RMMV Enemy Surrender Mechanic

Soryuju

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So I’ve gotten the idea to implement an enemy “surrender” mechanic in my current project, and I wanted to try talking out some of the system’s specifics here and get feedback. Here’s the basic idea:

1. When there is only one non-boss enemy left on the field, they will “surrender,” fade/collapse, and the battle will be won.

2. Players will get all of the normal rewards for an enemy which surrenders instead of being killed.

3. Some more dangerous non-boss enemies may not immediately surrender when they’re the last one standing. The player may have to reduce their HP below a certain threshold before they’ll give up. These enemies will usually be noticeably stronger than the others in their groups, and I’ll probably mark them in some way for players (a special indicator of some kind, distinct name/sprite coloration, etc.)


There are a few reasons I think this system could be beneficial to my game:

1. It saves the player’s time in battle. My project features significant automatic healing between fights, so the last potshots from the sole surviving enemy aren’t likely to be that impactful if the party’s already so close to victory.

2. It discourages extended stalling to heal the party (my version of “MP” resets between fights, so healing in battle is effectively free). Enemies are powerful, I have no stuns in my game, and most in-combat healing scales with missing HP, so trying to top off your party’s HP when two enemies are still alive won’t be very productive. I don’t mind if the player gets off an extra heal or two near the end of the battle, but I don’t want them stalling against a single crippled enemy just so they can heal up every scratch.

3. Integrating the concept more fully with my battle system could lead to new dynamics in fights, such as skills/states which interact with the Surrender mechanic or extra events that trigger if you let certain enemies live. I’m not actively planning anything for this yet (mostly for fear of feature creep), but I think the design space it opens up is interesting.


So a couple things I was wondering about:

How does the system sound as a whole? Anything I should add, or perhaps reconsider?

When exactly should lone enemies surrender? My battlers take turns based on their AGI and act immediately after a command is selected. Should the enemy wait to surrender until the next time it acts, regardless of when that is? Should it surrender the moment its last ally dies? Or should it just wait until the turn is over? I see some upsides and downsides to each of these, so I’d love to hear some other opinions.

Thanks for reading!
 

Milennin

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I don't see really see the problem with a stalling tactic. It's pretty similar to grinding in that the player sacrifices their time playing the game more in order to get an advantage. If they're willing to spend that extra time, then fine, let them have their advantage.

I use enemy escape only for summoned enemies that run when their summoner is defeated, or for boss adds that just leave right away, once the boss is dead. Outside of that, I don't think it makes all that much sense. If they're weak enemies, the player won't be stuck on them for so long that it'd get annoying to wipe them out, and if they're strong enough to be somewhat of a threat to the party, then they certainly don't deserve to be forced to escape. The only other excuse I could see for an escaping enemy if it's an enemy that's known for being cowardly (maybe some low-ranking bandit) or just isn't interested in fighting at all (cleric type enemies).
Also, it's important to know that some players really enjoy being able to dish out the final hit to finish off an enemy. Taking that away from them might annoy them if it happens too frequently, lol.
 

Soryuju

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@Milennin

Preventing the stalling tactic is something I see as protecting the player from themselves. I’m one of those players who will take advantage of systems that allow me to trade a little time for an edge in the next fight. But in spite of that, I can’t think of a single instance where I’d say that the stalling has made my overall experience with a game better. It’s one of those chores you just learn to accept as part of an RPG, and I usually find myself wishing the dev didn’t give me the incentive to try this sort of “optimal” play. Stalling battles hurts the game’s pacing, it can bore players when it happens regularly, and I think it’s worth finding ways to design around it.

(Side note: You’re definitely right that grinding is guilty of the same issues in many games, but I’m working to try to limit the role it plays in my project, too! You can grind some, but you’ll mostly get new abilities rather than stats, so grinding will be more for opening new strategic possibilities for problem-solving, rather than for gaining an actual statistical advantage. There will also be an exponential leveling curve to go along with an enemy progression that gives exponentially more rewards, so halting your forward progress to grind will have diminishing returns after a while.)

Back to the surrender mechanic, the “finishing blow” aspect is something I considered and one of the potential drawbacks if I made an enemy surrender as soon as their last ally dies. Having a delay until the end of the turn or their next action will still often give players a decent window to finish them off before they actually flee. There are also AoE skills which can potentially wipe them out before they’ll even go into their surrender mode. And finally, instead of having more dangerous enemies surrender at a certain HP threshold, I could just have them not surrender at all, since they’d still be capable of threatening a party that’s not dealing with them efficiently. Maybe a couple could even enrage instead.

Appreciate the feedback! Thanks!
 

Milennin

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If stalling has to be prevented, I prefer to power-up enemies after a set amount of turns, rather than to make them flee. But I guess it's a matter of preferences. I prefer enemies to be engaging, and having them run from me is the opposite of that. If, after their stalling power-up, they're strong enough that they outdamage the healing of my party, there's no choice but to finish them off as efficiently as possible. But yeah, you could probably give different enemies different behaviours, depending on their type or personality. It would make more sense that way, rather than going all in on one thing. And it keeps up the variety in battle encounters.
 

