Game Mechanics Crafting more interesting skill/spell systems in turn-based RPGs

I've shared similar thoughts in various topics here, but I thought I'd create a singular topic to share some of the thoughts (i.e hot takes) I have on most RPGs' skillsets and how they can be improved, as well as foster conversation about it and create a repository of ideas for anyone wanting to add some spice into their RPG project. The terminology I'll be using draws primarily from the Final Fantasy series, since just about everyone creating an RPG is familiar with it. For simplicity's sake I will be referring to everything as a "skill," even though most of these encompass what is traditionally magic.

- Make status ailments useful
Have you ever tried to use Poison? Probably two or three times and then never tried again because you realized: it never works. Neither does Sleep, Silence, Hold, Break, Death, etc. If you've played a Final Fantasy game past 3 (NES), this is the standard, and it absolutely destroys skill diversity. Why? Is it because a status effect is too powerful? I generally don't have a problem with bosses unilaterally resisting instant-win button ailments like Petrifaction or Death, but why something relatively weak like Poison or Silence? Why are ailments also ineffective against trash mobs? If you relegate the usefulness of ailments to gimmick or niche situations, they become unviable and a waste of resources. The check for powerful instant-win ailments shouldn't be RNG, it should be smarter enemy formation design. Create situations where you can instantly delete one group of enemies with a strategically placed Death. Have an all-enemy instant death skill? Have enemies that are weak to and completely resist the ailment in the same formation. Now the player must choose between a 100% chance of destroying one group with Death and leaving the other untouched, or blasting both with an AoE damage skill.

- Make buffs and debuffs useful even in random encounters
In most Final Fantasy games, there is little point in using buff/debuff skills in random encounters. Enemies are so squishy that your fighters can 1- to 2-hit kill everything, and mages can nuke everything on screen in the same timeframe for an equivalent amount of MP. The solution is simple: make de/buffs stronger and make enemies survive longer. The effects of the former should be immediately obvious, but the latter less so. The comparison can be simplified: Is it worth it to use a turn to buff instead of directly do damage? If an enemy takes 1-2 unbuffed phys hits to die and 1 hit buffed? Not worth wasting a turn on buffing. 4-6 unbuffed/2-3 buffed to die? Now it's useful. If you're worried about players getting tired of battles, first decrease the encounter rate instead of dumbing down encounters. Quality > Quantity every time. If you don't have any random enemies tanky enough to take a few turns worth of hits, buffs and support skills in general are going to only be viable against bosses. Considering boss fights only make up only maybe 20 of the 500+ fights the player will have over the game, limiting their usefulness isn't wise.

- Don't wreck your MP economy*
If you have to take away just one point from this post, make it this one. Grab your Ethers, your Elixirs, and your Megalixirs and throw them in the garbage. Toss them as quickly and as hard as you can. Yeet them if you must. Completely rethink how you're handling MP. A huge part of RPGs is managing your resources. Mages are typically able to do more damage and be more versatile than a fighter, but are kept in check by having a finite number of actions. Giving players access to powerful MP restoration items turns finite actions infinite. Combat becomes "how do I end this battle as quickly as possible," instead of "how do I end this battle as efficiently as possible?" Obtaining the answer to the former is simple: Spam your biggest nukes. The answer to the latter can take multiple playthroughs to properly suss out. Tanking the MP economy of your game also neuters dungeons. Dungeons as a gameplay mechanic can be simplified as a string of encounters with little-to-no safe areas (e.g. Inn). If you can just buy or grind Ethers, you can effectively create a safe area anywhere you'd like, including the middle of a dungeon. Limiting the maximum amount of MP restored by items and limiting the amount of MP-restoring items obtained throughout the game are effective ways of curtailing this. Keeping preservation of MP as a priority may also create interesting interplay between direct-damage skills—do you want to do more damage faster or do less damage more often?
*EDIT: This was said below and I agree with it that a broken MP economy is a symptom of a larger issue.
I think the underlying problem is for inventory economy as a whole, if a game lets you carry an entire pharmacy's worth of potions, the only thing that can threaten you is something that can deal damage faster than you can heal it off.
- Add side-effects and trade-offs to damaging skills
Once you pick up Fire 4, what reason do you have to use Fire 1? The damage disparity is so large that it's almost exclusively a waste of a turn—unless there's some kind of trade-off. What if Fire 4's potency dropped by 33% for every consecutive use, but reset if some other skill was used? What if Fire 1 boosted the potency of the next Fire skill by 125%? Even at this simple it's more interesting than Fire 4 being "Fire 1 but bigger." But why not throw a wrench into things? Make Fire 2 apply an Oil debuff that increases Fire damage taken by 50%. Make Fire 3 do damage over time instead of all at once. Add a skill that makes the next X single-target damage skills do AoE damage instead. What is the most efficient order of skills to deal damage as fast as possible? What is the most MP-efficient way of dealing with random encounters? What is most efficient when some of the enemies you're fighting are weak to Fire, but some absorb it? These are now things your player will be unconsciously thinking during random battles, instead of just "haha Ultima go brrrrrrr"
*As a side-point, please, PLEASE do not cap damage to an amount that can be easily reached. Or just in general. Damage caps in older RPGs arose from technical limitations, but some games capping at 9999 damage hurt elemental damage severely. No point in using Fire 3 over Ultima when they both did 9999 damage on a fire-weak opponent, but Ultima can't be resisted or reflected.

