Monday, January 31, 2011

Big List of Attacks

Here's the latest cut of the "Big List of Attacks" now that I've gone through and re-done the Periodic attacks. The difference was substantial (it reduced Sonic Scream from 66 IMP down to 29). This is in keeping with our current thoughts.

The ones in yellow are  because our simulator doesn't handle beam-attacks and autofire correctly yet. The green means it was tested. The blue on white means the attack qualifies as Periodic due to its Rate of Fire. 
I believe the rule will be that if you can fire more than 1 Periodic attack per Round, any Round, then you must pay 1/3rd the cost of your full-price attack for each such back-up attack. I'm still not sure exactly how to phrase the "1 attack for even Rounds and 1 attack for odd Rounds" combination (I could just say that but I think there's a larger issue at work).

This is the same as Thomas' notes about attacks that work on "different clocks." Yes: if you have one attack that works every other round and a second that works "in the gaps" you don't get the second one for just 1 AP. So as I said above, we need to figure out how best to address that.

On the other hand, there are some things we do want to encourage.

Some Notes About Range
Thomas notes that there's a big difference between having a lot of ranged or hand to hand attacks vs. a mix. That is true--but it's a distinction we want to encourage. Why? Well, a few reasons. The first is that we feel flexibility is a net good for the game. Even though some characters will come out better than others (the strong guy with laser vision is 'better' for just 1 AP than the strong guy with +1 Strength) we feel that that's a feature, not a bug.

Does it mean everyone will have a ranged attack just because? Well, maybe. But our experience shows that's not the case and even if it was that would be okay by us. Our experience with a multitude of games suggests that the general best build is to find one thing to do in combat and excel at it so having there be a few good alternate modes doesn't seem like a problem to us.

It's also true that in our tests even 1 AP can make some significant differences at moderate AP levels so if that extra attack takes the place of, say, an extra point of Armor, for example, that's a serious trade-off.

What Else Might We Encourage or Not?
Attacks that ignore armor are a gray-zone right now. If for +1 AP you get the ability to ignore armor that's a pretty significant strike against Armor. Now, granted, right now Armor is "the best defense" (in quotes because it's definitely not always true but is true enough to be a concern)--but the legion of armor ignores would be a problem.

Allowing you to pay 1/3rd AP-cost of your most expensive attack for an equal Ignores Armor Attack seems fair though. That's a big price to pay.

Attacks that mix damage with Resisted Attack effects are also suspect: they have special bite against low-DP targets (especially if the RA effect ignores armor as well). They are also a lot more complex in terms of handling time (there is not just a regular damage check but then the whole RA thing and keeping track of RA effects is non-trivial for the GM if there are lots of opponents). So those might go down as well.

Perhaps there will be an "E" for Exotic attack type which always costs 1/3rd your most expensive attack and is never cheap (even other 'E' attacks would fall into this rule).

On the plus side, though, effects like lightning and burn won't count: having a good mix of these attacks is within bounds. If a character has an Armor Piercing arrow that does less damage than a normal one but ignores Armor if a save is missed we're okay with encouraging that.


Friday, January 28, 2011

Attack Profiles III

I've been doing a fair amount of testing of the different attacks in different configurations and have come to a tentative conclusion. It's this:

Let's Review
Let's back up and discuss what I mean by an attack profile. An attack profile is a measure of "how easy an attack is to use." It is important because if you have two attacks that are (a) interchangeable in terms of ease of use and (b) must limit the use of them to one or the other it is always more cost effective to simply have one attack at a higher power ('always' meaning in conditions where both attacks are valid--if you have a fire beam and an ice beam and half the things you fight are immune to one or the other, this clearly isn't true--but that's an edge condition).

