How to make black magic unique; advice, and a thought experiment.

Snake2557

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I'm sitting down to do the character development portion of my current project which is making use of a class change system for all nine protagonists. The issue I am running into is with regard to making black magic feel unique enough to warrant taking that route of progression, over say the warrior or thief path. Now the obvious answer is to say, make the spells strong enough to warrant taking the route. While that is part of the solution, I can't help but feel that it's been done already a hundred times over.

One direction I've considered is having the black magic path split off into Druidic spells and arcane spells (fire water earth and lightning spells) vs (darkness based abilities). But beyond that I can't help but feel a lack of depth of options. Another direction I had considered is in the vein that D&D took their spell casters in having a Warlock that focuses on debilitating effects and arcane type casters that are your traditional wizards. The issue with that route is it undermines the direction I've taken with the thief style classes and the mingling between the two (thief / wizard hybrid classes).

Therefore, I pose this problem to you, oh good spirited, well intentioned public of gamers and game makers. How can I improve on the trope of the Black Mage type of class? Should I look at it from a different perspective all together?
 

HumanNinjaToo

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Black magic, to me, is destructive in nature. So big dmg spells and spells that debilitate make the most sense. You could go with the blood magic route to spice it up.
 

Johnboy

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Black magic could have different meanings in different settings. Just because the accepted role of black magic is destructive in nature, does not necessarily mean that black magic should be destructive in nature in your game.

As for mixing it up, I would branch off into different paths depending on the background of characters. For instance, a character who grew up on the streets is more apt to use debilitating magic or concealment spells as opposed to raw destructive power to reach their goals.
Maybe different characters could specialize in specific elements.

Challenge the preconception of what black magic is and you could open a limitless amount of possibilities with what black magic can achieve.
 

Zerothedarklord

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In my game, I have 2 spellcaster classes, the first is an elementalist, who utilizes Fire, Ice, Lightning and Nature spells, and the second is Arcanist, who uses Dark, Light and Arcane spells.

What I am doing to make magic more interesting in my game is that I attached unique effects to each element when they score a critical hit. For example, when you score a critical hit with an Ice spell, it temporarily stuns the target, then over the next few seconds, they will thaw out, but with drastically reduced agility, and their agility will increase back to normal over the next couple seconds. (I use ATB for my battle system, so agility debuffs are VERY powerful, as they can delay enemy actions long enough for another character to get in another turn before they do).

Maybe try something like this? Try to make each element unique in some way, maybe try using the shield/break system from octopath traveler, where it is imperative to score "super effective" hits to "break" the enemy
 

RachelTheSeeker

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I mean, I do like the Dragon Quest Mage compared to the Final Fantasy Black Mage. In older DQ games, Mages actually had the buffs while Priests had debuffs and ailments. It feels redundant to give damaging casters any sort of status ailments outside of a bonus to a damaging spell. However, it feels more fair for a Priest to have debuffs in addition to healing to give them offensive capabilities.

I am more biased toward healers not just being heal-bots, and it feels like a waste to give blaster-casters status effects that no one would even bother with for that character.
 

BK-tdm

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"Black magic" for me translates to the dark arts, forbidden things, powers that go against the laws of nature, laws themselves or just overall morality of the world and society. Things like playing with the essence of life, souls, the mind, the dead, not just hurling fireballs, but fireballs made from the tortured souls of the companions and loved ones of those who dare oppose you.

Things only the evil lords or the antihero would dwell into because power is ok at whatever cost.

They're powerful, yes, maybe the highest power magic that there is but the thing with the dark arts is that they come at a price, bad reputation? Some people refuse to deal with you? The resident holier than thou guild (or even kingdom) that praises the sun is now your enemy? You can anchor this to a reputation/moral system, lock some "good guy choices" in quests and dialogues, deal permanent damage to some stats (max hp sacrificing for example) or just simply offer the whole experience whitout drawbacks (maybe a few comments about your party's necromancer looking edgy to add flavor).

Here are some skill ideas for a few of these "bad magic" types.

