Monday, March 28, 2011

Success Points and Drama Points

I'd been asked by Thomas if I had a different name for SPs used to determine how a Drama works out vs. SPs that characters "carry around with them." After some thought here's what I think:

Drama Points
I think that points you rack up on 3-roll (or whatever) Dramas are called DRAMA POINTS (which seems pretty clear) and so you need to get 35 DRAMA POINTS to succeed in hacking the main-frame or whatever. Points that you can use to alter your amount of Success are called, as they are now, Success Points.

Success Points
Right now our best thinking is this:

  1. Success Points (SPs) are gained one of several ways--primarily you will buy a Trait (usually an AP Trait) that gives you an SP "pool" (a number of points) that refreshes at some stated point (each game session, each combat, etc.). This takes care of the "how many SPs does an NPC have?" question. More APs spent on a trait results in a bigger pool.
  2. You can get SPs for playing a Trait. Especially if you do so in a way that's disadvantageous. Our experience with that is hit and miss but a lot of people seem to think it's a good idea so we're thinking about it. We've done it and have had some success--but it's not a primary source for now.
  3. You can find them as treasure. We find SPs as treasure works for certain kinds of (weird) games. In our have-not game SPs are represented by spinning glowing 'coins' and you can find them. Some bad-guys "drop" them when you kill them. You absorb them by touch and can then burn them (spend them).
Kinds of SPs
We are thinking about how SPs work. There are probably several different kinds. I was going to go with the D&D metals-taxonomy (Copper, Silver, Gold, Platinum) but, since several of us work for banks, I am thinking about the Credit Card taxonomy instead.

STANDARD SPS: As they work now. There may be a limit as to how many you can spend at once on any one roll and they likely have specific uses (like only to improve your block or lower the damage effect vs. SPs that can increase what you hit by or improve the damage Mod effect on a target). There might be Standard SPs that only apply to science rolls or whatever.

GOLD SPS: These would allow you to spend them even if you miss the roll thus increasing your roll. They might be a lot less restrictive as to what you can spend them on--and GOLD SPs usually have no limit on how many you can spend.

PLATINUM SPS: Burning one of these can do things like "ignore a wound effect" or "reverse a death result." They might also "auto-make" a roll in some cases. Stuff like that. They would be rare and valuable.


On Binds and Disarms

Thomas had asked if there was a "Bind" maneuver in JAGS. I think what he's talking about is the convention when, as two people are sword fighting (or whatever) one blocks and their weapons "lock up" for a few moments removing them from play. Usually, at that point, one of them will kick.

I have no idea if this is a real thing or just a cinematic convention. Certainly in the fencing class I took in college this didn't really happen (although, to be fair, we could not kick). Similarly, in fiction, there is the "disarm" move where either armed or unarmed one party executes a move that takes the other's weapon away (usually sending it flying--but maybe the attacker winds up holding it?).

We currently don't have much by way of this in JAGS--but I've thought about it ... what's the deal?

The deal is this: in my experience these moves (moreso disarm) are favored by characters who are expert combatants without weapons. Thus, when they disarm (or Bind) they gain a huge advantage over their opponents (who are presumably okay with weapons but usually not well trained unarmed combatants).

How do you deal with this? There are a few ways that I think "clearly present themselves."

  1. Limit 'just how bad it is.' Suppose that the rule said "getting a Bind or Disarm Result" costs the victim 5 REA to get the weapon back. That's not too bad--but it's also not 'realistic' if the Disarm 'sent the weapon sailing off a cliff' or the attacker wound up with it in their hands. 
  2. Make it Hard To Do. Opponents usually don't get "Disarmed" until they are beaten (if they're a peer). Maybe make it so that you have to really dominate your opponent or maybe you can attack and gain "Disarm points" that have to add up to some number until it works? The higher the target's weapon skill the higher the Disarm Number? This is interesting but (a) nothing else in the game works that way and (b) if it's really hard to do then the question of how much it's worth is complex. How much you pay for attacks that work only really well on sub-peers is a complex question ... and one that I don't have a rock-solid answer to.
  3. Let It Rule. If the TKD Master excels with weapon-bind moves and can tie up a target's weapon and then kick the heck out of them ... let him. Maybe it'll result in everyone having to have some unarmed weapon skills or something?
I don't really like any of these too much and as a result I haven't put this in the game too much. I think there's a role for it--but I haven't really decided on it yet.

