Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What Would a Weapon Building System Look Like?

I'm up in Canada right now on vacation away from the simulator and my job and all that. However, I have some time with the comptuer so I want to speculate.

What We Are Doing Right Now
Me: Not much.
Others: E is doing work for the Have-Not game which involves creating treasure. This is the most rigorous test of the JAGS system yet. Period. It involves creating gear that gives SP-Pools for various things and seeing how they boost performance on various character types. It uses two or three different Herds (his 50-50 ones, some done entirely of GAT builds, and my Normalized ones) to see how things like Armor Piercing attacks or a variety of 1 REA LD/VLD attacks work in concert with standard attacks.

It's right now telling us that our numbers for Blaster seem to be too low: Blaster (Ranged IMP damage) is under-performing. But that may just be the make up of one or two tests. We'll have to see.

Weapon Build System
Jeff suggested a generic weapon system ("Big Heavy Weapon") or a build system where you could have things like concealable, long reach, etc. and 'make' a unique HTH weapon that your character could use. What about that? How would that work? Would we want to do that!?

JAGS is (Not) Simulationist
Another poster brought up the comment that JAGS may be at its best when it's being specific (my paraphrase, not his words) and that he felt it was "simulationist in bent." That's actually a good way to describe JAGS if you can get past the fact that "Simulationist" has been laden with all kinds of unfortunate baggage. Which it has been--which is why I don't like it.

JAGS certainly does try, when it can, to present the option of being specifc about what is going on. We list STR-lift in pounds (even if it's a  very vague measure). We list ranges in yards. We try to tell you that you threw three punches and a kick during that last combat. We have a (reader-built) giant list of fire-arms that gives some distinctions. All that is good and there's at least a passing attempt to give the feeling of versimilitude to the player: an M16 should perform differently than a .22 hand gun in terms of body-count.

So it's legitimate to say that JAGS is 'Simulationist' in bent if you like--although that's probably not how I would say it if I could find a better way.

However there is one thing I and Thomas (I think) agree on: when I go shopping for a weapon in JAGS I'd like to know what it is. Is it an Axe or is it that weird Klingon bladed staff thing? Would those perform differenty in a fight? How would I know?

JAGS Is Flexible
Jeff, on the other hand, has a point: if I want to create a character with a bizarre set of HTH weapons (say a sickle and hammer) and the sickle isn't in the weapon's table, how do I do that? Or let's say the GM rules "it's an axe" and I'm like "NO! I want it to be like a sword!" and there's a disagreement, how does that work? If the Axe-rule is seen as penalizing the character is that a good thing? Probably not. Wouldn't an optimal solution be to allow the player to sort of define the weapon so it works for them? Well, maybe.

What Are The Concerns?
The first concern is "can we do it?" What are the parameters that make up a weapon and how do they fit together in a build system? There are some objective measures like Base Damage (6 for a Sword, 8 for an Axe), REA to use (Swing and Back Swing), and Reach or Block modifier. There are also some less objective measures (concealability?). There are some things that are kind of poorly defined (how many hands it takes). If you think that's objective, consider this: it's not too hard for a JAGS character to have four arms and we are currently not trying to balance that against the number-hands-rule. It's also possible for a character to be super strong which would theoritically mean they could use a 2-handed weapon one handed. We aren't trying to balance that.

The "number of hands" ruleing is for specfic kinds of fanasy gaming where the use of a shield is key to most characters. It isn't a tightly balanced rule the same way Back Swing is (in theory a super-strong character should also ignore Back Swing--but we aren't allowing that either).

So we'd need to know the space well and have some idea of how to value each piece. The simulator helps a lot with that.

The second concern is that JAGS is really two games: the CP game and the AP game. In the CP game you are just building a character with Character Points and no APs (or maybe you have APs but you are definitely not spending them on things like gear). In that case a weapon is just "a weapon." You pay money for it in the game and that's that.

Weapons are not 'balanced' in any way.

In the AP game you are paying APs for weapons and probably other gear. In that game things like Back Swing become important because you need to balance the cost of "Sickle" against someone's Dirty-Harry-Gun and all the specifics become important. So we'd need to figure out what to tell people who were designing weapons in the CP game: can you just build your own thing (presumably optimized) if you aren't paying APs for it? You could--but would that change an otherwise ordinary Fantasy game into the game where everyone who's anyone uses "spiked chain" (a theoritical weird-but optimized weapon build)?

That wouldn't be good.

The final concern is: what would we really get? Right now if the player and GM agree that the weird weapon can work "just like a sword" but be more concealable there's nothing wrong with that. The rules won't break. There aren't even any real balance concerns if the weirdness is kept to non-mechanical things. Even if there are mechanical concerns ("I want Axe-Damage but no Back-Swing: can I do that?) they don't really matter in the CP game so long as everyone at the table is aware of it (no player-currency is being spent on the weapon so the GM is free to interpert the balance issues however they like).

We could just put a note in that says: "these are all balanced. If you want to change the descriptor, go ahead." That's not too satisfying but it also doesn't break anything.

Is it better to first do no harm or risk the spiked-chain scenario?

What Do I Think?
I think the solution is probably a mix of a full weapon-build system and a some descriptor stuff. The Archetype Abilities book will likely contain powers like "Bladed Weapon" which will have at least partial build rules in the list of common modifiers. It may not be complete but it should be enough so that people get the picture that a weird "gothic" blade isn't handled mechanically differently from a standard one. The description can vary a lot and the cost will be calculated based on what the simulator says it's worth.

That should get people part of the way there.

Some good communciation skills and general agreement will hopefully get people the rest of the way.


Sunday, September 26, 2010


In the current JAGS rules Axe is just plain "worse" than sword (for one version of Axe and Sword). Here's the current thinking:

Sword: 6 PEN, Med Reach, 1 hand, 5 REA to swing, 5 REA Back Swing, two attacks per round at L3
Axe: 8 PEN, Med Reach, 2 hands, 5 REA to swing, 7 REA Back swing, -1 to block, two attacks per round at L3

The numbers, for the 8 AP Herds balance.


