Need Suggestions: RPG Elemental Systems

I’m working on a game with a friend. It’s going to be a flash RPG and I’ve been tasked with creating an elemental system.

I’ve looked at the classical element systems, and a few games (FF series, Chrono Trigger, Xenogears, Dynasty Warriors, Pokemon, WoW etc), but I haven’t really found anything that works for me.

I never really got into table top, or card games so I’m not really sure if there are some good elemental systems there.

Do any of you have a recommendation?

Here is part of my brainstorming:

Opposed: 2x damage given and received
Weak to: 1/2 damage given, 2x damage received
Strong to: 2x damage given, 1/2 damage received

Primary Elements
Earth (Opposed to Air[Break] - Weak to Ice[Freeze] - Strong to Lightning[Dissipate])
Fire (Opposed to Water[Evaporate] - Weak to Wood[Snuff] - Strong to Ice[Melt])
Air (Opposed to Earth[Erode] - Weak to Metal[Reverberate] - Strong to Wood[Uproot])
Water (Opposed to Fire[Douse] - Weak to Lightning[Conduct] - Strong to Metal[Rust])

Secondary Elements (Combining 2 Primary Elements)
Metal (Earth+Fire - Opposed to Ice[Crush] - Weak to Water[Rust] - Strong to Air[Reverberate])
Lightning (Fire+Air - Opposed to Wood[Incinerate] - Weak to Earth[Dissipate] - Strong to Water[Conduct])
Ice (Air+Water - Opposed to Metal[Embrittle] - Weak to Fire[Melt] - Strong to Earth[Freeze])
Wood (Water+Earth - Opposed to Lightning[Ground] - Weak to Air[Uproot] - Strong to Fire[Snuff])

Other Elements
Holy (1/2 damage from all standard elements, 1/2 damage to all standard elements - 1x damage from unholy, 1x damage to unholy)
Unholy (2x damage from all standard elements, 2x damage to all standard elements - 1x damage from holy, 1x damage to holy)

There are some problems with this setup. Some of the weaknesses don’t make sense really. Fire is typically strong to wood/plants. I guess the idea is that it depends on how much water content is in the plant. Plant life only burns once it becomes dry. It would make more sense to have wood weak to ice.

Also lightning is strong to water because water is conductive, but metal is also conductive. And water erodes earth just like air does, so that doesn’t make much logical sense either.

Though I guess bringing logic into this could be a problem anyway.

Regardless I could use some suggestions.

Thank you!

What exactly do you want your system to accomplish? Do elements figure heavily into the game world and you want to reflect their significance in the combat system? Is this a game about having tons and tons of collectibles (like Pokemon) and you need an easy to reference framework for balance? Or are you putting together a traditional JRPG battle system and figure that an elemental system is just a necessity?

Personally, I would caution you against such a complicated system. The fact of the matter is, in the vast majority of these systems the strategy boils down to simply hitting the enemy with what they are weak against and putting up defenses against what they use on you. Having 12 elements ends up being virtually the same as 3 elements, except that you have more numbers to keep track of.

If I were putting together a system, I would focus on making it intuitive. Heat/Cold/Electricity/Bio/Shock. Heat and Cold would be fairly traditional, Electricity would be easy to protect against (i.e. rubber boots) but situationally useful (i.e. target in water), Bio would cover poison type things and be effective against living targets but ineffective against constructs, and Shock (probably needs a better name) would cover sound waves and reverberations and such and be effective against constructs but not against soft targets. I’d probably also toss Acid in there, too. The more intuitive you make the system, the easier it is to design enemies, too, since their defense values will be pretty obvious.

Whatever you decide on, though, I would strongly urge you to focus on adding quirky, interesting abilities rather than making everything a matter of just having the right element handy.

Ugh I posted a long response to this but I couldn’t submit it because of a timeout or something, and when I hit back my message was gone.

So I will summarize (quite a bit). Each class is going to based on an element. We are using archetypes of Warrior, Healer, Mage, Freelancer, but want to add more classes. Archetypes are going to be comprised of several classes. Warrior is not a class, but Knight which is in the archetype is. Archetypes allow us to create abilities all classes in the archetype will use. Example: Taunt for warriors.

