Thursday, June 30, 2011

How Many Damage Points Does A Character Need?

What I am Working On Right Now
Having more or less completed the bio-attack list and refactored the size tables (very slight changes) I am taking a look at how Resisted Attacks (in the case of bio-attack, toxins like Venom) work. The issue is this: Blood Toxins are very, very cheap according to the simulator--but, as I've said here, in some game-configurations that's going to be an issue.

So I want to make sure I have everything right. That means a deeper examination of the test conditions.

The Big Question: How Many DP Will an Average PC Have?
When you are hit with a Resisted Attack there are several steps that determine how/if it effects you. These, in rough order, are:

  1. Did it achieve the necessary pre-conditions to be effective? In the case of poison gas or a "sleep ray" this just means (a) did you get hit and (b) do you have some special condition such as 'robot' that makes you immune? In the case of a blood toxin, as noted, the carrier attack must (a) PEN (you fail an armor save) and (b) do at least 1pt of damage. It turns out that for balanced attacks against well armored targets this is unlikely
  2. The Resisted Attack's STAT is compared to your CON or WIL (in the case of Psionics or things like hallucinogenics). For each point the RA is higher (or lower) there is a +/-1 shift in your roll. Resisted Attacks pretty much have a STAT pegged as 12--so if your CON is 12 you are even. If you are running around with a CON of 10, you are more vulnerable to Resisted Attacks.
  3. The Resisted Attack's INTENSITY score is compared to your Damage Points. This gives the attack a Resisted Roll to effect you. For example: if the RA has an Intensity of 14 and you have DP of 12, the RA's roll is 12- to effect you (a difference of 2). At higher numerical levels there are divisors (so a 60 INTENSITY vs. a 50 DP gives the RA a 12- chance to effect you too since the divisor is 5)
  4. Someone makes the Resistance Roll (the Player using the attack or the Player resisting the attack--usually the Player rolls since our observation through testing is that having the Player roll 'feels more involved'). The Effect is one of 6 levels depending on how well you made or missed the roll (No Effect, Minor, Standard, Major, Critical, or Catastrophic). Usually a Catastrophic Effect takes you out of the fight.
As You Can See ...
The crucial question centers on how the attack's INTENSITY matches up to your DP (BTW: if the above sounds too complicated note that the comparison of STAT can be dropped for basic players and the level of Effect can be simplified too to just a made-it effect or missed-it effect if you are concerned about speed of play. Just center on the "standard Effect."

But even simplified what we want to know is : for a given AP investment in some kind of toxin attack, what INTENSITY score should you get? That depends on how many DP we expect the target to have.

There Are Two Character Sets ...
In our test simulator there are two sets of charactrers: the Herd which are generally well defended and the Test Characters. The Herd are numerical splits of 66% Defense who ALWAYS have some AP in Damage Points and the Test Characters are 50% Defense and sometimes Do NOT have any AP in Damage Points (Both FULL ARMOR and FORCE FIELD Test characters have NO AP's in Damage Points so even if they are 1000 AP--an absurdly high number--they will still have 14 DP and, like 500pts of Armor).

Here is the break-down of the number of DP that each group has.

This table shows a few things. Notably across the top (in blue) the average DP that each character-group has at the listed AP level. As you can see, the HERD characters have a good deal more (the TEST character's average is held down). 

The RED tables show what a Resisted Attack is likely to get with a given investment. Primary means that the attacker put 50% of their AP into the Toxin (or Sleep Ray, or whatever). Secondary means the attacker put about 33% of their AP into the Resisted Attack and has some other attack as well--we think this is more common.

What you can glean from this is, we think, the following:
  1. If you are TEST-like you are taking a pretty big chance at the higher AP levels but your initial (basic) 14 DP will help out at the lower levels.
  2. If you are AVERAGE in expenditure--somewhere between TEST and HERD--at the higher AP levels you are still taking a pretty big chance (Catastrophic) if you are hit by a Primary RA.
  3. The HERD build is pretty effective at all levels. Very effective.
However ...
What this doesn't account for is a few things. Firstly PCs might have a lot of points in defense but it won't necessarily all be in Damage Points. They can have negative Damage Mods, things that insta-heal them, Armor, Force Fields, and so on. So even a character with a "Herd Profile" in terms of how they spent their points would not necessarily give them the defensive DP if they didn't specifically buy DP.

On the flip side, there are a lot of cheap things like "doesn't breathe" that will make you immune to a lot of Resisted Attacks ... assuming you are allowed to buy those and they fit your conception. A character running around with nothing but a "Neural Stunner" is going to be in trouble if they run into robots.

So What Do We Think?
The final observation--from a lot of testing--is that with the increase in DP-value (see several posts back) FULL ARMOR and to a degree FULL FORCE FIELD went from being the best-buys to not-so-good. I don't think we'll see too many PCs with 14 DP and half their AP in Armor. It was never a very good approach to a real game (where you'd fight occasional characters who hit 'harder than the average' and then the excess damage cracks you like an eggshell) and now it's not even the most mathematically effective approach.