Friday, September 24, 2010

Levels in JAGS

Here's some tables that were done for fantasy (so you'll see Fighter, Dragon, etc.) but are being used for Have-Not:
What you see here is a list of AP levels for Offense, Defense broken out by "Discretionary" (points spent on abilities from the book) and Expect to Wield/Wear. Focus on the Fighter one: it's what we're using for the adventure (mostly: hand to hand combat experts get the Dragon/Monk and there is no equivalent for the Magic User).

If you read across it's pretty straight forward: a 0th level fighter gets NO APs for discretionary but is expected to have a 4 AP weapon (Sword? Glock 9mm?) and 4 AP's worth of armor (chainmail? armored suit?). At 1st level these weapons and armor are expected to go up by 2AP each and you get 4 AP on a Generic Archetype Trait.

If you are a Dragon or a Monk, however, you get most of your points in terms of Discretionary AP (called claws and scaly armor--but could also be any 8 AP worth of GAT's--probably things related to HTH combat in terms of a literal "monk").

The important thing to note here is that the EXPECTED Wield/Wear are can go up or down. If you find a Death Sword you can (maybe) still use it--you're just way over your 'expected' wield. For a 'balanced game' we expect treasure at "level appropriate challenges" will yield results similar to what is "expected" at that level. That's the plan.

What does this treasure look like? Here's a sample:

These show various guns (I say "LOCK" instead of GLOCK because it's the future eh? We need to work on the names of these things. The thing to look at here is the TESTED % victory. This shows what the weapon simulated at when we tested it. The AP cost is a measure of the level-rating. The T/F is whether or not it's the weapon itself (F) or adds onto a weapon (T) (so weapons are F and ammo is T).

Here's a link to the "Have-Not" dungeon information. Check it out--it has some cool pictures.

GC Complex Overview.PDF

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Have-Not and Levels and JAGS

So the "primary" game we're doing involves a post-apocalypse wasteland where the PCs are out in the "great pacific desert" (the Pacific Ocean is gone for some reason) and we're in a sort of anime-esque high school built atop the GCC complex which is a high-tech multi-level "dungeon" that part of our training to be elite guard for the regime we're under involves going down into (and getting treasure and exploring and such).

It's designed to:

  • Play a bit like Original D&D (or maybe Gamma World) crossed with a modern MMO.
  • It is testing (a) the Generic Archetype Traits (GATs),  (b) Mutant Abilities, and  (c) the JAGS Level System. It is also testing (d) our rules for treasure/weapons. 
  • Although we all have 2 characters (there are two "fire teams") and parts of the game will be run in a potentially deadly dice-fall-where-they-may fashion (our general playstyle is low mortality where the GM is trying to keep things constrained so that challenges do not randomly fall well beyond our ability to deal--something that can change with wondering monster tables and randomly created threats) the game is meant to be a real game. That means we're expected to have character goals and personality, anime-style relationships (I'm not a big anime user, but the GM and some of the players are--so I'm not sure what that means--but I'm given to understand it's sort of playing off high school tropes in anime fiction) and so on. It's not just a hunt-and-kill fest even though that'll be part of the game.
JAGS Levels? Why?
Why does a point-based game need "levels?" what does that even mean? Well, it's pretty straight forward. We want levels because for some games there is simply a great joy in "leveling up." Having specific Xp-Award points and specific ways to spend them is good for some kinds of play. I'm not an MMO guy and I've never been into high level D&D especially but I did really enjoy playing Borderlands on the PC and I think that kind of experience is worth re-creating in a table-top RPG. 

Also: JAGS is fiddly enough to make that sort of thing a lot of fun.

But Even More Important
A big question in JAGS (and many point-buy systems, really) is how do you handle gear? In a dungeon-style adventure you just find it, pick it up, and use it. How do you reconcile that against a point-buy system where we can work out the value of weapons, where PCs are expected to buy stats and innate abilities, and so on?

We've been doing a lot of thinking on this for a while and I'll see if I can go into more detail in the next few posts.


Bouncing around

Not only have I been very busy the past few days but we've done (a few) interesting things.

Why Does The Testing Seem So Disjointed
Right now in terms of the Innate Powers book, I have completed Size, Body Types, Armor abilities, most of the Force Abilities, and am working on Attack Powers. That starts with the Damage Field stuff. So you'd expect me to finish that and then do something else.

That (presently) isn't what's happening. I've done Spines and Burning Body and am trying to see if I can come up with a way to encompass a bunch of other things without testing them. Why? Because the standard procedure for testing takes a lot of time (more on that in a second) and we need to try to simply "know" that "electrical powers" are +1 AP per 3 damage (or whatever) so I can calculate Electrified Body simply by testing Electrical Attack a few times and then calculating everything from there.

So far our understanding on how to do that lags a bit. So I'm kicking it around.

However: we have some other fronts going, right? The actual game(s).

What Games Are We Playing?
In theory there are three JAGS Test Games. My own face-to-face game (which has not been run in 11 months since the birth of my son), a main on-line skype game (we just finished a spectacular cyborgs test ) and a back-up online game (for when all the regulars can't make it).

Right now:

  • My F2F game: not happening. Got a kid.
  • Main Skype Game: We are just starting a level-based MMO-style Have-Not game which I want to talk about some when I can (I'm about to get on a plane).
  • Backup Skype Game: Psychic investigators/Call of Zalgo. That's the one that led to a revamp of the ESP system that is still on-going.
The Have-Not Game
JAGS Have-Not is our 2003 (? I forget, maybe 2002) supplement for post-apocalypse. It has mutants, wild weapons, armed vehicles, and all kinds of surreal things. 

I'll talk more about this later.


