29 December 2013

Making a Roguelike: Magic Systems

As our roguelike nears its grand reveal, let me talk about magic in the game.

Magic needs to be mysterious. Magic needs to be weird. Magic needs to be hard to grasp. Otherwise it's not magic. In our game, as with many traditional roguelikes, magic comes in the form of things with randomized effects. As the main character is an illiterate, mundane person, there are no scrolls or spells to be learned. The three categories of magical artifact are: Potions, shrines, and amulets. Each of these three has a different way of activating them (and none of them can be activated by accident), each may have positive, negative, or mixed effects, and each has a distinctive way of being identified beforehand.

As I wrote before, the main characters illiteracy means that there are no scrolls and thus no typical "scroll of identify" to find out what the item you have found does. As the game is somewhat short and it is unlikely to encounter the same magical artifact multiple times, trial-and-error is a bad idea with potions. Well, it would seem like it is a bad idea to drink unknown fluids you find in a cave anyways but here that is somewhat enforced. Amulets may be a very helpful thing, but they also might be cursed, putting a negative effect on you, preventing you from using another amulet, and being generally nasty (and the way to get rid of them is very rare to be found). Shrines may be the domain of demonic entities, which will make your life harder if you attempt to contact them as praying to them might constitute agreeing to contracts that are not beneficial to you and your survival.

Each room has a 50% chance of having a distinct feature (or more). One of these features are large crystal formations. Holding an amulet above those will prompt a message of how the crystal reacts to the fluid, which is an indicator on the fluids effect. The system is not too obvious and it might take the player some trial-and-error to find their way through it but it is a system that seems natural within the low-fantasy world that the game takes place in. At least a positive-or-negative distinction should be possible for an inexperienced player.

Another feature are the shrines themselves. One of the possible shrines offers to identify items worn by the player, which includes amulets - in exchange for a sacrificial item. Another possible shrine offers the take off a cursed item from the player, also in exchange for any item. Besides these effects, wearing an amulet may prompt messages in situations where its effect applies, thus making them somewhat more easy to identify, especially as they are not used up by wearing them. Cursed items cannot be removed when worn, so a positive effect can be easily tested by trying to remove the amulet when worn.

Shrines are a bit harder to identify and the options is a bit obscure and rare. See, another one of the possible room features is a description of cave-paintings. If these are on the same floor as a shrine, the description text changes to one that includes the deity of the shrine drawn in a crude way and a reaction of the world around it describing that shrine-effect. Shrines can permanently change a players stats, thus they are a very powerful kind of magic in the game that must be taken seriously, but none of them have purely negative effects, those that do take from you always give you something in return. It's up to the player to find out what and whether it is worth it to them or not...

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