Players are going to be weak or strong to a certain element, not just enemies so it makes things more interesting. There is also going to be a decay or cooldown on all spells so you can’t spam fireball on an enemy weak to fire.

I’ll post more info later because I think it will help. My friend has a google doc with most of our brainstorming. I don’t have access to it right now.

Thanks for the suggestions :slight_smile:

Part of the problem here is that the damage types are also defense types, which kind of makes no sense. Imo, you should figure out what damage types are going to be done, and what defence types you will need based on the enemies you will face.

For instance, I was designing a dream game a while back(no implementation at all, just brainstorming). Setting was futuristic sci fi, which had organics, cyborgs, and robots.

Then I envisioned various damage types and fit them to those enemies.

Organics, for instance, were vulnerable to ‘morale’ damage. Confusion type spells. Robots were very immune to them.

On the flip side, robots were vulnerable to ‘hacking’ damage.

Cyborgs generally came up in the middle for both, but depending how ‘cyborg’ they were weighed the defenses.

The rest worked pretty much the same way. Kinetic and acid/poison/radiation(generic green goo) dealt more damage to organics, while thermal and emp dealt more damage to robotics.

Now this was a simplistic model, as it boils down to 3 elemental defenses, so it would be further broken up. For instance, heavy machinery, like tanks and such, would be more vulnerable to emp than thermal, while lighter more high tech stuff was more vulnerable to thermal. Armored organics would be more vulnerable to green goo, while unarmed were more vulnerable to kinetics.

Basically I’m just suggesting divorcing the damage types from the defenses. It helps keep things a bit more rational.

We actually did consider a three element system like both of you suggested.

I guess the reason we want to expand elements is so we can also expand the classes (since the idea is that we base each class on a particular element). Each class will have a playstyle based on the element they have (although playstyle can further be augmented by class combos and other elements we’re still working on). Our key is customization and diversity.

I’m not sure if I understand what you meant, but I think you are saying that fire shouldn’t automatically be the attack method against an enemy just because it attacks with ice. I agree with that.

We could implement something, so that the more complex battles have enemies that attack ice, but are still strong against fire.

Also I think it helps gameplay that defending is going to be more interactive.

Block, Dodge, Parry, Counter, and Reversal are for physical attacks.

Mollify, Resist, Nuillify, Counterspell, and Reflect are for magic attacks.

Block/Mollify reduces damage taken by an attack. Dodge/Resist evades damage completely. Parry/Nullify also evades damage, but you must be attacking/casting when you guard. Counter/counterspell allow you to nullify the attack and retaliate, but you must be attacking. Finally, Reversal and Reflect allow you to turn your opponents attack against him which means you receive no damage and cause the enemy damage based on what their attack was.

You have a meter which shows when the enemy’s next attack/cast is. So it will be based on timing. We’re not sure yet exactly how this will work, or if the outcome is random based on skill for each type of guard or if it is based on your reaction time.

The idea is to make defending more interactive and less random.

That really has nothing to do with elements though does it ^^;;

I’m sorry; I must have missed where you explained what your objective was for this design?

If there’s anything I’ve learned from a lot of amateur game design, it’s that if you can’t identify your objective, you can be darn sure you’re not going to get there.

Objective for the design? You mean this specific game mechanic? I said that it was going to be the basis for class design. That we want a fairly large set of classes to allow for diversity in play style.

An element system is usually in place to allow for a knowledgeable player to identify the type of weakness an enemy has and exploit it, but in this case it also serves to give the player an Achilles’ heel.

It won’t necessarily mean that fire damage does double damage to ice, but instead it might have a secondary effect like weakening defense. We’re not completely sure yet.

I’m basically just trying to find a very balanced and sensible elemental system. It seems typical for elemental systems to be based on the classical elements of either western or eastern cultures, and very few seem to stray from that convention. I personally don’t want to use a classical system.

This is just a single part of the game, but it’s the one where I seem to be having the most trouble. So I have been asking around for people who know of some more innovative systems that I can take a look at for inspiration.

The usual elemental system is to provide a rock/sisccor/paper stone mechanic. That’s the standard objective. Why I think Airk is trying to get at - most elemental systems have that as an objective, so what’s new about yours that you need to put so much thought into it? What new behaviour are you encouraging?