What goes into an Attack Profile? Things like:

  • Rate of Fire. The maximum number of times you can fire an attack each Round regardless of the REA you have or it costs.
  • REA Cost. If the attack costs 8 or even 10 REA most characters can fire it only once. If it costs 10, most characters cannot do it and another attack (at 8 you can do it and another 5 REA attack if you are Level 3 and have 12 REA--the 5 REA attack will be reduced to 4 REA).
  • Charge Up or Cool Down. If the attack is inactive after or before use this counts towards the profile.
  • Activation Roll. Some attacks are only useful each Round based on an activation roll. You can make the roll separately (right now "Breath Weapons" are valid on the roll of a 9- ... if you don't feel like making a separate roll, use the same number you rolled for Initiative.
  • Number of Shots. If the number of shots per combat is low enough (say 3) that you will likely run out at some point then it counts.
  • Draw Cost or Power-Up Cost. If the attack costs REA to "activate" (and then can be used without spending additional REA) then it might count (this is a philosophical question). If you have to pay REA (in addition to the REA to fire) to "power the attack up" then this certainly counts.
  • Long Action. If the attack is a long action giving targets a chance to respond during its attack then it might count. We are not certain on this yet (it probably matters what other modifiers the attack has)
  • To-Hit Modifier. If an attack is very inaccurate then it might count towards its profile. This is also not clear.
  • SP Pool. Some attacks might come with an SP Pool that counts only for that attack. This might change the profile (it's not clear yet).
  • Special Effects. Attacks paired with Resisted Attack effects (like a stun beam that does damage and can have a Resisted Attack effect to disable the target) may count. We are examining this. 
  • Attack Augmenters. One key Special Effect is the case where an attack doesn't do damage and won't disable the target all by itself. Consider a beam that reduces the target's REA to 5. This will never take the target out but it's hugely disabling. If that's all you have, you'll never win a fight. If you have that and something else good though you're in great shape.
So there are a lot of things that could change the profile of an attack.

How Does This Matter?
If you have an attack of Profile 'A' then we think any other attack of Profile 'A' should cost 1 AP to have at the same level. This is because they are in theory interchangeable and while you get some versatility that doesn't justify 2x the cost (remember: most of these attacks will need to be at the same or close to the same level to be viable).

If you have an attack of Profile 'A' and then another of Profile 'B' then we think you should likely pay less for one of them to be at the same power. This is because although one of the attacks will likely hit harder some of the time or in some situations our simulations show, again, that it isn't worth 2x the points. The question is "how much is it worth?" And that's what this post is about.

Finally, there's the case of the "Attack Augmenter" that lets you do better with whatever attack you've got that will finish the fight.

So What Do We Think? There are 3 Attack Profiles
As we are now testing paired attacks of "regular blasts" and once-in-a-while attacks we have learned some things. I think there are three broad categories that work.
  • Standard Attacks. Any attack that a "standard" character can use 2x per Round over most rounds (i.e. it might have 6 shots or need to cool after 2 rounds of use--or cost 6 REA--but it still mostly fits).
  • Periodic Attacks. The testing I have done suggests that most once-in-a-while attacks fall into a similar category--that is, they are interchangeable. There is one case I know of where they're not: one that's useful on odd rounds (cool down) and one that's useful on even rounds (charge up). It's also possible that an ROF 1 attack combined with an 8 REA attack (most 12 REA L3 characters could use both) would be an exception--but otherwise these seem to group nicely. I believe that with a few notes to prevent those situations we can say that if you pay full points for any periodic attack you can get another for 1 AP at the same power.
  • Augmentation. If you have attacks that disable targets then these are in a class by themselves. Grapples count for this.
The Rule
We are balancing against the following:
  1. If two attacks have the same profile and the combination is not one of the listed exceptions then you can get any other attack of the same profile for 1 AP at equal AP cost.
  2. If you have an attack of any profile you can get an attack of a different profile at equal AP-level for 1/3rd the AP cost (round normally)
This seems to balance and seems reasonably fair. We are taking a character with [X] AP to spend on both a Standard Attack and a Periodic Attack and dividing it 2/3rds Standard, 1/3rd Periodic and balancing that for a standard POV in our tests.

That would make the option interchangeable in terms of "generalized" victory but quite different against different opponents (the periodic attack will hit significantly harder than even a full-force Standard Attack when it fires so you can hurt heavier-defended targets).


Monday, January 24, 2011

"It's Cosmically Balanced"

That's what one of our players said when discussing the values we're getting from the simulator. He's lucky he wasn't within arms reach or I'd have wanted to smack him. The problem with that concept is that the simulator only produces results--it doesn't "balance" anything. We have to ask the right questions and not make any mistakes in order to get the right answers.

Usually that means "asking the question two different ways."

