How would you go about balancing a Summoner class?

Discussion in 'Game Mechanics Design' started by Redeye, Jun 15, 2019 at 6:07 AM.

  1. Redeye

    Redeye Chronicles Creator Veteran

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    So this idea came out of the blue, but I've been wondering how one would make a Summoner class without making it crazy overpowered. Now, when I mean Summon, I mean literally conjuring a temporary party member.

    My main concerns with summon skills is that, as I said, they basically give you an extra party member at the cost of having to use a skill to acquire them. Whenever I see a Summoner, I fear they may be incredibly powerful, because a 5th party member sounds way more appealing than an ATK buff or a heal. You're basically giving the enemy another target to hit. If the party consists of MULTIPLE Summoners, then I fear there's no reason to replace them due to their utility.

    One way to do Summons is to give them limitations or a reason to situationally NOT use them. Having them only last a few turns, forcing them into autobattle and treating them like an AI, making them easily killable, giving a few enemies a Banish spell, etc.

    I think another good way of doing things is to give the Summoner some skills that sacrifice their Summons in exchange for powerful benefits or attacks. Maybe some buffs / debuffs that become more powerful when a Summon is NOT present.

    Some summoning systems involve the summon completely replacing the party and fighting the enemy by itself, but there's a problem with that. If the Summoner is able to spam their summons, then the party will basically become invincible.

    Any thoughts?
     
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  2. Afaryz

    Afaryz Veteran Veteran

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    Well ffx has this exact problem the summons are totally powerful and protecting the whole group.
    I think the best Balancing method is to give the enemy also the opportunity to summon new members and maybe they have rows and you dont have. And one basic thing to do is to give enemys more area effect skills to hit your adventures and their summons.

    You can also go for element summons and that you need specific items (drops or purchases with high price) and that thoae elements are weak and strong to specific elements ... so that the Player needs to think about it is the summon worth it and you can also restrict to only summon once per battle for example using the tp of the group . Or you go for that the summons strenght is based on the tp pf the grp used (than you can go for the ffx summons as well)

    I hope you like those ideas
     
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  3. MushroomCake28

    MushroomCake28 KAMO Studio Veteran

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    A gambit would be a way to balance it. Here's a couple of ideas:
    • Every damage the summon takes also damages the summoner (possibility to do it the other way too).
    • It requires A LOT of MP and/or HP to summon it. So something like a blood price.
    • Harsh conditions to summon: the summoner can only summon when he has 15% or less of his max HP for example.
    • You could also make it that it requires something like an overlimit bar to summon, and that overlimit bar takes time to fill up.
    So basically there's a lot of potential solutions, so it's more of a question of what fits your game.
     
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  4. SolonWise

    SolonWise Veteran Veteran

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    If the summon is only a strong elemental magic who hits all enemies, the easiest way to "balance" it is putting a high MP cost. Now, speaking of a 5th party member, maybe the best solution is that the summoner can't attack while the summoned beast is alive. It's like the summoner were "controlling" the sumoned beast's actions, so he can't attack while doing this.
     
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  5. M.I.A.

    M.I.A. Goofball Extraordinaire Veteran

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    I am wrestling with this very subject on the sequel to my main project. I want to include a summoner class of sorts, but I always find Summons underwhelming and under performing in most games.

    So what I've come up with so far is this:
    - Summons are a 5th party member
    - While a Summon is active, the Summoner must "chant" to keep the Summon active. IE: Summoner themselves is unable to act
    - Summons have 4 moves that they use at random.
    - Summons last no more than 5 turns
    - Summons are VERY powerful, but also are only available at full TP.
    - Summoning the same creature repeatedly decreases their effectiveness, also increases the likeliness that they won't answer the call
    - When a creature doesn't answer the call of a Summoner, the Summoner is unable to act for 1 turn
    - All Summons are on a global cool down, so one cannot continuously summon back to back
    - Creatures to be summoned can also be leveled, in a sense, to gain new attributes and/or abilities. This is because the Summoner themselves don't gain any substantial traits through traditional leveling

    That's the best I've come up with so far. Hope this helps! :)
    -MIA
     
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  6. gstv87

    gstv87 Veteran Veteran

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    implies creating an actor for every potential summoned creature (and, enemy, if the enemies also have summoner classes)

    OR, if you can handle your code...... *dynamically* creating the actor on the fly, by values specified in a module.
    kind of hard to pull off, but if you have a solid logic of base stats, it all works down to very complex math, and very messy script calls.

