Balancing Skill/Spell Costs

Frostorm

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I was wondering what everyone's thought process when it comes to determining MP/TP costs for your skills & spells. I know there are some variables to consider, such as MP/TP regen (if any) or cooldowns for example. Another way of looking at it is: How many casts should a character pump out before going oom (out of mana)? What do you do to differentiate how physical characters manage their resources vs casters? I personally prefer it when a system has mechanics in place for resource management, besides just hoarding a bunch of potions.
 

Wavelength

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It's a good question for sure, but it's also hard to give a clear answer to because it depends so heavily on what type of dynamic the designer is going for, and where the challenge is supposed to come from.

For example, in one of my games, both MP and TP regenerate throughout combat (MP starts at full each combat, but regenerates somewhat slower; TP starts low but regenerates faster). I designed skill costs in that game so that players could use "cheap" skills every single turn if they want to, whereas if you were only using "expensive" (and very powerful) skills, you could use them for about 2 turns in a row at the beginning of combat, and then you'd probably be able to use them about once per 3 turns thereafter (needing to resort to basic attacks or defense on other turns). Those expensive spells tend to cost around half of your entire MP or TP bar.

But the idea of that game is that you're supposed to be able to use skills often, and the costs are more of a limitation on which skills you can use frequently. In a game where you're supposed to manage MP across the length of an entire dungeon, it's in the player's best interest to conserve MP. You can make it more appealing to use skills by reducing MP costs, but then MP costs become pretty irrelevant in boss fights (because they are low enough that you can use them turn after turn after turn if you've saved your MP throughout the dungeon). On the other hand, in such a format, if the MP costs are quite high, players will only be able to use skills a few times throughout the entire dungeon, which is super-boring.

So while resource costs definitely add a layer of tactics to combat and provide an additional lever for balance (imagine a system where HP was your only resource!!), I think that games tend to overuse them without making sure that they are truly contributing to the game's intended dynamics. In one game I'm developing now, I've nearly eliminated MP and TP altogether! Skills don't cost anything at all to use, but they each have a Cooldown timer that persists across battles (I have mechanics in place to prevent unnecessary stalling of battles to run out cooldowns). MP exists, but its only purpose is to cast skills that are currently on cooldown (the longer the remaining cooldown and more powerful the spell, the more MP it costs to cast it) - serving as a rare trump card to use when you really need it. MP can only be restored by visiting an Inn or using expensive Food items. However, I think this works because I want to limit how far players can make it in a single run of a dungeon, and because money is very important in this game. In a game where the designer wants the player to get through dungeons in a single run, or where money flows freely, this kind of Cooldown/MP system could break down badly.
 

Tai_MT

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I was wondering what everyone's thought process when it comes to determining MP/TP costs for your skills & spells.
It's a fairly simple process. "How much MP/TP will they have overall? How many times do I want them to use Skill/Spell before they need to refill MP/TP? How often should they be refilling these resources?"

Basically, I just do some math. If character has X MP cost for Y skill, how much Total MP should character have?

I know there are some variables to consider, such as MP/TP regen (if any) or cooldowns for example. Another way of looking at it is: How many casts should a character pump out before going oom (out of mana)?
What you're going to be looking at is the "feel" of your game. Do you want your player using skills/spells constantly? Do you want them held in reserve? How much hoarding of their resources for casting do you want them to be doing?

What do you do to differentiate how physical characters manage their resources vs casters? I personally prefer it when a system has mechanics in place for resource management, besides just hoarding a bunch of potions.
I don't differentiate them. I use the "catch all" term of "Potential". "Potential" in my games covers any special type of skill you might not see all that often. It is so named for "Potential Energy", but it works as just "Potential Points" in that you're spending your Potential in combat to get a result. The more backflip uppercuts you do, the less of them you can do as they wear you out. The more lightning bolts you fire from your hands, the less you can do as it wears you out.

