Thursday, December 30, 2010

TAP Revised

After a good deal more testing I have the revised list of TAP prices and some testing as to how they "stack together."

It seems that adding TAP defenses is actually weaker than the sum of their parts. I'd noted this before and I'm still not sure why it is--although I suspect that in most cases it is because most of these prevent PEN Doubling (in some cases they prevent PEN altogether) and once you get the bonus for one of those the same deal with the other isn't worth anything (characters with -4 DM and No Pen Doubling are paying twice for what -4 DM practically gives you by itself).

That shouldn't be the whole story--but I think it's at least part of it.

I also got some feedback so here's my responses:

  • +1 or +2 AGI is only for the AGI Bonus. It doesn't add to AGI rolls or to AGI for skill purposes.
  • +2 CON does NOT by itself increase DP. If you get +2 DP--and you should--you pay for that normally. I did this because I want to isolate the +2 CON cost. In most cases I believe you will get +2 or more DP along with it.
  • No Unconscious means, for now, you treat every Damage Result above Dazed as Dazed. That means you tend to die at -5x DP. You will, however, suffer Condition effects (such as negatives to CON rolls). This is the sort of thing you'd give to slasher-killers from the Friday the 13th style movies. We need to revisit this so that there are some more nuanced effects (above Dazed guarantees a Knock-Down or 3-Rounds of down-time unless attacked ... time to run!)
  • Mech-Heal is a "cybernetic" power that gives you a charge that removes a damage-result (up to unconscious) and heals a certain number of DP or ADP. It represents the unit taking damage--but "coming back online" quickly. The 1x, 2x, 3x are the number of charges. These need more testing because (a) I didn't do a full suite and (b) These numbers are without regaining any points.
  • The grayed out listings are "the same as the 16 AP levels" so they are the minimum costs. While there is some wiggle room there, I'm not going to sell -8 DM for less than 7 AP. I haven't fully vetted the others.
  • The yellow-on-yellow listings are where I made some adjustments to the value to better illustrate what I saw during testing. Usually it means the "average value" was a little low by an AP or two at some level of testing and I increased it slightly.

Could You Buy Off This List?
At this point, I think so--yes. It's been tested quite a bit and while I still have some reservations this price list seems to be reasonable.

Will This List Appear In The Game?
It probably won't appear just like this, no. These abilities will usually be part of other things (like Fast Defenses are part of the Fast Company package). As a result the actual prices might be less than the listed values since for in-house designed powers I can test combinations specifically and use their evaluated real-costs.

On the other hand, I don't plan to lose information and the value differences are pretty mild anyway. I suspect that what'll happen is that this kind of chart will appear in the back of the book or on a web-page/tool somewhere.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Expected Build

I've done a little testing of the Giant Attacks list--but our breakthrough on Total AP Cost (TAP) characteristics has had me scrambling. Our formulation of it effects everything from Fast Company to Stretching and beyond (that was how the testing started: I wanted to know what -4 DM was /worth/).

This does bring up one thing though: I am testing with 4 test characters (Mixed DP and Armor, Full DP, Force Field, Full Armor). It's unlikely that we'd see some of these builds in conjunction with some of the TAP abilities. Who would take "Doesn't Take Hurt Condition" and leave themselves at only 14 DP on 64 AP? No one I can think of. That isn't to say it's horrible: the FULL ARMOR rating is usually the best in most of these common tests but when you start adding in a lot of TAP defenses you'll often see FULL DP or Force Field come out the highest victory.

Here's my thought: Some of these abilities -- and this goes for all abilities -- are going to show up where the player thinks they'll be the most effective. While it turns out that within a fairly narrow range of balanced battles Full Armor and Doesn't Take Hurt Condition are within tolerances for reasonable choices we're far more likely to see that on DP-heavy characters.

Does that mean we need to change our testing line up?

The obvious answer is that even if it /did/ I don't think we could--not easily--but the fact is that looking over these various builds it appears to me that the distribution of wins (the best mix of defenses) is, although somewhat skewed towards full armor (half one's DP spent on armor) mixed /enough/ that while there may be one optimal grouping for a given defensive strategy most of the choices a player can make are okay.


Friday, December 24, 2010

More TAP Testing

Further tests suggest this:

  • The minimum costs for TAP items seem to hover around the 16 AP values. You can't get -8 DM, really, for less than 7 or 8 AP even if you're an 8 AP character. While there are probably cases where this is technically not true it seems for now that this is the safest way to do it.
  • The values from the chart are usually within a point or two of the real values. For the 64 AP chart the biggest variation is 4 AP from the tested value to the estimated value. A variance of 1/16th is something I can live with. Nevertheless there are going to be some modifications to the chart by the mentioned point or two in order to more correctly reflect tested values.
  • Adding TAP abilities together is, as I said, not simply a matter of adding the costs. It seems it doesn't "quite work that way" and I'm not sure why. Mostly it seems the prices over pay which, I guess, is safer (it doesn't "break the game") but I'd like to have a way to "get it right."
More TAP Abilities
An investigation of our power-list showed there are several more TAP abilities that have yet to be tested. Some of these are:
  • CON: this is one of those Defense multipliers. The more AP you are, the more +1 or +2 (about the limit I'll sell) becomes worth)
  • Heal: Some characters can "burn a heal" getting them back 10 or 20 DP and negating a Damage Effect (usually limited to Unconscious or below). This is, again, relative to the total AP value of the character.
  • Doesn't Take PEN Doubling, Hurt or Injured Condition, PEN damage (treat all as Impact), Doesn't suffer "Unconscious," Doesn't suffer "Above Unconscious." These are components of undead, robot-bodies, slimes, and so on.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Hmm ...

While the formula does seem to work /reasonably/ well, it seems that mixing and matching items from it does not. While I need to validate this, it looks like:

  • +1 AGI and Full Block both work full vs. Range is worth 8 AP at the 64 AP level
  • FAST Defenses (-8 v. PEN, -4 v. IMP) is worth 16 AP.
  • Together these are worth 20 AP, not 24 which the math would imply. 
This trend continues for several other elements.

The most probable outcome of this testing is that we'll just sell "packages" of these things properly costed and, if we must, sell the individual elements with a warning. That's if I can't figure out what's going on (clearly the value of +1 AGI which fully applies is "pretty good" by itself--but less good when it's combined with big negative damage mods. In other words, it brings "a lot to the table" but a good portion of that is "already brought" by the -DM's).



The methodology used to do the TAP cost stuff was, really, fairly experimental. I had to hope our system was tight enough that I could take a 32pt (or whatever) character, add 1-12 (or whatever) points of Armor and that then the %-Percent-of-Victory (POV) improvement that the characters showed against the herd would match up with the POV increase that something like -8 DM showed.

It turns out, it's looking "pretty close."

I was concerned that when I added, let's say, 8 AP of armor to a 16 AP character I 'd get a 24 AP character who had only 1/3rd of his points in attack. That's /legitimate/ but it's not what we think of as a "common build." I'll recap here that we consider 1/4th AP in attack "Low Damage" (LD) and 1/8th or less AP in attack to be Very Low Damage (VLD) but above 1/4th is "Normal" so these guys were still in the "Normal" range (wherein they get no special breaks on things like extra REA)--just the lower end of it.

But I wasn't sure if that was skewing things or not.

I also knew that there were "floor" costs for these things: no matter what the formula said you couldn't really get -8 DM vs. everything for 1 AP if you were only 8 AP as a character. These abilities have minimum costs I haven't tried to calculate yet.

So my approach was to "triangulate." To do this I'm taking the three herds and modifying their points spent in traditional defenses (Armor, DP, Force Field) and adding in TAP stuff like +2 AGI vs. Ranged, -4 or -8 DM, and so on. I deduct from the points in traditional defenses the estimated cost of the TAP defense and see if the POV changes.

If our estimations are right, it shouldn't. If our tests say that for a 16 AP character -8 DM is worth 5 AP then if the character normally has 8 Armor (for 8 AP) then he should be balanced with 3 Armor and -8 DM. Same difference.

Turns out, while I've only done the 32 and 64 herds thus far, that's turning out to be "about right." If anything some of those values on the chart below are sometimes 1 AP higher (but I've not found anything that's /too/ out of line ... yet).

So it looks like the methodology at the high end works!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A few quick notes about TAP items

That list below looks very scientific--but it's not quite. Here's a quick description of how it was generated:

  1. I took the three herds (16, 32, 64) and to each of the 4 "test characters" I added the specific advantage (so FAST as in Fast Company is -4 DM vs. Impact, -8 DM vs. Pen). I ran the simulator
  2. I removed all the self-vs-self battles. I wish I'd done that from the start--I insisted they be there and it was probably a mistake--if the test character is overpowered he still gets a tilt towards 50%-POV (Percent-chance Of Victory) by fighting himself and his test-character peers.
  3. I got a POV-increase from the standard test character. So if I added +2 AGI I got a bump of like +18% POV for my four test-guys (and these guys are 50% weapon, 50% defense).
  4. I compare that increase to another chart I'd already made: the test characters with +1 Armor (+1, +2, +3, +4, etc.). We have tested and discovered armor to be pretty consistently worth 1 AP per point of armor. So if +5 Armor gave a 15% increase in POV and some TAP-power gave a 15% increase then we could say, by deduction that the TAP power was worth 15 AP.
  5. Problem: The problem was that a LOT of these powers fell between the armor values ... in some cases substantially. I made a bunch of judgment calls I'll have to revisit later about which way to go since we don't generally sell fractional AP. I then used that "eye-balled" value to determine the % of total AP. I need to go back and revisit this and we'll see if I can get a "more scientific" measure.
  6. I then rounded up for all the AP values to try to smooth out the curve and try to erase any serious mistakes that my testing, data quality, etc. might have introduced (i.e. rounding up will mean that if I've underestimated then I should be able to compensate somewhat).
So testing will continue. What this means, however, is that certain powers (like Stretching) which give -Damage Mods, certain kinds of armor, and so on, will have TWO (and in some cases 3) cost components. These are:

FIXED COST: If a power like stretching includes "flow through keyhole" that, in JAGS, has a fixed cost--it doesn't change no matter what the rest of your character is like.

