Friday, May 5, 2017

Thoughts on a turn-based combat system

I've been prototyping a turn-based RPG battle system for a bit now. I wanted to get my thoughts on how these mechanics work together in a more organized form than I'd had in the past, though, so I'm writing this post to detail exactly what I'm doing and get some thoughts.

FWIW: at present I have a battle model but the UI is sort of a hot mess, so there's nothing you'd actually want to play, unfortunately. The back-end is solid, the front-end is, uh, the opposite of that.

So let's start with what I'm shooting for at a high-level here:

  • Medium-weight turn-based combat. By "medium-weight" here I mean something that creates an expansive enough tactical space to facilitate interesting, dynamic encounters driven primarily by player skill as opposed to a pure "who has the bigger numbers" approach, but which remains simple enough that combat encounters aren't necessarily that complex. In a nutshell, I want something that scales well enough to facilitate both complex encounters that demand sophisticated tactical approaches and simpler encounters that are more about quickly and efficiently tearing through whatever's in your way so you can move on. I have some vague notions about a JRPG sort of game structure here, so it's important to have mechanics that are designed to facilitate both more demanding, intensive combat setups and simpler, quicker ones.
  •  "A turn-based fighting game." Turn-based battle systems typically abstract out most of the nitty-gritty of a fight. Which is fair: they're "battle" systems, not "fighting" systems. There's a huge range here in terms of both "complexity" and "abstraction" - but the overarching theme is that most of the fine points of individual person-to-person (or person-to monster, or person-to-robot, or whatever) combat are abstracted out. You talk about what characters are doing in a very detached, birds'-eye sense. I want something that feels much more intimate. I want players to think about combat as a sequence of moments. I want to place real tactical weight on very small movements here - knocking an enemy back a foot matters. And the choices available to you need to be very dependent on the rhythms of the fight - players need to feel out what the enemy is doing, build a plan of attack, and then adjust that on the fly as the fight moves in unforeseen ways. You can never just do something - every action is contingent. Every choice you make opens up some avenues and closes others, for both yourself and your opponent. I want to reward a very aggressive playstyle based in an understanding and control of tempo.