Today's topic ties in with the last three. We're going to talk about the design for Primary units. A player's squad consists of a single Commander and a set of Primaries. The primaries do the heavy lifting, while the commander controls the behavior of the squad as a whole. Advancement-wise, commanders earn skill points, which the player uses to purchase skills. The primaries use a class system, which is the main topic of today's rant.
Every primary unit has a current class, which determines what his abilities and some behaviors are. It also determines what limited equipment he may use. Classes are simple, in that they at most have 3 or 4 active abilities or options, so they are relatively easy to design. Since the player may have anywhere between 4 and 16 primaries, we've built them to be easy to manage. When a unit ranks up in his class, there are no decisions to be made; it just happens. The only real developmental control the player has over his primaries is which class they are currently, and deciding when to change classes. Since there are lots of them.
Classes each have 10 ranks. Each rank may grant a new action (only while that class), some statistic upgrades (either permanent or only-that-class), and maybe some behaviors (such as the ability to critical strike). In the current design, at rank 5 the class will be given the ability to move to a more advanced class. If the advanced class has multiple class prerequisites, each will require rank 3. While the advanced classes are in general more powerful, ranking up to 10 grants the primary some permanent benefits. The option to change to something fancier is available early but it's up to the player to decide whether or not to use it.
The first 4 classes available (only 2 for any given player) are the Shieldman, Swordsman, Archer, and Scout. Very basic archetypes. Each of these has a direct advancement path, a specialization path, and a combination path. The Shieldman may advance to a Veteran Shieldman (direct), the Defender (specialization), or combine with either of the 3 other seed classes to form, respectively, the Dueller, Crossbowman, and Javeliner. Each of these has a different set of basic abilities, and further advancements beyond these work similarly, although the set of combinations ceases being exhaustive, since that would require a disgustingly large number of classes.
Gameplay-wise, the different seeds are catered to different playstyles. The shieldman is a line-unit, in that they are simple to use, and prefer to be in a large group. Archers work well in similar fashion, they like to be in large groups bombarding from relative safety. The Swordsman and Scout, on the other hand, prefer to be a bit more free to move and do their job. They suffer morale penalties when stuck in combat too long, as well, so they prefer the hit and run, or in general to be on the offense. Furthermore, the scout and archer have more specialized abilities, so may work better for players who like to manage units rather than formations. Advancements may or may not follow the basic paradigm of their origin classes, except for the direct advancement path, which does not make substantial changes to the behavior of the class. The Defender is a Shieldman specialization, which focuses on mobile defense. He's good at defending a set of other units, but only given space to move. He's a sort of interceptor, while the raw Shieldman is more of a blockade.
These 3 echelons (seed, Veteran, Master) form the basic unit types. Once the elemental power is available to the player, this changes things a bit. This happens around level 20, which after about 15 to 16 ranks learned, so a full class and a half. In the original design, the elements granted new seed classes, which may have also combined with existing classes, and, well, you can see the potential nightmare of class count here.
So we had a new idea. The elemental power doesn't really determine 'what' the unit can do, it merely modifies how the player does it. Why not codify that into the class system? When the power is gained, a new set of classes becomes available, one for each element. We call these classes Augmentation classes (and call the 'main' classes Cardinal). Aug classes never grant actions, but rather modify existing actions on any class they are tied to. Modifications can come in the form of procs (something happens as a result of something else happening), or in the form of ability replacements. A sweeping strike may be modified by an air elemental to be a wider range knockback wave. The basic action feels the same, but the effect is upgraded.
The complete classname is thereby given as a prefix for the Augmentation: A flame-swordsman, an earth-shieldman, etc. The early augmentations will be basic; aids to elemental defenses, some simple procs, etc. Later advancements between elements will yield more complicated ability conversions. Like cardinal classes, augments rank up and can yield new augments, or...
Or they can yield new cardinal classes! Or perhaps cardinal classes can teach augments? Why not?
After a bit of training with the elements, the units have mastered their control enough to consider making themselves into a strict magic user. Not a swordsman or archer with a bit of magic tacked on, but a raw magus. New cardinal classes become available; Incanter, Enchanter, Thaumaturge. Respectively; Projecting effects of magic, Modifying objects by use of elements at touch, and modifying elemental power at range. Incanters use a simple ability 'Blast'. But blast is just the method, it's nothing with an element to drive it. These classes require an elemental augmentation to be useful. And Fire-Incanter will have a fire blast, a Water-Enchanter may enhance weaponry with cold and ice, an Earth-Thaumaturge may slow the enemies movements or make their armanents brittle.
I'm personally holding out for a Mist-Summoner. Why not?