Right now we're looking at once-in-a-while attacks which take time to charge up and fire and so on. These are complex entities and our initial approach was to test them "by themselves" (in other words, the test character was balanced for average victory against a given herd with nothing but the once-in-a-while attack). The problem with that was that we wanted people to be able to combine them with regular fire-attacks for less than the total-indicated points (i.e. if a character had super strength and then 2-round charge up optic-blast we didn't want the character to pay full points for both attacks because, inevitably, it was better to just have more super strength).

Some of these attacks did extreme amounts of damage for very little points--that was because they took a while to get going and in the 1-on-1 battles, each round you can't fire means you have to do a whopping amount of damage when you do. So one of them (Sonic Scream, I think) did 66 IMP damage for an 8 AP initial investment.

That seemed, on reflection, way too high.

When I did a second round of testing for some of these in conjunction with other attacks I discovered that it was. It was way too high. So I revised my testing strategy.

Now we have a character with a few points less than 50% spent on their Standard Attack and then they spend 1/3 of those points on their Periodic once-in-a-while attack and we make that combination balance to what 50% spent on the attack would cost.

This produces far saner numbers for these once-in-a-while guns--but also means that if that's all you have you'll be losing a bunch of fights. That's okay--it's better than having a "super-cannon" for a handful of points that, when tested in conjunction makes you way, way better than you would've been with just the larger attack.

But it also means re-testing about 10 once-in-a-while attacks for those numbers.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Active Cost, Multiple Attacks, and So On

Thomas mentioned that we might want to do something like what Champions (Hero) did with Multi-Powers. Let's recap a minute:

The Problem
We want to encourage characters to have multiple attacks (a dragon with claws, teeth, a tail bash, and a breath weapon) because it is cool and colorful and gives deeper tactical options. However, if the character must pay for these separately the cost is prohibitive since they cannot use all of them at once (and some things, like the breath weapon may require a round to charge up and have an activation roll to fire even then).

The Basic Solution
The easiest thing for us to do is say this: "if you have a weapon that you can use twice a round and that's all your REA (action points) then you can have other, similar weapons that take the place of that attack at the same level or lower for just +1 AP (point-cost)." This means:

  • If the dragon's claws and teeth are interchangeable in terms of rate of fire and stuff (the claws hit more accurately but less hard, the teeth hit harder but less accurately) then there's no real additional cost.
  • If the tail-bash is really close to the same cost (say, it's longer range, does IMP damage, but costs 6 REA instead of the usual 5) then ... hey ... uh ... maybe it's okay--but how do we write the rule?
The Problem With The Basic Solution
The problem with the above is that the Breath Weapon gets hosed. It hits /much/ harder (maybe 3x as hard as the claws/teeth) but it's so hard to use that paying full points for it will sink the character. It doesn't fit into the simple rule--but it shouldn't cost full points either.

Active Cost From Champions
Here's what Champions did: they had a concept called a "multi-power" where you could group abilities and so long as they all operated at the same "active cost" they could all be put, very cheaply, into the multi-power. This allowed someone like "The archer" to have a bunch of different arrows (explosive, normal, 'stun', armor-piercing, etc.) for a very cheap cost. This is perfect so far as it goes.

Why doesn't it work, exactly, for us? Or ... would it?

Issue 1: We don't have "active cost."
The first problem is that we don't have a simple "active cost" calculation. We can figure it out empirically for each attack but that'll take a lot more testing. Active Cost is, in essence, The Basic Attack Type multiplied by ALL ENHANCEMENTS but none of the defects.

Let's look at "disintegration beam" to see how this would work.

Disintegration is defined as: PEN damage, ignores armor, and, on a hit by 4+ (a vital hit) the Base Damage is multiplied by 4. This is an attack you do not want to get hit by. Not even a little. In "the wild" it will usually: fire one time a round, take a round to "power up" in the first place and probably cost 10 REA to charge up that first round. Something like that.

These defects bring the cost back down to something reasonable.

So by using the Champions theory a guy with "Claws" for 10 PEN damage might for a 'nominal cost' get a 3 PEN damage Disintegration Beam. Note that it does a lot less damage numerically than the "Claws Attack" but it should come out "about equal" since it ignores armor and does a lot more on a good hit.

That's all good--and, in fact, that is operating correctly. That's what a multi-power was designed to do.

