Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Reversal of Fortune

One of the things I've noticed when looking at today's run (Super Strength and, running now, Hyper Strength) is that as hoped for the FULL ARMOR guys are not doing so well when facing characters who are constructed with the new builds.

It's hard to say what's different--and I plan to look into that (maybe later tonight if I can get a break) but here's what I think:

These builds, although technically 50/50 are actually less well armored than the other FULL ARMOR builds we employed. We can see that Armor is still a pretty good way to go (at this level FULL DP actually does the best--but all the defense score similar POV's).

This indicates that while spending half your points on Armor is still possibly the best way to go for these spreads of characters, spending it other ways is just about as good. I'm happy with that (although I'd be happier still if the 1/2 AP spent on Armor wasn't so much better than 1/2 AP spent on everything else).

NOTE: Hyper Strength is a form of Super Strength where using your full STR is pretty much the last attack you can make for the Round with it (you can use half of it without incurring higher REA costs).


Monday, August 30, 2010

Testing Strategy for Dense and other Traits

So I finished off Dense this weekend. I had to go back and re-do some of the testing earlier in the week because my fundamental approach was wrong. I'd forgotten the lessons I (just) learned from Size and went back to testing half AP on Dense Body and half AP on one of 4 defenses (Mixed Armor & DP, FULL DP, Force Field, FULL ARMOR). That didn't work.

I've discussed why not--but I want to go into it again because it brings up the real question for this post (and that 'real question' becomes more important as I move on to testing Super Strength ... and then ... everything else).

Why The Original Spread Doesn't Work
Remember that my test-bed is composed of 16 "Normalized Herd" attackers who all have one of four attacks (gun, punch, blaster, sword) and one of four defenses (DP, Armor, Mixed, and 2-on-1 half-point attackers). These characters are designed as roughly 60% Defense, 40% Offense mixes. We consider that "normal" builds (rather than a strict 50-50 Offense Defense build that the Test Characters are).

The four test characters combine half their points in Defense with half their points in a weapon. That's how I tested all the standard attacks and a bunch of the weirder ones and concluded that the first 8 AP should buy more power-per-point than every 8 AP after. That was a big breakthrough that is coloring everything else I do.

So, right.

Then we start getting to powers like Dense and Size and (now) Super Strength. What's different about them?

Well, what's different is that they combine Offense and Defense in the same 8 AP level. They do it in odd ways too (that's what the "real question" is--I'll get to it below). For example, Size combines STR, BLD, and DP with bonuses to Reach and bonuses to be hit. Dense combines STR, BLD, and DP with ADP, bonuses to be hit, Armor (with extra PEN Defense), and lower Initiative than normal for the character's REA.

Super Strength is comparatively simple: Extra STR and Extra DP--and that's it.

So what happens when we use the previous "weapon-test" build is this: we get, for example with the 32 AP Test Characters, 16 AP in a defense and 16 AP in Size. Makes sense, right? Wrong.

Size isn't just an Offense--it's got a lot of both Offense and Defense. So let's assume, as I do, that the points are split 50-50 in Offense and Defense for each level of Size: for 32 AP that would be: 16 DEFENSE (FULL ARMOR) + 8 DEFENSE (half of the AP spent on Size) + 8 OFFENSE = 24 Defense/8 Offense.

When you pit one of these guys against a 60 DEF/40 OFF herd they tend to do very well since they are over-defended and the Normalized Herd has a hard time hurting the FULL ARMOR guys (but the others like FULL DP don't do nearly as well). The fights also take a long time--like 9 Rounds.

So what we have to do is change things up: the character becomes (at 32 AP):

16 AP in the ability (Size, Dense, Super Strength)
8 AP in 1 of the 4 specific defenses
8 AP in an attack (such as more STR or a Sword)

This, as it turns out, provides much better numbers: everyone wins around 50% with maybe an 8% spread. I could ask for no better validation of the system than those numbers. It means that if characters are being built in a fairly rational manner they, even with some weird, complex powers, come out pretty damn balanced.

It, however, does not mean there is a degenerate case where you put half your points in Armor and 'ignore' most of your attackers (note: this won't happen anyway: in a real game not all attackers will be 60 DEF/40 OFF and not all attackers will be 'at your same APs' and so on--if you really try that it probably won't work as well as it does in the simulator. However: I have not yet proved if this is better than anything else one might do).

What's The Real Question
The big question now is about A-Cost. Let's re-cap. A-Cost is "Attack Cost" and for something like Fire Blast A-Cost is simply equal to the AP spent on the attack. So if I pay 12 AP for Fire Blast it has an A-Cost of 12 AP. That means I can buy a similar attack like Frost Blast at 12 AP for just 1 AP! Because we want to reward flexibility and for characters with more than one attack they'd almost always be better just have 24 AP in Fire Blast or Frost Blast and splitting them (remember that, yes, while in, like, a certain genre of Fantasy Game there will indeed be some creatures "Immune to Fire" but that's not a given across all of JAGS and isn't even true for a lot of Fantasy).