I will note that there are some ideas floating around (dealing with Success Points and the like) that kind of come close to some of these solutions (especially the second one: what if  you could make attacks that 'banked' Success Points for some tactical advantage later in the fight ... instead of doing damage?). However, right now I think that a Disarm Move--or a Bind move would have unintended side effects.

Another idea I kind of like is that of "Chance of Battle" positions that a character can wind up with but not anticipate. For example, what if any time you made a Block by 4+ and had rolled a 9 or under on your Initiative Roll you could effect a Bind move. This means it's only available for you about 40% of the time and you have to block really well to pull it off--but if you did? Hey? Bind!

In these cases you wouldn't easily be able to build a character around the strategy but having some points in Street Fighting so you could kick wouldn't be a bad idea. 

This is definitely in the "Optional/Advanced" Rule Category--but it's the type of thing that might be interesting to see. 


Friday, March 25, 2011

How Much Is Plate Armor Worth?

Plate Armor is a bit tricky in JAGS. Here's how it works.

Armor has two stats: Damage Reduction (how many points of damage it takes off) and Penetration Resistance (how likely it is to turn a dangerous Penetration Attack like a sword or bullet into less dangerous Impact Damage).

Armor itself comes in two varieties: Undercoat (which covers your whole body) and Plate (which covers only portions of your body).

When a target with Plate is struck the amount the attack hit by may be reduced at the option of the attacker to hit around the Plate. If a Plate has a "Coverage" of 4 and an attack hit by 5 it can either go against the Plate + Undercoat as a hit-by-5 or it can ignore the Plate but is treated as a Hit By 1.

Remember: the more you hit by, the more damage you are likely to do.

When hitting a target with Plate Armor and having hit by enough to possibly get around the plate (if the coverage is 3 and you hit by 0-3 you automatically hit the Plate) you have to do the math and determine if you think it's better to keep your original hit or reduce it and ignore the plate. If the plate is enough to always stop your attack then you'd want to reduce the Hit-By number always. If the Plate is wimpy, though, you may want to hit through it.

Okay ... So What?
Well, that makes "costing Plate" pretty difficult. Here's why:

  1. Plate Cost is based on coverage. If the Plate has a coverage of 8 then it's basically just regular armor. So few attacks will hit by 9+ that the Plate is almost always in play.
  2. Plate Value is based on AGI Bonus. If we wanted to be really technical about it we'd base Plate cost on the wearer's AGI because if you have an AGI bonus of 3 and an Plate with Coverage 4 the attacker needs to hit by 7+ before they have a chance of choosing to hit around your Plate. If your AGI is 10, though, that number is 4+. Fortunately even we are not that anal (we also don't, as a rule, factor for regular character stuff).
  3. Above a certain level Plate simply acts like more AGI bonus. If my Plate is so high that it'll stop any attack then it just acts like "being missed" (that is: if the attacker does not hit by enough to hit-around-the-plate then their attack hits the plate and does 0 damage ... as though it had missed).
A Note About Infinite Armor
There is a related argument that an "infinite amount of armor" should have some finite cost in terms of the game. The argument goes like this: In a given game I can reasonably expect only a limited range of attacks coming at me (as a general matter of course). If I am able to buy enough Armor to ignore these attacks then any armor purchased above that number is deeply into diminishing returns. A 'correct' cost for this would have the cost-per-point-of-Armor approach 0 as I keep spending more.

Another way of saying this is this: if the game tends to keep attacks 'balanced against the characters' then if a 24 AP character spends all his AP on Armor it won't matter much if he gets 24 Armor (what the standard cost would give him) or 240 Armor ... if the average attack is just as useless against each one.

Now, this argument falls apart pretty quickly in 'real games' where if a character has 24 Armor they might stand up to a rifle -- but if they have 240 Armor they will happily go up against a heavy machine gun. The fact is that it does make a difference but, for a lot of the play, not much of one.

However ... When You Get To Plate ...
The argument suddenly makes much more sense. If I am attacking a target with enough Plate that I want to hit around it always (which is not that much Plate, really) then whether they have 24 Plate or 240 Plate is a lot less relevant: when I am only hurting them when I hit around their extra armor it doesn't much matter how much extra armor they have.

