The submission period for the contest is now over, but the discussion has just begun!

Forum thread here.

The results are in:

Gold - Azalathemad
Silver - Aegix_Drakan
Bronze - NeverSilent

Congratulations to them and to everyone who took part in the contest!

This is a Community episode a contest and an experiment in game design prompted by Sviel's suggestion among the many thought-provoking comments to that article. If you don't take part in the contest for fun, fame and prizes, do it for SCIENCE.

The individual goal of the contest is to design a RPG battle system and showcase it in one or a few battles, while avoiding the usual clutter of mechanisms that is a staple of the genre, with the help of some guidelines given below.

The collective goal is to search together for the essential principles of the RPG battle - the skeleton of decisions that gives them their flavor and depth.

This is more challenging than a normal contest because it rewards creative and analytical thinking rather than just good craftsmanship. On the other hand, I believe the results could greatly improve the future games produced by the community - both in terms of unexplored strategic potential, and of streamlining battle design to make game-wide balancing (which is one of the worst problems in RPGs) considerably easier.

The three elements listed below are the fundamental aspects of RPG battling. (Explanatory figures and details hidden in spoiler tags.)

They are often obscured by overly complex systems and tons of genre conventions. The purpose of this contest to see what happens when you lay them bare. I am convinced that tons of strategic possibilities have been overlooked so far, simply because they were hard to perceive under the layers of fluff.

1) All RPG systems have a common ground: damage per turn, with the goal of killing before you are killed.

Of course, in this mock-up battle with only Attacks, 1) the hero dies first, and 2) the player is bored to tears. So we must add skills and stuff. (Randomness creates variation that you have no control over, so I won't mention it here).

2) All skills/spells/buffs/items are ways of dealing or receiving that damage faster or slower, more continuously or in bursts. They control the way that damage is concentrated or diluted over time, like pushing and pulling on a rubber band. (The basic, fully stretched state is "spamming attack" as above: not exciting but it gets you there eventually).

- the picture above suggests that countless possibilities have never been used (there are many other ways to position and combine these arrows). The most frequent improvement is agility buffs or gaining/losing turns, i.e. ways to do more complicated actions by employing multiple skills at once. But there are lots of other ways to expand on it (see Tips & Inspirations below for ideas).

- usually, healing simply erases some of the enemy's actions in an irrecoverable way. You attack n times, I heal, you attack again, I heal => no net effect, boring. Hence the huge asymmetry in RPG battles: heroes can always heal, most enemies cannot, because there's nothing more infuriating than seeing the enemy heal and erase all your efforts.
It would be more interesting to rethink healing so that the effect of an action was never canceled, but for instance delayed, or spread over X turns, or converted into something else - still there in some form, ready to be reused by future skills.

3) MP, Limit Breaks, status conditions, multiple characters and classes are ways of allowing the player variable access to the skills over time. That's because strategy is not about the winning move, it's about progressively setting up the conditions which allow that move.

Problem: in RPGs you generally have extremely basic (un)locking conditions within the battle:
- "if I have a lot of MP, I can use all my powerful spells"
- "if this character dies/sleeps/is berserk, I lose access to their skills"
- (occasionally) "if I use a weak skill I will be able to use a stronger one next"

I think this is the aspect of RPGs that leaves the largest room for improvement by far. For a battle to have more strategy, every action you take should allow new moves and block other ones, potentially for the rest of the fight. What you can do at any given moment should be the logical product of your past actions and your enemy's, if possible in more evolved ways that a binary question like "out of mana?" or "silenced?".

This all boils down to a simple idea: if you want to encapsulate the feeling of combat, what you need is
- balance of power, represented by any gauge or number (and its evolution in time),
- seizing opportunities, represented by the diversity of available options and how you get or lose access to them.
Everything else is decorative, and there is much more freedom in how you could translate this into a system than what has ever been explored in any game so far.

- Rules with "must" are requirements.

- Rules with "should" can be transgressed at your own risk, if you think your interpretation is more clever than the original rule (feel free to contact me to talk about it).

1) Game:

- The game can be made using any software, but it must contain everything it requires to run on its own.

- You can reuse the Default Battle System in clever ways, use scripts, or make a custom system of any degree of sophistication. You won't be judged on the prettiness of the implementation, only on the strategic depth of the principles beneath.

- The entry can be a single or multiple battles long (but we will judge at most 4 or 5 battles, not 40). It should not contain any cutscene or exploration phase, unless they are entirely skippable.
=> You can make an entire game out of your system, just give the judges a way to play only the 1 to 5 battles you want to showcase.

