second inspiration was a comment by Damion Schubert some years ago at a GDC. He mentioned how in one of the UO sequels the plan was to have "ankhs" that players would find to advance in power. He didn't go into much detail, but the designer in me played with the system and imagined something interesting.

Intended Game

This system was originally developed to work in a party-based computer RPG. Instead of controlling one character, you'd have a party of four or so characters. Therefore, each character is a bit more simple than you might find in a game that focuses on a single character per player. You would probably want to modify it to work better in an MMORPG, for example.

Primary Statistics

Characters have four primary statistics:

  • Offense - Allows use of better weapons.
  • Defense - Allows use of heavier armors.
  • Light Magic - Gives mana points for casting beneficial spells.
  • Dark Magic - Gives mana points for casting harmful spells.

These are the basic stats a player has to worry about. These would be like "Strength" or "Agility" in other games. They range in value from 0 to 10 and are advanced with elemental shards (explained below).

Basic Statistics

Characters have eight basic statistics:

  • Damage - Base amount of damage done when striking an opponent.
  • Chance to Hit - Chance that a physical attack will connect and do damage.
  • Critical Chance - Chance that a physical attack does additional damage.
  • Attack Speed - How often a character can make a physical attack.
  • Hit Points - The old standby, how long you can survive while being attacked.
  • Dodge - Your chance to avoid being damage, subtracted from attacker's chance to hit.
  • Magic Resist - Chance to avoid the effects of a negative magic spell.
  • Regeneration - How fast your hit points and mana regenerate.

These statistics have base values for each type of entity, player or monster. These stats cannot be modified directly by the player, but they can be modified by advancement or equipment. For example, melee weapons will increase damage and could adjust other statistics as well.

Elemental Shards

Elemental shards are the way that players advance their basic statistics. When players find an elemental shard, they can trade it or use it to advance one of their basic statistics. The elemental shards come in four types based on the classical elements: Fire, Earth, Air, and Water.

Using a shard to enhance a primary statistic has the following effects:

Offense Defense
Fire increased crit chance increased magic resist
Earth increased damage increased hit points
Air increased attack speed increased dodge
Water increased chance to hit increased regeneration

Adding an elemental shard to a Light Magic or Dark Magic gives mana which fuels spells. Light Magic focuses on healing and buffing, whereas Dark Magic focuses on damage and negative effects on enemies. The benefits of each type of spells is as follows:

Light Magic Dark Magic
Fire divination spells damage over time (burning) spells
Earth defense spells debuffing effects
Air power enhancement disruption and interrupt effects
Water healing spells freeze effects

These are basic guidelines, not every Dark Magic Fire spell has to have a burn effect, for example.

Equipment

There are four types of equipment a player can use.

Weapons allow melee characters to do damage. Increasing levels require more Offense levels.

  • Axes give an increasing chance to score a critical hit.
  • Maces give an increasing chance to stun an opponent for a turn.
  • Blades give an increasing bonus to attack speed.
  • Staffs give a bonus to magic. A character's highest magic level can be used instead of offensive level to determine the highest level staff that can be used

Shields reduce damage depending on level. The highest level of shield usable is determined by the Defense level. They can be used with any weapon except a staff. Using a weapon without a shield gives a bonus to damage.

Armor reduces damage as well. The highest level of armor usable is determined by the Defense level as well. Armor comes in three types:

  • Light armor provides the least defense, but provides no penalties. A character's highest magic level can be used instead of defensive level to determine the highest level light armor that can be used.
  • Medium armor provides more defense, but reduces mana regeneration.
  • Heavy armor provides the most defense, but reduces mana regeneration slightly more than medium armor and decreases attack speed as well.

Trinkets are items like jewelry that have various bonuses. The highest level of trinkets that can be equipped is determined by the highest level of primary statistic the character has.

Magic Spells

Magic Spells have a cost between one and four mana. Different combinations of mana have a specific spell associated with it. When casting a spell, the mana required is consumed, but it regenerates on a regular frequency.

Spells increase in potency as the primary magic statistic increases. Casting time for magic depends on the amount of mana. As the number of mana increases, the casting time increases, and are therefore easier to disrupt.

Basic spells (1-2 points of mana) are common and can be found in shops. More complex spells (3-4) can be found on scrolls dropped in treasure. These scrolls can be copied over to allow the player to learn the spell permanently.