So the question is: how do I look at an ability like Dense and determine how many of the 8 AP per level (or 4 AP for a half-level or 2 AP for a quarter level) are spent on OFFENSE and how many are spent on DEFENSE. I need to tell the player this because if they spend 32 AP on Dense and it's 50/50, they now have an A-Cost of 16 AP. That effects:

  • What kinds of abilities like Fast Company they can buy (or other abilities like Speed that cost based on your A-Cost compared to your Total AP)
  • What other attacks they can get for 1 AP (that character can then go and get 'Flame Vision' for 1 AP at 16 AP level)
This is fairly important so, as I said, I have to tell people. Moreover, this is not uncommon. Almost all Generic Archetype Traits (GATs) will mix Offense and Defense. Many, many Traits will as well. More often then not the case will be where an ability is combined rather than being pure attack or pure defense (even armor that gives extra BLD mixes OFFENSE and DEFENSE as the bigger you are in JAGS, the harder you hit).

There are several options in doing this split. I'll discuss them:
  1. Do The Math. The "best" way would be to use some sort of scientific approach to determine how much of the 8 AP is off/def. The problem is that I'm not sure how to do that.
  2. Add Up The Damage And List That! A tempting solution is to simply take the damage dealt and list the A-Cost as what it would cost you to deal that damage if you bought that and nothing but that. This is quite possibly (a) fair and (b) fairly easy to compute. There are, however, problems with it. For one thing for abilities like Dense Body that not only give Offense and Defense but also some /degraded defense/ (easier to hit, slower) the damage-cost actually comes out close to the AP cost of the ability. This "implies" that the DP, ADP, and Armor (and extra PEN Defense) is free. For example, for the L1 Dense Body the damage that gives it a balanced 50% POV is +11 Impact. If you just spent 8 AP on Power-Punch (or whatever) it would give you +13 Impact Damage. For a player who doesn't read this blog, it's going to appear that 2/10 Armor and +7 DP and +7 ADP are, well, free when those things should cost around 8 AP all by themselves (the secret is that +2 to be hit and -2 to Init really cut into that). This is confusing and may not necessarily be right. Also: the numbers will be fractional in many cases and I want to avoid fractional account as much as possible.
  3. Half and Half. My current approach is to simply declare that half the AP of Size, Dense, Super Strength, and so on is Offense and half is Defense. This has the advantage of being, well, simple (no fractions) and it makes a certain amount of sense as the characters are winning about 50% of their battles which is what we expect when the break really is 50% in a defense and 50% in an attack. In other words, however they get there, the raw % of victory indicates that 50% in, say, Armor and 50% in, say, Fire Blast gives you a 50% POV--and that holds true when you buy Size as well. So it's hard to argue that it's just plain wrong (and, remember, if something is 'pretty' then, if it is also 'true' that's like a huge win for me as a game designer).
So that's where we're at right now. As I run Super Strength test scripts I keep looking over the numbers and wondering what the deal is.


Thursday, August 26, 2010


I'm working my way back through the list of abilities I'd created in the InDesign file.

Let me explain that:

JAGS starts as a Word (or other) text document. The first draft of any set of abilities will be done there where spell-check is easy and layout (other than some basic tables) isn't required. It wasn't always that way: we did all of our early books in Word and got very proficient in doing layout with it.

After the first few drafts I'll import the document into Adobe InDesign and start doing /real/ layout. InDesign is a best-in-class layout program for electronic publishing. It took some learning (and some help) but I've become /okay/ with it (really: 'decent.').

The problem is that once most of the document is formatted in InDesign that's where I keep it updated. Fortunately most of the text for things doesn't change too much (although that happens) but a lot of the numbers can get changed and stuff can certainly get added. That means I wind up, for that phase, using InDesign as a word processor--which it isn't built for.

I realize, fully, that there are ways to integrate the two and keep file links updated. Those have never worked for me because I do heavy-duty table-based layout in InDesign and don't see how to keep that square with the much simpler layout I have in Word. Maybe I'm missing something.

Dense Body
The very first thing that's had to change (after I re-did the 3 pages of Size) is the list of "Body Types." These include Super Strength, Dense Body, and Hyper Strength (amongst others). They are ways of being very strong, tough, etc. outside the normal human scale.

These are complex powers because the mix things that don't usually go together. Dense, for example, has STR, BLD, and DP--but it also has ADP, armor, and extra PEN defense. On top of that it reduces AGI Bonus and Initiative (you are slower and easier to hit).

While you can, in theory, have as many levels of Dense as you want (8 AP each, 4 for a half-level) the modifications to AGI and Initiative don't ever change (you are at -2 AGI/Init for the first level and after that it doesn't get any worse). This means that the real values of other things also have to change, in theory. In practice I'm not going to track that: I'm just going to do our three standard tests (16, 32, and 64 AP Herds) with the (new) understanding that the first level (L1) is likely going to be quite different from the other two.

This appears to give us very good fits at predicting what a 'balanced' 50% win will be.

