Saturday, 15 November 2008

Designing a Magic System - Part Fourteen (Classes)

(You'll probably want to read parts one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve and thirteen).

In part eleven, I suggested that a class-based system was the most appropriate mechanism for provide alternative spell types. In Unangband I cheat this slightly, and term the choices between different spellbooks schools. When you choose a school, you are actually choosing which spell book you start with, and which spell books are stocked in the shops. Each school has 4 spell books in increasing order of difficulty, which you can learn spells from, and these shape the starting experience as a player.

What experience should different classes provide? This is as much about the significance of the choice of class in the game. In a multi-player game choosing a class is as much about complementing the choices of the team you are on (or all choosing Pyro and spamming the opposition with flamethrowers in Team Fortress 2); in a single player game with multiple avatars, it is about wish fulfillment - what kind of person are you to lead others; in a single player game, each class must be capable of surviving the game on their own. It is a delicate balancing act to ensure that class is not necessarily a proxy choice for difficulty level - although many standard class choices end up having different difficulty curves throughout the game. I believe classes should instead be a choice about playing style.

Roguelikes are uniquely replayable, and class choice can be as much about playing particularly challenging games. On one hand, harder class choices should not be made available to starting players; on the other hand, harder class choices are required to learn and understand various advanced strategies of play. In Angband and variants, mages typically have a hard start and mid game, warriors have a harder mid game, and priests have an easy mid game and potentially hard end game due to their lack of damage output. As further anecdotal evidence, you may want to refer to analysis of the character dumps on the landder.

But I don't want to link spell choices to this implicit difficulty curve - and I have worked to ensure that the start game for mages is easier through increasing mana availability (although at the same time harder, because I have removed the link between mana gained and spells learned - these are now controlled by separate attributes, rather than Intelligence being a catch all for mages and Wisdom being the equivalent for priests). So to me, the playing style argument is the most compelling.

But what do I mean by playing style? Well in Angband, consider the difference in play mechanics between a mage, a warrior and a priest. The warrior is best bumping into monsters one at a time at melee distance, and built to endure frequent mistakes (the worst of which is holding down a direction key and filling the keyboard buffer); the priest is a weak warrior mage, with a ready supply of resets which makes their gameplay style very forgiving; the mage is a glass battleship, and plays more like a game of chess, where each choice has much greater impact and many more choices are available.

The function of schools in Unangband is primarily to facilitate spell choices, and secondarily to encourage different playing styles for mage-like classes. The schools I ended up creating are:

The school of Wizardry contains the most flexible spell selection for defense and a broad and powerful range of direct offensive spells. Wizardry has few weaknesses: no reliable method of
satisfying a wizard's hunger and few spells that can be used to attack an enemy without putting the wizard in harm's way. Wizards should be thoughtful in offense and quick to escape or evade an enemy that exhausts the resources at their disposal.

Aspiring Wizards start with the book of Cantrips.

The school of Druidry contains a wide variety of different spells, include a good low level offense, but is hampered by difficult to use defensive spells and offensive magic that takes a while to get
going and may leave the Druid in close proximity to harm should they fail to work. A Druid operates best when he is able to prepare the ground upon which he fights, and works best in open spaces: conjuring trees, calling forth lightning and fire and so on. This is also the Druid's weakness: he must operate in the open, and takes a while to prepare his magic, which means he can be overwhelmed before his magic can be used.

Novice Druids start with the book of Hedges.

The school of Mastery contains some useful low-level magics, but at higher levels is heavily reliant on the ability to summon and control minions for the great part of both offense and defense. This is a double-edged sword: while the minions are more than capable of providing the Master protection and dealing out damage, he has a heavy investment in them, and will have to pay a 'mana debt' or 'blood debt' should they be destroyed. This reliance on minions means that the tables can turn very quickly on the Master and get out of control.

Wouldbe Masters start with the book of Curses.

The school of Sorcery is both deceptively weak and strong. A Sorcerer lacks the immediate damage dealing capacity of the Wizard and the long term damage capability of the Druid, and does not have the same range of minions as the Master. The Sorcerer's spells and minions are useful in preparing the ground like the Druid, in particular with a range of traps and mimics, and enraging and drawing in the enemy. But his abilities to ensorcle perhaps any enemy, will give him opportunities and gambits far greater than the Master is capable of.

Neophyte Sorcerers start with the book of Glamours.

The school of Thaumaturgy contains the widest range of direct offensive spells, to allow a thaumaturgist to find and exploit the weakness of any opposition. The Thaumaturgical energies at his disposal randomly vary from individual to individual, and as a result, the exact spell selection will vary. The weakness of the Thaumaturgist is a distinct lack of flexibility in defense: with limited and hard to use escapes and utility magics.

Latent Thaumaturges start with the book of Fireworks.

In addition, there is a school for each semi-spell class, that is the Ranger, Artisan and Rogue classes who don't have access to attack magic, but do use a variety of utility spells. The Rangers prefer the Statecraft school, starting with the book of Trailcraft, Artisans prefer the Science school, starting with the book of Trades and Rogues prefer the Spellstealing school, starting with the book of Tricks.