Example Spells

Here are some example spells that could be included in a game that uses this type of system. These aren't canonical spells, just some thoughts I worked on as samples to demonstrate how the system could be used.

Light Magic

  • 1 Fire - Faerie Fire - Reduces target's chance to dodge.
  • 1 Earth - Shield - Reduces physical damage done to target.
  • 1 Air - Accuracy - Increases target's chance to hit.
  • 1 Water - Heal - Increase targets hit points by a small amount, but not over maximum.
  • 2 Earth - Protection - Reduces damage done to all allies by all sources by a small amount.
  • 1 Earth 1 Fire - Garble - Increases casting time for target's spells.
  • 1 Earth 1 Air - Earth Focus - Increases potency of caster's Earth-based spells.
  • 1 Earth 1 Water - Heal Boost - Increases effect of healing spells on target.

Dark Magic

  • 1 Fire - Flame - Does small damage over time.
  • 1 Earth - Weakness - Next physical attack on target does increased damage.
  • 1 Air - Blast - Does direct damage to the target.
  • 1 Water - Ice - Does a small amount of damage and freezes the enemy for a short duration< ./li>
  • 2 Water - Ice Spikes - Does a small damage over time to target, and has a chance to delay their attacks and spells during the duration.
  • 1 Water 1 Fire - Fire Shield - Does damage to any enemy using physical attacks against target.
  • 1 Water 1 Earth - Water Vulnerability - Increases potency of Water-based spells against the target..
  • 1 Water 1 Air - Icy Prison - Stuns target for a duration or until attacked.

All combinations of element up to three mana produce a possible spell. Spell with four mana either require the same element, or one from each element. There would be 39 spells for each type (Light and Dark). Note that a single character would not be able to cast every spell if limited to 10 levels of mana.

Alternatives

One goal was to make sure that all the elements were useful. The specific numbers in the system should be set in a way so that it doesn't make too much sense to stack a single element in a single statistic, especially in Offense and Defense. In particular, damage bonuses tend to be favored in typical systems because they provide an obvious, direct bonus.

It might be interesting to alternative elements. Including "void" or "ether" as a fifth element, for example. Or, using the Chinese elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, water).

Adding more types of equipment might be interesting. For example, different types of armor. Or, perhaps equipment that required a certain minimum of a certain type of element to be used.

I didn't do much with "opposition" elements as found in many systems. For example, Fire and Water usually don't interact well. This could add more depth to the system, or it could potentially just complicate the system with no real benefit.

What do you think of the system? Would you find it interesting to play with in a game? What additions or changes could you see being made?

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28 Comments »

  1. Well, I can't add any input to your design, but I can answer your penultimate question in that, yes, this would be interesting to play.

    Comment by azog — 1 May, 2010 @ 3:35 PM

  2. My biggest question is: what kind of game is this that Divination spells are equally useful to those other 7 kinds? Because that sounds pretty cool.

    As for adding a fifth element and/or playing up elemental interactions, it might be worth looking back at Magic:

    Green is Nature and Life
    Blue is Artifice and Water
    Red is Chaos and Fire
    White is Order and Good/Holy
    Black is Death and Evil/Unholy

    While I don't recommend ripping off Magic entirely (Hasbro has good lawyers I'm sure) I think it's worth noting the structure. Each color has two core themes, each of which is opposite of just one of the themes in another color.

    Comment by Vargen — 1 May, 2010 @ 9:37 PM

  3. Vargen wrote:

    My biggest question is: what kind of game is this that Divination spells are equally useful to those other 7 kinds? Because that sounds pretty cool.

    I was mostly thinking of things like the Scan spells from Final Fantasy there. Something where spells could reveal or even create weaknesses. Fire-based Light Magic also focused on probability manipulation and meta-magic. For example, 3 Fire would purge effects from a target. 4 Fire would increase the reward given at the end of a battle.

    (Hasbro has good lawyers I'm sure)

    They certainly do. The game Magic has fair number of patents involved with it as well, so one must tread carefully in this area.

    But, as I said, Magic was certainly an inspiration for this system, particularly the magic system. But, I think there are enough variations to make it interesting in its own right.

    Thanks for the comments so far!

    Comment by Psychochild — 2 May, 2010 @ 12:15 AM

  4. Sounds easy to memorize (a definite plus!) and fun. I'd play that, yes.

    There's a bit of ambiguity in the explanation, I think. Given that you can advance primary stats with shards of different types, that should mean that each primary stat is not represented by a single value from 0 to 10, but by four such values, one for each element.