Friday, September 17, 2010

Updated ESP Rules

Between running test scrips for Damage Field we're working on the ESP rules. We now have a taxonomy of kinds of ESP and individual abilities. It's a Google document so I might have a way to share it with people who are interested.

We are considering a few key points.
Our observation is that players will want to do things to improve their SP-count (such as getting an object that was cherished by the subject they are trying to ask questions about) but there will also tend to be some quick-hit "let me see what I can get" types of uses. We want to sort of support a model that gives the character a shot at whatever they want to ask but then allows them, if it's not satisfactory, to try for a better read. We're thinking of this right now as a "free" use and then a "more detailed one."

The real problem is that we don't want players to just be able to hammer away at whatever question they have until they get the good roll. This will cheapen the system dramatically and will necessitate a lot of rules about how long you can keep trying and what constitutes "the same question."

One of our thoughts is that PCs might have a pool of SPs that recharge every game session. They can try a roll without using them but the odds are lower. If they engage them they have to beat the number of SPs they've already used in order to try again (the GM determines what the same subject is). More over, this will allow the PCs to determine when (during a game session) they really want to go for broke vs. just attempting things.

The thought right now is to allow them to spend one SP from the pool for each SP they can get through other means.

The taxonomy of ESP stuff is not /that/ different from what we had before but it's far more encompassing and I've gotten about half way through defining a per-effect-level result for each one which should make using these far less generic.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Quick Hits

I was at the dentist for two hours today and had a busy night watching the kid last night so I didn't get much done. However, a few things can be mentioned.

  1. Still working on Damage Fields. I'm doing Burning Body right now and I think I want the rule to be that once you are on fire you don't get "more on fire" by being hit by more burning attacks. I need to have a look at the code and see how that works. Right now stacking these burns is very effective but I think the game-system would bog down with trying to keep track of "how many fires Jason has on him right now."
  2. We're working through more use cases for Psionics. I'll try to publish some here so that you guys can add your own (you won't need rules--you'll just get to say "here's how I imagine it working!"). We have about five or six new use cases and probably want to have around 30 to use to get the "big picture."
  3. The Levels system which I need to detail more when I have the time.
Here's The Psi Success Table

Here's how it works. Your character is (probably) a L2 Psi with a 13- roll (look along the top). When they do a PSI drama they make three rolls and check the success points down the first column adding up what they're made by. That's the "success level you get.

Generally you need a Level 3 success or better to get data that more or less directly leads to the breaking of the case. 

The percentages show what chance the character has to hit each level if they do nothing other than make the rolls.

Example Use Case
SCENARIO: A Psi is using Psycometry (Object Reading) to try to determine who used the gun that killed a victim.
ACTORS: The Psi (Phill), the Murder (Mark), The Victim (Victor), the guns legal owner (Owen)
SITUATION: Everyone is in the room pointing at each other (everyone but the victim). The shots were fired while the lights were off. Everyone has touched the gun and both Mark and Owen have fired it recently at the range together. Mark shot Victor because Victor was sleeping with his girlfriend (but no one knows this). Owen didn't like Victor because Victor owed him money (which people do know). 
GENERAL DIFFICULTY: Usually it's Level 3 to break the case unless it's a trivial case or something else makes it very easy. In this case the GM can't think of anything that puts it in this category--the question involves a murder. So you need L3 or better.
L1 Success: The Esper gets data concerning the gun itself. This confirms that it /was/ the murder weapon (something everyone already knows)--it has the feeling of inky black death on it. 
L2 Success: The clue is not enough to break the case but is moderately actionable. The Esper gets "green shards of jealously" (motive!). With a limited success that's all--but with a full L2 they get an image of a girl, naked on a bed, smiling: the focus of the jealousy. Her image isn't clear enough to easily identify (you know she is a pale red-head with green eyes--something that could apply to a lot of people). But some investigation will bring the motive out. THIS CLUE IS MEANT TO BE "INTERMEDIATELY ACTIONABLE."
L3 Success: The Esper gets an image of Mark, seething with green-light (which he recognizes as an aura of jealousy) as he fires at Victor. This breaks the case but does not provide the "why" data. The character sees a flash of the girl's face with a full success. With a partial success just a flash-image of "a girl" with a few distinguishing features.
L4 Success: Scenes of the bedroom, Mark finding out--notes about who the girl is--and then the shooting come to the Esper (all data). If it's a partial success some color commentary may be left out but.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Clairvoyance (and other ESP powers)

So we took a stab at playtesting (this is truly the second or third attempt) the ESP rules with psychic detectives. This is a complex sort of game for two reasons:

  1. The structure of the game is going to involve investigating mysteries which is trying ground for roleplaying. Why? There are all kinds of structural questions even without ESP or the paranormal. Things such as: if the PCs don't figure out the clues, do the characters? If the PCs go to solve cases based on things like narrative laws of drama (the killer must be someone we've met or no one will care) is that good for the game or not? There are procedural questions (should the GM try to be deceptive when an NPC lies or follow the TV experience where it's usually clear to the audience something is amiss). And finally stuff like: how good a mystery-writer is the GM anyway?
  2. With psychic powers the problem becomes much starker. How does a psychic detective stack up to a non-psychic one? How do you maintain drama and interest in the game when, in theory at least, a well made roll can "solve the problem from the character's lounge chair?" Is 'we know who did it but don't have the evidence' good fodder for the game? Or is it just frustrating.
But here's the real deal: If you (because you, reader, are so cool) just answered all those questions easily? Are you /so cool/ that your answers are good for everyone else? No. No one is. Even people (who actually are cool--and we know that scientifically) who read the JAGS blog.

We're not really going to try to be all things to all people, of course, but we think we have a plan for doing some best-fit rules and then being very, very clear about how we plan to use them. This, of course, isn't easy.