TAP: Total-AP component. Abilities like the above (-DM's, extra AGI, and so on) are based on your Total AP. So if Stretching includes -4 DM vs. all physical attacks then it'll cost based on your Total AP and be different for different point-level characters.

Damage Level Based: Some powers (like extra REA) cost based on what your character's Damage Level is relative to AP (that's Very Low if 1/8th or less of your AP are spent on attacks, Low if 1/4th or less of your total AP are spent on attacks, or "normal" if more than 1/4th of your total AP are spent on attacks). 

Some powers like Fast Company which include standard abilities, negative Damage Mods, and extra attacks could include all three. :-O.

Our plan to deal with these monsters is to have arranged costs as a table where we've done the math with a side-bar that explains how to work it out if you're either off the chart or doing something unusual (like adding "Fast Level 2 to a pre-existing character").


Saturday, December 18, 2010

TAP Costs

There's a lot of complexity here that I don't have time to explain--but here's the short form: some things rightly cost a "percentage" of your Total AP ('TAP'). Usually these are things like defenses (extra AGI, negative Damage Modifiers, etc.).

I think even more rightly the /multiply/ your points in Defense--but that's going far, even for us. Here is a table of what I estimate some of these would cost.

The columns with AP values are what the ability costs if your character is /that/ total AP.

NOTE: FAST is -4 vs IMP, -8 vs PEN
NOTE: The Average number is the multiple of your Total AP that it costs. The numbers for -4 DM and -8 DM are wrong (cut-and-paste error). I'll see if I can get the right ones ...


Thursday, December 16, 2010


The first set of results are in--and while my data is substantially more sophisticated than what I'm smoothing over here, these are the numbers:

* -8 Damage Mods (vs. Everything): 1/3rd of your character points (AP)
* -4 Damage Mods (vs. Everything): 1/4th of your character points (AP)

This ratio holds true at 16, 32, and (roughly) 64 AP. There is also a /floor/ on these abilities which I /think/ (but have not proved) is 4 AP for -4 DM and 8 AP for -8 DM respectively.

I want to take a break from the Giant List of Attacks to test Fast Company a little further. When I get home.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Damage Mods vs. Armor

I'm traveling but I figured I could still do some tests. In this case I'm testing (and have been running it in the background all day) a match up of extra armor against negative damage mods.

This is a load of testing: it's 10 tests for DM's (Damage mods run from -1 to -10 in JAGS) and possibly more for armor. Then I need to do this at at least three power levels (16 AP, 32 AP, and 64 AP).

To make matters worse, my tests--all day's worth--ran into two different DQ problems (I had set things up wrong on two different counts). So ... retest.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Level 3

In JAGS a Level 3 combat skill ignores "-3 points of negative modifier." Usually this is applied to ranged weapons ignoring environmental modifiers--and, as one of our players pointed out, the rule book has some overly specific verbiage about what modifiers can be ignored.

Here's the deal: A ranged attack skill ignores any negative modifiers other than:

  • AGI Bonus modifiers
  • Double Tap modifiers
The question is: should it ignore other kinds of modifiers, such as "cover"--and even more to the point, what about L3 Hand-to-hand combat skills. Can they ignore, say, size modifiers, letting you kick things that are very small.

Things You Can't Ignore
The rationale for saying there are some modifiers you cannot ignore (such as Double Tap, AGI Bonus, or, let's say, the -1 for a Kick) is that those modifiers generally make the attack special. A double tap move lets you get two shots for 5 REA. That's a good deal and it only makes sense if you hit less well than otherwise. Same with a kick. 

AGI Bonus is pretty sacrosanct since we rely on it to protect certain character types. Devaluing it would make AGI a lot less useful.

Things You Can Ignore
On the other hand, things like:
  • Range
  • Size
  • Speed
  • Visibility
  • Unstable firing platform
  • Poorly aimed weapon
  • Off-hand penalty
  • Recoil
  • Negatives from flash or other Resisted Attacks
  • and so on ...
Ignoring these gives you a bonus for having a higher weapon skill and makes it pay off. We think that's fair. These are also usually not related to the attack itself--or to the character themselves. They are generally conditional.

So What About Cover?
When a character gets Cover they get a -1 to ... maybe -6 to be hit added to their AGI bonus. This is a big deal for things like attacking from a vehicle (where the vehicle gives cover even though most bullets will go through it) or movement in a room (where we are considering allowing "Tactical movement" to give a cover modifier in most urban environments to handle making use of terrain for properly trained characters).

At the core of the issue is this: L3 skills cost only 4 CP making them available to any character who is "serious." Most PCs who can fight or are supposed to fight at an "expert level" (which is, in our experience, a whole lot of them) will have an L3 skill either out of the starting gate or shortly after the game begins. This means that negative modifiers will get eaten up quickly.

If we make it so that Cover is reduced by L3 skill then, unless other modifiers are in play (which is not terribly likely) then taking cover won't help that much and won't be a big part of play. If we, on the other hand, treat Cover like AGI Bonus then it makes taking cover a huge part of play.

More importantly, in (many) games you can take several "shots" before you go down--but if you're playing 50 CP JAGS and playing a solider without body armor (say WWII?) then one hit from a rifle and your character if not dead is probably screwed ... badly. So if you are playing those sorts of games then the PCs will need to find ways to stay alive (outside of just "never entering combat") so cover is a potentially good part of the equation.

My Thoughts
This came up during the Have-Not game Sunday night. My character had cover and as we were attacked by the L3 boss robot (Bone-Digger: the level is full of Call Me Al song references) I took cover and he chewed up the cover modifiers with his L3 skill. 

We weren't exactly ambushing him and having things be more or less "straight up" made everything play more fairly. In real life there is a whole lot of ambush attacks--and many battles are mostly static with parties staying religiously behind cover. On the other hand, real-life chances to hit are a lot lower than 9- for most people--it just wouldn't be much of a game if we played out numerous rounds with 6- to-hit chances or something.

So I'm not 100% sure yet. I think that either (a) a lot of "real life battles" include L2 opponents so cover bonuses do make a big difference or (b) the play-value of having cover be really key is questionable. Either way, it seems that treating cover as another conditional modifier is more in keeping with the spirit of the game rules--with our logical foundations.

On the other hand, having it work on L3 opponents would lead to a lot more tactical cover-taking at every level of the game.


Monday, December 6, 2010

I'm Burning, I'm Burning for You

I'm slowly working my way through the Humongous List of Attacks. Currently doing Incinerate. This is an attack that takes a Round to charge, does not miss (+8 Large Weapon Bonus), automatically Burns for 1 Round, and ignores armor (it burns the target from the inside out).

Our simulator won't handle the second round of Burn with an "Ignores Armor" modifier. I'm not overly concerned--the exact numbers probably won't be too different. But it highlights the sort of thing that makes the generic list of modifiers hard to quantify if you're designing really intricate attacks.

I just had a tooth removed so I'm not really inclined to a longer post but I do want to talk about our game last night.

I wanted to talk a little about the playtest last night

Have-Not Post Apocalypse
So we're down on the second run into the GC Complex and we've encountered a fair variety of robots. Including some recurring ones. The GM is using our spreadsheets to create "level appropriate fights" (and treasure). We fought:

  • Oversized "Big Wheel" bikes with mounted machine guns and centralized "helmet monitors" that could see and display writing. The bikes had coverage armor (the wheel) and were fairly fragile around them
  • Knife Fighter Robots: Flying helmet-monitors with blade weapons. These are very fragile once they take PEN damage they pretty much break.
  • The "Egg Bot" which looked like an egg standing up and had speakers for eyes and mouth which could project powerful sonic blasts (took out a PC in one hit, pretty much)
  • Bone Digger: A boss--a humanoid robot with shoulder cannons and a huge shotgun and throws armor piercing knives and two head-mounted blasters that took time to power up.
  • In the same level we have also fought giant grappling roaches which will leap on you and grab you (probably immobileing you) before starting to eat you (net result: if you are by yourself and not a grapple master, you are in big trouble)
This is a small list of the things we've fought. For treasure we have found:
  • Ring Tones: musical numbers that, if you have something to play them on (a "red key card" will do) give you a 5pt non-stackable power field.
  • A platinum gift card with 1 Success Point to the holder as an added bonus.
  • A T-Ball Inertial Glove that gives the sword guy big bonuses to his attacks
  • A gift card for free music downloads (I wonder if we can get ring-tones with that?)
  • We've also harvested a lot of power cells, toner ink from cartridges, and have kidnapped some small robots (a Script Kiddie hacker-bot). 
  • There are collectible pogs that you can work into weapons and get sets of four (we currently have 3 "cleave pogs" and a "LuZ Pog" which came from the same terrorist organization that created the giant roaches ... it seems.
Anyway, I'm discussing this here because it all feels very surreal and baroque and bizarre. The game is currently handing a mass of carefully balanced fights and treasure and feels very D&D-ish without having to have a lot of guess-work in terms of what would flatten us (the GM has a history of throwing things in at semi-random and then discovering that they are well above ... or below ... our character's ability.

