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I'm working on a turn-based RPG with classes. I want one of the spellcaster classes to have standard magic points, but another to have abilities with time limitations, one or more of

  • Use ability every N minutes of real time
  • Use ability every N turns of combat
  • Use ability once or N times per day (sleep to restore, or wait out day-night cycle)

There would be restorative items that could restore your "charge". These abilities would be more powerful than regular spells but constrained. This spellcasting class is a burster: gives you big hits but infrequently because of the limitations. The party carries them along as baggage until they get in a jam or run into a boss, then unleashes the hammer. I like it as an option to add depth, and it has interesting speedrun possibilities.

The last one is easy enough to balance if the party has to trek back to town and sleep to recharge, but I have a day-night cycle. Here are the problems as I see it:

Real time / N times per day

Player can just wait. I can make the duration punishing, but then it greatly reduces the utility. It also means that the player is not playing the game, this is after all supposed to be about entertainment. No fun.

Every N turns in combat

Player can just have every character defend/heal every round until the burster unleashes another round of big damage. I actually want this to be viable, but I don't want it to become the obviously best strategy for battles. So far it doesn't seem to be a huge issue as the caster just cycles through lesser powers until the big bang recharges. It's rough in the early game, but that's part of the balancing. The problem is that I'm having trouble getting it to be not so OP'd as to be obviously the best while still remaining good enough to be useful.

Any suggestion on how to balance these mechanics to mitigate camping/turtling?

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    \$\begingroup\$ "just have every character defend/heal every round until ..." - if this is the optimal strategy, this would be a cross-character balancing issue more than an issue with a single character. This would mean that the offensive capability of one character is just way too good compared to all the others, or defensive abilities are, in general, much more powerful than offensive ones. \$\endgroup\$ – Dukeling Apr 19 at 17:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you're going to have a real-time component I would suggest having that apply only outside of combat and use N-turns inside of combat. Using the two together as a single "time" component would make more sense. Turns are essentially an abstraction of time so that the player can make more thought-out decisions. \$\endgroup\$ – Shelby115 Apr 19 at 18:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ "It also means that the player is not playing the game, this is after all supposed to be about entertainment. No fun." If they aren't playing the game, it's probably because they don't think it's fun. If players don't like your design concept, consider changing the concept? \$\endgroup\$ – Tim Holt Apr 19 at 20:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is there any particular reason why the disincentives are linear? For instance, instead of limiting it to every X, do your systems support things like X+N where N is the # of times used thus far? \$\endgroup\$ – Pikalek Apr 20 at 2:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Pikalek that's an interesting idea. I'll play around with that. \$\endgroup\$ – Jared Smith Apr 20 at 12:44
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The reason turtling is attractive in this case is because there's no or little incentive to do anything risky during the character's downtime. It's not risk-reward, it's wait-reward. To counter this, you have to incentivize risk. The periods of burst should be buffered with active preparation for their next explosive turn.

There's plenty of ways to do this, but the ones that come to mind are:

Resource generation

Your character's burst spells could require a resource that is generated by casting weaker spells. If the character doesn't cast these spells, the resource either generates very slowly or not at all. You could even have a few variants of these resource generation spells that have different risk-reward ratios.

Preparation spells

Have "mark" spells that do minimal damage, but are consumed for big damage when your burst spell goes off. Your mage could stack these marks on the target and then trigger it, or navigate around the map applying them before nuking all the targets at once. The big spell wouldn't even need a cooldown in this case, as it would be a wet noodle unless the potency has been amplified by marks.

Positioning spells

Maybe your mage does damage in an area of effect, and has displacement spells that do minimal damage. The rest of the team, as well as the mage, could focus their efforts into clumping the enemy so that the burst is more effective. I think this one is the most fun with your resource regeneration items, as the mage could use those to deal heavy damage multiple times before the enemy has a chance to scatter.


As others have mentioned, an alternative or addition to rewarding active play is discouraging passive play. This is less specific to the burst mage character and more about turtling in general. My favorites from other answers are:

Short fights give better rewards

DrakaSAN suggested decaying rewards for a won fight. You specifically asked that the turtle strategy be viable but not optimal, so perhaps the reward isn't so punishing that it makes future encounters harder (no XP reduction), but maybe something that doesn't actually impact gameplay, like some additional dialog after the fight or an achievement if the encounter is beaten in less than X turns.

