Thursday, December 30, 2010

TAP Revised

After a good deal more testing I have the revised list of TAP prices and some testing as to how they "stack together."

It seems that adding TAP defenses is actually weaker than the sum of their parts. I'd noted this before and I'm still not sure why it is--although I suspect that in most cases it is because most of these prevent PEN Doubling (in some cases they prevent PEN altogether) and once you get the bonus for one of those the same deal with the other isn't worth anything (characters with -4 DM and No Pen Doubling are paying twice for what -4 DM practically gives you by itself).

That shouldn't be the whole story--but I think it's at least part of it.

I also got some feedback so here's my responses:

  • +1 or +2 AGI is only for the AGI Bonus. It doesn't add to AGI rolls or to AGI for skill purposes.
  • +2 CON does NOT by itself increase DP. If you get +2 DP--and you should--you pay for that normally. I did this because I want to isolate the +2 CON cost. In most cases I believe you will get +2 or more DP along with it.
  • No Unconscious means, for now, you treat every Damage Result above Dazed as Dazed. That means you tend to die at -5x DP. You will, however, suffer Condition effects (such as negatives to CON rolls). This is the sort of thing you'd give to slasher-killers from the Friday the 13th style movies. We need to revisit this so that there are some more nuanced effects (above Dazed guarantees a Knock-Down or 3-Rounds of down-time unless attacked ... time to run!)
  • Mech-Heal is a "cybernetic" power that gives you a charge that removes a damage-result (up to unconscious) and heals a certain number of DP or ADP. It represents the unit taking damage--but "coming back online" quickly. The 1x, 2x, 3x are the number of charges. These need more testing because (a) I didn't do a full suite and (b) These numbers are without regaining any points.
  • The grayed out listings are "the same as the 16 AP levels" so they are the minimum costs. While there is some wiggle room there, I'm not going to sell -8 DM for less than 7 AP. I haven't fully vetted the others.
  • The yellow-on-yellow listings are where I made some adjustments to the value to better illustrate what I saw during testing. Usually it means the "average value" was a little low by an AP or two at some level of testing and I increased it slightly.

Could You Buy Off This List?
At this point, I think so--yes. It's been tested quite a bit and while I still have some reservations this price list seems to be reasonable.

Will This List Appear In The Game?
It probably won't appear just like this, no. These abilities will usually be part of other things (like Fast Defenses are part of the Fast Company package). As a result the actual prices might be less than the listed values since for in-house designed powers I can test combinations specifically and use their evaluated real-costs.

On the other hand, I don't plan to lose information and the value differences are pretty mild anyway. I suspect that what'll happen is that this kind of chart will appear in the back of the book or on a web-page/tool somewhere.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Expected Build

I've done a little testing of the Giant Attacks list--but our breakthrough on Total AP Cost (TAP) characteristics has had me scrambling. Our formulation of it effects everything from Fast Company to Stretching and beyond (that was how the testing started: I wanted to know what -4 DM was /worth/).

This does bring up one thing though: I am testing with 4 test characters (Mixed DP and Armor, Full DP, Force Field, Full Armor). It's unlikely that we'd see some of these builds in conjunction with some of the TAP abilities. Who would take "Doesn't Take Hurt Condition" and leave themselves at only 14 DP on 64 AP? No one I can think of. That isn't to say it's horrible: the FULL ARMOR rating is usually the best in most of these common tests but when you start adding in a lot of TAP defenses you'll often see FULL DP or Force Field come out the highest victory.

Here's my thought: Some of these abilities -- and this goes for all abilities -- are going to show up where the player thinks they'll be the most effective. While it turns out that within a fairly narrow range of balanced battles Full Armor and Doesn't Take Hurt Condition are within tolerances for reasonable choices we're far more likely to see that on DP-heavy characters.

Does that mean we need to change our testing line up?

The obvious answer is that even if it /did/ I don't think we could--not easily--but the fact is that looking over these various builds it appears to me that the distribution of wins (the best mix of defenses) is, although somewhat skewed towards full armor (half one's DP spent on armor) mixed /enough/ that while there may be one optimal grouping for a given defensive strategy most of the choices a player can make are okay.