Not only is this an excellent play-test for our rule-set but it also is the sort of thing we tried to do in GURPS and Champions and had a very hard time with (mixing XP and treasure).


Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Thomas notes that we don't say how long you have to rest after  exertion to regain endurance. What's up with that? Doesn't JAGS have rules for, like, falling and drowning? Why not endurance?

There are two pieces to this discussion. One is actually interesting. One, not so much.

Not So Much
In JAGS the Endurance rules exist for two reasons. The first is to distinguish running from sprinting. Our assessment of the movement rules, early on, was that champion sprinters run the 100-yards very fast--but they run, like, the first 10 yards more slowly than the last 90. This observation is built into the JAGS movement rules (you must move at "run" one Round before you can "sprint"). From that point we decided there had to be some reason you did not /always/ move at Sprint speeds and, therefore, the obvious answer: Endurance was ... well, not discovered (anyone who has done lawn work or attended a PE class has probably run into Endurance)--but let's say "re-discovered."

Even from the start we knew pretty much what we wanted to do with it: not much. Champions, one of our formative go-to games, tracked Endurance for every attack. We charged "one Endurance point a Round" no matter what you did. The game tracks combat in terms of seconds--outside of Sprinting you can go for minutes. Already that's 'out of scope' for game balance.

Even in combat you get like CON Rounds of action before you're sucking wind. Given that most fights last like 2-4 Rounds and even a mega-battle won't usually go 12, it's clearly just not going to be a factor.

That's intentional: we had very, very little interest in making you run out of Endurance during a battle. It's true that it happens in real life (UFC fighters can "gas" and by round 12 most boxers are pretty tired) but in almost no fiction (save, for example, boxing fiction) is it much of a factor.

No: Endurance exists to stop someone with a lower power attack from, like, leveling a mountain range by repeated fire. It exists to explain why you can't carry your buddy across a desert. It exists to put an upper limit on activities and it also helps explain some drowning rules.

Given that this is a small part of the game,  we didn't devote a lot of time to it, and in the interest of brevity, we never said "how long you have to rest to get it back."

That's the interesting part.

Interesting (?)
So the interesting part is looking at how "time passes" in traditional RPG play. I mean, it's not as straight forward as it might look. For one thing, even "real time" sessions aren't necessarily real-time in the game. It's even arguable that you as a player, speaking in character, might not be saying the same things that are coming out of your character's mouth in some hypothetical "RPG-game reality." For example, if you are playing Star Wars, almost no matter what you say "in character," your actual guy isn't speaking English (and if you roar like a Wookie, does anyone think a real Wookie sounds anything like that?).

Time wise, however, there is a very important concept that divorces game-play from the reality around the table--and that's the concept of a "scene" or "encounter." In RPG-play most of the time the action will (ideally) move from one important or interesting segment to another. Sure, there can be false starts, filler, or attention to detail moments of play--but I don't think it's controversial to say that if you consider RPG-play as a series of "scenes" with some connective tissue you won't be too far off the mark of what a well run game will be like.

The concept of a scene is roughly "when interesting things start happening to when they stop." Because heavy action (fighting? Blasting things?) happen in a scene then the idea is that if you can rest then you get the endurance back "by the next scene."

If you can't rest (because of, say, waves of opponents coming at you) then the "scene" isn't over and you're kind of screwed.

So that was the limit of our thinking--although we had not--and have yet to--entirely adopted the "scene" concept. Why not? Well, for one thing it's very meta-gamy and we want that to be kind of optional rather than always a hard and fast rule. For another thing it's hard to determine what a scene is if you're going to look at the edges (can a player drag out a scene by declaring they're interested in the action?)

On the other hand, we could've determined how long you had to rest in order to regain Endurance. Our method for this is to go to Google and do some research. Then we want to simplify what we've learned and try to arrange it into something that plays well.

I haven't done that for recovery but I can tell you from my history of working out (I work with a Personal Trainer four days a week) that "recovery" is not yes-or-no. What happens (to me) when I really bust my ass in the gym is that the next day I am degraded in my ability (both in terms of maximal effort and ability to work hard over time). This means that a realistic assessment would be pretty complex.

That kind of complexity is possibly only interesting in a really deep "fight game" (i.e. the PCs are UFC wannabes who must choose things like training Endurance vs. training Strength or something). I think we'd be into diminishing returns.

I advise that if period of rest is important then you want to say something like: Once you hit the "Tired" zone (END equal to CON) you recover 1 END for 1 minute's rest (the 1-round between fight rounds) and then after that, up to half you recover 1 END up to half your END. Beyond that it's like 10 minutes per END.

If you keep doing this (working to exhaustion and then resting and working again) you will lose 2pts of maximal END each cycle done in a day. Those are recovered with a full day of rest.

Something like that?


Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Negotiation Drama

One of our blog-followers asked me how to create a drama for the following scenario: the characters are members of the "Morrow Project" (Fun fact: in the original Morrow Project RPG you rolled 4d6-4 to get your stats generating a number from 0-20 with a strong bell curve. This was the inspiration for the JAGS roll. Additional fun fact: MP's sense of devotion to firearms modeling was responsible for the way JAGS determines firearms damage!)

These guys were frozen before a global nuclear war and are now defrosted 150 years or more later bringing high tech weapons and vehicles to a society that is partially medieval and partially Gamma World (there could be robots, ultra-tech weapons, and surviving AI-controlled installations, for example).

The PCs are peaceful in nature, seeking to rebuild--but there are now all kinds of warlords and fortress towns and such. One of the jobs of the PCs will be to negotiate peace and agreements between these towns. How would you do that with the JAGS Drama System.

Answer: Very carefully!

I don't have the mental cycles to do "all the math" (at least not right now) and I'm traveling which means that I'm not on my home PC with all its resources--however I'm going to sketch out a Drama for negotiation to show the thought process and give, hopefully, a foundation for the guy who asked to expand on if it suits his purposes. It's also quite likely I'll have made some foundational assumptions that will result in this drama being useless to him. That's fine.

I'll also note that "getting the numbers right" is a big part of this and it's not easy. This is DIY game-design almost by nature. That said, it's a powerful tool and we do give you a good deal of help. I think, in the future, we will give even more help (the Big Book of JAGS Dramas) but right now, this is what I've got.

Where To Start?
The place to start is to imagine what the actual game-play will be like. What's the imaginary situation(s) that you're thinking of? What would "roleplaying it out" be like if you could? What's at stake? Who are you up against?

Here are my assumptions:

  1. I will imagine that the PCs are generally negotiating against one person--a leader (a war lord or town mayor or whatever). This person will have a style and objectives and their town (material) and all that stuff in a "roleplaying" sense. There will likely be other parties involved but I'll assume each drama is pretty much PC-vs-1 NPC and that if you have to do 2 or 'n'-way negotiations what'll happen is you'll do them as separate dramas.
  2. Winning means you get your way (whatever that is) assuming there is any way they would agree to it. If "your way" means the death of the party you are against, it's right out. If you lose then one of two things happens (a) the situation collapses to war (or whatever the bad, unstable consequence is) or (b) the other person gets "his way." An example of this would be Town A is starving and Town B has food surpluses but doesn't want to give them up. If the negotiations fail (the PC loses) Town A will either attack Town B or be left to starve at the GM's discretion. It's possible that the food will still go but the price will be something like the able-bodied sons of Town A being forced into servitude or something bad like that. Generally once the drama is lost the GM will tell the players they can decide to take matters into their own hands but the morale of the loser will be really bad and so on.
  3. We will assume that roleplaying this out would look like a time-limited conversation of offer and counter-offer (or appeal to the good nature of one side ... or making threats or appeals to practical consequences or whatever). However we'll assume that in almost all cases there's a time-limit involved and that there's a pre-determined bad-outcome that is likely if the PCs can't intervene. Where a clear win-win scenario exists, the existence of the drama may mean that one side is simply being obstinate or irrational. In other cases there will be no clear win-win.

Determining the Type Of Drama
There are several types. The standard one is three rolls. Another kind is "open rolls" where each roll represents some amount of time passing or some other resource being used. I am going to opt for a Three Roll Drama against either a Charisma roll (Persuade, Charm, Recruit, or Intimidate), Diplomat, or a RES roll at -2 (I am putting in the -2 because I'll assume that raw RES without being combined with either skill or personal magnetism is weak for this).

Three roll dramas are good for time-limited situations. The selection of the Diplomat skill is a no-brainer: that's what it's for. The allowance of Charisma skills (which will be rolled against the target's WIL) is in there because if the team doesn't have a diplomat I'd assume that Mr. Slick (or Mr. Persuasive) is still pretty good at reaching accord. Since I want to encourage Diplomat, though, I am going to give it some other advantages as well (it can use Level 3 Advanced Maneuvers, for example).

