One way (but not the true way) to set your damage formulae

Once a while I notice people strugling with their damage formulae. They despise the default 4atk-2def as bad wrong fun and make their own quest to find the Holy Grail of Formulae. But the truth is...

...there's no Holy Grail.

Well, there is this one.

But if there's no Holy Grail, why am I writing this? Because I'm stubborn and like to think about stuff. And because I've played enough games already to lie to myself and say I know what I'm talking about. In order to do this we need to know what we are trying to achieve.

Understanding Hit Points

What are Hit Points? They are a measure of finite resources the character has. In truth, that is all they are.

Like any finite resource, there are consequences to its depletion. In this case, the character is knocked out and becomes a glorified paperweight. If all your characters become glorified paperweights, one common result is to see the Game Over screen.

So, our goal here is to keep this finite resource from depleting. Easy enough?

But our characters are not the only ones who have Hit Points: the big bad guys out there also are defined by those finite resources. You know what I mean?

I mean combat is a race where we aim to deplete our opponents' Hit Points before ours are reduced to zero.

It's a race. Nothing more than that.

But almost like this one.

What's the implication of this?

As a game designer, you should simply adjust the lenght of the race: you wanna a 100-meter dash when dealing with random encounters, a 110-meter with hurdles in tricky occasions, and a 42-kilometer marathon during the Final Boss.

The enemies define the heroes

Before thinking about your damage formulae, ask yourself this:

How many actions should a character do to defeat a wimpy enemy?

Do you wanna keep this number low, as random (and incidental) encounters are usually fillers--they are there to tell the player there's no safe spot and he shouldn't wander without purpose.

Let's say your answer is 3 (three).

Now you know the answer, let's check your wimpy enemy's Hit Points (EHP, from now on). It doesn't matter the real number here, but we know one important factor: in this case, EHP = 3 * Hero's Damage Output.

Do you know what that means? It means any damage formula may work. It will only depend on the Stats you want to include there.

So, if your EHP is 100, you know you want your Hero's Damage Output (HDO, from now on) to be 34. Simple.

Now, let's think about the HDO. We know we want it to be 34. How do we do that? Tinkering with the damage formula and the Stats it references.

For a moment, let's define your EDS (Enemy's Defense Stat) as 10. It was an arbitrary choice: any number could work here.

If we use the old HDO = 4atk - 2def, we'll have:
34 = 4 * atk - 2 * 10, or (34 + 20) / 4 = atk, or 13.5. This means our Hero's Atk, at this moment in the game, should be 14. Easy.

Oh, but you want another formula! Sure. Let's say a simple HDO = atk - def. This means:
34 = atk - 10, or atk = 24. Again, simple.

Subtracting numbers are so last year? Fine. The formula now is HDO = atk / def. This gives us:
34 = atk / 10, or 34 * 10 = atk. Now your atk needs to be 340. Great! Large numbers! Yay!

Do you like power? What about HDO = atk * 2 - def ^ 2?
34 = atk * 2 - 100, or 134 / 2 = atk, or 67.

Or... Ok, you now understand what I'm talking about. Right?

Bottom line

What I'm telling you is: your damage formula doesn't matter--what is important is the final result.--Let's recapitulate:

-Define how many actions are needed to defeat an enemy;
-Define the EHP and EDS;
-Calculate the HDO.

This will give you the barebones numbers needed to define your Damage Formula and your Hero's Stats. Everything else will be a function of this.

For instance, if you want your Hero to survive 10 attacks from your wimpy enemy before needing healing effects, and now you know the Damage Formula to be used, you can easily define the Hero's Defense Stat, the Hero's HP and the Enemy's Attack.

A spreadsheet will be your best friend here. Don't be shy and use it. Once a few numbers are in place, everything else will easily define itself.

At least until you begin adding states and elements to the mix. But we may discuss those another time, right?


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If you want it to take 3 actions to defeat an enemy and you go with EHP = 3 * HDO then random variance will make it so that half the time you will need four actions. Even with no random variance, it just takes for the party to be slightly under leveled or under equipped and it will take four actions. Make it so that EHP = 2,5 * HDO and you have a much better margin or error. Of course, you may want to make some enemies with EHP = 2,9 * HDO or EHP = 3,1 * HDO so that things like equipping that +10 attack accessory has a chance of making a difference.

As a rule, when you have decided the number of actions needed, subtract 0,5 from that number and plug the result into your formula.
if your EHP is 100, you know you want your Hero's Damage Output (HDO, from now on) to be 34. Simple.

Actually, 34 is the minimum required value. Any value from 34 to 49 defeats the enemy in 3 actions. To mitigate random effects, it is best to aim for a value in the center of this interval like 42.
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