Friday, December 24, 2010

More TAP Testing

Further tests suggest this:

  • The minimum costs for TAP items seem to hover around the 16 AP values. You can't get -8 DM, really, for less than 7 or 8 AP even if you're an 8 AP character. While there are probably cases where this is technically not true it seems for now that this is the safest way to do it.
  • The values from the chart are usually within a point or two of the real values. For the 64 AP chart the biggest variation is 4 AP from the tested value to the estimated value. A variance of 1/16th is something I can live with. Nevertheless there are going to be some modifications to the chart by the mentioned point or two in order to more correctly reflect tested values.
  • Adding TAP abilities together is, as I said, not simply a matter of adding the costs. It seems it doesn't "quite work that way" and I'm not sure why. Mostly it seems the prices over pay which, I guess, is safer (it doesn't "break the game") but I'd like to have a way to "get it right."
More TAP Abilities
An investigation of our power-list showed there are several more TAP abilities that have yet to be tested. Some of these are:
  • CON: this is one of those Defense multipliers. The more AP you are, the more +1 or +2 (about the limit I'll sell) becomes worth)
  • Heal: Some characters can "burn a heal" getting them back 10 or 20 DP and negating a Damage Effect (usually limited to Unconscious or below). This is, again, relative to the total AP value of the character.
  • Doesn't Take PEN Doubling, Hurt or Injured Condition, PEN damage (treat all as Impact), Doesn't suffer "Unconscious," Doesn't suffer "Above Unconscious." These are components of undead, robot-bodies, slimes, and so on.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Hmm ...

While the formula does seem to work /reasonably/ well, it seems that mixing and matching items from it does not. While I need to validate this, it looks like:

  • +1 AGI and Full Block both work full vs. Range is worth 8 AP at the 64 AP level
  • FAST Defenses (-8 v. PEN, -4 v. IMP) is worth 16 AP.
  • Together these are worth 20 AP, not 24 which the math would imply. 
This trend continues for several other elements.

The most probable outcome of this testing is that we'll just sell "packages" of these things properly costed and, if we must, sell the individual elements with a warning. That's if I can't figure out what's going on (clearly the value of +1 AGI which fully applies is "pretty good" by itself--but less good when it's combined with big negative damage mods. In other words, it brings "a lot to the table" but a good portion of that is "already brought" by the -DM's).



The methodology used to do the TAP cost stuff was, really, fairly experimental. I had to hope our system was tight enough that I could take a 32pt (or whatever) character, add 1-12 (or whatever) points of Armor and that then the %-Percent-of-Victory (POV) improvement that the characters showed against the herd would match up with the POV increase that something like -8 DM showed.

It turns out, it's looking "pretty close."

I was concerned that when I added, let's say, 8 AP of armor to a 16 AP character I 'd get a 24 AP character who had only 1/3rd of his points in attack. That's /legitimate/ but it's not what we think of as a "common build." I'll recap here that we consider 1/4th AP in attack "Low Damage" (LD) and 1/8th or less AP in attack to be Very Low Damage (VLD) but above 1/4th is "Normal" so these guys were still in the "Normal" range (wherein they get no special breaks on things like extra REA)--just the lower end of it.

But I wasn't sure if that was skewing things or not.

I also knew that there were "floor" costs for these things: no matter what the formula said you couldn't really get -8 DM vs. everything for 1 AP if you were only 8 AP as a character. These abilities have minimum costs I haven't tried to calculate yet.

So my approach was to "triangulate." To do this I'm taking the three herds and modifying their points spent in traditional defenses (Armor, DP, Force Field) and adding in TAP stuff like +2 AGI vs. Ranged, -4 or -8 DM, and so on. I deduct from the points in traditional defenses the estimated cost of the TAP defense and see if the POV changes.

If our estimations are right, it shouldn't. If our tests say that for a 16 AP character -8 DM is worth 5 AP then if the character normally has 8 Armor (for 8 AP) then he should be balanced with 3 Armor and -8 DM. Same difference.