In other words, I think something like the AVERAGE level will be what we'll see. And we want to encourage characters at the higher AP scale--especially around 100 DP, which is a break-point for divisiors in JAGS Resisted Attacks--to try to be on the other side of it. If you are playing with 64+ AP and expect Resisted Attacks, consider investing enough to get over 100 DP. You'll hold out much better.

So What About Them Resisted Attacks?

This table shows a breakdown of Resisted Attack "categories" with some proposed INTENSITY Scores. That's the BEAM Divisor. Remember: 'Beam' (Sleep Ray) is pretty much the best delivery system for a Resisted Attack in the game (better is Aura which always hits, goes first in the Round, and hits everyone within range--but those are definitely a special case--like a Basilisk's Aura of Decay). So you'd take your AP investment and divide by the Beam Divisor in order to get the Intensity.

Now I have to test this stuff.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

New System Up and Running

After some messing around I've gotten the new desktop up and running (installed the simulator and so on). This was harder than it ought to have been because apparently my jar was corrupt or otherwise not throwing an error--but when I replaced it with a "fresh copy" the project built without a hitch.

So where are we?

I have the complete 'basic list' of bio-weapons done. This is a significant accomplishment since it gets me back to roughly where I was before a string of major realizations that 'changed everything' (such as the need for different levels of attacks, that DP are 4 per AP instead of like 2.5, and so on). However, all is not simple.

In JAGS-land? Shocking.

The Problem With Toxins
One of the cooler things we can do with the simulator is introduce Resisted Attacks--in this case Blood Toxins. I've talked about this before but I'm working on it now so I'll bring it up again. A Blood Toxin is a Resisted Attack that is engaged when:

  1. A Penetrating Attack that is 'envenomed' hits and the Armor Save fails (which is to say the "Attack Penetrates")
  2. The target suffers at least 1pt of damage from that attack ("blood is drawn").
When this happens the target immediately makes a Resistance Roll against the Intensity of the Toxin (using their DP as the resisting value) and you get one of five results: Minor Effect, Standard, Major, Critical or Catastrophic.

Because of the way Resisted Rolls work your DP (and this is your total, undamaged DP in all cases--your current condition doesn't factor in) gives you an expectation of defense: you have a lot of DP? You have a good defense roll (and if you have a lot of Armor you have a good Armor Save).

So there are various kinds of Toxins. One kind just does immediate damage: take a Major Effect take 24 pts of additional damage (and roll for effect). This is the simplest. Another kind does continuing damage (take damage each round). Then there are toxins that visit all kinds of effects on you (visibility modifiers, wound effects like Dazed or Stunned, or Unconscious) and so on.

So Nerve Toxin, about the worst thing I'd ever throw at anyone, has a Minor Effect of Dazed and then goes Dead, Dead, Dead, Dead. Now, this is pretty absurd--but I created it to prove a point. That point is: Assuming the simulator is working correctly--and I can find nothing wrong with it when analyzing battles--it appears that nerve-toxin armed weapons are not all that good.

What the hell? It's like: you suffer PEN, you take 1 point of damage, and then it's Roll-Or-Die.

Oh, and that's with a pretty darn high Intensity (30 per 8 AP in the attack).

What Is Going On With That!?
The upshot is this: given the construction of The Herd (lots of armor when they have armor, and everyone has extra DP) the odds of an Armor Save failing combined with anything but a Minimal Effect on the Poison Save are just not that good. The poison--the nerve toxin--makes a hell of a difference but only in one out of every fights.

In other words, it isn't statistically significant. Most of the time.

So ... What?
Well, this is a pattern we've been seeing, remember: The Herd is a very specific kind of construct--they're over defended (about 66% Defense), everyone has some extra DP, and when they buy into a FULL defense (be it armor or DP) they buy in heavily (the FULL Armor Herd members have half their points spent on Armor).

This is a profile that really works against Blood Toxins--but is not necessarily a winner across all spectra. 

So what do we do? Well, I said this last post: manual modification combined with some extra testing.

See, let's say you're playing a mutant with Lion Fish Spines (a Damage Field at Short Reach that carries a venom): in the simulator only 1/4th of the Herd will ever encounter that--the guys with Sword hit at Medium Reach, Gun and Blaster are Long Range, and only Punch will suffer your attack (granted: your punches will carry the venom--but we've proved that isn't all that effective).

Combine this with the fact that you have both a "normal attack" (punch) and an exotic attack--so your punch is down 1/3rd the points it'd otherwise be (if you are a 24 AP character with a 50/50 split, you could have a 12 AP punch--but instead you have an 8 AP punch and 4 AP in "8 AP worth" of venomous spines).

You are not optimized for, say, a post-apocalypse game where you'll routinely face blasters, guns, and HTH weapons with more reach than your fists.

In this world--which the simulator represents fairly well ... half the attacks are ranged--your toxic spines get to be pretty damn kick-ass before they start making much difference.

