Thinking about the Paradigm for Defensive Actors

ScientistWD

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As I'm working on my game more and more, I'm trying to brainstorm to myself the different sorts of ways to implement a "defense based" character or class.
I am not here to talk about "Healing". Healing is a completely different conversation.
Today, I'm thinking about the different mechanics (skills, states, or equipment) that a game can have to make a character feel "defensive". I'm wondering if anyone else has input or things they've seen that I'm not thinking of.
This is what I have so far:

Challenges:
These are just a few things about "Defense" that make it a difficult concept/stat to work with. This includes "Magic Defense".
  • Defense isn't "shared" as well as Attack is. For example, if one or two actors have high Attack, they can both contribute to victory by fighting enemies. However, if one or two actors have high Defense, it doesn't (by default) contribute to the survival of the entire party.
  • Finishing a battle usually hinges on vanquishing enemies. Having high Defense is secondary to that goal.
  • By default, there is no specific action for a character to take that directly applies their Defense, save for some things I'll mention below.
  • Like, nobody guards. Who guards? Guarding is uncommon, basically. But that's kind of a different type of design problem, in my opinion.

Taunt:
"Taunt" here means "A state applied to a defensive actor. The state forces all enemies to attack the player who has the state, and no one else.". Just like Yanfly's plugin.
When designing my RPGs, I used Taunt a lot in order to put a defensive character's Defense Stat directly into practice. Which is to say, the higher my "taunter"'s Defense is, the directly more effective a "taunt" is. This is the main draw and a huge advantage of Taunt. In addition, just like the Attack Stat, the whole party benefits from one player having high Defense. This is a way for an actor to share their high Defense Stat with the entire party. This is the reason I used it for such a long time.
However, Taunt has a few huge disadvantages. For one thing, it is remarkably difficult to balance; Taunt is a very powerful state to have. It's easy to make a single actor, pump up their Defense, and use them only for Taunt and Guarding because it gives the rest of the party such a big advantage. They become easy to use, and easy to heal. There is almost no disadvantage to this technique in most cases.
I used a few methods I used to curb this. First, I'd make Taunt last only a short while, so that the defensive actor would have to use it constantly if the player wanted to at all. Alternatively, I'd make it last for only a few of the opponent's actions, so that an actor would need more speed to make it useful. For the most part, this hasn't worked; despite the balance, using a sole "taunter" is almost always the best strategy. It's possible to make the cooldown for Taunt can be made higher than its duration, but at that point it becomes too unreliable to count on. Plus, some defensive mechanic should fill that gap anyway.
The other disadvantage to Taunt is that it makes it pointless for other actors in a party to have high defense. Two "taunters" are a lot more work than one for pretty much the same result. Raising the Defense Stat of other actors is a fool's errand if you'll only have one character ever taking damage.
One could always make ways for reducing the applicability of Taunt (such as enemies with attacks that hit random, or all party members), but that seems far too situational to make a "taunting" defensive actor reliable in a pinch. Shouldn't defensive characters be reliable? More reliable than offensive ones, even? It's hard to use Taunt without it immediately solving all of the party's Defense problems.
I'd be interested to know if other people had different ways of using Taunt. But I've also come up with other sorts of ideas.

Provoke:
Don't worry I have a lot less to say about the rest.
"Provoke" is also a state, but it's used on enemies. It means "A state applied to an enemy. When the 'provoked' enemy attacks, it will only attack whomever gave it the 'provoked' state.". Let's assume that an enemy can only be "provoked" to one actor at a time.
I recently came up with this (not to claim it as my original idea or anything) to serve as kind of a weaker version of Taunt. It benefits in that (1) it allows a defensive actor to use their Defense Stat directly, and (2) it allows players to engage with enemies in a very specific way. For instance, enemies that don't attack won't need to be "provoked". Enemies that have low health won't survive long enough to need to be "provoked". But, for enemies with strong attacks and a decent lifetime, it is to the party's advantage to minimize the damage by directing it toward a defensive actor. This is my favorite thing about Provoke; it is enemy-focused instead of actor-focused.
The next thing Provoke has over Taunt is that one can benefit from multiple party members with high Defense. One player can Provoke one enemy, and another can fight a different enemy. This is especially cool if the two defenders have high defense in different ways. Having one actor immune to lighting provoke a lightning enemy and one actor immune to ice provoke an ice enemy is what immediately comes to mind. This is a great way to keep the rest of the party safe as well; if enemies are all provoked by multiple party members at once, the remaining actors will be safe.
It is important to note that "Provoking all enemies" is the same as "using Taunt on oneself", but only if the "provoker" is he same for all enemies.
The power of Provoke is certainly dependent on the specifics of the state (how many turns it lasts, how easily the state is applied, etcetera). But, having a single skill that reliably "provokes" an enemy can make for a defender that can realize its role when necessary; and if there are two "provokers", they can even switch out if one gets too injured!
I'm convinced that this is the best idea among these. Any other thoughts about Provoke?

Cover:
"Cover" is an oldie but a goodie. It's "A state applied to an ally actor. If the affected actor would take damage, the actor who applied the 'cover' will take that damage instead, and act as a substitute". Variations include (1) there being a percent change that the substitution will fail, (2) that only a portion of the damage will be transferred, and (3) that a defender can only "cover" one other actor at a time.
This holds similar advantages to Taunt and Provoke in that the defender's Defense Stat is what is directly applicable. It's also nice in that multiple players can be responsible for defense(except for one, I guess). However, for the most part, this mechanic suffers the same weaknesses as Taunt, but on a smaller scale. If Cover can be used on all allies at once, it becomes very comparable to Taunt.
In my opinion, cover doesn't need all three variations at the same time. There's a lot to think about with Cover, isn't there, given all of these variations? I might get back to it. In the meantime I encourage someone else to think about the pros and cons and respond to this post with their thoughts.

Ward:
"Ward" I thought about some time ago. "A state applied to an actor. The actor will not be targeted for enemy attacks." The idea is that a defensive actor will use this skill on allies with lower defenses than them.
The biggest weakness to this state is that it will not directly apply the defender's Defense Stat. Only if the enemy attacks the defender will their Defense Stat be effective.
I think that, in general, Ward is more useful for healers than defenders. However, it does have an advantage in that having a party that is mostly balanced defense-wise is advantageous, since applying Ward to many allies could be cumbersome.
The real question is: "If Ward is applied to all party members, is it that they all become valid targets for enemies, or that enemies may not attack the party at all?"
That's for you to decide.

Shield Bash:
Now we're getting creative. Shield Bash is a skill. For the sake of discussion, it is any skill that uses the user's Defense Stat in its damage formula.
I've actually never liked Shield Bash. I always felt that, if players wanted their actors to deal more damage, they should try to increase their Attack, not their Defense. I might think differently, though, if it had some other sort of restriction or caveat. For example, if an actor could only use it if they had no weapon equipped aside from a shield, or something.
I'm really curious, though, to know more about peoples' opinions on Shield Bash. Please, if you have novel ideas or stories, do share.