That's What Our Simulator Says
At 16 AP 1-3 points of Plate Armor costs just slightly less than Undercoat ("normal armor"). Above that, however, each extra point of Plate gives you almost nothing. A character with 5 points of Coverage 3 Plate and a character with 8 points of Coverage 3 Plate perform almost identically against the 16 AP Herd. 

Unless I've done the math wrong, at the 32 AP Level 8pts of Plate costs 6 AP (instead of the 8 AP it would cost if it were Undercoat). But 12 points of Plate just tests as costing 7 AP. And 100 points of Plate? It's valued at only 8 AP.

What Do We Do?
Well, the cost of Plate certainly is a function of Total AP cost (TAP) and, weirdly, it maxes out: I don't think you can literally buy 100pts of Plate armor if you are 32 AP--or, if you can, whatever you pay almost certainly isn't worth it. 

Here's what I think: if you want small amounts of plate (where the costs are incremental) you have to pay for that. But once you reach the limit (about 1/4th of your AP, looking at it--but I'm not sure yet) then you get "maximal Plate" for your level (we need to determine what that its--but it's not 100pts of armor. It's probably something like 1.5x the AP cost).

Finally you can probably buy MORE plate if you really want to. Maybe 4 Armor for 1 AP or something like that--something that's statistically a bad deal but still fairly tasty.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Continuing Re-alginment

In the I-should-have-done-this-a-long-time-ago department I have re-constructed our spreadsheets so that they auto-magically create the character herds through basic multiplication by the AP costs. I can now generate a 128 AP herd ... or a 1024 AP herd. Whatever I want.

I did this when I realized that moving to 4 DP per AP (instead of 2.5) basically worked but shifted all of our basic attack numbers around by a little bit. I wanted a faster way to spot-check the GATs and Big List of Attacks. Fortunately this seems to be working.

A few notes about Shield Skill. If we keep it it'll probably be something like:

  1. You get a single 1 REA Block at L3
  2. You get two 1 REA Blocks at L4
  3. You get a "pretty good Block" you will probably NOT get a better block than dumping 2x the points you spent on Melee Weapons into that skill alone. NOTE: the new Combat Skill costs will help with this.
  4. You'll possibly get a Shield Bash attack that you can also use if you have Melee Weapons and a shield but no skill.
Basically Shield Skill will be a way to buy some 1 REA Blocks ... Does that justify it? I don't know.

I'm re-working the Cleave GAT right now. I'm a bit chagrined to discover that my original thinking was right: if you have a Standard Attack and want a 1x per Round Attack at the same level? You do pay 1/3 the number of points in your most expensive attack. Not 1/4th. The numbers come out prettier.

If I had 32 AP to spend on attacks and want to divide them up, I get a 24 AP Standard attack and for 8 AP I get a second 24 AP Periodic Attack.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

1 REA Attacks

I'm  doing some testing of knock-back attacks (which I'll post on later) and still playing around with the DP, ADP, and Power Field costs as per the last post).

Thomas pointed out another change which I'll address:

If the (Current) Book Says A Skill (or Power) Gives a 0 REA Strike It's 1 REA
Some attacks like Knife Fighter give "0 REA Attacks" along with a regular 5 REA attack. After some playtest and consideration we changed that to simply a 1 REA Attack (with or without another strike). How come? Well, a couple of reasons:

  1. The "Along With Another Strike" was meant to stop things like someone spending all their REA to move and do other things and then always taking a "free strike." We wanted even a free strike to be some kind of meaningful choice. For example, we didn't want strikes happening when a character's REA was used to play "full defense." However:
  2. The requirement of a 5 REA attack was limiting in some ways we didn't like. It restricted move-and-strike combinations that made combat more static (one of the big changes from JAGS 1.0 to JAGS Revised was stuff to make combat more dynamic--such as increasing Step and Run rates and moving to 6 second Rounds instead of 1 second Rounds). It also, we felt, interfered with the "REA Economy" of the game. If you made the strike cost 1 REA then having 1 (or 2) REA 'left over' after you did your thing was suddenly valuable: Hey--I could get a 1 REA Strike and do something with that!
What Else? Shield Skill
We think Shield Skill doesn't do anything good. Yes: you get a better block--but at the expense of  having to buy two Combat Skills--which isn't a good way to spend your points most of the time. Also: really, really high blocks are bad for the game in some ways (they require things like many-on-one and the use of the Feint rules to get around). So if "Shield Skill" gives you an "unbeatable block." which is what it kinda has to do to be worth dividing your Character Points between two combat skills, then it's just not good for the game.

