Tuesday, January 4, 2011

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.


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