But what if you're that guy in a Chi Martial Arts game?

Think Street Fighter + Toxic Spines
In this genre everyone punches. Sure, they have Chi Bolts--but even if everyone has one they don't throw them every Round. Secondly almost no one has armor (sure, there may be Armor-like-effects floating around--but that's not the standard). So in this case the toxic avenger is optimized.

What do I do?

What do I do? I don't want to optimize the game for fantasy and Have-Not and have it fall apart when you play Chi. I think it's a no-brainer to have the GM say that "Damage Fields" cost more in a Chi game than otherwise--and maybe even have a rule ... but that's ugly.

Here's what I am doing: I am manually adjusting a bunch of things to mitigate the simulator world against the worlds we know exists. To wit:
  • Every Periodic Attack with a L1 damage of more than 25 pts gets its damage above 25 divided by 3. Each L+ greater than 12 gets its damage above 12 divided by 2. This produces numbers that look far safer.
  • Toxins are going to be calibrated against characters with fairly heavy investments in primary defenses but without the DP the Herd has. So that means the Intensity of the attacks--especially for something horrific like Neuro Toxin will have their Intensity reduced pretty severely (instead of 30 Intensity for 8 AP something like Neuro Toxin that wasn't deadly--say you replace Dead with Asleep would likely get an Intensity of 12 per 8 AP).
Note: this will make designs like The Herd very effective against toxic weapons and it'll make Monster Designs (where they combine Periodic Attacks with a bunch of Standard attacks) less effective if the Monster is the same points as the 1-on-1 character it is fighting. Both of these are trade-offs I feel are actually good for the game. 

I've little sympathy for toxic-weapons and monsters will often be built as bosses. If they are not, and the GM needs them to be 1:1 balanced against the PCs, the reductions I am making will still provide the kind of play we usually see (and want to see). In our real life games few battles have the PCs facing a 50/50 chance of death.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Back after a while

My primary computer has something very wrong with it and I spent a week + debugging that. Now I'm traveling and have re-built the latest simulator on my laptop so I can test again.

What Am I Doing Right Now?
Testing Bio-Weapons. Specifically different kinds of bites and Thunder Tail (a large, REA-expensive, striking weapon).

What Am I Learning?
Some of the attacks--the bio attacks--have profiles that mean they go very rarely (ROF 1x, charge up of 1 Round). In simulator-ville this means that to give the user a 50% POV with them they need to do like 40pts of damage on one hit. This is overwhelming. The reason is that in a given battle sometimes they may not ever get to act so when they do it has to be decisive.

However: if a PC has an 8 AP 'Monstrous Jaws' attack that deals 45 PEN damage when their companions are doing around 10 PEN for the same investment that's a problem. Why? Well, the dynamics of many-on-one are very different than the dynamics of 1-on-1 and a group of PCs (estimated 3-5) can make up for each other's weaknesses in ways that the current simulator environment doesn't handle. For example, while the attack might get blocked in the simulator, in a real-world situation a group of PCs with Monstrous Jaws might choose to only attack targets who've spent all their REA.

What Can We Do?
Well, a few things--and I'm not going to go into all of them right this second. The best thing to do would be to create some new simulator environments that handle many-on-1 attacks and then see how the attacks perform there. Give the simulation some PC-vs-NPC style battles.

We may still do that--but right now we're looking at a simpler scenario: manual revision of the numbers. I'm going to look into simply reducing the excess damage (above 25 at L1) by some standard amount and making a very few simple tests to see how that performs (such as making the Test Characters fewer AP than normal but putting in 2 of them instead of one). If I can get some basic balance out of that I think we'll be okay.

I should note that this is a rare problem and it usually only occurs when people take 'monster' attacks and that those attacks are not really supposed to destroy a PC in one hit--they're, instead--meant to be a scary attack that comes out once in a while. Reducing the damage will actually help with that.

What Else?
We are working on the new Character Creator software and we're trying to make it get A-Cost correct. This is quite difficult since we're still revising how it works.

Our current thinking: There are no 1pt attacks. Previously if I had Super Strength and wanted Eye-Beam-Lasers at the same level I paid 1 AP for the second attack. This was because it was way, way more efficient to just have "double your points" in one attack or the other. The utility (range) of splitting them made no sense.

The problem is that in some (early) testing it looks like having a ranged attack for ranged people and a hth attack for hth-people (Which will hit harder) is, in fact, a good deal better than 1 AP worth.

We were also charging 1/3rd AP of your most-expensive attack for other attacks like Exotic ones (Ghost Bullets that ignore armor--who wouldn't pay 1 AP for some of those!?) or Periodic Attacks (like the monster bite that does way more damage but is only active once in a while). This formula has been extensively tested and seems to work.

So getting rid of the 1 AP attacks means that if you have 12 AP in Super Strength for 4 AP more you can get 12 AP in Laser-Eye-Beams. While the exact value may not always work out right this works out pretty well so far and makes the rule much, much simpler.