- Diversify healing
This one isn't really a problem per se, but it's something I'd like to see a lot more of in the future. Having healing be relegated to "Restores X amount of health" is so boring that most RPGs resort to giving healer jobs access to powerful support abilities. That's fine, but healing itself doesn't have to be so simple. What of adding healing-over-time skills? Some Final Fantasy games have this in the form of Regen, but it's typically so weak and single-target that it isn't worth using. Having HoT be more powerful than a direct heal, but over a period of time creates a niche use. What of adding proactive heals? Maybe a skill that does a big heal but only after the target drops below 50% health. Maybe a shield that absorbs damage. Or a combination! Tying an otherwise weak heal to a side effect that creates a barrier that absorbs 150% of damage healed starts an interesting dynamic. Create a shield before a big hit but waste the direct heal? The possibilities are vast.

Those are a few of the big issues that bug me with a lot of RPGs and how I feel they can be improved through a few easy steps. Do any of you have any interesting ideas for creating balance/diversity in skill systems? Keep in mind that this topic is more about improving existing gameplay systems; not creating new systems.
 
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Rob

Member
One thing that I think about, and discovered many others do too is "how many hits should it take to kill something that is equal to the players level"

I think you already touched on this but it's one of the core things to consider for me as it can basically affect the stats of everything else, starting with Hp of course but also the damage that weapons do and the stat gains of the heroes etc.

I agree with many of your points but if there's only "the optimal" way to play it, why would anyone play any other way? If that's what you're going for then perfect.

Synergy between skills is good, and if there is also another layer of synergy between the skills and the enemies, great, and maybe the heroes also add a layer of synergy.

If there is no battlemap (eg no grid, just the regular FF setup) "terrain" can still be made interesting by having some kind of effect on the battle, in the form of a buff/debuff to almost anything, like the judgements in the FF tactics game.

Why have more than one fire Salem at all if you can combine it with other spells that gave effects and/or spend more mana to get a more powerful version of the same spell (which is what fire4 is usually)
It's a lot harder to design/balance for sure but I feel that kind of stuff makes for a more interesting battle system
 
I agree with many of your points but if there's only "the optimal" way to play it, why would anyone play any other way? If that's what you're going for then perfect.
Finding the optimal way to play is something every player does in an RPG, even subconsciously. It's why in most FF games, people just spam normal attack with fighters and the strongest spells with mages. It's the optimal way to play with the tools (I.E. all but unlimited MP) the game gives you, and it's also very boring. Even games that are easier moment-to-moment like most of the Dragon Quest series end up requiring more thought during combat because MP is so tight and you don't know how long a dungeon is going to last. Making a mistake and using too much MP early on means you have to either bail on a dungeon or attempt the boss with far less resources than you may need.