Counterattack (or CNT):
This is a favorite. Some say it's a state, others say it's a skill. Essentially, when an actor is hit, they will immediately respond by attacking the one who attacked them. Some variations (with Yanfly's Counter Core plugin) can have the counter skill be almost anything, and it can vary depending on what type of attack was used on the defender.
For those who don't know, CNT is also one of the parameters you can change for an actor with RPG Maker MV. It defaults at 0%, but it can be increased with equipment or otherwise. It's a percentage chance of the counterattack occurring when the actor is hit with an attack. I think.
In its most basic form, though, Counterattack is not particularly defensive. I think it couples best with other mechanics above to the best effect. But, especially with Yanfly's Counter Core, this has a lot of potential to be interesting.
I want to know the kinds of creative ways people have done Counterattacks. Sometimes there are counter-heals, sometimes counter-magic, and other times counter-debuffs to lower the Attack Stat of whomever just attacked you! Please, if you have cool ideas, mention them.
Also, has anyone ever coupled the CNT Stat to the DEF Stat with a plugin, so that increasing DEF increases CNT as well? I wonder about this, too. Though it might be more interesting to couple to AGI (Agility).

Target Rate (TRG):
I actually went a long time without knowing about this Stat. So I will teach anyone who doesn't know. This stat is like CNT in that the RPG Maker MV editor can adjust it per actor by all sorts of means in the "Traits" window. For an actor it is 100% by default. You see, whenever an enemy or a skill makes a random target choice, that choice is weighted to those with the highest TRG. So, if an has more TRG than another, they are more likely to be attacked by an opponent's random actions.
High TRG is basically Taunt. Low TRG is basically Ward. That's my understanding of it.
Has anyone ever thought to couple DEF to TRG, such that more Defense would mean that actor would be attacked more often by enemies? This would be a pretty good way of having defensive actors apply their Defense Stat more often. I haven't fiddled with TRG much because I think it's difficult for players to really get a handle on. Plus, it seems a little too random to be reliable, which is something I prefer from my defenders.
I'm interested in these thoughts as well.

Others?:
Like most people on the internet, I'm just here to validate myself. But, if anyone has other ideas for mechanics or other thoughts about the mechanics I listed, please feel free to share. I'm really very curious! I will add them to this post if I find them to be particularly novel.

TLDR There is none. I'm thinking a lot about Defense. No need to talk about Healing. Don't talk about Healing.
 

Tai_MT

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My own personal "Defensive Character" actually has three unique effects as well. Two of them are part of other skills, but one of them is a skill all its own.

Divine Light
This is a skill that raises the evade (magical or otherwise, my skills can be leveled up and you can choose one or the other) for the entire party. This can be used with "Cover" in order to not only take the hit for a teammate... but also have that hit miss you entirely. On top of this, it's also a full party Health Regen or full party MP regen. But, the important part of it is that it raises evade to go along with the Cover mechanic... or a taunt mechanic. Unfortunately for my game, my "Taunt" mechanic goes to a different class altogether than my "tank" class. For reasons I won't get into here, it's going to stay that way.

Smite
This is a Holy elemental attack, but that's not the important part. The important part is that it has a chance to inflict "Silence" on enemies. While it can only target a single enemy, it can be used to nullify magic casters. This is a useful defensive skill in my game.

Siege Breaker
This is actually a Limit Break in my game, but I really like the concept of it, so I used it. A tank is primarily a Defensive character with a ton of health. They're hard to put down. They're there to just be a living wall to the other characters. But, I don't like my tanks to be passive. Being passive is boring. Having every skill revolving around just being a meat shield isn't fun for me and I don't find it interesting mechanically in a game. So, what did I do? I invented an attack that uses the DEFENSE STAT to do damage. Not very interesting, I know, but wait! My tank, who has two other skills that can raise Defense, can use a skill that runs off his Defense stat and does a crapload of damage. It is essentially thus:

(a.def - b.atk) * 1.5 (minimum) or *6 (maximum).

There is a literal reason to pour a ton of defense into my Tank class now. There's a reason to buff him with other classes. With enough Defense, he can be massively overpowered. Siege Breaker also comes in either "single chosen target" variety or up to "four random targets" variety. In essence, it really does break a Siege.
 

jonthefox

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When I make Knight classes (which are typically my strongest physical defenders), I think of a few things.

-I give them tools to drastically reduce any physical dmg in selective timeframes. Meaning, they may use "Shield Wall" and reduce all physical dmg by 90%, but only for 1 turn. Or I'll give them "Defiance" which will reduce physical dmg by 50%, but only for 2 turns. I balance this by either giving these skills a cooldown so that after they're used, there is a small window (a turn or two usually) where they're vulnerable, OR I make the MP/TP cost high enough that it would be inefficient to constantly spam these.

-I give them tools to buff the defense of the entire party. I might give them a skill "Phalanx" or "Battle Formation" which increases the DEF of the party by 25% for 3 to 5 turns.

-I make things like Taunt/Provoke be situationally valuable. The defensive character can withstand a lot of punishment due to his naturally high defense, so when he uses a taunt/provoke skill, I might reduce his defense by 50%. Thus, it is still beneficial to have the enemies target this character (because even at 50% effectiveness, he still takes less and can withstand more dmg than the squishy party members) but now he's actually tanking dmg that he might have to worry about, depending upon the strength of the enemies. So if he's at half health or lower, all of a sudden taunt/provoke can be incredibly risky.

-I give them tools to leverage their defense in more active ways. For a "Shield Bash" type skill like you mentioned, I might have it stagger the enemy, lowering its DEF for 1 turn by an amount equal to the differential between your defense and the target's defense. Meaning, if you have super high defense, you're going to drastically lower the target's defense with this skill, which can be the perfect assist for your assassin character.
 

Doktor_Q

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My own method of handling a Shield Bash type skill is making it an attack debuff- sure, it might do some damage, and a bit more if you have defense, but the main point is to stop that particular enemy from being so dangerous for a bit. Stun is also an option, albeit a much more powerful one.

Dropping the enemy's speed can also be useful, depending on how you've been balancing your action rates. In a classic turn system it lets you get out more actions before the enemy does (including other forms of defense), while in an ATB variant it works like a softer form of stun, reducing the enemy's over-all damage output.

Especially for a taunt-type, it's also a good idea to think about more variety of self-protection abilities, too- things like cling or endure passives to help them deal with taking the entire party's share of damage.
 

Warlyte

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This might also vary by the difficulty you're shooting for. Some of my projects are aimed at relatively beginner players, so making the defensive options a little overpowered would be fine in that case. It might convince them that adding defensive abilities to their strategy actually works, and in a world where most players are just trying to maximize damage, that's fine by me.
 

ScientistWD

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I find it really interesting that most people have a Shield Bash option. Which is fun because I like it the least, for the reason I mentioned.
I think that if an actor is meant to do more damage, they should increase their Attack Stat, not their Defense Stat.
Of course, that's only my opinion and approach.
It seems to me like a lot of people really like the idea of making the Shield Bash do more than simple damage. Let's see... @Tai_MT, @jonthefox, and @Doktor_Q all give their "Defender Class" a type of attack that "stuns", debuffs, or "silences" their opponents. I find this to be noteworthy.
To what end is debuffing the Attack Stat the same thing as "defending allies"? Is "stunning" opponents a type of "defense"? But in some cases, isn't it that "the best defense is a good offense"? Because slaying an enemy will guarantee that they no longer can damage you. I suppose that means defensive mechanics are best used on stronger opponents that cannot be slain easily.
But I digress. My dislike for all of your Shield Bashes makes me even more curious about ones that I could possibly like. Does anyone or otherwise have a mind blowing Shield Bash besides @Tai_MT, whose wild skill uses its caster's Defense Stat and its receiver's Attack Stat?