Also Armed & Unarmed
I also have to test each build with a sword to see how it scales with 'Armed' damage. A sword is 4 AP and converts all damage to PEN at Medium Reach. This sort of 'multiplies' the effectiveness of any damage you already brought (Super Strength purchased for Unarmed combat will be worth a multiple of itself when paired with a sword). So I need /two/ cost tracks for each STR-increasing power.

That's a fair amount of testing ... I'm most of the way through Dense ...


Tuesday, August 24, 2010


We did some thinking and a bit of testing and have a draft of the smaller sizes. Here's what I decided on.

  1. Being 1" high is like super-duper stealth. Technically you're at -6 to be seen but realistically if you are 1" high and people are not specifically trying to keep you out, you can penetrate any even semi-normal defense. We estimate that is 4 APs worth of value.
  2. The -6 to be hit is reduced to -3 by many opponents (any L3 opponent who is at range with their weapon). If you are not highly mobile (4y/s or higher, meaning you must have some special movement form) then you do not get your negative to be hit in HTH combat. I counted it as -4.
  3. The intermediate sizes are somewhat stealthier but far less so (a 10lb small dog is pretty stealthy but not as absolutely dangerous as a 1" high person). I more or less counted their negatives as about half of what they were worth.
  4. The sold-back Damage Points count against the final AP cost.
  5. I assumed that most characters would not bear the full brunt of their Size limitations. Small characters would have special movement forms in most cases, characters with no Reach would gravitate towards ranged attacks, and most of the characters would combine a high AGI with their negative To-Be-Hit modifiers to enhance them. I don't assume this is absolute but my experience in other systems (and earlier versions of JAGS seems to bear it out).
Negatives To Be Hit
Negatives to be hit, as noted before, are actually worth a % of your Total AP. We are resigned to using that sort of calculation in a few places (Fast Company, Quick, etc.) but mostly we want to simply use your Damage Level (Very Low Damage, Low Damage, or Normal) as a proxy. We've done that here. 

The smallest size (1") actually costs 12 AP if you do Normal Damage despite giving you no Reach, -8 DP, and makes you  move very slowly. The reason for this is that you are likely to be at -3 or -6 to be hit and when I ran that character against peers--even with the reduced DP--they wound up winning like 75%+ of the time if they did Normal Damage.

It costs 4 AP if you do Low Damage (that character came out at 50%) and gets you 4 AP (cost -4) if you do Very Low Damage.

The Other Levels of Smaller
These were not all that exciting: mostly they're pretty cheap and/or don't get you many points. The next smallest size (-4 to be hit, -1 vs. L3 characters) would probably be a good deal at 64 AP or higher since the reduced DP wouldn't make up for the negatives to be hit--however, I'm not too worried: there are plenty of things that can still hit you and most, again, peer-battles will involve the reduced -1.

One Remaining Problem
There's a remaining problem with Smaller Sizes: STR negatives. I didn't want to give small characters a negative, fractional, A-Cost (the value of their Attack Powers) for HTH damage. It seems incredibly complex and the fractions would be ... well ... fractional. I'm probably going to have fractional A-Costs in the game--but I want to see if I can minimize it ... and selling back a pt of STR goes against that.

What this means is that if you create a small character who then buys STR you are buying it out of a 1 to 3pt hole (the 1" character has -3 STR). I'm not sure how I feel about that. I'm considering a rule that if you purchase any extra STR through AP powers you can choose to reclaim the negatives for Size. 

I don't want to encourage super-strong, very small characters ... but I don't want to hurt them when it comes to HTH attacks either: their loss of Reach and movement already do a lot of that naturally.

A Final Note
Bugs don't have 2 DP and they don't have 7 STRs. I think there will be a Designer's Note that says that if you want to play a real insect--that is really that fragile you can choose to have something like .25 DP and a STR of -5 or something: no matter how well a cockroach slugs you, it isn't going to hurt. 

I remember looking up rats in Pathfinder and discovering that on their best-possible roll they couldn't do a point of damage to a PC. I wouldn't relegate a rat to that--they have bio-weapons--but I do think that there is a physical condition where the target is so fragile that the combat system won't properly represent it. The question of course is why would you want to play at that scale ("Hey, guys, let's play A Bug's Life!")--and if you did, would you really need to handle large people stepping on you with complex rules?


Monday, August 23, 2010

One Makes You Smaller

The Success Point testing is on hold today. Last night I took e-pen to paper and started working on the InDesign layout and the text of the Innate Powers chapter. This would incorporate most of the attacks, bio-weapons, and size.

I realized we had not done the math for Smaller.

Smaller is complex: It reduces your DP (a bit, depending on how small), it reduces Reach of your HTH attacks. It makes you harder to hit--but higher weapon skills can negate that. If you are not mobile (like a slow moving ant) you don't get bonuses in HTH combat for being small (stomping a bug: bugs that are not quick are not hard to hit--even if they are small).

To make matters worse, my conclusion is that small things should probably deal fewer points of damage than big things--this is due to some experiences in gaming and a feeling that hard to hit things that hit hard are a unique kind of problem: they really leverage terrain in a way that most characters cannot do easily.