The game doesn't just wait for you

Dronz suggested keeping the game in motion while you wait. This is my favorite, as it allows you do sprinkle lore where turn-based RPGs usually lack it. If you never showed up, the villains would just continue their villainy. If you plan on sitting in a corner, then they may as well stick to their plans as well. BBEG can keep arming his doomsday device, his battle droid factory can keep making more battle droids, and he can polish off that potion of buffing. It'd be neat if these outcomes changed the story of the game in some way.

The time crunch doesn't have to be lore related either. The arena can be flooding with water, the volcano can be close to eruption, the encroaching circle of battle royale can be creeping in, etc.

The enemies also like breaks

Dronz also suggested letting the enemy enjoy cooldown time. This means your fights take MUCH longer if you just wait around, or you have a harder time winning because the NPCs have shorter cooldowns and a bigger inventory of items.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "Mark" spells is what makes playing the Apprentice in Dungeon Defenders 2 so satisfying. Unfortunately for other reasons everything else about his kit is pretty crap. Namely its hard to mark your maximum number of targets and two, your other two abilities don't interact with marking at all. \$\endgroup\$ – Draco18s Apr 20 at 3:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ that's the reason I think for which certain classes in diablo III can recharge only when fighting. Never thought to that. Interesting \$\endgroup\$ – GameDeveloper Apr 20 at 11:10
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Use ability every N minutes of real time

Since it is a turn-based game, the player can just wait for the ability to be available again.

Use ability once or N times per day (sleep to restore, or wait out day-night cycle)

This works well in the The Elder Scrolls serie because you cannot rest if ennemies are nearby. Meaning, if you are in a dungeon for example, you can probably only use it once for the entire dungeon (not saying it cannot be abused, of course).

If you plan to implement this in a turn-based game, just make sure that the player cannot rest whenever, which would make negate the interest of the reloading time.

Use ability every N turns of combat

In most game, there are often mechanics tied to resource management. For example, your more classical mana-using mage have to manage its mana pool, so he has to make choices about what spell to use. This is interesting for the player.

Your "Use ability every N turns of combat" mage however, doens't have to make those choices, since each spell use its own resource, so to speak. Therefore, the only question the player has to ask himself is "should I keep this spell for later in the fight or use it right now?" (since I assume every cooldown is reset when the fight is over).

I believe this is a less interesting choice, because for example, if you decide to heal an ally for 50 HP when he has 50/100 HP left or 10/100 HP left does not make a difference on the result of the fight.

You mentioned items to restore the cooldown of the spells. They are analogous to mana potions in this case. Therefore, I don't think it solves the issue of your cooldown-based mage being less interesting than a mana-based mage.

Side note

Have you played pen and paper RPG already? Most of the times, those games include spellcaster classes with different resources mechanics. Take a look at Pathfinder classes for example, maybe this could be interesting?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ In terms of decision making, I'm thinking more that it's ok that this class is OP in the late game (can open fights for big damage then spam lower tier) because you have to carry them as deadweight through most of the game as they conserve their abilities for bosses until they have enough powers. I made the restorative items rarer and more expensive than the ones for regular mp. And no, the counter doesn't reset after battles are over: n turns of combat is n turns of combat. It does reset after sleeping. I'll have to look at pen and paper, I've never played them. \$\endgroup\$ – Jared Smith Apr 19 at 15:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ Can the player chose to include or not this class in its party, or is it a mandatory character? \$\endgroup\$ – Eldy Apr 19 at 17:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's a choice: classes are picked at the start of the game. Players could take a party of 4 of them (early game would be super difficult, endgame would be easy). \$\endgroup\$ – Jared Smith Apr 19 at 17:41
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If you make your game a dynamic game world, where things happen as time progresses, and adversary positions, actions, and their own "recharging" effects are also tracked, then you can get a game with natural trade-off consequences from resting without doing anything, because it costs:

  • opportunities to take action before the situation changes will be lost if/while the player(s) do nothing but rest

  • adversaries can be taking actions the players don't want to happen, while they rest, and other events can happen in the game world

  • adversaries can be resting wounds and recharging their own abilities while the players recharge theirs

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    \$\begingroup\$ Perfect! I just have to give enemies the same abilities. Now why didn't I think of that :P \$\endgroup\$ – Jared Smith Apr 20 at 13:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JaredSmith Too much exposure to all the static game designs out there? ;-) \$\endgroup\$ – Dronz Apr 20 at 20:38
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As Wazpoodle noticed, the problem is mainly that defending for a long time do not have any other drawback than time.

All the propositions revolve around giving the player other things to do during the waiting time, but in combination to those, you may also privilege fights that end quickly.