In fact, this sort of analysis is good--ideally, although it's a lot more work, there should be an Advanced Rule that allows you to get an "equivalent attack" for 1 AP (a minimal cost) equal to your most expensive fully paid for attack. If we can tell you how to figure that out and make the rule clear enough, we ought to.


Issue 2: That's Not Our Key Use Case
In the dragon scenario we don't want our dragon's breath to be equal to the claw attacks--as in, interchangeable but just "happens to be better against some target." No, we want the rarely active Breath Weapon to be more fearsome and hit much harder.

The dragon's damage-per-Round output should go up when the Breath Weapon is active forcing characters to fight defensively for that Round.

How do we do that?

Well, that's harder. So I've done some testing. Here's the results:
Here I took the three herds and gave them a "Standard Issue" Attack and then added on a "once in a while" attack for "the same cost." I tracked what the "win percent" was (POV--Percent of Victory) and what the increase (Delta) was above the character without it.

NOTE: for new readers, the POV starts around 60 due to the way the challengers are built. That's okay.

I compare the "Delta" (how much better the new attack made the character) to what the character without the attack but more armor would win at--and, because the cost of Armor is tested at +1pt Armor for +1 Archetype Point (Cost-point) I have estimated what the attack's victory-increase would cost in terms of armor and that gives me an estimated AP cost for the attack.

I will note: it appears that on a spectrum from 16 AP to 64 AP for the character the value of an "even points" back-up attack is about 1/3rd the AP cost. It does vary--and at the lower end it's more like 1/2 or so. But still, the cost-curve is reasonably clear:

It looks like if you have paid full points for Attack-A you can have any other attack at the "same point cost" for 1/3 the cost.

NOTE: We are still going to say you can have an attack that is "exactly the same and interchangeable" in terms of rate-of-fire and such for a mere +1 AP. We should also say you can have the same "Active Cost" (we'll probably call it "Effective Value") of a different attack type for +1 AP. But if you want to back-up a standard issue attack with a once-in-a-while super-blast? You pay a third.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Finished with Fire

I have completed the "big list of attacks" for Fire-attacks. I am now moving to Frost/Freeze rays and the like.

I believe as I work through these things that the amount of color and flavor that having a hugely diverse list of attacks will bring to the game is an unalloyed good for people who are likely to want to play JAGS anyway. The ability to have things like freeze rays and disintegration attacks (or fire-blasts that burn for continuous damage, for example) is something that has benefits beyond just the "weight of the rules."

I have always liked having options that I felt gave me both imaginary flavor (or what might be called 'color') and rules-weight. The Hero games weapons book The Armory was a ground-breaking supplement for our group. We were not especially gear-headed and (to be fair) most of the weapons in the book were statistically similar. However, shopping for a gun that "fit the character" both in terms of look and the discussion around it (gun X was a weapon favored by off-duty police officers or Y was used by intelligence services) gave more depth than "large gun" or "medium gun" would.

The fact that this was optional didn't hurt either.

I think fairly few characters will pick a freeze ray as their first attack (and in homage to Dr. Horrible, I'll be clear that I mean it in terms of temperature--a time-stop beam is something else)--but I'm glad it'll be in there. And I'm glad I have the computational power to give it a reasonable cost.

In other news, one of the members of our Skype game had a new baby (Congrats, Mike!) and so was unavailable for last night's game (some people's priorities, sheesh). Apparently these baby-things take up a lot of your time going forward too--so we may be down a player for a while.

We didn't want to stop playtesting our in-the-dungeon post-apocalypse game so we all made new characters and started them at Level 0 (no AP, just 50 CP). It was interesting to go back to basics on this. My analysis is that where we have used an even-spread of capabilities (points) for our test characters, the 3 PCs were all "extraordinary" in one way or another. I'll note here too that of the three players, only I know statistically what the variance were--the other two players don't have as deep insight into the math as I do.

I think that it's common-place to want to be extraordinary at what you are "good at." One of the things about AD&D was that without great stats it wasn't really possible to distinguish one 1st level character from another. As we saw a lot of 18/00 STR's I think maybe it's because the wish to have a character who excels at something was stronger than many people's wish to play it straight (but this is almost certainly less than many people's wish to simply "be great"--a subtle difference to be sure).