We think having a shield is a valid choice in Fantasy combat: it should give you a better AGI Bonus (replacing, not adding to yours) and +1 to Blocks (at the cost of not having a 2-handed weapon). We've done a little modeling and might do some more to iron that out further--to make sure it's a good choice but not a stellar one.

However: we're considering a few things:
  • CP or AP moves that give 1 REA Blocks with a shield
  • A shield-bash maneuver that has some utility under some conditions (such as, for example, immediately after your primary meele weapon is blocked). Although we think anyone with combat skills could perform this.
  • It can also block slow incoming missiles (arrows, thrown objects)--and block anything at "Level 4"--so there might be room for a shield skill in some circumstances (playing Captain America, for example). But right now it's looking like it might be special moves for CP rather than a whole skill.
Tangle Attacks
Our thinking right now is that Tangle Attacks (lassos, whips, glue-guns, etc.) don't ever completely shut you down--they just stack up -DM's until you're noneffective unless you break out. This means that someone using tangle attacks on you costs you REA in exchange for theirs--but usually tangle attacks don't end the fight unless they are just utterly overwhelming (Spiderman's webbing vs. regular crooks).

Surprise Rules
There are several forms of "combat advantage" and Surprise you can get. These deserve a whole 'nother section but we find there's room for diversity in things like:
  • You get a single free attack but then Initiative is rolled normally (the "I have a gun pointed at his head" scenario)
  • Your side wins Initiative or at least has a big bonus for one roll (military ambush where something gives it away but only barely)
  • You (and maybe your side) get a free full Round of action then go to Initiative (complete surprise military ambush)
  • Etc.
Some rules around that will help give flavor to "positions of advantage."

Knock-back is kind of a weird thing in JAGS. After some discussion we decided we didn't want it to do extra damage like it did in Champions (however 'realistic or not' that was). And being knocked back (and knocked down) was bad enough. We also wanted super-hero-y attacks to deal knock-back sometimes so we decided on a "hit by 4+" and we rules that "if the player declared a set of strikes before resolving each one then the Knock-back would be handled after all the strikes landed to stop super-strong characters from constantly having to chase down their targets.

This works well enough for those kinds of games--but it's a pretty iffy Advanced/Optional rule for, we think, most players. It also hurts strikers pretty badly if they get knocked back by blasters.

And then, if you are not playing with the optional rules, what do you do with guys with "force beams" or "repulsor rays" or whatever who can knock people back with the nature of the attack?

Well, we've set up the simulator to test the effect of KB both 'on any hit' and only on hits by 4+ to see what it does. The results seem to be: not that much: characters with ranged attacks don't really suffer (they get knocked down but keep firing). Hand to hand characters suffer more but not as much as we'd though (we need to monitor that).

So that leaves us back with the initial question: what do we do in games where any attack can knock someone back but some attacks (like force rays or water cannons or whatever) always knock people back? We think that what happens is this: you go from the 4+ rule to the "any hit rule" when the optional KB rules are in play and, if those aren't in play then you stick to the 4+ (which, really, is a bit of a better experience to our minds).


Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Note About Those Numbers

It occurred to me, looking at the numbers there that it would confuse people. The graphics show two different scores. The "block of numbers" is the victory percentages of the Test Characters against each other (with the diagonal being 50% of each test character against himself).

The numbers along the bottom are the averages of the test characters against The Herd.

So the columns won't average out to the numbers at the bottom.

I'm sure this explanation is also confusing--but when I have more time I can go into more detail.

The bottom averages are considered far more important to balance than the block of numbers but we examine both,


Friday, March 11, 2011

DP, ADP, and Power Field

I was traveling the last 2 weeks so I didn't do my normal testing. Here's where we are:

  1. I'm still doing Resisted Effect Attacks (like "stun beam" that combines a stun/daze effect with an IMP attack.
  2. I realized that if I got this wrong, re-testing was going to be painful. What was I worried about? Well: Damage Points. Let me explain.
The Problem With DP
In our original 50-50 Herds (each attacker was 50% offense and 50% of one of a few kinds of defense) the DP guy did as well as everyone else (he won around 50% of the time)--but those battles were bloody. At the upper range most battles went only one to three strikes. We wanted an "ideal" battle to last 2-4 Rounds. But we were not very sophisticated then--so we did the math and came up with the following:

  • Armor: 1pt Armor for 1 AP
  • DP: 2.5 DP for 1 AP
  • Force Field: 1.5 Force Field for 1 AP
And so it went. The armor and Force Field numbers held up well--but in the new herds, re-designed so that most battles took 3 Rounds, DP was a loser. In fact, mixing Armor and DP was for suckers. Now, most off the Herd warriors did, in fact, mix Armor and DP if they had armor. A few had nothing but DP and they were getting slaughtered.