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It's an interesting idea for a system, and definitely well-intentioned. I do have a few thoughts on its practicality, and whether it will achieve what you're hoping it will (without unintended side effects). I'll address most of them below, but ultimately, I'd love to test out the system if you decide to go forward with it, and I could give you much more accurate analysis once I've seen it in action.

On Healing After Battle: You mention that "My project features significant automatic healing between fights", and also that "I don’t mind if the player gets off an extra heal or two near the end of the battle". It sounds like your main challenge factor is going to be the Acute challenge of being beaten by any given troop if you play that battle poorly, rather than the Chronic challenge of running low on resources as you slog through a dungeon, right? If that's the case, is there really a need to prevent players from healing up at the end of a battle? Isn't it likely they'll just naturally be at full HP after the one or two heals plus the post-battle healing bonus? Maybe just fully heal the party after each battle at that rate, and focus the Surrender design (if you still deem it useful) on the time-saving or tactical aspects. (If you do decide that preventing heals isn't necessary, that will change some of the following advice.)

On Troop Size: You decided to design the system (so far) around whittling the enemy troop down to one member. Most (certainly not all) JRPGs I can think of contain a majority of troops that have two or three enemies in them, with only a small minority that have 4 or more (because that's the point where "Target All Enemies" spells start to get out of hand). For troops of 2 (and even to some extent for troops of 3), you are significantly changing the nature of the battle by allowing the player to "win" by reducing the enemies' numbers to 1. Having a win condition where one enemy survives is actually a very interesting strategic wrinkle (allowing the player to decide which enemy she wants to ignore as she eliminates the rest, and also changing the balance of single-target vs. AoE skills), but if you have the Acute challenge that I expect you do, it's also a highly balance-changing wrinkle. (If the player is at critical HP with two allies down, for example, and the final enemy surrenders, that's still a victory.) Be sure you're designing with it in mind if you're going to let the player win a battle without eliminating all foes. On the other hand, if most of your troops have 6+ enemies in them, the system will be more of a player convenience + abuse-negation mechanism, like you detailed.

On Communication: You mention that "threatening" enemies won't surrender. How do we define threatening? Are enemies hard-coded to be either "threatening" or "non-threatening"? Does it depend on the player's level? Is it based on the enemy's role or power level in relation to its group (this is what seems to be implied in your description)? It will feel really bad to a player if she expects the enemy to surrender, then that enemy doesn't surrender and finishes off her party. It will also feel a little weird if she expects the enemy to fight, and then it's over in an instant via surrender. But it will also feel a bit non-immersive if you tell the player far in advance that a given enemy will surrender when its allies have been wiped. I'm torn here. I think it's worth thinking about.

On Protecting Players From Themselves: I agree with you, @Soryuju, that it's worth trying to eliminate the incentive to do "unfun things". @Milennin's analysis is good but I feel it's also a little incomplete in that healing to full near the end of battle usually comes from a spot of uncertainty - you're not sure whether you'll get wiped and lose progress if you don't do it - whereas grinding (to beat a boss, etc.) is usually more of a perceived necessity, where you can grind, save (right before the boss), and go back and grind some more if you find your stats insufficient during the boss fight. Additionally, "grinding" should be fun if the battle system is fun and the enemy troops are diverse, whereas very few people find stalling to top off their HP a fun or engaging activity. I think that as designers we should line up "optimal play" and "enjoyable play" as much as possible, so I do think that removing the incentive to stall out decided battles is a worthy goal, all else being equal.
  • (As I've mentioned in a couple of topics, the mechanic I'm currently designing to this end in one of my current projects is "Exhaustion", where a small percentage of damage taken slowly whittles away at Max HP, which can't be restored while in a dungeon without using Items. I've since implemented this system and run marathons of battles to test it out, and in practice it feels like the best solution I've ever come up with for the Stall issue.)
On Player Agency: One unintended consequence of your Surrender system (as it's described) is the loss of some player agency. Personally, I love the feeling of wiping out monsters in some games (though I always find myself wishing I could spare the human/humanoid/non-aggressive/really-innocent-looking ones), and there might be times I'd feel kind of robbed of my power fantasy if an enemy "surrendered" and left without my consent, even if I got the full rewards. Of course, one thing I could do is whittle all the enemies 'til they're low and then use an AoE to delete them all at once, but the question is whether you really want to make your player do that. I'd be very inclined to say that the player should have the option to let the enemy Surrender (to avoid wasting time) or Not (to achieve power fantasy), but that would open up the avenue to Stall and Heal, which I know is something you're trying to avoid.

On Timing: While realistically it would make sense to have enemies Surrender when they would take their normal action, I would recommend making the Surrender immediate, as not doing so would work against most of the benefits you stated - it wouldn't save as much of the player's time, and the player would also have up to a full turn after reducing the enemy to 1 member to heal up (now with no threat whatsoever as they expect the surrender to come).

