Tuesday, August 30, 2011

I don't have a character sheet handy--but would this work? Output from the character creator (beta)

Character Name: Talon
CP Cost: 66.0 AP Cost: 19.68 Total AP: 40.0
Eye Color: Brown Hair Color: Black
Armor: 0/0
Armor: Cv4 4/10
Armor: Cv8 6/15
ADP: 4
Power Field: 5
Normal: 0Sub-Minor: 1
Minor: 7
Major: 21
Critical: 42
Hurt: 7
Sub-Minor: n/a
Minor: 1
Major: 21
Critical 42
Injured: 21
Sub-Minor: n/a
Minor: n/a
Major: 7
Critical 21
Critical: 42
Sub-Minor: n/a
Minor: n/a
Major: 1
Critical 21
Damage Points21
Base Damage1
Offensive Grapple15
Defensive Grapple13
Ground Move4/5/7
Natural FighterL11792
Perceptive/Keen SensesL11801
Light / ShortL12360
Special StatusOrphan182-2
Fire Arms314-8.0
Security Systems213-2.0
Strategy and Tactics212-1.0
Expertise +2+2 with any combat skill, +2 Init1NA7
Round 2, Fight!Major Heal 1x per Fight1NA5
GunslingerL1 - +3 Gun damage, +4 ADP per level1NA4
Dead-Eye RNG-PENPEN +3 / level, 1xROF1NA3
Soak DP [1 AP]+4 DP Per Level1NA1
Strike NameTypeREARollDamageNotes
Acrobatic DodgeDODGE513-NA
Acrobatic StandSTAND013-NA
Double TapSHOOT513-10 PENETRATINGFire 2 shots at the same target; -1 skill roll
Flame GunSHOOT514-23 IMPACTFlame Gun, BURN on HB 4+
Ground FightingGROUND0NANA
Quick DrawREADY014-NADraw weapon for 0 REA with a skill roll
Shotgun-No-PENSHOOT514-16 IMPACTShotgun-No PEN
Shotgun-NormSHOOT514-16 PENETRATINGShotgun-PEN
Weapon Name0-12-34-56-78-910-111213-141516-1718-2021-2526-2930+
Dmg Multiplier1pt.1x.25x.33x.5x-3-2-11x+1+2+31.5x1.75x2x
Flame Gun1pt2571120212223252729344046
Weapon Name0-12-34-567-89-101112-131415-1617-1819-2526-3031-3536-3940+
Dmg Multiplier1pt.
Double Tap1pt1235789101112132025304080
Ring Tone (Marimba)5pt Power Field1NA0
Academy VestCoverage 4 4 / 101NA0
T-Ball UniformCoverage 8 6 / 15 Armor1NA0
WeaponDamageRange / ReachNotes
Wasteland Shotgun13 PENETRATING-1/5
9mm Handgun + HEX7 PENETRATING-1/5
Golem Rounds7 PENETRATING-1/5
Flame Gun23 IMPACT-1/5
Born on the day of a great sandstorm, parents killed by high-altitude ghost bomberThe Grim Reaper
Detector Brassard
Basic First Aid
Anti-venom neutral
Anti-Venom natural
Upper Injector
2-way radio
Light stick
Tac Flashlight
Climbing Rope
Rubber ball
Personal auto-nav
HR Giger Gas Mask
Ace of Swords card

Some stuff to figure out

I got back from a heavy-duty week of travel for work and had nothing done on JAGS. Even back at the hotel I was exhausted. I'm now starting to recoop and figure out what to tackle next. Here are the issues:

  1. Combat Buffs - GATs. I can add the GATs that buff certain things (extra Init for your side, extra CON rolls, lend ADP, stuff like that). One of the things I need to do, though, is figure out how these work both at the meta-game level ("you get extra ADP, son--don't ask") and the in-game reality ("you're hit--but the commander's morale keeps you going!" "But I hate him!"). This isn't a big deal--we even say there are differing levels of meta-game so it's not absurd for different groups to handle it differently ... but still. There's also the question of cost (if +1 Initiative for your character is worth about 1 AP, what is +1 for the whole team? 2 AP? 3 AP?).
  2. Success Point Pools For Combat: These also have a meta-question: what are they? Are they chi power? Are they "combat stance" (and if so, why can't you replenish them by regaining your footing?) Are they "just luck"? There are several different kinds ... but still.
  3. Add-On-Powers. This is the real question. Suppose I have an attack that's hard to block. One of the things we want to give Boss-type characters is one or two un-blockable attacks each Round. Yes: these are expensive (probably) but when doing 2 or 3 on one it makes sense for the guy taking the incoming attacks to block a lot (especially if he has a good block) and the other two or three characters to wail on the single target. This can be mitigated if a few of those shots from the Boss character are a lot harder to block.

