Monday, February 14, 2011

Science Agents!

After returning from a week of travel I've got some tests running. We're trying to work "push back" effects into the simulator so we can test Force Beams. These attacks have the result of, in addition to doing damage, knocking the target back to Long Range if they hit by 4+ (it's a little more complex than that--you can't knock Godzilla back--but for purposes of the simulator this will work).

Force Beams are one of those things it's great to have the simulator for because it gives us a good way to test something that's very hard to test with thought experiments: how badly does forcing a target with a hand to hand weapon to charge back in really hurt them? Sure--it's a pain in the ass--but by what factor? We can calculate it 'fairly easily' with the "everyone always rolls a 10" simplification but it helps to see it in an actual experiment.

But that's not what this post is about.

We interrupted our MMO-style Have-Not game (levels, random treasure, 'dungeons' in a post-apocalyptic society where we are going down into the massive, massive 'GC Complex' to test our fortunes) to do a game for a time when just two of our players could come. I ran it. I wanted to test Science Agents.

Science Agents are part of the new cybernetic rules. They are wet-ware and gene-mod characters who have a variety of special abilities. While each package differs some, these are some examples:

  • Overdrive. The name comes from the under-rated 1980's comic Cy-Cops where the characters could go into super-strong, super-fast combat mode (but it burnt them out). Our rules are a little different (you don't get faster--but do get stronger) and it takes an action to fire-up the strength.
  • Regenerate. You can, with a certain number of charges per combat, ignore a wound result up to and including Unconscious (but Internal Damage will still take you out) and recover a certain amount of DP. This gives you more staying power in lengthy fights.
  • Pain Dampers. Stuff like "Doesn't Take Hurt Condition" or "+8 to Hurt Condition" is a staple of Science Agents.
  • Other Stuff: Extra Con, Extra AGI, extra Initiative or REA, Character Points in "built in combat skills" and the like--as well as extra DP--round these guys out.
Our original testing didn't involve the concept of TAP so we had to go and re-eyeball the scores. We also didn't have some of the stuff like "Regenerate" in the simulator (a big one) and some of the Pain-Damper stuff wasn't fully implemented either. 

So the Players made their characters using a set of rules that wasn't bad but wasn't complete either. I took a look at the characters and the new estimated costs ... and I decided to fire up the simulator and test the 16 AP build against the 16 AP Herd. 

The 16 AP Shinjin Bio-Ware Scion got beaten to a pulp. Seriously: it had like 26% wins when 60% would be "about right." So what gives?

First Things First
One of the first things that I want to note is that there is a concept in point-based character design that you can just "add up everything" and that's the 'value' of your character. This isn't true: it's the cost of your character--but the effectiveness--even if every individual piece is costed correctly--is almost necessarily going to vary from that sum. In most games things multiply or divide or add some factor rather than adding a straight up linear cost. This is very true in JAGS--but it's also true in GURPS and Hero and I bet it's true in things like Savage Worlds.

Just because something is a bad build vs. an opponent doesn't mean much--but "the herd" represents a pretty conservative build that is deemed to be "not that effective" under most configurations--hence the estimated 60% chance of victory. If something is losing to that herd it's very likely a really bad buy in a real game.

What Went Wrong?
I'm not certain yet--but here is the original package with [Estimated AP Cost]. NOTE: the [Estimated Cost] is based on what I think it's worth (roughly) now. Prior to our level of sophistication with the simulator this package came to 15 AP. Here's the breakdown:
  • 4/10 Armor under the skin [4 AP]
  • +8 to Hurt Condition [.25 AP]
  • +2 Init [1.5]
  • 1x Heal (ignore up to Unconscious result) gain back +10 DP [~2.25 AP]
  • +5 DP [2 AP]
  • +7 STR Overdrive [3 AP]
  • Total: 13 AP
Now, I'll note this wasn't far wrong. I also want to point out that we estimated getting +10 AP back at worth  about 1.5 AP when it is more likely worth a little less than 1 AP and we thought +8 Hurt Condition was worth a lot more than it is. Additions to Hurt Condition are worth almost nothing in a pitched battled.

Right now this package tests "balanced" at the 16 AP level at:

  • 4/16 AP [4.25 AP]
  • +8 to Hurt Condition [.25 AP]
  • +3 Init [1.75 AP]
  • 2x Heal for +15 DP [3 AP]
  • +10 DP [5 AP]
  • +12 STR Overdrive [5AP]
  • Total: 16 AP [Adds up to 20.25 AP]
Let's compare this to three other "16 AP Science Agent Builds" that I created to test side-by-side:

Bio-2: Gives the character negative damage mods and a slightly better healing factor. 
  • +2 Init [1.5 AP]
  • +12 STR Overdrive [5 AP]
  • -4 DM [4 AP]
  • +10 DP [4 AP]
  • 3x Heal for +20 DP [3.25 AP]
  • Total: 16AP [Adds up to 17.75 AP]

Bio-3: Extra REA, AGI, and ability to apply AGI and Dodge/Block against bullets. Must stick to LOW DAMAGE (no more than 1/4th of AP spent on attack powers). 
  • +7 STR Overdrive [4 AP]
  • +3 REA [8 AP]
  • +2 AGI Bonus (Applies fully vs. Ranged attacks) [3 AP]
  • Dodge/Block applies vs. Ranged Attacks --
  • 2x Heal for +15 DP [3 AP]
  • +2 DP [1 AP]
  • Total: 16 AP [Adds up to 19 AP]

Bio-4: Armor again and enhanced CON/Survivability. 
  • +2 CON [2 AP]
  • +12 STR Overdrive [5 AP]
  • 4/16 Armor [4.25 AP]
  • +6 DP [2.67 AP]
  • Does Not Take Hurt Condition [2 AP]
  • 2x Heal for +15 DP [3 AP]
  • Total: 16 AP [Adds up to 17 AP]
Against Each Other:
The best overall performer was Bio-2 winning 65% of the fights against its brethren. The original Shinjin was comparatively weak winning only 38% of its fights against the other 3. Bio-2 and Bio-4 were middling (55% for Bio-2 and 44% for Bio-4--which in the grand scheme of things is okay).

It's not surprising that the extra attack (and hardness to hit) ruled the day--but I'll note that in the battle against the herd the Bio-2 winner (against the other Science Agents) was actually the loser with the lowest win % of 58.19% (all the others were 59.5 to 61.94 with the best being Bio-4!).

So it's a wash as to which you "have to have." That's good.

On the Other Hand
None of these add up to 16 AP either exactly or especially close. It appears we are consistently over-charging for the elements in this make-up given these specifics. What do we do about that? Nothing right now. We re-evaluate and consider things.

Right now I'll note that the builds without armor would get "more DP for the money" than our builds currently give them. On the other hand, that won't change them that much. The other thing to note is that these guys have a lot of TAP Costs (for new readers: TAP = Total AP Cost. The cost of certain types of defenses like negative Damage Mods is not a fixed number but is based on the Total AP the character is built on--so Godzilla pays more for -8 Damage Mods than a Batman-like super hero ... and he should: -8 Damage Mods effectively multiplies your investment in other defenses. So does +2 CON and Doesn't Take Hurt Condition and things like that).

Because we "round up" on TAP costs it's possible that the heavily invested Science Agents come out a few fractions 'behind' on every TAP buy and we're seeing the results here.


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