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.



  1. That seems generally pretty reasonable.

    The kicker with the original Champions multipower--which used real, rather than active point costs--was just what you discovered here: that intermittent use conditions mattered so much less in a multipower.

    I think you may find there are other cases you need to look at too, though, not just recharge time: some of them may rarely come up outside of a superhero context but that doesn't mean they won't come up at all. And one of them is sticky, and pertains right to your dragon example.

    That's range.

    I haven't looked at the archetypes build for this, so I don't know how much range factors into cost, but it can be a pretty distinct difference in utility depending on mobility of characters as typical and the conventions of encounter distance. Let's say your dragon is encountered outside at a distance of 500 yards. The time it takes for him to close with his opponents is critical, depending on their ranged capability versus his, and charging as though they were the same is problematic.

    Its just the commonest one, though; another example is area effects, which can be very hard to apply without hurting your friends, but when you can, can vacuum up opposition pretty fierce.

    Anyway, interesting post.

  2. Range is a good issue. Right now the simulator doesn't care because in a "stand up fight" almost any weapon will be within range (it does care about /reach/ but the characters are rarely more than '5 yards' apart in the simulated battlefield.

    So what do we do about it?

    Well, Range /is/ very important in JAGS battles. One of the most gratifying fights I was ever in involved my character with an SMG pinned down by a team of commandos with M16's. Their range and mobility advantage worked wonders in the way it 'really would' and I was thrilled that the system worked for it.

    In other cases we've run into snipers or other long-range users who can manipulate a battlespace to huge advantage.

    On the other hand, getting a massive range advantage is not that easy if you are not dictating the terms of the battle. A dragon at 500 yards range is more likely to be able to get behind something or simply "get away" than have to slog 'up hill' against rifles.

    PCs who are in-doors won't have range issues and even outside, unless operating in a military fashion (open battle-space, specific terrain based objectives, etc.,) really long ranges aren't as common.

    So what do we do about it?

    1. We don't do much for intermediate ranges. If a weapon has a slightly better range than a hand gun, it just does. We don't change the values.

    2. If range is proportional to damage it may get something of a break (more powerful weapons may consider extra range "part of their advantage.")

    So for intermediate weapons the range may be longer and, well, it's longer.

    2. For very long range weapons, however--for the for-real sniper rifles and so on we will probably impose a (slight) modifier on the cost.

    The reason this is slight is, as stated above, we think that more than half the time the PCs will not be dictating the battlespace in such a way as to capitalize on extreme range.


  3. We had a good discussion about this around "activation time" -- where a weapon takes a non-trivial amount of time to draw at the beginning of a fight, but then can be used normally.

    The impact of the defect comes down to how many of a character's fights start from a situation where the character can have the weapon ready versus how many fights start with the characters surprised / unready.

    If you assume that characters are

    1) Usually on the offensive and
    2) Not terribly concerned about the social implications of walking around with a weapon ready

    then activation time is a fairly minimal disadvantage.

    If you assume that characters typically get set upon by their enemies and are usually in civilized settings where having a weapon "at ready" would be a serious limitation (e.g. get them arrested) then it can be a fairly big disadvantage.

    All of this comes down to assumptions about what most game worlds are like and what most PC's are like -- assumptions that are likely to be *wrong* for any given character.

    I think the solution is to know what cost would be if 100% of the fights started with no weapons drawn (The maximum possible impact of the activation time) and the cost if 100% of the fights were started with weapons at ready (the minimum impact of activation -- basically no impact).

    Then I'd put the actual value of the limitation somewhere in the middle, probably close to the minimal value (I think PC's are likely to start fights and walk around with weapons ready a decent amount of the time).