    The question then is whether the sum of these four values ranges from 0 to 10, or each value does. Makes for a very different type of balancing; in the latter case, over time, characters will grow alike in their abilities. I would assume the former is meant.

    There are a number of things you can easily tack onto that system that makes for even more specialization of characters (I have more of a P&P background than a CRPG background, so find that more insteresting rather than difficult to manage). For example, characters could become aligned to the element(s) of which they have used the most shards. That could e.g. give them offensive or defensive bonuses involving attacks with that particular element.

    I'm also a big fan of bundling bonuses with penalties. Combining that with the concept of opposition elements, you could for example define that while a fire shard in light magic gives a bonus to casting divination spells, it simultaneously gives a penalty to either casting or receiving healing spells. I find the receiving bit cuter, as it highlights the mirror effect of the opposition elements. Obviously this isn't thought out very well ;)

    What I like about the system you outline is that even with additions such as the one I suggested, it's still fairly easy to understand, and therefore feel comfortable with quickly.

    Comment by unwesen — 2 May, 2010 @ 1:20 AM

  5. Sounds interesting as far as I understand it, but I don't really get the shard system yet. Assuming that I use a fire shard to increase my defensive magic stat, do I get a "fire mana" or a "defensive fire mana"? The latter sounds as if I would be juggling up to eight different pools of mana which can be used for 78 different spells. Sounds like quite the task, especially if done in real time.

    Am I right in assuming that these different types of mana would work like the runes of a death knight in WoW - orbs of different colors that each recharge after N seconds of being used? Or maybe like the mana in Magic the Gathering: Battlegrounds in which you have a bar full of differently colored orbs that recharge in succession?

    Finally, what exactly is the advantage of using those shards as opposed to more traditional systems of spending points on level up? Isn't finding a shard pretty much the same as finding a "level up" potion in a traditional RPG? I can see advancement in such well-placed chunks being positive for game designers because they will always know what "level" their player is at a certain point in the game, but doesn't that make the game feel very railroad-y?

    I don't mean to sound negative here, by the way. Just trying to understand the big picture :)

    Comment by scrusi — 2 May, 2010 @ 2:39 AM

  6. I really like this system - it has an air of straightforwardness about it while offering plenty of opportunity to enhance the system or go in entirely different design directions too. E.g. I could see opportunity in shards to be extended to affect the base stats not just of the character but perhaps enhance an item as well or increase the potency of a scroll.

    Alternatively the themes such as dark / light could be stretched to cascade to all items for example dark swords.

    Or finally - possibly the overall construction of your character affecting some other in-game concept - e.g. the percentage of items made 'dark or light' (e.g. 75% dark) and the direction of your elements (e.g. 40% fire) could lead you to be described as a 'fire warlock' which would carry with it specific stat bonuses).

    It's quite nice NOT to see the oppositional elements (e.g. fire vs water etc) and just explore the elements on their own

    Comment by Jpoku — 2 May, 2010 @ 3:48 AM

  7. Very, very interesting stuff and I like it a lot :) It sounds really refreshing compared to the standard RPG model.

    The elemental shard system sounds very intriguing and I like it because it's so different from anything currently on offer (or at least that I've played). However, if these shards are dropped by monsters or in return from doing quests, doesn't the game run the risk of becoming one big grind fest just to stock up on shards as quickly as possible? I think the system would better in a single player RPG than a MMORPG because in a MMO players are incredibly competitive and there will be a lot of grinding, treasure hunting and arguing over shard drops because they have such a large impact on progress. Essentially the concept of experience is being shifted into item acquisition.

    Comment by We Fly Spitfires — 2 May, 2010 @ 10:02 AM

  8. The Best Of The Rest: Marvel-ous Edition

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    Pingback by We Fly Spitfires – MMORPG Blog — 2 May, 2010 @ 2:02 PM

  9. unwesen wrote:
    The question then is whether the sum of these four values ranges from 0 to 10, or each value does.

    The sum of each elemental type determines the level of the ability. So, if your Offense rating has 2 Fire, 1 Air, 3 Water, and no Earth then your total is 6 (and you can wield level 6 weapons). One goal is to make it so that you have to choose what mix you want. This could also be influenced by what types of shards you find, what's convenient, etc. The obsessives will obviously wait until the find the "perfect" items. :)

    scrusi wrote:
    Assuming that I use a fire shard to increase my defensive magic stat, do I get a "fire mana" or a "defensive fire mana"?

