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.


Friday, October 8, 2010

Bug List

My plan is to take the numbers I've generated and see if they can predict the values for Quantum Blast (ignores armor) and then see if they'll do combinations of Ranged IMPACT damage combined with various resisted attacks (Flash Bang: Impact damage + blind/disorient effects).

If I can get close to the tested values mathematically? Brilliant. I suspect it'll be a week of testing though before I have the data to really know.

I also ran through a bug list. Some of them were:

  1. Reduce Armor. Some attacks might just reduce a certain amount of armor. This wasn't working.
  2. Area-Hits: We have some code in place to hit "everyone on the other side." This would be good for Explosive attacks (but wasn't active) and auto-fire attacks (wherein we can have the attacker shoot two people when facing two and see how that goes).
  3. Large Weapon Bonus. I'd thought this wasn't working--but it seems to be after further introspection.
  4. Beam Weapon. Beam Weapon can't quite be simulated by the current rules. It's a more complex fix. But we're working on it.
Knock-back beams, ranged grapples (TK, Tentacles), and Tangle attacks (thrown net) are still yet to be done. They're complex because they really change the dynamic of battle and need to be tweaked to take their place in the game (against a peer a tangle/knockback/etc. attack should, if successful, be likely to gum them up somewhat--but not make them helpless). On the other hand, things like Judo Holds need to also be balanced against things like the Mount (a Hold is better at neutralizing someone--so if you have 2:1 you want to Hold them. If you are 1:1 you want to mount and pound them).


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Decisions, Decisions

So I've been hard-core testing energy attacks. This is going to be a lengthy process and my attempts to streamline it haven't born the fruit I was hoping for. I have also hit some philosophical questions that I'm thinking through. Let's take a look.

The Basic Shape Of Things
Right now it seems to me that there are a few basic "types" of attacks. At the highest level is the Impact/Penetration (kinetic blast vs. bullet) split. Now a lot things like Disintegration Beams (PEN, Ignores Armor, Extra Damage on a Hit by 4+) fall under the PEN area that are complex.

Under Impact are the standard things (Fire and Electricity are Impact, so will be Freeze Ray).

One Level Down From IMP/PEN: Major Attack Categories
So right: under the big headings I have what I'm considering "different types of damage." So Electrical Damage is 'just like' IMP damage but CON rolls are at -1 (and possibly -2 for some attacks) and it may ignore a bit of armor (mostly "metal armor" but that's a specification the game doesn't track especially well so it might just be "X-Amount" of armor). Burn/Fire Damage (which could also be acid in other context) will hit for X-amount of damage and the burn next round for X-amount again (or, possibly Y amount). Right now, for simplicity's sake (for our human players) Burn Damage only burns (generally) for 1 Round. But I could see a "napalm attack" that burns longer.

So, stuff like that.

So right now there are around five or six 'Major Attack Categories.' These include (for IMP):

  1. Power Blast. The basic ranged IMP attack.
  2. Burn. The attack hits and then burns the next round.
  3. Electrical. The attack gives negatives to CON rolls. Usually -1. May ignore some armor.
  4. Sonic/Vibratory Attack. Like Power Blast but double damage to inanimate and undead targets.
  5. Freeze Attack. A hit by 4+ will reduce REA and Init (a good effect actually 'freezing' the target for a while)
  6. Rad-Pulse. A hit for damage will inflict a "sickness" effect.
  7. Quantum Beam: Ignores armor.
There might be a few more kicking around (Venom Bolt: if 1pt of damage gets through there is a venom effect), Flash-Bang (a hit will inflict a disorienting/blinding effect), etc.

Down From That: Delivery Type
So for each of these there's a big list of "Delivery Types." Can it be fired  only once a round? Charge Up? Cool Down? Is it 8 REA or 5? Is it a Long Action? Does it have an explosive effect? Area of Effect? Cone Effect? Beam Effect? Auto-Fire? Damage Field (Long, Med, and Short) Some combination of those (8 REA Long Action, Every Other Round?). And so on.

This sort of creates a grid of let's say 7 basic attack types x 10 Delivery Types. That's 70 attack powers. If I combine Delivery Types (as some attacks might) then I would get a 3D grid of 7x10x10  (or so): that's 700 attack types.

But Can't I Just Figure Out What Damage Field (Long) is 'Worth' And Apply That Mathematically?
Maybe. I'd certainly thought so. Unfortunately the simulator says "maybe not." I'm trying to get a good handle on what these abilities are worth mathematically and how they apply and I'm not having a lot of luck. I plan to post my theory on this today or tomorrow as time permits however. 

Certainly there are powerful trends in the data. 1 ROF Charge Up looks like this:

As you can see (Factor is Standard/Charge Damage) the increase is certainly close, but not identical. Is it close enough? For everything? I'm not sure. I'm working on that. If the POV variance for using an average of around .28 is workable then I'll go with it. But it would mean players have to do fractional math--something I am not happy with.