What Is ESP and Clairvoyance?
I don't mean the dictionary definition which I presume everyone kind of knows already. I mean in game terms, how do we sell these powers and such. The current answer is this: ESP is the "top level domain." It includes things like Precognition, Channeling (speaking to spirits), Clairvoyance and clairvoyance. Under those "second level domains" are more granular powers like:
  • Psychometry (Clairvoyance): Object reading
  • Remote Viewing (Clairvoyance): seeing what's inside the envelope or in another room
  • Medium (Channeling): Speak to dead spirits
  • Spiritual Advisor (Channeling): Ask a person's "spirits" what they think is good advice for them.
  • Combat Precog (Precognition): See a few moments into the future and fight like a Jedi
  • Forecast (Precognition): See what's going on vs. a specific question in the near, medium, or far future
And so on. We have a decent (if not complete) taxonomy of abilities and some (decent) rules around them.

What Broke?
What broke was the basic difficulty and Drama system. Our thinking goes like this:

  1. Problems (mysteries, questions about the future, trying to tell what's written on a piece of paper you can't see, etc.) have a difficulty level (in our minds it goes from 1-trivial to 4-hardest).
  2. Psychics have individual abilities (see above) at a given level (1-very basic, almost 'not psychic' to 4-super-hero level psychics).
  3. When the difficulty is below the character's level they can solve the problem pretty easily. When it's at the level they have an "okay shot" and when it's above the level it's hard. If it's two or more above the character's level? Almost impossible.
  4. The use of an ESP power is a JAGS Drama roll. That means that the character has a skill roll (say 13 or less) and makes three die rolls adding up how many points they made their roll by each time (missing a roll doesn't subtract points, you just get zero). You need to hit a certain level in order to succeed. Between rolls, if things are not going so well, you can take "maneuvers" such as risking burning your mind out or calling evil spirits or whatever. These risks get you more Success Points (SPs) towards your goal but can go varying degrees of wrong. Some maneuvers aren't risks--they're just things you do--like getting a prized belonging of the target to 'object read.'
  5. The final note here is that a normal mystery could be solved much the same way: the detective has their detective roll and makes three rolls taking maneuvers like "questioning witnesses" (probably not a risk, just some roleplaying) or "roughing up the underworld" (probably a risk).
What broke was our ability to correctly judge the difficulty of a problem (or, well, that didn't exactly break--the GM deemed it too hard to do) combined with a lack of concrete vision around what the results should be for various levels of success.

The number one thing that was broken though was the actual running of the drama. The rules called for a Psi-Skill that the PCs didn't have (we faked it using WIL rolls) and the difficulty numbers didn't make sense (we had to mock up a table quickly to fill the gap there). There were at least two "missing powers" (Know Fact and View Remote Area) that ought to be there in some capacity. There were some typos.

How This Seems To Be Working
The issue of determining how hard a psychic problem is is vexing. Part of me thinks that if the game master doesn't create the system themselves they're going to find anyone else's list of guidelines insufficient. That said, we certainly need a lot more by way of guidelines for whatever we do. 

The basic element of the "guideline" is the "Use Case." A use case is an example scenario where we write down what happens step-by-step and the reader (or analyst) can see how that example plays out. Use cases should illustrate the principles the system is based on. We had some spotty examples (nothing as robust as a real use case) and lacked a collection of principles.

What Use Cases Were We Missing?
Well, the GM wanted to know what would happen if you wanted to use some version of ESP to get the correct answers on a test. All our examples were for individual cases ("What is the card on the table right now?") and while we realized that statistically there had to be some error rate the system wasn't well set up that way (i.e. we would not expect any L2 Esper to get 100% on any multiple choice test by guessing--the hit rate shouldn't be that good--although that's what the system implied because with low stakes involved and minimal security the failure rate for test-style questions would be pretty low).

We also wanted to know if someone hiring a hit-man was L2 (standard difficulty) or L3 (hard) since there was a level of distance than if they'd done the hit themselves (conclusion: hiring people is pretty standard so it shouldn't be utterly impenetrable). Finally there was a question about how to impress someone with your psychic mind tricks. There was no real metrics for that (although, again, I think it was an overly harsh reading of what was there that led to the implication that there was no good guidance). 

However bad the examples were, though, the lack of principles were worse.

So one of the things we know for sure when dealing with psychic detectives is that if the game involves them sitting in a bunker and making a bunch of rolls it's not going to be very exciting. We want them to have to go out and investigate, talk to people, and so on. Kind of like a real detective but with more juice. 

Principle 1: Most Psychic Results should get the PCs to go out and do something to capitalize on them.

Right now this is being framed, by me, as the principle of "actionability." How good you roll should determine how immediately actionable your data is. If you get the name, address, and location of damning evidence for a murder that's highly actionable (go out and collect the smoking gun then go pick him up). If you get a general description and a vision of him at a Starbucks you might have to frequent a lot of starbucks over the next few weeks looking for someone who matches. Then you'd have to follow them or something. It's intermediately actionable. If you get a general description and nothing more? It might come in handy later when ruling someone out--but it's not actionable at the moment.

Principle 2: Date Comes In Letter Grades.

We aren't fully sure how to handle "vagueness" because getting vague information is very difficult for the GM (how vague should it be? Especially if it's supposed to still be 'useful.'). However we know that using a sort of A, B, C, D, F system (letter grades) is useful for a lot of things. For example, the test question--but it's also good when any use of the ability returns a number of results: the better your letter grade the more of the complete result set you got. 

Principle 3: The GM Can Say 'No.'

If I want to know when a criminal's next crime will be committed and the GM has no idea there are two possibilities: (a) make something up and stick to it or (b) simply tell the Player "It is unknown ... always in motion is the future" (in a Yoda-like voice). The second isn't satisfying but it may well be far better for the game. Forcing the GM to make up data that may be crucial and isn't well thought out can hurt play and puts a lot of pressure on the GM. Giving the GM the ability to work with the PC to formulate another question (probably keeping the same roll) is a way to avoid that problem.