What To Do?
This creates several unique problems for the simulator. Firstly, being small is a negative-point Trait: it gets you points back. Secondly, we need to answer some difficult questions to even be able to test anything:

  1. What do you do with the points you get for being small? Do you put them into Armor? Buy back DP? Use them to buy other things? If you are really small you need to buy Flight or something: do we assign some points for that?
  2. What's Your Attack? Small things lose their Reach: their punches become Close Combat--a big disadvantage ... this will lead many small things to resort to Ranged Attacks. Do we test with small things hitting in HTH? Or do we give them all Power Blast? Some combination (we think that perhaps 75% will have Ranged Attacks).
  3. What Are Your Opponents? If you face L3 guys your negatives to be hit will get eaten up by their skill level unless you can leverage range (hang out at -3 to-be-hit range for both you and them--and then your modifiers will apply!). But most monsters are not L3. Neither are most "mooks" (or whatever)--so what do we assume? Is -2 to be hit going to show up or not (worse; the simulator doesn't handle size-mods right now. I have to simulate these as AGI Mods). Our present plan is to have -6 points of mod (insect size) count as "-4 points" as a sort of middle ground and then factor down from there.
  4. What About Attacks? The old version of the rules just divided the number of APs you spent doing damage (or just divided damage) by some number: you're small? Cut your damage in half! That doesn't work as elegantly as our (newer) Low Damage, Very Low Damage, and Normal Damage rules. These dictate we should test each level of Smaller at three damage scales for three AP values (that's around four days of testing--I dunno if I'm up for that ...).
  5. Should It Be A Percent Of Your Points? Our preliminary thinking is that the "real" value for things that more or less multiply your DP should be a % of your Total Points rather than a fixed number. If you sell +1 CON for, let's say, 10 AP then every single 100000 AP character will buy at least one level! It's super effective: it multiplies your 100s of DP! (In reality this isn't much of a problem but still). Do we try to figure this out?
All in all we're still looking this over.


Friday, August 20, 2010

Zeroing In On Grapple Rules

Here are some preliminary Grapple/Tangle Rules.

Order Of Effect for Tangle

  1. Roll To Hit. What you hit by determines how good the Hold is.
  2. Apply The Hold. The Hold works as follows:
    1. Hit by 0 to 3: Grab. The character loses AGI bonus and can't move or dodge until they break the hold.
    2. Hit by 4 to 6: Hold. The character gets -6 DM for all attacks and -2 Initiative. They lose their AGI bonus, dodge and move until they escape. This includes attacks on the Tangle itself.
    3. Hit by 7 to 9: Hold. The character gets -8 DM for all attacks and -2 Initiative and everything else as above.
    4. Hit by 10+: Hold. The character gets -10 DM for all attacks and -2 Init, etc.
  3. Target Can Try An Immediate Escape. For 5 REA the target can get an instant Break Grapple against the attack's Grapple Score. The character can also to use an attack to blast the Grapple going against its Armor. The character can also try an Escape Roll (Rules TBD).
    1. The HOLD modifier applies to the character's attacks against the Tangle
Rules for Martial Arts Hold
This is similar except it goes like this:
  1. Roll To Hit. You can skip this if you have a Grab or Grapple. The character must already be taken down and you must not be suffering a -2 Initiative for having been Mounted, Held, or Taken Down.
  2. Grapple Roll: Offensive vs. Defensive Grapple. What you make it by determines the power of the Hold.
    1. 0 to 3: No effect. The Hold is not sunk.
    2. 4 to 6: The Hold gives a -6 DM, -2 Init, and other Grapple Modifiers. Furthermore the Holding character gets +4 to Blocks against the held character's attacks.
    3. 7 to 9: As above by -8 DM.
    4. 10+: As above but -10 DM.
  3. Held Characters Have a Hard Time Attacking Other Characters: If you are Held and target someone not Holding you, each -1 DM gives you a -1 to hit instead.
  4. You Must Pay 5 REA Each Round To Maintain The Hold. If this is not paid during Init, it reverts to a Grapple.
  5. Attacking Someone You Are Holding Is Hard. Absent extra limbs or bio weapons or something if you attack someone you are holding you suffer a -4 Damage Modifier [and maybe other modifiers TBD].
  6. A Break Grapple Attempt Is Harder: If the Holding Character pays an additional 5 REA to "sink" the Hold [TBD: It will be harder to escape]. This is done to prevent a Hold-Break-out-Hold-Break-out dynamic.

Testing SP-Pools

Today I ran some scripts to test the Success Point Pool code. As I said, these are integral to some of the GATs (Generic Archetype Traits) as well as some stuff like the likely evolution of Chi and Fantasy Treasure.

The original tests showed us two things:
1. There was at least one bug in the code
2. Our "tactical" spread--although pretty robust as far as it goes--may not go far enough.