Worse: I will have to prove how these things work together: something I'm really not clear on. That is, if I take Charge Up, 1 ROF and combine it with Costs 8 REA To Fire do I multiply or add Factors? Does that give me the correct number in terms of POV when I test it (Percent chance of Victory)? 

The Other Philosophical Question
The other issue for me is that I want a power  called Sonic Scream (amongst a whole lot of others). It would be a Sonic Attack, 8 REA Action, with a 1 Round Cool Down. That's a reasonably unique combination of powers that I might not do for everything.

If I have a single "power block" for Sonic Attack I can add Sonic Scream in at the bottom--but what I really want is a billion stand-alone powers like Quantum Bolt or Pulse Beam or Breathe Frost (as opposed to Freeze Ray, which would both be the same Frost Attack but with different delivery systems). 

One of the reasons we moved from Hero to GURPS was because we felt GURPS was better at providing specific cool names for things. We liked that. It was enough less generic that it sold us. 

I really don't want to call powers Power Blast + Beam Effect + 8 REA To Fire. I'd rather call it ... Ion Beam and then describe it (and if you don't want "Ions", that's fine--you can define it as Magic Unicorn Blast if you want--and we'll talk about that--but I feel the play experience is helped a lot by having a shopping list with Ion Beam on it ...).

My original graphic could've used more examples. Here's a bigger spread showing what the numbers come out like. Factor is Standard Attack Damage / Delivery System Damage. As you can see, there are trends but it's not exactly even. IGNORE the Damage column. That's Damage for the Blast (and not for any of the others).

As you can see Medium Reach Damage Field has a pretty big variance. Cool Down is dead even for Burn and electrical which is great but comes out low for standard blast ...


Monday, October 4, 2010

What Do Attack Powers Look Like

I'm working my way through the Innate Abilities attack power list. This is supposed to be ... well, not definitive but "very robust." That means that every energy style attack and every bio-weapon that anyone would want that would be classed as either natural (like "claws" or "pincer" as it appears in nature) or "super" (Power Blast, Flame Blast, Frost Blast) should be in there somewhere.

I can leave out a lot of magical stuff because there will be a magical section. There is also a Chi section so I can leave out Chi attacks.

That still leaves, frankly, an infinite number of possible attacks to choose from.

Now, Of Course It's Not Like That
I'm not literally going to do Red Energy Beams vs. Blue Energy Beams unless I can think of a very different way to model them and there's a reason for it. However, I am going to try to have a bunch of fairly obvious attack powers (Sonic Scream, Power Blast, Flame Blast) and then give them a lot of variations on the theme in the "what you buy" section.

Is That Like Champions?
The Hero system is one of the most brilliant RPG systems ever developed (Champions was the original name and now is the name for their super-hero supplement). Their idea was to take a basic power ("Energy Blast") and then apply enhancements ("continuing attack"--keeps burning) and disadvantages ("not under water, not in space") to make a specific power ("Flame Blast").

While there are possibly some drawbacks to this it's frankly brilliant and I'm going to use the basic idea as a guiding principal in doing the JAGS Energy Attacks list. I plan to separate out stuff like Flame Blast from Power Blast (our term for Energy Blast) but a lot of the modifiers (is it explosive? Does it fire once per Round?) will be folded into the actual power description rather than occupying a chapter somewhere else and having you multiply.

There are a couple of reasons for this (one being that JAGS usually deals with far fewer numeric points than Champions did making small modifiers either fractional or not changing the cost) but essentially I'm also doing it because it fits my vision: I want to be able to sell Fire Blasts and Freeze Rays as specific powers rather than having Energy Blast and a Chinese menu of modifiers that let people build them.

Aside: I do plan on having a way to modify the existing powers so if you need to do something I didn't think of, you can. My current plan is that rather than reducing the cost (if your modifier increases it, it just increases it) you will get some number of Damage Points in exchange for the defect.

So What's This Post About?
So the question I have now is this: I plan to have a fairly "standard list" of "common modifiers" for a lot of these abilities. Things like "Explosive Radius" and "One Shot Per Round" or "Long Action To Fire" or "Acts as Damage Field" and so on. I'm not clear on precisely what this list of modifiers ought to encompass, however and that will require some thinking. What are the common modifiers I should test each attack for?

  • Explosive
  • Slow (Long Action either 5 or 8 REA)
  • Charge Up (1 or 2 Rounds)
  • Cool Down (1 or 2 Rounds)
  • Breath Weapon (only active every-other round or so but requires 1 or 2 rounds of Cool Down after fired--this is meant for powerful Fantasy attacks)
  • Power Up (Costs 5 REA to 'charge' and must be charged for a Round before it can be used)
Is that enough? Am I missing anything?