Principle 4: Successes Where The Question is Bad Should Not Be Inherently 'Deceptive' (a question can be blocked)

This is common: the Player asks "Should I do this: yes or no!?" and the answer is "maybe..." The GM has no real idea if the player 'should.' That's a judgement call. Now, we can forbid that sort of question but it does crop up all the time "Dear Psychic Hotline? Should I ask this girl out?" Well, she's crazy--but she might be your kind of crazy... if the GM has to give a yes or no answer and the character didn't get (or ask for) further information then answer can't be correct. 

It may also be the case that the situation is just more complicated than the player thinks. If a jewelry store owner is threatened by the mob and forced to steal her own jewels and the psychic asks "Did she steal the jewels?" the answer is "Yes ... kind of" (the real motive force behind the theft were the mob bosses). Certainly if the character gets enough data to see everything then that becomes clear. But when there's just a little the GM should have a way to make a success not necessarily be deceptive.

We do not want the game to devolve to asking the exact right questions. We want a mechanic that will inform the character that there is some larger issue at hand.


Monday, September 13, 2010

Damage Fields Continued

We have some cool stuff that was worked on over the weekend that I want to talk more about--but simply don't have the time to. I'll touch on it here and then talk a little more about Damage Fields.

Stuff We're Working On

  • ESP/Clairvoyance: We did a quick and dirty Psychic Detectives / Call of Cthulhu style game (but using a modern mythology that is based on some of the Internet monster memes like Zalgo). The playtest broke the draft rules in about .07 seconds so we immediately begin another round of revision on those. I like what we're coming up with and will talk about that as time allows.
  • Levels for Fantasy/Post-Apocalypse: I believe our next playtest game will be in the Have-Not universe (possibly a 'revised' or re-imagined one). E. is working on an AP-based Levels system that will serve for both Fantasy and Post-Ap and other "leveling games." It involves a projected AP amount per level and the presumed AP value of gear (offense and defense). It's quite involved. It pretty much involves a progression that uses the Generic Archetype Traits (GATs) as well as our rules for weapons ("Wield") and armor gear ("Wear") which can also be exchanged for mutant or other innate (racial) traits.
Damage Field Thinking
There was some back and forth about Damage Fields. There are a few things that we need to iron out and some decisions.

  1. Pricing. The general decision is that the test characters will be 50% Damage Field and 50% Defense. That's how we test weapons. Furthermore most damage fields (Burning Body) can be used as a HTH attack as well so really a damage field is an attack plus a very valuable "hits-back" effect. This will make them expensive. 
  2. Hand-To-Hand Rule. Your basic Damage Field won't "hit back" against a gun or blaster. Many will not "hit back" against a sword (Medium Reach). In our herd there are two ranged characters (gun, blaster) and two HTH characters (sword, punch). We are going to assume that damage fields will be most prevalent in games where there is a lot of HTH combat and therefore double the effective prices for most of them even if the percentages don't bear that out (i.e. the damage filed effect will be non-existent in 75% of the fights if it hits only bare-handed HTH attacks).
  3. Damage Blocks. It's clear there is a kind of block that does damage (think Blanka's electrical attack in Street Fighter). More prosaically we usually don't allow blocks with a sword to cut someone's hand off but you could and if you did, we could use this rule to figure out how to cost it. Finally there are moves like "Hard Block" where a hard-style karate block damages the attacker's limb. All of these can be simulated if we put a "damage field style effect" on a block.
  4. Aura of Destruction. Right now we simulate an area-of-effect always on aura of destruction with a damage field but we could actually have a way to make it a separate effect that hits the target even if they do not attack and hit the owning character. A Damage Aura would 'pulse' once a round hitting all targets within its Reach. With some modifications to the simulator we could handle that.
We have also made some upgrades to the simulator that make this easier to test (and faster).


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Damage Fields

Current work has me going through the current draft of the Innate Powers section of the book and taking the new approaches that are outlined in this blog to the work we'd already done (and remember, that work was three years of thought in the making).

I've finished the Body Types section, have gone through the Armor stuff (not much changes there) and have come to: Damage Fields (really Bio-Defenses). These are things like spines or quills, a burning body, or an aura of blades. A Damage Field works by attacking anyone who hits the owning character (if you have a real tornado of swords around you it would act as a Damage Field but would also just deal damage to a radius and is a somewhat different power--in the above case we're looking at an 'aura of blades' that would activate only when you are attacked.

Damage Fields are very hard for me to get my head around. Firstly they are a 'defensive attack' which means they don't cost the owning character REA. It's difficult to figure out how much that's worth. The second problem is that they generally only work vs. HTH attacks (although some, like the Alien's Acid Blood could get someone who is close enough with a ranged weapon). The simulator has to be able to handle all of that. Fortunately it's close (I think we need a mod to handle acid sprays at Medium Reach).

The really hard part, however, is figuring out who has them and what they are paired with. Why's that?

Why's That?
In the JAGS simulator test the general way to price a weapon is to take the weapon, spend 50% of your AP on it, and pair it with one of four defenses which also has 50% of your AP on it. You run those four characters against The Herd and vary the damage output until those four characters win, on an average, 50% of the time. That's how you know what 50% of the AP should get you in terms of, say, fire-blast damage.


The problem with Damage Fields is that while they are an attack they aren't the only one the character is likely to have. Now, granted, in many cases (burning body) the character can choose to punch with his burning body and will also burn anyone who grabs or strikes him. But in other cases (Acid Blood or a coat of quills like a porcupine) the Damage Field does not come with an implicit attack and therefore, if the character doesn't have one, will leave the character punching ineffectually while trying to defeat his opponent with his Damage Field.

That case would properly simulate a character who had spent 50% of his points on Damage Field and armor--but who would do that? Is that a proper, logical test? Will it skew results?