SP Uses
Right now a character with an SP pool can do the following:

  1. Increase what you hit by so it's a hit by 4.
  2. Decrease someone's Armor Save to 8- (yes, this is kinda new)
  3. Improve your Armor Save to 12- (also new)
  4. Make it so your hit gets around a block
  5. Improve a block roll so that you deflect a hit
  6. Improve your Init
  7. Improve your CON roll so that the final result is NO EFFECT
I think there might be one more--but the upshot was that even absent the bug the effects of tons of SPs (20, 30, 50?) is "not so much." I think there are some reasons for this. Let's look:

  • About 25% of the hits already hit by 4+ so there are plenty of cases where SPs, in our formulation, simply don't get spent. Maybe we need a "spend SPs on a hit" but the question is how many? All of your available SPs? Maybe ...
  • Getting around a block is not worth /that much/ as most of our characters only try to block once (and strike twice). The same for making your block: having a single really good block is only somewhat valuable (having our Defensive SP spenders block twice and strike once did improve their chances, however).
  • The bug was with CON roll--which should make a remarkable difference. Although a test of the "fixed" bug didn't quite prove this out (the test battle took like 13 rounds--but the SP guy still lost ...).
We need to take a deep look into the new code and make sure it's working properly.

Here's What I  Would Add
  • Spend 'X' SPs on a successful hit to improve the hit.
  • Test Defensive Pool blocking twice (right now if there is an offensive hit-around-block and a defensive make-your-block-work colliding the attacker wins. That won't be the way the actual rules work but I'm not going to spend a lot of time testing this case out).
  • Reduce Effect Of CON Roll: Right now we dial it down to NO EFFECT or don't spend the points. A PC would very likely buy a Daze down to Stunned or an Unconscious down to Dazed (not to mention Dead down to 'something not dead').

Thursday, August 19, 2010

New Simulator

I installed the new simulator code and changed my 16 AP Normalized Herd file. I then integrated my code with the new codebase (mostly Resisted Attacks) and am running a test. I think there are few kinks to be worked out. The new code will:

1. Give the new martial arts abilities including Kung Fu's "counter-strike" which, it seems, doesn't make that much of a difference but is cool.

2. Success Point testing with strategies for spending

3. Attack Strategies such as "Shoot at range and stab up close" or "mace the guy then punch him" (or whatever).

4. Different types of defenses and blocks (blocks that are better against kicks, for example).

5. Several other things I'm not thinking of at the moment.

Testing SP-pools is going to take some thinking. Their purpose will be several fold:

SP-Pools And Characters
There are a few primary roles of SPs in the game right now and we need to nail them down, clarify them, and then test. Here they are:

  • The Buffer: If you use your SPs to "buff" other characters then there's a complex question of how buffed another PC should get due to your ('altruistic') effort. In this case the test character will be equal points but will then have a "buff" of some SPs. How much better should he be? NOTE: it's kind of a trick question because if Player A is the fighter and Player B spends all their points to buff Player A then Player A should, perhaps, in theory, fight as well as A+B. So it depends on what we think a 'reasonable' expenditure of buffing is ... We don't know.
  • The Loser: There's a trait called 'Some Kind of Loser' which gives the character a pool of SPs which they replenish by failing dramatically or being socially humiliated or something. Basically 'on paper' they seem like a dork--but with their large and (fairly easily recharged) SP pool they kick ass ... for no apparent reason. There are also guys like "Scientist" who get some defensive SP pools because we wanted the Trait to not be suicide in a combat scenario. These characters will walk around with an SP pool but will not be combat PCs. So the 'test characters' (which are pretty extreme combat PCs) won't work for them. What should the test characters be like? The likely answer to this is that we need to know how good an SP-pool of type X is with Y SPs in it: then we simply adjust the costs of those traits to give a certain effectiveness and don't worry about the actual character behind it. That sounds reasonable but it's harder to test than you'd think.
  • Elric. If you have a fantasy guy with SPs due to magical weapons (say, it recharges when it steals someone's SOUL!) then you have to assume that, like the Buffer, the guy is full AP plus some amount of magical gear (that's true whether it recharges in combat or not). So the question is similar but slightly different: how do we design gear that will have a certain effect that is like giving the character more APs? Now, the Normalized Herds don't come in 4 AP increments like the original 'balanced' herds did--as a result it's hard to say if a character who beats the 16 AP Herd 75% of the time is 'really' 20 AP, 24 AP, or what. I mean, you'd think we could say: if you beat Herd X by Y% you are X+Z APs. Unfortunately it's not that simple. For one thing it's about the makeup of that win (how well you do against the FULL ARMOR guys vs the FULL DP guys, for example) and secondly testing has shown that different builds that are theoretically the "same points" perform differently against a given herd ... so it's not as easy as we'd like. In any event, in the 'Elric' scenario we don't have the luxury of assuming that another PC paid dearly for the buffing: we assume that the guy just found his treasure--and that means we need to really understand just what the ramifications of that are.
Fantasy Testing? Or Something Else?
I suspect that although I'll be doing some SP testing in short order the actual, testable application for this stuff will be some kind of martial arts genre. There are several powers that we're looking at for a re-vamp of the Chi Martial Arts rules and SP-pools are one of them. The problem with Fantasy is that in order to nail down the ramifications of anything you need to understand what the whole game is gonna be like.

