IMPROVING BASIC ATTACK AND GUARD FUNCTIONALITY

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Red_Nova
The all around prick
7612
Why do your basic attack when you have a plethora of skills available to use instead? What's the point of hitting the guard option when you can just attack enemies instead? No need to guard when they're dead, after all. What rewards beyond reducing damage do you like to see in a guard command? What else do you want to see in a basic attack beyond just inflicting basic damage?

I try to tweak battle mechanics to give these two commands more viability in my games, but I want to talk about how you all handle it or if you know of games that handle these two commands well.

Just so it's clear, I'm talking about system-level mechanics and tweaks. External factors like enemy behavior encouraging more guarding or party members using more basic attacks due to the lack of other offensive options isn't what we're looking for here. Also, removing these options isn't helpful, either. Let's talk about mechanics that make basic attacks just as useful as, say, an AOE slash skill.

In my first game, Soul Sunder, the guard and attack commands restored and depleted a character's stamina pool, respectively. Once a character's SP was reduced, they had no choice but to guard to restore stamina, reducing damage at the same time. It's a small addition, but it's enough to change the ebb and flow to combat, as now players are required to understand the limits of their characters and read the enemy attack patterns to maximize damage and minimize resource spent.

In my current game, Prayer of the Faithless, defensive mechanics in general received a major overhaul: guarding no longer reduces incoming damage, and instead restores a % of a character's maximum SP. Since SP now represents a character's defense, reducing a % of all incoming physical damage, this means that players are encouraged to take a more aggressive role in combat.

As for basic attacks, I typically give them the exact same damage formula as skills. The only functional difference between basic attacks and skills is that skills have an added effect, such as inflicting a state or a critical hit under specific conditions. Because of this, skills are not replacements for basic attacks, and players are encouraged to use them just as often as skills when they just want to inflict damage.


There is certainly a lot of potential to alter basic attacks quite a bit with weapons, too. The Golden Sun games had a good idea where equipping different weapons gave you different "Howl" skills that randomly activated upon using the basic attack, though I wish there was less RNG in that implementation.

Bloodborne, while not a turn-based game, let you restore health lost from a recent attack by fighting back.

Healers and other non-offensive party members would need specific tweaks to make their attack and guard options useful, but I'm struggling to think of useful system-level mechanics for them. Perhaps guarding can increase the effectiveness of their next healing spell? Maybe their attacks don't do direct HP damage, but instead inflict an ailment that increases damage from the next attack, allowing for a team combo of sorts?


Those are just my implementations and ideas. I'm sure you all have your own. Share some here! And be sure to let me know if any of my ideas are stupid and that you know of a better solution!
It really doesn't need to be anything complicated. Make using Attack restore a bit of MP, and using Guard to restore a bit of HP (plus reducing damage by ~50% for 1 turn) could basically be enough to make them viable options to use without making them the superior choice the majority of turns.
I've masteries that change my basic attacks. When you reach a certain level and equip that mastery, your basic attacks get an upgrade. Example: A Staff using Mage's basic attacks (with mastery) calculated with his/her Magic power instead of ATK.

Also, my Guard scales with DEF, you can reduce more damage when raising DEF and it recovers 1% HP, MP, TP.

I really liked your "Howl" example, I LOVE Golden Sun's weapon system. Those shiny skill effects are so awesome :()
LockeZ
I'd really like to get rid of LockeZ. His play style is way too unpredictable. He's always like this too. If he ran a country, he'd just kill and imprison people at random until crime stopped.
5363
Touhou Labyrinth turned the Defend command into the MP recovery command. Since most characters can only use two or three skills before running out of MP, and there's no basic attack, it becomes very important in battles. However there is also another way to recover MP - swap out a character for a different character, and they'll regain a much smaller amount of MP each round while in reserve. This worked extremely well in my opinion, and it mattered in normal battles as well as bosses since MP didn't recover automatically after battle.

