Monday, 12 August 2013

Class Reveal #1: Mage

I think it's time to start rolling out the class abilities. This week it's the Mage, a physically weak spell caster with an arsenal of ranged attacks and a tiny health-pool which demands that the player avoid damage wherever possible. What I'll be doing here is providing an annotated run-down of the character sheet (comments are shown C-style), and a short discussion below.

Base health: 50            //Of course this number is basically meaningless, but it’s low, comparatively. Other classes will have more than double this figure.
Base speed: 3              //This is the standard number of moves per turn. Some classes will have more but I don’t intend on any having fewer.
Armour: None             //I’m not sure I actually want armour in the game; it’s not fully fleshed-out as an idea yet and it’s certainly not important for the Mage

//Each class has a set of six core abilities, and then another six which can each be chosen from a pool of three talents. Here are the core six for the mage.

Frostbolt: Fires a ball of frost at the target, dealing a large amount of damage and slowing their movement slightly for five turns (2 turn cast, no cooldown, long range, Frost school).   //While casting a multi-cast ability such as Frostbolt the player must stand still and not use any other abilities. Casts can be interrupted with various consequences.

Fireball: Fires a great ball of fire at the target, dealing a large amount of damage and burning them a little every turn for five turns (2 turn cast, no cooldown, long range, Fire school).     //Casting is difficult and time-consuming and so should be rewarded by large damage and bonus effects such as the damage-over-time (DoT) on this one.

Blink: Teleports the caster to the chosen location, removing all stuns and roots (instant cast, medium range, 15 turn cooldown, Arcane school).    //This is the Mage’s most versatile escape tool and has a variety of uses. Obviously can be used while stunned.

Frost Nova: Freezes all enemies within a short distance of the caster for five turns and deals a small amount of damage. While frozen, targets are rooted in place and cannot move, but can use abilities. Any direct damage will break the effect. (Instant cast, short range, 15 turn cooldown)          //A melee-range move seems odd for a caster, but is of course necessary for the caster to be able to stay at range. Keeping it short range prevents it being used and preventing anyone ever getting close enough to the Mage to do damage. Direct damage means things like Fire Blast where the damage is directly dealt by an ability, as opposed to the burn component of Fireball.

Fire Blast: Blasts the target for a medium amount of damage (Instant cast, medium range, 8 turn cooldown, Fire school). //Instant cast spells are useful for casting while moving

Counterspell: Interrupts the target’s casting, stopping their cast and preventing them from casting any spell in that school for five turns. (Instant cast, 20 turn cooldown, medium range, Arcane)        //Originally this had a short silence component attached to it, but I’m really not happy with it being that powerful. It’s the kind of thing that could possibly be added by talents or a larger wild-card system (more on that later)

That’s it for the core abilities. Now we go into the talent tree. One ability is chosen in each tier.

Tier 1:
Deep Freeze: Imprison the target in a block of ice, stunning and freezing them for three turns. While stunned the target cannot move or use most abilities. Can only be cast on a frozen target. (Instant cast, medium range, 20 turn cooldown, Frost).        //I’m not entirely happy with such a long stun, but it is rather difficult to pull off considering that the Mage only has one freeze (two with Frostbite) so it should probably be rewarded.

Impact (passive): Fire Blast now stuns the target for 1 round.         //Fairly simple – not as powerful as Deep Freeze but much more reliable.

Polymorph: Turn your opponent into a sheep (or even a newt) for five turns. While transformed they cannot move or use most abilities, but regenerate 10% of their health every turn. Any direct damage done will break the effect. (1 turn cast, medium range, no cooldown, Arcane)       //Again, I’m not entirely happy with this level of control, even though it has its downsides. This is part of a larger subject I’ll come on to in a bit.

Tier 2:
Cold Wave: Emit a blast of cold air which chills all targets near the caster, dealing a little damage and severely reducing their movement speed for five turns. (Instant cast, short range, 8 turn cooldown, Frost)  //A replacement for Frost Nova when it’s on cooldown for Mages under heavy pressure by melee attackers

Incandescence: Burn fiercely bright for an instant, blinding all targets within a short range for three turns. While blinded players cannot move or use most abilities, but receiving any direct damage will end the effect. (Instant cast, short range, 15 turn cooldown, Fire)  //Again, a short-range defensive ability to help with an escape

Slow: Burden a target with arcane shackles, slowing their movement speed and increasing the time it takes them to cast spells. (Instant cast, long range, no cooldown, Arcane)  //I’m not happy with this at all. I might replace this with Polymorph, which feels a little out of place in Tier 1, and then put a Counterspell silence there, or possibly something completely new.

Tier 3:
Ice Lance: Shoots an icicle at the target, dealing a small amount of damage. If used against a frozen target the damage done is tripled. (Instant cast, long range, no cooldown, Frost)         //I always felt the original Ice Lance was one of WoW’s best mechanics, so I’ve stolen it.