Take for example D&D 4e's Minions rules. A Minion in 4e is an adversary that does about full damage for its challenge rating. It's dangerous--but it has only 1 hit point. If you don't have a good Area of Effect guy on your team you are much more susceptible to minions than if you do. A good AoE guy can clean out a horde of skeleton minions in one shot while your fighter has to (dangerously) slog through them one at a time while they hit back ... hard.

This creates a certain dynamic in 4e where, if the GM is running things more or less 'straight' you really want that AoE guy with you. We kinda need to do the same sort of thinking for JAGS Fantasy: how much treasure is appropriate for who? What is the role of a buffer in those games? What AP-levels of characters will be expected to fight what kind of monster profiles ... what should a "standard party" be like? And so on.

That's a lot of work.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010


I tested some more of the toxins--we're gearing up for SP tests and some other things but I wanted to close that stuff out. I have a major rebuild of the software to install which is always interesting.

As I noted, for non-armor-piercing weapons it seems that making them toxic doesn't help all that much. I tried one of our stronger toxins on claws (making them Poisoned Claws) and it didn't do much more than the weaker toxin: for the most part, the average 3 rounds of combat doesn't give enough time for them to really kick in.

With Toxin3 which does 25 Instant damage and 16 Recurring damage at -1 CON to stop recurring (STANDARD EFFECT) the win % was around 54.46% at the 32 AP Herd for 17 PEN Poisoned Claws (Intensity for the toxin was 40, POWER was 12).

When I stripped off the toxin the win % was 50.03%.

Not a big difference for a potent toxin.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What a Tangled Web We Weave (Tangle Attacks)

While I work to nail down Monster-Size I'm working on what's next. What's next is the thorny issue of Grappling and Tangle Attacks.

Tangle attacks are like Spiderman's web, a "glue gun" that wraps up opponents, and so on. Grappling (with intent to Hold) is what happens when you're doing Judo and you take someone down and basically contain them. Super-Grapples are like when you have tentacles, Telekinesis, or like Mr. Fantastic's stretching. These are all somewhat different but they all share some of the same problems.

There are, as I said, certain problems with Tangle/Grapple attacks. Let's enumerate:

  1. They can be boring. Having your super-martial artist encased in ice rather than beaten in a fair fight is pretty lousy in terms of a "way to lose." 
  2. They're not fair. Some characters (Bricks, in Champions parlance--super strong characters) come with a built in way to break out of tangle attacks (and they can grapple real well too) other characters (like "energy projectors" or martial artists) might be the same points--but more screwed: they didn't luck into a free, easy, anti-tangle power.
  3. They're just plain not balanced. Right now the "strong character" dukes it out fairly with the sword, gun, and blaster character. All is right with the world--but let's say that we assume the strong character will use his (overwhelming) grapple attack in a fight instead of punching. None of the other characters have any kind of grapple defense in the strong/trained sense of the word--so he'll be better at that. If that lowers his STR by even a few points suddenly duking it out is not an option: He's under-gunned. He now has to grapple. That's not the dynamic we want. At all.
  4. They break the DP economy. Right now how many DP a character has is really important to how they perform in a fight (I'll include ADP in here as well). Sure, Armor is great--but staying power comes from DP. The grapple/tangle rules bypass all of that. You can be super tough in 90% of your (DP-based) battles but if you aren't a good grappler/get-out-of-Tangler character then when one is deployed against you, you're helpless (maybe).
  5. They Don't Roll For Damage. Right now part of the (satisfying) nature of combat has the attacker rolling for damage of some sort after a hit. Grapple attacks ought to do this--but what do they roll against? Traditionally the target's Grapple Defense--but is that really right? What if you're trapping the target in a Force Bubble? Does that still count? Maybe? Maybe not.
  6. They're Complex. Tangle Attacks and Grapples are complicated. Firstly many of them have two ways to break out: the Escape Hold grapple move and just blowing the thing up (like blasting through ice-bonds). That's a lot of stats to keep track of for some of these attacks and sometimes a confusing number of options (if I'm not good at math how do I know which approach to getting out is better? Especially if there are negative modifiers involved)?
  7. They Have To Be In There. There's a scenario we're calling Conan is Captured by Nets which we think is almost necessary: a (fairly powerful) PC must be able to be non-lethally captured by sufficient forces because it's better than Conan-Refuses-To-Surrender-And-Is-Killed. If you can't capture a villain and slap cuffs on him the PCs will execute them. There are reasons this has to work and work reasonably well.
What Are We Thinking?
As near as we can tell there are actually three basic varieties of Tangle Attacks. These are:

