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.



  1. I know I'm always playing with fire when I use the term "simulationist" these days, because the Forge has taken that term certain places, but I'm an old fart who picked up the habit back in the r.g.f.a. days, when its usage was rather less loaded, and I never can find a term that describes it better. I think in that old usage, JAGS really is relatively simulationist in its bent (though some of the game's concerns are anything but, and you can certainly see old r.g.f.a. dramatism and gamism in other parts; but I think you got where I was going even if I did semi-accidentally put some semantic load on what I said I didn't intend).

  2. Oh, no problems. If anything the problem with Simulationism is that it's so tempting a word because it really (sometimes) comes close to being useful and meaningful and then falls apart with the damage that's been done to it.

    I see how JAGS is a 'simulationist' game in some respects (and for some definitions)--I just don't want to label it that way because I think that it creates more problems in a wider conversation than it solves.