Turns out, while I've only done the 32 and 64 herds thus far, that's turning out to be "about right." If anything some of those values on the chart below are sometimes 1 AP higher (but I've not found anything that's /too/ out of line ... yet).

So it looks like the methodology at the high end works!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A few quick notes about TAP items

That list below looks very scientific--but it's not quite. Here's a quick description of how it was generated:

  1. I took the three herds (16, 32, 64) and to each of the 4 "test characters" I added the specific advantage (so FAST as in Fast Company is -4 DM vs. Impact, -8 DM vs. Pen). I ran the simulator
  2. I removed all the self-vs-self battles. I wish I'd done that from the start--I insisted they be there and it was probably a mistake--if the test character is overpowered he still gets a tilt towards 50%-POV (Percent-chance Of Victory) by fighting himself and his test-character peers.
  3. I got a POV-increase from the standard test character. So if I added +2 AGI I got a bump of like +18% POV for my four test-guys (and these guys are 50% weapon, 50% defense).
  4. I compare that increase to another chart I'd already made: the test characters with +1 Armor (+1, +2, +3, +4, etc.). We have tested and discovered armor to be pretty consistently worth 1 AP per point of armor. So if +5 Armor gave a 15% increase in POV and some TAP-power gave a 15% increase then we could say, by deduction that the TAP power was worth 15 AP.
  5. Problem: The problem was that a LOT of these powers fell between the armor values ... in some cases substantially. I made a bunch of judgment calls I'll have to revisit later about which way to go since we don't generally sell fractional AP. I then used that "eye-balled" value to determine the % of total AP. I need to go back and revisit this and we'll see if I can get a "more scientific" measure.
  6. I then rounded up for all the AP values to try to smooth out the curve and try to erase any serious mistakes that my testing, data quality, etc. might have introduced (i.e. rounding up will mean that if I've underestimated then I should be able to compensate somewhat).
So testing will continue. What this means, however, is that certain powers (like Stretching) which give -Damage Mods, certain kinds of armor, and so on, will have TWO (and in some cases 3) cost components. These are:

FIXED COST: If a power like stretching includes "flow through keyhole" that, in JAGS, has a fixed cost--it doesn't change no matter what the rest of your character is like.

TAP: Total-AP component. Abilities like the above (-DM's, extra AGI, and so on) are based on your Total AP. So if Stretching includes -4 DM vs. all physical attacks then it'll cost based on your Total AP and be different for different point-level characters.

Damage Level Based: Some powers (like extra REA) cost based on what your character's Damage Level is relative to AP (that's Very Low if 1/8th or less of your AP are spent on attacks, Low if 1/4th or less of your total AP are spent on attacks, or "normal" if more than 1/4th of your total AP are spent on attacks). 

Some powers like Fast Company which include standard abilities, negative Damage Mods, and extra attacks could include all three. :-O.

Our plan to deal with these monsters is to have arranged costs as a table where we've done the math with a side-bar that explains how to work it out if you're either off the chart or doing something unusual (like adding "Fast Level 2 to a pre-existing character").


Saturday, December 18, 2010

TAP Costs

There's a lot of complexity here that I don't have time to explain--but here's the short form: some things rightly cost a "percentage" of your Total AP ('TAP'). Usually these are things like defenses (extra AGI, negative Damage Modifiers, etc.).

I think even more rightly the /multiply/ your points in Defense--but that's going far, even for us. Here is a table of what I estimate some of these would cost.

The columns with AP values are what the ability costs if your character is /that/ total AP.

NOTE: FAST is -4 vs IMP, -8 vs PEN
NOTE: The Average number is the multiple of your Total AP that it costs. The numbers for -4 DM and -8 DM are wrong (cut-and-paste error). I'll see if I can get the right ones ...


Thursday, December 16, 2010


The first set of results are in--and while my data is substantially more sophisticated than what I'm smoothing over here, these are the numbers:

* -8 Damage Mods (vs. Everything): 1/3rd of your character points (AP)
* -4 Damage Mods (vs. Everything): 1/4th of your character points (AP)

This ratio holds true at 16, 32, and (roughly) 64 AP. There is also a /floor/ on these abilities which I /think/ (but have not proved) is 4 AP for -4 DM and 8 AP for -8 DM respectively.