Combustion: Cause your opponent to spontaneously combust, dealing fire damage every turn for ten rounds. (Instant cast, long range, no cooldown, Fire) //A nice sustained damage ability

Arcane Barrage: Hurl an orb of arcane energy at your opponent, dealing a large amount of damage. (Instant cast, long range, 5 round cooldown, Arcane)        //I’m toying with the idea of making this a cast-time spell which can be cancelled early to do less damage, with a small amount being done if it’s instant cast. I like casting as a mechanic and want more than two spells to use it.

Tier 4:
Ice Barrier: Encase yourself in a shield of ice, absorbing a large amount of damage. The ice will melt after thirty rounds if not already worn down. The caster can move and cast as normal while shielded (Instant cast, 20 round cooldown, Frost)         //Careful tweaking of the cooldown and the amount absorbed will be key to balancing this ability both within its tier and the larger game. It might be fun to have fire spells break it down faster and/or frost spells build it up again, but that may well be too much. Similarly preventing/slowing movement while shielded could be interesting, but again, too much.

Cauterise: Cauterise your wounds, healing yourself for a medium amount and removing a harmful effect (Instant cast, 20 round cooldown, Fire)           //Ah, but which debuff? Must we resort to the terrible solution of RNG or can we find a better way?

Alter Time: Rip the trousers of time, causing the caster to return to their current location, health, buffs and debuffs when cast a second time or after five rounds. The effect is negated if the caster dies before the effect occurs or the effect is dispelled. (Instant cast, doesn’t prevent other abilities being used, 40 round cooldown, Arcane)  //Again, carefully controlling the cooldown and duration is important here. WoW’s Alter Time (which this is, of course) is one of the best mechanics they have. If used badly it can have disastrous effects, but using it cleverly is powerful to the point of imbalance. And using it well requires a really high level of anticipation, so that’s fine.

Tier 5:
Frostbite: When activated, causes your next chill effect to freeze the target in place for five rounds. (Instant cast, does not prevent other abilities being used, 15 round cooldown, Frost)        //Makes getting Deep Freeze off a bit easier and allows for more control

Blazing Speed: Supresses movement slowing effects and increases your speed by 2 for two rounds. (Instant cast, does not prevent other abilities being used, 15 round cooldown, Fire)
            //A useful escape or chasing tool

Presence of Mind: When activated, causes your next spell to be instant-cast. (Instant cast, does not prevent other abilities being used, 20 round cooldown, Arcane)
            //My only problem with this is that there aren’t that many cast-time spells to choose from, but that’s not necessarily a problem

Tier 6:
Shatter (passive): All your spells deal double damage against frozen targets //And that’s why Deep Freeze is so powerful.

Ignite (passive): All your direct fire damage burns the target for half the damage again over 10 rounds

Arcane Power: Imbues the caster with arcane power, causing all abilities to deal 50% extra damage for 10 rounds (Instant cast, does not prevent other abilities from being used, 30 round cooldown, Arcane)          //It’s pretty easy to work out the flat DPS increase from this one, and consequently should be easy enough to balance by tweaking the cooldown/duration/damage buff. It’s not as fun as ignite or shatter but having some simpler, active abilities is important.

Ok, so that’s all we have so far. The comments should give you a fairly good idea as to my thought processes, but I’d like to talk about a few points in detail.

First, it’s important to stress that this is really just a first draft. There are lots of changes pencilled in, some of which I’ve explained here, but lots of which need further play-testing to iron out. Second, I’m aware, of course, that this is a complete rip-off of WoW. I know. That’s the idea, kind of. My intention has always been to take the hotkey-based PvP of WoW and other MMOs and make it turn-based. I’ll do another whole post about that later, but for now assume that I know how awful I am for copying what were always rather derivative mechanics. In my defence, I’d refer back to my first point – this is far from complete – and also say that while all the classes I’m working with at the moment are to some degree influenced by WoW, the mage is the most faithful to the original (or at least how the original was in TBC/WotLK, Alter Time excluded). This is because in my view the mage is (was?) probably the best designed class in WoW in that period. There were balance issues of course, but the mechanics worked really well internally and the problems were imbalances in other classes and the game as a whole rather than the mage class. Maybe I should have started with another class and tried to hide the influences, but I’d rather be honest and say ‘yes, this is turn-based WoW. Kind of.’

Anyway. You may have noticed that there are even numbers of Fire, Frost and Arcane spells, with one of each in the talent tiers. I don’t want to force players into taking all Frost or all Fire or all Arcane talents, but there are some benefits to staying within a school. The downside of that is of course that doing so makes being locked out of that school both more likely and more dangerous. Getting locked out of Arcane is rather unlikely, which is deliberate – it’s the utility tier and is desperately needed for Blink and Counterspell so it’s something mages should have access to most of the time.

I’ve also tried to arrange it so that the tiers are themselves organised by theme – there are two damage increasing tiers (3 and 6), one heavy control (1), one defensive (4), and two control and escape tiers (2 and 5). There’s a little slippage between these, but in general this forces players to have a range of options open to them at all times – in short all combinations are viable, but some more so than others.

Well, this is already 2000 words, which is enough to try the most dedicated reader, so I’ll leave it there for now. Next time, counter-play, anti-fun, and balancing abilities with maths.


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