So Here's The Question
My current thinking is this: I can calculate exactly, in the simulator, how much "hard to block super strength" is worth. But it's hard to calculate "how much ANY ATTACK that's hard to block is worth." I mean, I can get close and do estimates--and the answer is a decimal multiplier. If your attack did 13 PEN damage before it was hard to block, it now ought to do 11 PEN for the same points (or so).

That's okay: if it's right, it's right. I can sell the attacks like that in the book ("Hard to block strength, hard to block sword, etc.) but that doesn't really work too well since there are like 100+ attacks and combinations (charge-up Chi Strength + Armor Piercing Claws ... which are poisoned!--do I do that combo with Hard-to-Block? No.)

So what I'd come up with was this: you pay an extra 'tax'--buy an enhancement--based on the A-Cost of the attack group (the cost of your STR + Claws + Poison). That's great--except: it involves fractional AP's. Instead of the damage going from, say 13 to 11 the cost goes from 8 AP to 9.4 AP. Now, sure: you round normally (you do with damage anyway) so it's 9 AP--but we usually don't ever deal with fractional APs.

Worse: these sorts of things (hard to block, adding, say, automatically-hits or 'does 1pt of damage EVEN IF blocked, or Armor Piercing) aren't back-of-the-book type super-secret advanced rules. They're just Generic Archetype Abilities that happen to be really good for boss-type characters (but anyone can buy them, of course).

Are we going to force our players to do fractional math? 

I think the answer is YES.

But I'm not too happy about that.

Also: in the Big List of Attacks (not to mention the big list of bio-weapons ... and so on) there are lots of things that work the same way: you take an attack (PEN damage, Medium Reach) and then put all kinds of modifiers on it: +1 Back Swing REA cost, can be used to Grapple and Worry, Etc. and that's called a Pincer Bio-weapon. We don't have you "buy a 'sword' and then do all that math yourself. We've done it for you and wrapped it into the cost.

We're nice that way, eh?

So when I get to the actual back of the book for the complex rules for power customization do I do this the way we did it? Give you decimal multipliers or dividers for the damage itself? Or do we do it the way things like Hard-to-Block will likely work? Dividers or multipliers for the cost?

The good part about doing it for the cost is that it's conceptually like saying "you want your antlers to be armor-piercing antelopium alloy? Fine--pay 8 AP for antlers and then another 2 AP for adding the Armor Piercing to them. That's easy to grasp conceptually even if the math uses decimals. Also: you pay it against the full A-Cost of the group of attacks.

If you go the other way you need to adjust not only the cost of the antlers but also the cost of any super strength of special extra AP-based "martial art" type damage or whatever. That is more complex.

So I'm leaning towards doing what was suggested (even though I initially was biased against it) and listing these power-modifications as extra costs with decimal modifiers for the A-Cost. Which ... is ... kinda complex.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011


What's Going On Now?
I have finished the GAT section of the book for the "Basic Combat GATs." This is the Word document that will be converted to InDesign. I'll post it after a little more polishing (who knows what Blogger will do with it) but it's no small accomplishment (says I).

For one thing, I have gotten far more serious about doing initial formatting in Word. I was doing all the heavy lifting in InDesign but as InDeisgn is so bad for editing the result was that I'd write and edit in Word, move to InDesign, re-do everything, and then have a book that was pretty much un-edited by the time we were publishing it. Although the books look decent (says I). So, there's that.

Now I have done some of the layout (Table color, getting things into two columns and figuring that out up front, and some decisions about font-size) in Word and I'm hoping it'll import nicely to InDesign. If not? I'll get my for-real editor buddy to take a hack at it.

But what I've also done that I'm proud of is really improved the thinking about organization and presentation. The JArch1.7 document isn't as bad as it maybe could be--but although I'd worked my ass off on it, going back through it, it just isn't even close to what it needs to be.

This cut of the rules is, I think, much, much closer to my ideal. Things are explained up front. There is far stronger "connective tissue" around many of the areas that need it, and I've included sections like "this is the various kinds of bonuses you could get actually mean" before listing them. Stuff like that.