People will play other ways because you design the game in a way that rewards experimentation and expression. Make it fun to win with your own party, with the way you learned how to play. FF1/3/5/Tactics do this with the Job system. Even if a certain Job doesn't at first seem optimal (E.G. Chemist, Blue Mage, Scholar, Calculator), with plenty of experimentation, you might discover that a different way of playing is better than you expected. Nobody's going to figure out how to make FFV Chemist/Blue Mage or a FFT Calculator busted on a first playthrough without reading a guide. Even if they do read a guide, they'll want to play some other job as well because they think it sounds cool and fun, even if it isn't 100% optimal. Unless you're making something like an MMO, 100% optimization isn't anywhere close to required, expected, or even desired by players.

By creating opportunities for the player to optimize their play, you're creating opportunities for them to think about their play rather than zoning out and spamming.
 
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Kezarus

Member
Good topic!

- Make status ailments useful
I aaaabsolutely agree with this and I think it's the most important point. This will prompt a discussion with my brother about our game about Status. Sure we have Poison, Burn and Bleed, they work to undermine players with a lot of health and armor. And but I think it's a little botched and could do a lot better if the damage is percentual based on health and not fixed.

- Make buffs and debuffs useful even in random encounters
This is also interesting. Some passive bonuses always help, but the active ones have to be interesting and usefull enough to make the player thinks twice about using it and not only attack. Damage output and countermeasures are good, but so are Move bonuses and denials. For example if you have an archer/mage that have a good range, but can be pinned down or evade being brought to melee. Also skills that straight up deny the use of other skills for a time like Silence and Disarm or just the plain old Stun.

- Don't wreck your MP economy
Hmmm, nice! One thing that I did that I think solves the issue is to hold back skills with Cooldowns(Time), not Mana(Resources). Of course you can start the combat witha huge blast, but then you could only use it again in 3 turns.

- Add side-effects and trade-offs to damaging skills
I would just add one thing to your idea, like skills that deals more damage, but are harder to land a hit or can only be used if the targert is vulnerable in some way.

- Diversify healing
Wow, good points! I usually play healer and support and love this discussions. I was inspired on Skirym Heal/Ward system and created my own, but I should really give more thought to it. I have what you described and also, on top of that, de-buffing removal and revive. What other options a healer could grant? Hmmmm.
 
Sure we have Poison, Burn and Bleed, they work to undermine players with a lot of health and armor. And but I think it's a little botched and could do a lot better if the damage is percentual based on health and not fixed.
If I was going to have multiple DoT status ailments, why not do both? Would add a bit of variety to the ailments. I'm a big fan of %-based poison, but the amount of mad cackling that I did abusing Etrian Odyssey 2's overpowered power-based implementation of poison had me considering I might be wrong.

Damage output and countermeasures are good, but so are Move bonuses and denials. For example if you have an archer/mage that have a good range, but can be pinned down or evade being brought to melee. Also skills that straight up deny the use of other skills for a time like Silence and Disarm or just the plain old Stun.
Great ideas! Denial/Crowd Control effects can lead to incredibly strategic gameplay if done properly. If they're especially effective, it makes them attractive even compared to direct-damage skills, and also helps make healer-less parties more viable.

Hmmm, nice! One thing that I did that I think solves the issue is to hold back skills with Cooldowns(Time), not Mana(Resources). Of course you can start the combat witha huge blast, but then you could only use it again in 3 turns.
Definitely a possibility. Much harder to implement a balanced full-cooldown system than an MP-based one, though. It requires a lot more effort to properly balance since you're effectively making your mages resource-less. You have to work a lot harder to make sure individual combats are more difficult and higher-quality since you can't whittle down the player's resources the same way anymore.

Wow, good points! I usually play healer and support and love this discussions. I was inspired on Skirym Heal/Ward system and created my own, but I should really give more thought to it. I have what you described and also, on top of that, de-buffing removal and revive. What other options a healer could grant? Hmmmm.
I'm not going to lie, I literally just stole those ideas from one of the healers in Final Fantasy XIV 😂 Despite people complaining about healers being too simple in that game, it still manages to be a lot more involved than the cure-spam they devolve into in most RPGs.

Thanks for the great ideas! I wanted to gear the OP more towards high-level concepts with little in the way of providing definite solutions. There are a myriad ways of dealing with these problems on a micro level, and solving it your own way can make your RPG unique.
 
