Ever since I was in Jr High, I’ve been fascinated with tactical strategy rpg’s. Shining Force consumed a good many weeks of my life back then. As a side-effect of all of this, I’ve also always wanted to write a game like this. Not that I’ve ever gotten very far into things… but I have at least thrown together basic design docs on at least two previous occasions.
It’s time for a 3rd edition of the idea. I’m not referencing any previous writings for this post, these are all “new” ideas for an online multi-player rpg where the player controls multiple characters in combat and is presented with lots of fantasy-themed PvE content and some optional PvP.
At the very foundation of this idea are two principles I keep coming back to when I need to make a decision:
- Give the players lots of options.
- Make those options easy to grok.
By options, I mean that players should have many similar – but never identical – ways of doing things, they should be required to make many choices when it comes to the characters they train and how to use them during combat.
However, I also want players to be able to understand the consequences of their actions. They should not be required to use a calculator in order to determine optimal party compositions or character builds. The game should actually be fairly deterministic – the outcome of any given action in a particular set of circumstances should be quite obvious. Where there is a random chance of failure/success, I would like players to see their odds.
When possible, I prefer to use smaller numbers in stead of arbitrarily inflated numbers, and I prefer to use percentages wherever appropriate.
Smaller numbers matter more. If you have 10 hp and take a hit for 4 damage, that means a lot more than if you have 5000 hp and take a hit for 2000. Smaller numbers are also easier to understand, remember, compare, and look at. Any number that requires 4 digits to express is too big 😉
Player input should be exclusively performed via the mouse. I like contex menus that appear at the mouse in stead of at a menu or button bar in another location on the screen. This reduces wasted mouse movement and speeds up command input.
Combat should be turn-based with plenty of time for players to make decisions. I’m also a hex-grid addict, so I’d like to see combat play out on hexes in stead of on a square or gridless map. Only one character is allowed to occupy one hex at once.
Character facing should matter, and most characters should be allowed to act and then move or move and then act on any turn (some actions might modify movement options in some way). If the character moves at the end of their turn, the player should also be allowed to specify their facing direction.
Combat maps should not be terribly large. A character with the ability to move 6 hexes in one turn will be considered incredible mobile.
Terrain should matter, both for defense and for movement. It should cost more to walk through sand or swim through shallow water than to walk over grass or a bridge.
Elevation may or may not play a role, but regardless, characters should probably all have a ‘jump’ action available that might allow them to skip over a hex or two – depending on the terrain types involved.
Terrain types should also likely have positive or negative effects on certain types of magic cast to/from them. So, a character who is wading in a pool of water will notice his fire magic is weakened while his water magic is strengthened.
Each player will take the place of the leader of a corp of mercenaries or some other military body. Parties will have a home base of operations where they may store supplies and where the injured may rest and new recruits may be trained. Bases will grow as the game progresses, very similarly to the bases in Konami’s Suikoden series.
Bases will have a maximum population. Players may only maintain so many characters at once, and cannot train new units when their roster is full. This roster will start off at 10 characters, plenty for the new player – especially since they will not be allowed to actually field all 10 units at once. Eventually, this limit will probably increase to something in the neighborhood of 40 or 50 units for those players who are so inclined.
Players will start the game with four characters (leaving 6 roster slots empty for new recruits), and will have a maximum active party size of three. Eventually, the maximum active party size should scale to something like 8 units at once.
The player’s entire party roster itself will level up as the individual characters on the team advance. The party level is used to determine things like max roster/party size and base upgrade availability as well as the actual level of combat encounters that players will face.
PvE content should scale to match the player’s party level. Certain areas in the game will always be skewed to be easy or difficult, regardless of the levels of the characters involved.
Party level also influences the quality of new recruits that may be hired. For example, a level 10 party may be able to hire level 5 recruits in stead of level 1 recruits. The bigger characters will cost more to hire, but they’ll require much less babysitting in order to become useful.
Individual characters in a player’s party will come in a large variety of class combinations. Characters will range between level 1 and level 100. They will also be defined by a few statistics, all of which are also numbers 1..100: Strength, Speed, Defense, Will, Resistance. With equipment and magic, it should be possible to increase these numbers to 150% of their natural base.
Every character has a class that determines their base stat progression, their allowed equipment, and the abilities that they may use. Every character will be human(oid). I do not plan to introduce any racial modifiers to a player’s characters, if I ever do, they will likely be primarily cosmetic in nature.
In addition to their core stats (which are identical for all characters of the same class and level), they will also have health and mana values – 1..999. Base maximum health and mana are also identical for all characters of the same class and level, and may be modified by equipment (but may not exceed the cap of 999).
Characters earn experience points by performing actions in combat and by completing quests.