It's much stronger--and for an effort this complex, it has to be.

What About Buffs?
Buffs are (combat) bonuses that one character gives another. In MMOs it's like the "healer" character who repairs other's damage but sure isn't a front-line fighter. In D&D 4ed some characters could grant special movement powers and such to others. When done well it creates the third part of the triangle (Tank-DPS-??) that is part of the basic strategy of integrated-combat-team thinking (Note: I'm not the expert on this--and there are other key roles as well--but the point is that people like Buff characters and they can play a good role in "team-style" games).

How Are Buffs Used In JAGS?
This is the big question. We've identified a category of game we're calling the "Adventure Game" which is a D&D/World of Warcraft style play where we presume the PCs are balanced, each has a role to play, and they are aggressively hunting treasure and getting in fights. Everything is carefully tracked and balanced so a PC team has a certain defined strength and they should face adversaries keyed to that level (and get appropriate treasure).

This is a lot of work for the GM--but we're doing it right now and it's a blast (the "Holy Grail" of this, for me, is to combine that sort of play with characters and dramatic situations I, the player, care about so I can get sort of a "double hit" of enjoyment from doing old-school dungeon-crawls and having a rich enough system to support a lot of non-combat stuff too. Honestly D&D 3rd does this, IMO, pretty well too. GURPS: not so much).

We "have" Buffs in that game but no one took them--and they weren't "modernized" (we are playing "above" the published JArch 1.7 so the stuff in there would be suspect).

So what do I think they 'should' do?

In The Book ...
In the book buffs do things like "add to your side's Init" or damage, or CON rolls, or some of both. In the near future they will have Success Point Pools that will be lent as well. This sort of thing raises three questions:

  1. How much more is +1 Initiative (or +2 CON or +1 Base Damage) worth when you can use it for yourself or lend it to someone? Clearly "a little bit more" than if it's just you--but how much? This is one of the things the Simulator is bad at answering because the initial set-up conditions are what determine the answer (we know how much +1 Init or +2 CON or +1 Base Damage is worth by themselves).
  2. What is the "role" of Buff-characters across the board? In Adventure Games or elsewhere?
  3. Mathematically it is proper to only take the highest positive modifier for a roll-enhancer (If I have Cyber-Heart for +2 CON and someone gives me a +1 CON Buff, it should have no-effect rather than giving me +3 CON). This, however, is boring--so we have to choose between letting it happen and risking characters doing extreme things (+8 CON! I'm INVINCIBLE) or forcing the Buff character to face that their bonuses may not work for all PCs (but we can give them some options, right? And Success Points are always welcome!)
The second question hinges on whether we want groups to "Really want" Buff characters or not. In D&D4th Ed you really wanted Area of Effect characters because of Minions. Minions were foes that did a lot of damage but had just 1 Hit Point--so if you were facing a lot of them (and you would be) you'd need to get rid of them quickly. With one-attack-at-a-time that was slow and dangerous. With an AoE guy, though, "Poof!" (literally: that guy was probably a wizard).

This is a different tactical question but the point remains: should we factor difficulty levels so that we expect individuals to have Buffs or not? If we do we ensure the role is always well received and that a person who wants to do that always has a space to play in.

If we don't we run the risk that these are either "too good" when someone stocks up on them or else that you don't really need them and that role is extraneous.

I Think ...
I think right now that having several Buff-powers in the rules is a good idea and we should sort of meet the above question half-way. Being able to lend value to people should be relatively cheap for things that get expended quickly and should have some substantial expense where it's a constant positive modifier. I'd also like to see if we can, in our current game, figure out what would happen if we added a 5th character with Buff-style stuff to our group: how much would that enhance us vs. adding another "fighter type."


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

What About Morrow Project?