The mathematical question is this: is there a 'synergistic' effect if the Damage Field character deals HTH damage and uses the Damage Field? Or is it 'antagonistic'? Or neither? In other words, given the composition of The Herd, if I have a character spend 25% of his points on STR, 50% of his points on Acid Blood, and 25% of his points on Defense will that perform better across the board than 50% Damage Field, 50% Defenses or 50% Attack, 25 % Damage Field, 25% Defenses.

That's something I want to see if I can figure out.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

Force Bubble

So I'm going through the InDesign layout program and touching up the stuff I've done and I come to the area for the Force Bubble power.

Force Bubble is an attack that traps the target in a floating force-field bubble that they can blast their way out of (if their attack is powerful enough). It's an odd power. I discuss it with the gang. I'm posting about it here because (a) it's "what I'm doing right now with JAGS" and (b) it shows how there are all kinds of edge-cases everywhere.

Is It A Tangle Attack?
Kind of. But maybe 'not really.' Tangle attacks (like nets, glue guns, etc.) roll to hit and then there's a "roll to see if you are tangled" and by "how much" (grab? hold, etc.). The Force Bubble could conceivably fail to 'bubble you' but if it does it's kind of "all or nothing." Our vision of it is that you are not generally "half inside the bubble."

Secondarily, unlike a web-shooter or whatever, if you are inside the bubble you have a free range of motion. Our vision is that the interior of the bubble is kind of 'zero gravity' so you're floating there (and the bubble is floating) but you can freely use your arms and legs, fire a weapon, etc.

If you target someone outside the bubble you can still shoot at them--but the bubble acts as armor (maybe) and DP that interdicts attacks both ways. So it's not really a Tangle Attack in that it doesn't pin your arms, give you negative Damage Modifiers to attack it or others, etc.

So: not really a tangle.

Force Field or Armor?
The simplest way to handle the bubble is that when hit you are encased with some amount of Armor (say 4pts) and some amount of 'DP' (really ADP), say 10pts per level. If you attack the bubble itself you get +5 to hit it (doing more damage). If you attack someone outside the bubble you roll to hit them and the attack is reduced by first the Armor and then the DP. Anything that gets through pops the bubble and continues on to them.

That's pretty simple on the face of it.

However, the most 'correct' way to model this isn't with Armor but with Force Fields. Force Fields reduce damage much the same way armor does but they then degrade. If the damage done is half or more the field's power but less than its full defense the field is reduced by Total Damage/10. If any damage gets through the field the field is reduced by Total Damage/5. Let's see an example:
A Force Field has 10 pts of Power at full strength. It is shot by a 9mm hand gun (Base Damage 6 PEN) that hits for 9pts (+3 Damage). NOTE: assume the attack does not penetrate. As the attack does not exceed the current power of the field (10pts) but does exceed half it's current (5) power the field is reduced by Total Damage/10 or 1pt. The field now has 9 Power.
 Now, note that this power (Force Bubble) is listed under Energy Control in the Innate Powers section. One would, in theory, expect a "Force Bubble" to use the Force Field rules. However there are some reasons not to. Let's look at the arguments.

  1. Against FF: Complexity. Keeping track of Force Field degradation for a field that isn't protecting a character is complex for no explicit material gain. If the group forgets what the current state of the field is then there are all kinds of problems trying to figure out what it should be.
  2. For FF: Makes Sense / Principal of Least Surprise. Ideally things should work 'the way a person who hasn't read the rules thinks they ought to.' This applies to powers like Force Bubble but more consistently to rules like grappling, falling, and drowning (yes: I'm aware the last to get special derision in some circles!). If you throw someone off a skyscraper you expect them to fall for lethal damage. If you are held underwater you expect that, eventually, you'll die. If you fire a weapon called "force bubble projector" you might well expect a force field.
  3. Unclear: Power Curve. Both Force Field and Armor behave differently--very differently. Let's say that the power gives 4 Armor or 6 Force Field. In the Armor case a character who does, with a strike, 4pts of damage will never penetrate it (in reality they will because the strike will do more damage--but lets say they have a Base Damage of 1 and can therefore get at most +3 unless they kick or throw crosses). In the case of the Force Field, they will. The speed at which a more powerful attack (say, a handgun) will blow through the bubble will change as well. Against the Armor it'll take longer because even though the FF starts higher, it goes down rather quickly (very quickly if they can exceed it with the damage dealt). Which version is right? That depends on the role Force Bubble is expected to play when being used against a peer. Without knowing that we can't say which is right or wrong!
  4. Unclear: How is PEN Damage Handled? Another question that varies is how is PEN damage supposed to be handled? Our first thought was that the bubble should take nothing but IMP damage (no vital targets or weak spots) but that poses a problem: if I fire at a target outside it what do I do? I can add the bubble's PEN defense to the target's but what damage do I apply to the bubble itself considering that if the Armor Save does fail, the attack will do more damage (this creates the nonsensical situation of characters wanting to break the bubble firing at soft targets outside the bubble to try to get a PEN doubling result!). Armor and Force Fields typically handle PEN damage a little differently (Force Fields never get Penetrated if their current power x 5 is more than the Base Damage, Armor gets an Armor Save). Which is better?
  5. Unclear: How Long Should It Last? Since most characters--even normal people--could break through a 6pt FF (the theoretical value of its field) if you plan to 'bubble up' criminals and leave them for the cops it won't work as well as the Armor will (assuming you have enough Armor to shut down their attack). Should you be able to bubble someone (far weaker) than you and walk away? If the answer is "yes" that speaks to either Armor or, at least, more than the nominal allocation of Force Field. If the answer is 'no' then the choice goes the other way.
The Role Of Force Bubble
So, okay: we need to know the role of Force Bubble now and answer those questions above. Let's take a stab at it.
  1. Vision For Holding: I think of Force Bubble as kind of a "space ranger" power where the guy swoops in and bubbles you and if you're just a punk, you're stuck. Clearly against a powerful character the bubble will not long contain them--but it should be able to hold a bank robber for a while (maybe at Level 2). This speaks to Armor or more FF.
  2. PEN Defense Decision: I don't want the bubble to take PEN damage often which is good for the Force Field choice--however, another solution is simply to give it a much higher PEN defense than its nominal level of Armor would imply. 
  3. Level Of Defense: If we assume that an average bank robber will have a 9mm (6 PEN) that, against the bubble can get a +3 Damage Mod (it is forced to roll on the Impact Damage Table) dealing 9pts of Damage on a likely hit then either armor of 9 or Force Field of, like, 18 will stop it. If we assume that this is level 2 (16 AP spent on the bubble power) then that gets us 4.5 Armor or 9 FF per level.
  4. Curve Of These: Let's go with 5 Armor per level to make things simple. If we give the bubble 5 Armor and 10 DP then a Level 1 Power Blast (14 damage) can blow its way through in roughly one shot (assuming it's trained on the bubble so it gets +1 or better). Against the Force Field version the 15 points of damage will exceed the field doing 5 damage to the DP and reducing the field from 9 to (15/5=3) 6 defense. This means the FF version is tougher on the 1:1 match-up.
  5. Conclusion: as I want the field to pop on one hit from a similar attack. That leads us to Armor.

