[MUD-Dev] Striving for originality

John Bertoglio jb at co-laboratory.com
Thu Jun 6 15:13:29 New Zealand Standard Time 2002

From: "John Buehler" 
> shren writes:

>> I've always thought that this should be faced by making different
>> 'skills' able to do different things, functionally.  You can
>> inflict ranged damage with a bow?  Fine, but why do you need
>> another source of ranged damage other than "bows"?  It seems you
>> then end up trying to balance bows, slings, and crossbows with
>> "magic", which never seems to work.  One is more powerful than
>> the other, always, and any attempts to balance them never seem to
>> work out.  Melee weapons should do melee damage, ranged weapons
>> should do ranged damage, and magic should do all sorts of useful
>> things that arn't melee damage or ranged damage.
> Hear hear.  Keep all the various systems orthogonal to a large
> degree.  And this type of thinking has led me to consider that
> magic should be a 'scenario modifier'.  It should be used to do a
> variety of things that change the tactical situation.  Throw a
> muffling spell on the guard.  Throw a slippery floor spell in
> front of the charging guards.  Cast a flash spell at night.  Throw
> a 'bad smell' spell into a crowded room.
> This all assumes that characters care about the smell of things,
> that they can slip and fall to their detriment, that night vision
> can be ruined by bright lights and that guards yelling actually
> accomplish something.
> If you wantto do damage, get a sword.

Typically, magic provides the battlefield equivalent of air and/or
artillery support. The artillery model allows for large firepower
but is constrained by vulnerability to direct assault. It is also
vulnerable to counter-battery fire (magic users are often quite
vulnerable to other magic users.) An advantage of traditional
fantasy magic is the ability to sustain a large volume of fire.  To
take our modern military combat analogy a bit farther, the foot
solider has the potential to utilize some of the power of artillery
but cannot sustain the volume of fire.  The individual or small team
can carry grenades, mines or a light mortar. This is the fantasy
equivalent of scrolls, potions and thrown flasks of magical elixirs.

A disadvantage of artillery is the tendency to miss the target and
engage friendly targets by accident.  Typical fantasy combat does
not model this problem in any way. Powerful forces tend to be hard
to control.

The air power model is somewhat different. This model allows for a
degree of precision (you can see your target) but has limited
firepower and low "bang for the buck".  This model is closer to the
traditional fantasy magic user. The problem is that adding the power
of aircraft to a small scale combat simulation is typically
overwhelming.  The same can be said for magic users.

Moving the magic combat model closer to that of artillery would go a
long way to towards improving balance. Using high power magic is
risky in a tactical situation like calling an artillery strike to
help you take an nearby position. It can be decisive, but it can
also backfire, big time.

Limiting power interesting notion. A constraint/feature I have never
hear used is the idea of a mana pool based on location.  Most
systems create a situation where spell casting power is based a mana
supply controlled by an individual persona.  Typically, this supply
increases with level creating part of the balance problems mentioned
above. A way to constrain the power of magic would be to assign a
base value to a zone based on terrain, time of day, phases of the
moon or any other combination factors. Since I believe that even a
fantasy world should have reasonable (if fantastic) physics, this
would allow for the concept that mana conversion has a reasonable
basis and is not infinite. Couple this with a model that increase
the risk to the party with the level of the magic and you could
strike a better balance. Once the mana was depleted in a region,
mana based magic would not work.

This method would create a lot of interesting tactical
possibilities. A standard "Magic Missile" spell with its limited
damage would be very reliable. A powerful spell would deplete the
area mana rapidly and suddenly leave the mages without a role. At
first glance, it would seem to be a good idea for a magic-weak party
to cast powerful spells to deprive the opponents of mana
power. However, the risk of a low level magic user trying this would
be very high.

Essentially, this method would create a natural limit for
mages. Magic would become an adjunct to a person's power, not the
main source. The notion of stored mana in terms of magic single-use
items and alchemy could allow for an important role for mages as the
creators of these items.

This method would allow a role for combat magic but not allow it to
dominate. The use of variable mana based on area criteria would
create zones where magic was very powerful and zones where it was
almost totally ineffective. This would make the world a more
interesting place and provide a role for all kinds of personas.

John A. Bertoglio
jb at co-laboratory.com
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