On Rewards: I think it's smart to offer full rewards (EXP, Gold, and Items) for the surrendering enemy, to prevent frustration if this mechanic is meant mostly as a Player Convenience and Abuse-Negation mechanism. However, if you do decide to play it as more of a strategic wrinkle, and especially if you give the player agency over accepting or denying the surrender, then having different rewards for killed vs. surrendered enemies could be really nifty. Something like lower EXP, but higher Item Acquisition, would make a lot of sense (can't take his Potion if you smashed it along with his rib cage!) and create scenarios where either kills or surrenders might be more useful. Persona 5 does a great job with this, actually opening up "negotiations" between you and the monster where you can try to milk it for gold or items, or convince it to lend its powers to you as a persona.

If I were to re-design your system just based on your description and goals, I would do it something like this:
  • Entire troops will surrender, rather than individual enemies
  • The troop will offer to surrender when it considers itself beaten - essentially, the game recognizes the fight is "Decided" and that there's no way the player could lose this fight unless she actively tries to. The personality of the enemies in the troop could also be taken into account - humans and healers will surrender easier than ogres and fighters. Stats, KO'ed members, current resources (including HP and MP), and the recent flow of battle could all be taken into account when determining whether the fight is "Decided". This happens immediately; it doesn't wait for (nor consume) the troop's turn
    • Trivially easy fights (e.g. going back to the beginning of the game with a fully-leveled party) will be Decided very early on, perhaps even before a single action is taken
    • Close fights (the party's HP has been taken down to critical levels, for example) will not be considered Decided, even if the enemy troop's HP is low or it's reduced to a single member
  • At this point, a new action appears on the command menu (called "Mercy" or similar). It's a quick, easy acceptance of the surrender. Alternatively, the player can ignore the Mercy command and keep fighting to finish off the troop
  • IF it's still necessary to prevent Stall-Healing, then if the player doesn't take the "Mercy" option, the enemies can try to Escape on their turn, similar to how the party has the Escape option throughout combat. If the enemy escapes, you don't receive any rewards for that enemy (or maybe you still receive EXP, but no Gold/Items)
You will probably find reasons why my theoretical redesign wouldn't work in the context of your game, but hopefully you will find some of these ideas or modified design goals useful!
 

Soryuju

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@Wavelength

Love the in-depth reply! I’ll try to follow along point-by-point:

On Healing After Battle: I know I was a little vague when in describing the system I currently want to try, but basically, I’m aiming for a hybrid of acute and chronic challenge. I’m attempting to implement a camping system in my game which will serve as the basis for post-battle recovery. I’m skimming over a lot of details here, but when a player sets up camp, they’ll be able to use food items that they find/purchase to both fully heal and also activate a persistent buff that restores each party member’s max HP after battle. The recovery value will decay a little after each battle until it runs out, and it’s on the player to decide when to camp again. Food items would overwrite each other, not stack, and they also might give benefits besides just healing. The hope is that this system would create significantly less menu time and more meaningful decisions than stopping after every few battles to spam potions on wounded allies.

Going back to acute vs chronic challenge, some enemy troops will be able to kill players in a single battle while others will just be intended to take a significant chunk out of the party’s HP (skimming over details again here). If the player is being stingy with the camping mechanic, the easier encounters will become significantly more dangerous. On the other hand, if the player’s taken some damage but handles these encounters well, they might come out with more HP than they went in with. They may also find food items to use in camp afterward.

There are both practical and thematic reasons that led me to this system. On the practical side, I want to give players significant room to customize their party, but I’m also not aiming to make my game especially easy. There will naturally be variance in the power of the builds that any given player discovers, so I want to make sure the player has different levers they can pull to adjust the immediate challenge they’re facing. If their current builds and tactics are already good enough to clear the unavoidable battles without camping, great. If not, maybe they can camp before the fight to make sure they go in at peak condition. Or maybe they try a new class combination that’s better-suited to the current fight. Or maybe they grind the easier encounters a bit to grab a new skill they think will help them. I want to give players multiple avenues to success to offset the standard of quality I’ll be imposing on their creativity, and creating some flux in my post-battle healing gives me another tool to achieve that with.

On the thematic side, “power fantasy” isn’t necessarily one of my explicit goals for this project. I want players to feel powerful when they succeed, sure, but I also want them to feel vulnerable at times. The party in the game is facing a tough world that’s a lot bigger than they are, and they need to take care of each other to survive. I want players to feel the need to take care of their characters, too. As such, my goal is to have some sort of attrition mechanic to build that sense of fatigue, but to preserve some degree of acute challenge so the individual battles still feel somewhat dangerous.

On Troop Size: I anticipate that the average troop size in my game will end up at 3-4 enemies. My idea of having some enemies that don’t surrender when they’re alone actually came about because of the concerns you raised with small troops - I can make the surrender mechanic selectively more present in larger troops. As for the issue of AoE against the large troops, I had to find controls for that anyways because players can stack classes in my game. As such, most of my AoE skills scale up in power with enemies’ missing HP, or they deal damage normally but require a turn to charge up before they fire.

On Communication: As you guessed, the “threatening” enemies are the ones with 4x their allies’ HP, naturally hit like a truck, etc. It would be something pre-determined, rather than contextual. I think the simplest idea I’ve had so far about communicating non-surrendering enemies is just displaying their name in a different text color - they’d essentially be flagged as “elite” enemies. It’d be quick and easy to mention this to players early on in a tutorial.