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Yal

🐧 *penguin noises*
GMC Elder
- Make status ailments useful
Etrian Odyssey, Dark Souls and Darkest Dungeon all have some really cool takes on this:
  • EO has all enemies have designated weaknesses and resistances to ailments, and after fighting them enough times (or consuming a Item of Add This Thing To My Beastiary Instantly) you can see them at the press of a button; most enemies have rare drops that can only be obtained by dispatching them a certain way (which means that using ailments a lot and abusing enemy weaknesses lets you unlock the best equipment).
  • And most importantly, the three most common ailments disable use of certain skills: Head Bind prevents spellcasting and bite/voice attacks, Arm Bind prevents physical skills, and Leg Bind prevents kicks, running away, and evading attacks. Both enemies and players can suffer from multiple binds at once, and bind skills are common in both player classes and monsters. Getting a bind ranges from devastating to having no effect at all depending on situation and skill spread (e.g. your bulky tank guy wasn't gonna cast any spells anyway, so head binds has no effect in practice) and you're expected to strategically use binds against FOEs / area bosses to shut down their most dangerous attacks.
  • Dark Souls (and basically all derivatives, like Hellpoint, The Surge 2, Salt & Sanctuary) has ailments "build up" over time, rather than being chance-based. This means that even when a skill doesn't trigger an ailment, you're still making progress towards it, and you can reliably cause anything to ail with enough effort.
  • Darkest Dungeon has poison/bleed damage be more reliable than physical attacks (accuracy is hard-capped at 90% and many enemies are evasive, or has high defenses that absorb a percentage of direct damage), and since DOT effects trigger before the enemy's turn, you can get "you're already dead" situations where an enemy will die before their next action despite technically still being alive, allowing you to focus on other enemies. While the damage normally trades this reliability for being slower, in a game where every turn counts, it also lets you stack bleeding/blight indefinitely, so if you focus-fire you'll end up with enemies taking half their max HP in damage every turn.

- Make buffs and debuffs useful even in random encounters
Darkest Dungeon, again, has a fun strategy for this: overworld exploration and battles seamlessly transition into each other, and buffs will persist after battles (X steps counts as a "turn" and will lower buff counters). You can even consume buff items when exploring and have the buffs carry over into the next battle, letting you set up buffs without using turns! (Of course, that means you give up inventory space and money for said consumables). Of course, the other side of the coin is that debuffs (and ailments) also persist after battles, and it's very much possible to die from untreated bleeding/poison if you don't watch out.

- Don't wreck your MP economy
Definitely agreeing with this. I think the underlying problem is for inventory economy as a whole, if a game lets you carry an entire pharmacy's worth of potions, the only thing that can threaten you is something that can deal damage faster than you can heal it off. Limited inventory size (with tradeoffs between more consumables / less loot) is one nice way to deal with it, and if you get a lot of items but have very limited room you're also encouraging the player to actually use their items as well, since they can count on refills. I also like the Souls solution where you get a bunch of healing potions every time you rest, but there's basically no other source of healing, so you need to ration them over the entire excursion... it removes both the issue with players being invincible if they buy 999 potions, and removes the micromanagement about remembering to restocking on healing gear as well. And as a plus, the designer has full control over the amount of healing the player can bring into an area, and can balance it based on that.
Dark Souls 3's take on this is that you get X bottles per rest, and can allot them between HP and MP refills. Mages can solve things more easily by spamming spells, but they get less healing overall, so there's a risk-vs-reward balancing system.
Salt & Sanctuary also has an interesting system, where you can opt for other items to be freely refilled when resting, not just healing. Sure, an extra heal would be nice, but having 20 poison throwing knives to take enemies out at a distance means you'd need to heal more often...