We could change the names and the labels (fire can become sarcasm, ice can be reason, wind can become humour and etc.) but in the end the objective is the same - a rock/sisscor/paper mechanic. If this is all I wouldn’t spend the effort just thinking up of new names and relationship.

As you have pointed out, if you think too deep, elemental systems doesn’t make sense. Those are abstractions. The usual elemental system adopted by JRPG is a bi-directional weakness : fire is x2 stronger against ice, but so is ice X2 stronger against fire (Chrono Cross).

The Chinese elemental system is more complex : there are supporting and countering relationships: metal begets water, water begets wood, wood begets fire, fire begets earth, earth begets metal. And the countering - metal counters wood, wood counters earth, earth counters water, water counters fire, fire counters metal.

However, the crux is - with this elemental design, what sort of objective do you want to get. For example, Chrono Cross has the usual ‘rock/paper/sisscor’ mechanic, but characters are assigned an elemental too, and when using a skill of the same element, they get a boost. Hence this design is to encourage characters to use skills comptabile with them (skills are freely assigned in the game) and to differenate characters.

Also, Chrono Cross allows you to add a new element to a character on the fly. Hence you can “Turn Red” an enemy, then blast him with an ice spell. If you are daring, you can add a blue element to a character with an already blue element, making him a double-blue, increasing his effectiveness with blue skills but more vulnerable to red skills.

So the whole objective of an element system is to encourage - risk-taking, adding vulnerabilities to enemy during battle (as opposed to having it fixed, giving certain themes to characters, as to what skills they will take and to constrain resources (you can’t stop Serge, who is of white element, to equip Black spells, but he fares better than White. But what if you don’t have enough White spells to go about?)

Another obvious objective of the element system is to prevent the spamming of the same skill over and over again. If the fireball spell works against all foes, all your wizards would ever learn is Fireball.

However, as pointed out, those are the tried-and-proven uses of an elemental system. The question is : why are you customizing yours and finding new relationships unless there is something your elemental system can do which is innoative and rare on the market?

As an example of a game which did that, take Puzzle Kingdoms - it’s not a true RPG, but it’ll serve. Troops need different elements of mana to summon. You get mana by matching a bejewelled style board. If all your troops are of the same colors, you are screwed if you can’t get the match you want. Bring all of different colors, you have a higher chance of summon the troop types which you would need. If it is too diverse though, it takes time for you to get combos out. There is no elemental countering aspect in the game.

So the objective of having an elemental system? Encourages variety in troop types and trade-offs.

Thank you, Crow, for getting my point across way better than I did. (Sorry. It was late at the time.)

Just saying “It forms the basis of the class system and gives people a weakness” isn’t really enough - you need to understand why this is a good thing to base your class system on. Avoid being complex just because it’s different. I’m getting a definite “People have used Fire/Earth/Water/Air too much, so we can’t do THAT” vibe from your posts - when in fact that system has a large number of advantages, which is part of why it is often chosen.

Presumably you want the class system to be balanced in some way. But the problem that arises here is that if you have “simple dominance” arrangement, regardless of how complex it is, you just end up with elaborate Rock/Paper/Scissors. (Adding more elements to a simple RPS system actually makes it LESS good, because you end up with more elements that are “across the board” from each other and therefore don’t interact at all.). You can sidestep this sort of thing with an “opposition” system, but single straight up oppositions really have essentially the same problem as a rock-paper-scissors arrangement, namely, that the more elements you have, the less of them actually interact. You could go to a Magic the Gathering style “pentagram” arrangement where each element has two “enemies” but…

Also, you mention a lot of class roles that don’t have any relation to elements - there’s no inherent connection that I can grasp between “Knight” and any of the elements (unless maybe it’s metal) - so are all the abilities of the knight (You mention “taunt”?) going to be somehow tied to elements? If so, you risk the game seeming arbitrary (because there appears to be no rational connection between the fact that the knight is… I dunno, Water Element, and the fact that he gets Taunt). If not, you’ve just multiplicatively increased the complexity of your arrangement, because not only does “water” need to be balanced against the other elements, but the “Knight” abilities need to be balanced against other class abilities.

