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By the Time I Lose It, I'm Not Afraid

It seems like just yesterday that we were rushing to complete the Technology Demo video so that we could smoothly transition to the 2nd Kickstarter. Hard to believe it has been a full year already. But when I fire up the game client and look at the work in progress, I'm also blown away by how far we've come in such a short time. We're a little bit past the halfway point of development before Early Enrollment and we are now starting to really dig in on implementing the first, skeletal game systems that will be the foundation of the Crowdforging to come.

After a long series of blogs about stabbing each other for fun we're finally able to turn our attention again to the arcane and divine energies that suffuse Pathfinder Online and empower the characters who can cast spells!

This week, Stephen outlines some of the recent changes to spellcasting, and the expansion of the mechanic to be useful to all players.

Spellbooks as Originally Conceived

Our original conception of spellcasting can be found in the I Put a Spell on You post. As we started moving into fleshing out Wizards for this milestone, and figuring out what the user interface (UI) would look like for them, we noticed a few issues: position on the Refresh feat list, maintaining spell lists, and utility to other roles.

We'd long expected spells to work similarly to summoning an elemental weapon in Guild Wars 2: use a power that temporarily changes your weapon bar to your list of spells. The more we thought about it, and based on the way the UI was shaking out, it started to make more sense to just equip it like a weapon that you'd switch to with the normal weapon switching toggle. But then we'd have a weapon that didn't behave like any other weapon.

Scribing spells turned out to be a bit of a headache for a lot of reasons. Not only would we be using the crafting system to bake in a bunch of very unique data for one type of item, but keeping track of expended spells would have a deep impact on other systems. Either we would have to further complicate items by tracking which spell slots had been used on the item itself, or we'd have to track it on the individual character (which might have meant not letting you unslot certain items and feats except on a Refresh and having weird results when things were forcibly unslotted if you didn't have them threaded when you died).

Finally, we had the core problem that we were making this complicated mechanic for Wizards only, and we were having to put in a lot of other limitations (e.g., not very powerful without the Wizard role features slotted, uses up a Wondrous Item slot, may use up the Belt slot, etc.) to keep it from being attractive to non-Wizards. And we were still worried that it might occasionally be attractive, because the spellbook gave a larger number of uses and versatility (even at greatly reduced power) than other Refresh feats.

So our changes were based on the following mandates:

  • Adjust systems so it makes sense to have a spellbook work like a weapon set.
  • Figure out how to track spells in a way that still feels like tabletop but is easier on the database and doesn't limit changing equipment and feats out of combat.
  • Create a mechanic that can be used across all roles (with minor variations) rather than a complex mechanic just for Wizards.

Implements

Our solution was implements. These are a class of weapon that produces expendable effects ("expendables" is the general term, but for style reasons we also refer to them as "spells" for casters and "maneuvers" for non-casters). Implements are often at least a little bit magical, allowing us enough story leeway to explain why martial abilities run out over the course of a day. Example implements are:

  • A Wizard's Spellbook (of course), which contains arcane spells
  • A Cleric's Holy Symbol, which contains divine spells
  • A Fighter's Trophy Charm, which contains self-buffing maneuvers
  • A Rogue's Rogue Kit, which contains poisons and other alchemical and mechanical tricks
  • An Aristocrat's Banner/Warhorn, which contains party-buffing maneuvers
  • An Expert's Toolkit, which contains maneuvers that buff or destroy structures
  • A Commoner's Holdout Weapon, which contains surprising attacks

The way the keywords for implements are designed, certain of them may have significant crossover, particularly among non-casting roles. For example, Fighters can use a Banner/Warhorn at nearly full effect, Rogues can use a Toolkit similarly, and both Fighters and Rogues might find use in a Holdout Weapon.

In general, we expect spells to be better than maneuvers due to the other tradeoffs required to use them, but they're not so much better that a Fighter would rather use a Spellbook than a Trophy Charm, Banner/Warhorn, or Holdout Weapon. That is, you'll usually want to slot implements appropriate to your role for the best effect.

You can equip two implements at a time (and we've reduced the total number of non-implement weapon sets to two as well to prevent being overwhelmed with options, so you have four sets total). There are up to six actions available on your active implement, and they sit above your regular weapon attacks. You can activate them by clicking or pressing Alt+1-6.

Power and Cooldowns

We made some major alterations to the Refresh system to allow you to change out implements and other limited-use feats and gear (see below) more frequently.

