RPG Maker: How I Design
This Fall, I've been making a modestly scoped RPG Maker project that displays my design style as well as my non-linear writing style.
In this article, I specifically wanted to focus in on how I designed the four classes in the game. For some background, it may help to watch my lecture on class design from SIEGE 2022, but it's not required to follow this essay.
Pretty much, in my opinion, class design has these basic guidelines:
There are four fundamental actions in games: control, offense, defense, and recovery.
Players need access to all four actions to win a game.
In many RPGs and MMOs, each action has been codified into a role, such as "Controller," "DPS," "Healer," or "Tank."
Players have more agency when any class can be customized to fill any role.
Each class should perform each role in a different way.
With those guidelines in mind, let's put these principles into practice. My RPG Maker project is a pastiche of old school adventures like Keep on the Borderlands. The player will have a home base that they can upgrade. There will be dungeons the player can explore in any order. Exploring these dungeons reveals pieces of a larger plot, one at a time.
Accordingly, my four classes are based on the four classic D&D classes: Cleric, Magic-user (not "Mage"), Thief, and Warrior (because "Fighter" always sounded lackluster to me). I wanted each class to have skills reflecting each of the four roles, but for RPG Maker, I added some extra guidelines:
Clerics and Mages have more skills, but are more dependent on managing MP. Thieves and Warriors have fewer skills overall, but some can be used at-will.
Single-target skills will be consistently effective, while multi-target skills will be situational and less reliably effective.
I also added a fifth role, "Utility," to reflect out-of-combat skills, like lockpicking for Thieves.
I started by making a table for each class, outlining the skills that class would have. Here is what the Cleric's looks like:
Bind - Paralyzes one enemy
Bless - Buffs the ATK of all allies
Light - Removes Hidden state from all enemies, has a chance to also Dazzle (reduces their Accuracy until the end of the turn).
Silence - Has a chance to Silence every enemy. Silenced enemies cannot use "magic" skills.
Judgement - Deals Sacred damage to all enemies.
Damage over Time
Smite - Deals Sacred damage to one enemy. Damage is based on ATK + MAT.
Cleanse - Removes all Debuffs, and most negative States, affecting one ally.
Heal - Heals one ally. Healing scales based on MAT.
Revive - Revives one defeated ally.
Aegis - Buffs one ally's DEF, MDF, and LUK.
Sanctuary - Prevents random encounters for a time.
Here, you can already see the "single-target vs multi-target" paradigm in play. I chose not to include a "Heal All" skill because I thought it skewed action economy too far in the player's favor. By only including single-target healing, the Cleric has to prioritize. On the other hand, the offense-increasing Bless skill affects every ally. That's because half the party, the Cleric and the Magic-user, won't be benefitting from the ATK buff as much as a Thief or Warrior. It's multi-target, but only situationally useful. This pattern repeats with skills like Light and Silence. Both are multi-target, but only useful against specific types of enemies: sneaky ones and spellcasting ones, respectively. Bind, in contrast, reliably locks down one enemy of any type.
On the offensive side, my Cleric's two damage-dealing skills, Smite and Judgement, both deal Sacred damage. In my system, most "mortal" enemies have a resistance to this damage type, making it more effective against classic Cleric enemies like undead. Smite can hit even harder than the Thief's signature Sneak Attack skill, but only against specific enemies.
So, let's go back to my design guidelines:
What is the Cleric doing? The Cleric supports the party by replenishing resources, countering specific enemy skills, and quickly defeating certain types of enemies.
How is the Cleric doing it? As a magical character, the Cleric has a wider range of skills, but more dependence on MP. As a result, the Cleric must make moment-to-moment choices about whether its resources are best spent acting as a controller, a healer, or a secondary damage-dealer.
For comparison, let's look at the Warrior:
Goading Attack - A normal attack with a chance to Enrage the target. Enraged enemies must attack if they are able.
Guard Break - A normal attack that removes any DEF buffs from the target, debuffs the target's DEF, and removes the Guard state.
Whirlwind - Make one normal attack against each enemy.
Damage over Time
Cleave - Make a normal attack against two random targets.
Healing Surge - A self-heal that's more effective if the Warrior is below 50% Health. Also removes some debuffs and negative states.
Defend - Improved Guard action. Increases the chance that enemies will target the Warrior, allows the Warrior intercept attacks aimed at allies, and grants a high chance to Counterattack.
Athletics - Allows the Warrior to perform feats of strength, like moving a boulder, while exploring a map.
A Warrior's most important skill is Defend. Not only does this let them protect allies, the high Counterattack chance means they aren't compromising on damage-dealing. Before using Defend, a Warrior can use Goading Attack to enrage an enemy. While enraged, enemies can ONLY attack, allowing the Warrior to shut down enemies with any kind of special skills. Guard Break lets the Warrior crack open more passive, defensive enemies. Cleave pulls double-duty. Against a few weak enemies, it's more MP-efficient than Whirlwind. Against solo enemies like bosses, it's effectively an extra attack. Finally, Healing Surge is an incredibly potent and versatile self-heal, meaning the Warrior isn't reliant on the party Cleric for support.
What is the Warrior doing? The Warrior provokes enemies into attacking, defends allies from those attacks, then delivers punishing counter-attacks.
How is the Warrior doing it? The Warrior has a built-in rotation of Goad, Defend, Counter. When they take too much damage, they can self-heal, then jump right back into that pattern. Against more defensive enemies, the Warrior can switch to a more offensive role by reducing the enemy's DEF and making multiple attacks in one turn.
Already, you can see how the classes can both participate in all four "roles," but contribute in different ways. As I continue working on this project, I'll make more posts about my process. Additionally, the game will be downloadable and playable from my website when it's completed. I'm planning to have it finished by the end of 2022.