Alternatively, I use "Rage Points" as the TP gauges since it represents the actual "fight or flight" instinct of the characters and when it kicks in, it always alters the flow of combat.
---
That being said, I tend to build systems where players must manage the resources of MP and TP wisely while also using them fairly frequently. If you're using multiple skills each combat encounter, you may run out before the dungeon is over. Unless you've brought a lot of consumables with you (and you should!), anyway. The goal is to keep players from spamming their best attacks on every enemy, every single time, and get them to limit usage to take out only the strongest or most troublesome enemies. Use them enough that they know what each skill does without thinking about it, but not so much that they're spamming them for every action.

So, buffs last 3-6 turns, debuffs on enemies last about that long, many skills are specialized for enemy types rather than situations, and the player is taught to buy consumables and use them.

For example: My Witch starts with a base MP of 30 and each of her skills initially costs only 3 MP to use. She gets 10 total casts before she needs a refill. Basic MP recovery item costs 10 Currency and recovers 30 MP. Early enemies only drop 1 Currency a kill. So, if you use 1 skill to kill 1 enemy this early, you get 1 Currency per kill, and it takes 10 kills to get enough Currency to buy an MP Recovery Consumable. You can keep going like this, but you aren't going to stockpile any Currency doing it. As you gain more MP, you'll need the more expensive Consumables to stay topped off.

That doesn't even get into the system where your skills "level up" and start costing more per cast either.

But, that's part of the game. Manage your skill usage, manage your currency, manage your MP. Use a skill when you know it will attain a 1 shot kill. Or, use your skills against particularly troublesome enemies and bosses.
 

Frostorm

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Ah I c...I was about to say, I was having an issue balancing spell costs for low lv vs high lv characters. But then you mentioned skill leveling, which I think could be the solution I've been looking for, so ty! Base MP for my characters are 38 MP at lv1 to 430 MP at lv50. I was worried that end game characters would be spamming spells nonstop, while new characters would barely be able to cast 2 spells before going oom... I also don't give the characters any MP regen by default (I've tried it both ways), unless certain caster items are equipped.

Edit: If your spells have multiple ranks/levels, am I correct to assume that in your game each specific level of a spell deals x dmg and NOT (or barely) scale w/ the caster's stats? My initial reasoning for not using multiple spell levels was because my spells currently scale w/ the caster's stats (usually INT aka MAT), which will grow as the character levels up and/or attains better gear.
 
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Tai_MT

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To be fair, I also have another system in play that nullifies massive amounts of stat gains. Namely, level ups don't give you any stats what-so-ever. Makes it far easier to control the "gains" of Max MP to ensure it's always a resource that needs managed, well into late game.

Like, we're talking you get an item that gives you +5 MP and you have to choose who to give it to. It gives my Witch 1 extra cast. Unless they've leveled up their skill, and then it's not even an extra cast, since the second level of skills is 6 MP instead of 3. That's not even getting into the "final level" of my skills which cost like 50 MP and the "gains" you get from MP items are like 100.

It's all a matter of how your game is meant to be played and what you're implementing to make sure that it is played that way.
 

TheoAllen

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I'm not sure if this would help, because I don't use MP, I hate MP management so I designed my game so that you wouldn't need to worry about resource management. That said, I only use TP and cooldown management. Here is how I did mine

For TP costs:
- The maximum TP you could hold is 50.
- Each turn regenerated by 5
- Maximum at taking 100% HP damage, you gain 25 TP cost.
- For 10 TP cost, it is reserved for "weak attack". I have two rows battle in which if you're in the backline, you have to pay TP cost skill to "just attack". Because normally, they couldn't attack.
- For 15 TP cost, it is reserved for "regular skill" that has fair damage.
- For 20 TP cost, it is reserved for "strong skill" that has more damage and extra effect.
- For 25 TP cost, it is reserved for "ultimate skill" that serves as a trump card.
- Nothing beyond 25 TP cost, I tried 30 TP cost, and I feel like it either didn't feel worthy to use or too overpowered. The balance doesn't seem to be there.
- If you have the right passive effect, TP could also boost the actor stat passively. So if you use TP to cast a skill, you may lose a portion of buff. So having a full 50 TP and not spending it for a skill or simply wait for the full TP before using a skill is also a valid tactic either because you want the buff or simply all skills are in cooldown.