On Protecting Players from Themselves: A lot of my recent thoughts on this came from playing Slay the Spire, which is notoriously addictive and full of great design. It generally keeps the action flowing and prevents fights from stalling too long, but a handful of abilities do actually reward stalling in a significant fashion. I found myself sighing whenever I took these options, because they’d routinely add unnecessary turns to battles and knock me out of the flow state the game had me in before. The experience has made me want to focus more on trimming down these moments of non-engagement in my own project and find alternate ways to control the tension.

I do remember you discussing your own system, and I think you’ve got some great ideas at work there! I’ve got similar concepts filed away from past iterations of this project, too. I might eventually go back to something like that if my current system just isn’t working out, but it’d be cool if I could manage something on my own without just stealing from your existing idea.

On Player Agency: As mentioned above, “Power Fantasy” isn’t an explicit goal of mine for this project, but it’s probably true that many players will look for one regardless. I did consider giving players the option to accept or deny the surrender, but as you noted, that agency comes with a pretty steep price for what I’m trying to achieve. This particular question does push me toward giving players a window before the enemy actually surrenders - either until their next action or until the end of the current turn. Then you still satisfy the players who really enjoy just clearing everything, and create a different type of climax as they race for the kill.

On Timing: But, the stall question still lingers in the back of my mind. Creating a window before the enemy disappears does save less time and does allow for some amount of healing. It’s worth considering that the degree of each is much lower, and less of a risk to the overall fun. I think in part, it will come down to my troop design. How common are surrender situations? How easy/safe is it for players to manufacture them? How much of a net gain is the extra healing relative to the benefits of camping?

One thing I’m trying to keep in mind as I answer these questions is that a player using the camping system as intended should usually be entering fights with most of their HP. Maybe healing after an enemy surrenders means they’re entering more fights at max HP instead...but if I’m keeping some degree of acute challenge, how much of an impact will that make compared to the other tactics the player uses?

Being able to stall battles for healing is a problem because it offers players the chance to ignore my camping system and horde resources. A turn’s worth of extra healing every so often on top of the camping system seems less game-breaking from my perspective.

On Rewards: The idea of modifying gold/item rewards based on whether something surrenders is definitely interesting. I think it could lose some appeal if I don’t go the route of giving the player a direct choice in the outcome, but that also depends on how difficult (on average) it actually is to kill a target before they disappear.

Your proposed redesign seems very immersive and would definitely add engaging dimensions to combat. My only critique is that it could be difficult to convey clearly to players under what conditions a fight is “Decided,” because the method involves such a comprehensive and multifaceted set of factors. This could lead to moments of confusion or frustration when the player disagrees with the game’s assessment. Also, I’m pretty sure that implementing such a system is way beyond my minimal JS and rudimentary eventing capabilities, so I might have to file that away for some other time!

I appreciate you taking the time to help me work through this! I know it takes a good amount of effort to write in-depth responses like yours, but I always enjoy reading them.
 

Wavelength

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@Soryuju

It sounds like you feel strongly about putting your original ideas into practice and seeing how they work out. That's perfectly fine; I think you have superb design instincts and analysis in general, based on our conversations over in GMD, and if there are elements of it that don't work out, it will be a good opportunity to learn while correcting them. I hope I get the opportunity to try out your system, and to either point out where elements are hurting it, or to admit I was very wrong!

So with that said, I'll trust that you've already got it covered with unwritten design in general, and I'll just focus on a few things that stick out to me:

Food Items: Sounds good; I think it's particularly interesting that the Food will both fully heal once, and activate a heal-after-battle buff. You can relieve some of the Chronic challenge without tampering with the Acute, which is cool. You'll need to think through your economy to ensure that the player doesn't have so many that they can just camp out after every battle, but also that they're not so rare or precious that the player avoids using them when they need to. Not sure how 'Camping' fits into the whole equation (do you also need to use a Tent or something? Why not just simplify it down to eating the Food?).

Troop Size: You're right on the cusp where I believe this surrender mechanic will transition between an important strategic wrinkle versus a player convenience (time-saver; abuse-negater). I feel like 4-enemy parties is probably the first point it's mostly a player convenience, whereas at 3 it's likely going to change the way that people play difficult battles. Not an inherently bad thing, just worth remembering.

Communication About the System: Seems like you've got this one down-pat.

Timing: This is probably the single thing I feel strongest in recommending, when I say that the surrender should be Immediate (or should at least be offered immediately); my main issue is for the players who just want to finish up the battle (and/or feel emotionally compelled to let the enemy go). What are they going to do for the next half-a-turn before the enemy gets the chance to surrender? Spam the Defend action? Spam Attacks and see whether the kill or surrender happens first? Sit around and abuse Heal because there's literally nothing better to do? Since the rewards don't change based on surrender vs. kill, and there's literally no threat to their safety (as the player knows 100% at this point the surrender is coming), this final turn will feel utterly meaningless. I believe it will actually feel more drawn out than a single turn of beating on the last enemy in a regular RPG battle system! I urge you to at least try out a couple hours of gameplay both ways, and see which method feels like the more elegant solution. I will be very surprised if the "on the enemy's turn" approach works better!

It's my absolute pleasure to take some time and discuss interesting new mechanics! Thanks for posting your idea, and for working through the minutia with me.
 

