MP: Avoiding Design by Default

in Design

One thing I’ve noticed a lot, is that in video games, especially turn based RPGs, there are some things that are just done, because they are done. They are implemented without a lot of thought, its just the default design. In this article, I’m going to focus on one of those individual mechanics: the standard resource economy of Magic Points.

Now, I’m not saying that it doesn’t work. MP or its equivalent is used in plenty of games that I truly like. But, its focused around the idea of attrition mechanics, and tends to create one style of gameplay. It does work well, and if looking at it, you decide its the best fit for your game, I’m not going to stop you. But I do think changing the resource economy of your game is one of the fastest ways to make it stick out from the pack.

Of course, we do have some other defaults, especially in RPG Maker, since we have the charging TP bar as well. Its a new twist, but it too has gotten a bit of the “Default” in RPG Maker just due to the mechanics being built in.

For inspiration, I’m going to look outside of video games, and reach for my other hobby: Board Games. Board games have a long history of turn based alternative resource mechanics. I’m going to talk about two alternatives myself, but there are plenty of them out there.

Dice Assignment

Two games I’ve picked up recently, Roll for the Galaxy, and Dead of Winter, use what I call “Dice Assignment” as the main driver behind the players available actions.

Also, the Roll dice look suspiciously candy-like.

Also, the Roll dice look suspiciously candy-like.

Basically, at the beginning of your turn, you roll a set of dice, and then you assign those dice to actions based on the rules. The two games work a bit different in the assignment part, and I’ll talk shortly about them.

In Roll for the Galaxy, each die has different sides representing each action. You can do that action once for each die you have assigned to that action (there are more rules on whether an action will even occur in that turn, if it doesn’t you can’t do them, but I’ll avoid that part of the discussion to avoid overcomplication).

In Dead of Winter, you have normal 6 sided dice. Characters will have attack and search traits written like “2+” or “4+” or any other number between 1 and 6. This means that you have to spend a die of that number or above to perform that action.

Now, I know what you are thinking: That sounds super random. And if that was all it was, it would be. But both games mitigate it to some degree: In Roll, your selection of dice effects likelihood of each side (different colors have different numbers of each side), and it also features a lot of ways to move dice to other actions. In Dead of Winter, there are options that you can always spend a die on, no matter the number, that are good, even if they are not 100% ideal, and also has special actions that can let you reroll dice at times.

This is a mechanic that I could easily see fitting into a turn based RPG. Roll dice, assign dice to character actions. Stronger actions need rarer die sides. Add in ways to manipulate the dice and you have a neat working system that is almost completely unique when it comes to video games.

Action Recharge

This is done in two games that I have in my collection, Space Hulk: Death Angel and BattleCon: Devastation of Indines, and I think it works really well to keep the game rounds from feeling “samey” each turn while not relying on a resource like MP.


Devastation of Indies also happens to be the most intimidating game I’ve ever opened. Actual shot of me organizing it for the first time. Not all of the contents of the box are in shot.

In both games, it behaves very similar. When you play a specific card/card combo, you mark it in some way to prevent using it again for a set amount of time. In Death Angel, you can’t take the same action two turns in a row, in Devastation, the cards you play go into one discard pile, which then moves the two cards in that into another discard pile, which then moves the two cards in that pile back into your hand.

In video games, this has been implemented in minor ways. A few skills may have recharge times. But imagine a game with no MP costs, but EVERY action had recharge times, even standards like attack and guard. Imagine how much more dynamic the gameplay could be when you had to do different stuff every round. You would constantly have to think ahead to which action you would need next turn. As long as you kept each action similar in power, you could have all recharge times identical. Or you can take advantage of how much easier this mechanic is to do in digital space and have different recharge times for different skills based on their power.

There are plenty of alternatives to the normal MP/TP style system that everyone uses. Find your own. Pull inspiration from anywhere you can. Do you have any ideas about new ways to implement the standard resource economy to make it feel fresh? Share them with us in the comments section below.


15 comments… add one

Leave a Comment