So we hit on a plan: if you had NO ARMOR (and no force field) you could get DP at 4:1. It seemed rational--after all, we didn't want the pure DP guys to get slaughtered and at 4:1 they were okay--reasonable. Of course the mixed guys still got the 2.5 DP for 1 AP and still got the shaft.

But I wasn't too concerned: for one thing, I considered the Herd Builds (about 2/3rds Def, 1/3rd offense) to be overly conservative. If they lost more than the more "character like" test characters I could look past that. Secondly, a lot of our combined builds (size, the GATs, etc.) were doing okay and while we didn't "price out" the DP exactly (we just tested the gestalt of powers and factored it for 50-60% chance of victory) the numbers seemed more or less in line with what I expected (that is: Fast Company power-sets didn't wind up with "half their points spent on DP" or anything weird like that).

But I was, still, worried. I just wasn't real clear on what to do.

Then It Hit Me
When I was testing the Resisted Attack powers the number of DP the target has is crucial to how well it can resist the effect. Our herd characters all had extra DP and our test characters? Two of them had no extra DP--the All Force Field and All Armor guys--and you know what? They did suffer for it when the guys with Resisted Attacks fought each other--but for builds where the designer had spent a lot on DP? The Herd was pretty vulnerable to those attacks (but not the 4:1 Full DP guys--they were largely immune).

If I were a PC who spent my valuable Archetype Points on DP and I got hit by a stun beam ... and I didn't have enough to really make a difference? I'd be pissed.

The Spreadsheet
Having spreadsheets is something that the 14-year-old game designer in me would've loved. With some modifications I was able to do testing for each of the three DP like things (DP, Ablative DP, and Power Field). My conclusions?

The balance point--where both the Herds and the Test characters get a multiplier? It's around like this:
  • DP: 4 DP for 1 AP
  • ADP: 6 ADP for 1 AP
  • Power Field: 5 PF for 1 AP
This is significantly higher than we were doing it at. What's more--using these numbers? It brought down the win-percentage for the test characters from around 60% down to ... around 50%. Much better!

But Then There's The Other Thing
So I made the changes to the herds and said "According to this I should vend DP, ADP, and PF much more cheaply than I have been. Furthermore: attack-values (nicely) stay the same since they were factored for a 60% POV and now they "just" win at 50% for a balanced attacker.

So win-win.

But there was a possible issue: what if the GATs (which were done at different times) got put out of alignment? The Generic Archetype Abilities are now the foundation for JAGS Archetypes and if they were out of balance (if their DP allotments were too low) then I had a lot of re-testing to do. A horrible amount.

So I took the 32 AP Herd (that's "four GAT levels") and threw random mixes of GATs at them. Here are the results:

The average POV for various versions of Built and defenses? 47%

A few other random choices (including 4x Hard-Style Martial Arts): a perfect 50%

And one of each of the attacks with some of the specifics? Other than Power Field and Sword kind of sucking? A 47% POV for the group of 4 is almost exactly where I'd want it.

It was also nice to see that these combinations were pretty darn balanced. I wasn't trying to pick good ones or bad ones--I was just trying to mix attacks and defenses in what I thought were reasonable ratios.

So that's were we are right now.


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!!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The GC Complex Game

I'll take a moment to talk about the long-running Have-Not game that we're playing right now. In many ways it's quite a departure from what we normally play and is, in many ways, facilitated by the advances in the JAGS system.

JAGS Have-Not is our over-the-top post-apocalypse world-book that won an Indie RPG award in 2003 (I think ...). It is our homage to Gamma World, Morrow Project, Apocalypse, and everything else we played that took place After the Bomb (including After The Bomb). The game is more or less "set" in the wastelands of a far future civilization where humanity split into two groups: the Haves who were intellectually augmented and lived in great glowing domes and everyone else who lived lives of consumer paradise in sprawling mega-cities. All their goods were created by fabrication plants which did all the construction labor.