I'm Still Formatting GATs
The list of GATs we currently have (combat GATs) isn't bad. But there are some GATs that aren't in there that do need to be added. And figured out. Right now the two that are top-of-mind fall into the "Boss" category (i.e. Things you would give a "boss" character--but might give anyone). They are:

  • SP Pools--especially Defensive ones. You don't want someone who "fights the whole party" to have a ton of armor because some character will never be able to hurt them. You want staying power that gets worn down (ideally in a satisfying manner). ADP does that. So can Defensive SPs. If the character has a lot of Blocks and has a battery of SPs that ensure they can always make them until the SPs run out, the PCs will have to batter down their defenses. There's some additional stuff here--but that's all for now.
  • Can't Be Blocked (or hard to block). The question here is "how do you buy a hard-to-block modifier for another attack?" Sure, I can test--and then sell--an "unblockable punch" (or whatever) but I want to know how to give the Black Knight one un-blockable sword-smash each Round--not to have every sword swing be unblockable. There are a few ways to approach this question and we're looking at several. The other wrinkle here is that in the Simulator, the characters don't rely on their blocks but a PC very well could. When teaming up against a boss, the PCs usually have far, far more REA to burn (and, likely, far more incoming attacks) so if the boss gets a few shots a round the GM may want to make them hard to block since in JAGS it's easy for one character to, when targeted, just "fight defensive" and let their team-mates pick up the slack.
Let's Do Morrow Project
For those you who don't know, Morrow Project might be the best Post Apocalyptic game ever produced (well, my opinion). It was a brilliant rules-set with damage for guns being based on an E-Factor derived from real ballistics, instant-kill tables based on hit-location and medical records, rules for dropping a nuclear bomb on your town and figuring out what would happen, and weapon-ized hyper-cool vehicles from Damnation Alley. Your characters were modern-day guys who were frozen by a guy named Morrow to survive and rebuild after the coming nuclear war. They woke up not 10 years after but like 150 and have all kinds of cool gear in a ruined/feudal landscape.

Oh, and it's mutation table list? :: Roll :: :: Roll :: Leukemia. In Morrow Project you didn't get two heads, you got real genetic defects.

Morrow Project was hard core and it impressed the hell out of us.

So Thomas wants to run a MP game--what is being done with gear. Let's take a more technical look at what our guidance is.

The Answer Up Front
The answer [based on assumptions I will spell out below] is: no PCs pay APs for any of their gear. The PCs probably have very little by way of APs in general (4 or 8 APs, with maybe 75 CPs) and will be expected to buy innate abilities with their APs.

How Did I Come Up With That?
Let's look. Before we do, though, note that I am basing my ruling on (A) what I remember of Morrow Project (I don't have the book here) and (B) what I assume about Thomas' "Morrow Project Game." So that could well change.

The Character's CP/AP Totals
I came up with the character's totals based on the idea that the game is supposed to be gritty, "realistic," and the PCs are supposed to be bad-asses but not necessarily Navy Seal caliber (which would be about 100 to even 150 CP). 

Limiting the PCs to 4 or 8 APs means that some might be big and tough but they won't be bullet-proof or bullet-dodging action heroes. They can have things like Instincts or unusually good senses or the like (not super-senses though--just good ones) but will still be recognizably human.

Why You Don't Pay For Gear?
First Point: Well, Yes: There Will Be Treasure. It is pretty certain that the PCs will "find treasure" meaning that the post-apocalyptic landscape does have things like ultra-tech laying around (after being frozen a lot of time passed, apparently). There are robots, lasers, and maybe some other stuff--but it isn't Gamma World. So the presence of "things you might want to find being out there" is noted--but as we'll see, it's not the key issue.

Second Point: The Spirit Of the Game is Not an MMO/D&D. The PCs are not "treasure hunters." They won't be acting as an "adventuring team" and in the Morrow Project world characters don't "level up." They don't "start with pistols but then find machine guns and later ray-blasters." There aren't "Tanks and Blasters and Buff-characters."

In Morrow Project you don't change dramatically in power as you adventure. You don't level-up and "Gain new special abilities" (your skills may improve--you might find a better weapon ... but most likely what you start with is pretty damn good).

As the game is not what we are calling an "Adventure Game" but is a more ... hmm ... I'm not sure what word to use that isn't otherwise loaded--but let's call it a 'narrative game' where the interest is not on finding treasure and leveling up but playing the characters, problem solving, and whatever imaginary action is going on rather than having a significant part of the focus on game-mechanics interaction--this means that we are not likely to use Classes.

Remember that Classes are an option you can invoke when doing D&D-style games that give some PCs more APs for innate abilities and have other PCs with fewer--but they are expect to find and use certain amounts of treasure (which are also tracked by AP-value and should be "level appropriate."

In Morrow Project there are no "Level 10 Ruins" or "Level 3 Mutant Towns." There are just "Ruins" and "Towns with people with facial cancers."