Soryuju

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@Wavelength

I appreciate the kind words! As it stands, I’m wholly untested when it comes to translating design instincts into fun and balanced gameplay, so I do expect there to be plenty of learning and correcting that goes on.

I don’t know when I’ll have any prototypes ready or how extensive they’ll be, but I’ll shoot you a message whenever I’ve got something that I think is worth trying! This is the first time I’ve got a set of combat mechanics that don’t break the enemy AI, so I’m hoping to actually get somewhere this time.

Just a few last notes:

For the food/camping mechanics, balancing the economy is definitely going to be key, and that’s something I’m just going to have to play with until it feels right. One thought I had was making better quality food items available for purchase in town, while enemies would typically drop weaker ones. This would let the player ration out their stronger items over the course of their journey, but they’d still have regular, easy access to weaker recovery effects. But I don’t know how that’d actually feel for players yet and what additional balancing hoops I’d still need to jump through.

The long-term plan is to develop the camping system into more than just a glorified potion depot. I’d like to expand the idea of food items into a more developed cooking system if possible, but I have yet to really dig into the specific mechanics I want for that, and I need to think about how to keep the system from just slowing down my core gameplay loop (i.e. not just dumping a recipe book on players with 30+ choices each time). Some games I’ve played have cooking systems that actually make me a little hungry when I’m using them, and make it exciting to find shops offering new ingredients (Tales of Symphonia and The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky come to mind). I’d like to try and capture similar feelings while streamlining some of the mechanics from those systems. That’s part of why I want some sort of mechanic to cut short heal-stalling in battle - I don’t want cooking/camping to be a core game element that players can just feel clever for ignoring.

I was planning on making camping require a “tent” consumable, but this may change based on how often the player gets opportunities to return to town. If they can go back easily, I might drop this part of the idea. But if they don’t, I’ll probably use consumables to trigger camping, and there will likely be a “Forage” option in addition to using food/cooking. Foraging would raise party members’ HP to a certain fixed level (probably somewhere between 50-75%) without giving any post-battle recovery or other bonuses. It would be a stopgap measure that costs the tent to use and which would give the player a little breathing room to get some food drops from battles so they can actually cook again. I’m not totally sure if this system will end up being necessary or even beneficial to gameplay, but it’s one of my contingency plans in the case that my project’s exploration doesn’t end up working as well as I envision.

Back to the main topic, I’ll definitely make a point to try out both types of surrender timing. I’ll also probably keep playing with additions to the mechanic, and alternative ideas to surrender. “Good enough” isn’t my end goal for my game’s combat, and I’ll keep making adjustments and switching concepts until I’m fully satisfied with it.

This is kind of tangential, but Guard offers reactive healing in my game rather than proactive damage mitigation, so I would definitely expect players to just Guard with non-healer characters during the pre-surrender window.

I still think the idea of offering different rewards based on killing/accepting surrender is interesting, but I feel like more of my game needs to take shape before I can decide whether or not to commit to something like that. The way I envision that system now feels like putting a band-aid over the problem, when what I’d really like to do is just close the wound. Though I guess a band-aid is still better than letting it fester.
 

empresskiova

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Here’s a half baked thought on camping and please feel free to disregard ^_^

After camping, visible enemies respawn, making camping in a safe spot more important (kind of like real life lol). This would also help prevent Tent-spamming. Might also make maps more player involved, because they have to actively think about it other than going from point A to point B.

Cool idea, and I hope it becomes a great game!
 

Soryuju

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@empresskiova

I don’t think it’s a half-baked thought! As a matter of fact, I’ve considered using that sort of mechanic with my system in the past, but I never got back around to deciding if it was something I actually wanted to do. Hearing that someone else thinks it’s a good idea definitely gives me more confidence about going in that direction with things!

Since I still haven’t worked out how many unavoidable encounters will be on the maps, and since I don’t know how forgiving my battle escape mechanics will be yet, I may end up making it only respawn the avoidable encounters, so that its purpose will be to refresh the player’s source of EXP/rewards. I think that would still discourage tent-spamming, since players will naturally want to maximize the ratio of rewards they get per respawn to the number of resources spent each time they camp.

Back to the surrender mechanic once more - I’ve tried revising the concept some after taking the feedback here into account. Here’s version 2:

- When an enemy is alone, the next character to act has their Attack command change to a special finishing move.

- This move plays a unique animation, instantly executes the remaining enemy, and gives the player a small gold bonus in addition to their normal rewards.

- The player has only one chance per battle to use this finishing move - if they use that character’s turn for something else, it will not appear again for other characters, and the enemy will surrender on its next turn.

- When the enemy surrenders or is killed with a regular skill, it will not leave a gold bonus. However, it will leave normal rewards and a bonus consumable item instead of gold.

-Elite enemies and bosses would still never surrender.

What this would accomplish:

- It solves the player agency/finishing blow problem by giving players one guaranteed chance to execute the target with a cool special attack, and by giving them an opportunity to influence their battle rewards.