  1. Fire And Forget. This is the web-slinger or glue-gun style attack. It's fired from the character and once it hits it tangles the target leaving the attacker free to walk away or entangle someone else. This is pretty much all tangle weapons (bolas, nets, whips, etc.). It is the most expensive and needs to be the easiest to break out of.
  2. Grapple Attack. A Grapple Attack is a traditional Judo hold. You must hit the target with a grab or grapple, take them down, and then apply a Hold. This usually takes 2 Rounds to achieve but can be done in 1. We believe that in a lot of cases the attacker will be overwhelming due to the fact that being highly resistant to this takes either (a) super strength or  (b) a specially designed character (wrestling, slick skin, liquid body, etc.). Conversely, characters with weapons (for example), will be especially screwed. This is the least expensive form of grapple/tangle. In fact, if you by super strength (or any AP STR) it comes for free (right now).
  3. Super Grapple. A super-grapple is an attack that grapples the opponent but does it quickly and, possibly, from range. Think characters with TK, tentacles, or stretching. These characters are like the above but more efficient and, as we said, ranged. Streaming Attacks such as Wind Blast can be used as a sort of Super Grapple since you can "pin characters" with the continuing stream. These have to be priced so that they are less expensive than, say, super strength which gives the ability to punch for damage.
Current State
The current state of affairs is NOT what we want. I'm not going to go into detail but shortly:
  • We think the "Pinned State" is probably a bad idea. Right now you can be pinned which removes all ability to attack. This gives attackers an "end state" which ends the fight--but we think that most super strength guys could pin a target in a few Rounds making it too good.
  • The modifiers for Hold need to be revisited.
Future State
There are some basic changes we are thinking of:
  • No "Pin" Move. At least not one that stops all attacks. Probably "Pin" will become a 5 REA move that simply makes escape a little more difficult than it was (raises the bar for a Break Grapple move).
  • Your average Hold will: 
    • Cost 5 REA each Round to Maintain if the character on the bottom is trying to escape.
    • Grant +4 to Blocks against the character held
    • Give the character on the bottom a -6 DM (with additional -1 per level, going up to -10 DM)
    • Give the character on the bottom a -2 Initiative score
  • Probably if you strike while performing a Hold the target gets some bonus to escape (unless you have extra arms or something). This is NOT true for super-grapples.
  • Characters hit by a tangle attack will probably get an immediate (but not free--a 5 REA action) attempt to break out. This can use either their grapple score or an attack power.
What Do You Roll Against Question?
When you are hit with a tangle attack (webbing?) it usually has to win a grapple roll to "lock on" to you. That's how you distinguish between a /great/ hold and a weaker one. This is good in that it emulates a "damage roll" but it's also complex. If you are going to shoot your way out of a grapple you still have to go through the grapple phase.

I want to simply use the amount that the attacker hit the target by as the determinant as to how good a "lock" on you it has. This approach is workable but: if there is no /damage/ segment to the resolution it's unsatisfying: getting hit and then ... being held would suck. On the other hand, I don't want to make the attempt a grapple roll since the target will already get a grapple roll to escape if they choose. 

Maybe I don't need a second phase--but I don't want to give up on it without thinking more about it.


Monday, August 16, 2010

Monsters! Monsters!

Today I started rounding out the Size Decisions by testing +1 CON or +1 Reach (and both) for the 550lb rating. It turned out that 'both' was too much (53% POV) while either one did fine coming in at a balanced 48% POV. I've tentatively chosen +1 CON since it's what I would want.

Then: Monsters
In JAGS Monsters (meaning fantasy opponents) are designed to be fought by a large group of characters who do varying amounts of damage and have varying numbers of attacks. In order to facilitate this we (as, I think, discussed here) created ADP (Ablative Damage Points).

A point of ADP is "like" a Damage Point except it does not impact your Wound or Condition Levels and when you suffer it you don't have to roll for wound effects. In other words a character with 100 ADP and 10 DP will make no rolls until they take the full 100 ADP. Then, any damage is applied to DP (for the rest of the fight, until the ADP regenerates--which usually happens out of combat) and they go down rather quickly.

Having ADP prevents the case where (a) to fight a large number of PCs the creature must have like 100 DP and then (b) no PC can do the 30 damage-in-one-hit to score a minor wound or (once the creature is badly hurt) the 30 damage-in-one-hit to score a Major Wound so (c) the battle takes FOREVER. Even worse: once the creature has suffered 100 DP worth of damage and is now at Injured Condition even 1pt of damage causes a MINOR WOUND which will likely Stun/Daze the creature but not take it out.

This means that not only are fights long--but they are dull as the creature is "on the ropes" for, like, another 100 DP worth of time.

ADP means we can have the creature hang around for a while but once it's "hurt" (all the ADP is gone) it then will be susceptible to the PC's levels of attacks. So: big monsters have ADP.

But Wait, There's More
We have the concept of Low Damage (LD) which means 1/4th of your Archetype Points are spent on a damage-dealing capability (we think most characters will do 1/3rd to 1/2 of their AP on a primary attack). If you are LD you usually get some benefits. We also thought that a standard "monster" would likely be built on more points than the individual PCs anyway and would likely do Low Damage since, hey, you don't want a creature that is supposed to be an entertaining fight for a bunch of PCs to just go and obliterate them in one shot. In this case, if a monster is LD they get to have a lot more ADP than they would normally get DP even though a point of ADP is worth less than a point of DP to begin with!