- There can be as many or as few characters & enemies as you wish. The rules suggested here should make a 1-character 1-enemy duel as complex as a full-scale battle.

2) Skill design:

- The only gauge must be HP. You can work around this rule and make MP/AP/Limit Break equivalents using the rules below, but tons of extra points will be given to contestants who instead try to do something really new.

- There must be no randomness in the effect of an attack or skill. This contest is just an experiment in RPG tactics, so the player should be able to make elaborate plans without computing conditional probabilities in their head.

- Skills should be designed to reflect principle 2) in the Rationale section above as clearly as possible
i.e. skills are ways to change the repartition of damage over time. The effect of any skill in those terms should be very clear, to let players compare skills and conceive strategies more easily. For instance, instead of directly dealing damage, skills could change the number of times a character attacks in a turn (it's easier to compare "1 attack" with "3 attacks" than to have to chose between spells that inflict 70HP on one enemy or 10HP/turn for 4 turns on 2 enemies).

- For more points, every skill should bring something new to the table. No skill should be "the same but stronger". Each skill should provide a different way of manipulating the repartition of damage over time, that cannot be produced by using other skills.

3) Skill unlocking:

- There must be rules to determine when you can or cannot use a given skill. We are trying here not to default to a simple gauge like MP: expending mana/drinking ethers is a very binary way of implementing actions that (un)lock other actions. Ideally, every action could have:
* multiple effects in unlocking other actions (e.g. a feint opens up various attacks)
* multiple conditions for its own unlocking (e.g. an attack requires the right posture, the right distance, and the right weakness in the enemy's defense)
* multiple ways to fulfill these conditions

- As much as possible, the rules for locking/unlocking should not be special cases (e.g. Fire Sword unlocks Mega-Smash), but more general logical principles. Even better if they apply similarly to the enemies' skills!

- As much as possible, locking/unlocking should be long lasting, i.e. not only dependent on the current state of the characters, but also on past actions both by them and by their enemies.

Counter-example to these 3 points: Being "out of mana" is a locking effect that
- depends only on your current state (no matter how you reached it or what the enemy has been doing)
- affects all skills at the same time
- has no real trade-off: more mana always equals more good
- and can be canceled with a single action (drinking an Ether).
By contrast, in a typical strategy game, every time you move a piece, you are closing off some possibilities and opening new ones by combination with the positions of all other pieces, so every move along the way can play some role in your victory.

- You are free to invent the detail of these locking rules, but more points will be given if they are simple and intuitive.
Example: in board games, it's simple geometry that creates these rules (a piece/unit contributes to your tactics by blocking a line of sight, or flanking an enemy...). Here you could use some sort of spatial logic as well, or all sorts of different principles (see Tips & Inspirations below for examples).

- If you have multiple battles, there can be permanent effects transferred from one battle to the next.
i.e. "items" are skills following all the rules above, except their locking/unlocking effects are not limited to one battle (e.g. a consumable item simply locks itself permanently once used, but there could be more elaborate patterns).

General tips and suggestions:

- Anyone who has trouble with the rules can ask questions in a comment or PM. I can help with things such as checking that skills are not reducible to one another, if you want to do it the mathy way.

- "one goal=one action" is the antithesis of strategy. Every action should serve multiple goals and every goal require multiple actions. Real creativity appears when you start finding ways to control the breadth of actions at your and your enemy's disposal, trapping them into predictable moves while extending your own possibilities.

- you can draw some inspiration from CCGs like Magic the Gathering. They are in fact very close to the concepts exposed here for RPG battles: the "skill unlocking" revolves partly around drawing the cards from your deck, with special effects such as reshuffling the deck or drawing more often. Notice that most CCGs contain effects that allow to bring back cards that have already been used/discarded, which is a way of making even past actions relevant to your current tactical options.

- It could be great to have a visual aid for damage repartition/displacement over turns (perhaps a graph of damage over time, in the spirit of what I did in the Rationale section) or some other way to make the effect of any skill perfectly clear and analyzable by the player.

- A suggestion: skills could displace either the same quantity of damage (e.g. 1HP if you're going the small-numbers route), or all the damage dealt in the target turn(s) (including contributions from other skills). This will make elaborate tactics much easier to figure than having a lot of different quantities or percentages. The less math the player needs to do, the more they can make clever plans.