    The Defense stat doesn't have magic associated with it, only Light Magic and Dark Magic give mana which is used to fuel spells. Equipping a Fire shard to Defense increases your basic magic resistance.

    Or maybe like the mana in Magic the Gathering: Battlegrounds in which you have a bar full of differently colored orbs that recharge in succession?

    Not to rely on MtG again, but this is what I saw. The specific mechanics for how mana regenerates would have to be figured out, of course. :)

    Isn't finding a shard pretty much the same as finding a "level up" potion in a traditional RPG?

    I'm not familiar with a lot of games that have those types of potions. Most RPGs give you experience points that let you increase in level. Make no mistake, though, experience point rewards are carefully designed so that you will level up at specific points. It may feel more organic, but it's not. I suspect this is because most people are familiar with the xp/level based systems.

    Jpoku wrote:
    possibly the overall construction of your character affecting some other in-game concept

    Yeah, I could see that be an advanced option. Special items that require certain attunements might be interesting, and mix things up a bit more.

    It's quite nice NOT to see the oppositional elements (e.g. fire vs water etc) and just explore the elements on their own

    Yeah, that's my gut feeling, too. But, there are often some opposition aspect in games with elements like this, so I included it as an option. As I said, it would probably complicate the system with no real benefit.

    We Fly Spitfires wrote:
    However, if these shards are dropped by monsters or in return from doing quests, doesn't the game run the risk of becoming one big grind fest just to stock up on shards as quickly as possible?

    I saw them primarily as being rewards from quests, maybe as a drop from big boss type monsters as a rare treat. This is pretty natural in a single-player game.

    I'm not sure this would be a real "grind", though, any more than you have to grind for xp in a traditional system. I think that part of it would be based on how the game is designed. Anything can be a grind if it's just put behind a wall of repetition.

    Essentially the concept of experience is being shifted into item acquisition.

    Yeah, that's an advancement system, so you'll be able to draw parallels. You could see this as having 40 levels (10 levels for each of 4 statistics), and each level comes from getting a shard. But, it provides a bit more variety and flavor to the system overall.

    Again, thanks for the comments, everyone. :)

    Comment by Psychochild — 2 May, 2010 @ 2:12 PM

  10. Brian wrote:
    The Defense stat doesn't have magic associated with it, only Light Magic and Dark Magic give mana which is used to fuel spells. Equipping a Fire shard to Defense increases your basic magic resistance.

    I'm sorry, I meant to say "Light Magic Fire Mana". I somehow immediately categorized light as defensive and dark as offensive in my mind.

    Brian wrote:
    I'm not familiar with a lot of games that have those types of potions. Most RPGs give you experience points that let you increase in level. Make no mistake, though, experience point rewards are carefully designed so that you will level up at specific points. It may feel more organic, but it's not. I suspect this is because most people are familiar with the xp/level based systems.

    As for "Level Up" potions, I didn't mean to say that there are many games with these but that essentially all you are doing is to hand out experience in level-sized chunks (shards) instead of smaller continuous amounts. I'm wondering what the advantage of that is. (If the potions are too confusing, let's assume shards dropping from bosses vs. bosses giving you xp for one full level vs. the mobs leading to the boss and the boss together giving you enough xp for the level. Where's the difference except that killing normal mobs would feel pointless in the first 2 examples?)

    Essentially all three systems would allow you to spend a point into a variety of stats at specific points in time. I feel like there's more to the idea of shards than you are showing in the concept above. The potential to make them different from traditional advancement is there, I just don't see the difference yet. (Now if shards had some other use as well, or could be combined into something more powerful, or equipped/unequipped, or something I could see the advantage of having them in the form of an item instead of simple "points".)

    Comment by scrusi — 3 May, 2010 @ 4:02 AM

  11. A “no-numeric-levels” design challenge. I like. :)

    Without knowing more about the world-background, some purely mechanical areas to consider:

    1. This design seems to be wholly about straight-up combat -- is this design meant to support or promote other forms of play? (This isn’t intended as a criticism; it’s a question about the intended design philosophy for this game.)

    2. Perception ability + Visibility attribute of all entities would enable stealth and exploration gameplay, as well as extending elemental effects, particularly in spellcasting.