NOTE: For purposes of the Drama I'll allow Charisma rolls to work on even "Named NPCs" so long as the actual roleplaying effects are mitigated by the GM. There are some complex reasons for this (I want to reward the ability without having a PC "mind-control" named NPCs) but essentially this would be explained to the players as "in the context of negotiations you can use your charming nature to be more effective but you still can't make them fall in love with you if I say they don't."

Difficulty Number
This is determined by the GM using the table in the book. The GM will also give the situation a "Flash Point" rating which is either Low, Medium, or High (possibly Very High) which determines how likely a failure of negotiation is to lead to war. This may be the "bad outcome" but will also be used in assessing Take Risk moves (see below).

The table is straight forward and will reward L3 (or L4) skills since it provides difficulty levels that just about require them to work properly (if the PC is entering very difficult negotiations it'll be tough to do with just a high Charisma Roll).

Choose Phase
So I go to Google and type in stuff about negotiation strategies and types of negotiators. It turns out there are a lot of these and they're all different. But I want to use some baselines from here so I come up with one that I like. Here are some URLs I looked at:

These are all good breakdowns of "who you might run into." The first one even has a matrix of types and outcomes and I love a matrix! However, I went with the third for simplicity. The GM will typically determine a person as:

  • A Fox: an I-win-you-lose deceptive type who is out for all gain and tricky to deal with.
  • A Bloodhound: a win-win type who will listen to reason if you can make sense. It notes that many foxes pretend to be bloodhounds
  • A Donkey: a stubborn or angry person with limited tools in their arsenal for discussion. They may not be tricky--but they are hard to deal with.
So the GM will secretly pick one of these. The PC can also pick one but can choose to change it for different negotiations. If the PC doesn't pick one, they are assumed to be Bloodhound.

I then looked at "negotiation tactics." There are lots of these (all the sites favor "find a win-win!" which is not helpful in a 'duh' kind of way). There's also lots (too much) of fine-grained advice around when to pretend to walk out or whatever. I don't want that level of detail--but I do want some PC/NPC interplay before we get cracking so I go with a Roshambo choose stage. I go with "Rock-Paper-Scissors." Here are the three approaches that will be chosen in secret (by the PC and the GM) before each roll:

  • Aggressive (Rock): the party is threatening the other or otherwise being highly assertive (threatening to walk, banging shoes on the table, etc.)
  • Principled (Paper) : the party is negotiating from a set of principles or conditions that must be satisfied (these can be rational in the case of a Bloodhound or irrational in the case of a Donkey--or a smokescreen in the case of a Fox--but it doesn't matter: that's their approach).
  • Accommodating (Scissors): While this stance doesn't give anything away the position is that the person is trying to be "the good guy" and looks prepared to give things up. This can be used to 'trap the other person' or might just be a submissive position for-real.
The winner of the Roshambo will gain +2 SPs If They Win The Roll. They get +0 if they don't (note: this could also give +'s to the roll or give SPs even if the winner doesn't win).

A Fox will get an additional +2 SPs if they choose one play they are strong at. This is also chosen in secret before the battle begins. Once the +2 SPs are won, though, the PC will know which play is STRONG for the Fox.

A Bloodhound will gain an additional +2 SPs for winning with Principled stance.

A Donkey will gain an additional +2 SPs for winning with an Aggressive stance.

The reason for doing this is that (a) choosing a stance and trying to figure out what kind of person you are up against seems to me to be "a lot like doing negotiations" and (b) it gives us something for other skills to do (see below). These kinds of decisions are also, simply, fun. Knowing that a person has a weighted victory towards one of the three choices makes Roshambo even more interesting: will they make their strong play and hope they surprise you with it? Or will they intentionally play a weaker hand and try to trick you that way?

The Use Of Skills
If the PCs have some skills they can bring them to bear during the drama.
  • Psychology: A psych roll at some negative (TBD) can tell what kind of person you are up against. If you make it well, you can tell what the strong suit of a Fox is. This happens before the drama starts if you can, at all, psychoanalyze the target.
  • Diplomat: This works the same as Psychology but at a -2. It'll still work though and if you are L3 or L4 you ignore that negative.
  • Con Artist: This will help with a specific move down below. It might also help "read" a person to see what move they are going to make in the Roshabo. You'd probably need L3 or higher skill to do this.
  • Lie Catcher: This would see through some moves (False Concession) and would also tell you when a Fox is masquerading as another type (i.e. the PC makes a "Lie Catcher roll" when introduced to negotiator and comes back and determines that they are 
The use of other skills gives other PCs a chance to get in on the action. It also gives a negotiator a chance to be deeper than one or two skills. If you could build this out more you could have room for negotiation teams (you could have guy who excels in detecting lies).

So each roll you get a free move and a standard move. Free moves are like "pushing it" and Advanced technique. Here are some Standard Moves specific to the drama:
  • Problem Solve: Someone on the PC's team is trying to come up with a "technical" solution to the problem. If they can succeed in the allotted time they get a big bonus--but this is difficult. The PC makes either an RES or applicable Science (or other) roll. They must beat a certain number of SPs by the end of the drama. If they succeed they get a lump sum of X SPs (TBD) based on the difficulty of the situation (this, essentially, is a second drama happening along side the first).
  • Pressure Them: This is not necessarily the same as an Assertive/Aggressive stance: it's a real threat. In this case it's the Take Additional Risk move with some roll (Strategy/Tactics) or Diplomat and, if it fails, then there is a check to see if you get WAR. This is based on the Flash Point level. If the character succeeds then they get SPs based on the negative they took. Again, the exact rules would need to be worked out for this but the basic idea is that on a given round you can take an aggressive move and risk WAR.
  • Make Concession: If you have something to give away, you get SPs based on what the GM thinks it's worth. 
  • Make False Concession: This is a "Take Additional Risk" move that uses Con Artist. You pretend to make a concession. If you fail? Maybe war. Maybe just souring negotiations. Whatever the case, it won't be good. Con Artist will see through this too.
  • Intractable. You can choose this. If your opponent chooses anything else you get +1 SP if you win the rolls. If your opponent chooses it as well whoever wins the roll gets +2 SPs. If you choose this and you lose the roll you lose 1 SP.
These moves need a lot of work to iron out and there could be more. The point here is to give player a chance to take some actions during the rolls and see how they manage it.

It's also clear I haven't explained all this all that well and I haven't even pretended to play-test it. But there's the basic thinking.


Friday, November 26, 2010

Death Traps

What are the odds of running into a -9 to disarm trap? That's a big question. How come?

The Historical JAGS Approach
As I've said here before, there are some "standards" that JAGS has historically applied to negatives. Let's take a look:

  • -3 is generally "hard."
  • -6 is generally "very, very tough."
  • Negatives to hit targets in combat generally max out around -4 for hand-to-hand or -6 for range. It could be more--but a Level 4 skill (Master Level) removes -6 points of modifier so if you are a (very rare) world-class master and and are targeting things that are -10 to be hit (for environmental modifiers like range and speed and size and visibility) you are taking some monstrously hard shots.
Under this framework a trap that's at -9 to disarm would be, well, pretty damn rare.

However ...
We think that in a dungeon, as per our current Post-Apocalyptic Have-Not dungeon game, a trap that's at -8 to -10 to disarm might be the case in around 5% of the traps encountered.  What the heck is going on and why do we think that?

The Thinking
So okay: you are the "traps guy" in the party. You start life with L2 Traps on a 14- or 15-. After a dungeon adventure (2 CP worth of experience) you go to 16- because you have a 13 COR. After a second dungeon adventure you pop up to L3 (another 2 CP). If you were less dedicated to begin with that might be three dungeons.

Assuming you were a 50 CP character to begin with and had 10pts of negative Traits and now have an estimated 6 CP worth of experience you are now a 66 CP character. You have spent approximately 6 of those CP on Traps skill. You are now a L3 16- Traps Expert with approximately 10% of your CP invested in being that guy.

First  Note: You Never Get Any Better
While not literally true the point has been made that improving on this state of affairs is quite difficult. You can go to L4 (an extra 10 CP or five dungeons worth of dedication). You might go to 17- for 6 CP (or so). If you can improve your COR you can get another point that way too. These are expensive and, at least for Level 4, implies you are a world-class master instead of just, well, a really good "Traps Guy."

You are pretty darn far into diminishing returns here as well unless your environment is really rocking the traps rules. Like: all traps all the time. You better really enjoy disarming traps.

Second Note: How Hard Might The Traps BE!?
If I am on "level 10" of a JAGS dungeon with a character who has been through "8 Dungeons" and gone up "a level" for each one--that is "a pretty deep level" with a "pretty high level character" am I, what? Running into -18 Traps? -8? -5? If we go with the historical solution then a -8 Trap is pretty extreme. Maybe I'm just running into -5 traps meaning I roll at -2 and therefore make my 16- L3 Traps roll on a 90%-success-rate 14-.

That's so good it's almost pointless to have me roll. It's so pointless it's probably boring. 

If this is, indeed, the case then L3 16- as the "top level" is pretty reasonable and it assumes that disarming traps at <10% of your character (by the time the guy has done eight to ten dungeons he's got maybe +20 CP?) basically just means that unless it's some kind of uber-trap you cut right through it without much difficulty and the drama comes from somewhere else.