- Add side-effects and trade-offs to damaging skills
  • Having more powerful skills cost more MP to use is the main tradeoff used for this in most games, but it obviously only works if MP refills are rare. Real-time games can also have factors like cast time and tracking factor in. If an enemy can just sidestep your giant fire laser of dooms and death that takes 15 seconds to charge up, you want to only cast it when they're distracted, and stick with your instant flick-of-the-wrist fireballs instead.
  • Darkest Dungeon makes all skills have 0 cost, but more powerful skills are balanced out by being less versatile... they need you to be in a particular spot in the lineup, or they can only target certain enemies, or they need setup to be effective / cause self-debuffs when used. Since you can only bring 4 skills to each run no matter how many skills the character has mastered, you need to think about balancing effectiveness and coverage to have an effective party. Would you give up the Vestal's stun attack for a better healing skill, or the Houndmaster's stress relief skill for an area-of-effect bleeding attack?
  • A third approach could be having more powerful skills have less useful side effects, so you give up helpful debuffs for the extra damage. You see this in Pokémon a lot: Spark has 60 power while Thunderbolt has 90, but Spark has a 50% chance to paralyze the target while Thunderbolt only has a measly 10% chance. Rock Smash has 20 power but is guaranteed to debuff defense, so against a tanky target that's in for the long run, it could potentially be more useful than a higher-damage skill.

- Diversify healing
I've seen a whole bunch of interesting ideas for this:
  • Nioh 2 has a spell that gives you magical hitpoints, which has the hidden advantage that if you don't lose any of your real hitpoints in an attack, you completely ignore all side effects of it (including hitstun and ailments). Most powerful attacks will just tear through the entire supply of magic hitpoints and chew into your real ones, but it's amazing for those pesky enemies that throw paralyzing blowdarts and stuff.
  • Similarly, Etrian Odyssey healers have a skill that lets them overheal targets that are below full HP, which lets you preemptively heal the party before powerful boss attacks.
  • The Beast class in Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold can temporarily triple their HP - and fully heal to the new max value - during their limit break, which synergizes really well with their "take hits in place of allies" skills, and you can use the Grimoire system to add even more synergies, like the Highlander skill that gives you a chance to perform a normal attack at a random enemy every time you lose HP (letting you protec and attac with the protection skills). It's much more limited than normal healing skills since the limit break takes a dozen or so turns to refill, but it's fully reliable, doesn't use up a turn, and lasts for 3 turns... all making it really fun to play around with.
  • A whole bunch of games has effects that let you steal enemy HP when doing certain actions (e.g. a Blood Sword that heals you by half the damage it inflicts, or passive effects that give you HP every time you kill an enemy). The advantage of having these approaches is that you don't need to choose between healing and doing damage, you can do both.
  • FF5 / Bravely Default has an alchemist class, which can combine healing items (and other items) for items with the combined effects of the ingredients. No need to waste 2 turns to heal HP and ailments, just mix together an antidote and a potion on the fly! Or a potion and a fire gem to buff resistance and heal at once, and so on. It puts a fun spin on the inventory management and gives you something to do with the low-tier healing items that's been burning a hole in your pocket. The class usually also has a flat boost to all consumable items as well, doubling their effect, encouraging you to use the items instead of spells even though they're more limited.
Having a chemist-based healer in particular is not done a whole lot, so if you want to make inventory management more involved this sounds like a promising direction to go. Chemists could increase inventory stacking (encouraging you to bring one with rewards, instead of healers mostly being something you contend with by necessity) and the "healing is inventory-based" system means bringing more healing supplies eats into how profitable your excursions can be (less room for loot)... and it means it's technically possible to have a party without a dedicated healer, if you just bring enough potions (a lot of games makes it really hard to survive without a dedicated healer).
 
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Kezarus

Member
About Healing Potions and Usable Items
Just to add to what @Yal said, Battle Brothers also let's you equip only 2 usable items in combat. That limit's the player's options in a sensible way too.
 
I am very interested in this topic. I'm currently developing an RPG, so as an exercise I think I'll respond to these points with how I am approaching them in my game. I hope I shall encounter some factors I had not considered and I can address them now and end up with a better design for my game.

Summary: In my game, I am choosing to create each character with a unique set of abilities, and I want each of them to be able to operate solo (for some sections of the story) or synergize with any other character in the party. The characters will gain new skills through story progress and finding items. I don't have a traditional experience/leveling up system or a skill tree. Customization is provided through charms instead (like badges in Paper Mario or charms in Hollow Knight) that modify a character's combat stats.