Soul Shepherd replaced the Defend command with a Rally command if you were wearing a shield. Each shield gave a different Rally ability, which typically provided the whole party with a buff. Starting in the third town, the player also had the ability to extract the Rally ability from a shield and permanently teach it to a character, destroying the shield in the process. This was a game where the player had total control over their party - they could make any, all, or no members into physical characters or tanks. So by expending resources, and possibly by destroying irreplacable shields, you could turn one character into a better tank.

Also, in general, defending in Soul Shepherd made you immune to status ailments and removed all of your elemental vulnerabilities (which every character had, like in Pokemon or Shin Megami Tensei).

As for attacking, by definition, there's really no difference between a "normal attack" and any other offensive skill except that the normal attack has no special effects. I don't particularly like it as a concept, but it's a necessity in games where MP actually matters - it's a backup skill that you use when you run out of other options.
LockeZ
I'd really like to get rid of LockeZ. His play style is way too unpredictable. He's always like this too. If he ran a country, he'd just kill and imprison people at random until crime stopped.
5363
I do think auto-attacks can be neat as an alternative to normal attacks. You might be familiar with them from MMORPGs like World of Warcraft, where characters do a number of weak automatic attacks each round for free, in addition to whatever skill they use. One of my games uses this concept.

In my game UOSSMUD we use this concept, but unlike WoW, you have a lot of control over your auto-attacks. The number per round you deal is based on agility, so agility-based characters who use guns, bows, crossbows, daggers, and boomerangs get far more auto-attacks per round, which leads them to naturally be better at single-target damage. Strength-based characters do a medium amount of auto-attack damage since they have low agility but at least have some physical attack power, and wisdom-based characters do almost no auto-attack damage because all their offensive power is magical. So you can decide how much you want to build your character around this idea.

Many weapons have special effects that are randomly applied on auto-attacks, such as status effects. These status effects have a success rate based on on the willpower stat, which is otherwise usually a defensive/healing stat, so that affects your build if you're going for an auto-attack based strategy. There are other more unusual effects from some weapon, such as a chance on every auto-attack hit to cleanse the user of all ailments, or a chance on every auto-attack hit to buff both the user and the enemy with a magic power boost for 10 seconds.

There are quite a few buffs and pieces of armor that improve the frequency or the crit rate of a player's auto-attacks, and you can dual wield to get twice as many, though in general, they'll probably never make up more than half your damage. Most of your damage still comes from the skills you pick and use each round.

Swordsmen have an ability to sacrifice their auto-attacks for the next several rounds to boost the power of the next physical skill they use. Archers have an ability to sacrifice both their auto-attacks and their skills for the next several rounds, and at the end they unleash a single powerful blow based on how many auto-attacks they would have dealt.
Craze
i bet she's a diva with a potion popping problem
13715
the problem is assuming they should be there in the first place. design how you want your system to feel and what it should communicate first, then develop it.

glad you all came up with the 2k3 idea of "guard restores mp" though ;V what if you want a resource attrition game?
doesn't really work then :<

sawworm
Example: A Staff using Mage's basic attacks (with mastery) calculated with his/her Magic power instead of ATK.

how many slots do you have, or do you master them all? if the latter, just making mat == atk make me wonder why the stats are differentiated. if it's a limited choice though, sounds fine.

LockeZ
I don't particularly like it as a concept, but it's a necessity in games where MP actually matters - it's a backup skill that you use when you run out of other options.

meh, can replace it with whatever fits the character if you do indeed need a turn-filler in a mp/cd-based game.
LockeZ
I'd really like to get rid of LockeZ. His play style is way too unpredictable. He's always like this too. If he ran a country, he'd just kill and imprison people at random until crime stopped.
5363
Well, yeah, but he specifically didn't want to talk about replacing it.

The concept of "attacking" being its own command comes from an older era of RPGs, where magic characters used skills and physical characters attacked. There were no other physical damage skills, it was just Attack. That isn't the model that RPGs use any more, for the most part.

If you have other physical damage skills, then it should actually just be in that list as one of the skills, and be given a more interesting name, even if the only thing it does is low non-elemental physical damage for no MP cost.