- It addresses the heal stall problem by letting the player stall for up to one turn if they want to, but they’ll get a different bonus reward. This bonus would often end up being a food item. Since one common reason for heal stalling would be stinginess with the camping system, the hope is that giving these players more camping-related rewards would encourage them to use the system more liberally. On the other hand, if a player just had a bad fight, or if they’re actually running out of food and heal-stalling in desperation, this would help get them back in the game.

- It solves the timing problem by giving the player an immediate option to end the fight - if they pass it up, then they’ve basically acknowledged that they’re okay with waiting out the remaining turns while they heal up. The special move will have a 100% kill rate even if the next character to act is a support/healer, so there’s nothing for the player to set up beforehand and nothing about their party composition to optimize for getting those gold bonuses.

- And lastly, it makes it so that it’s still valid to kill groups with AoE damage instead of pushing you to always create a single-target surrender situation. You still get the consumable bonus outside of surrender scenarios, and killing enemies with whatever method is most efficient will likely save you from taking damage.


I haven’t had a lot of time to really analyze all the extremes and edge cases of this system yet. I do think if I’ve got a system which can theoretically give the player a food item every battle, it might mesh better with the cooking system I mentioned instead of just normal healing items. That way the player could spend those accumulated rewards in batches, rather than having a big stockpile of items that they’re not going to be using any time soon.

I also think this type of system would benefit from having merchants stationed periodically throughout the wilderness, where players could buy and sell to effectively convert their rewards from one type to another. I don’t think plain old traveling merchants would normally last long in some of the locales I plan for the party to visit, so maybe I could have a mysterious (perhaps mystical) traveler who they run into regularly instead. Or something like that, at least.

Any opinions on this? Am I getting closer to the mark, or is this system maybe starting to get too convoluted? Anything I’ve overlooked?


@Wavelength

Forgot to mention in my last post, but if you get to a point where you’re looking for any outside feedback on your project, feel free to send it over to me! I’d definitely be interested to see your design and balance solutions in action, and I could go through it in my usual detailed fashion whenever I have the time.
 

Wavelength

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Sounds like the best version yet! I particularly like how the rewards for Surrender (presumably if the player was stall-healing) versus Execute (presumably if the player is winning unscathed) line up so well. The AoE issue and some of the timing issues are resolved nicely.

One timing issue that is not fixed is: What if the enemy troop is reduced to one enemy, and the next battler to act is that enemy? Under your proposal, that enemy will surrender right away, depriving the player of the chance to execute it for bonus gold (and emotional catharsis). One solution could be to ensure that once the surrender condition is triggered, the next battler to act is an ally, but this may be hard to implement if your system involves inputting all actors' commands before a turn.

I think your system will be easy for players to learn, and explaining it should be doable within a single battle.

As with your previous iterations of the design, it will be very important to balance troops around this mechanic, since (for example) the onus is only on the player to kill two out of three enemies in a troop and the third enemy will surrender even if the party's HP is very low.

No strong opinions on the Cooking system, but it sounds solid. I think the goal I'd shoot for is that it should be challenging to keep the party's HP hale and hearty throughout an entire dungeon without it, but easy with it.

Thanks very much for the offer to check out my own games and their systems! The game with the Exhaustion system (How Badly) still needs a lot of tinkering with the troop design and balance, but I'll shoot it over to you when I'm further along with that, for sure! I could also send you the next build of the game I'm much closer to completing (timeblazer), if you'd like. :)
 

Soryuju

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@Wavelength

You’re right that the plan I outlined didn’t have a contingency for when the enemy acts next in the turn. I’ve been continuing to think about the system myself, and I’ve found other edge cases where the timing is still an issue, and it’s making me wonder if I need to go back to the drawing board with the whole concept. The fundamental challenge is accounting for every possible turn order that 4 party members and 2 enemies can act in over the course of either 1 or 2 rounds in battle, when some may have already acted, and when some may be denied an action if they’re killed early. That’s a lot of theoretical combinations to try to address, and the ideal result has to be balanced so that it’s fair to the player without giving them extra time to get bored and/or exploit things.

I’ve considered enrage mechanics as a substitute for the Surrender system, where the last enemy basically gets some sort of power-up/extra actions and the player needs to kill them quickly. However, an enrage system creates a significantly worse version of the heal-stalling problem unless the party needs to commit a lot of resources to killing the average enemy in battle (which is arguably an even worse design issue). If the party can just squish the last enemy with 1-2 characters, then the worst-case AGI values can often give the player 4-5 free character turns in battle before they’re actually in danger and need to wrap up. As far as I can see, enrage works fine for bosses because you need to put significant firepower into killing them, but trying to adapt it to much weaker enemies for a much different purpose seems to cause problems.

So I may just need a different approach here altogether, and I’m not sure what that could be yet. I’ll still probably keep tinkering with the Surrender system, but my optimism about it has waned as I’ve dug further into the guts of it and started to see more and more of the gaps.

As for your projects, I’d be happy to take a look at timeblazer if you feel like it’s the one that’s most ready! My internet situation is a little weird, but I’ll try to download it the next chance I get.

Edit: This was an idea that struck me literally minutes before going to bed, so it’s raw and not very well-considered yet, but what if I modified my food items so that that a significant portion of their post-battle healing was based on missing HP, like most of the other healing in my game? I’d still need a way to prevent the player from heal-stalling for turns on end, but the HP they restored during the final turns of the battle would mostly come out of their end-of battle healing.
 