    I have a summoning system that I made based on GubiD's tactical system, which is basically a few extra actors in the roster to be treated as summons, and a new AI for enemies, to summon more enemies to the field.
    I still have to try the scenario where enemy summoners can summon other summoner classes..... that test should be fun lol
     
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  7. kirbwarrior

    kirbwarrior Veteran Veteran

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    Well, the simplest solution I found is to make summoning mandatory and capable of use in field. The party was 3 people big with a fourth slot for the summon. Summoning didn't cost anything out of battle since it was just the party selection screen. In battle the summoner had spells that replace the fourth member while also using an ability (Summoning a pheonix would bring an AoE fire attack, then the pheonix stays around mostly as a healer). This is assuming the summoner is always in the party, and I even liked the idea of a "solo" summoner whose party is all summons.

    As a class or the ability to switch out the summoner? FFX showed use that replacing the party is balanced (and sometimes not worth it). Replacing the summoner also works (but then that almost feels more like transformation abilities).

    There's also the point that getting another member is comparable to Haste in an ATB or CTB system. If you're running something like that, you can compare the usefulness of the two.

    That might be the point. The summoner could be a/the tank class, using summons to keep attacks off the party. The summons themselves might not be anything special but just have one or two actions in total to help this role. Even without taunt, they could mirror most tank classes if AoE damage is split among all living members. The summoner and summons could easily be built to have just lower stats overall.

    Summons might also not be targets or have HP. If they just exist as extra abilities, then you don't have to worry about the party taking too little damage. Summoners could also be "pokemon trainers", where they have to take their turn to tell the summon to do something.

    Well, can multiple summoners summon multiple summons? Does that make sense in the lore of the setting? Like above, a full summoner party might just be a bunch of tanks which might be able to survive but might not be enough to actually win.

    That's assuming the summon dies without consequence. Since the summon is replacing the party, the party might not be able to come back from wherever they go if the summon dies.
     
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  8. Soryuju

    Soryuju Combat Balance Enthusiast Veteran

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    There are lots of different approaches you could take, depending on the aesthetic you're aiming for. I think three of the most common categories of Summoners are as follows:

    - Classic Final Fantasy-style Summoners who call down powerful individual creatures with a dramatic impact on the battle (whether they linger for multiple rounds or not).

    - Minion masters who summon many weaker creatures for general offense and defense.

    - Support-type Summoners who call up spirits/totems/etc. which passively affect the battle in different ways.

    These are pretty informal categories, so there's likely to be overlap between them depending on the game. However, I think most "Summoner" classes will take inspiration from at least one of these archetypes.

    You already know that you want your Summoner to bring a new party member onto the field, so that's a good starting point. I'll list out some major mechanical considerations below (in utterly exhausting detail) to help you hone in on your preferred design.

    1) Targetable vs. Untargetable Summons

    Since this has already come up in the discussion, a good place to start would be deciding whether you want enemies (and/or allies) to be able to target summoned creatures in battle. As you and @kirbwarrior have already noted, allowing summoned creatures to be targeted can act as indirect damage mitigation for the main party. If you go this route, then some of the first questions you need to answer are how much damage you expect summons to be able to absorb for the party per use, and how much uptime you intend for summons to have.

    For instance, is the primary purpose of the summon to be a tank, like in the case @kirbwarrior described? In this case, the more reliable the summon's damage mitigation, the more conservative you should be with the power of its other abilities. You also need to balance the frequency with which it can be summoned against the general likelihood that it will die early. Stronger defensive effects require longer/more frequent periods of downtime, or you'll have problems when you start trying to account for the other classes and defensive tools in your game.

    On the other hand, maybe you choose to design summons which are relatively squishy, but which can use powerful abilites or apply bonuses to the party each turn they're alive. This reverses the dynamic above and encourages your party to spend resources protecting the summon, thus maximizing its benefits. The risk factor involved now may allow you to increase the summon's theoretical uptime and/or lower its resource costs, because players won't always be able to get maximum benefit out of it.