Occasionally you still encounter a game like Crypt of the Necrodancer, where the player gets one or two skills per dungeon and everything else is normal attacks. Generally, like in Crypt of the Necrodancer, this is done to simplify the choices in combat, because there's some other overwhelmingly cool gimmick that the combat revolves around, and that by itself is enough to carry the game and make attacking interesting.
Honestly, basic attack and guard are the first things to go in any battle system I'm working on. They just never really fit with me.

There are guard-like skills and attack-like skills when it makes sense for the character. Maybe it's the genericness of the shared attack/guard command that drives me away.
Craze
i bet she's a diva with a potion popping problem
13715
Ramshackin
There are guard-like skills and attack-like skills when it makes sense for the character. Maybe it's the genericness of the shared attack/guard command that drives me away.

yeah, it's just boxing yourself in. not even a cool cereal box with a maze on it

LockeZ
Well, yeah, but he specifically didn't want to talk about replacing it.

i know but don't care

Red_Nova
Maybe their attacks don't do direct HP damage, but instead inflict an ailment that increases damage from the next attack, allowing for a team combo of sorts?

how is this not just removing the fucking option lmao

LockeZ
Occasionally you still encounter a game like Crypt of the Necrodancer, where the player gets one or two skills per dungeon and everything else is normal attacks. Generally, like in Crypt of the Necrodancer, this is done to simplify the choices in combat, because there's some other overwhelmingly cool gimmick that the combat revolves around, and that by itself is enough to carry the game and make attacking interesting.

this is a weird-ass take for this topic

edit: might as well add something. here's a character who just spams various guard and kill the enemy for doing so. https://i.imgur.com/v6In2Yk.png here's aother character who likes their defense command, but doesn't even have a basic attack of any kind. https://i.imgur.com/ACc9APt.png
Red_Nova
The all around prick
7612
Craze
the problem is assuming they should be there in the first place. design how you want your system to feel and what it should communicate first, then develop it.

Odd. I don't remember making that assumption. If they don't work for your game, of course you should take them out. But if you do want them in your game, then thinking about how to make them more unique is a good thing, right?

Personally, I feel like it's a nice opportunity for add unique twists to a standard formula depending on the character. Such as two different people interpreting the same piece of art in different ways, two different party members putting unique spins to a generic action like a basic attack is appealing to me.

For example:

author=Craze
Red_Nova
Maybe their attacks don't do direct HP damage, but instead inflict an ailment that increases damage from the next attack, allowing for a team combo of sorts?

how is this not just removing the fucking option lmao

That was talking about a specific character in a party where basic attacks still existed in the game. The healer's basic attack wouldn't be very useful since that character archetype typically wouldn't have much strength. But the new effect from their attack would give it some kind of use. If it's not appealing to you, great. Make it a totally separate skill.

In hindsight, maybe removing the direct HP damage wasn't the best idea, but I didn't think it'd be enough to undermine the entire point of the topic. A better explanation for that particular example would be treating that specific character's basic attack like a launcher in fighting games. It wouldn't do much damage, but it would increase the damage from the next physical skill used on that enemy. Maybe it would be worth not using a support skill to double down on damage that turn, especially if that character had no other offensive options available.

I like LockeZ's auto-attack ideas, specifically the parts about sacrificing auto-attacks for increased skill damage.
author=Craze
how many slots do you have, or do you master them all? if the latter, just making mat == atk make me wonder why the stats are differentiated. if it's a limited choice though, sounds fine.
You can only equip one mastery slot. Every weapon mastery works in a different way.
Craze
i bet she's a diva with a potion popping problem
13715
sounds good, sawworm. :)

Red_Nova
If they don't work for your game, of course you should take them out.

this is my problem though. they don't need to be taken "out" if you don't go into an rpg with a boring template. it's also bizarre to compare turn-based rpgs with like, bloodborne and necrodancer where the whole idea of turn-based opportunity cost is far removed. basic attacks are problematic when you say they're the cost of a turn and your only other power trade-off is like, mp. in other genres that discussion isn't really necessary, or at least is very different.
This is a problem I regularly have in my games. Since my combat tends to focus a lot on skill usage, the only reason you use normal attacks is to save on MP. :(

Guard ends up being less of an issue, because it tends to be reasonably strong if you think a hit is incoming.

