As much as it seemed like the combat instancing was going to add a ton of extra work, it ultimately simplifies a lot of things, from both a design and coding standpoint.
One of the things that's been up in the air was the magic system. I was going to have one, obviously. I didn't know exactly how I would do it. I knew what I wanted from a magic system, broadly. I wanted it to basically be a game-changer, I wanted it to be something on the order of a Daily Power in D&D 4E terms: not something you could spam to win a fight cheap, but something that could fundamentally alter a situation if you cast it once.
Having battles be discrete and limited thing, an actual event with an in-game existence and not just what happens when enemies are near each other, helped with this immensely, and now I have the spell system coded in. It's just the system at this point... I have all of three spells defined. But the framework is there.
Here's an example of what I mean by a game-changing spell.
A scroll of Cold Snap costs an amount of money that is extremely non-trivial, completely out of the reach of newly created characters (literally, as it's not going to be available in the first few towns.)
In the hands of someone with no magic training, casting is not guaranteed and a successful use will turn every adjacent water square into ice for a short period of time. Basically, it lets you cross one-square-wide rivers. Not really huge. It's possible by the time that you can buy Cold Snap scrolls that you've opened up swimming, but it's also possible that you've had other use for your secondary skill development. But if you don't have anything invested in spellcasting, you're going to have about a 50/50 chance of failure for something that isn't really cheap.
In the hands of someone with all three starting points sunk into Magic, casting will be guaranteed and it does something like this:
The lighter water is ice. If this weren't a still image, you'd see the water's "waves" are animated where the ice is (appropriately) frozen. You can get an idea of how wide a body of water could be crossed by looking at how far away the effect is extending horizontally. That's four squares. Longer term, I'd like to make "snowbound" versions of all outdoor terrain icons plus a generic snowy ground/floor, even if only as a purely visual thing... so when a powerful wizard casts Cold Snap, you get a winter wonderland.
Now, not only does the more specialized wizard get to freeze everything within four squares, but they can use the same scroll three times without expending it (four times total). More utility out of each casting, more castings. Even a 2-point wizard will have guaranteed success and freeze everything in 3 squares. A 1-point magic-user just starting out would have a 75% chance of freezing everything within 2 squares... by the time you realistically would get to a place where you can buy Cold Snap scrolls, the chance would be even higher. And this is assuming there are no bonuses from equipment, which is unlikely.
The ability to turn water into traversable land is going to be extremely useful as it literally alters the landscape of the game... mountains and water are a big part of how the map is divided into sections and how the game forces you to take certain paths. There will never be a point where water alone is being relied on as an absolute barrier because items from later areas can work their way back into newbie hands, but being able to turn a river into a bridge wide enough to march an army across will be the sort of thing that lets you make some pretty impressive shortcuts (and reach some useful/cool/hidden stuff, for the 100% completionists).
Cold Snap will have a different effect when cast in combat, freezing enemies and doing damage to them. Even if you have multiple castings available you can still only cast it once per combat, but it's enough of a game-changer that once should be enough... not to auto-magically win the fight, but to seriously swing things in your direction.
Of course, having allies to beat on all the enemies while they're frozen will help... otherwise you may just be delaying your own beatdown. This is characteristic of how spells in combat will work: the more people you have helping you out, the better the effects. All buff spells, for instance, are group buffs that last until the end of the fight.
(Sidenote: the above screenshot has the custom brightness and contrast controls both tweaked down a bit below maximum. I'll be trying to show different settings/combinations in subsequent screenshots.)
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