My general approach for designing a character is to give them a particular resource to manage. So everyone has HP, MP, and Actions, but one character can generate and consume extra Actions, another can manipulate MP to deal bonus damage, another will cast spells using HP instead, etcetera. Others might use status effects primarily, or do special things with items (like the Alchemy class that was mentioned). I have more on my blog if people are interested: https://blog.cloakedgames.com/. Beyond the basics, here are some of my approaches to the things that have been brought up in this thread so far...

Status Effects (Buffs/Debuffs): In my game, I hope to make status effects viable in a few ways:
  • Status effects accumulate, so if you cast an effect twice the total duration will be the sum of both.
  • Some effects are more powerful based on their current duration. For example, Poison will deal damage per turn equal to the current duration.
  • Status boons are designed to synergize with player skills. For example, Charge will grant extra actions but also boosts a particular character's base attack.
Damaging Skills: Tradeoffs to damaging skills, why use one skill over another?
  • My combat takes place on a grid, and different attacks have various attack patterns. So the most powerful attacks are likely to have more specific requirements to hit (eg. single-target instead of AOE, or requiring certain HP values) along with their greater Action and MP cost.
  • The most powerful strategies in my game will always involve synergizing multiple abilities. I hope to include many sorts of stacking buffs and status effects, that can compound to produce the greatest damage output. So no single ability will be the most powerful on its own. (At the moment in the game, the most powerful single attack is done by Sonya using 3 of her abilities over 2 turns, which also requires an MP buff from her ally).
  • Charms (as I mentioned above) will compound further, allowing for specialized strategies such as buffing status effects or increasing a particular type of damage. Depending on what charms you are using, different skills will be more powerful, and which ones you are using depends on what the player wants.
  • My approach for balance is to enable completely broken strategies (as many different ones as possible) and then buff enemy encounters to require that type of play, mostly by adding more enemies and giving them more damage (so you are encouraged to kill things quickly to avoid dying yourself).
Items and MP Economy: To be honest I'm less sure what to do about this one. I'm about to add items and I agree about the Ethers, I want them gone. But I haven't tried yet to see how any of my intended solutions will work. I have a few ideas I'd like to try though.
  • To start, I am putting a lot of thought into how I design my consumable items. I want as many items with unique properties as possible, so lots of status effect granting items, items with downsides, items with multiple purposes. And generally, items will be uncommon drops. I plan for shops to contain a random selection, so sometimes you could buy a bunch of regular healing items but sometimes you'd be forced to work with more unusual items.
  • I think I want MP restoration to be rather difficult for most characters, and MP restoration items would be rare. There is a big exception though, one of the characters is built around MP manipulation, and she can restore MP for the party, making it a renewable resource but only if you use her abilities to the fullest. I don't quite know yet how to get the balance right, but I think there's potential to sustainably use your most expensive abilities--but only if you have your skills set up to enable that strategy.
  • I like the phrasing of "how do I end this battle as efficiently as possible?" But I want to avoid ending up in a situation where the cheapest way to win is to run away and just hit with basic attacks... I am considering even restoring MP fully after battles so that regular battles are about using the best skills for the situation (see my discussion above) and long fights are about sustaining your MP in order to do big damage when it matters most. But since MP is restored players can feel free to use the most fun and expensive strategies every fight instead of trying to conserve items/MP. I think this could work if the MP cap is low (but can be made greater using skills and charms).
  • I think I may make items that require differing amounts of Actions to use, and even some might require MP themselves. So I can add more powerful items but they also come with costs just like using skills. Most games just make them all cost the same to use, which means when you have better healing items there's no reason to use the weaker ones.
Diversify Healing: My goal for my combat is that it should almost always be possible to finish a battle without taking net damage. I don't like how some RPGs just expect you to take damage no matter how strategic you are and just give you healing abilities to make up for it.
  • I consider healing both in terms of HP gain, and damage avoidance. So some characters will be able to grant shielding or dodge attacks.
  • My combat is positional, so damage can be avoided by moving characters away from enemies or putting defensive characters in the line of fire.
  • All the characters should be sustainable on their own, and they heal themselves in different ways. Sonya has shields, Lydia can heal HP directly, or Duran does damage to enemies by taking damage on purpose (and has life-stealing abilities to make up for it).
On top of all of this, one of my goals is to allow for very customizable difficulty. So players that have figured out optimal strategies can take on greater challenges in order to push the game further, instead of just steamrolling encounters intended for regular new players. Such as charms that increase incoming damage to the party in exchange for certain rewards. I want the most efficient or fastest strategies to always be the riskiest and most difficult to set up. One of my favorite items in The Last Librarian is the Blessing of Sai'Ra which allows you to deal double damage, but also take double damage from enemies. I have plans to include this item in a certain way in my new game too.
 