I want to take a break from the Giant List of Attacks to test Fast Company a little further. When I get home.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Damage Mods vs. Armor

I'm traveling but I figured I could still do some tests. In this case I'm testing (and have been running it in the background all day) a match up of extra armor against negative damage mods.

This is a load of testing: it's 10 tests for DM's (Damage mods run from -1 to -10 in JAGS) and possibly more for armor. Then I need to do this at at least three power levels (16 AP, 32 AP, and 64 AP).

To make matters worse, my tests--all day's worth--ran into two different DQ problems (I had set things up wrong on two different counts). So ... retest.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Level 3

In JAGS a Level 3 combat skill ignores "-3 points of negative modifier." Usually this is applied to ranged weapons ignoring environmental modifiers--and, as one of our players pointed out, the rule book has some overly specific verbiage about what modifiers can be ignored.

Here's the deal: A ranged attack skill ignores any negative modifiers other than:

  • AGI Bonus modifiers
  • Double Tap modifiers
The question is: should it ignore other kinds of modifiers, such as "cover"--and even more to the point, what about L3 Hand-to-hand combat skills. Can they ignore, say, size modifiers, letting you kick things that are very small.

Things You Can't Ignore
The rationale for saying there are some modifiers you cannot ignore (such as Double Tap, AGI Bonus, or, let's say, the -1 for a Kick) is that those modifiers generally make the attack special. A double tap move lets you get two shots for 5 REA. That's a good deal and it only makes sense if you hit less well than otherwise. Same with a kick. 

AGI Bonus is pretty sacrosanct since we rely on it to protect certain character types. Devaluing it would make AGI a lot less useful.

Things You Can Ignore
On the other hand, things like:
  • Range
  • Size
  • Speed
  • Visibility
  • Unstable firing platform
  • Poorly aimed weapon
  • Off-hand penalty
  • Recoil
  • Negatives from flash or other Resisted Attacks
  • and so on ...
Ignoring these gives you a bonus for having a higher weapon skill and makes it pay off. We think that's fair. These are also usually not related to the attack itself--or to the character themselves. They are generally conditional.

So What About Cover?
When a character gets Cover they get a -1 to ... maybe -6 to be hit added to their AGI bonus. This is a big deal for things like attacking from a vehicle (where the vehicle gives cover even though most bullets will go through it) or movement in a room (where we are considering allowing "Tactical movement" to give a cover modifier in most urban environments to handle making use of terrain for properly trained characters).

At the core of the issue is this: L3 skills cost only 4 CP making them available to any character who is "serious." Most PCs who can fight or are supposed to fight at an "expert level" (which is, in our experience, a whole lot of them) will have an L3 skill either out of the starting gate or shortly after the game begins. This means that negative modifiers will get eaten up quickly.

If we make it so that Cover is reduced by L3 skill then, unless other modifiers are in play (which is not terribly likely) then taking cover won't help that much and won't be a big part of play. If we, on the other hand, treat Cover like AGI Bonus then it makes taking cover a huge part of play.

More importantly, in (many) games you can take several "shots" before you go down--but if you're playing 50 CP JAGS and playing a solider without body armor (say WWII?) then one hit from a rifle and your character if not dead is probably screwed ... badly. So if you are playing those sorts of games then the PCs will need to find ways to stay alive (outside of just "never entering combat") so cover is a potentially good part of the equation.

My Thoughts
This came up during the Have-Not game Sunday night. My character had cover and as we were attacked by the L3 boss robot (Bone-Digger: the level is full of Call Me Al song references) I took cover and he chewed up the cover modifiers with his L3 skill. 

We weren't exactly ambushing him and having things be more or less "straight up" made everything play more fairly. In real life there is a whole lot of ambush attacks--and many battles are mostly static with parties staying religiously behind cover. On the other hand, real-life chances to hit are a lot lower than 9- for most people--it just wouldn't be much of a game if we played out numerous rounds with 6- to-hit chances or something.