What Other Rules Do I Need?
Discussion around the Force Bubble power yielded these further questions/observations:

  1. You cannot Force Bubble Godzilla even for a second with a little bubble gun. There must be a BLD limit on what you can encase based on the Power of the Bubble. Let's say 20 BLD per Level? Something like that.
  2. Bubbling Darth Vader is just undignified. As we are considering allowing a 'reaction move' to use your strength, gun, or light-saber or whatever to break through a Tangle we should allow this against the bubble too. Even though it's not a Tangle per-se it needs to trip that rule.
  3. We need rules for what happens if (a) you bubble someone twice (probably not much. Maybe you add some DP on to it) (b) if they are in a grapple or grab (probably you add the BLD of whoever they are with and if it's under the limit you get both (c) what happens if they are literally attached to something (probably the simple rule is that if they are just 'hanging on' it gets them, if they are /connected/ you use the BLD of whatever it is, and if you are using advanced rules it has a Grapple Attempt to break their hold on it)
  4. How long does it last? Is it waterproof? Could you use it to survive in space, etc. (Standard answers are: it lasts a few hours, it will keep water out and air in but will not suffocate people if there is air outside, and it'll keep you alive in space so long as the air holds out.
  5. Can you use Force Bubbles to build things? Connect them? Etc. Probable answer: they are sort of fixed in space (even in air) so they don't roll around like marbles (but can be dragged). They don't stick together easily at all (maybe with TK or Tractor Beams)
  6. What About Fast Company Characters. In JAGS a class of characters have negative Damage Mods and are hard to hurt--but not all that hard to hit. Tangle attacks and things like the bubble are an anathema to them as once you have them sort of pinned down they lose a lot of advantage (they also tend to do Low or Very Low damage making their speed and defenses cheaper so they are more vulnerable to the bubble). We don't want to 'punk these guys' so we need to think about how to handle that. The way we think is best is to make things like the bubble attack easy to dodge
  7. What if the target is moving or falling? Can you save someone falling from a plane by putting them in a floating bubble (yes: if they aren't going too fast).
This is the sort of thing that we need to think about for every ability ...


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Problem With Complexity

So okay: I've gone through three (or four if you count Just Plain Strength) abilities and I need to try 'writing them up' for the book. Here's what a sample of layout looks like:

This is the stat-block for Dense Physique (Dense). As you can see there is a lot of information to covey and I'm trying to figure out the best way to convey it. Here's what I need to communicate.

  1. Name and Cost Schedule (Dense Physique [4 'or' 8 AP]. 
  2. Type (the TAG). Extreme means it's okay for mutants or super heroes or whatever but not good if you are staying 'strictly' to natural things.
  3. Description: Here I put in a very vital piece of data--the -2 to AGI Bonus and Initiative. I show it with a bullet point and hope people will understand it.
  4. Buying the Armed vs. the Unarmed schedule. If the character is going to commonly carry a bladed weapon or do PEN damage with their STR then they need to buy the Armed Schedule. I show that in the Unarmed/Armed designator.
  5. LEVEL 1 vs. L+. Remember that the first level of attack abilities gets you comparatively more than each level thereafter. So that means that if you are buying Base Damage Enhancers (of which Dense Physique is certainly one: it improves STR and BLD) then you can only have one L1 ability on the list. I have delineated the purchasing of L1 from L+ with both the square L1 Icon and the purple-ish color.
  6. One-Time-Buy. I have decided that "half levels" round up so if you spent 12 AP on Dense you will get the L1 8 AP level and the 4 AP L+ Level. This is good for you--but you can't then go and buy another L+ 4 AP level. If you spend 16 AP on Dense you have to buy the full 8 AP level. So I have the hexagon 1x designator.
  7. Multiple L+ Buys Allowed: That's where the circular M(ultiple) icon comes in. You can have more than one of these.
  8. Adds to Base Damage and A-Cost. The A-Cost is marked with a '+' sign telling the reader that any level of this Trait will add to the Base Damage and the A-Cost of their Base Damage in a way that, for example, buying "Optical Blasts" would not.
So here's the question: is this clear?

Also Note: I have opted for the 'standard' 2-column format for the book. It'll help save space and page count. However, it means that (a) the type-face has to be somewhat smaller than I'd like and (b) I can't just get columns for -2 AGI Bonus and -2 Initiative into the stats-list as I'd prefer.

I tried it. 

Several times.


Rationalizing Body Types ..

So in the last post I've summarized that (a) my initial testing/thinking produced numbers that balanced against the herd but did NOT make sense when taken in context and then (b) I found a way to 'rationalize' the tests I'd done to have them "make sense."