Also, Regarding @jonthefox,
-I give them tools to buff the defense of the entire party. I might give them a skill "Phalanx" or "Battle Formation" which increases the DEF of the party by 25% for 3 to 5 turns.
I actually dislike this, as well! I mean, I do in some ways. It feels like the "easy answer", I guess, is how I feel about it. But it falls into a bit of the "Buff Schedule" as I like to call it. Which is to say: after "3 to 5 turns", you then need to just have your defender use the buff again. This is an "un-reactive" way of playing that just has your defender making its decisions based on just what cooldowns/buffs have worn off rather than what one needs at a given time. But I will say that your
-I give them tools to drastically reduce any physical dmg in selective timeframes. Meaning, they may use "Shield Wall" and reduce all physical dmg by 90%, but only for 1 turn. Or I'll give them "Defiance" which will reduce physical dmg by 50%, but only for 2 turns. I balance this by either giving these skills a cooldown so that after they're used, there is a small window (a turn or two usually) where they're vulnerable, OR I make the MP/TP cost high enough that it would be inefficient to constantly spam these.
of course breaks the "Schedule". Now your player has to decide when the best time to guard is, which will certainly change the tide of battle. And it is something I had not considered. And kudos for that. The only difficult part is that these moments need to be engineered such that they player can recognize when the best time to guard is. As I say in my first post, "Who guards?". As a player, it can be difficult to tell when the best time is.
Has anyone, including @jonthefox, found the best ways to invite players to use time-sensitive defensive mechanics? Using text that says "bad guy is charging a big attack" doesn't count unless... um... unless you found a way to make it more interesting than that.

Lastly, @Warlyte, I actually find that I agree with you for other reasons when you suggest making defensive skills overpowered. Personally, I have my Counterattack skill do just as much if not more net damage than my standard attack skills. Which makes it very nice when my actors counterattack multiple times per turn (if hit multiple times that turn). That's um. Just what you reminded me of.

I am pleased so far. And I wonder what else people have to say about Defense.
 

Tai_MT

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Much of my "Defensive" type stuff is meant to be interplayed with other characters and their classes. I have a "Cover" skill that can boost either defense or cover for longer periods of time (provided you want to use the Tank as little more than a meat shield). You can get up to 6 turns of "Cover" or a 75% DEF buff for 3 turns of Cover. The longer duration means you don't have to "re-up" as often, but the extra defense means you can sustain larger hits for allies.

I've got a "full party defense buff", which can be used mostly to buff the DEF stat, but can also be used to buff the LUK and MDF stats on top of that. It only lasts 3 turns, but it can be useful for those 3 turns. Especially if you're pairing it with Siege Breaker.

My last Tank skill is simply a "weapon enchant" skill, which turns all weapons basic attacks (it's a full party ability) into the "Holy" or "Light" element (it's called Life element in my game). It can then be supplemented at later levels with a boost to standard Hit Rate or Critical Hit Rate. Since I have weapons like the "Battle Axe", which has a hit rate of only 65%, but the highest ATK power in the game (and my Tank can actually use it, along with another class), it can be useful for that... Or, it can be useful for buffing the team with extra chances to land critical hits on powerful attacks.

But, with the interplay with other classes, this gets to be more what the player decides to do with their "Defensive Tank" type character. My Thief uses "Katars" and can wield 2 weapons at once. Well, Katars have a chance to land a critical hit on their own. But, they also have a chance to initiate a "Counter Attack" against enemies who strike them.

Likewise, I have characters who use the LUK stat as an attacking stat instead of a defending one, so it can be beneficial to buff that for characters as well.

I have a character who can turn himself "Immune to Death" for several turns, and using Cover to protect him while he's low on HP can be a useful mechanic as well. Especially since that same character who is "Immune to Death" has an attack where they take their maximum HP, subtract current HP, and then deal multiplicative damage to an enemy. Cover then becomes a useful mechanic for tanking hits for a "Glass Cannon" type character with such an attack.

I've got a character with an ability to "Reflect Magic", and that ability becomes more useful if that character not only Taunts to draw all incoming fire... but also has a Defense buff in place in case the enemies choose not to use a magical attack on them.

Likewise, I also have skills that give MP and TP to other characters, and these can provide much needed boosts to my Tank Class so that they can cast their skills more reliably (Siege Breaker is so overpowered it requires the full 100 TP to execute regardless of level) and more often. To further extend this, another character has a skill that reduces MP cost and increases TP charge rates. This can be used to spam many of my Tank's skills.

Much of what is in my game relies heavily on player choices and possible "Skill Interplay" between characters you bring with you. While most everyone has at least one attacking and one defending skill, some just have odd "stand-alone" type skills that beg players to find interesting ways to use them in combat.

With that design philosophy in mind, my tank is less "Dude who draws aggro and takes a severe beating for everyone else" and is more "dude who makes the whole party fight better and more effectively".

Heck, you can even spec my "Cleric" class into "prevent states" type of character and then slap my "Tank" with that... and then have him use his "Cover" ability to not just take the hits... but all possible States inflicted... and then shrug them off due to 3 turn immunity to those things.

I don't like games that tell you there's only a single way to build a character class. I don't like games that tell you each class works best independently. What's the point of an RPG having a "Party" system in it, if it doesn't feel like your Party Members actually work together during combat?
 

Doktor_Q

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I'd say that as a whole, the defender's job is "to reduce the damage the party takes." Debuffs aren't especially different from buffs as a whole, but:
  1. Buffs and debuffs can stack with each other, which is important to remember and also not a bad thing.
  2. Unless all of your buffs and debuffs are full-party target, there's different nuance to them. Reducing the damage output of one enemy vs reducing the damage input of one ally.
If you consider defense in real-world sports, it's not always just about standing in front of the goal, there's also blocking whoever is in a position to make an offense, and hindering that offense. Intercept, interfere, etc.
 

Wavelength

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One of the mechanics that could contribute to good design on many of these moves in Cooldowns. Cooldowns will allow you to make these skills very powerful (making it worth the investment to use your turn to perform a Provoke, Cover, etc.) without making it easy to win battles by spamming these powerful utility skills over and over. The player will need to develop skill with timing, and weave some attacks or less obvious skills into the mix. Cooldowns will work well with Taunt, Provoke, Cover, Ward, and even Shield Bash. Be careful not to make the State durations so high (or the number of defensive skills so large) that the cooldowns barely matter. Cooldowns that are two to three times as long as the State duration are usually reasonable.

Counterattack Rate and Target Rate are usually things like I like put on just a few pieces of Equipment, or just a few skills, rather than putting them on lots of equips or making them innate to classes/characters, because it's something that the player has a very hard time planning for, so to me it makes sense as more of an "opt-in feature" than a good general game mechanic.

Your idea of tying DEF to Target Rate is certainly interesting, but it feels a little bit too easy - and actually counter-intuitive for mages/squishies, who might want to raise their DEF to avoid being one-shot by enemies, but doing so also raises the chance that they'll be hit! A fair number of games use a "Threat" system or similar, where actors who are dealing lots of damage or healing allies (not just the class, but the actual action of dealing/healing within combat) will cause an actor's threat level to rise, making it more likely enemies will attack them. In games like these, the "defensive" characters usually have skills which deal only a little bit of damage but attract artificially large amounts of threat, allowing them to attempt to draw fire to protect their allies.