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Wavelength

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You’re right that the plan I outlined didn’t have a contingency for when the enemy acts next in the turn. I’ve been continuing to think about the system myself, and I’ve found other edge cases where the timing is still an issue, and it’s making me wonder if I need to go back to the drawing board with the whole concept. The fundamental challenge is accounting for every possible turn order that 4 party members and 2 enemies can act in over the course of either 1 or 2 rounds in battle, when some may have already acted, and when some may be denied an action if they’re killed early. That’s a lot of theoretical combinations to try to address, and the ideal result has to be balanced so that it’s fair to the player without giving them extra time to get bored and/or exploit things.
One other (and probably more elegant) solution to the turn order, besides the "forced turn" that I mentioned in my last post, would be to simply have the Surrender option happen immediately in its own separate event once the condition (one enemy left) is fulfilled. You could do it similar in style to Persona 5, where as soon as their "Hold Up" condition is fulfilled (all enemies have been knocked down), you can see how the Hold Up happens immediately, regardless of turns, and (in the case where the player chooses to end the battle) a slick animation plays and the battle is immediately over. (In P5, the player also has options to "Negotiate" for Items/Money/Help from the enemy instead of a kill, and to "Break Form" which returns to the normal battle flow.)


In your system, you could use Troop/Common Events to do something similar, offering the player to go for a Finishing Move (maybe one character, or maybe the whole party gets in on the act) via immediate Force Action, or Return to battle. For the Finishing Move, the battle would end immediately since the enemy is killed. For the Return to battle, you could have the enemy flee (not offering any rewards) or Surrender (offering rewards) two turns later (meaning that the party would have at least one full turn, and no more than two turns, based on the timing). I think this would solve all of the edge cases while doing exactly what you want it to in general.

I’ve considered enrage mechanics as a substitute for the Surrender system, where the last enemy basically gets some sort of power-up/extra actions and the player needs to kill them quickly. However, an enrage system creates a significantly worse version of the heal-stalling problem unless the party needs to commit a lot of resources to killing the average enemy in battle (which is arguably an even worse design issue). If the party can just squish the last enemy with 1-2 characters, then the worst-case AGI values can often give the player 4-5 free character turns in battle before they’re actually in danger and need to wrap up. As far as I can see, enrage works fine for bosses because you need to put significant firepower into killing them, but trying to adapt it to much weaker enemies for a much different purpose seems to cause problems.
Enrage is kind of the inverse of the Surrender mechanic - trying to draw out the end of fights which would otherwise be "decided", and making them tough and more interesting. It also gives a big advantage to the strategy of getting several enemies low and then clearing them out simultaneously via AoE spells. Enrage can be good in some games (and tends to be good against some bosses), but based on your design goals for Surrender, I don't feel that Enrage would be a good alternative for you.

So I may just need a different approach here altogether, and I’m not sure what that could be yet. I’ll still probably keep tinkering with the Surrender system, but my optimism about it has waned as I’ve dug further into the guts of it and started to see more and more of the gaps.
Edge cases aside, I think your Surrender system is probably going to do more good than harm. If you can come up with a system that meets your needs even better, great, but don't scrap this just yet!

Edit: This was an idea that struck me literally minutes before going to bed, so it’s raw and not very well-considered yet, but what if I modified my food items so that that a significant portion of their post-battle healing was based on missing HP, like most of the other healing in my game? I’d still need a way to prevent the player from heal-stalling for turns on end, but the HP they restored during the final turns of the battle would mostly come out of their end-of battle healing.
This sounds like a good idea in general (makes healing items slightly more complex, but introduces interesting decisions and also discourages "topping off" too often). I don't foresee it doing anything to combat "wasting time" at the end of decided battles, except where players are intentionally stalling, so I don't think it makes for a full replacement of the Surrender mechanic.

Other mechanics you could keep things fast and fun include having the cost of Heal spells start low and increase every turn during a fight (probably not for your game since your MP resets between fights) or giving better rewards (including EXP bonuses, better items, or even direct heals) for finishing a battle quickly.
 

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For an example from a published RPG that works along a similar line, Command Mission has the medic enemies take a 'Surrender' action when they're alone.

If you attack them after that point, you get XP and gold as usual. If you have your entire party refrain for attacking for a turn, it uses a 'Thank You' action (which is a small party-wide heal), then runs from combat. You don't get any xp for gold for that enemy, but you do get an chance of it dropping a medic-themed unique weapon.

It's a nice tradeoff, because normally you want to kill the medic in any enemy formation *first*, but this gives you a good incentive to not do that (making the fight a little harder in the process).
 

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@Wavelength

Having an event outside of normal turn order would definitely solve the problem of the player missing a chance to use the finishing move, and the Persona series is actually what came to mind as I was working through the “Execute” concept (I’ve played P3 and P4, but not P5 yet, unfortunately).