Also note: when our characters from the Bravo-Team (our second set) were sent down into the GC-Complex dungeon for our inaugural Level-0 adventure one of the PCs had been told by psychics that what waited for us was not what the our instructors wanted--the codes for our level were somehow damaged or something and they weren't sure what we were walking into. When we got down to the sterile, brightly-lit corridors of the dungeon, we heard a computer voice (played over the Skype speakers) that said "Warning, Karmic Events under way. Please check your destiny when exiting the vehicle" or something like that.

Something special was happening to us.

Our A-Team characters (the first set) are already recognized as special as well. This, I believe, is also good: as players we want our characters to stand out, even if we are Level-0 PCs on the first level of the dungeon. There's no reason the game's story should be about people who aren't interesting.


Friday, January 7, 2011

Attack Profiles

So one of the things that we believe should be true about JAGS is that you only pay full points for your most powerful attack. Subsequent attacks cost, right now, just 1 AP (under some circumstances).

How come?

Well, I've covered this before--but consider one of those "archer" super hero characters with a zillion different types of arrows. If each arrow is a "reasonable power-level for the campaign" attack for, say, 16 AP, then if he has three different types (Explosive, Armor Piercing, and Normal Damage) then he has spent 48 AP on attacks. If his cohort just sank 48 AP--the same amount--into Strength he'll hit 3x as hard ... and just as often. The utility of the different arrows doesn't make up for the difference.

This is also true for the guy who's super-strong but has laser vision: although laser-vision is nice (it hits at range) it isn't worth 2x the investment in attacks.

Finally, having a half-price attack laying around--like the guy who pays for a blaster rifle and then also wants a weaker blaster pistol--isn't worth anything extra if you can't somehow use "both at once" (which most characters can't).

So clearly having additional attacks isn't high on the utility list.

But there are circumstances where it is worth more. Consider this one:

A dragon has claw and bite attacks but, after charging it up, can, a few times a battle, fire a powerful fire-blast. The dragon fights "at level"--that is, his claw and bite attacks are not less powerful than one would expect for a character of his AP level. He might have 40-50% of his AP invested in them. But on top of that is the flame blast.

Now, the flame blast only goes off once in a while and takes time to charge up. It might have limited shots each day. So this attack hits quite a bit harder than its AP cost would imply (if an attack that hits twice a Round every Round does 14 IMP, the flame blast that takes a round to charge and is then only active on a 9- roll might hit for 30 or 40 IMP).

The problem is that the flame blast isn't worth +1 AP. It's worth, according to our testing, a lot more. Like maybe +12 AP if the other attack is 32 AP.

So what do we do?

The Simple Solution
The most simple solution is that you only get the +1 AP extra-attack rule when the attacks all have the same Profile (REA Cost, Rate of Fire, number of shots, activation roll, etc.). This is a bit complex to spell out but its easy to grasp: if all the arrows have the same profile you get extra arrows for 1 AP. If Super Strength and Laser Vision have the same profile (range and IMP vs. PEN damage is not part of that profile) then, again, the laser vision is +1 AP. Finally the rifle and the hand gun, again, have the same profile so you can get the handgun for 1 AP (or, maybe, even 0 AP--there is no compelling reason everyone who pays for a rifle shouldn't, if they want, have a handgun)..

The More Complex Solution
However, there are still some less-than-satisfying elements to this. The first is this: consider the fire-elemental guy. He has like 4 different flame attacks with different profiles. Sure, it's worth more than X AP +3 AP but it's not worth 4X. Not nearly. So what do we do about him? We don't want to screw him.

Secondly there's the dragon: we want characters--especially monsters and bosses to have attacks that change what they do in combat over the course of several Rounds. This greatly increases the flavor of combat and is just a net-positive all around. So what do we do?

Well, one possibility is that we give each attack a "Profile rating" and then you can spend some amount of points to get a secondary or tertiary attack based on the difference in Profile. That's the best solution--but I'm not sure how to implement that right now. I'm looking at our data sets to see if any groupings jump out at me.

Another possibly is just that for X AP in your main attack you can get another X AP attack of any profile for, say, 1/3rd X Points (and the exact same profile for 1 AP). This could have some abuses but on the whole it seems reasonable. I think the worst this will do is over-charge someone with attacks that have "almost the same" profile--I can live with that in the name of simplicity.