    Making summons targetable could also open up the possibility for the summon to receive buffs and debuffs from allies/enemies. This could create interesting decisions about how the party distributes their own resources to optimize the effects of the summon on the battle. For instance, say you summon a creature which spends two rounds using normal attacks/basic support skills, and then on the third, it unleashes a massive AoE attack on all enemies. Now the player has to decide not only how many resources to invest in protecting the summon, but also whether they should try to buff the summon to maximize the damage it will deal on the final round. Is it worth it compared to buffing your party's normal attackers, who may be able to clear weaker enemies faster and make it easier to protect the summon?

    Untargetable summons sidestep a lot of these issues and are generally going to be simpler to implement, though you do lose out on a variety of potentially interesting mechanics. It's up to you to decide whether or not targetable summons are worth the extra balancing effort. I've personally shied away from targetable summons in my own designs, though that's mostly because I want to focus my balancing efforts on other aspects of player customization.

    Your idea of allowing the Summoner to sacrifice their summon early for extra power is also a good concept which could work with either targetable or untargetable summons. In the case of the former, though, you would need to make sure your summons are tanky enough to survive at least a few rounds of battle (or else sacrificing them quickly will always be the right choice), and in the case of the latter, you need to make sure their normal benefits are fairly powerful, or the burst of power will typically be more worthwhile.


    2) Summon Duration and Uptime

    The duration of your summons is likely to vary depending on your choice of whether or not to make them targetable (and how much punishment they're intended to take), how strong their effects are, and how much they cost to use.

    If a summon is targetable, you can either choose to set a fixed turn duration for its effect, or you can let it persist until its HP hits 0. Setting a fixed turn duration while still allowing the summon to be killed early is also a valid choice, and may help safeguard against player strategies which keep summons alive for longer than you intended.

    The relative power and durability of the summon naturally factor into the decision as well. If a summon is squishy but has a potent effect, it's probably okay to set a longer fixed duration, since this rewards smart players who manage to keep it alive longer. If it's both tanky and powerful, it may be wise to keep the turn duration short (unless you're giving the summon a very high resource cost instead).

    Untargetable summons are (once again) going to be simpler to approach, and the power of their effect can simply be balanced against their duration and resource cost. If you use your idea of letting the player sacrifice the summon for a burst of power, it might be okay to be a little more generous with the max duration, since this will make the choice to sacrifice the creature early more nuanced.


    3) Active vs. Passive Summons

    Another major decision to make about your summons is how much direct control players have over them. Does the summon use skills each round which the players can select from a menu, just like your main party members? Or do they use certain abilities automatically/at random, or even just provide a passive benefit to the party while they're on the field?

    Active control of a summon is a potentially neat idea, but if you're going this route, the player needs to have some sort of interesting and meaningful choice to make about which abilities they use (noticing a pattern?). Otherwise, having players manually control summons will just slow down your combat by adding more menus to scroll through. You need to strike a balance here, though, since making individual summons too versatile is likely to lead to other issues later. It can also create ability bloat and choice paralysis if the Summoner has access to a wide array of different summons. A small number of available summons with very distinct combat roles would be preferable if you're pursuing a design like this.

    More passive summons could provide a simple buff/debuff effect for all allies/enemies, or they could have automated commands which they use in a certain sequence. Maybe a passive summon unleashes some sort of skill combo over the course of a couple rounds, and your goal is to protect it until the sequence is complete. Or maybe a targetable tank summon uses some sort of special ability at the end of its duration (if it survives) which depends on the amount of damage it absorbed. Or maybe the summon unleashes a final burst of power if/when it's killed. But once again, more complicated isn't always better.

    Finally, it's worth pointing out that while a passive, untargetable summon is probably the easiest type to implement, unless you make efforts to innovate, it's also not very different than most regular skills. There's nothing wrong with using a summon motif to dress up normal skills, but more interactive mechanics like skill combos or your sacrifice idea will definitely add some spice to the template.


    4) Stacking and Simultaneous Summons

    You mentioned that you're worried about parties which consist of multiple Summoners, which brings up the subject of stacking. Stacking is a concern in any game where you have class changing or other mechanics which allow multiple party members to use similar abilities. In the case of the Summoner, you're looking at concerns with the frequency of the summons and with how many summons can exist on the field at once.