- How much damage is moved around by a skill should not depend on some intrinsic property of the character or the enemy (e.g. elemental weakness). We want strategies to be effective because of what the enemies have done, not because of what they are (i.e. strategy rather than a puzzle that can be solved once and for all). What will differentiate them is their inventory of skills and how they use them.

- You are allowed to "disguise" to some extent the mechanical aspects detailed above to make the game more appealing or closer in appearance to traditional RPGs, as long as damage-moving and locking rules are clearly stated in-game or in a design document included with the game.

Don't go too fancy though: the goal is to expose the skeleton of RPG battles, not bury it under fluff.

Some random starting ideas:

* Why not boil it down to a single HP bar and have each group try to push it in a different direction? (somewhat like Last Word)

* What if a single attack could kill, and the whole battle is a game of counters and feints to try to get that attack in before the enemy does? (Bushido Blade style)

* What if the "rubber band" of damage is elastic, and tends to come back to its natural state over time (so that both bursts of damage and healing progressively come undone)

* Why not use many more status conditions than usual, each one affecting some fraction of the skills (like Silence prevents Magic, but less generic), or even interacting with each other.

* For instance, why not call status conditions "stances" and use concepts from martial arts or fencing to create the skill unlocking logic? (depending on your distance, your weapon, your stance and the enemy's, you can use ground fighting, feints, throws, locks and so on)

* What if there were more categories than just allies and enemies with which to interact through the skills? (for instance neutral resources in the environment)

* For a simple extension of the DBS, you could have a number of different characters with a system for switching them in battle, then group skills that should be locked or unlocked together by giving them to the same character (or make them combos requiring multiple characters), then add conditions to access/summon that character.

* A limited component of TRPG-like motion is not forbidden (think The Reconstruction), although I'd like to see contestants tread newer ground as well.

* For multiple battles, how about having enemies who have the same brute force as you, but are programmed to have an increasingly broad range of tactical possibilities? Every encounter would actually serve the overall gameplay by teaching you how to deal with them in more and more elaborate settings, instead of being its own beast that loses all purpose once mastered.

Recommendations given in the comments section:
An episode of Retronauts literally just came out that discusses RPG battle systems.

Anyone who wants to help me judge can let me know here or by PM, I will require their help depending on how many submissions we get. I will ask the judges to read this conversation if they haven't already, so as to have an idea of what we are looking for here.

Tentative criteria for judging:

Originality (20pts): How much does the system contribute to pushing the boundaries of the genre?

Example: Can you find ways to expand on the JRPG system that are not just adding one more gauge, or one more way to get a stat bonus?

Elegance (25pts): Is the system using as few ingredients as possible to achieve its goals in a precise way?

Example: Is each skill truly different from the others? Have you found a simpler way to achieve what usually requires 3 gauges, 10 stats and 100 different items?

Clarity (20pts): How well can the player understand the system, its strategic stakes, and the reason their actions succeed or fail?

Example: Are the effects of each action clearly labeled? Does the system avoid having the player do mental calculus to evaluate the result of their actions? Is the skill unlocking logic consistent and predictable?

Depth (25pts): How much does the system allow and reward elaborate plans, creativity and tactical intuition?

Example: Can we predict how our actions will guide the enemies' reactions, allowing us to manipulate them? Is the game more than pure HP/MP/Item attrition?

Bonus (10pts): Anything a judge finds especially worthy of praise.

I don't expect that making the game will take more than a couple of days at most; however for the sake of all people with a busy schedule, the contest will run from July 27 to August 27 23:59 EST. (however I won't mind if people get the time zone wrong)

The top 3 contestants will get to choose one of the following prizes:

(x1) Any game under 20 USD on Steam or the Humble store, because I might as well make it rain, FOR SCIENCE.

(x3) A (reasonable) drawing by yours truly. Preferably characters (fanart or original, any style), possibly simple environment shots or short multipanel gag in sketchy style. You can do whatever you want with it, use it as title screen or make a tattoo or sell it on eBay.

(x1) A cameo in my future game (hey, that works for Kickstarters. NB: I'm not really expecting anyone to pick this, but I'll give details if a winner is actually interested.)




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If Karin finds out, I'm screwed.
Bludgeon of Inspiration
I'm below those above me.
Why did the statement game ended?
All statements below and above this one just make this one look better. :D
Complexity =/= Strategy
Brotherhood of Evil Statements
If soulkeeper finds out, I'm confused.
Gourdy might not be lazy?
The below statement is false
This statement may have a disclaimer.
The above statement is true if this statement is false.
The above statement broke the chain.
Life is Turn-Based.
Simply complicated ;_;
Fighting to the death with Seiromem!
Oh yes, there will be blood...
If kentona or soulkeeper finds out, I'd be all "whatever."
Kentona still owes me a date.
I'll release my limit break on all of you!
You're fighting with borrowed power.
Be Like Water My Friend
At least I'll get something out of this summer.
Ayane Fanclub
+10 to all enemy stats.
Can't hardly Science
Im not crazy... My mother had me tested!