For a game I'm working on now, I'm considering adding Golden Sun type "Weapon Unleash" skills that vary by weapon type (So axes might lower enemy defense, Spears might have a chance at hitting an enemy row, daggers might strike twice, etc), which I hope alleviates the problem a little.

Ultimately...I'm not the best person to ask about this problem, because I fall into it all the time.
Red_Nova
The all around prick
7612
When I said "taken out," I was actually referring to removing them from the default RM skill set. I didn't mean to imply that they should be added in as default options then taken out later. My bad!

Also, I didn't compare turn-based RPGs to Bloodborne, though. I mentioned the HP restoration effect from attacking and thought that would make an interesting mechanic in a turn-bsed RPG. Turns had nothing to do with it.

author=Aegix_Drakan
This is a problem I regularly have in my games. Since my combat tends to focus a lot on skill usage, the only reason you use normal attacks is to save on MP. :(


Depending how aggressive you want players to be in your game, what do you think about having basic attacks restore a little MP? If players would only use them to save on MP, then that could give players incentive to use attacks?
author=Red_Nova
author=Aegix_Drakan
This is a problem I regularly have in my games. Since my combat tends to focus a lot on skill usage, the only reason you use normal attacks is to save on MP. :(
Depending how aggressive you want players to be in your game, what do you think about having basic attacks restore a little MP? If players would only use them to save on MP, then that could give players incentive to use attacks?


Since my games tend to make you recharge 10 MP each turn (or after each action), it already kinda does that by proxy. XD It still feels kinda pointless sometimes.
I don't do anything drastically different with Attack/Guard on a global scale.

However, I do have a "lead-in" system with one of my characters in Crescent Eve. He's a sort of Red Mage/Elementalist who can cast elemental spells and then change his normal attacks to that element. For example, using Fire Shot will change his normal attacks to Fire (and also provide a small Attack buff) and therefore you only need to continue using regular attacks to deal Fire damage thereafter.

Honestly I like the approach of taking the usually mundane function of Attack/Guard and having systems in place to alter or make them more useful. But I don't think I'd take them out on principle alone.
Craze
i bet she's a diva with a potion popping problem
13715
SgtMettool
However, I do have a "lead-in" system with one of my characters in Crescent Eve. He's a sort of Red Mage/Elementalist who can cast elemental spells and then change his normal attacks to that element. For example, using Fire Shot will change his normal attacks to Fire (and also provide a small Attack buff) and therefore you only need to continue using regular attacks to deal Fire damage thereafter.

assuming resource conservation is important enough and battles are long enough for this to be worthwhile, this sounds useful and nifty.

SgtMettool
Honestly I like the approach of taking the usually mundane function of Attack/Guard and having systems in place to alter or make them more useful. But I don't think I'd take them out on principle alone.

which is fine, especially for the sorts of games you make. as long as people have actually thought about what their systems are meant to be and convey, which i know you do, i don't have a big issue with it
LockeZ
I'd really like to get rid of LockeZ. His play style is way too unpredictable. He's always like this too. If he ran a country, he'd just kill and imprison people at random until crime stopped.
5363
SgtMettool
However, I do have a "lead-in" system with one of my characters in Crescent Eve. He's a sort of Red Mage/Elementalist who can cast elemental spells and then change his normal attacks to that element. For example, using Fire Shot will change his normal attacks to Fire (and also provide a small Attack buff) and therefore you only need to continue using regular attacks to deal Fire damage thereafter.


This would certainly help encourage the player to use the same skill over and over again every single round, if that's something you want to encourage on purpose for some reason. I typically find that's what players do naturally anyway, and have to go out of my way to encourage them to change things up. But maybe if all your game's battles involve the hero having to constantly switch to a new enemy target with a different elemental resistance, it would be an interesting balance mechanic to keep them from always exploiting the best elemental weakness.