This is "okay" and there's a reason it's the historical model.

However ...
However, we don't want that for a MMO-style Tactical dungeon adventure. For that we want a complex cross-fire of interlocking modifiers, challenges, and arms-race-style character designs. We want there to be stuff in "the dungeon" that is "challenging and dangerous" even at the traps level ... maybe especially there. So that gives us the Dungeon Challenge Framework.

The Dungeon Challenge Framework
We make the assumption that (a) a dungeon is definitionally a high-stress environment and (b) there will be some degree of 'randomness' in the challenges (they will not be carefully coded to the character's abilities. If you do make that L4 Traps guy you will, in fact, deserve a big edge rather than having the dungeon reconfigure itself to maintain the challenge level: you paid to be good and you are good).

Here's what it looks like: there's a table of randomized modifiers with about 5-8% being extreme (-8 to -10 or more) and many in the -1 to -4 range (the exact proportions are under discussion). The GM (Eric, in this case) also has categories of trap from very deadly to less so and randomly matches them and then assigns them in order to trapped doors (he's randomly creating dungeon levels using some kind of generator).

So you can run into a trap that's at -6 to detect and -9 to disarm and explodes for 30 IMP damage. And we did. It wasn't remotely fair--but that's how the dice fall.

We like this. For one thing, a L3 character reduces the -9 to a -6 (meaning it's a 10- 50% roll) so if you are L3 that'll help a lot (if you were L4, you'd reduce the negative to -3 and cut right through it with a 13- success roll). Secondly although 30 IMP X damage would've stomped us, it wouldn't have killed us (most likely) and that creates the kind of high-stress live-or-die situation we're looking for. So this seems workable (even if that example was extreme).

But You Still Don't Get Better
However, that framework has a problem: this was our second dungeon. What do you run into on your 8th? Is it more traps at -9 to disarm? or are the traps at -17 or something? And if so, what do we do about the fact that your skill level and roll still haven't gone up?

Archetype Traits
The current thinking is that you have Archetype Traits ("Thief"?) that give you SP Pools that you use in the dungeon. These pools counteract negatives and can improve successes where valuable for certain types of skills. So if you have 24 AP in Thief and that gives you, let's wildly guess, 24 SPs for the dungeon, you can use it to remove up to -24 points before you have to regroup (note: that is a lot in Thief--so it better be good). 

After spending CP on the skill tops out, the character can pay AP for more and more. The negatives for traps will go up, but not that dramatically. However, you will see more and more high negative traps which would decimate a party without the SPs to burn.

What About Other Skills and Other Scenarios?
Let's assume locked doors work the same way. Is there a Lock-pick Archetype Trait that does the same for Locksmith skill? The answer is pretty much "yes" (although Thief would work for both and probably Stealth and Streetwise too). 

In "normal games" a character will likely run into traps when other people have set them (see the movie Predators where the group runs into Viet Nam style booby-traps on the alien planet--they were set by someone long ago and are not dungeon-style moving wall, spear firining mechanisms). In those cases you are outside the dungeon framework and are back in more classic JAGS where negatives don't regularly spike to -10. 

However, let's take the "Gone in 60 Seconds" game where the PCs are stealing high-end cars in a kind of underground tournament. This could be declared the dungeon framework and you could well run into a car that is at -10 to be stolen fairly easily. We think this model and thinking allows for character Archetypes to grow in a level-based progression but doesn't require it for games where that's not appropriate.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Burn Baby, Burn

I'm testing flame attacks. These currently have the effect of burning for the same base damage for one additional round (the "Napalm" effect burns for three rounds after the initial hit). Here are some thoughts.

  1. I think that the official flame power will be that it only burns on a hit by 4+. While this doesn't distinguish it from Power Blast as much as it might, I think that it'll (A) greatly simplify the "standard" flame attack (you need a "good hit" to get the burn effect) and (B) it'll perform more or less as I see it happening: not every hit with a flame blast should set targets on fire--only some. The current "always burn" configuration will still be in there. I'll just call it Heat Ray.
  2. Right now the simulator has the burn effect happen at the beginning of the Round. This is probably necessary because of the way the simulator works (changing it would be complex) but I tend to think the actual rule will have the power burn on the flame-attacker's Turn--making that player responsible for handling it. This should reduce the value of the flame attack slightly because it'll give the burning character a chance to take action before being hit again. We may make this change to the simulator to test it. We may not: I'm facing probably 60 days of testing and have a lot of travel and work and stuff to do.
  3. I believe an 8 REA Stop-Drop-And-Roll action would prevent most burns (chemical burns being the exception). We could also test this (the simulator does allow for certain kinds of conditional emergency actions). I am pretty sure that it would not be a "winning move" (it would be a desperate move that characters would take when they really need to). We can also allow someone else to smother the flames with a cover-them-with-a-blanket action which will prevent unpleasant desperate situations where a character is going to burn and probably die if someone doesn't do something. 
  4. It turns out that 3-rounds of burn is not worth as much more as 1 round of burn as you'd think. What the 3-rounds does is: (a) result in more "both-parties-die" ties as guy A wins and then, two Rounds later, burns to death (b) it simply results in damage "after the flame-guy has already won." Most of these fights take 3-4 Rounds (note: some do take much longer--but out of 5000 we are trying to herd fights into a 3-4 round model for "good, pleasant, fights between nominal equals"). At this rate having 3 rounds of extra damage simply doesn't do that much to the situation. This is, kind of, good news: I was afraid that extended burns would rule the game. As they (generally) don't, it makes that attack less unusual.
  5. In a perfect world there would be some Advanced-Optional rules for setting targets on fire (a space suit makes it harder, wearing a lot of flammable hair-gel makes it easier, etc.) and rules for the fire spreading or going out or whatever (the "1-round rule" would be a generality). These kinds of optional rules would make fire-as-a-weapon pretty darn scary (and tactical: dousing the target with oil first would really help). I'm not sure who they help though. Almost always when I add an "Optional Rule" I say when you want to use it. I'm not sure in what game you use "advanced fire rules" because they make the experience better.
Happy Thanksgiving to all my American readers and a wish for a great weekend anyway to everyone else!


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Traps, Cheap Skills, and Specialization

Eric brings up some incredibly interesting points (based on the post-apocalypse dungeon game we're playing right now as well as on a variety of theoretical discussions). I'm going to try to re-phrase / paraphrase his points here:

  1. If skills like Traps are relatively cheap, what is their role in the game? How do you address a player wanting to be "the traps guy" (or "the lawyer guy?" or whatever). Is that a valid role? How much should it cost?
  2. If you want to have more than one "traps guy" (or "lawyer guy" ... or "lawn care guy") and there's just one skill for that how do you handle that?
JAGS Philosophy on Stereotypes
One of the things I really like about what we've done with JAGS and are trying to continue is that within the spectrum of a single "stereotype" (I would say "archetype" but that word has a specific technical meaning in JAGS) there is, where the rules can address it, a broad spectrum of approaches. Let's take an example:

Imagine a Martial Arts game where you have four players, all of them combat specialists. You might have a Karate guy, a Kung fu guy, a boxer, etc. Now, let's narrow it down: the game is set in early mythical China: all anyone gets is Kung Fu. At this point, how do you differentiate it? Well, you get the strong guy, the fast guy, the hard to hurt guy, the smooth-talking Kung Fu con-artist. And so on. But what if there were different schools of Kung Fu? Well, there are: we have a big and rich special moves list (and that's not counting mythical Chi abilities) that would allow relatively low-point characters to distinguish types of Kung Fu. We also have different skill levels: you could be the ultra-rare L4 Kung Fu super-master or an L3 bad-ass. You could be L2 and be "just okay" but maybe stronger or something (the 4 CP necessary to be L3 will go a good way towards a pretty exceptional stat on standard point levels.) The Martial Arts system shows this explicitly but we're doing the same thing in a sometimes run Esper Psychic Detectives game where the ESP rules allow for various types of Psychic Investigator even though everyone basically has "the same power."
The problem is that you can't keep this up indefinitely: how do we handle the "everyone is a lawyer" game when the rules do not, and will not, list special "lawyer moves?"

In our current game, one player removed some of his traps skills as another player's Traps roll was simply much higher and he realized he likely wouldn't use them.

JAGS Philosophy on Difficulty
It's fairly ensconced in the rules that negative modifiers run from -1 to (around) -6 with rare exceptions going higher. Since a (very rare) L4 skill ignores -6pts of negative modifier it's clear that a -10 Trap (or law-problem or whatever) will be trying even for a world-class master and will pretty much ruin anyone else's chance to handle it easily (although a very good 16- L2 character would have a chance to make a -10 roll and a L3 guy would be rolling on a 40% 9- which isn't bad at all--it's just not the kind of roll you want to stake your life on).

The Standard JAGS Solution: DRAMA ROLLS!
We have a solution to all these things: it's the Drama Rolls system. If you are playing a game where every PC runs a Lawn-Care service then you would create Lawn Care Dramas and use the general skills system to provide skills that aren't in the book ... and then you'd work out how the heck that works. Maybe you have rules for smooth-talking customers (I know my last lawn-care guy tried to smooth talk me). There could be rules for recruiting the right guys (instead of people who are casing the neighborhood in the guise of doing lawn-care ... something that allegedly also happened around here). Maybe the specialist business owner with great leadership skills could get a morale boost. Maybe the person with artistic skill could do prettier lawns than the other guys?

