Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Spam Allowance?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


1 comment:

  1. Part of the problem you're running into here is actually broader than you think: any focused character tends to do better than any broad character.

    In the skills and attributes part of JAGS, this is mitigated (though I seem to recall you saying you've concluded that this isn't quite steep enough) because you have progressive costs; at some point it becomes cheaper to buy a few other skills rather than ramping up your Karate yet one more rank.

    But with APs, almost all the stuff you buy is linear in cost. In fact, I'd bet if you break it down further that even combat abilities that don't directly contribute to attack and defense at the same time aren't as valuable (things that protect you against only specific subsets of attacks, such dazzle effects or gas for example)as simply buying more armor or the like, unless the special defenses are useful against attacks that are very common.

    We learned this back in the earliest days of Champions, when it became quite clear that someone with a hunking big Energy Blast, good Defense, and a high accuracy tended to trump, well, pretty much anything else; its not a coincidence that the next edition out they started capping how much you could spend on such things.