I like the phrasing of "how do I end this battle as efficiently as possible?" But I want to avoid ending up in a situation where the cheapest way to win is to run away and just hit with basic attacks... I am considering even restoring MP fully after battles so that regular battles are about using the best skills for the situation (see my discussion above) and long fights are about sustaining your MP in order to do big damage when it matters most. But since MP is restored players can feel free to use the most fun and expensive strategies every fight instead of trying to conserve items/MP. I think this could work if the MP cap is low (but can be made greater using skills and charms).
If you don't want to encourage hit-and-run tactics in a Strategy RPG, you must penalize it in some way. Games like Fire Emblem run in two phases and attacking almost always ends your phase, so in most of the series you can't just attack and run away. Rushing in and failing to kill the enemy means you're going to take an attack from them, no questions asked. FF Tactics and Tactics Ogre are heavily terrain-based. Running away might give the enemy the chance to secure a bigger advantage through better positioning. Many (all?) versions of D&D have Opportunity Attacks, meaning disengaging from an opponent grants them a free physical attack. This might sound like it makes combat less strategic, but there are many ways to work around it. Rogues have a passive that nullifies it, CC'ing the enemy nullifies it, and you only get one OA per turn, so letting someone purposefully engage and disengage to tank a hit for a squishier unit can also reduce effectiveness.
 
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Yal

🐧 *penguin noises*
GMC Elder
So re MP economy, one thing that comes to my mind is that a lot of action RPGs (Hellpoint, CrossCode, Neptunia 3, Hyper Light Drifter, The Surge 1 / 2, Code Vein) have a system where you gain MP by doing melee attacks... not sure if I've ever seen this in a turn-based RPG, though. But it works pretty well in that you can't just spam magic, you need to work in basic attacks as well. Usually these games also have pretty low MP caps, to accomodate how ubiquitous MP regeneration is, so you're intended to spend it often and then get it back afterwards instead of hoarding a lot for later.
  • Code Vein has a system where you can temporarily buff your max MP by doing special Drain Attacks (slow charge attacks that leave you super vulnerable when charging) or parrying enemies and then doing a finisher on them, so especially for melee-oriented classes with single-digit MP caps you're encouraged to do the drain attacks whenever possible (they also pay out like 8-20 times the MP of a standard melee attack). The buff goes away when you rest at a bonfire or die, so it adds another layer of risk vs reward for long expeditions.
  • The Surge 1 / 2 has spare MP slowly dissipate when you leave combat, so you're encouraged to use it during battles. MP also is used to recharge your healing items, so if you think quickly (and play aggressively enough to actually build up MP) you can leave most battles with more healing items than you spent winning them, but of course there's a tradeoff between using powerful energy-thirsty skills to win battles more easily vs saving it up for post-battle recharges. (With battery upgrades, you can stop a certain number of notches from dissipating, which lets you go into battle with attacks primed / extra healing charges)
  • CrossCode has the most interesting system... you start every battle at 25% MP or less, and it slowly builds up over time (extra quickly if you attack, take damage etc, based on which MP regeneration upgrades you've taken when levelling up). So you can't spam the most powerful skills by virtue of them needing more time to recharge, putting the focus more on properly timing them when an enemy is the most vulnerable (since it's so far between retries). But the interesting thing comes in with the game having a very loose definition of what "one battle" is, it's got a system where battles keep going on after the last enemy dies (on top of your overworld mobility not being restricted during battles), and you're encouraged to keep chaining more enemies together during this time. Doing this retains all counters: current HP (which normally fully heals after a few seconds when you're not in battle), current buffs, current MP, the chain level (which gives you boosts to item drop rates etc) and so on. So instead of battles being a nuisance that gets in the way of exploration, they're a hectic "double or nothing" metagame where you try to reach the next group of enemy before the time runs out and the battle ends... and exploring an area and learning the fastest routes helps with this, so good battles basically becomes a reward for doing well with overworld exploration.
 
not sure if I've ever seen this in a turn-based RPG, though
Bravely Default II has an MP drain passive which works for basic physical attacks. It's tied to the Black Mage job though so initially I thought it was pretty useless since I'm only ever using magic with my Black Mage. Then I realized I could just get it to use for another class that has a good physical attack, and so something like Vanguard can viably sustain MP using that passive, which is pretty cool. All that to say this idea definitely works in a turn-based context too.
 