As far as "Shield Bash" type skills, I haven't ever made a skill like this because I personally don't think it reinforces a defensive character's identity - however, I sometimes go the opposite route and allow a defensive character's attacks to contribute to his overall defensive utility. For example, in one of my games I have a somewhat defense-oriented swordsman that has a few skills which both deal (moderate amounts of) damage and give him defensive utility. For example, his Gladiator Strike, available at level one, deals damage and restores a percentage of his missing HP, whereas his Juggernaut can deal damage while making him invulnerable for a single turn. These skills have high costs and high cooldowns to prevent abuse, but when well-timed, they give him much more survivability than other characters while allowing him to use interesting skills that feel good. It's worth nothing that this character is more about self-defense than party defense (with the idea being that you can devote healing resources to the other characters while he takes care of himself), but even for a Vanguard-type character who wants to protect their allies constantly, I think these kind of "attacks that also make you more survivable" are a more interesting way to stay standing after you draw enemy fire than simply having high HP/Defense values to tank hits over and over.

It seems to me like a lot of people really like the idea of making the Shield Bash do more than simple damage. Let's see... Tai_MT, jonthefox, and Doktor_Q all give their "Defender Class" a type of attack that "stuns", debuffs, or "silences" their opponents. I find this to be noteworthy.
To what end is debuffing the Attack Stat the same thing as "defending allies"? Is "stunning" opponents a type of "defense"? But in some cases, isn't it that "the best defense is a good offense"? Because slaying an enemy will guarantee that they no longer can damage you. I suppose that means defensive mechanics are best used on stronger opponents that cannot be slain easily.
Yes to all. There's a cute saying in League of Legends: "Death is the best form of CC [Crowd Control]". But beyond that, and especially for bosses, killing it isn't usually a valid defensive option - you want to reduce the amount of damage coming in. And to that end, yes, "stunning" is absolutely a form of defense, as is reducing the boss' Attack power or temporarily taking away their ability to use their strongest moves.

This kind of debuff/disable against large enemies (or all enemies) is every bit as effective as buffing the whole party's defense stat or having a nearly-undentable tank take the damage for them - so it's worth taking a lot of time, as the designer, to think about whether you envision your defensive characters as Vanguards (protective tanks) or Disruptors (disablers), or whether you want to allow players to have both working together.
 

Yukinose

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The fact that Defend commands are barely used is an exposed symptom of typical RPG combat systems just generally being shallow/uninteresting at their core.

To truly solve it, you'd have to redesign your combat system at the fundamental level. There needs to be a properly functioning "rock,paper,scissors" game with respect to actions made in combat.

A simple one that currently exists is "Attack > Heal > Defend > Attack", but the issue is that you can only win with Attack. Defend and Heal don't necessarily bring you closer to victory. They just prevent loss.
 

ScientistWD

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Well.... uhm... hang on. I'm beginning to notice a bit of a pattern here that I think we've been missing so far, myself included.
There is a substantial difference between an actor's defensive capability and an actor's use of their Defense Stat. This is a distinction I'd like to draw moving forward.
Defensive Capability can include things like guarding, "stunning" or debuffing opponents; that kind of thing. We've talked about this a lot here; it seems like anything that helps to prevent damage for the party could be considered a Defensive Capability, per @Doktor_Q's definition.
Application of the Defense Stat, though, is similar but also very different. Taunt, Shield Bash, and Cover use the defender's Defense Stat. This means that these techniques/mechanics are more effective if the defender has a greater Defense Stat.
This is actually super important to distinguish! Consider these examples:
  • Taunt is a Defensive Capability that Applies the Defense Stat, so that makes sense first of all. It results in the party taking less damage, and it is more efficient if the user has a lot of Defense so they can take more attacks.
  • The success of Debuffing, though, usually does not depend on Defense Stats but it is still a Defensive Capability.
  • And Shield Bash might Apply the Defense Stat, but it is not always also a Defensive Capability (As seen with @Tai_MT's "Siege Breaker")
Does everyone kind of see what I mean? How these three examples are all a bit different? This, I think, is an important distinction that @Wavelength made me think of:
it's worth taking a lot of time, as the designer, to think about whether you envision your defensive characters as Vanguards (protective tanks) or Disruptors (disablers), or whether you want to allow players to have both working together.
This, to me, is the main difference between the "disruptor" and the "vanguard"; their Application of the Defense Stat coupled to Defensive Capability. Wild! I'm glad this conversation went here, because I probably wouldn't have thought of this myself!



But there's also another thing I'd like to bring up from @Wavelength and @Yukinose. And that is the issue of "instant/short-term defense".
The fact that Defend commands are barely used is an exposed symptom of typical RPG combat systems just generally being shallow/uninteresting at their core.
I agree with this. Furthermore,
One of the mechanics that could contribute to good design on many of these moves in Cooldowns. Cooldowns will allow you to make these skills very powerful (making it worth the investment to use your turn to perform a Provoke, Cover, etc.) without making it easy to win battles by spamming these powerful utility skills over and over. The player will need to develop skill with timing, and weave some attacks or less obvious skills into the mix.
Cooldowns can offer a solution, but....
This is a bigger problem that I've become quite familiar with. Thing is, even the traditional "RPG Guard Command" is a short-term commitment just the same as a skill with a Cooldown would be. While the Guard Command is a traditionally greater commitment than a Cooldown skill would be, I can still make the following point:
The issue that I have with both Guard and Cooldown skills is that they require a degree of timing and finesse from the player that isn't always taught as much as it is designer engineered. Which is to say, if I want players to "Guard", as a designer I have to invent a scenario where guarding is necessary or beneficial. But secondly, I need to communicate this to a player. "Boss is charging up an attack". "Enemy is about to Self-Destruct!". Things like that.
But the tragedy is, at that point, to Guard is no longer a tactical choice by the player. It is now an instruction from the developer. "This is the best time to Guard". And I never, EVER want to tell players what to do nor do I want to make a puzzle so easily solved a kindergartner could do it. There are ways to get around it, but in general. This is why I think Guard Commands or Cooldown Skills aren't enough. Furthermore, I'll insist that this is a enemy design problem rather than an actor design problem. We could make an entirely new thread about this if we wanted to.



Lastly, I'd like to talk about this "Threat" thing.
A fair number of games use a "Threat" system or similar, where actors who are dealing lots of damage or healing allies (not just the class, but the actual action of dealing/healing within combat) will cause an actor's threat level to rise, making it more likely enemies will attack them. In games like these, the "defensive" characters usually have skills which deal only a little bit of damage but attract artificially large amounts of threat, allowing them to attempt to draw fire to protect their allies.
I've seen this as well in a few games. But I don't think I've played a game where I liked it. @Wavelength, or anyone, are there any games in particular that do this mechanic well?
My biggest issue with it in one game in particular was that, whichever of your party members had the highest "Threat" was the one that was guaranteed to be attacked. There was some hint of randomness to it, if I remember correctly, it didn't amount to much. I definitely liked it somewhat. But it was odd because my most aggressive characters got the most Threat, so I was constantly torn between struggling to make my defenders more Threatening or just having my attackers hold back. Since it was not necessary for me to precisely time my most aggressive attacks for any reason, it didn't feel like a particularly tactful balance.
It's possible that there were other enemy design things I didn't enjoy as much, or there's something I didn't see? I'd be curious to talk more about it.



Sorry I talk so much; there's just a lot to think about. Thanks to everyone for your responses, even now. Hopefully I didn't miss anything.
 

