[MUD-Dev] Continuous versus Discrete Functions

Travis Casey efindel at earthlink.net
Wed Dec 19 15:39:01 New Zealand Daylight Time 2001

Tuesday, December 18, 2001, 8:18:48 PM, John Buehler wrote:

> Something that frequently surprises - and disappoints - me is the
> practice of the use of discrete functions when applied to
> character abilities.  I'm thinking primarily of the big graphical
> games, as those are the ones that I've played the most.

> The example that I'll use is that of cast spells with a limited
> range.  Cast spells almost invariably have a range aspect to them,
> where the effectiveness function is 1.0 until maximum range is
> reached.  At that point, the function's value drops to 0.0.

Well, this is probably going back to the basis of most of the online
systems in D&D -- D&D has quite a few discrete-valued things, and
spells and magical effects generally have absolute ranges (and areas
of effect) of that same sort.

(In D&D, this goes back to its miniatures-gaming roots, but that's
another story.)

> The aspect of this that is most disappointing to me is that the
> designers have eliminated the possibility of players choosing a
> variety of strategies and uses of their character capabilities.
> If a caster chooses to walk up to an opponent and get extra
> potency due to the short range involved, that would be one
> particularly dangerous strategy.  If a caster chooses to stay at a
> great distance and just barely ding an opponent, that may be a
> strategy that is more complex, involving an ambush or some other
> tactic.

Yep.  There are P&P RPGs that do this sort of thing.  For example,
Fantasy Wargaming doesn't have fixed ranges for spells -- instead,
the range to the target is a modifier to the difficulty of
establishing the "connection" needed for the spell.

(A spell in FW is handled in three stages.  First, the caster has to
make a magical connection to the target.  Second, the target has a
chance to notice the magical connection and, if a mage
him/her/itself, could then try to sever it, or try to send a spell
across it back to the caster faster than the caster can do his/her
spell.  Third, if the caster still has a connection and is
conscious, the actual spell can be sent down the connection.)

A system that's been discussed on rpg-create, but which I haven't
actually seen in use, is one which works like this: the caster's
roll to cast the spell generates a certain number of result points.
These points can then be spent on different aspects of the spell --
range, damage, area of effect, etc.  Thus, if you're going after a
target which is farther away, you'll have to limit another aspect of
the spell... and if you go against a target who's nearby, you'll be
able to put points into other aspects that would have gone into
range otherwise.

> Another element of cast spells would be the amount of magic
> resources they require to cast.  Always uniform.  If a spell has a
> maximum potency, why am I unable to use the spell for a lessened
> potency and a lessened consumption of resources (mana, power,
> concentration, etc).

Several P&P RPG systems allow for this, with at least some spells
(and in some cases with any spell).  Most of these have a certain
minimum cost for the spell, and allow spending more points to
increase the effects.

Another common idea in P&P RPGs is to have the amount of power a
spell costs be related to your degree of success -- if you do very
well, you can cast the same spell with a lower power requirement.
In some systems, if you do poorly, you may still be able to get the
spell to go off by expending more power than would normally be

This idea can easily be combined into the "divide the points up"
sort of system mentioned above -- make cost a category you can put
points into, with points put into there lowering the cost of the

> Perhaps multiple casters can cooperate to cast a spell of
> intensified potency through a shared increased cost, etc.

Many P&P RPGs allow for this as well.  Indeed, in some, using
multiple casters is the only practical way to do some spells (or to
do them quickly).  GURPS has a fairly good system for multiple

> This doesn't apply only to spell casting.  It applies to all of
> the either/or outcomes in action systems.  In EverQuest, all
> failures of a trade attempt consumed all components of the
> attempt.  Dark Age of Camelot goes beyond this with a function
> that permits failures with varying degrees of loss.  But that
> continuous function demonstrates its rather discrete
> characteristic when doing something like assembling a weapon.  A
> weapon assembly attempt might use a sword blade and a sword hilt.
> The continuous function is very step-wise in that either the
> entire hilt or blade is lost or not lost.  There is no notion of
> returning a damaged hilt or blade that can be reworked or itself
> disassembled for its component materials.

Most P&P RPGs that have "building things" skills have similar
problems.  In some of them, there are multiple grades of failure,
with what happens as far as resources depending on the degree of

Paper RPGs also tend to abstract what's needed for item creation
more, usually just specifying the cost of the components needed.
This allows for a more continuous loss -- if you need 50 sp worth of
materials to make a sword, and you state the loss of materials in
sp's, you have 51 different amounts that could be lost.

Travis Casey
efindel at earthlink.net

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