    3. I think the “opposition” aspect adds useful depth.

    To explore that, here are some possible special effects from combinations of elements (order irrelevant):
    fire + air: Off = larger AoE; Def = magical damage reflection (back at caster)
    fire + earth: Off = more damage on crit; Def = magical damage absorption
    air + water: Off = chance of multiple-strike combo; Def = group regeneration rate
    water + earth: Off = damage multiple close opponents; Def = “shield” buff

    If “opposites” are allowed:
    fire + water: Off = “targeted” blow to opponent; Def = more chance of “friendly fire”
    earth + air: Off = “poisoning” effect; Def = group becomes harder to hit

    The four three-element combinations and the one four-element combination could be given even more powerful effects.

    Allowing elemental combinations would give players more interesting choices: simple but immediate one-element power-ups, or waiting to try to achieve better or more desirable power-ups through elemental combinations.

    On the other hand, it might complicate the inevitable effort to easily identify the power level of other parties....

    4. The background story could provide some addition help for figuring out what the high-level game is about. For example, where did the elemental shards come from? Is there some over-game of which the individual shards are but a smaller part?

    Just some initial thoughts; I’m curious to see where others will take the basic ideas.

    Comment by Bart Stewart — 3 May, 2010 @ 10:42 AM

  12. One thing I really like about this system is that it gives a "reason" for leveling - a reason PCs are powerful and advance in crazy ways that normal people and NPCs do not.

    One way to make it "feel" more like XP would be to scale the ranges from 1-10 to something like 1-100. Then you can hand out shards more freely and possibly explore the possibilities of adding shards to weapons and armor and/or combining shards into potions.

    Comment by silver — 3 May, 2010 @ 11:07 AM

  13. scrusi wrote:
    I'm sorry, I meant to say "Light Magic Fire Mana". I somehow immediately categorized light as defensive and dark as offensive in my mind.

    Ah, okay. Yes, your Light Magic and Dark Magic pools are different. You only have the two pools to deal with, so it's not too complicated. Each pool has four types of mana in it. The devil in the details here is how mana regenerates. I think that would make or break the system, but it would require some playing around to see what works best.

    Essentially all three systems would allow you to spend a point into a variety of stats at specific points in time.

    I think the question is what you reward. In a traditional experience-based system, you reward slaughter in addition to things like quests, etc. If you make finishing quests or killing bosses as the main way to get shards, then the focus will be on that. There's no need to go wipe out a whole dungeon full of monsters to get the next level.

    You are right, though, it's all about adding points to make the totals bigger. That's what advancement is about on a basic level. The goal here wasn't necessarily to get away from that, but to explore an alternate system. I think the big appeal to this is the flavor: getting the elemental shards and applying them to your character is cooler than just gaining generic points and getting a level. I think that's why it could capture some people's attention more.

    Bart Stewart wrote:
    This design seems to be wholly about straight-up combat.

    Yes. The original game I thought about putting this into was an "RPG Lite" game where you just fought a series of combats up to a boss to finish a quest. No exploration, no social interaction, etc. As I said, it would definitely fit better in a single-player type of game.

    I could see adding a fifth Primary Statistic to deal with other things, like stealth and perception, maybe a few other things.

    Thanks again for the comments. :)

    Comment by Psychochild — 3 May, 2010 @ 12:20 PM

  14. Alright, I can't argue with style. Personally I tend to focus purely on mechanics when looking at something like this, considering everything else fluff that can be added later. Likely a bit shortsighted ;)

    I think what could be quite interesting is if you have the mana regenerate sequentially in a certain order (random, order of shard application, alternating,...). That way adding additional colors would have the tension of allowing you access to more spells on one hand (yay) but reducing your access to mana of other colors on the other hand. i.e. in a mono fire build you would get a fire mana every 5 seconds (or whatever) and could rely on that, while a fire/water build would give you water half the time when what you actually needed was more fire. Just like in magic, going multicolor would make your character more powerful but also more fragile.

    This is ignoring for now the two different pools of mana, but I'm sure they could be worked in in one way or another.

    Comment by scrusi — 3 May, 2010 @ 12:45 PM

  15. when I wrote

    "One way to make it "feel" more like XP would be to scale the ranges from 1-10 to something like 1-100. Then you can hand out shards more freely and possibly explore the possibilities of adding shards to weapons and armor and/or combining shards into potions."