We even have a relatively extensive chapter that would help  group put this together. But while we think that's a great answer, it doesn't fully address a couple of questions raised above and, to be honest, if the group isn't really skilled at building good dramas then it's not going to be all that great anyway (although, to be fair, if you are trying something as absurd as the Lawn-Care game you might want to do a lot of work making that drama-game before starting to play--if the group just "isn't all that good at " there's going to be problems somewhere along the spectrum of trying a game).

The bottom line is that building a good drama, even with help and examples, takes work and if you base your game around it and you blow it it hurts the game a lot. Having something that's lighter-weight and built in wouldn't be bad.

Generic Difficulty Levels or Specializations?
Eric posits a generic specialization or difficulty system where players choose one of four specialties (he uses the card suits as stand-ins for specific specializations) and if you don't have the right suit you get an additional negative.

This isn't on the face of it a bad idea in some ways. It's generic which means it has a flavor issue if you don't do the work to flesh out the specialties and I have questions about the "spread:" Do we assume that 75% of the attempts are "Clubs" while 25% are split somehow between the other suits? Or do we assume (by default) an even-spread so someone with only one specialty will suffer 75% of the time? Is it different for different games/skills? How do you know? It's also another level of decision for the GM. If I know you only have one specialty and I know what it is, when I load my encounters with things, do I randomly assign the "suit" or do I plan it to work for or against you? There's no right answer for this--but it's another decision point for the GM.

On the other hand, it does build in a way for there to be several "Traps guys" or whatever without just having the distinction be skill level and skill roll ... and it doesn't force the creation of a complex drama.

So Where Does This Leave Us?
Well, it leaves us with this: I think that the specialization system is primitive right now--too much so to just drop in. We'd need to play-test it and play around with it and figure out just how much it hurts the L2 guy with just one area. On the other hand, have some really good dramas for things like Traps--which are a staple of certain kinds of gaming--would be a good step in the right direction to help shore up specific weaknesses.

I also think that some solid rules for having help would be good: if the guy with a lower Traps skill could still assist, that would be useful.

Something Hero-System did that I really liked was they allowed you to buy helper-skills that could be anything. If you bought a skill that was "Knows streets of Baltimore" or whatever and you wound up in Baltimore and were trying to make a Streetwise roll--HEY!? My Knowledge Skill applies! That sort of thing was actually quite nice.

Maybe we could learn from that? Instead of having the four suits, have the player come up with specializations and then the GM could determine where or if they fit (so you'd have the Electronic Traps guy and the Mechanical Traps guy, and so on)?

I'm still thinking on this--but I wanted to get a response out.


Monday, November 22, 2010

Still Working

Between work, family, and travel, I have lagged behind my Big List Of Attacks testing--however, it's still going. I would estimate it'll finish sometime in January (considering that Thanksgiving is this week, I'm traveling the next 3 weeks for work, and then Christmas and so on). However, the list is good and the testing is proceeding (I'm doing a form of Plasma Blast right now).

I got asked two questions in the comments so I'll take them here!

Poster Thomas5251212 Asks About Using Psychology Rolls on PCs in order to "make suggestions" to them about how an NPC might be coming across.
This is a key element of roleplaying: can I play a smooth guy if I'm not smooth? How about a sexy-vamp if I'm not real sure how to roleplay that (or just don't want to?). While there are some issues with "efficiency" of session wherein if the least smooth guy always plays the smooth-talker it may lead to some jarring results (especially if the play allows the player to say whatever they want and then make a roll to have it be convincing--this could lead, for example, to a case where a player verbally abuses an NPC and then rolls to make s/he respond in a positive fashion ... something that I wouldn't fault other players for finding distasteful*).

JAGS is very explicit about not hijacking your character: if for some reason the player's roleplaying is outside what seems reasonable or acceptable (a fantasy elf talking in modern-day vulgar street-lingo would be an example) then we think that's for the people to work out first and foremost. This also goes for your alcoholic player refusing to drink: if you're going to refuse to drink, why play an alcoholic in the first place? And if you play an "alcoholic but it doesn't really screw him at the wrong times?" Well, we're okay with that--that's one reason the negative Traits give fairly few points: they don't try to 'balance' the defect.

On the other hand, what if the GM wants to make an NPC a great leader but isn't quite sure how to pull it off ("He, uh, makes a speech like in one of those movies ... where, uh, it motivates everyone ..."). How about using the Psychology rules on PCs (something the rules don't allow) but doing it as a suggestion the way Traits work?

Short Answer: Yes. I think that's a great idea.
Long Answer: Yeeeesssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss. I think that's a great idea.

Even Longer: This is exactly the sort of advantage that you get from treating the rules as a framework instead of as gospel. Reading that the GM can strongly suggest behaviors or motivations to PCs based on their Traits is in the rules. Expanding that to Psychology is a darn good idea (it's one we didn't think of--but when looking at it, to me, it makes perfect sense). 

I'll go even further: although these rules are not fleshed out in the game as well as they ought to be, the GM could feel free to tempt players with Success Points for playing along with these.

We're considering having an optional rule where, when a player commits to a psychological manipulation as caused by the rules they can pick up SPs (subject to GM approval, etc.). This is meta-gamy in a way a lot of people won't like (hence: optional) but it can also lead to otherwise canny players taking risks they might not want to take (such as "being persuaded by the slick-talking guy who might be a con-artist") when otherwise they won't bite.

So, yeah--that works for me.

Is Intellect Worth Less than Other Stats?
This is also a good question: in a fight? If you aren't a Psi, magician, or Chi Fighter? Yeah: clearly less. And if you are then the pay-off is usually WIL and not MEM or INT. Also: what something is 'worth' is pretty heavily influenced in JAGS based on "what it's worth in a fight." 

So why are they costed the same?

Firstly, they kind of aren't: You can get more MEM for the point than WIL or INT. But that's still not gonna fix things if you are looking at "raw effectiveness."

Secondly, there are some things you can get in the basic game (and there will be more in the Revised Archetypes book) that sort of "convert" WIL into combat ability (Will To Fight). However, paying a premium on top of buying the WIL isn't going to make it work for you either if, again, you are concerned about raw combat effectiveness.

So is it worth less? In one major sense, yes: objectively from a combat perspective, if you put points in INT (and sub-stats) you will tend to fight less well than other characters unless you are directly using those stats to fight (as in a Telepath or Magician). This is, as you'd expect, pretty logical.

So why not make it cost less?

Well, there are some purely technical reasons why we don't: do we charge differently based on if you're a Telepath or Mage? Would that result in games where most tough guys were smarter than magicians--or equally smart--or whatever? Would that make sense? I also want to note that we have rules in place so that characters can be powerful espers or whatever without buying up mental stats so you can be a powerful low-Willpower Telepath ... it's just an odd way to build the character and not that much cheaper.

There are some aesthetic reasons (having brains be cheap just seems ... off to me). Having one stat cost differently than the others would be ugly and would be another rule to learn.

But the real reason? Our play experience? Our play experience (and some people I've played with will disagree) is that players don't mind having smart/will-ful/etc. characters who pay the listed price for those things. In other words, where we play, the market-economy bears this out.

Let me make two points:
  • The GM should be trying to facilitate a good time. If someone wants to play braniac characters and there's never anything for them to do in the games someone is probably failing somewhere (unless, somehow, the player and GM are fine with the braniacs never having anything to do--which would be weird). This doesn't mean that every adventure must include a logic puzzle that will be solved with RES rolls or anything prescriptive like that. It just means that if, given Drama rolls and science skills and WIL-based abilities, if players are buying that stuff and there is never any use for it, we think that there's room for improvement and the game system will support it. 
  • It's my feeling that it is better to pay points for some ability than get it for free--and if I pay a lot to be "smart" and I get to "be smart" (or whatever) in the game in a meaningful way then I'll feel supported by the system.
Let's look at that last one for a second. In a game created by a friend, everything about your character that wasn't combat was free. It was anime-inspired so we were all super attractive martial arts expects to begin with--but other things (being rich? Being able to play a musical instrument? Being a surgeon? Or a Scientist? All free). He felt this was the best way to go with the characters so they'd all be equal in combat.

I won't say it didn't work--but my feeling (and others--and to at least a small extent his) during playtests--was that having all that "color stuff" be "free" really did kind of make it "color." Except for one character's floating sailing ship--that was a hell of a freebee and he even went light on the cannons (something it wasn't clear he needed to back down on).

That same player plays a lot of scientists and has greatly shaped how I think about those characters in games (I'm not inclined to play a scientist most of the time). If those abilities were cheap it seems that, to my experience, it would somehow 'cheapen' the investment as well. 

It'd be a little like if the character in my friend's game system solved all his problems with a cannon-laden flying galleon: that thing was free ... he could fight as well as our other characters ... and he also gets to hold towns hostage and fly around when the rest of us don't even have horses and so on (of course we could all get horses--or our own flying ships ... after all, they're free, right? We determined that wouldn't be good for the game either).