So the whole Level's thing and Adventure game thing is out the window. It wouldn't make sense with small numbers of APs anyway.

Third Point: Gear Is Issued, PCs are Not Defined "By Their Gear". One of our heuristics is "Did the PCs get assigned gear? Or is it, like, an intrinsic part of their character?" Is the PC's gear unique? You could argue that the sniper has a different weapon than the assault crew (long range rifle vs. high rate of fire SMG) and that's true as far as it goes--but none of these pieces of gear as seen as unique (it isn't a custom rifle that no one else in the world has). Having two characters with the same load-out in a Morrow Project game isn't a problem--in fact, it's kinda expected.

Since gear is issued by the Project, although the PCs might get some choices (which gun of these three? Armor or not? Do you pack extra ammo or extra medical gear? Etc.) it is unlikely to be paid for by AP. 

Some More Concrete Points Of Discussion
The reason to have PCs pay Archetype Points for gear is essentially because of Game Balance. Imagine we are playing super heroes where APs can only buy innate abilities at a power-level where a sniper rifle can kill a super character (Watchmen). If one player makes The Purple Dragon--a super marital arts guy and the other player makes The Commando who spends almost as many points on combat skills as The Purple Dragon but then takes body armor, carries an assault rifle, and uses grenades, The Purple Dragon may find himself following around picking up shell casings as the Commando, who is almost as good in a fight (save for a few points spent on Firearms skill and Thrown Weapon: Grenade) has all kinds of extra fire-power and defenses that didn't come from innate abilities.

In short, if you "add up" the combat stats of the characters both the Dragon and the Commando are equal and then you add on the the Commando's gear and he's way more.

Now, imagine you are playing a modern-day police drama (or Morrow Project): one character may have a shotgun and hit harder than the guy with the heavy pistol--but since the guys they are fighting are usually more-or-less normal and unarmored it doesn't mechanically matter much. Even more-so: the genre of the fiction doesn't call for these guys to be "equals" and, probably, much of the action never involves firing a weapon anyway. 

In the Adventure (D&D/MMO) game we want there to be a distinction between party-roles and we want to carefully track what is found and how good it is. In Morrow Project or a police drama there is no such focus. The cops will "find weapons" but they'll be evidence--not something they pick up and use.

In Morrow Project, again, the focus isn't primarily on "balance" but on other things (the imaginary fiction of the story) so we don't need to track how good each character is and restrict their gear.

How Absolutely Sure Am I About This?
Could there be problems with my approach to the game? Do I think my analysis is 100% accurate? I think my reasoning is pretty tight--if I were running a Morrow Project game I wouldn't charge for gear. It's possible that one character might make a Level 4 assault-rifle wizard and dominate all the combat sequences to the annoyance of the other players who didn't sink as much into combat as the first person did. There are other ways to resolve that though than paying APs for the weapon.

Basically: this game has none of the signifiers that would make me thing I ought to be charging for gear so I'm pretty sure I can stand by my analysis.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Quick Note On Gear ...

What I Am Doing Right Now
I have sent drafts of an almost-complete Chapter 1 to several other people to read and review (not exactly "edit" but at least look over). I am working on the MS Word version of the GATs chapter. It's coming together pretty well.

What Else?
Growing up we played a lot of Champions. In 1983 we got AutoDuel Champions which was, to be frank, a pretty damn weird game. It was a mix of the Champions rules and the Car Wars world or, erm, something. Anyway: you used Champions-like "normal guys"? And played with armed and armored cars and could use the CarWars tiles.

It was a lot to swallow--but it started something very key: it started us playing normal-type guys in Champions. The system wasn't really good for this ... and the games were weird: I recall us driving weaponized cars in modern day out in the desert as some kind of A-Team like road-warrior crew involved with a phantasmagoric government research project gone wrong. This was like our freshman year of high school and it was weird. But anyway.

When Danger International came out it did things with the Champions system and modern-day mercenaries, spies, and private--and so on--much better. It had rules for all kinds of guns, had marital arts that were colorful and not just a damage modifier, and still used the full richness of the system.

This is what defined my thinking about gear: in Champions, you paid for all your gear with character points.

In Danger International, you bought gear with in-game money.

If the question was asked: do we pay for gear? The answer was: "Are we playing DI or Champions?" Frequently it was, like, a mix--and we defaulted to DI: we didn't pay for gear--but most gear was subordinate to super powers anyway so that wasn't a big deal.

