Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Answering a few questions

What Am I Working On Right Now?
I'm still re-aligning the GATs. As I said before we've separated out the stuff that "effects your rolls" (be they CON rolls, skill rolls, Init rolls, etc.) and the stuff that "adds to scalar values" (like armor, damage, damage points, etc.).

So in the old rules you had stuff like "Archer: +2 damage per level and +4 Character Points to ranged weapon skill"--now it's in two pieces: Archer -- for extra damage (and some DP) and Expertise (for pluses to weapon skill). The first has a fixed cost (4 or 8 AP per level) and the second is based on a % of your total points (you don't calculate that--it's done for you in a table).

The result is a little more complex but appears to be very balanced.

It's also a lot of work.

What Else?
I plan to start a parallel effort (presumably on my secret 8th day of the week) to start re-doing the web-site to get some of this material up and available even if it's just Excel files with some PDF descriptions.

Let's Talk About The Web Site
The original JAGS Website was run out of a Linux server in a NYC apartment. This is back in 2001. It was all hand-coded with a Java chat-applet and some very basic forum software dropped in. It used a PostgreSQL database (we wanted triggers so we selected it over MySQL--yes--THAT long ago) and it was /awesome/.

However, it was complex to administer and hosting out of an apartment sucked (it was often down). So we moved to "real hosting." I also moved to a variety of PHP-based Content Management Systems (CMS).

My experience with these has been nothing short of abysmal. Oh, they're great: we got a custom theme and it was wicked looking. The forums worked pretty well--and it was easy to administer. It was also easy to hack and I could never keep up with the security updates.

I tried Simple CMS, a PHP-based system that was supposedly more secure because it didn't rely on a database--just flat files. It got hacked.

I looked into WordPress. It has regular security updates.

So we defaulted back to "basic HTML" --which was fine anyway--the forums and chat never got much play--and it's fast--but editing basic HTML is a pain.

However, there are some "Desktop CMS" applications that "publish" flat-HTML that you can upload. The most famous of these is abandon-ware--but with a good deal of searching, I found one (name escapes me and I'm not at home) that looks like it'll suit my purposes. The conversations can happen here and I won't have to worry about patching things constantly and we can sort and edit the site as necessary.

Like I said--all I need is that 8th day of the week.

What's Top Of Mind Right Now?
Vital Strike. Vital Strike is a kind of attack that does more Base Damage if you hit by a certain number or more. Ideally that would be "you hit by 4+" however a good deal of testing shows that an attack that does more damage if you hit by 4+ is worth as much as an attack that just does "that amount of damage."

This doesn't make sense to me and we're looking into it--but it seems that over time, the significant hits (that decide a battle) are usually hits by 4+ and, as a result, having attacks that /only/ do "full damage" on hits by 4+ doesn't make the attack all that much cheaper (like maybe it does a point more damage).

This doesn't make logical sense to me--but we're looking at the code and output and it all seems to be working correctly.

So right now Vital Strike does its extra damage on a hit by 6+.

What Else?
One of the original problems with the abilities was that most of them gave extra Damage Points (this was very true for the GATs but was also true for things like "super strength" which gave you not only STR but also DP and sometimes--depending on which version you bought--BLD and Armor).

When we tested these we got some balanced values and dutifully encoded them but when we applied our "cost table" it didn't work. The numbers didn't add up.

This was because our cost table came from the original testing where: (a) Damage for attacks was purely linear (our findings, remember, was that the first few points of any attack are worth less than later points so the effective cost for an attack changes when you buy more of it) and (b) we had fixed DP and Armor costs against artificially fixed attack costs and then applied a "best fit" curve to them (a fancy way of saying we squinted at the numbers for 64 AP attackers and said "this is balanced enough ... I guess.").

As a result we had 1pt Armor = 2.5 DP instead of 1pt Armor = 4 DP ... which it turns out is a lot closer to the truth.

When I realized what was going on and made the change (recent) it suddenly became possible with the new (correct) costs for attacks and DP to actually have the component cost and have them add up correctly.



  1. Hi Marco,

    I have been trying to track down an email address for you - without success.

    Could you drop me a line at:



  2. Interesting stuff, Marco.

    As I've commented, you might want to give a priority of some kind to getting _some_ version of archetype abilities available on website, because currently if someone downloads JAGS Rev. or JAGS-2 and wants to use it to run anything short of a modern adventure game or other really low AA game, they're completely out of luck. Honestly, the old pre-Revised material is going to serve them better than having nothing at all (its not like what they make up will likely be better balanced...)

  3. This is unrelated to the post, but since you look at these more often than your email, from what I gather, I figured I'd mention it here.

    The character creator, besides the couple of little problems I've mentioned in the past, has an annoying one: once you've added a weapon to the damage display, you can't delete it; this includes attacks added by buying an unarmed combat skill, so if you, as I did, originally buy Streetfighting, and then change it to Juijutsu, it displays both sets of attacks in the output. And unless you have an HTML editor, there's no way to even delete it there.


  4. A question actually relating to the post: for those of us who are going to probably use the material at hand long before you'll be able to find time to thoroughly revisit all the archetype stuff out there, is there a generic thing that might be useful to do with it to at least iterate to better practice in the meantime? For example, would increasing the DP yield on archetype abilities that yield DPs be a good idea?