So I'm not 100% sure yet. I think that either (a) a lot of "real life battles" include L2 opponents so cover bonuses do make a big difference or (b) the play-value of having cover be really key is questionable. Either way, it seems that treating cover as another conditional modifier is more in keeping with the spirit of the game rules--with our logical foundations.

On the other hand, having it work on L3 opponents would lead to a lot more tactical cover-taking at every level of the game.


Monday, December 6, 2010

I'm Burning, I'm Burning for You

I'm slowly working my way through the Humongous List of Attacks. Currently doing Incinerate. This is an attack that takes a Round to charge, does not miss (+8 Large Weapon Bonus), automatically Burns for 1 Round, and ignores armor (it burns the target from the inside out).

Our simulator won't handle the second round of Burn with an "Ignores Armor" modifier. I'm not overly concerned--the exact numbers probably won't be too different. But it highlights the sort of thing that makes the generic list of modifiers hard to quantify if you're designing really intricate attacks.

I just had a tooth removed so I'm not really inclined to a longer post but I do want to talk about our game last night.

I wanted to talk a little about the playtest last night

Have-Not Post Apocalypse
So we're down on the second run into the GC Complex and we've encountered a fair variety of robots. Including some recurring ones. The GM is using our spreadsheets to create "level appropriate fights" (and treasure). We fought:

  • Oversized "Big Wheel" bikes with mounted machine guns and centralized "helmet monitors" that could see and display writing. The bikes had coverage armor (the wheel) and were fairly fragile around them
  • Knife Fighter Robots: Flying helmet-monitors with blade weapons. These are very fragile once they take PEN damage they pretty much break.
  • The "Egg Bot" which looked like an egg standing up and had speakers for eyes and mouth which could project powerful sonic blasts (took out a PC in one hit, pretty much)
  • Bone Digger: A boss--a humanoid robot with shoulder cannons and a huge shotgun and throws armor piercing knives and two head-mounted blasters that took time to power up.
  • In the same level we have also fought giant grappling roaches which will leap on you and grab you (probably immobileing you) before starting to eat you (net result: if you are by yourself and not a grapple master, you are in big trouble)
This is a small list of the things we've fought. For treasure we have found:
  • Ring Tones: musical numbers that, if you have something to play them on (a "red key card" will do) give you a 5pt non-stackable power field.
  • A platinum gift card with 1 Success Point to the holder as an added bonus.
  • A T-Ball Inertial Glove that gives the sword guy big bonuses to his attacks
  • A gift card for free music downloads (I wonder if we can get ring-tones with that?)
  • We've also harvested a lot of power cells, toner ink from cartridges, and have kidnapped some small robots (a Script Kiddie hacker-bot). 
  • There are collectible pogs that you can work into weapons and get sets of four (we currently have 3 "cleave pogs" and a "LuZ Pog" which came from the same terrorist organization that created the giant roaches ... it seems.
Anyway, I'm discussing this here because it all feels very surreal and baroque and bizarre. The game is currently handing a mass of carefully balanced fights and treasure and feels very D&D-ish without having to have a lot of guess-work in terms of what would flatten us (the GM has a history of throwing things in at semi-random and then discovering that they are well above ... or below ... our character's ability.

Not only is this an excellent play-test for our rule-set but it also is the sort of thing we tried to do in GURPS and Champions and had a very hard time with (mixing XP and treasure).


Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Thomas notes that we don't say how long you have to rest after  exertion to regain endurance. What's up with that? Doesn't JAGS have rules for, like, falling and drowning? Why not endurance?

There are two pieces to this discussion. One is actually interesting. One, not so much.

Not So Much
In JAGS the Endurance rules exist for two reasons. The first is to distinguish running from sprinting. Our assessment of the movement rules, early on, was that champion sprinters run the 100-yards very fast--but they run, like, the first 10 yards more slowly than the last 90. This observation is built into the JAGS movement rules (you must move at "run" one Round before you can "sprint"). From that point we decided there had to be some reason you did not /always/ move at Sprint speeds and, therefore, the obvious answer: Endurance was ... well, not discovered (anyone who has done lawn work or attended a PE class has probably run into Endurance)--but let's say "re-discovered."

