Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Energy Attack Powers

The section I'm working on right now is Energy Attacks in the Innate ("Bio-Powers" or "Mutant Powers") chapter. The chapter itself first came into being in JAGS Have-Not (2003, I think--won an Indie RPG award for best supplement). It's a set of rules that would let you build a wasteland mutant, an animal (I remember TMNT's After The Bomb book very favorably), or some kind of human/animal hybrid. We also included a bunch of weird/wild abilities and and some very dysfunctional stuff inspired by Warhammer 40k's bizarre mutation list.

Today the chapter is currently named (unispiringly) Innate Abilities and it will also be the basis for super hero abilities. 

Energy Attack Powers
The Energy Attack Powers section started life with powers like Breathe Fire, Freeze Ray, and Power Blast. A lot of these powers were given their character based on their Rate of Fire (Sonic Shriek could only be used once a Round and had to "recharge" for a round after every use). Others were given character by their damage characteristics (Freeze Ray would try to 'freeze you solid' if it hit well--it also did damage). Many were done by both (Plasma Blast had Rate of Fire of once a Round and had an Explosive effect).

When going over this we realized that the Rate of Fire (as well as some things like Range and the ability to maybe hit multiple targets with like an explosive effect or something) were characteristics that might well apply to ALL attacks. After all, if you could have a disintegration beam might someone want a Disintegration grenade? Or Disintegration Touch? Something like that.

Now, we're dedicated to trying NOT to rebuild Champions. Firstly, Champions (which has one power "Energy Blast" and then a bunch of modifiers you can mix and match endlessly) is so good we're not going to try to match it. Secondly, we didn't always like how our groups wound up implementing the Champions (ok, properly, Hero System's) genius. A lot of players just to 10d6 of "Energy Blast" and called it Fire Bolt. Others would take the same basic ability and put in all kinds of things like "not under water" and "Starts fires" and otherwise trick it out.

We wanted to have some "built in flavor" for Fire Damage vs. say, Electrical Damage. So we started by defining our list of effects.

Secondly, there's the issue of the Simulator.

The Simulator
At some point, I think about 16 months ago, E (with a bit of work by me--but it's almost all him) built a java-based combat simulator. This thing is fairly tricked out: it reads characters from Excel spreadsheets and then creates a character object and then runs a combat. It uses almost the full suite of JAGS rules and the characters follow a basic "attack pattern" created for them. It tracks stats and tells us who wins more often, how much they win, and how long the battles took (as well as other things). 

It's complex but we can use it to simulate many, many different builds and attack types. 

This has given us a 'mania' for correctness. Over the first 2.5 years of JAGS Archetypes we would keep careful files of our thinking on just how much better an explosive attack was than a normal one. After all, we'd reason, it was less likely to miss ... it could hit more than one person ... it could maybe hit you if you fired it too close ... it wasn't something you'd want to use in your own house if you could avoid it, and so on.

Then we'd do the math for everything that was mathematical (if the explosive bolt is more likely to hit, we'd do basic statistics and determine how much better, mathematically, that was) and we'd debate the philosophy of everything else (how many fights, on the balance, did you have in your own home or with innocents around?). We'd keep notes on this and try to eek out a number that summed it all up. 

With the simulator we still have to have the philosophical debate--but we can now test the actual mathematics (and some of them are very, very complex ... at least for us). Furthermore, we can run a matrix of battles with various kinds of opposition and track the entire exercise, mining it for data.

This is an awesome tool--but it takes time. It's complex--and it's deceptive: the philosophical questions may be far more relevant and its much harder to test them (how many fights do the characters initiate vs. the GM--it matters if you have modifiers on your power that make it take time to deploy).

So today I set up and ran a series of tests. These take several hours and run in the background while I work. The tests look like this:

Power Blast + Some Rate of Fire Modifier (such as "fires only once a round" or "short range") run against groups of opposition ("herds") of various strengths. The attack power is in the "hands" of 4 PC builds who mix various relevant defenses to see how they perform. We take the average and then tweak the power-level of the attack until the characters are roughly "balanced" at their point level.

Once I am finished with the 'basic' Power Blast (Ranged Impact Damage) and all the (10-20) different ROF modifiers then I will start working on other enhancements (such as Ignores Armor) and repeat the process.


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