What was that method?

The Method
What I did was I took the Body-Types builds (Super Strength, Dense, and Hyper Strength) and ran them against the Standard JPS tests (50% Just Plain Strength and 4 different defenses). I re-balanced the numbers until I got a 50% win for the body builds.

The test for Super Strength looked like this:

The first block is the BodyTypes (Super Strength) + one of each of the four defenses. The second block is each of the defenses combined with Just Plain Strength. The brown 51.07% at the bottom is the average wins of the BodyType list in the all-vs-all combat.

As you can see:
  1. In these battles the FULL DP builds actually do the best. This is specific to the nature of these battles (Impact Damage).
  2. Both strategies (Body Type or JPS) are "about equal" in terms of a game-plan.
  3. Going heavy-armor in this environment (the 42 and 30% POV's) is not the best bet.
All told, if the implications of this are what I think they are then this is very good. It means that (a) if a PC plans to build a character with a heavy investment in 'Strength Type Stuff' their options are varied and they're both good (either go with the Body Types or go with the Just Plain Strength if you want to maximize in some specific way) and (b) putting all your points in Armor is not generally the best bet in this environment.

In other words, unless I've missed something, this is everything I could hope for.


Monday, September 6, 2010

Some Figuring

This is going to be complex and I may need to break it up into several posts. But we'll see.

Giving You The Punchline First
The upshot of all this stuff seems to be this: I tested out the Body Types (Super STR, Dense, and Hyper-Str) against the Normalized Herds. Here's what happened:

  1. First Test: Half of the character's AP in Body Type, Half in one of 4 Defensive strategies: result FULL ARMOR would win like 75%, everyone else would win like 30%. While this was, in aggregate somewhat balanced I was very unhappy: it meant taking any Body Type was too good if you went with the FULL ARMOR strategy and not good enough if you went with anything else. I had some conversations ...
  2. Second Test: The second test strategy decided that what a more 'realistic' build would look like was: 1/2 pts in Body Type, 1/4th points in a weapon, 1/4th points in a defensive strategy. I created some test characters to that build and tested them until each Trait gave the character a 50% (roughly) chance of winning vs. the Herd.
  3. Unpleasant Realization: I compared what, for example, Super Strength (STR and DP) got at each 8 AP level vs. what Just Plain STR (JPS) would get. I discovered that for 'some reason' Super Strength (which combined STR and DP) got as much STR (uh, more actually) and, well, a whole bunch of extra DP compared to JPS making a character who purchased Just Plain Strength (theoretically getting "as much STR as possible") stupid.
  4. Revision: I revised my thinking and created a second set of tests. The results? SWEET.
Here's The Story
The original round of testing produced numbers for Body Types that yielded 50% results against The Herd. When I examined the numbers (for Armed and Unarmed, at each AP level) I realized that they didn't make sense. The guy who bought (in the case of Super Strength, which is the simplest to examine) Strength and Damage Points got more strength and more damage points than the guy who just bought Strength! Here's how it looks:

Here are a few notes:
1. The RED is what these abilities tested at against the Herds.
2. The BLUE is what happened after I "rationalized them" (see below)
3. The ORANGE is what you 'should get' (so says the Herds) when you spend 'All your points on STR).

The Test Case
In order to figure out how to get from RED to BLUE I had to understand two things. The first was 'Why is this happening? Why does the output not make any sense?' and the second was 'Okay, what do I test against in the future to get this right? The solution looks like this:

What Was Happening?
It appears that what was going on was that the Body Type builds were: 50% AP on the Body Type, 50% on a Defense, and 50% on a "weapon" (here the weapon was usually Just Plain Strength (JPS)). If, as I was 'assuming' the APs spent on Body Type really were a 50-50 OFF/DEF split then the resulting character would be 50% Offense and 50% Defense. That, however, didn't seem to be the case. The Body Type characters came out much stronger than the JPS characters. Clearly the split was something more like 75% OFF/25% DEF.

What's more, the Herds are overbalanced on Defensive spending. They combine a lot of whatever defense they are getting with some Damage Points (or, in the case of FULL DP, just 'more DP'). Thus the match-ups that I was running when I was testing JPS (which really /was/ 50-50) against the BodyType builds (more like 75% OFF/25% DEF) were a fundamentally different dynamic. What balanced at 50/50 was just different.

Worse, as we know, the effectiveness of these abilities, even the 'simple ones' like STR and Damage Points (DP) change a lot when you buy a lot of them. The battles we were seeing were taking something like 1.9 Rounds: not /bad/ but too fast to be optimal (more what we saw in the 50-50 herds).

I'll post more later ... 

Friday, September 3, 2010

A quick note

I will be able to follow this up next week but I wanted to note something. I've completed the testing for "body types" (Dense, Super Strength, Hyper-Strength). The issue came when, on examination, the abilities gave almost as much damage (in one case /more/) than just straight "strength" and also gave Damage Points.

In other words, about 4 DP (theoretically worth almost 2 AP) were 'free.' I had to figure out "why that was" and "what to do about it."

The answer turned out to be an interrelation of attack and defense scaling that was making these characters against the Normalized Herds come out slightly more inefficiently than their natures would suggest. So I did some testing of characters with Body Types against PC Test characters (50% defense, 50% weapon--in this case, just 'strength') and then worked the numbers until the Body Builds were about equal.

What I have now looks like it makes sense and is certainly on-par with at least a group of legitimate PC builds. I'll have to think about it over the weekend to determine if I think this has solved the problem. The next post on this should show the formulas and the break downs in detail.


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Reversal Revised

It hit me last night that my last post wasn't quite correct. The /herd/ characters with FULL ARMOR have as much armor as ever and they do far less well against these "super strength" types than the FULL DP guys.

(Working on Hyper STR today, about 75% done).