For skill cooldown:
- 1 turns cooldown = serves as "annoyance". I put this one turn cooldown for a regular skill that will be broken if used frequently and renders other skill/item useless just because of how useful they are. It successful to made myself forgot about that particular skill and use something else.
- 2-3 turns cooldown = a situational skill. if these skills are still in cooldown, maybe you need to change your tactic to use something else.
- 4 and above = for "ultimate skill". Usually paired together with 25 TP skill cost.

Mind that the whole game is a dungeon crawler, means you are not visiting a town to relax. So the mechanic should not be resource management, rather how to encourage tactics on each encounter.
 

Frostorm

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I'm not sure if this would help, because I don't use MP, I hate MP management so I designed my game so that you wouldn't need to worry about resource management. That said, I only use TP and cooldown management. Here is how I did mine
May I ask why you dislike MP management? I can see how your system makes sense for the type of game your making though (dungeon crawler w/ no rest points).
 

TheoAllen

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May I ask why you dislike MP management? I can see how your system makes sense for the type of game your making though (dungeon crawler w/ no rest points).
I dislike any kind of micromanagement, that doesn't mean it is a major turn off. I grew up playing action games (FPS/TPS/Top-Down Shooter/Arcade) in which you do it right there, right now. When I want micromanagement, I play strategy games and 4X games. I have segmentation. RPG is something weird in-between.

Now speaking about MP (I'm talking about the traditional MP mechanic in which it doesn't reset at full MP for every battle, but carried over)
  • You have MP that is slowly draining, worse if it doesn't have regen. You stocked up MP potion, you open up every time it goes low, like a chore.
  • You have no idea how long the dungeon or travel would be. Everything is a random guess. I don't have clear information on what should I bring and how much.
  • That said, I don't know if I should conserve MP because "what if I need it later" or I would just "Blast everything with AoE in turn 1 using MP cost skill because that will be faster".
  • Balancing issues (cost/scale/etc) like you have been mentioned in this thread made me realized that the TP system is superior and easier to balance. Fixed number an all.
  • Everything is dead when the MP reaches zero. Except you give something infinity that made it goes back to the loop (recover MP) such as regen, guards recover TP, or MP recover by spending TP. But at that point, it is no longer a traditional MP mechanic.
  • Related to the previous point, if you should or even need to put MP for the enemies. Do they also spend MP on their skill? Or should you put an infinite amount of them? In the case of TP, you don't need to worry about them. Just put whatever pattern and skill you like to the enemy.
In my opinion, JRPG design (or linear RPG if you don't like the term JRPG) does not need a traditional MP mechanic. The whole game is about walking in a linear path. Adding micromanagement like hoarding potion and MP management is just silly. The pitfall is usually the item being hoarded. You have it a lot, and now you need to use it once in a while when you run out of MP. Or you didn't stock it enough to survive (when reaching a boss battle). You have no choice but to reloads and retry the entire stage. Worst, if you don't have an earlier save the file. Again, because you don't usually have information on how long the dungeon would be.

The most exciting part of JRPG are the boss battles. Everything in between like random encounters should be a training field for you to test the various skill and how they interact with each other. Adding limited MP (and source of MP) would just discourage you to use them and doing an experiment. And then you went into the loop of "What if I need it later?".
 

Frostorm

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I see where you're coming from. I too hate hoarding potions. In my game, I only have 3 Mana potions: Lesser, Moderate, and Greater which instead of granting x amount of MP instantly, they grant +5%/10%/15% MP per turn for 4 turns respectively. I did this for 2 reasons:
  • to curb abuse/spamming potions
  • realism (body takes time to metabolize/digest the potion)
1-handed caster weapons (e.g. wands) also grant a passive +5% MP per turn, while 2-handed caster weapons (e.g. staffs) grant +10% MP per turn. And those are the ONLY MP giving items in my game.