The Pertinent Question
The thing that brought this up was a question about Stretching: is striking and grappling the "same profile" or not? A pure-stretching character will doubtless take Jujitsu and be the neck-breaker since thats how he converts his awesome grapple-score to actual damage (or he'll just use Holds to tie people up--but that's not the optimal strategy if you need to get rid of opponents).

On the other hand, Grapple Score can act as sort of a "Damage Multiplier" if you use a Mount Attack approach where you disable your opponent somewhat and then beat the tar out of them. It takes longer--but it's pretty effective. So if I grant Grant = Strike for +1 AP I am really helping people with the Mount Approach.

As I said, I'm not sure which the right answer is. I lean towards the idea that Grapple is close to the same Profile as Mount--but not exactly the same. So instead of being +1 AP or +1/3rd AP it might be 1/5th AP invested in Grapple gives equal points invested in Strike.

The good news is that on a case by case basis we can kind of test this (the grapple question is a harder test than it might be). For the flame-control guy we can actually test groups of attacks and see (according to the simulator) how they impact effectiveness--and get the cost right.

But there are going to be gray areas.


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A view of stretching

So one of our players wants the Stretching Power in our post-apocalypse game. As we've been re-designing things, here's one of the potential builds that I'm considering:

Two Parts
Stretching is likely to have two basic "parts" to it: a base-cost for the stuff Elastic Body gives you (like the ability to flow under doors, reduce collision damage, and so on) and a level (4 or 8 AP levels as is standard for JAGS) that give you things like more Grapple, armor, and Damage Points--basically that make you more and more "stretchy."

The First Part
The "base-cost" for Stretching is stuff that you more or less get that doesn't "increase" as you buy more levels. For Stretching this is (a) movement powers (flowing under doors and so on) and (b) some Defenses and Offenses like Negative Damage Modifiers and Long Reach for your hand to hand attacks. Here's the breakdown I am currently looking at:

  • Flow [ 2 AP ]: Character can go under doors, through any baseball sized hole (moving at about 20 BLD per Round so very large characters will be slower) and can move vertically so long as something can be grabbed on to at BLD yards range (about 10 yards for most characters). Flowing is always an 8 REA Action and moves at 2x Ground Move Speeds.
  • Stride [ Part of Flow ]: The character can spend an 8 REA long Action to grow long legs and walk around. This moves at 4x Running Speed for Walking Endurance. While Striding the character has no AGI bonus. It takes an 8 REA Long action to shrink back down. The character will gain BLD/5 yards of height.
  • Collision Defense [ 1 AP, +2 DP ]: The character takes -10 Damage Mods from Collisions or falling.
  • Elastic Body [ 2 AP ]: The character can flatten out and fold up allowing them to hind in places a human could not (+4 to Stealth Attempts with a 5 REA Medium Action). The can stretch up for a look around (5 REA, add up to BLD yards in height) or stretch their head around corners (up to BLD yards in range). They can do things like flatten out as a parachute or otherwise spread to block a doorway (+5 to be hit, no AGI bonus, takes an 8 REA Long Action). They may modify limbs to act as tools or even lockpicks but they still require the skills to use them.
  • Plastic Body [ TAP, See Chart ]: The character gets a -4 Damage Modifier from all attacks and NO pen Doubling. This is reduced to the cost of -4 DM alone.
  • Stretching Attacks [ 1 AP per 8 A-Cost, Round Normally ]: The character can spend a 5 REA Action to grow a large "hammer hand" that gets a +2 Large Weapon Bonus. They can also use their STR or Grapple at Long Reach (note: this is not ranged--the target's block and full AGI modifiers apply).
A Level of Stretching
  • 8 AP Full Level
    • Stretching Grapple:  +11 Grapple Score L1, +9 Grapple L+
    • 2 Armor
    • +5 DP
  • 4 AP Half-Level
    • +6 Grapple L1, +5 L+
    • +1 Armor
    • +3 DP
So a character with 24 AP spent on Stretching with 12 AP spent on Levels would cost at:

Base-Cost: 5 (Base) + 5 (-4 DM Cost. No PEN Doubling is free) + 2 (Stretching Attacks) = 12 + 12 AP on Stretching (1 Full Level, 1 Half Level) = 24 AP.