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Speaking as someone who mains the tank role in MMOs, creating interesting defensive characters is something that's important to me, and I have a few thoughts on the matter that I don't think I've seen posted here yet. The game I'm working on has several possible tanks, each of them taking a different approach. The one I'm more interested in talking about perhaps most unconventional of these is Alexander, the protagonist, who is an evasion tank. His class is "duelist," and was basically designed around his starting mindset of fighting alone. Given that, it's very self-sufficient. He has a medium CD self-healing skill for sustain, but overall the key to his paradigm is Evasion tanking.

By that, I mean that he has a base 30% dodge rate. which is further increased by another 30% by Cloakspin, a buff you can keep up on him at all times and must refresh every so often. Basically, he will avoid most incoming physical damage. However, his defense and HP are only somewhat better than the other party members. He is very fast, though, because a frustration I've always had with tank archetypes in rpgs is that they tend to be too slow to effectively act. By contrast, Alexander usually acts first on a given round. As far as keeping agro, he has Regal Presence, which is a tgr-based taunt effect that massively increases his tgr and needs to be refreshed. On the other hand, one flaw with evasion tanking is that a string of bad luck can mess you up. To counteract this, I have a passive effect that activates one of his defensive cds (coolsdowns) for free if he takes more than three hits in a given turn.

To speak to enemy targeting for a moment, there are two other aspects of targeting to consider. One of these is my "fixate" mechanic, mainly used by enemy archers. These archers will randomly choose a party member aside from the one with the highest tgr and "lock on," only attacking that part member, indicated by a fixate state. So, each tank needs a way to handle fixates. For Alexander, this is Wind Veil, which lets him cast an absorb shield for ranged damage on a party member. An absorb shield is another useful MMO concept. and it basically represents a temporary second hp bar. I think the best way to illustrate the concept is with an example: if Alexander casts Wind Veil on Ariadne, then for the next three turns, the Wind Veil state will absorb up to (user.mat * 1.5 + target.mhp * 0.5).to_i damage of the Ranged element, preventing the shielded character from taking any damage of that element. Once that much damage is taken by the shield or the duration expires, the shield is removed and they go back to taking damage normally.

The other is tankbusters. Tankbusters represent particularly strong boss attacks and are intended serve two functions. Firstly, tankbusters serve to ensure the party has a reason to use a tank character, because these will generally wreck a non-tank. Accordingly, my tankbusters are set to only ever hit the highest tgr living target. Second, they serve to create reactive gameplay. Tankbusters still hurt on tanks, and usually have some kind of telegraph. For two examples, an archer boss might have a two-turn attack where, on the first turn, the game tells you he's lining up a powerful shot. You then need to choose the appropriate way to react to this. Make sure your tank is topped off, use defensive cooldowns, etc. I've actually removed the basic defend command as I feel it serves little purpose and makes things like this more boring. But the other example of a tankbuster is from an optional boss, who's a sleep demon. His tankbuster is a combo; on the first turn, he uses Dreamwalker's Curse, which puts the tank to sleep and inflicts a powerful magic vulnerability. The next turn, he hits with a strong attack that will kill your tank unless you purified off the magic vulnerability with another character. The second half of the combo is set to go last that turn, to be sure you have time to purify it.

One final thought on interesting tanks is that I personally feel they still need to be able to meaningfully contribute to damage. Otherwise, they can just feel unfun to use. So, to ensure Alexander can contribute... Since he spends so much of his time buffing, he has a passive called "Riposte" that makes him counter every physical attack directed at him with an attack half the potency of his basic attack. So, even when he's busy keeping up cloakspin, protecting dps with wind veil, etc. he's still doing damage. Beyond this, all my tanks will have a dps stance, which is to say the characters will have a mode that lets them stop being a defender and focus on attacking. For Alexander, this represents a second class that focuses more on his magic, but still keeps some of his tank role support abilities like Wind Veil or Disarm. Because my game will have about 10 characters and three tank options, I don't want these three characters to essentially be mutually exclusive in use, especially since one is the main character. But there just isn't much compelling need for a multiple tank party composition.[/B]
 

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But there's also another thing I'd like to bring up from @Wavelength and @Yukinose. And that is the issue of "instant/short-term defense".

I agree with this. Furthermore,

Cooldowns can offer a solution, but....
This is a bigger problem that I've become quite familiar with. Thing is, even the traditional "RPG Guard Command" is a short-term commitment just the same as a skill with a Cooldown would be. While the Guard Command is a traditionally greater commitment than a Cooldown skill would be, I can still make the following point:
The issue that I have with both Guard and Cooldown skills is that they require a degree of timing and finesse from the player that isn't always taught as much as it is designer engineered. Which is to say, if I want players to "Guard", as a designer I have to invent a scenario where guarding is necessary or beneficial. But secondly, I need to communicate this to a player. "Boss is charging up an attack". "Enemy is about to Self-Destruct!". Things like that.
But the tragedy is, at that point, to Guard is no longer a tactical choice by the player. It is now an instruction from the developer. "This is the best time to Guard". And I never, EVER want to tell players what to do nor do I want to make a puzzle so easily solved a kindergartner could do it. There are ways to get around it, but in general. This is why I think Guard Commands or Cooldown Skills aren't enough. Furthermore, I'll insist that this is a enemy design problem rather than an actor design problem. We could make an entirely new thread about this if we wanted to.
Well, I was worried that if I wax philosophical about the Guard command then I'd be going on a tangent from the topic, but now that you as the OP have brought it up, I feel empowered to aim and fire. :D

The problem with the traditional Guard command (as well as RPG Maker's default Guard, which works the same way) is that it wastes more than it accomplishes. A "turn" is an important resource in a turn-based RPG combat system, and Guarding consumes your turn to reduce damage. It doesn't reduce 100% of incoming damage, it deals no damage itself, and it provides no other utility than reducing damage.

Starting with the assumption that all of your party's combined turns are worth an equal amount to all of the enemies' combined turns (in practice they should actually be worth more because otherwise the player would see a lot of Game Overs), any party member that Guards has made a below-average contribution to the combat effort that turn. The player should always be trying to get high contributions from their party members every turn - doing damage, preventing/healing more damage than the enemies can put out in a turn, etc. - this is at the heart of RPG combat. If the party's overall status is better because a character Guarded, then most likely that character was providing very little contribution to the battle in the first place, and that's something that should be avoided in game design. For example, a character whose only real function is to inflict status effects or heal the party might be smart to Guard against a weak mob that can be defeated in a few turns by your higher-DPS characters. But ask yourself whether that character is fun to play as in the first place.

Compare this to Healing skills, which almost universally heal far more damage than any single enemy deals in a turn. The Heal skill not only cancels out an enemy's attack, it also leaves you with some bonus HP afterwards - a big contribution. The Guard skill, on the other hand, merely cancels out a portion of incoming damage, leaving you with less HP than you had at the beginning of the turn. There's some algebra going into the calculation that involves things like target rate and the amount of relative DPS your character can pump out compared to other characters, but it's very rare to get a positive contribution from the Guard command.