The cost to advance by one experience level is always 100 points. The maximum amount of exp earned by a single action in combat will be capped at 49. Even failed actions will always earn at least 1 exp. There is no cap on quest reward exp.
The amount of exp earned is based on either the relative level difference between the acting and target characters or between that of the acting character and the difficulty level of the encounter.
When a character advances in level, they keep any extra exp. Thus the character who starts at zero exp and performs 3 actions in a row, each worth the maximum of 49 exp will wind up advancing in level with 47 exp left over.
Characters who are more than 5 levels higher than their targets will earn a maximum of 5 exp per action performed. Characters who are more than 10 levels higher than the target will earn a maximum of 1 exp per action performed.
In addition to experience earned for individual actions performed during combat, all living party members also earn bonus experience equal to an action versus an opponent of the level of the encounter.
In addition to providing the core stats and allowed equipment for characters, classes also provide them with a number of skills that they may learn. Ideally each class eventually provides about 20 unique skills/spells to the character, each of which may be divided up into as many as 10 ranks of effectiveness.
New skills and new ranks of old skills are unlocked at certain levels along the character’s advancement to 100. In order to learn higher ranks of a skill, the previous ranks must be learned first.
Every time a character would earn more than 5 exp from a single action or as bonus exp at the end of a battle, they also earn a number of points toward learning new skills or improving their old ones (1..20 skill points may be earned from a single combat action). Quest rewards also frequently involve skill points, which are awarded separately from the exp.
Skill points are not stockpiled for future use. Players must select which of a character’s abilities will receive the skill points in advance (a suitable default is pre-selected for each new recruit). When the currently selected skill is learned/improved, the game will automatically select a new target ability (and will inform the player). By default, the game will select the ability with the least skill points required to advance.
Players may change their skill learning preferences at any time (including during combat), and may stop learning one skill in favor of another. Incompletely learned skills will not be available until the character returns to and finishes learning them.
New recruits will begin with a suitable selection of skills for their level (30 skill points allocated per character level). All new recruits of the same class and level will start with the same skill loadout – even some level 1 recruits will begin with a guaranteed skill or two.
If a character has learned all skills and skill ranks available at their level, they will not stockpile potentially earned skill points. Likewise, if a character has reached max level but has not yet learned all skills available to their class, they will continue to earn skill points based on the exp that they might have otherwise earned.
There are a total of 20 character classes, divided up into 3 tiers.
Initially, characters may only be recruited from the four core tier 1 classes: Fighter, Thief, Cleric, Mage. New players begin play with one character of each class.
(I reserve the right to allow for non-human(oid) and unclassed “temporary” characters that might make their way into player parties for quest reasons, etc…)
Tier 2 and tier 3 classes are unlocked by performing certain quests in the game. Some of these quests are easier than others, some are available at much lower party levels than others. Once a new class is unlocked, new recruits may be trained in that new class.
In addition to the class they start as, all characters have the option of switching to a related class after they have advanced 20 levels from their initial level (provided an appropriate class has been unlocked, that is). Thus, a level 5 recruit will be eligible to choose their second class at level 25.
This change may only take place once per character and cannot be undone. Any class skills that the character has not learned to at least rank 1 will no longer be available for learning. Any points spent in those skills will be lost. Because of the dramatic consequences of changing classes, the player will always be presented with a summary of the changes that would result.
Changing classes also means that the character’s stats and allowed equipment change on them, and the report will also mention equipment that will have to be removed as a result of a change.
My current tentative list of classes and their evolutions:
Fighter --+-- Barbarian ----- Monk
+-- Archer -------- Sapper
+-- Knight -------- Paladin
+-- Dragoon ------- Monk
Thief ----+-- Swashbuckler -- Ninja
+-- Archer -------- Sapper
+-- Bard ---------- Ninja
+-- Warlock ------- Necromancer
Cleric ---+-- Mystic -------- Paladin
+-- Knight -------- Paladin
+-- Druid --------- Summoner
+-- Warlock ------- Necromancer
Mage -----+-- Geomancer ----- Summoner
+-- Dragoon ------- Monk
+-- Bard ---------- Ninja
+-- Druid --------- Summoner
Note that every one of the tier 1 classes has a single tier 2 class exclusively available to it as well as one tier 2 class shared with each of the other three tier 1 classes. Ie, Geomancer is exclusively a tier 2 Mage class, but Bard is both a tier 2 Mage class and a tier 2 Thief class.
What this means is that it is possible to have a Bard character that knows Mage abilities as well as a Bard that knows Thief abilities.
The class change can happen in any direction, between any two directly related classes. Thus, it is possible to recruit a Bard and then turn him into a Mage later on. Or, it is possible to turn a Thief into a Ninja, but it is not possible to turn a Fighter into a Druid.