The character gets:
  • -4 DM, No PEN Doubling
  • 3 Armor
  • +10 DP
  • +17 Grapple (stretching)
  • Flow, Elastic Body, Collision Defense, Stride, Long Reach STR

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Speaking of Math ...

When you buy Strength it comes in "armed" (the character will use a bladed weapon or might commonly use one) and "unarmed" (the character will strike barehanded for short reach IMP damage) versions. This prevents the obvious loophole wherein a character buys a lot of STR and then 'converts' it to PEN damage with a knife.

So we saw that one coming.

But what if that character buys an Armor Piercing knife? Right now Armor Piercing in JAGS is defined as: if the armor fails a save it does not apply at all. This sounds horrific but statistically it's good but not that good (it turns out that, mostly, you are not failing Armor Saves against at-level attacks). But still: that makes the guy's Armed STR even better. Doesn't it?

Yes: it does.

So how do we handle that?

Well, there are two basic ways:

The Basic Game
We don't care. You don't care. JAGS is too complex already. In this case you will either (a) not worry about it or (b) we will have some table somewhere that converts "armed STR" to "Armed AP" STR. We could do that and, if you cared, you could look it up. But we might not get everything. We might miss ... Ignores Armor Phantom Blade stuff ... or Soul Stealing Strength or whatever.

In fact, it's likely we would: there's going to be a really stunning number of attacks and having conversion tables for all of them isn't likely.

So if you care ...

The Advanced Rule
All these attacks will have a Factor associated with them (a decimal number) and you should be able to multiply your normal STR by the AP Knife's Factor to get the actual damage. This will be done in the case where something like a GAT gives +1 to ranged PEN damage ("Gunslinger") but you are firing something like a Disintegration Ray (in which case each level adds something like +.20 damage).


Cost Estimation

After doing some checking it appears the cost is (Current/(1-Factor))-Current where "Factor" is the decimal number in the "average" column (so .38 for -8 DM) and Current is whatever AP value you are presently at.

  • This is the last step you do when totaling up your character.
  • If you have more than 1 TAP you add all the Factors together.
  • Round all fractions up
  • If the sum is more than 1 it won't work (the formula goes into negatives which isn't right
The solution is what you pay in addition to your already computed AP cost.

The tested values come out pretty close to the computed values. Here's an example:

I have a character with Built (8 AP) and Tank (Armor) for 8 AP. The current character is 16 AP. I want to add -8 DM to that character. The math is: (16/(1-.38))-16 = (16-.62)-16 which is 25.80-16 which is 9.81 which rounds to 10 AP. The total cost is 16+10 = 26 AP for the character. According to the chart the cost for -8 DM between the 24 and 32 AP range is 10 AP. So that works.
Whether or not the math is right, however, isn't really the point here. The interesting part of this is how much math do we expect the JAGS player to do?

The answer is not summed up easily. Here's my thinking.

First Things First: There is a Basic and Advanced/Optional Game
Ideally players who are either (a) new to JAGS and/or (b) have no patience for decimal math should not be forced to do it to get a reasonable experience out of the game. That means breaking down things into tables where the math is already done as possible. It means not having skill costs or AP costs that use fractions (other than maybe .5). It means rounding and doing best-fits where we can.

NOTE that the table for TAPs more or less accomplishes that: the costs are all whole numbers and all you have to do is find your AP cost and you know what you pay (assuming you are building on a fixed budget).

However: We Expect the GM Might Do More Math
What role the GM plays in a traditional RPG is very complex (well, my thinking on it is, anyway) and it's outside the scope of this post. Notably, though, the GM may do some things very differently than players. The GM will likely have different goals and will have a broader spectrum of responsibilities with  regards to some mechanics issues (such as trying to ensure that the elements that appear in the game are at least "reasonable" and perhaps "fair.")

In order to do this the GM may do things like:

  1. Build characters "without a budget" but wish to know "how much they cost."
  2. Attempt to create challenges such as battles within a certain specific tolerance level for difficulty (this would be seen if the GM is interested in creating interesting battles that are essentially fair fights)
  3. Create single opponents that will fight many (such as Boss characters)
  4. And so on.
Note: I'm not saying the GM will do all these things (a given GM may simply create challenges he or she thinks "make sense" without regards to "fairness" and may never have anything resembling a "boss"--this is a legitimate way to play so long as everyone is on the same page).