@Yukinose mentioned the ostensible rock-paper-scissors model of "Attack > Heal > Defend > Attack", but I'd argue that the issue here isn't that "Defend and Heal don't get you closer to winning the battle" - I think the issue is that "Each of the three provide gigantically different contributions" to the battle effort. The true diagram isn't Attack > Heal > Defend > Attack. The true diagram is Heal > Attack > Defend, as I explained above. It's a hierarchy, not a loop. If a battle designer wanted to complete the loop, she might limit the frequency with which the more powerful commands can be used, and then consider how it affects the combat experience. For example, if Attack did 100 damage and could only be used 5 times during a battle (with 1 use recharging every 3 turns), Heal restored 40 HP with a 1 turn cooldown, and Guard reduced 75% of the damage received, that would be a reasonably interesting combat experience in and of itself. The Guard is not really a productive turn in and of itself, but taking only 25 damage from an Attack while expending a use of your opponent's Attack ability would be a turn well-spent, and if you can manage to run your opponent out of Attack points, you can use the power play to Heal yourself back up, or Attack them back while they are trying to Heal.

I completely agree with you, @ScientistWD, that Guarding (or any other action in combat) is best designed as a tactical choice by the player, not as an instruction from the developer. There are times where an action can be introduced as an instruction, but if it doesn't quickly evolve into an interesting tactical decision, it's probably not a good mechanic. Guarding against a boss' Charge attacks often fall into the "instruction" category - see big boom coming, use Guard command is a kindergarten-level decision (although let's not forget that kindergarteners can be smarter than you think!). But it doesn't have to be that way. One of the boss fights that I recently made is an android boss that "locks on" to one of your two characters for a few turns at a time before switching and locking onto the other character. The android is twice as likely to target the locked-on character and has a very high chance to Crit a locked-on character. The player's first thought might be to have the targeted character Guard every turn, and that's not a terrible strategy - but it's not the ideal one, either. Healing is limited (both in power and frequency) so battles are less about avoiding mistakes and more about getting enough damage in before you succumb to it yourself. If the targeted character is vulnerable - yes, you want them to Guard. If the targeted character has somewhat higher remaining health or higher Defense than their partner, you can consider whether it might be smarter for them to bite the bullet and attack, in order to bring the boss down quicker (reducing the amount of lifetime damage done to their partner).

Where I don't agree with you is when you extend the same concepts to Cooldowns, which are opposite in their design from Guards and I think completely dissimilar in their practical effect. Whereas Guards in a standard RPG combat are an inefficient use of your turn, Cooldowns are for skills that are an extremely efficient use of your turn, and prevent combat from becoming a monotonous "spam that skill" experience. The best Cooldown-gated skills are the ones that have widely varying (but usually controllable) value, which creates interesting decisions about when to use it. For example, a skill with a 10 turn cooldown that gives you a 200% boost to ATK for three turns is probably something you'll use whenever it's off cooldown, but a skill with a 10 turn cooldown that gives you a big boost to ATK based on your allies' missing HP for three turns is something that will have different values at different times. Waiting a few extra turns will mean you're using it less, but you might get more value for it. The use of Cooldown skills isn't a kindergarten-level decision; it's often a rich tactical decision that depends on the player's situation and short-term goals. At least, that's how I see it. Can you explain why you feel that Cooldowns tend to be "designed" decisions rather than tactical ones?

Lastly, I'd like to talk about this "Threat" thing.

I've seen this as well in a few games. But I don't think I've played a game where I liked it. @Wavelength, or anyone, are there any games in particular that do this mechanic well?
The last (publicly available) game I played with a threat system was Skyborn, and I thought it did a very good job of making combat more interesting. I forget whether the enemies always targeted the enemy with the highest Threat level or whether the Threat merely determined the odds of being attacked (I believe it was the former), and it's hard to describe what made it so fun and interesting, but I think it was the way that Threat was constantly swinging back and forth between different characters (especially the healers, who could easily be picked off if they kept the party topped off too often instead of waiting until the heals were critically necessary), and the way that distorted battle tactics, making each turn a somewhat different consideration. Whenever each turn of combat feels a little different than the last, that's always a good sign for battle design, in my eyes!
 

Tai_MT

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My problem with threat systems has always been that it feels artificial. In games of D&D, my players have learned that you do not dress like your class because it opens you up to being targeted by smart monsters.

If you got people using staves and robes and look generally like magic casters... I think they should immediately be drawing the most "threat" most of the time, because of how powerful they are and how easy they'd be to put down. In short, it makes the enemies into borderline idiots to not target the most obvious weak points of a party. Having "Threat" simply highlights that better than most other systems.

Think about it. You, as a player, go into battle. You notice immediately that there are some spellcasters in the party. Through experience with the game, you know they are far more deadly than standard "attack" classes and so, if you're smart, you disable or take them out first. Same when you see an enemy that's a healer. The minute you know they're a healer and can keep the sturdy melee fighters in combat far longer... You target them and solely them, because it's suicidal not to kill a healer as quickly as possible. You'll tank the damage as much as you can until you can put down the biggest threats on the field (magic users almost 100% of the time in almost 100% of every single RPG there is).

If the weak magic casters who are the biggest threats to enemies always generated the most threat in the party, you'd have VERY good reasons to use things like Guard and Cover. Combat then turns into something more akin to strategy instead of, "oh, just keep people topped off on HP and defend themselves once in a while". It would be a constant struggle between needing to protect your high damage dealers and only healers... while also having to get your own hits in from time to time. In a threat system, this is what even the enemies should be doing... protecting their best, but weakest, troops, and looking for openings to hit you back.

Because people who design threat systems don't design them in ways that I think are interesting (my opinions of interesting are likely not interesting things to anyone else, I'm fairly weird in my tastes), I typically just don't like threat systems at all. They're too easy to manipulate, don't add a lot of depth for me, especially in terms of defense. I mean, am I really worried that I might draw a lot of Threat if I cure my allies? Not really. 9 times out of 10, I don't need to heal much anyway and the enemy will be dead long before I need it. Including in most boss fights. So, even a system where you accrue Threat based on actions... There's not a lot of "Defense" to even be played in such a system. Unless you're willing to make combat more nuanced and tactical than most devs are willing to put time into (including AAA game developers).

Really, I think Defensive choices like "Guard" really only come out as a "good option" when you have things like lower stats (lower HP, lower MP, finite resources). If you're working with say... 20 HP, and guard nullifies 80% of damage (devs change this from game to game, it's just a number I'm using as an example), that could be VERY useful indeed. You get a boss that might hit you for 10 of that 20 HP as a hit, but you can Guard and mitigate 8 HP of damage and turn that loss into 2 HP? That keeps you alive longer. That keeps you in the game longer. That's a tactical choice. It might even be more valuable than a Healing option if you can only heal 12 times in combat and each heal only hits a single ally for 5-6 HP a piece. Suddenly, mitigating 80% of your damage on a turn is MUCH more valuable than trying to heal away any damage you might've accrued that turn.

Defense becomes very valuable when any hit could likely kill you outright, and not just the odd hit that's telegraphed from a mile away.
 
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Wavelength

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Really, I think Defensive choices like "Guard" really only come out as a "good option" when you have things like lower stats (lower HP, lower MP, finite resources). If you're working with say... 20 HP, and guard nullifies 80% of damage (devs change this from game to game, it's just a number I'm using as an example), that could be VERY useful indeed. You get a boss that might hit you for 10 of that 20 HP as a hit, but you can Guard and mitigate 8 HP of damage and turn that loss into 2 HP? That keeps you alive longer. That keeps you in the game longer. That's a tactical choice. It might even be more valuable than a Healing option if you can only heal 12 times in combat and each heal only hits a single ally for 5-6 HP a piece. Suddenly, mitigating 80% of your damage on a turn is MUCH more valuable than trying to heal away any damage you might've accrued that turn.
Careful - the problem with Guard's utility is (generally) not a matter of scale, but rather with its ability to provide something that compensates for the expenditure of your turn. Assuming that battle balance is tuned to the same overall difficulty, it's unlike that Guard would be a good move if it's preventing 80% of 10 damage (versus 20 HP) while a poor move if it's preventing 60% of 250 damage (versus 3000 HP) - unless, like you mentioned, the initial damage amount (such as 10) would be fatal.