Might also be helpful if you have an already-established MP system with very strict limits on the number of spells usable per dungeon. I can definitely imagine a situation where you've figured out other ways to make that MP system work for the other classes, and want this one elementalist class to be able to do constant damage. But as I noted above, it will result in the character doing the same thing over and over every round, unless you come up with other reasons for them not to.
When it comes to the attack command, I'm in the opinion that it's not about making it useful, rather it's about not obsoleting it in the first place. I think that for a lot of games it's useful to remove it altogether, but not having it left in but obsoleted.

When the attack command is obsoleted, that's because the characters have other skills available which are both stronger than the attack command and spamable. However, if that happens, you have actually made something worse than attack spam. Now the player spams something else, but that something else is less convenient. The attack command is typically free and fastest to use. A player spamming "Crosscut" instead of attack has to do more menu navigating and occasionally even more menuing to deal with the SP/MP cost, assuming the skill has a price. So you have a system that is equally boring, but more annoying to use than attack spam. Ideally, the characters should not spam the same command over and over, but if there is spamming, it's best it's attack since that one is the most convenient to use.

One way to not obsolete the attack command is to follow one of Red_Nova's suggestion and make skills have other effects than more damage. You can have one skill that deals the same damage as attack, but also stuns an enemy and another that draws enemy aggro towards you. Later the player can even learn a skill that both stuns an enemy and draws aggro, very useful since a character gets to tank, but also disable the enemy you don't want to attack that character. For example, if you have a character with high defense do the tanking, a mage enemy or an enemy that uses defense reducing attacks is probably one that you want to disable.

Another way is to give the characters skills that are stronger than attack, but cannot be spammed. You need a way for the player to still dare use them outside of boss battles. Something like binding then to the VX Ace TP system and not have TP restoring consumables may work. The fact that TP keeps replenishing decreases the feeling that you have to conserve the TP for bosses while still being a limitation to the skill uses. Binding the skills to the MP/SP system rarely works though. Typically the cost will either be so affordable the player can just spam the skills with impunity (other than the annoyance of occasionally popping some ethers) meaning you now obsoleted attack, or it's so prohibitive the player will conserve it for bosses, meaning you can just remove the skill altogether and reduce boss HP a bit to compensate.

As for healers, who says they have to deal crap damage with attack? You can let them deal say 60% or so of the fighter and their attack will be useful. If the fighter, other than dealing 67% more damage, also has more HP, defense and skills with extra effects like stun, then the fighter will remain a much better fighter.

When it comes to defense, I think it's harder with the rules in this topic. You are giving up attacking for taking less damage. You have to attack in order to win, so defending is usually only useful if the battles gives you a time where doing so is more useful than usual. But there should be ways to change defense to make such situation easier though.

One thing I think you should not do is to make defending restore MP or HP unless said resources are replenished after battles. Usually, either the effect is unneeded and defense is still ignored, or the effect is needed and the player leaves one enemy alive and then spams defense before killing it. A good example of a game where both happened is Legend of Dragoon. At the beginning of the game, I used the "leave one enemy alive" strat. Then, once I got an accessory which replenished MP, I gave it to a healer and forgot that defending even existed.

One game that made defending useful is Seventh Saga. In that game, defending not only halves damage, but also makes your attack 1.5 times as strong the next turn, which coupled with a subtractive defense system means you usually do about twice the damage. However, that combo was so powerful it became the default strategy for physical attackers when facing hard enemies. Defend -> Attack -> Defend -> Attack -> Defend -> Attack and so on.

So I'd propose a boost to defense that is more situational rather than universally good. For example, instead of boosting attack, it could set up a counter move that only triggers under the right conditions, ideally conditions that the player can also set up with good tactics. Or you can make it so that when you defend, you get to choose a character as target. The character who defended will also protect the target from attacks. Heck, you can combine the ideas and make it so that if the defender chooses another character, it protects that character and if it chooses itself, it sets up a counter move.

Then you get to the point where you have to look at enemy behavior and other factors outside this topic.
Guard could have some kind of counter attack in various forms. Like using Guard puts you in a state where if an enemy attacks you, you are given choices to respond. Kind of like springing a trap card in Yugioh.

Normal attack could have a sort of quicktimey, free flow action RPG button press system to it. That would make it really fun.

Not saying this can all be easily done in RPG maker, but this is something I'd like to try some day.
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