Because the GM may take on deeper responsibilities and will be facilitating the game which is supposed to be a good time for the participants they may be in a position where more and deeper math is required. Since I think it is reasonable to hold that GM'ing is in general somewhat more complex than playing (that is, the set of GM'ing activities is often--or at least can be--a super-set of the Playing activities) so expecting the GM to do or want to do some heavier math is okay.

Also: the GM will likely be doing prep-work prior to everyone getting together and thus will have more time to do math without "slowing the game down."

Then There Are Optional And Advanced Rules
The two concepts are not the same. An Advanced Rule is one we "expect" you to use after a certain level of familiarity with play. It shouldn't be necessary but it should be used once you're comfortable enough to do so. An Optional rule might never be used or might only be used for some games. An example is tracking ammunition for your weapons. In a lot of fiction (not to mention action movies) the characters are assumed to have essentially infinite ammunition and don't bother checking for reload times.

In other games it could well be necessary and an even fun part of the game. In the Have-Not post-apocalypse dungeon-delving adventure I'm playing in now I track every shot fired. As I fire 3 shots a Round at maximum rate of fire (14 REA) I can eat up a six-shooter in 2 Rounds and then have to reload. As I found an expanded magazine (filled with High Explosive or "HEX" rounds) I get 17 bullets before I have to reload. That was a good piece of treasure.

The "wasteland shotgun" I have now costs 10 Credits every time I fire it. So I have to track ammo for that carefully. This, believe it or not, adds to the fun of playing. The different guns behave differently. If I find a super-revolver I'll have to decide if I want to be switching weapons during combat. I can buy some (Optional) Traits to let me re-holster stuff instantly or dual-wield two pistols. Do I want to invest in that? Maybe.

So these are optional.

What about math is Optional?

The Question Is: How Much Do You Care About Balance?
Before we had the simulator we had to do math and thought-experiments to try to work out "what was balanced." We kind of intuitively understood that negative Damage Mods were a percentage of character cost (or, as I've said, more correctly a multiplier of your defenses) but we couldn't say how much and we had a seriously hard time quantifying that (back then we didn't even see characters as coming in 8 AP levels--a decision which, once we made it, greatly simplified the way we thought about power-brackets).

But we wanted, ideally, for the GM and players to be able to create characters as "abusively" as possible (within the spirit of the specific game) and still have things be reasonable. We didn't want iffy powers like Resisted Attack gas-guns which were cheap shots not because of the nature of poison gas but rather because of holes in the rules (originally a poison was often just rolled against a specific stat so the same gas gun that could knock out a thug could be used pretty effectively on Godzilla--or a bear).

We knew things like "continued burning" or knock-back inducing effects were pretty good but we had no clear ideal how good. So we guessed--and we gave up on the kind of pin-point accuracy that we wanted.

The simulator changed that: the Have-Not game we're playing now is very much like a computer-run MMO. To be certain it's more work than some GMs will want to do--but we're not historically a very go-in-the-dungeon adventuring group ... and this game is fun. The promise of balanced treasure and careful character builds is a different kind of game than we imagined being possible two years ago. It's a vision we like--and gratifyingly, most of the final product is simple enough so that there is no math that a casual player will have to do: we do it up front.

But we're putting the math in the book--the Have Not book will have costing tables for treasure costs (converting AP's worth of gear to credits). This will be math-heavy but it'll only be necessary when the GM is creating their own treasure (we plan to give you a lot of it pre-generated).

So I expect to see some players really interested in balance and getting it right and so one--and some just saying "What the hell, I give the guy +2 CON and +2 AGI vs. Ranged and Built and I don't care what it costs." Both are okay so long as the people involved know what to expect.


Monday, January 3, 2011

What's the math?

So most of the time a character being created is given a number of AP and works within that. So if I have 40 AP and I want -8 DM, I can look at the chart and see that it costs me 16 of my 40AP. That's easy.

But suppose I am constructing a character the reverse way: I have 40 AP of stuff already and want to add -8 DM to it, how much is it? It can't be 16 AP--that puts the character total to 56 AP and then the cost is 22 AP.

What's the math?