You're right when it comes to TP, it is way easier to balance. I turned off TP gain from dmg dealt/taken (the default in Yanfly's TP plugin) and only normal attacks along w/ a couple other utility skills grant TP (usually +8 to +12 TP). TP costs for most of my skills will cost 20-40 TP.
 
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Cythera

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This heavily depends on what combat system you're making. I'm making a turn-based combat with MP, TP, and cooldown limitations in place. Here's how I balance costs:
First, I consider how often a player will need to use this skill. How vital is it to combat? One of my characters has a skill that blocks enemy passives. This is huge; you will not make it through half of the game's bosses without blocking their passives. So, I make the skill reasonably low-cost. Enough of a cost that spam-using that resource is a really bad idea as you may run out when you need that skill. But not a giant cost where you use it once, then need to use items to regain that resource.
Second, how often will a player want to use this skill? This leads into how strong a skill is it, and how exploitable can it be? I have a skill that gives all allies a shield equal to 40% the caster's health, and removes all DoT and immobile (freeze, stun, confuse, etc) effects. Very powerful, very exploitable. It could easily be used to cheese through the game and render the difficulty mute. It obviously gets a higher cost. You could use it at the start of a hard fight for that shield, or later in to remove some status effects.
Items I...don't really care about. Hoard items, go ahead. If that is your style of gameplay, if that's how you have fun, go do that. It's not a good strategy in the game I'm making.
On MP management, both the characters who rely heavily on MP have the ability to regain MP without items. One steals it from enemies over time, the other converts part of his health to MP. Characters can also be customized to minimize their MP costs. High Willpower (magic defense) stats decrease MP Costs. Weapons can have -20% MP Cost traits. Some armours offer MP regen, or increase Max MP.
On balancing skill costs for low level vs high level, I simply use dynamic skill costs for the stronger skills. The cost of the skill increases based on user level, magic, or max MP.
 

HumanNinjaToo

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With my current project, I have based all spell costs around the actor's starting MP. I've chosen to take a page from Mario RPG and provide the only MaxMP gains as items found in the world. This way, I can control the MaxMP the players have access to throughout the game. The majority of these cannot be missed, with a few exceptions. So as the game progresses, the player is allowed to cast more spells while needing less MP recovery items. I feel it balances well with what I've got going.
 

Rayhaku808

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A little late, hopefully not considered a necro. But what I've recently decided for my game is that I'm going to make my effects that last X amount of turns cost MP/TP, essentially status effects and states. Physical damage classes will use TP, and the mage archetypes will use MP. Just for lore reasons. Every battle will have party members start with 0. This can be manipulated to start with up to 5 depending on the class through passive learned as the player progresses in the game. The cap for the resources will be 10 at the end game. Initially the cap is 5. Also upgradeable via passives.

I'm using smaller numbers for these actions as well with minimal regeneration per turn. Probably 1 or 2 per turn. The regeneration may also be influenced by other skills. The cost of the skill reflects on the duration. E.g. A state that lasts for 3 turns will cost 3 MP/TP. These effects also have diminishing returns. The aforementioned state would increase attack by 15% on the first turn. On the second turn the attack will have a 10% increase, then 5% on the last turn.

Skills that don't particularly have timed effects will only have turn cooldowns. I'm still working out the fine details on how long these will last. I'm terrible with numbers and math and all that other stuff, so this is the easiest way for me to go about handling balancing... hopefully.
 
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Oddball

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From my game, charecters use both MP and TP for skills. MP regenerates over time. TP must be built up, but lowers over time. Skills that use MP give you TP, as well as guard.

The MP Skills, cost anywhere from equal to your MP regain for weak skills. To have max MP For stronger effects

The TP skills all cost 1 or 2 TP (Max TP is 5)
So yea, kind of a wierd system, but pretty balanced in terms of resource managment
 

Frostorm

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I have a skill in the game called "Meditate" that converts the user's remaining TP into MP. This is mostly for casters so that it doesn't feel like TP is useless to them.
 

lianderson

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@Oddball I really like that 5TP max concept you got going on. Lower numbers really help the player in terms of not being overflooded with teh maths.
 

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