    I hadn't really taken into account spells (and I was thinking more of a single-character than a party based game). But just to continue my aside for a little longer: for spells, you probably need to "rescale" it so if you have 1-100, every 10 makes a whole "point" for purposes of new spells and mana supply - but you can still get percentile increases to the efficacy of spells when "between" multiples of 10.

    Comment by silver — 3 May, 2010 @ 1:57 PM

  16. It's an iteresting idea. I appreciate innovation when I see it, but It's not very high on any priority list of mine. I'm fairly happy with how most MMORPGs operate. I just like more options and variety, like a big 'ole super buffet resteraunt. Most current leveling systems seem to work for that.

    I think there's a threshhold on this kind of "growth" innovation. In a manner of speaking "It's life".

    I've only ever dabbled in Magic:The Gathering, but it was fun. I never felt there was any growth at all in it. I also enjoyed Final Fantasy 9 for it's armor and enhancement system.

    What I'd like to see is some variety in boss fights. It may be too difficult in the persistent world, but within boss encounters new systems could trigger different play styles. It would be fun to fight one boss via a more FPS aspect where location hits made a difference, while other fights required quick adaption to random patterns.

    I'm coming from an old school pen-and-paper background in D&D but also the pen-and-paper strategy battle RPG Battletech.

    Comment by Jeremy S. — 3 May, 2010 @ 11:26 PM

  17. I like the idea, but think there is a good reason to go with 5 rather than 4. 4 leads to the sort of pure-opposite which gets a bit simplistic. When optimizing on a line, it is easy to find your sweet spot. Optimizing on a plane is harder. (4 opposed things seems like a plane, but since you can apply the optimization of the opposed elements independently, it reduces to two line optimizations)

    Prime numbers help mentally break up this sort of diametrism which our minds fall into, leading to less obvious solutions. I'd say the same about light/dark magic. I'd rather see those axes tied into the elements than as a separate, orthogonal, easily reducible axis.

    My dream magic system, however, is more along the lines of what Ultima 8 played with. Ceremonial, ritual based, and not reduced to a mere science. Magic is too often a pure system with only the text dressing it up.

    Comment by Brask Mumei — 4 May, 2010 @ 10:08 AM

  18. Brask's point is well-taken if the goal is a deep system that requires perception to get the most out of it. If instead the goal -- as in pretty much all big commercial MMOGs -- is to allow players to win simply through persistence, then a nice, neat, four-fold system whose optimization is obvious to a majority of players is actually a better choice.

    Me, I like depth, but that's just me.

    Speaking of dream magic systems, though, fantasy literature is full of a lot of different ways a game could go. Examples of magic that's not reduced to a "mere" science would be Ursula K. LeGuin's "Earthsea" series, and to a lesser extent the Belgariad/Malloreon of David & Leigh Eddings. In this mode, causing magical effects to happen is no more or less than an act of will. There are no rituals or disciplines, there's only what you can cause to happen by choosing to make it so. That's true "magic," but I'm not sure how you implement that as a fair mechanic in a multiplayer game.

    Another way to go might be the old "magical university" trope, wherein magic is something that has rules and can be taught. It might actually be interesting to develop a game where melee combat wasn't even offered, but in which everything is about spellcasting. Instead of leveling up armor or weapon skills, you'd spend time in the magical school working your way up skilltrees consisting entirely of spells.

    Yet another approach (something of a subset of the "magical university" approach) is the ceremonial system, such as found in Katherine Kurtz's "Deryni" novels. In this model magic comes from learning specific ritual actions and correctly performing them. This combination could work nicely as gameplay -- learning the rituals could be done through training, quest completion, and discovery through experimentation, but the performance requirement could add player skill to the mix to keep the gameplay exciting.

    Still another system might be that no one (no player, anyway) is inherently capable of doing magic; all magical ability is external and is carried in magical artifacts. In a game like this, doing magic could be a consequence of collecting artifacts with different properties and generating specific effects by combining particular artifacts in particular ways. In such a game you could do away with character levels since power would be conferred through whatever gear you were capable of collecting. (I think Brian's suggested design comes closest to following this model.)

    Finally, there's the model that just tosses coherency out the window and offers any and every system of magic that seems cool. A great example of this was Lyndon Hardy's novel Master of the Five Magics, in which the lead character winds up having to learn and combine all of the five magical systems operating in his world:

    Thaumaturgy
    The Principle of Sympathy: Like produces like.
    The Principle of Contagion: Once together, always together.
    Alchemy
    The Doctrine of Signatures: The attributes without mirror the powers within.
    Magic
    The Maxim of Persistence: Perfection is eternal.
    Sorcery
    The Rule of Three: Thrice spoken, once fulfilled.
    Wizardry
    Law of Ubiquity: Flame permeates all.
    Law of Dichotomy: Dominance or submission.