For example, a fight that is finished in the first 3 turn may give a additional bonus (XP, money...), that degrade slowly over the duration of the combat.

If the player want to turtle, he will receive a reduced / no bonus.

This would incentivize this class (the burst attack may be enough to end the combat on the first turn), while also pushing the player to act now and make do if the burst is not enough.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ That time incentive for winning quickly is a good idea. I'm going to have to play around with that. \$\endgroup\$ – Jared Smith Apr 20 at 13:00
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A very useful way to think of balancing combat is that you have exactly one goal:

Reduce the damage done to the party

"Heal" is the most obvious way of achieving that goal: it simply erases the damage done.

"Defend" is another direct means of doing so, via diminishing the effectiveness of enemy attacks.

"Attack" is also a means of reducing the damage done to the party: if a player does enough damage to an enemy so that it dies one turn sooner, then that player has achieved the effect of sparing the party from an entire turn's worth of damage.

If you don't want it to be optimal for players to usually choose "defend" rather than "attack", then the trick is to adjust the numbers so that attacking saves more damage than defending does. I think the best way to do this is to look at the figures

  • Determine what percentage of a turn's worth of damage the player mitigates by choosing "defend". Take care to account properly: for example, if "defend" only reduces the damage that specific player takes, then choosing that action only has any effect on those turns when that player gets attacked.
  • Estimate the entire party's average rate of damage per turn, and compare that to the amount of damage the player can do by choosing "attack". This should let you measure, in turns, how much faster combat will end by making that choice.

Note that to get the effect you want to achieve, you probably need the average damage per turn your "burster" class does to be rather low.

This means that you will have to design encounters so that the timing of damage is a valuable thing. For example, if an encounter has three identical enemies, damage done near the beginning of a fight is three times more valuable than damage done near the end of a fight — the former reduces the amount of time you spend with all three enemies damaging you, whereas the latter only reduces the amount of time you spend with a single enemy damaging you.

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Fundamentally, the options are to make the undesired player behavior less attractive, to make desired alternatives more attractive, or some combination of the two.

In terms of implementation, it might be worth considering non-linear solutions. You've already identified some disincentives, but I noticed that they all happen to be linear. For instance, limiting an ability to once every X time units. An example of a non-linear approach would be to use a limit of X+N where N is the number of times used thus far. Conceptually, you would apply this to something where you find yourself thinking "a little is good, some is fine, but increasingly less so". In terms of theme, this maps on to the idea of diminishing returns.

You can also include more complex formulas. For instance, instead of a strictly increasing value for N, you could include a formula allowing it to gradually ease back over time. Or you could make it more aggressive, 1.5*N, 3*N, N^2, etc.

While this can give you extra flexibility to your design, there are some trade-offs to consider:

  • it creates more parameters to balance
  • it can create more obvious 'sweet spots' leading to more average play strategies
    • not necessarily bad, but you need to consider if it detracts from the experience

Non-linearity can also be applied to incentives. For instance, one of the Ascension deck builder expansions has a enemy with a reward of X+N where N is the number of times this enemy has been defeated so far. Conceptually, you would apply this to something where you find yourself thinking "a little is okay, more is better & increasingly so". In terms of theme, this maps onto the idea of compounded returns, reaping rewards for early investment.

Again, you can use more complex formulas. A common variant is to include a cap, for instance a reward of X+min(N,C) where N is the number of times, C is the cap and the min function gives you the smaller of the two.

As before, there are some trade-offs:

  • it creates more parameters to balance
  • it can create run away leader (aka snowball) effects leading to more extreme, all-in play strategies
    • not necessarily bad, but you need to consider how it impacts the design
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A potential solution could have the burst damage be enabled by other skills, such as debuffs, self buffs, and the like. In MMOs this is called a rotation - it's been awhile, but IIRC WoW has a good example with the fire warlock, who has a spell that does a ton of damage, but with limited CDs and a bunch of pre-requisites for getting the most out of the spell.

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How about making the abilities recharge from enemy kills? If there's a boss every, say, 10 enemies, and each kill recharges 10% of the power needed, the optimal strategy is, indeed, to use your other abilities to take out the normal enemies, then fire the big guns at the boss.

Path of Exile uses this structure for both flasks (which instantly recharge in town) and Vaal skills (which only recharge in battle).

If you're dead-set on having this be time/turn based, then you need a mechanism in place that punishes taking a long time. For example, enemy monsters can have the same mechanics; if you take too long killing them, they start unleashing dangerous moves. Or reward taking a short time; you get bonus xp or resources if you can quickly kill the enemies.

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