    When it comes to how many summons can exist simultaneously in battle, I would suggest taking a rigid approach to this and just limiting it to one, unless your mechanics really demand otherwise and/or you've got a really well-developed system of diminishing returns. Balancing individual summons already poses a variety of challenges, but allowing more than one summon to exist at a time increases the burden exponentially. You have to account not only for each summon's unique traits and abilities now, but also how they interact in combination with other summons and with multiple copies of the same summon (if you allow players to summon the same creature with multiple characters). You also have to try to balance for the different levels of damage mitigation that the party has access to with varying numbers and combinations of summons. The permutations will get out of hand quickly.

    Besides the balance complications, adding more battlers to the field also just slows down the pace of encounters while you wait for animations to play (especially if the player has to manually input all of those commands). If you have something like a Necromancer and you're trying to create the fantasy of controlling a zombie hoard, consider alternative approaches to just letting them summon 5 new Zombie party members to the field. Maybe they can zombify existing party members/enemies instead, or they can summon one massive zombie creature that lays waste to enemies.

    Keeping a limit of one summoned creature on the field will help control the impact that multiple Summoners can have on a battle. Depending on how your Summoners interact with their creatures, there could still be benefits to having more than one Summoner (e.g. if they have a skill which can heal/buff your summon), but it will be a clear case of diminishing returns.


    5) Resource Cost

    Assuming skills have some sort of resource cost in your game, that cost will set the pace your players can summon creatures at and determine what situations the players use them in. I'm going to assume that you generally want summons to be more powerful, expensive abilites, since adding a party member in battle is a fairly dramatic effect. However, resource systems have as much variety in their design as developers have imagination, so I'm just going to give a few basic examples of what you could do below.

    If you use a classic MP system, where the party's MP is a long-term resource and not easily replenished, giving summons a high resource cost will likely turn them into boss-killing tools, rather than skills the player will typically use against regular enemies. This could be one way to balance summons, since bosses will naturally deal and take more damage over the course of a fight than regular enemies. It's important to note that if your Summoner has a lot of MP, it may be possible for them to spam summons back-to-back in these fights. If this could pose a balance problem, consider gating their usage via a secondary resource, cooldowns, or some other pacing mechanic. If you're concerned about the Summoner becoming obsolete in short battles, you could give them a few low-tier summons which are much less costly to use, and encourage players to save the big guns for the bosses.

    If you use a system where the player accumulates a resource as the battle progresses (e.g. you start at 0 MP and naturally gain 50 MP each turn, up to 500 max), giving summons high resource costs will once again shift their usage toward boss fights, since many short battles will end before the player has the resources needed for the summon. However, with this system, your resources are more scarce initially and consumed at a more even pace throughout the battle. This means that players likely won't be able to use consecutive summons unless they have multiple Summoners, and there's a natural warmup/cooldown period already built into the summons while the player is accumulating resources. There are other significant differences between this resource system and the first one I described, but that goes beyond the scope of this topic.

    And for the last example, you could tie summons to a shared resource like a Limit Break meter, which the party accumulates over the course of multiple battles. This will also typically push summon usage toward boss battles, but it allows for some different party dynamics. For example, you could decide whether the meter is unique to Summoners, or if other classes have ways to use "Limit Break" type abilities as well. Or maybe the creatures Summoners can call get stronger if the player lets the meter build up more before cashing in. Finally, if every Summoner is drawing from the same resource to summon, it makes stacking multiple Summoners in a party much more costly.


    So to try to wrap up this wall of text, you can see that there are a lot of ways to create a system like this, with no "right" answers in particular. In general, I would advise erring toward simplicity in your design, so long as it doesn't lead to something that's just boring instead. It's likely a problem that you'll need to play with for a while until you find a comfortable balance. Hope this was helpful!
     
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2019 at 1:59 AM
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  9. kirbwarrior

    kirbwarrior Veteran Veteran

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    Each class having a "limit break" with the summoners being summoning another party member (with other lesser abilities tied to it in some fashion) could easily balance summons. Adding a fifth member can be strong in the long term with most abilities being fantastic in the short term (huge damage, party wide resurrection, etc). Then who uses the resource really matters.
     
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