In tactical fantasy RPGs, characters can be sorted into major roles like tank, healer, etcetera. Most of these specialize in one tactical pursuit during combat, like ranged damage; a few blend more than one pursuit, such as the off-tank support role; and in particular, magic users often employ several tactically-distinct types of magic -- mixing up those types will be the focus of this piece.

Let us list the major combat pursuits, magical and otherwise:

  • Tanking (blocking, damage absorption)
  • Melee damage per second (DPS)
  • Ranged damage, conventional
  • Crowd control (stuns, movement stop, etc.) **
  • Buffing (benefits to party) **
  • Debuffing (penalties to enemies) **
  • Healing ***
  • Magic DPS (ranged) ***
  • Area-of-Effect (AoE) damage (usually magic) ***
  • Summoning ***
  • Shape-shifting ***
  • Anti-magic ***

(* is possibly magical in character, *** usually is)

There may also be variations or specializations of many of these, targeting specific types of enemy or armor, or trading off different qualities such as speed and accuracy, or activated in different ways.

Now let us look at the typical combinations of these found in magic users.

  • The typical priest has an array of buffs, debuffs, and healing; and possibly crowd control.

  • The mage or wizard specializes more in damage: DPS spells and AoE; he may also do summoning and crowd control.

  • The druid is more varied between systems, and often a grab-bag of types: often he has shape-shifting, summoning, and crowd-control spells; possibly limited healing and AoE as well.

  • The bard primarily has buffs, but also some debuffs and possibly a little crowd control or healing, which he mixes with conventional ranged or melee damage.

We can easily imagine some different, interesting combination of roles:

  • A psionicist (or sorcerer), who offers accuracy-based buffs and debuffs, anti-magic interdiction, some crowd control, and limited direct ranged damage.

  • A spellsword off-tank, who generates AoE spells, short ranged DPS, and possibly crowd control, always centered on himself (where he is immune to the spell). He must, by necessity, be defended with armor and probably has basic melee abilities.

  • A diabolist, who can summon imps and other creatures, can transform his own form, and can heal allies.

Before we mentioned some of the variations in how basic roles could be fueled. Let's enumerate some of those, so we can also play with them regarding magic users:

  • Unrestricted ability
  • Per rest (or some other major period)
  • Group per rest, e.g. spells are sorted into levels, with four level-3 per rest
  • Mana: each spell has a cost and mana regenerates: either at some rate; with certain actions, like kills; or with certain events, like damage received
  • Wounds (or energy, etc.): i.e. mana fueled by the mage's own health, or those of others

We might hazard that per-rest is the standard method restricting spells, including minor ones; with mana-based systems being a little less popular; and alternatives restricted to more unusual casting classes. Less strictly magical classes are more typical candidates for mana or other systems (like mentalists or bards). But for our three new types, we can swap things around much more:

  • The psionicist/sorcerer would have straightforward mana that would recharge on a regular basis (i.e. per round of a fight, up to full afterward).

  • The spellsword is powered by blows he suffers or, more exotically, from wounds themselves, which he heals (or mostly heals) as he casts his spells -- thus, he can save up power for big spells, but risks a wound so large that he's incapacitated or killed.

  • The diabolist has per/rest casting or mana, but can recharge this by slaying his enemies (by him or his minions, not other allies). Thus, his healing is directly powered by death.

Many other remixings and variations are of course possible, adding interest to an RPG beyond the details of the combat system.

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