When, one day, the domes "went dark" civilization collapsed and a century or more later the world is a wasteland of inscrutable artifacts, bizarre machines, and varying levels of technology all mashed together.

The GC Complex
The game we are playing takes place in "the Great Pacific Desert" (the Pacific Ocean is missing--in a bizarre coincidence a map showing a hypothetical view of what 'the earth would look like if it stopped spinning' appeared with a desert where the Pacific Ocean is ... so maybe that's what happened? Who knows?). We live on a massive Texas+ sized mesa which is the known world.

It is ruled over by an autocratic overlord who raises children to become his personal guard and lives in a palace where he keeps the royal families in line.

Beneath ... everyone ... is "the complex" innumerable levels of corridors, traps, robots, biologicals, and ... treasures. If you venture down in you can come back with all sorts of things ... proton rifles, power armor ... better bullets ... whatever. It makes no sense--the "Complex" is run by a "computer" that seems determined to kill people but some of the levels are empty. Some are instantly deadly--and so on.

The complex is so big--thousands of miles and stretching who knows how far down into the earth's crust--that it can contain anything.

Our Characters
We attend a school to become the emperor's guard. We are members of a fire-team--a group of students that train and then descend into the complex to become "forged" (the same way you might forge steel). We have varying degrees of loyalty to the regime but to move above our birth-station the complex and its challenges provide the only way. About 1/3rd of the Fire Teams will die. More than that died on "initiation" when we were, after a few years of training, strapped in a chair and injected with needles and machines taken from the complex in a ritual that we've never really understood.

How the Game is Set Up
The idea for the game came about from our determination that, using the simulator, we could play something a lot like a Massive Multiplayer game with levels, interlocking treasure, new abilities (and stacking of them), and so on. We believe we can get things so balanced that we can play "against" the system.

We were also interested in doing something "dungeon like" (the GC Complex is a mega-dungeon) but also having actual characters and development and arcs. We could do the latter part with almost any game--but getting the former nailed precisely was going to be very hard.

We refer to our characters as "toons" in deference to World-of-Warcraft speech.

How We Play
We play over Skype since the players are located all over the place (in some cases in different states). Here's how we do it:

  1. We use Skype--it works decently well most of the time in conference mode. We do not use video cameras since Skype did not support multiple video conferences when we started playing. 
  2. We use the JAGS Online Dice Roller which is free and runs from a server in my office. It was written by Jeff and runs on a dedicated Linux box. Right now--at the time of this writing--it isn't up (likely because I am not traveling and the IP address which is dynamic has moved). It's up most of the time though and it's invaluable. It handles initiative and dice-rolling "on the table" where we can call see it.
  3. We use Google Documents Drawing for maps. We made little icons for ourselves and the GM draws the map and we move our guys around. It isn't perfectly structured for battle-space with grids and the like but it does give us a good visual feel for going into a dungeon and looking around. We tried a lot of online mapping programs and such until defaulting to this. It's quite good--it just needs the Union operator for shapes. Maybe in a future release.
  4. The GM uses a variety of visuals (some of which I'll share here when I have the time) and audio clues such as using a text-to-voice program to play an eerie, electronic female voice saying "Welcome Intruders" and things like that when we go in.
The Levels System
Part of the joy of World of Warcraft (or AD&D for that matter) is "leveling up"--hitting a breakpoint in play where you get to add new abilities. Another part that's enjoyable about those games is finding gear! Especially in modern times when gear often builds on itself (so you can find the necklace of the Phoenix, a ring of the Phoenix, and when you find the head-band of the Phoenix you get some extra-special power). In order to do this in JAGS we needed (a) to have a level system and (b) to figure out how it worked with gear.

