Multi-elemental attacks in RPGs? Is there a cool way to do it?

Multi-elemental attacks in RPGs? Is there a cool way to do it?

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Elemental attacks are a fairly standard idea in RPGs nowadays -- if your attack has an element attached to it, it goes against your foe's resistance to that element instead of their normal defense, so you have a chance of doing extra damage if you happen to hit them with the right element, or no damage at all (perhaps even healing them) if you hit them with an element they're resistant to.

Back when Chrono Trigger came out, I was every excited by their idea of combining elements into a single attack.  When I learned how they implemented this, though, I was dissappointed.  The way Chrono Trigger handled multiple elements is that it just called any attack with more than one element a "Shadow" element attack, which was struck me as kind of a cop-out solution.

Now, the most obvious "real" way to handle multiple elements is as follows:

  • Assume actors have an elemental resistance stat for each element.  0% is "normal" resistance, or full damage.  100% is full resistance.  200% is absorbing full damage, or full negative damage.  -100% is double damage.   This is a linear scale, so you can easily extrapolate the amount of damage done for any resistance value.
  • Your "damage multipler" for an element is simply (100% - resistance).  You take your base damage and multiply it by the damage multiplier to calculate actual damage.
  • For a multi-elemental attack, just add together the damage multipliers for all the elements in the attack, and multiply the total damage by that number.

The above idea works.  It makes sense.  Only trouble is, it's not very fun.  An two-element attack against a typical enemy with 0% resistance to each elements results in a damage multiplier of 2, which sounds cool on the face of it.  But, if the enemy has -100% resistance to both elements, the damage multiplier is 4, which means that you did twice as much damage as you would normally do with that attack.  This sort of system as one advantage to the player:  If you don't know an enemy's weaknesses, a multi-elemental attack will fairly reliably do *some* damage, even if it does less than a single-elemental attack that they aren't resistant against.

Increased reliability is nice and all, but it's not nearly as fun as a bigger risk with a bigger reward.  Consider this: enemies already have a fairly low chance of being weak against a particular element.  If we assume that chance is 1 in 4 (which is really high, honestly), then their chance to be weak against *two* random elements is 1 in 16.  So while the probability of hitting a double weak spot scales down exponentially, the total damage scales up linearly.  In this scenario, if you already know an enemy's weaknesses, there's never any reason to attack with more than one element, because hitting them with the single element that they're weakest against (or your choice of elements if they're equally weak against a a number of them) will always yield a at least as good a result as a multi-element attack.

(continued in my next post)