So re MP economy, one thing that comes to my mind is that a lot of action RPGs (Hellpoint, CrossCode, Neptunia 3, Hyper Light Drifter, The Surge 1 / 2, Code Vein) have a system where you gain MP by doing melee attacks... not sure if I've ever seen this in a turn-based RPG, though. But it works pretty well in that you can't just spam magic, you need to work in basic attacks as well. Usually these games also have pretty low MP caps, to accomodate how ubiquitous MP regeneration is, so you're intended to spend it often and then get it back afterwards instead of hoarding a lot for later.
  • Code Vein has a system where you can temporarily buff your max MP by doing special Drain Attacks (slow charge attacks that leave you super vulnerable when charging) or parrying enemies and then doing a finisher on them, so especially for melee-oriented classes with single-digit MP caps you're encouraged to do the drain attacks whenever possible (they also pay out like 8-20 times the MP of a standard melee attack). The buff goes away when you rest at a bonfire or die, so it adds another layer of risk vs reward for long expeditions.
  • The Surge 1 / 2 has spare MP slowly dissipate when you leave combat, so you're encouraged to use it during battles. MP also is used to recharge your healing items, so if you think quickly (and play aggressively enough to actually build up MP) you can leave most battles with more healing items than you spent winning them, but of course there's a tradeoff between using powerful energy-thirsty skills to win battles more easily vs saving it up for post-battle recharges. (With battery upgrades, you can stop a certain number of notches from dissipating, which lets you go into battle with attacks primed / extra healing charges)
  • CrossCode has the most interesting system... you start every battle at 25% MP or less, and it slowly builds up over time (extra quickly if you attack, take damage etc, based on which MP regeneration upgrades you've taken when levelling up). So you can't spam the most powerful skills by virtue of them needing more time to recharge, putting the focus more on properly timing them when an enemy is the most vulnerable (since it's so far between retries). But the interesting thing comes in with the game having a very loose definition of what "one battle" is, it's got a system where battles keep going on after the last enemy dies (on top of your overworld mobility not being restricted during battles), and you're encouraged to keep chaining more enemies together during this time. Doing this retains all counters: current HP (which normally fully heals after a few seconds when you're not in battle), current buffs, current MP, the chain level (which gives you boosts to item drop rates etc) and so on. So instead of battles being a nuisance that gets in the way of exploration, they're a hectic "double or nothing" metagame where you try to reach the next group of enemy before the time runs out and the battle ends... and exploring an area and learning the fastest routes helps with this, so good battles basically becomes a reward for doing well with overworld exploration.
That just sounds like MP in those games is a fighting-game-esque Super meter. Action RPGs are totally different balance-wise since they need you to constantly be doing something. Having a mage character where you stand around doing jack squat for seconds at a time waiting for your spells to go off is boring, so most either have players with physical basic attacks + magic specials or make the magical basic attacks act like ranged physical attacks and not cost any resources.

Bravely Default II has an MP drain passive which works for basic physical attacks. It's tied to the Black Mage job though so initially I thought it was pretty useless since I'm only ever using magic with my Black Mage. Then I realized I could just get it to use for another class that has a good physical attack, and so something like Vanguard can viably sustain MP using that passive, which is pretty cool. All that to say this idea definitely works in a turn-based context too.
It's fun in Bravely Default because half the fun in that game comes from abusing the job system to snap the game's balance in half like a twig. Stick MP regen on hit in the wrong game or have it be too powerful, and you've just bypassed the whole point of an MP system entirely. I don't think it can't be done, but I wouldn't use BD as an example of doing it right. It does everything wrong on purpose, and that's why it's so great.
 
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