Here's how we did it:
  1. All characters choose a "class." In this game you could be Sword, Gun, or Hand-to-Hand ("battle monk" also "mutant"). This determined, for each level, how many AP you got to spend from the book and how much was 'expected' to come from gear that was found, looted, purchased, etc.
  2. Each "level" is 8 AP worth (total) and (for now) we get one level for "clearing" a dungeon level.
  3. When we go up in level, based on our Class we get some AP to buy Generic Archetype Abilities with (GATs) and our "expected level of gear goes up."
  4. Gear is noted as Wield (weapons or other equipment) and Wear (armor). At the start of the game the Gun and Sword classes have 4 AP Wield (a 9mm or broadsword) and 4 AP of Wear (the armored school uniform that looks a bit like a black kung fu outfit). Hand to hand characters are, I think, 8 AP GAT, 0 Wield (forbidden from using weapons), 0 AP Wear (forbidden from wearing armor)--however, at later levels they pick up some expected APs of Wield and Wear.
  5. Starting characters are Level 0: 8 AP, 50 CP. This means:
    1. If you are a Sword or Gun guy you get no Archetype abilities. Just 50 CP, your issued gun or sword and your issued armor.
    2. If you are a monk, though, you get 50 CP and 8 AP to spend on GATs or mutant abilities or whatever. This can be split between attacks and defenses as you wish.
  6. During play you can exceed what you are expected to have by finding treasure. If you find a 10 AP gun on the the first level of the dungeon you can still wield it--you are just 6 AP above your "expected level" and that's okay (note: the dungeons are tailored so that you probably won't find a 10 AP gun on the first level--but as there is a random element it could happen). However, notably, I lied up above: Gun/Sword characters start with 3 AP worth of armor, not 4. They are below their listed Wear. That's okay too--you are not guaranteed to find stuff that keeps you at your level either (although the dungeons are, again, tailored so that it's likely you'll find at-level stuff).
  7. On the other hand a Monk will always be exactly at level (save for the few APs kept aside for gear that monks can use). They also get to choose what they want to have rather than having to find it.
  8. When you go up a level you get "8 more AP." For Sword/Gun guys it comes in as 4 AP to be spent on the character and +2 AP Wield, +2 AP Wear. So a Level 1 character at "16 AP" has 4 spent on their character sheet and is "expected" to be carrying 12 AP worth of gear ... more or less.
This means you can take a chance going deeper into a dungeon than you might wish to in order to bring back a heavier haul. It also means you may not hit everything on a level so someone could come out (a little) under powered. Or get lucky and be more powerful ... or play a monk and not take the risk.

Some Notes About Why We Like This
I'm not going to go into the actual play in this post although I'll talk about it more later. I want to discuss what we like about this kind of thing.

The last game we played online had us being cybernetic federal marshals who were trying to keep order in a world that was about experience ... or maybe was experiencing 'the singularity.' It was an awesome game with a lot of depth and characterization and strong themes and an apocalyptic flavor to it. It was by turns investigative and action-hero-y.

So we like that sort of thing.

This is about 180-degrees different in a lot of ways. There is stuff going on with our characters "above ground" but there's a lot of emphasis on going into the dungeons and leveling up. To be players in the world we need to be powerful and that means risking death down below. We refer to our characters (out of the game) as "toons" even though in the game we are cognizant of their emotional states and so on. In the next-to-most-recent play session our characters were faced with the prospect of selling out our other classmates for our own gain: something we had to grapple with.

However, there's something hard to define that's undeniably cool (for us, anyway) about blazing through a dungeon, leveling up, building a character--trying to make the most kick-ass choice as to how to stack treasure and how to spend APs. I'm reminded of various work-out supplements that I've taken where the person is supposed to determine how best to stack their amino acids and proteins and metabolic boosters and whatever to try to build the ultimate set of enhancers (I think it's really all just caffeine under the hood ...)--I believe a lot of people really like this stuff and it takes a very carefully balanced system to deliver it (without a computer ... and, well, even then--they're always realigning something, aren't they?).

The dungeons themselves are cool as well. They're surreal: some doors have a LOCKED/UNLOCKED light ... and a TRAP light (if lit, the door has a trap on it--and it seems to be accurate). The mazes remind me of the Cube movies with arbitrary death and a sort of "the world is trying to kill you" vibe. 

Playing D&D with firearms and mutant powers also works well. "Magic items" (such as 'ring tones' you can pick up that act as Power Fields that go up when you play the ring-tone (for real) on your iPhone are as funny as a portable hole. We're also learning some stuff about how skills work and ought to work.

For example, our current plan is that if you say you are looking for traps your roll may be better than if you just make a traps roll to "detect and disarm." So going around "looking" for traps lets you see them. You can then try to disarm them or bypass them with roleplaying if you can think of a way. You can also roll to disarm them. This is a good play experience and we are thinking about how to generalize it as a rule for the game (perhaps an optional one).

We're learning about how we, the players, think about Success Points (in the game SPs can be found as glowing coins). How we horde them or spend them and the like.

So it's valuable.