Saturday, March 5, 2011

Stuff We've Changed

Thomas suggested that we post some of the stuff we've changed to the basic JAGS rules. I'll talk briefly about some things and why we changed them.

Science Skills: No Longer Expensive
Our current thinking is that Science Skills will join the other skills in being standard cost. Let me explain some thinking about this.

The decision to make the Hard Sciences expensive was born of several thought processes. Here's some of them:

  1. Verisimilitude (also known as "realism"): Learning science or medicine is one of the hardest things you can do. Being a Doctor or an Engineer (especially a 'top one') indicates a lot of training. It seemed "realistic" to us that, hey, these would be hard. This, however, was not a sufficient reason. After all, we couldn't justify the play-value of making Law Expensive--there was precious little precedent in our gaming for legal action and even with the JAGS Drama system which could, we thought, be used to do pretty good court battles, the law-skill alone wouldn't make a super-lawyer. Even if it did? We still couldn't justify it. Also: is it really harder to be a doctor than a super-genius of all literature? Maybe--but maybe not. All we know for sure is that being a super-genius of literature generally doesn't pay as well as being a doctor.
  2. GURPS and Hero: Those games had sometimes charged differently for science skills (in GURPS, based on the fact that they were "Hard"). We liked those games--their play and their feel--so it seemed maybe they were on to something.
  3. Justifying Super Science: One of our players, Kenton, has often play mad-scientist types with a heavy investment in science skills. One of the things we feel is part of the 'tactile' essence of point-based games is that if you pay a lot for something you ought to expect it to be good. As he wanted his characters to do world changing things having a "big investment" (point wise) in sciences helped us justify the in-game play of being able to build a freeze-ray or a super-robot. After all, if a player was trying to say "I spent a whole four points to be the best scientist in the world--so I should be able to build a freakin' WARP DRIVE!" I wouldn't buy it. This is different--in my mind--if they spent a legitimately huge 40 points (out of estimated 50) on being a super-genius. So with that player as a staple in the games, we felt having the skills be expensive added to the legitimacy of doing world-changing things with them.
Our Experience ... However
We had a several play experiences that changed our minds. Let's take a look.

Verisimilitude: As I said, our "wish for realism" didn't extend to Law or other "hard" things. A friend I know who was a pricy manhattan lawyer says seriously that learning and playing Star Fleet Battles was harder than passing Law. If that's true, as I once beat a "rated Ace" in a tournament (and damn was he tough) does that mean I have, like 4 or 5 CP in Star Fleet Battles!?* 

I want to note that GURPS did something brilliant making Gun skill Easy (IIRC): it was a bold (and correct) statement that someone with a gun--even mostly untrained--enjoys a HUGE advantage over someone without one. In JAGS we price by how good something is, not how easy it is--so we didn't do that (although I was once persuaded to entertain cheap gun skill so that characters could "shoot and be good at other things."--I backed off on that).

In JAGS we never say how long it takes to acquire a skill (there are some good reasons for this--we don't want to ruin pacing or force all players to buy skills they want up-front because a game happens to be fast paced). So in JAGS it would probably be much quicker in game to land points in Firearms than in Melee Weapons--but the effect is, eventually, the same so the cost is equal.

GURPS and Hero: The further we get from those games when we have a justification for it, the better. GURPS has "Easy Skills" (at one point JAGS had "Trivial Skills")--however we are steadfast in taking the position that the cost of a skill is not necessarily related to "how hard" we think it is. It is related to "how good" we think it is or what % of a character we think it should take up for maximal play experience. Just because they did it that way--and it worked--doesn't mean we have to.

Justifying Super Science: I still feel that the "point costs = effectiveness" argument is both strong and organic/tactile (meaning: it feels right and natural in play) but we have a mechanism that GURPS and Hero didn't have: Level 4 skills. If you want to play a mad scientist and the GM feels the game will allow it then the PC can spend those points (12 of them) for L4 and that's pretty darn expensive. Furthermore, if you want a really high roll on a 50 pt character you are approaching half-your-points. That's enough to justify the effectiveness right there and it forces the conversation between player and GM up front.

NOTE: to have "true" mad-scientist capabilities you'll probably want to spend some Archetype Points as well--and with the right Arch Traits you might get away without a L4 skill--we'll talk about that later. But for now we're just focused on the skills.

So, after thinking about it--especially after the last game--we've decided that Science Skills can be Standard Cost.

We are looking at new tables for skill costs. There are a couple of reasons for this:

1. Combat skills at 15- skew things. We feel that having the "break point" for skill roll hit at 14- instead of 15- is good for the game. Right now for +1 CP you can go from 14- to 15- with a combat skill. Our new table (which I will endeavor to get in here when I can get to my PC) should make that 2 CP. Why? Well, there are a few reasons. Having a -2 to be hit reduce you from a 14- to a 12- is good for the game. A 12- hits 60% of the time (approx). A 13- hits more like 80% of the time. Having the 'average' combat skill hover around a 14- makes a 12 AGI more valuable. We like that (it makes a 13 AGI a lot more valuable). PCs will still often invest the extra point to get to 15- (16 or less is really expensive--and, through our testing, even more worth it). But at least it won't be "stupid" for someone to stop at a very respectable 14-.

NOTE: we have some testing on the effects of a high skill roll. A high combat skill roll both makes you hit for more damage and harder to block. Investing "all your points" in to-hit roll is one of the more combat effective things a character can do. We want to use the simulator to figure out what the correct costs should be compared to heavy investments in AGI and CON (or even REA). With the simulator we can do that. It'll take some work.

2. We are changing the cost-scale for Standard skills so that it pays to have a 12 RES (or other stat). The learning here was that a 12 RES didn't do much for you--especially if you were trying to be "smart" and have good skills. It was about the same linking vs. not linking and we felt a 12 RES (or MEM) was respectable and should be rewarded more than it was.

So our new cost schedule will work with that.

NOTE: these schedules are provisional right now. We are not yet playtesting them. Partially this is because the JAGS character builder doesn't work with them. That can be fixed though.

EDITED TO ADD: I have made a change to this picture. The cost for a 13- L2 skill Linked or not is the same if you have a 12 stat. however, if you wish to go to 14- or higher it pays to have the 12 RES/MEM. This is in keeping with my thoughts about the cost schedule (that it should be 2 CP for a L2 Skill at 13-).

Success Points
When we built out the Drama Roll system we realized there was a role for SPs in the game outside of dramas. We liked the idea of magical treasure granting them, for example. We also knew that there was value in having SPs outside of Dramas. We were not sure how that would work. Granting SPs for playing certain Traits seemed to work sometimes--but it wasn't fulfilling.

We are now leaning towards the concept of Success Pools that recharge every play-session (or more) and represent a meta-game resource you can use based on that. The pools will be "aspected" in some way.

More later.

* I do! Oh fuck!! :: looks in mirror :: I've wasted my life!!


  1. Damn, made a long post and then lost it. Summarizing:

    1. Good post.

    2. Character creator is nice (though its not supporting "Experience" or "Trivia", or allowing toggling of attribute for Occupational skills currently). You should put a link to it up on the webpage.

    3. Have you though further about renaming one of the two kinds of SPs?

    4. It really would be nice to have MEM and RES be more useful than they currently appear to be in the game.

  2. Oh, while looking through the book today, I also remembered something: didn't you once say something about making all the "free" (that is to say 0 REA) actions you sometimes get as skill level benefits 1 REA instead? And if so, what was the reason for the change?