However, some of the edge cases I have in mind occur when the player opts not to use the execute, and I think some of these issues still remain even with a separate event. Specifically, when you mention that a player would have “at least one full turn, and no more than two,” this is where I see optimization-oriented players trying to exploit the system. If the goal is to maximize downtime in battle for safe and free healing, it invites players to try to strategize around getting that second free turn as often as possible. Maybe that means picking which enemy to kill first based only on their AGI, or delaying the battle until a particular character can kill the second-to-last enemy, or even building a party around a very fast attacker who will regularly be able to create the largest possible Surrender window. It could also make finishing battles with AoE attacks suboptimal if the player has a setup which can consistently get that free extra turn via Surrender.

Now I realize that these types of tactics probably won’t even occur to many players. But while I’m not trying to make a game with Dark Souls levels of difficulty, I’m not aiming to make an incredibly easy game, either, and the more difficult a game is, the more likely players are to look for these little optimizations. I’m personally the type of player who will go to the trouble of optimizing gameplay because it nags at me when I know I’m missing opportunities to do better. However, I’m also the type of player who doesn’t typically enjoy the labor aspect of optimization. I can’t have that same temptation towards tedium in my own game!


@Restart

That does sound like an interesting way to implement enemy surrenders - I definitely like that it gives you some incentive to play encounters which might normally be formulaic in some different ways. I imagine there’s some risk assessment involved if the medic is grouped with strong enemies, too - how much HP will the healing bonus save you when the enemies are surviving longer and getting more chances to attack? The chance of the unique weapon drop is another complicating factor that keeps that assessment from just being a matter of arithmetic.


So you and @Wavelength have both brought up this idea of “bonus healing”, and the concept of rewarding players who don’t waste time in battle has come up throughout the thread. These ideas actually tie into another alternative mechanic I’ve been brainstorming the past couple days.

My initial conception of rewarding “fast” play was something like “Get X reward if you finish the battle within Y turns,” and I ultimately rejected this because once the player misses the goal, there’s no reason not to go crazy with stalling. But I think that if I work within my food system, a more granular approach can work - specifically, post-battle healing could decay with the number of turns spent across multiple battles.

To make up some numbers, say I make a food item with the effect “Heals 110% missing HP after battle,” and after each time the post-battle healing kicks in, the healing value drops by 5% for each fully-completed turn in battle. So if the player finishes the first battle during their 4th turn (3 turns completed), then after the second battle, they’d only recover 95% of their missing HP. If they won the second battle during the 5th turn, the healing value would decay to 75% missing HP after the third battle. This decay would persist until the player uses another food item.

This revised healing mechanic is a positive feedback loop - players who win battles faster will have to spend fewer resources replenishing their party’s HP, and they’ll save money which they can spend on making their party stronger. This is good for discouraging players from stalling, because their efforts to get free healing and minimize their use of the camping system become counterproductive in the long run.

There’s a drawback to this, however: the positive feedback loop can also penalize players who are playing normally, but who just aren’t as efficient at winning battles. This poses an issue when I’m giving players significant room to customize their parties. As such, I’m planning to make a few supplementary adjustments in an effort to head off the problem:

1) Average troop size reduction from 3-4 enemies down to 2-3.

Lowering average troop size makes for a larger proportion of quicker, simpler, and less challenging battles in the game. I would probably raise the average damage of individual enemies so that these battles could still threaten the player (especially when their party’s HP is low from previous battles). However, having fewer moving pieces on the board will make it easier for players of varying skill levels to find effective tactics and win quickly.

Additionally, shortening the average battle duration increases the proportional impact of post-battle healing decay for each extra turn taken. Players who are deliberately stalling battles will feel this most keenly, though this could hurt inefficient players as well. That said, my hope is that even inefficient players will see their turn counts gradually decrease as they learn the encounters and figure out which risks are the most profitable to take.


2) After battle, the party always receives healing equal to 10% of their maximum HP. This is separate from any food healing.

Adding a certain value of guaranteed healing after battle helps narrow the gap between efficient and inefficient players without actually incentivizing slower gameplay. Inefficient players will simply benefit from the full value of the guaranteed healing more often than efficient players will, since more efficient players are generally going to be staying at high HP just from their food recovery. It also makes it easier for players to see a net gain in HP if they play a battle well. I don’t necessarily want players to perceive battles as inevitable resource losses, and I think giving skilled players a chance to come out ahead adds an interesting risk/reward dynamic to exploration. Take the safe approach and camp early, or try to push for one more battle?


3) While the healing value of a player’s current food item is below a certain percentage, the player is more likely to receive food items from battle than other types of rewards.

This reward-adjustment mechanic is taken directly from the the previous execute skill idea and serves the same basic purpose. If players haven’t camped recently for whatever reason (stinginess, lots of bad fights, or if the player is actually just running low on resources), this will give them a little push to get back on track. More healing resources means a friendlier short-term experience for inefficient players and less reason to depend on stalling in battle.

My hope is that together, these changes will add a bit more emphasis on long-term resource management while encouraging faster and slightly riskier play in battle. The Surrender mechanic isn’t off the table yet, but I do like the way this new approach could solve the game’s issues just by tweaking existing systems, rather than by adding an entirely separate feature to battles. Simplifying and de-cluttering my game’s mechanics is always nice when possible. Still got to think on it a little more, though - I rarely see all the drawbacks of each new idea immediately, and this one is still in its infancy.
 

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