Each character has a stat we're currently calling Power, which is similar to a long-term Stamina. It doesn't regenerate on its own when you're in the wilderness. Within the boundaries of a settlement or point of interest, it regenerates slowly (with building improvements increasing its recovery speed). You can also eat food to recover variable amounts of Power (but there's a cooldown on eating food such that at higher levels you're better off eating one expensive meal than several cheaper ones). Additionally, improvements to inns/taverns can make food return more Power when consumed in the building.

All implement actions (and certain other actions, see below) consume a variable amount of Power, and the more expensive the action, the more powerful it is. If you don't have enough Power, you can't use the action. The amount of total Power available to a character increases as the character advances, and this pool is spent on actions from all different roles. Players on their second roles may be able to use a lot more low-level actions than they could on their first.

For expendables like Wizard and Cleric spells, which historically become unavailable once used, we have the concept of the "until end of combat" (or just "combat") cooldown. These actions, once used, become unavailable until you are out of combat, at which point they become available again for the next fight. This isn't exactly the same as a spell being gone until it is prepared again, but it gives us much greater leeway in allowing you to change out your gear outside of combat (and to recover from dying and losing items in the process) without having to create a complicated spell-tracking scheme. Actions with this type of cooldown get a discount to their Power cost or are more powerful than other actions of a similar Power cost.

Finally, all implements have a global cooldown of several seconds: when you use one expendable, you can't use another until this cooldown ends. This prevents characters from just blowing through their most powerful actions at the beginning of combat, trying to out-alpha-strike one another. Instead, you have to use your expendables when appropriate, as using one precludes using another immediately.

Learning Expendables and Slotting Implements

Expendables are treated as another type of learned feat. You don't learn expendables from trainers, instead finding them as loot.

  • In PvE, they drop from targets appropriate to the type of expendable. For example, Wizard spells drop from caster NPCs (as scrolls or book pages), Sorcerer spells drop from magical creatures with similar spell-like or supernatural abilities (as imbued remnants), and Fighter maneuvers drop from strong creatures (as trophies).
  • In PvP, any expendables the player has slotted have a chance to appear as additional loot if the implement they were slotted in was not threaded (the original character does not forget the expendable, it is merely copied into a loot item).

Once you've found an expendable as loot, you can spend XP to add it permanently to your character. At that point, you can slot it in any appropriate implement.

Implements don't have keywords (those are on the character's Role Feature for expendables), so instead they vary based on Max Level and Total Levels. For example, you might craft a Spellbook (6:24). You could put any Wizard spell of up to level 6 in the book, and if you put four level 6 spells in the book, it would be full (because it contained 24 total levels). You could, instead, include a selection of 6/5/4/3/3/3 to have a spell in each of your available slots, as that would also add up to 24.

This method of learning spells and other expendables moves the process to feeling a lot more like preparing spells than crafting, gives us more cool things to give out as loot, and introduces several new crafted item types without making implements require a more complicated crafting interface than other items.

Other Changes to Active Feats

The concepts involved in expendables have also resulted in a few other changes to feats.

Since several actions that might have been Refresh feats can now be used as expendables, we've reduced the Refresh feats from four slots to two, and we're now calling them "situationals." They generally represent "panic button" actions, such as heals, evades, or short term defensive buffs. They may also consume Power and have cooldowns that last until the end of combat, but they don't share the global cooldown on implements.

With the concept of six weapon attacks that you could press a modifier key to change into implement actions, it made sense to have that parallel on non-weapon actions. That is, you have two utility and two situational actions, and those can be altered via modifier key into gear-based actions. Your utility buttons get modified into consumable buttons, and your situational buttons get modified into boot and gloves buttons.

Consumables now include wondrous items: you can use the same slot for either a potion, grenade, etc. (which uses up an item when activated), or for a wondrous item (which uses Power and may go on cooldown when used, but doesn't use up the item). Wondrous items no longer have a passive effect (Spellbooks moved to implements and Bags of Holding have their encumbrance capacity redistributed to belt and back items). Similarly, boots and gloves don't do anything automatically; equipping them gives you access to a bonus action (which may consume Power and have a cooldown). Boot actions generally involve increasing your mobility or defense, and glove actions generally improve your attacks or allow you to buff or heal targets with a touch. Other gear (belt, hat, etc.) continues to provide a passive bonus.

This means that a fully loaded character now has access to twenty actions at one time (thirty-two counting weapon and implement swapping), accessed via ten keys (plus a modifier key and a weapon swap key):

  • Six weapon attacks (which can be swapped to six more)
    • Six implement actions (which can be swapped to six more)
  • Two utility actions
    • Two consumable/wondrous item actions
  • Two situational actions
    • One boot action and one glove action

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