The emphasis for Wizards and Thaumaturges is on spells that deliver damage to line of sight targets only, with the Wizard having the capability of evading or redirecting opponents that get too close, while the Thaumaturge tries to overwhelm them with greater variety of attacks. For Druids, Masters and Sorcers, the emphasis is on indirect damage, through devastating attack spells which take a while to take full effect for the Druid, through pets for the Master and through a combination of traps and usurping enemy assets for the Sorcerer. Indirect damage is lower risk and to compensate, these classes should require more complex set ups to get this damage delivered.

With these thematic ideas in place, and the base framework of spell choices to build it on, it becomes a matter of building the individual spell books for each class to implement these ideas. The spell books as they currently are designed are shown below:






Detect Monsters

Wizard Lock

Light Area

Magic Missile

Phase Door


Cure Light Wounds

Find Hidden Traps/Doors

Stinking Cloud

Confuse Monster

Detect Life

Dryad's Embrace

Lightning Spark



Find Water

Purify Self

Warp Wood




Detect Evil



Blood Binding


Detect Traps

Stinking Cloud

Find Familiar

Detect Minds

Wizard Lock


Mind Thrust

Temporary Displacement

Ignore Pain


Detect Doors/Stairs

Ego Whip

Force Bolt

Wizard Lock

Acid Splash




Ignore Pain


Thaumaturgic Missile

Find Flame

Fire Blast

Teleport Self

Spear of Light

Polymorph Other

Trap/Door Dest-ruction

Detect Power

Fire Bolt

Frost Bolt

Gauge Magic

Lightning Beam

Minor Acid Ball

Slow Poison

Wizard Light


Sleep Monster



Dryad's Tryst

Ent's Song

Satisfy Hunger

Sleep Monsters

Turn Stone to Mud


Minor Frost Ball


Snuff Small Life

Poison Missile

Curse Monster

Animate Dead

Sticks to Snakes

Change into Bat

Slip into Shadows

Sense Magic

Air Spirit

Curse Monsters

Fire Spirit

Darkness Bolt


Turn Undead

Summon Lemure

Create Golem





Animate Object

Change into Mouse


Enrage Monster

Probability Travel

Value Magic

Rune of Escape

Slow Metabolism

Gust of Wind


Spider's Web

Thaumaturgic Minor Bolt

Blind Monster




Minor Acid Ball

Smoke and Mirrors

Thaumaturgic Minor Beam


Minor Fire Ball

Thaumaturgic Bolt

Minor Lightning Ball

Dispel Magic

Acid Bolt

Lightning Beam II

Slow Monster

Frost Bolt II


Cone of Cold

Frost Ball

Recharge Item I


Ent's Seeds

Runic Magic


Ent's Draught

Change into Goat

Earth Spirit

Water Spirit

Wizard Eye

Sense Invisible

Unseen Servant

Dark Rituals

Animate Elements

Summon Insects

Vampiric Drain

Charm Bird or Mammal

Change into Cat

Charm Person


Charm Insect

Charm Reptile


Mind over Body

Mind's Eye

Psychic Blast


Alt Thaumaturgic Beam

Thaumaturgic Beam

Acid Ball

Alt Thaumaturgic Minor Ball


Thaumaturgic Ball

Thaumaturgic Minor Ball

Mass Sleep

Teleport Other

Haste Self


Wonder II


Fire Ball

Fire Swarm

Melting Ray

Dryad's Kiss



Mana Pool


Tree of Life




Swallowed by Shadow

Bind Demon

Mass Curse

Darkness Ball

Summon Spirit

Phantasmal Force

Banish Evil

Release Curse

Path of Blood


Thrust Away

Psychic Crown

Change into Serpent

Change into Wolf

Charm Monster

Flame's Reach

Test Magic

Wonder II

Arc of Thaumaturgy

Fire Ball

Thaumaturgic Ball II

Thaumaturgic Bolt II

Thaumaturgic Bolt III

Thaumaturgic Major Ball

Thaumaturgic Major Ball II

Key: Spell choices, where an equivalent spell exists for each class in italic

Summoning spells underlined

Direct damage spells in bold


What is obvious from the above chart, is that the desire to use classes to keep equivalent spell choices separate is in conflict with trying to use classes to keep a consistent playing style. For instance, the thematic linking between Druids and frost spells, and Thuamaturgist and fire and acid spells encouraged me initially to spread the summon elemental spirit spells out to these classes. This of course runs counter to the reasoning that Masters should be the summoning class. But if all elementals are summoned by Masters, then I end up in the same design problem that I highlighted by making all elemental bolts available to the same spell caster.

Even with these constraints in place, I keep redesigning the spell layout for each school. Since designing the first version of chart, I've changed my mind again and moved all the summon elemental spells back to the Master class. I worry that I'll be perpetually rearranging the chairs on this game design Titanic, unable to get off and actually release a final version of the game.

In part fifteen, I'll discuss more design decisions that I made to come up with this list and try to point to a better solution.

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