Since the change is a once-per-character deal and cannot be undone, it is important to note that there is a difference between a Thief gone Bard and a Bard gone Thief. The character’s initial class isn’t nearly as important as the class they change to.
Given a player who has unlocked every class in the game, any newly created character will have between 3 and 7 classes to which they might eventually switch. The total number of class combinations is… big. And then double it because the order in which the classes are chosen matters. 🙂
Also worth noting is the distinct probability that characters might not have learned all skills available to their original class.
Each of the 20 classes provides a single ultimate skill, only available at level 100. These skills are not learned in the normal way, but are gained through items that are presented to the player as rewards for quests.
Each character may learn only one ultimate skill, even if they wait until level 100 to choose their second job (and thus spend time at level 100 in both classes).
And before I quit yammering here, allow me to give brief descriptions of the classes planned. More details on individual classes will have to wait for future posts.
- Archer (tier 2 – FT)
- Light armour, bows. High mobility, medium offense, low defense. Attacks tend toward applying disabling status effects to enemies.
- Barbarian (tier 2 – F)
- Light armour, medium-heavy weapons. High mobility, high offense, medium defense. Attacks tend to move the barbarian after performing them. Berzerker rage.
- Bard (tier 2 – MT)
- Light armour, light-medium weapons + bows. Medium mobility, low offense, low defense. Bard songs are inexpensive, maintained, large area of effect spells.
- Cleric (tier 1)
- Robes-medium armour + shields, blunt weapons. Low mobility, medium offense, medium defense. Primary healing class. (more)
- Dragoon (tier 2 – FM)
- Light-medium armour, polearms + bows. Exceptional mobility, medium offense, medium defense. Attacks tend to bring the dragoon closer to his target. Abilities improve mobility and allow easy traversal of rough terrain.
- Druid (tier 2 – CM)
- Robes-light armour, light weapons. Medium mobility, low offense, low defense. Shapeshifter – different forms give a variety of ways to improve mobility/offense/defense. Nature-based magic. Some healing. Entangling vines. Summon animals.
- Fighter (tier 1)
- Light-medium armour + shields, light-medium weapons + bows. Medium mobility, medium offense, high defense. Core physical fighter class. Attacks focus on improving number of targets per action. Some crowd control.
- Geomancer (tier 2 – M)
- Light armour, staves. High mobility, low offense, low defense. Alter terrain at target of spell, either to change the map around or to affect the target(s) within the area of effect. Summon localized nature entities.
- Knight (tier 2 – CF)
- Medium-heavy armour + shields, medium weapons + polearms. Pitiful mobility, medium offense, exceptional defense. Ultimate tanking unit. The immovable object. Improves morale of nearby allies.
- Mage (tier 1)
- Robes, daggers + staves. Medium mobility, very high offense, very low defense. Direct damage elemental magic nukes.
- Monk (tier 3 – FM)
- Robes, no weapons. High mobility, high offense, medium defense. Unarmed melee fighters. Self-healing.
- Mystic (tier 2 – C)
- Robes, no weapons. Medium mobility, medium offense, low defense. Summon spirits. Jedi mind trick, illusions. Delayed-activation effects (doom, etc…).
- Necromancer (tier 3 – CT)
- Robes-light armour, daggers. Medium mobility, medium offense, medium defense. Raise zombies. Reanimate slain enemies. Aura of fear.
- Ninja (tier 3 – MT)
- Light armour, ninja weapons + bows. Very high mobility, very high offense, medium defense. Elemental magic enhancement to weapon attacks. Assassination. Decoys. Blink.
- Paladin (tier 3 – CF)
- Robes-heavy armour + shields. Light-medium weapons. Medium mobility, high offense, medium defense. Healing aura. Holy attacks. Summon angels.
- Sapper (tier 3 – FT)
- Light-medium armour. Light-medium weapons. Medium mobility, astounding offense, low defense. Improved grenades. Traps. Engineering.
- Summoner (tier 3 – CM)
- Robes. Light weapons. Low mobility, high offense, low defense. Summons. Summons. Summons.
- Swashbuckler (tier 2 – T)
- Light armour, dual wielded dagger/light swords. High mobility, medium offense, medium defense. Ability to move-attack-move in a single turn. Parry arrows. Improved swimming and jumping. Ability to switch places with enemies and turn them around. Aura decreases morale of nearby enemies.
- Thief (tier 1)
- Light armour, daggers + light swords/maces. High mobility, high offense, low defense. Steal. Backstab. Trip.
- Warlock (tier 2 – CT)
- Robes, daggers + staves. Dark attacks. Curses. Summon demons.