If all of your characters have to spend their turn Guarding to prevent 80% (or even 95%) of incoming damage, and there aren't other mechanics around (like enemy Charges) making some turns more valuable than others, then you've still come about behind. You can have just 2 of your 4 party members Guard, sure, but if enemy targeting is completely random, you've only blocked an average of 40% of incoming damage (and you're relying on the RNG, which sucks). This is why things like Threat systems, (clear and transparent) Target Rate mechanics, and Substitution skills are nice to have - the player can make informed decisions about who should Guard and who shouldn't.

On the other hand, your assertion that finite resources (and unlimited Guard availability) can make the Guard useful by itself is absolutely correct, because it sets up situations where the expenditure of a turn has done something other than prevent incoming damage (it has also saved you a precious healing charge in your example).
 

Tai_MT

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I, personally, don't like the "Guard" mechanic because I feel it's too cheap. If everyone can defend themselves at any time, what good are defensive skills and a defensive class? I've toned down my own "guard" mechanic for that reason. I'd rather my players equip the proper armor and play with the proper party members if they want some defense on their team.

But, in terms of just making Guard viable, it becomes such when it's "too good to not use" and when an enemy can do a lot of damage to a character. You are wasting a turn to do it, but that wasted turn can be a prevention method to losing other turns, or losing resources you might need as the battle drags on. In most RPGs, a healer isn't healing every single turn. There's rarely a need or reason to do so. So, the player will just select "Attack" for them when they don't need to heal, and waste a turn doing a pitiful amount of damage, just because that healer has nothing else to do. But, if they're a very squishy character, wouldn't it be better to make them Guard on the off-chance they might get hit instead? To avoid losing half or more of their health in a single blow? But, that's just what I'd do in order to make "Guard" a viable option instead of... Whatever it is now... which is nearly pointless for any and every reason (due to most RPG mechanics and combat design).

I prefer you have things like Taunt, Substitution, raising DEF, etcetera as those provide you far more defensive options and much more tactical play that you'll actually use in combat. Those things also allow you to design much more interesting enemies with better mechanics than a simple "Guard" would ever allow you to. I prefer methods to neutralize enemies with a defending class by raising party evasion or adding magic reflection or the ability to silence or blind enemies. These offer far more in terms of combat strategy than a simple "Guard" ever really does.

Defense really encompasses anything that mitigates damage to a character or to a party. Guard is just the "least effective" way to do so in most every RPG. Especially when most players would rather do damage than prevent it. Well, unless that defensive move affords a player some manner of control over the combat encounter, or the enemies. It just feels better to "Cover" an ally than it does having that same ally hit "Guard". You feel more involved, you feel like you did something smart, you feel like you're adding tactics to the game, and you feel like it isn't a wasted turn.

That's kind of the problem with "Guard". Very difficult to turn that command into something that "feels good" to a player without making combat fairly deadly or resources fairly limited.
 

Milennin

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I generally like to tie in defensive skills with offence, so going the defensive route eventually pays off in the form of big damage. This means that the player can either rush down enemies as fast as possible, but risk getting hurt a lot in the process, or take longer but also greatly reduce the risks and cleanly finishes battles, so they're better prepared for the next encounter.
Like, a character can take a defensive stance, and build up attack for every point of damage he takes while that stance is kept active, that he can unleash later on. Or with every use of a defensive ability, it adds a stack of power to an offensive skill, so the longer they can stay alive, the more damage they'll end up doing once they use it.
Or have defensive abilities that still manage to deal damage when used, even if it isn't as much as a purely offensive ability. Like, a counter-attack that increases defences and strikes back when an enemies targets the user.
 

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The fact that Defend commands are barely used is an exposed symptom of typical RPG combat systems just generally being shallow/uninteresting at their core... ...Defend and Heal don't necessarily bring you closer to victory. They just prevent loss.
But there's also another thing I'd like to bring up from @Wavelength and @Yukinose. And that is the issue of "instant/short-term defense".

The issue that I have with both Guard and Cooldown skills is that they require a degree of timing and finesse from the player that isn't always taught as much as it is designer engineered. Which is to say, if I want players to "Guard", as a designer I have to invent a scenario where guarding is necessary or beneficial. But secondly, I need to communicate this to a player. "Boss is charging up an attack". "Enemy is about to Self-Destruct!". Things like that.
But the tragedy is, at that point, to Guard is no longer a tactical choice by the player. It is now an instruction from the developer.
The problem with the traditional Guard command (as well as RPG Maker's default Guard, which works the same way) is that it wastes more than it accomplishes. A "turn" is an important resource in a turn-based RPG combat system, and Guarding consumes your turn to reduce damage. It doesn't reduce 100% of incoming damage, it deals no damage itself, and it provides no other utility than reducing damage.

I squander way to much time playing Final Fantasy Brave Exvius and loath that Guard is used as a 'need to use this now to mitigate the threshold attack that is incoming' to justify it's existence. To Frankenstein your quotes a bit: The designer has engineered a circumstance that requires guard to be used to prevent loss and waste the players time. I think the solution is expanding guard's utility to make it a viable tactical action on any turn.

Two ideas struck me on how to expand it's utility.
1) Have a class specific action that occurs along with the usual Guard command mitigation. A Wizard guards? MP recovery or minor fireball cast. Healer? minor heal to whole party (like FF Pray action). Thief? They pickpocket an enemy. Tank? Wait, why would a tank just guard themselves? OH! When they guard, they defend the WHOLE party! (One turn def buff or they cover allies). Now guard mitigates AND generates some utility that the player can selectively choose.

2) Guard allows counter/minor attacks or minor healing. While fighters are trained to riposte at every opportunity, I see no reason why a wizard taking a 'full defensive stance' cannot whack the goblin lunging at him with his wizard hat. If the goblin decides to go after the tank, the wizard has a brief respite in combat and dabs the sweat off his brow to recover or maybe casts a minor magic missile to tickle said goblin.

Remove all the healing/recovery hogwash if you the meta battle design is for resource depletion and you don't want players using battles as Inns.

Mainly. my thoughts are trying to integrate D&D-esque rules like attacks of opportunity, disengaging and other 'movement' related combat rules that are absent in traditional RPGs combat. If the traditional RPG battle can only be won by damage, then make guard assist in that instead of being a 'curl into fetal position and wait for the dragon breath to end' button.

Very awesome discussion, apologies for my point be a small laser bolt on the guard talking points!
 

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1) Have a class specific action that occurs along with the usual Guard command mitigation. A Wizard guards? MP recovery or minor fireball cast. Healer? minor heal to whole party (like FF Pray action). Thief? They pickpocket an enemy. Tank? Wait, why would a tank just guard themselves? OH! When they guard, they defend the WHOLE party! (One turn def buff or they cover allies). Now guard mitigates AND generates some utility that the player can selectively choose.
I like this paradigm, as it's essentially a way to make sure that the turn spent reducing damage isn't totally squandered.