In the Souls department you can have a basic spell to do damage and "drain" your opponents souls, have those souls stored as catalysts (more souls can be stored as you get stronger), use said souls to fuel more powerful spells, curse your enemies with those wailling souls, sacrifice part of your allies hp (life essence) to fuel your spells, summon eldritch abominations, cause lovecraftian nightmares to leave your enemies paralyzed in fear and drain their lifeforce to recover your own.:kaohi:

Necromancy is a whole world in itself for the black arts too, summon zombies, explode zombies, summon more zombies from the ones your exploded zombie killed! Shot magical disease and plagueballs, make giant frankenstein summoned golems from a zombie pile, animate skeletons, skeleton mages, dragon skeletons, dragon skeleton mages! Take it even further! Heal yourself by replacing a leg, or even revive by taking over other (stronger) bodies!:kaophew:

Blood Magic (or Hemomancy if you want a cultured term) can also be condensed into the "dark arts" as playing with someone's blood is a bit... "gory", you drain enemies of their blood, explode them from the inside, boil blood, shoot your own as cristalyzed spikes (costs hp of course) heal or recover your magic by draining enemies blood, create giant blood spheres by draining nearby enemies (dead or not) and explode it on the aforementioned blood spikes for aoe effects! :kaopride:

Summoning demons and eldritch abominations (or even just part of them) is another world of dark magic too, you can summon whole demons to fight for you as minions (or equals) with "costs" for their help, from puny mortal currency to the souls of cute rabbits, open portals from where "parts" of the creature can peek into our world to unleash an attack (open portal, shadowed claw appears from the portal, swipes and gets sucked back into the portal) open several of these at the same time so you can unleash the fury of the dark kraken tentacles! :kaojoy:

It all depends on the concept of "black magic" you want to use for your setting, im only dwelling on the darkest spectrum of magic as this part of the scale deals with "unique combat styles" and gives a wide range of options besides the normal "pyromancy is black magic" setting.

Or just go the final fantasy way and make it fire/thunder/gravity with some buffs, up to you i guess... :kaoswt2:
 
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RachelTheSeeker

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As far as theming goes, I totally support "black magic" as being evil arts. It's one thing I don't really get about Black Mages in Final Fantasy, even in counter to White Mages who often heal-bot. It was how they made them, and setting staples cannot be changed. But personally the idea of elemental mages gets old, especially if it's only fire-ice-lightning.

My personal blaster-casters are called Stormcallers, and they only wield lightning and wind (sometimes freezing cold too, IDK). Just something really arcane about smiting foes with lightning itself, a natural phenomenon that evokes the esoteric and raw power of nature itself. I'm all for mages being able to control the elements, but lightning is just the epitome of such evocation for me.

I also like the idea of healers wielding fire magic instead of blaster-casters, due to the religious significance of fire across all sorts of cultures. Nothing quite as badass as calling down a rain of fire from the gods to incinerate your enemies. Flame Strike is a top-tier Cleric spell from D&D for me.
 

Milennin

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White magic generally consists of healing, support and holy damage, so Black magic being the opposite of that would come in the form of death, curses and unholy damage.
You don't have to re-invent the wheel to make basic concepts into something interesting. All it takes is some creativity with skill creation.
 

Redeye

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Yeah, I never really understood why Final Fantasy named elemental casters "Black Mages". There's nothing sinister or occult about fire/ice/lightning/earth/water/wind magic. If Black Mages are supposed to be the antithesis of White Mages, then they should be literally casting dark magic like hexes, necromancy, and conjuration. If the theme was supposed to be White Mage = Faith and Black Mage = Intelligence, why not just call them the Cleric and the Scholar, respectively? Don't even get me started on the Red Mage and Blue Mage. I guess creative naming is lost on Square Enix.

Now back on topic, coming up with a unique mechanical identity for an elemental mage is kind of difficult. You'd either have to invent a cool mechanic that binds all of the elemental spells together, or create small, individual mechanics for each element (Like giving Fire a damage-over-time theme, Ice a crowd control theme, etc). I've always struggled with it because, frankly, I find Elementalists to be boring in concept. Despite Guild Wars having a pretty cool array of skills for them, it's nowhere near the most interesting class in the game. All of the elements felt disconnected, and the only thing really bringing them together was the "Overcast" mechanic (Which sounds like a pretty unfun mechanic tbh. Why would I want to reduce my Max MP just to add a bonus effect to, like, one or two skills in my build?).

Guild Wars 2's Elementalist has a way cooler "Attunement" mechanic paired with its dynamic combat system, yet the class still feels kind of stale due to GW2's really weird design philosophy of abolishing the Holy Trinity of combat roles.

The best mechanic for an elemental mage I've ever come up with (with the help of @Wavelength ) was making the mage into a Burst DPS who had to spend some time inflicting elemental status effects on enemies before finishing them off with a huge non-elemental attack that "detonated" those status effects. Each element had their own status effect such as Burning, Chilled, Shocked, Petrified, etc.

In short, unless you want to try and come up with a clever mechanic for tying all of the elements together, you should probably split those elements into their own classes (Fire Mage, Frost Mage...) and build smaller mechanics off of those.
 

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