    If you can find the book, it's a fun read; but the point here is that a game could very well offer any or all of these forms of magic. If fully developed, each could be fun on its own, but it might be even more fun to design ways in which the different disciplines could be combined. Perhaps there might be one slot on each server for the first active player who successfully combines all five of the magical disciplines to become the Archimage (with suitable restrictions on what can be done to other players, of course).

    The point behind all this is to suggest that there are a lot of different ways that "magic" can be designed into MMOGs, and to hope that outlining these various approaches might suggest some useful new ways to think about the "elemental" system that Brian asked us to consider.

    Comment by Bart Stewart — 4 May, 2010 @ 11:01 PM

  19. The devil in the details here is how mana regenerates.

    I wonder if this can be changed. What it promotes is a burst-then-wait mentality to casting, which is fine if the burst takes down your opponent, but otherwise you're left waiting, which is both dull and leads to mage-tanking where you need to have all sorts of defences available to allow a mage to take a beating while waiting for mana (often accompanied by them bopping ogres ineffectually on the noggin with a staff).

    I haven't got a definitive mechanic for you, but what if you reversed it so that all mana pools drained over time? Such a design might caused a sense of urgency and make the player think quickly on their feet while casting. Your regeneration statistic could still be used, but it would obviously slow the rate of drain instead.

    The bit I'm not sure about (and thus it's probably the hard part that means the whole idea won't work) is how to transform this into a mechanic that keeps its momentum throughout a fight. Perhaps the total mana that has drained and not been spent when a mana bar empties is transferred into damage to the mage, and once done, the mana bar resets to full? This would make magic a dangerous but powerful ability, and the fact that all pools are draining would encourage (might be read as 'force') the magic user to use more than one school of magic exclusively.

    Not entirely sure, but thought I'd dump the ol' brain out and see if there's anything that could be made from it.

    Another thought was that in M:TG mana was a semi-random resource, in that it was always available each turn once you'd put it into play, but you were never guaranteed to draw the right colour or amount of mana that you'd need per game, thus it introduced an important mechanic that forced players to think outside the box when they lacked the resources to play the hand that they most desired. Something along these lines could be a good way to stave off the '1-2-3 rotation' syndrome that many MMOs suffer from. And yes, players could stack their decks in M:TG to a certain extent in order to help with getting the mana they needed in a fight, but your shard system would be a prime mechanic to enable a similar function.

    Comment by Melmoth — 6 May, 2010 @ 9:37 AM

  20. One of the things that immediately jumped out at me from all this is the notion that four types of mana = four suits of a standard deck of playing cards. I'd actually be interested in this as a springboard toward a stand-alone card game (rather than a CCG like M:TG). Maybe I'm crazy. :P

    Oh, a couple other related games to look to for inspiration... If I recall, Quest 64 utilized a system that had you leveling up your skill at elemental magic (though the game was flawed in other respects). Additionally, Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles had a neat system of magic synthesis which sounds similar to some of the ideas mentioned (but it totally lacked utility spells that'd fit under a Divination umbrella, given that it was an action RPG).

    Comment by Hermes — 6 May, 2010 @ 4:08 PM

  21. It sounds like a very interesting system. I strongly disagree with the idea taking it from four to five. The Western way of looking at things more usually focuses on duality, "earth-air-water-fire", and other things focusing on an even number. If you look at the statistics system you have set up, it matches very closely to Olympics-style scoring of a boxing match.

    I like the 1-8 numbering better than 1-10, it keeps everything in a binary feel. Overall, enjoyed the concept.

    Comment by Jay Moffitt — 11 May, 2010 @ 11:56 AM

  22. I don't see this working in a single player game unless you restricted each shard by stat affecting type: fire offense, fire defense, etc. You'd also have to restrict the players ability to buy very strong gear and spells early on, otherwise the first 40 shards would be used to max out a role for each of the 4 players, and theyd steamroll the game.

    You'd have to delay shard acqusition and meter it. Final Fantasy 10 and 12 did so by moving around on a grid: to get higher abilities needed you to move to adjacent "squares" I'd check out both of those games if you haven't. They use a level system in combination with a system similar to yours, but without elemental properties.