In my game, aside from a few skills that activate Guard in addition to their primary effects, I also have my Warrior character add these bonus effects through equipment! Most of the game's "Shield"-type equipment has some sort of bonus effect for guarding; for example, the Justiciar's Shield doles back some damage if the warrior is struck, the Dervish Shield reduces the warrior's cooldowns by a turn when he guards, and the Pridebound Shield negates the extra damage from incoming Crits while the warrior is shielding. The extra-nifty part is that when he uses a skill like Riposte that activates Guard as a secondary effect, he gets the Shield bonus too!

It's neat how this thread has uncovered all kinds of cool ways to use this vestigial combat action.
 

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I feel I should mention that the entire reason the "Standard JRPG Guard Command" is so underwhelming is that it is 99% of the time being used wrong by the designers.

The first real "JRPG" was Dragon Quest on the NES. It was insanely popular in Japan and many other games started emulating its style. One of those games was Final Fantasy, which in turn became really popular overseas (but always lagged behind Dragon Quest in Japan) so a lot more games started copying Final Fantasy for overseas success. The problem is...Final Fantasy is much easier than Dragon Quest.

Final Fantasy is ridiculously generous. The player is showered with potion, hi-potions, elixirs, and most importantly - MP restoring items and Phoenix Downs. The player is rarely at risk of dying unless they are careless and having a party member die mid-combat is easily fixed by a Phoenix Down. Using lots of MP on mob encounters is fixed by MP items right before the boss fight. Later games gave save points that fully healed the party at convenient points in the dungeon. Healing is so cheap and easy that there is little purpose to defense since it is always better to just attack - Guarding only makes combat last longer since it is easier to just attack and heal after battle if needed. Yet the game still took the now-useless Guard command from Dragon Quest and every game that copied it did so too.

Things are much different in Dragon Quest. The player has a limited inventory space - each party member has their own inventory, so even if you do have healing items a party member needs to have one in their inventory to actually use it. MP is very limited and MP restoring items are very rare. Running low on MP before a boss fight means going into the fight with almost no MP or going home. The item to revive fallen party members is one of the rarest items in the game (it's not uncommon to only get 1 or 2 all game). The first revive spell has a 50% chance to fail and the second revive spell (with a 100% chance) costs quite a bit of MP. It is very, very bad to even let your party's HP get low. If a party member dies it pretty much means just trying to get out of the dungeon alive. So Guarding is very, very useful. If the Hero and the Soldier can wipe out the enemies, then it's great to have the Priest and the Mage guard so they take almost no damage and conserve their MP. The nifty thing about the Guard command is also that it takes effect immediately at the start of the round rather than only at that character's turn. So if your Mage lost a chunk of HP last turn, guarding can let him survive long enough for the Priest to heal him even if he gets targeted once. Given how hard it is to bring him back if he dies this is obviously a critical skill.

I think the usefulness of Guarding also depends on difficulty. Dark Souls is another series where knowing how and when to block is a required skill for success. Enemies will maul you if you only attack or stand around with your shield down. Healing is limited so it is inconvenient to even take damage at all. Different shields block a different % of incoming damage so players that want to focus blocking over dodge-rolling will want to find a 100% block shield ASAP. Guarding is also essential because you can only Shield Bash when your shield is up, and Shield Bash is important because it staggers enemies, and staggering is important because many enemies are difficult to hit but vulnerable when staggered.

So if recovering damage is very easy in a game, Guarding becomes worthless. If recovering damage is hard or costly, then Guarding is very powerful if used right.

And honestly, I don't think it's a problem if one party member doesn't do much in regular battles. Mob encounters generally aren't supposed to last very long so needing defensive skills against every single fight with common enemies is just tedious. But in boss battles Tanks are allowed to be amazing.

For those who have wondered about my Avatar, it comes from a novel series (now a manga too) called Rising of the Shield Hero (roughly). It's one of those "summoned to a fantasy world" stories where the world runs by RPG rules but with a twist - there are 4 heroes summoned to wield 4 legendary weapons and our protagonist's "weapon"...is a shield. Whose enchantment causes any weapon he tries to wield to fly out of his hand so he has absolutely nothing to attack with. It took him like 10 minutes of punching to kill the starter enemies that everyone else one-shots (because his Attack stat is fixed at 1 by the shield). He catches endless flak for it. Everyone derides him as worthless because "How can you beat monsters without dealing damage?" and he really does end up not doing much once he gets companions that can easily kill normal monsters. But there is a reason heroes were needed and once extremely powerful enemies start showing up the protagonist easily becomes the most useful of the heroes since everyone would be dead without him.

He gets a bunch of shield-related skills that offer different kinds of utility:
  • Prison Shield: One of his most-used skills. It makes the target invulnerable to damage but also locks them in place for the duration. It's excellent for trapping dangerous opponents so the party can take some time to cast buff spells and ready attacks before they get ripped to shreds. It's also handy for locking down vulnerable allies to keep them safe from harm.
  • Needle Shield: One of his few means of offense. When he blocks attacks the attacker also takes some damage.
  • Shield Bash: He was so excited to get this skill, thinking it would give him an offensive skill. Turns out it does not damage. But it does stun the target for a good duration so it gets used regularly to set up a foe for his allies to take down.
  • Air Shield: Summons a phantom shield that can block attacks. Often placed in front of an ally to block damage. Sometimes placed in front of enemies to negate their attacks. Also can be placed in the air to let allies jump off it to hit tall enemies (like dragons) square in the face.
  • Chimera Shield: Another one of his favorites. Poisons enemies that attack him when he is blocking.
  • Rope Shield: Can bind enemies to slow their movements and pretty much anything else that rope can do.
  • "Curse" series: Powerful effects but dangerous to use (more for plot than actual battle effectiveness). The first gives "Flames of Retaliation" which severely burns enemies that attack him. The second lets him combine Prison Shield and Needle Shield to form an execution attack called Iron Maiden. The third and most dangerous lets him use "Blood Offer" - kills basically anything but he takes possibly fatal damage in return (he survives using it twice but gets lucky both times).
He and his companions also get to learn magic. He's super excited to learn some fireballs...but his only affinities are Healing and Support. So he gets great healing spells, buffs, debuffs, etc. He's pretty much a one-stop-shop for non-offensive skills. He can block attacks for allies, cast buff spells, healing injuries he wasn't there to block, debuff enemies, with stuns, staggers, and lockdown to keep everything flowing smoothly.

What keeps battles tense is that there is always more things that need to be done than he has time to do. Healing one ally means not blocking for another. Lowering the enemies defense means not boosting his allies defense. Lowering his enemies' attack means not healing the damage already done. Locking down one enemy means letting a second one go ham on his allies. He is immensely helpful against powerful foes and large groups but he can't be everywhere at once. At times he's like an over-stressed babysitter.

It's a lot like playing Support in League of Legends really :)
 
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Well, looks like I need to build myself a quest system. Or really just a system for "Helpful voices" to talk to the player. I'm sure nothing will go wrong listening to them.... They're "helpful". :LZSwink:

Should be pretty easy with PIXI just letting me write all over the screen. :LZSexcite:
I'm starting to think I just dont like anime since the last one I enjoyed was none of them.
It's still here...
Hi guys, Im new here. Im using RPGMMV. In this community i would like to learn more and become better rpg developer.
The main character for the first game was originally going to become a member of the party in the third game but I'm probably changing him to an important NPC instead. That brings the third game's total ensemble roster down to nine with one optional secret character.

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