So, I've been thinking the past few days about some vectors for mechanics in an RPG combat system, particularly for the pipe-dream that is Atrium. I thought I'd share some.
One of the basic themes of the game is the Rule of Three; for example, there are three core choices to the game that each have three options (providing 27 finales). So I thought it would be nice to partition the basics of combat into three spaces, each of which is also partitioned into triplicate. The first division defines the "shape" of a character's power: how do they interact with the battlefield? The second division applies a sense of theme to the power, which matches the theme of the character most strongly associated with that avenue of combat. The final division... well, it's still up in the air, but it's looking like it will match the particular idiosyncrasies of the practitioner of the power.
So, what do I mean by "shape?"? I've been thinking of the three branches here as the following: the tree, the trellis, and the vector. Let's discuss these in detail:
A character has a bank of abilities of the following structure: (a) an initial effect, (b) a list of requirements for future moves, and (c) a reward effect for completing the list. In a given turn, a character has some requirement imposed on them from a previous turn: this requirement can be filled by a variety of options from his bank. He can choose to perform one of those options, which may in turn provide more requirements for later turns, or mulligan the tree he has constructed so far. Some options, called termini or leaves, provide no requirements; their initial effect is their reward effect, and they serve to help fill requirements out.
Many of you should of course recognize this to be isometric to the Tree data structure of computer science, among other fields. I think the interesting effects lie in the following aspects: choosing the bank of abilities, basing reward effects on how the requirements were fulfilled, and providing situations where taking a mulligan is an attractive option.
Here are some examples of flavorings of this mechanic: language trees, divide-and-conquer algorithms, Duty ethics, branching fractals
Ovalia has abilities based on the language tree. In the Garden, the player chose a bunch of different context-free grammar rules to serve as the basis for her abilities. These are things like:
S -> NP VP:
a) Provides X damage to all foes within radius of Ovalia
b) Must provide a complete NP, then a complete VP to complete
c) Stun and do massive damage to all foes, as determined by the score of the sentence created
A character establishes a space, or fortress, where they have considerable control. Their turn provides options to increase the space their power manifests, to apply powerful effects within their sphere of influence, and to sacrifice some of their territory for some gain. For many characters who follow this path, the stability of this fortress provides strong benefits: some actions may involve starting a process which has drastic effect upon completion, but which requires certain features of the fortress to remain stable throughout the process.
Flavors: circuitry, dynamic programming, "bottom-up" parsing, force fields, Virtue ethics.
Vursik has his basis in circuitry. During his turn, he can add a length of wire to his circuit in sequence or parallel. Instead, he could create a feature at some point in the circuit he has built, such as:
Damages opponents which come within a radius lightly based on the current flowing through the bulb. Prevents such opponents from leaving the radius until the bulb is destroyed.
Finally, Vursik could excise some wire to add to the voltage supplying the circuit.
A character has a small variety of abilities whose effects are strongly determined by attributes possessed by other objects in the battlefield. Many of these attributes are not able to be directly influenced by the character, but he may have some sort of method to transform the attributes of bulks or individual objects on the field. Characters who are shaped by the Vector are strongly influenced by character synergy, a value which depends on the proximity to other characters with whom he has a strong relationship.
Themes: public key encryption, probability distributions, Greedy algorithms, energy potentials, fluid dynamics, Consequentialist ethics.
Example: Tor's abilities are defined by a simple and skewed version of public key encryption. He is able to broadcast a message to all characters on the battlefield. This message is a damage value which ranges over some interval from, say, [-128, 127], which is then multiplied by the character synergy value. He can view all of the public keys of all actors in the field, as well as the private keys of his allies. He can change his own public and private keys. When the message is broadcast, it is encrypted and then each character decrypts it as per RSA rules . The resulting message that each character receives is the damage it takes - negative damage heals.
As I am sure you can see, this is all very rough and still way open to being changed. Some of the goals I have in this system are:
a) To be fun.
b) To encourage non-trivial tactical decisions
c) To educate players about real world concepts and reward mastery over those concepts.
Anyway, I felt I really had to get this jotted down. But I really want to hear some feedback! At the very least, say hello here. I miss you guys!