So the answer is two-fold: 
(a) As I believe that a healthy gaming dynamic will give those characters stuff to do --and--
(b) It's my experience that the cost is right

I conclude that, to the question actually asked (about my experience) the answer is: the costs for those things work.

HOWEVER: people can easily disagree. I have considered (and may consider again) ways to increase those stats for games that do not include Psi, Magic, Chi, etc. It's the same issue with being very strong in a far-future space marines game: if everyone is wearing power-armor and using plasma cannons then being able to bench 350 isn't going to be worth a lot.

But that's also true in a game where everyone plays lawyers or accountants and I'd think that characters in those games might want more than just Strength re-evaluated for costs as well. I don't know any real way to do that without having some kind of computer system for character creation and a list of parameters entered by the GM--and that'd be ugly too.

* Note that I would expect the GM to have the right to intervene here and stop play until this was sorted out.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Working my way through the big list of attacks

Work and travel and family have been brutal.

I'm working (starting at the top) of costing the big-list-of-attacks. While there is some value to mathematical estimations of these things, I'm going to go with the big-list approach as (a) the math isn't exact when it works and is wildly off when it doesn't (b) the math is a lot of decimal devision and rounding which I worked hard to get out of the initial (long-ago) release of JAGS and don't want to hard-code back in for anyone who wants to buy "Sonic Scream" and (c) the big list of attacks will have a lot more flavor and color than a few attacks with a ton of modifiers.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Spam Allowance?

I'm up in NYC again so testing has been light. It appears that doing fractional math will work for some combinations of powers but not others--I'm still inclined to have a big list of attacks and then put the fractional math in the back or on the web somewhere.

But a bigger question is "spam allowance." let me explain:

An Interesting Realization
During testing--a long, long time ago when I was just building characters and running them against each other I realized that the guys who had a lot of points spent on stuff that the simulator didn't count as "combat stuff" lost to those who did. Things like better senses or even flight (the combats theoretically take place in a tactically restricted ring) would be down a few points from offense or defense and would suffer.

We called this the "amount of spam" the character had. At the time we were sort of categorizing characters by the amount of spam so we could test like-vs-like. When I did further tests, an even more ominous picture emerged: even a point or two of spam had a noticeable effect on combat performance. At levels where the game was commonly played a point of AP could be a 1 or 2 percent difference--or even more.

This led to a philosophy where things like flight (a really good 'non-combat' power) were like 4 AP, where as that was also the cost for a good suit of chain mail.

Philosophically this isn't as bad as it might appear: in a theoretical high-tech society a jet pack might cost around as much as some body armor and if you were commonly shot at you might prefer the body armor. This is another way of saying that the element of 'cost restriction' (that is, the degree by which the cost of the ability restricts who can get it, is matched by the availability restriction of who is allowed to buy it).

Some Common Objections
I feel certain that someone will point out that flight IS a combat power as anyone who has ever faced a attack helicopter could attest to--if they were still alive. We know. The reason it is 'non-combat' is that it is (a) not handled by the simulator and (b) it relies on tactical positioning to be useful. If you are fighting indoors in a tight room, armor will still work. Flight will not.

Another objection is that powers like ESP are very good even if they are not 'combat'--are we suggesting that tar only thing of real value in JAGS is the ability to kick someone's imaginary ass? I've seen this sort of textual deconstruction of game rules before and find it patently ridiculous. If someone on this blog wants to raise the objection, I'll be fine with going into more detail--but the answer is "no, we don't think that's all that's important--or even the most important thing."

Spam Allowance
So we have one of two options: (1) charge small amounts of AP for non-combat things or (2) have some set-aside points for 'spam' and let you buy out of those points. Both have their appeal. Let's look.

LOW COSTS: this approach is streamlined. It's easy to understand (you just get your points and start buying). There's even something pretty about having abilities like flight be around 4-8 AP. Having cool abilities be marvelously cheap can make a player feel fairly 'rich.'

On the down-side, though, it does favor characters with no spam whatsoever and, worse, it compresses all the costs into a narrow range (we'll look at that in a moment).

SPAM ALLOWANCE: the plus side is that if you say "You guys are 32 AP with 8 of that spent on spam" then everyone is both more colorful and there's a big balance problem out of the way (note, some PCs could spend more of their AP on spam, just not less). Also: you could always choose not to play with it--if we work to keep the costs of spam-things low anyway then ignoring the rule won't hurt as badly.

On the down-side, and this is huge, if we screw up in defining spam, we break the game irreparably. Also: this is another complex tag people have to follow.

What The Problem Was
So that's the background. Let's talk about why it came up. Stretching. Stretching is a two-fold power. It is an attack power (defense from physical strikes, very good grapple abilities) and it is a movement power. Stretching characters can move over obstacles. At some level of plasticity they can flow through keyholes, and so on. They can fall off a roof and bounce.

The question was: if flight is 4 AP, how much is stretching movement. We realized that since it wasn't as good as flight that left us with a value of, like, 2 AP for invulnerability to collisions, flowing up walls, and so on. We were boxed in to a pretty small box.

So we discussed spam allowance: if we could open the box up we could prevent flying characters from /having/ to leverage their flight in combat (if flight becomes expense enough then combats become an exercise in "how can I use my flight to help me"-- if that doesn't sound so bad, replace flight with 'night vision.'). This seemed like something worth exploring. The problem was that there is no good way to define 'spam.'

How Would We Do It?
There is no decision on doing this or not, yet--but we came up with a way to approach it. The definition of 'spam' will be done not by what the power is, but rather how it is coated. There are several kinds of 'costs' in JAGS.

1. Level Cost: this applies to any ability where you can buy one or more level of ability. This is all attack and armor-style defense powers, all GATs, Size, etc. It is the most common.

2. There are powers that are based on a % of your total AP or Damage Level. Things like Negative Damage Mods or extra CON or AGI. Pluses to hit are in here too.

3. Flat Cost. Powers like Flight, night vision, flow through keyhole, and so on, might have a few versions but we do not sell arbitrary numbers of levels of them. These are what 'spam' would become.

Are We Gonna Do This?
Right now? Not really--it's a good tool for us to keep in mind though. I suspect we'll play test it at some point and likely discuss it in the rules somewhere.


Friday, October 29, 2010

Turns out ..

So originally I did this post and wasn't sure how to set up the math. It turns out that that's because I was making a transcription mistake in my other spreadsheet (and there was one mistake on the table below).

If you multiply the factors together (from the purple to get the blue) you get pretty close to right.

Which I did know how to do--but my spread-sheet fu screwed up and I was like "none of this makes any sense."

Let's take a look:

This is a picture of JAGS Attacks. At the top is STANDARD (ROF of S, roughly 2 attacks per round, and it does standard Impact damage--which is what all of these do for now).

Under that are the "atomic" modifiers (i.e. they are not combined with anything else). Rate of Fire 1, 1 round of charge-up between use (so it can't be used first round), explosive, and 8 REA Long action.

The numbers are "how much IMP damage this does with a 16 AP investment", "What the Percent Chance of Victory" was rated at by the simulator (note that ~56% is the 'right' POV. It would've been 50 but I changed the herds and didn't want to re-do a lot of work. So if the middle column is around 56% then it's "good." They all are, so they're all good. Factor is 21 (the damage the 'standard attack did') divided by the damage the listed attack did.

So if I had an ROF 1 power beam and got a magical item that added "+2 Ranged Impact Damage" I would take +2 / .72 = 2.78 (rounds to 3) so if I added the +2 bonus to the 1 ROF attack it would add +3 instead of +2. 

So okay. Next, under the BLUE header are some combinations. You can see them all there. 

I'll Post The Outcome Numbers Later
I re-did my calculations and it looks like it might work pretty close to multiply one factor by another ... Go Math!


Friday, October 22, 2010

Giant List of Attacks?

It's been a busy few days work wise and I'm flying out of state this weekend (and it's my son's first birthday!) so JAGS development has been light.

It's clear that mechanically combining modifiers (Long Action, Explosive) doesn't give a standard value for different kinds of attacks (Quantum Beam vs. Burn). It's also clear that there are going to be some permutations that I may not be able to fully test (Electricity at -2 to CON roll is on the table--but I haven't devoted much time to testing it).

So there's going to be some limitations on what I can realistically do and keep things "correct" (meaning tested in the simulator).

So the next set of tests have to determine if, for a given attack (i.e. standard Power Blast) I can determine stable values for things like 8 REA Long Action and  Explosive and figure out how they combine. If they do so in a predictable fashion then each attack will have its modifier list and the player can choose. If not, for some reason, then I'm looking at a space I can't realistically cover iteratively (I can't test every combination of common modifiers for all my choices of attacks--and couldn't put them in the book if I did).

So my option then is the giant list of attacks that covers most of what I think people "would want." The good news there is that while I can't speak for everyone, my experience with the game is such that I'm confident I could get a lot of what people would wish for.

The bad news is that I couldn't get everything.

So I need to devise some tests that'll show me how the modifiers interact.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Electrical Attacks?

So I'm churning through a HUGE battery of tests for ranged Impact damage. This involves testing a multitude of attacks at each of 3 levels (8 AP, 16 AP, and 32 AP) and then determining the best-fit for cost/damage against our four standard attacks (blast, gun, sword, punch).

So it's a lot of work.

One of the questions that has come up is this: should Electrical Damage reduce armor? Let's take a look?