That's the theory, anyway: I discovered that in practice 1/2 points spent on armor (which is what we call FULL ARMOR) + a lot of DP, even with relatively low damage, totally cleaned up on the Normalized Herds (who have 1/3rd AP spent on damage-dealing capabilities). The other defenses (half armor, nothing but DP, and Force Field) would have like a 35% POV and then the FULL ARMOR guy would have like 78% POV. That did average out to around 50 but it wasn't what we wanted (that would mean anyone who got any defense but FULL ARMOR was a chump if they combined it with LD and ADP).

So I created a new rule: to get the Monster Package you had to have no more than 1/4 of your points spent on Armor. Uhm: call it LOW ARMOR. I guess. It worked out.

The Testing
I'm still letting the testing run but looking at the output so far it appears that a 32 AP character with 16 AP spent on Monster (giving STR, BLD, and ADP) will come out with something like 100 ADP. That's quite a lot and I'm reasonably happy with that.

A Note On ADP
It seems that ADP functions very differently when the average attack is 1/3rd your AP than when it is 1/2. In the original herds ADP was worth almost exactly what DP was--that was because the attacks were generally so overwhelming that the punched right through DP and ADP regardless. If the average attack was doing a hell of a lot of damage then it didn't really matter what you put in front of it.

Those are the kinds of things we have to be cognizant of when building these rules (remember: those battles lasted a too-short 1-2 Rounds where we want a good fight to be around 3-4 rounds.

I'm about 50% done testing Monsters ... it looks like the extrapolation is pretty straight forward so I'm going to be a little more sparse than I was with the original Size testing and spot check to see if the progressions hold up.

ANOTHER NOTE: My Test Characters are Mixed Armor and DP, FULL DP, Force Field, and FULL ARMOR. For the Monster build I was removing Full Armor: it turned out that Mixed Armor had already spent 1/4th their points on Armor--as much as I was going to allow. I already know from experience that a tiny amount of armor (say 1/8th) and then DP is a big-time loser since if you just go FULL DP you get like a 2x multiplier of your purchased DP.

So I wanted a 4th defense. I picked Power Field (which is kind of new) and it performed quite well. 1 AP gets you 5 Power Field, it seems.


Saturday, August 14, 2010

That 550lb guy ...

A quick thought: that 550 lb guy in the chart is winning at only 40%. That level probably needs +1 CON or +1 Reach. I'll have to test that level and see if either/or brings him back up to at least 45%.


Friday, August 13, 2010

New Size Table

I'll explain this in a minute.

Ok: What does all this mean?

The top table shows a segment of heights and weights for characters and the bonuses to hit them (HTH/RNG), their Reach Bonus, and their CON Bonus (if any). The %'s next to them show how this combination of modifiers fared in our tests. I tested basic 50/50 character splits with these and did not specifically test the Size characters (who were also 50/50 but were not 'normal' test characters).

The next table shows the actual Size Tests. The "red" numbers are the bonuses to STR and BLD for the listed number of AP spent on Size (so for the first one I spent 8 AP on Size and ran that character against the 16pt Herd with a sword and won 51.92% of the time).

The Blue numbers are what I estimate the actual costs would be in JAGS (it's sort of an approximation of the above numbers).

What You Do
What you do is buy Size at the "blue costs" and then, based on your character's Total Build you apply the above table's modifiers to the character. So let's say I want to spend 36 AP on Size for a character. I decide the character will be Unarmed.

On the Unarmed (blue) Table I spend 8 AP on L1 (+4 STR, +15 DP, +15 BLD) and then 3 levels of +1L for 24 AP (+12 STR, +30 BLD, +30 DP) ... then I spend 4 AP to round it out (+2 STR, +8 BLD, +8 DP). The character gets: +16 STR, +53 BLD, +53 DP.

If my character was 12 BLD to start with they are now 65 BLD. That's  975 lbs. On the above table that is above 800 lbs and below 1000 lbs. The character gets +2/+3 To Be Hit,+1 Reach to all HTH attacks, and +1 CON.


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Size Works ...

The testing was harder than it should've been and I was really, really busy--but the numbers are in and they're good: Size works.

Size Works Like This
(Okay, I still don't have the +'s to be hit worked out yet--give me time).

Each AP Level of Size gives +10 BLD and +10 DP and some amount of STR to make up for the difference in purchased damage (+5 at Level 1, +5 additional thereafter). This is for Armed.

I need to do the testing for Unarmed (which should be easier) and then start figuring out where we want +'s TBH to come in. I mean, we kind of know that--but the question is where does it start?

Andre the Giant, probably the largest athletic character we could identify weighs in at around 500-550 lbs and is arguably 7'4" (this is, according to Wikipedia, contested--but who cares: what we care about is the gameability of the issue).

Our calculation for height (Uh ... since you asked: POWER (Weight in lbs/47.0.0000107, 1/3)-4) would rate a 550 lb guy at 8'3". He would be at +1 THB HTH and +2 THB Ranged. If we assume that that's worth keeping then it means that probably one level of Size (150 lbs) will get you a +1 TBH by ranged attacks.

I can live with that.