Even from the start we knew pretty much what we wanted to do with it: not much. Champions, one of our formative go-to games, tracked Endurance for every attack. We charged "one Endurance point a Round" no matter what you did. The game tracks combat in terms of seconds--outside of Sprinting you can go for minutes. Already that's 'out of scope' for game balance.

Even in combat you get like CON Rounds of action before you're sucking wind. Given that most fights last like 2-4 Rounds and even a mega-battle won't usually go 12, it's clearly just not going to be a factor.

That's intentional: we had very, very little interest in making you run out of Endurance during a battle. It's true that it happens in real life (UFC fighters can "gas" and by round 12 most boxers are pretty tired) but in almost no fiction (save, for example, boxing fiction) is it much of a factor.

No: Endurance exists to stop someone with a lower power attack from, like, leveling a mountain range by repeated fire. It exists to explain why you can't carry your buddy across a desert. It exists to put an upper limit on activities and it also helps explain some drowning rules.

Given that this is a small part of the game,  we didn't devote a lot of time to it, and in the interest of brevity, we never said "how long you have to rest to get it back."

That's the interesting part.

Interesting (?)
So the interesting part is looking at how "time passes" in traditional RPG play. I mean, it's not as straight forward as it might look. For one thing, even "real time" sessions aren't necessarily real-time in the game. It's even arguable that you as a player, speaking in character, might not be saying the same things that are coming out of your character's mouth in some hypothetical "RPG-game reality." For example, if you are playing Star Wars, almost no matter what you say "in character," your actual guy isn't speaking English (and if you roar like a Wookie, does anyone think a real Wookie sounds anything like that?).

Time wise, however, there is a very important concept that divorces game-play from the reality around the table--and that's the concept of a "scene" or "encounter." In RPG-play most of the time the action will (ideally) move from one important or interesting segment to another. Sure, there can be false starts, filler, or attention to detail moments of play--but I don't think it's controversial to say that if you consider RPG-play as a series of "scenes" with some connective tissue you won't be too far off the mark of what a well run game will be like.

The concept of a scene is roughly "when interesting things start happening to when they stop." Because heavy action (fighting? Blasting things?) happen in a scene then the idea is that if you can rest then you get the endurance back "by the next scene."

If you can't rest (because of, say, waves of opponents coming at you) then the "scene" isn't over and you're kind of screwed.

So that was the limit of our thinking--although we had not--and have yet to--entirely adopted the "scene" concept. Why not? Well, for one thing it's very meta-gamy and we want that to be kind of optional rather than always a hard and fast rule. For another thing it's hard to determine what a scene is if you're going to look at the edges (can a player drag out a scene by declaring they're interested in the action?)

On the other hand, we could've determined how long you had to rest in order to regain Endurance. Our method for this is to go to Google and do some research. Then we want to simplify what we've learned and try to arrange it into something that plays well.

I haven't done that for recovery but I can tell you from my history of working out (I work with a Personal Trainer four days a week) that "recovery" is not yes-or-no. What happens (to me) when I really bust my ass in the gym is that the next day I am degraded in my ability (both in terms of maximal effort and ability to work hard over time). This means that a realistic assessment would be pretty complex.

That kind of complexity is possibly only interesting in a really deep "fight game" (i.e. the PCs are UFC wannabes who must choose things like training Endurance vs. training Strength or something). I think we'd be into diminishing returns.

I advise that if period of rest is important then you want to say something like: Once you hit the "Tired" zone (END equal to CON) you recover 1 END for 1 minute's rest (the 1-round between fight rounds) and then after that, up to half you recover 1 END up to half your END. Beyond that it's like 10 minutes per END.

If you keep doing this (working to exhaustion and then resting and working again) you will lose 2pts of maximal END each cycle done in a day. Those are recovered with a full day of rest.

Something like that?