Self-proclaimed Puzzle Snob
Fundamental RPGology - in other words, RPGs suck. No gutterbrain in their right mind can convince me otherwise, because I'm all about the spatial awareness of a tactical battle scheme intended to be board-game-like and better than chess. Every single move must be a well-thought-out scheme to enact an overall goal. I am the arbiter of pawns - I move them at will. Say I moved a single pawn forward two squares. That new position someone may never have experienced before, and I'm glad to savour it. But even if someone has been there before, I am experiencing new thoughts, new ideas, and new concepts that have never been cogitated by another meatsack in entirety's existence. Think about it - the permutations! The permutations!

Every battle is a non-anomaly, and every single action has predictable, deterministic, life-changing consequences. Think about the air you're breathing. Feel the inhale-exhale flow of life. That is the atomic substance of life's concerto. You see an orchestra, with violas, clarinets, pianos, xylophones, a large bass drum (him staring wide-eyed at the conductor, concentrating with his mighty force of will upon every beat), and all the other miscellanea of life listening in. Taking a step in this node of life to the next via some vast, mingling web of instances and relationships - life is the ultimate battle system. To emulate it is life to the bones of every man, even if he does not recognize it.

That is what we are trying to emulate. Any man that thinks otherwise is an idiot.

I forgot to ask before, why we don't have to include elemental weaknesses in the battle?

I'm REALLY tiring you with these questions, am I?
Hasvers > Ok, will do! I looked at it in the forums, but I wasn't sure whether or not a teammate request would fit the guidelines they set.
Would you consider skill--as in physical skill--a legitimate part of a strategy?
Hmm, hadn't thought of that. As far as I'm concerned, that would not be strictly forbidden, but not encouraged - it's too easy a cop out from trying to devise robust tactical mechanics, and it really rewards something completely different from what we're looking for here. Mostly you're not really betting, you're just being good or bad at pressing a button.
So unless it's not gimmicky, and used to tactical effect the likes of which I've never seen (and god knows I've played kilotons of rpgs incorporating some timed button mashing - or entirely based around it like Vagrant Story), it's likely to bear down a lot on the originality, elegance and possibly depth scores.
I don't really think that something more is needed to add risk - go and starcraft have no randomness and they're far from devoid of risky decisions.

Roses> Perhaps you should put that request in the Job forum as well for more visibility! (with the number of comments here, it will soon be buried and forgotten)
Got any Dexreth amulets?
@facesforce: Simply create an animation in the database whose only effect is to make the target flash red, then use the "Show Animation" event command to play it whenever an enemy takes damage.
I hope this helps.
I have an idea in mind, but I need another coder to help with pulling it off, somebody good with the UIs. Anybody interested?
Alrighty then, I am going to make a contest version with simplified numbers then(I'll reserve the only random factor only to deal additional damage, or for the Ai's programming. Oh good lord, programming a AI who knows if you are in line of sight, or if he has ammo is difficult!)
Now, I am coming from rm2k, so I have a slight problem in visibility I just noticed. Where is the flash event option? I was wanting to make the enemies flash red in order to show damage, but to no avail. I am using rmvx ace.
How do you feel about skill as an unlocking mechanism? This is more of a general curiosity, but I'm bringing it up here for the sake of the contest--in case people were considering implementing it.

The Mario RPG/Paper Mario series is best known for this. Let's say I have the technique Multijump, and I've decided to pick it because if I press a button just right, I can get the Multijump to affect multiple people. The strategy, then, is to use a move that can possibly attack more units whereas otherwise I'd have to attack a single unit. The risk is that I am relying on skill, rather than a randomized number, to complete this action.

The skill replaces randomness in RPGs by filling the same role differently. It's like another piece of footware, but is different in the way that ballet shoes are different than ice skates or cleats.

So instead of hoping The Gods favor your choice of attack with a Critical Hit, you're simply betting on your own capabilities. And your ability to plan your strategy would necessitate how you measure your own capabilities, somewhat like how you would consider certain troops on the field more or less capable than others.

Would you consider skill--as in physical skill--a legitimate part of a strategy?
Glad to hear your system is coming along nicely!