Electrical Damage
Right now basic electrical damage gives a -1 to CON rolls when one is called for. This makes it about 10% more likely that, if you are forced to make a CON roll (either because you are hit for a Minor Wound or you are at Hurt Condition) that you will have approximately a 10% greater chance of a more debilitating result (Stunned, Dazed, or worse).

That's not bad--but it has another note: it "halves metallic armor." The problem here is that metallic armor is not something we 'track.' We don't say what the composition of "armor" is in many cases. The purpose of the note is twofold:

  • Verisimilitude: if you are wearing conductive armor and are hit by a lightning bolt maybe you would expect it to do less than against, like, a punch?
  • Balance against knights and other people in fantasy. In a fantasy game every human who is wearing mundane armor of any strength is almost certainly wearing metal. If you want a weapon that'll hurt a knight you want lightning. This also helps leather-armor wearing characters as well as those with magical defenses.
Now, the verisimilitude one is questionable anyway. Lightning is a tricky thing--it doesn't aim like a bullet in the first place. It cares if your target is insulated, grounded, or whatever. The "real way" a magical lightning bolt would behave is pretty damn complex compared to how the game is going to treat it in the best of conditions. We knew that--but we felt it was still something that people would find interesting (i.e. a wand of lightning is different than a wand of fire under 'X' conditions).

The second one, however, is the big deal. Being able to shock knights in fantasy games is materially significant and deserves to be considered. If we were tracking metallic armor it would even be a cost-distinguisher for players making character. But we're not. There is no way to "buy" armor as metallic. We have some armors that seem metallic--like Full Plate Armor--but there's nothing to say that in some game worlds that's not made of "worked dragon bone" or something. 

If you are spending AP's on armor, what is the cost-break for having your armor be metallic? The answer is: that's based on the prevalence of lightning attacks in the game world. That's all but impossible for us to figure out from a design standpoint. I mean, we could try (1/10 of the attacks in an anything-goes game will be lightning) but that's tantamount to saying "almost no attacks are lightning so it's not worth anything." Then we're back to the same basic effect: armor will be 'metallic' when it 'makes sense' for it to be

Put another way: if so few attacks are lightning that there is no significant cost break for metallic armor than no PC will take take it unless it "makes sense" and the GM will either carefully design every instance of armor in the game (are those cyborgs metallic or polymer!?) or will simply make a judgment call on the spot when it comes up--and as the cost difference is minimal or nonexistent then it'll likely default to what the GM "thinks sounds right."

In other words, trying to do the math doesn't help much.

What About Having It Ignore Armor?
In the Have-Not playtest we ran last week the characters were attacked by "roomba" robots that fired electrical pulses and the GM had it reduce our armor (it was not metallic--we were wearing something like ballistic-weave school uniforms). This was, I think, based on his tinkering with the simulator--that is, he created an attack described as lightning, but its actual effects (ignores armor, -1 to CON rolls) was tested empirically against his test-bed.

The fact was, it felt "different." 

One of the key things I'm trying to do with all these attacks is to make each attack "feel distinct." If you have a plasma gun that's different from a freeze ray or a lightning lance or whatever. Without getting too complex there's only so much you can do--but where possible, I want to do it.

And that means figuring out what distinctions I can make for each attack.

In this case, having lightning reduce armor should produce a different "feel" than normal IMP damage. It'll "reward" characters who spend fewer points on armor (assuming they spend those points on other defenses) and it'll still scare knights.

So it's where I'm leaning currently.

Get it? Currently. I kill myself.


Saturday, October 16, 2010

Grapple Powers

One of the more interesting questions that's plaguing our revision of the grappling system is this: how much "grapple" should primarily grappling powers give you. Some examples are:

  • Stretching -- the premier "you grapple really well" ability.
  • Tentacles -- want to grapple someone? Go Cthulhu on their ass.
  • Telekinesis -- mostly you'll pound people with force bolts--but why not pick them up and shake them?
  • Pressure Beam -- nail someone with it and you can pin them to a wall.
  • Tangle attacks -- like a 'glue gun.'
So here's the question: if Super Strength (+13 STR at L1, +10 for each L thereafter--remember Levels are 8 AP) gives you Strength and Damage then how much should 8 AP (L1) of stretching give you?

Now, let's get out of the way that Stretching will also give you things like movement forms, ability to get around obstacles, and stuff like that. Stretching will also give you, probably, some defense against physical force and a lot against, like, being dropped off a building.

Take all of that away: assume it costs--all the extra, that is--X AP's. Now: you just spent 'X'. That's gone. As part of buying Stretching you also spent 8 APs on just grappling well.

How good are you?

The obvious answer is "something like 2x better than STR." That would make "some sense." Since grapple doesn't directly do damage and STR gives damage and grapple, the character with just grapple should get MORE GRAPPLE. A lot more.

But when you look closer, that's not the whole story.

Grapple is a Damage Delivery System
Grapple doesn't exist for its own sake. In the current PDF you can score "A Pin" which completely immobilizes the target and ends the fight. Currently we are not allowing most combats to go that far. The maximal "hold" you can get on someone in a combat round will be really severe but will still allow them to strike at you--if feebly (we have reasons for this I've touched on and will go into more later).

So if you are not aiming for "a pin" what are you doing when grappling? There are a few basic strategies.
  1. Damage-dealing grappling moves (like Throw or Arm-Lock). 
  2. Holding someone while your friend pounds him (we can simulate this--but there isn't much need: this maneuver boils down to how well you can immobilize the target over say 4 rounds--the average length of a combat).
  3. Ground and Pound: This one matters. You take them down and apply a Mount. Then you pound them. Mounts put the target at a disadvantage and make the person applying the mount hit significantly better.
  4. Hold. This applies to #2. It also matters. You tie them up really well and their ability to hurt you, while not zero, is limited enough that the battle might take, oh, 6+ rounds for them to wear you down. If you can do this reliably, another character who is free to strike and can "strike into the grapple" will be able to really hurt them. A Hold is "like a mount" but instead of letting the holder hit the hold-ee better (the holder actually hits worse than he would standing up) the holder is even better protected from the holdee. 
Two Asides Before We Continue
There are two really important things that deserve their own post (and which I've discussed before). I want to call them out here for a moment.
  • Super Strength appears to get Grapple "for free." If guy A buys Super Strength for 8 AP and guy B gets a plasma blast for 8 AP, it would seem that either Guy A (who has both punch and Grapple) is getting a better deal than guy B, who just has the damage. We have a rule I'll go into later that somewhat mitigates this. For now, just understand, that when it comes to grappling, guy B--the plasma blaster--can use his plasma blast to fight off the Super Strength guy somewhat.
  • [something that's very important but it's 2:00 AM here and I can't recall right now. It was imporant though. I'm sure it'll come up again.]
So How Much Grapple For The Buck (AP)?
Well, here's the deal: Because grappling is a method of delivering damage (specifically the Mount if you're 1-on-1, but the Hold if you are 2 or more on 1) then making a stretching character utterly dominate a target isn't good for the game. We want the grapple strategy (Hold and Pound) to be viable--even 'very effective'--but not 'so dominant that you can't go wrong with it.'

It isn't "easy" to hold someone you're even with--but it isn't as hard as getting a good Mount either (Hold is easier). When we are dealing with things like nets or glue guns that apply a "Hold" style effect with a single shot, it becomes even more severe (also true for tentacles). If I have a buddy who, for half the points you invested in dealing damage, can isolate you out of the fight, then my position becomes hugely improved.

Too much so, our math says.

On the other hand, we need to encourage people who buy grappling-style powers to some degree. It doesn't make sense to have someone spend a lot of points on Stretching, a viable power which, generally, isn't seen as abusive, and not be able to grapple a semi-strong guy. 

So we ran the numbers with some test spreadsheets. Number we're looking at right now is :1.7x the amount you get for STR alone.

A .7 increase is enough to be pretty dominant but, even at the higher, more extreme levels of spend, it doesn't make the character so dominant that they can move without fail to the highest levels of grappling. It makes it worth it to have pure-grapple spend--but not a degenerate strategy.

NOTE: 1.7 is for stretching. If I am stretching and wrapped around you, when you hit back, you hit me. Ouch. If the attack is, like, a glue gun--where breaking out doesn't hurt me at all--then the multiplier is likely much lower.


Friday, October 15, 2010


Despite having a lot of work for the past I've taken my first pass at using prediction to determine what the values should be for Quantum Beam (IMP damage, ignores all armor). The results were disappointing. I'll post the numbers later but the up-shot is that using standard Power Blast (Ranged IMP), Burn (Ranged IMP, hits on the second round for same damage +4 DM), and Electricity (Ranged IMP, -1 CON roll) as bench-marks did not correctly predict what the values for Q-Beam should be.

They were not far off but they were far enough that it would be wrong for purposes of the game (in fact, Q-Beam's damage values came out higher than the predicted values: something I didn't expect).

This means that just "using math" instead of testing won't work (well, it will, but I'd need to do considerably more complex math than just taking a standard modifier for '8 REA Long Action' and applying it to any attack.

That's okay: I can empirically test everything--and I plan to. It's also true that Q-Beam might be a heck of an out-lier (consider that against targets without any armor it is exactly like Power Blast--something that is emphatically not true for Burn and Electricity). I just don't know yet.

Testing continues.