    Comment by Dblade — 16 May, 2010 @ 5:25 PM

  23. Mmm... yummy, yummy design.

    A few thoughts:

    On opposition elements: I like the option of using a philosophy of opposition, and it can enhance the choices that come with specialization or diversification. An "omnimage" would play differently from an "unimage" would play differently from a "bi/trimage". Further, a Bimage specializing in opposing elements would play differently from a Bimage specializing in nonopposing elements, beyond the obvious spell selection. For instance, an opposition Bimage might get a baseline bonus to multitargeting or spells that have effects on both the enemy and the players, while a unity Bimage might get a bonus when single targeting or single-side spells ("all enemy" or "all party" spells). Similarly, a balanced Bimage's bonus might be stronger, while a 8/2 opposition Bimage might wind up with a smaller general "opposition" bonus, but a few stronger split spells.

    On Mana regeneration and the DK's "rune" system: If your spells only cost up to 4 mana, but your pool can be up to 10, perhaps there's a place for a limited "active" mana pool of 4 or 5 mana, and used points get randomly replaced. This might mean that desired spells aren't always possible because of pool composition, making room for mana dump mechanics (pump an unwanted mana into a melee combat strike in hopes of getting the right one next time) and other mana pool management mechanics. Of course, that starts getting more complex, pushing things into turn-based territory, perhaps... and I'm not sure for what benefit. Sure, using "offcolor" mana (even as generic mana like you can in MTG) for dump moves is a nice way to enhance non-spell attacks/defense, but maybe that's not enough benefit for the cost of attention and management.

    A tangential thought on mana regeneration *order*: What about a sort of "stance dance" where you can actively affect your mana regeneration order? Say, if the elements are organized on a wheel, settling into a defensive stance makes mana regenerate in a clockwise manner, and an offensive stance makes it regenerate counter clockwise? Or perhaps, if the mana regeneration is discrete over time (every second, a mana regenerates, and the color is chosen randomly), the choice of which mana regenerates is determined by your stat's balance? Say, a (4)Water (2)Fire Light Magic pool would be twice as likely to regenerate a Water mana than a Fire mana. Even *that* could be affected by stances or even spells that affect mana regeneration. Say, a (2)Water spell that makes Water mana 50% more likely to be chosen to regenerate.

    As always with this sort of management (again, like MTG and trying to build decks), monoelement pools can dodge a lot of fuss. They may pay for that by being inflexible, but would be easier to play and potentially more powerful for their focus.

    I also wonder about the basic philosophy of the game. Utility spells have always interested me, like finding 101 uses for Magic Missile... 75 of them noncombat.

    Um... I'm pretty sure I had something else in mind, but there's a lot to digest there, between the baseline presentation (very cool, by the way) and the various tangents I keep running mentally. I might be back with more later...

    Comment by Tesh — 20 May, 2010 @ 3:08 PM

  24. More on Making it Real

    [...] wonder if the same spirit behind Linux might be moving things like Psychochild’s article on Elemental Advancement. He could have tried to keep that under wraps as a trade secret, but sharing it lets the blogging [...]

    Pingback by Tish Tosh Tesh — 4 June, 2010 @ 5:40 AM

  25. Announcing Psychoavatar Games

    [...] we can expand upon. One element that we will incorporate is a slightly simplified version of the elemental advancement concept I've posted about before. It'll be nice to see that in action. If I get some time, I might [...]

    Pingback by Psychochild's Blog — 1 October, 2010 @ 3:44 PM

  26. An RPG in a month

    [...] Elemental advancement [...]

    Pingback by Psychochild's Blog — 11 October, 2010 @ 8:56 PM

  27. What’s new and what’s not

    [...] games. Trying to add too much new would obscure the part that I really wanted to focus on, the elemental advancement. Perhaps even that was too much? We'll see how people react to the game and if it ever gets a [...]

    Pingback by Psychochild's Blog — 9 February, 2011 @ 1:09 AM

  28. I'm thinking more and more that I'll have to publish my Elemental functionality idea. I'm kinda sick and tired of only 4-5 elements, especially when people go holy/unholy. Maybe its my atheistic views on the subject, but I'm tired of divinity being a part of magic systems. Leave divinity to the clerics, and let mages deal with the proper elements and combinations thereof.

    Comment by Pangoria Fallstar — 29 August, 2011 @ 1:39 PM

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