As for the random numbers, please don't. The debate on randomness is complicated, but here I would like people to explore ways of making battles dynamic without resorting to it; of course you are free to add it afterward if you make a game out of your system, but not for the contest ;)
I have a quick question!
So, my gunslinger battle system is evolving nicely, as I gave a brief example of my plans earlier, but this is a small question; Can I use psuedo-random numbers for my character's attack, ala DnD?
For example, I will let the basic math portion be seen every time the attack is being called, but instead of you dealing a solid 4 damage a turn, make the math with a imaginary die become 1d3+MATK-E1DEF =Damage output. Would that be acceptable as a slightly random element? I am taking influence from Sil, a rougelike and I think this would be a easier to set battle dynamic. Is that fine?
Contest page now updated with provisional judging criteria (may be adjusted in the future)

(also, added a suggestion to look at CCGs for inspiration, since their skills are the cards that you have in hand, with locking/unlocking being drawing, discarding, reshuffling the deck and so on)

NeverSilent> The judging criteria should give you an indication for question 1, i.e. it should be as simple as possible relative to its tactical depth. If you add more elements but it really improves depth considerably, that's fine.
No problem with 2.

And I agree about YM ;)

kentona> Haha sorry. Turns out having no preview when you update an event is a bit of a hassle.
That thing you want but never who I am
I nominate Fundamental RPGology for Most Updated Event
Got any Dexreth amulets?
I signed up for this as a good point to start making a prototype of the custom event-based battle system I had planned to create for two future projects. I do have two questions, however:
1. Does the battle system have to be simple? The concept I have in mind is relatively complex, so would that disqualify me?
2. If we create multiple successive battles, is it acceptable to have sort of a "preparation phase" between them, where the player can rearrange his team, change equipment or things like that?

Thanks, and may the best win (not me, probably).

author=Yellow Magic
Dammit guys - I vowed to never make another RM game, but thanks to this contest I'm going to have to eat my words like a marriage agreement.

Signed up!

Good decision, YM, good decision.
Part of me wants to torture you all by reaching into my "stupid and terrible ideas I would never make a real game out of" folder, but the other part of me is really, really lazy...

Oh, what a conundrum...
You can even make a whole game out of your system if you wish, as long as you don't expect judges to play it as part of the judging process. Give us a way to go only through the battles you really want us to judge, and you're good to do anything else you want.
"My father told me this would happen."
Quick question - are optional battles or secret battles an option?
For the way you describe it, it may look that to implement the AI feature I may need a script for that...
It should be possible only with battle events, I think. But once again it depends on your version of RM, I haven't used any since RMXP (where I am almost sure it was possible to do this sort of things in eventing)

I won't be submitting any ideas. But I'd be interested in judging. It might be nice to have a judge who isn't completely on board with the concepts in the premise. XD

Haha okay I'll keep that in mind (Sviel said he might also be interested so I'm waiting a bit), although I'd be curious to know what you disagree with. We can have that conversation here or in the comments of the blog post or by PM, as you wish. Note that I'm all for contestants turning out to have more clever ideas than mine - that's kinda the point, else I would just do it myself ;)

It means there is a 97% chance I will not submit anything.
Too bad. I liked your team name and all.

You build up your 999 HP, you unlock your ultimate skill which allows you to do either a lot of damage, or a lot of buffing def/off wise, or a lot of healing and you have 3 or 4 people each with a unique limit style that helps the others survive in some way.
You've got part of the idea right - it's indeed about actions becoming available at different moments of the battle (and if possible, other actions becoming unavailable).
But what you're suggesting is one of the reason why I'd like to avoid MP/Limit Breaks altogether: it would be best if there were no ultimate skills, i.e. if skills did different things rather than being the same with various degrees of power.

As soon as you have a MP gauge there is the automatic idea that "more expensive = stronger", which kind of kills the impulse to look for truly different skills.
So I would much prefer if you could drop that part and implement similar ideas without MP and without a linear scale of "how powerful a skill is" ;)
Ah, the stuff we'd do for 25 MS. :D

It's about honour! A badge of honour!!
Yuna, it is not for the ms, but to acquire that funky looking karate dude in a silver frame.
The ms is merely an added bonus.
Ah, the stuff we'd do for 25 MS. :D My battles will probably focus on status-skill unlocking and combo attacks depending on which party members are in battle. And try landing those weak spots and trying to get rid of the enemy's Press Turns... ( 18 chars though, so it's gonna be hard to balance 'em all ).