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.



  1. Another one of my "unrelated to the post but I've got to put it somewhere" comments.

    I've again been looking at Dramas, and one of the things I wanted to put together is a "Construction" drama, for cases when PCs are building a building or some other modest to large project (again, part of my ongoing Morrow prep, but might have applications to other uses).

    Now on the surface of it, its an Open Ended drama; assuming they even roughly know what they're doing, they'll finish it sooner or later assuming they have the time and resources.

    But what occurred to me is, how do you handle a problem that isn't just a set back, but doesn't become visible until after the project is avowedly finished? For example, our Morrow team is building a windmill to help a town generate electricity. They finish it up, but later its discovered that the insulation they put in on the wiring is defective and over a few months, gets worked through by weather and causes a short that they have to go back and fix.

    How do you build something like this into the context of the drama rather than just doing it ad-hoc?

  2. Clearly you'd need either

    1) Some kind of "secret" success points total or
    2) Levels of success where lower levels give a % chance of their being a defect at some interval in the future

    #2 is probably more workable -- say that if you beat the opposing rolls by 0 SP, you have a 20% of there being a defect in the first 60-90 days and a 5% chance of there being a defect in the first 6 months.

    If you beat the opposition by 1 or 2 SP, you have a 5% chance of there being a defect in the first 60-90 days and a 1% chance of there being a defect in the first 6 months

    If you beat it by 3 SP ... etc.

    For me (because I don't remember much about statistics) the hard part would be getting the SP-thresholds right: How many dramas will be won by more than 3 SP's? Most of them? Only a handful? Etc.

    We built a very basic Drama simulator; it's not sophisticated, but it did let us work out the averages for various basic dramas (we haven't implemented the complex stuff), so we can get reasonable values for likely results.

    Absent that, I'd have to do some basic testing to get numbers that seemed reasonable for what I'd expect in the real world (i.e. I think building a completely flawless building would be unlikely in a Morrow Project type situation, but I think a competent set of engineers would be unlikely to build something simple with a devastating failure, either).


  3. You'd think so, but I have to point out that theoretically competent engineers and workmen have occasionally allowed serious flaws to creep into projects in the real world. This becomes more likely when various hard-to-control variables creep in (for example, the Morrow guys are supervising locals to do some of the work; even if the Morrow guys are all on their game, what if they manage to miss some point where one of the locals isn't?)

    I'd thought about doing something with watching for a fumble in one of the SP accumulation rolls (I still think those should be renamed RPs (result points) to avoid the confusion with the Hero Point like use of Success Points), but the problem with that is that if its done by a PC at least, the player will know it, which is asking for metagame behavior about it.

    The problem with the multiple SP threshold, is the players still _know_ for certain when the project is perfect, something that's never the case in reality; no matter how many times you go over something, something can slip through, it just becomes less likely (I've learned this sad truth myself when involved in editing projects, even ones on critical materials like legal and medical texts).

  4. Just a note that I'd missed Eric's first suggestion (the "secret" total) which probably addresses this to some degree at least, though its a bit contrary to the general ethos that JAGS works under of not forbidding information to the players if you can at all avoid it (this just happens to be one of those areas where I don't have an enormous amount of faith in people's ability to firewall out metagame knowledge).