A design approach for spell debuff templates

Before I start here’s my definition of what a debuff spell is all about…

A debuff spell can be defined as an effect applied to the target that affects the status in a negative way.

Some of the most common debuff spells I’ve seen in games are aimed at lowering the resistance of the target to a specific damage type or the reduction in the movement speed of the target.

I would take that a little further and would say that if any attribute or property of the target can be reduced then that effect can be considered a debuff, for example if the maximum amount of mana is reduced then that is a debuff; Or the number of items that can be carried will be reduced that too can be considered a debuff.

In my game debuffs are typically applied via spells although items (worn or carried) and the environment can convey debuffs. Examples include using the terrain to stop spell casting, carrying (or wearing) a cursed item.

The main purpose of debuffs in my game are to render the target vulnerable to (further) attacks, i.e. a debuff could be used to lower the targets resistance to poison damage after which the caster would/could use poison based offence spells for a quick kill.

For the designer/modder my design allows you to add secondary effects to the spell. In other words you can combine multiple spell templates, thus giving you a debuff spell that also causes damage.

Most debuffs last for a period of time (or turns) before expiring. During a game this provides the player with different tactical opportunities for using debuff spells. Such as allowing the caster to make good their escape (by slowing the movement of the target) or weaken their target significantly (so their attacks are rendered almost useless or non-existent).

To help visualise the spell debuff template I’ve included an example from my game and following that I’ve provided a breakdown plus description of the individual elements of the template.

mana_self_tiny|Reduces mana instantly|3|5|instant

  • Mnemonic
  • Description
  • Minimum value
  • Maximum value
  • Applied-when

The mnemonic is used within the spell template and it is this attribute that is visible to the designer/modder. The mnemonic itself has been carefully constructed to convey as much information both to the designer and the game as efficiently as possible.

There are three parts to the mnemonic all separated by an underscore character.

The first part identifies the “something” that can be reduced and this covers anything from an attribute (such as strength) to the movement speed to the maximum mana available to the target.

The second part identifies the target of the debuff spell and this is typically used to target a single enemy of the caster. From a functional and design view there is nothing really stopping me from implementing group debuffs against multiple enemies or even area of effect debuffs.

The third part confirms the size of the reduction for the “something” as identified in part one. This could be as simple as a fixed value (as represented by the keyword tiny) or it could be a random value taken from a range. 

The description attribute is primarily used during debugging and play testing only. However it can be used by the designer/modder as a visual reference/reminder to the templates capabilities. Regardless though it is never displayed to the player during a game.

The minimum and maximum value attributes are a pair and provide the game the range of values that the “something” could be reduced by, alternatively they could indicate the number of turns (or period of time) the debuff lasts for or they could even be used to indicate the size of the area of effect for the debuff.

For those debuff templates that don’t include information within the mnemonic that details when to apply the debuff, the applied when attribute provides an opportunity to include that information.

Last but not least I want to provide a little more information on the different debuff keywords I’ll be implementing into the first release of my game.


This keyword allows the designer/modder to create spells that cause damage from a specific type, e.g. poison. It can also be used to directly change the status of the target.


The reduce keyword is used to reduce a specific attribute or element of the target such as their current mana total or their movement speed and so on.


This keyword is used to specifically remove any existing buffs on the target. In other words if you identify that your target is “buffed” then you can remove those buffs, thus making them vulnerable to your attacks.

  • ROOT

The root keyword is used specifically to stop the target from moving for a period of time. This makes the spell (using this debuff) very handy in both defence and offence as you can give yourself enough time to either run away or pummel the target without fear of them getting into melee combat range.

  • STUN

The stun keyword takes the root keyword a step further, not only does it stop the movement of the target but it also stops them from carrying out any action for a period of time.

A note to players….

When playing a class that uses debuffs extensively the player must adopt different tactics to the class that deals in high damage dealing spells. The player must take a “long-term view” to killing their target, i.e. more than one turn before the target dies. The player should get used to using “hit and run” tactics before applying the final coup de grace.

And that concludes my overview of a design approach for debuff spell templates.

Let me know what you think by leaving a comment.

This entry was posted in design, magic, modding, spells and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to A design approach for spell debuff templates

  1. Pingback: A design approach for spell templates | Veneficus Schola

Comments are closed.