Honestly, I’m having trouble envisioning what you’re trying to do here at all, so I’m hoping you can elaborate a bit so we can give you meaningful feedback.

You still haven’t really told us… what sort of game it’s going to be. Presumably this is a single player experience (Since you are developing it in Flash?)

Edit: Also, have you considered just using a basic “elemental strength/weakness” system? Pick some elements, and give character classes strengths/weaknesses again them. A knight could be say… Very Strong vs Earth, Neutral vs Fire and Air, and Weak vs Water, while another class could be a different combination. That doesn’t mean that the knight is an “earth class” because you could have another class that’s strong vs earth but is instead weak vs Air. It almost seems like you’ve decided you want an elemental system without really understanding why you would want one.

Really, what you probably want is classes that are fun and balanced, and an elemental system may or may not support that.

First off: are you firm on using an actual elemental system? That is, one that at minimum includes elements from classical systems (either Eastern or Western)? Would it suit your goals better to take a different approach, like a trinity system (body/mind/spirit)? Given what I quoted, that would still allow for 3 different classes for each archetype, for a total of 12 classes in the four archetypes you mentioned. That’s a lot of options, and a lot to balance. (This is still without questioning exactly why the various classes have significant elemental associations; that would need to be addressed in the fluff.)

If you want to stick with elements, however, I came in to mention the same Chinese system Crow described. It seems to me that it would offer some dynamics not often seen in RPGs in conjunction with a multi-character party. One interesting possibility would be to have the cycles interact with the turn sequence; each character is affected by the element of the character that acted last.

Say you have four characters in a party:
Monk (Archetype: Warrior, Element: Wood)
Knight (Archetype: Warrior, Element: Metal)
Striker (Archetype: Magician, Element: Fire)
Healer (Archetype: Magician, Element: Water–yes, I’d make the Healer a class, since I’ve no idea how you’d get enough variety out of it to make a class for each element.)

If, for example, the Knight acts right before the Healer, the Healer’s abilities get a buff (Metal begets Water) on his turn. If the Striker acts right before the Knight, however, the Knight suffers a debuff (Fire counters Metal). This could be extended to disabling certain abilities when the character is countered, or enabling others only when the character is supported.

Assuming that only these four characters are acting, the most advantageous sequence overall would be Knight->Healer->Monk->Striker. That gives everyone a buff except the Knight, who gets a debuff. If, however, you need a specific Knight ability that doesn’t work when he’s countered, you could delay his action until after the Healer…at the cost of losing the buff to both the Healer and Monk for the turn.

To add another layer of complexity, you could take the elements of enemies into account, so that their turn sequence would also affect the party’s support/counter status. This would be somewhat similar to the elemental field effect in Chrono Cross, but less persistent. If the party of four above were fighting a single opponent with an elemental attribute of Earth, the party can complete the support cycle by having the Knight act after the enemy; this would give all four party members a buff…but also buff the enemy. Swapping the Striker with the Monk would debuff the enemy, but would also result in the Healer debuffing the Striker. If properly balanced, this would result in a constantly shifting turn order in difficult battles, with a strategy requiring shifting buffs and debuffs in addition to selecting abilities to activate.

Thanks for all the feedback.

Like most of you have pointed out, one of the reasons we want a elemental system is to have a rock-paper-scissors system where one class is typically stronger to another. I think I had already mentioned that, but I think I also said that I was trying to do something different. I don’t think we’re doing anything groundbreaking or even innovative. This is after all just a flash game.

I was inspired a bit by an episode of Naruto… I’m not really a fan, but i was intrigued when they explained that the wood element was actually a combination of Earth and Water. The idea that two elements could ultimately create a secondary element is what I have been trying to fit in. So far it’s not working out like I had hoped.

I also wanted to carry that idea over into class combinations. That a warrior class could be combined with a healer class to create a paladin class.

I think probably I am going to drop the concept for now and focus less on elements.

I do want to theme each archetype around an element, but for now I’ll let it go.

I think we’ll just use the standard Earth, Fire, Air, Water…

I do like the idea of a three element system and maybe break down the archetypes further to just Defender, Attacker, Healer.