Then we moved to GURPS.

In GURPS the question was much harder because there was no way to "stat out" most gear. Oh, you kinda could. They had rules for blasters and stuff--but in the end you just kinda declared something to be "gear" and that was that. Worse: in GURPS weapons often did as much or more damage than super powers (and no one could really take a hit in GURPS 3rd to begin with) and so we were kinda at a loss when it came to making these decisions.

I want to stop for a moment and talk about DC Supers for a second. I remember that set of rules trying to stat out a spoon. I'm intrigued to this day by a rules-set that could stat out a spoon ... the DC Supers game didn't, frankly, do a very good job of it. I think it's more telling that, at a certain point in the inimitable Ambush Bug adventure module, the PCs have to build a Time Machine.

The GM reads them a massive wall of text about how to use the DC gear system to create this thing. It's so complex that even being told exactly how to do it the characters are far more likely to sell magazines door-to-door to get "points" to cash in for a time machine than be able to navigate the rules (the module authors note that with Batman's charisma he can sell all the magazine subscriptions he needs to with one roll).

My point is that gear rules aren't simple and you can easily go wrong with them. Decisions about what you pay for and when are non-trivial. In DC Superheroes, even if you could determine the cost of a spoon would anyone expect me to pay for one? Can I, the real Marco Chacon, go through my silverware drawer and find enough cutlery to trade in for bullet-proof skin?

I doubt it.

So What Are We Doing?
Well, we have a smallish set of revelations on this point. The first is that JAGS is supposed to sit in the space created by the Champions, Danger International, and GURPS "triangle." You should be able to play normal people who have either exotic gear, paranormal abilities, both, or neither. If you do have gear it should conform reasonably well to real-world expectations (so assault rifles are super deadly to normal people, unlike in Champions) and you should be able to play games where you do pay for gear--but also play games where you don't.

How are we going to do that?

For starters, we recognize the difference. It's a heuristic that games where you could attach the world "super" as an adjective require you to pay for important gear. Super heroes and super spies will often pay for gear they use.

Secondly, as a heuristic, games where PCs are assigned gear (police, military, etc.) usually don't require payment.

Thirdly, in a specific type of game we are currently calling Adventure Games which are MMO/Dungeons-and-Dragons style games where the PCs level up, find and use treasure, and just might buy some if they are rich enough, we will track APs in gear but PCs will have to choose between being the 'Class' of characters who use what they find (and therefore have fewer points to spend on innate abilities) or the 'Class' of characters who are all or almost-all innate abilities and therefore don't use found gear (or are very limited in what they can use).

Finally, we recognize there's another mode where you get almost everything for free but then are expected to pay APs if you exceed the mundane. If you want a super-car that costs some AP. If you want a 1995 Buick that's free (in terms of APs, anyway).

Codifying this thinking is complex, but, we think can lead to some clarity of thought around types of play we found very enjoyable and, we think, more or less developed organically.


Friday, August 5, 2011

Armor Being Sold For CPs?

There are going to be two basic "types" of Armor listings in the Powers section of the book: standard pay-by-level armors (which I've shown) and a list of one-offs armor (not sold in various levels) which will have a fixed cost. These latter will be listed for (a) simplicity (you pay 1 AP for "thick hides") and (b) will be sold with AP and CP costs meaning they are easily suitable for alien/fantasy races.

Let Me Talk About That For A Second
In general anything that is not a 'standard' 'human' ability requires APs. This isn't entirely hard and fast and in some cases could be philosophical (potentially real but very unusual abilities are sold with APs, some people may believe psychic powers are real, etc.) however, in general if you can fire plasma beams out of your eyes or have armored skin that's going to cost you APs.

This works because one of our learnings from a whole lot of playing Champions (and its children: Danger International and Fantasy Hero) and GURPS was that in games where you are often mixing normal people with paranormal abilities, dividing up points creates certain synergies.

For example, it doesn't "cheapen" extraordinary skills: if you have 600 points in GURPS with which to buy anything you want, being the world's best physicist is incredibly cheap. Now, maybe it should be--and that's a viable discussion (and, in fact, you can use GATs, Generic Archetype Traits, to do things like that) but it helps prevent people from being 'accidental ninjas' ("Hey, it was just cost-effective to have a super high DEX and SPD! My guy isn't supposed to be super fast--but what the heck!").

It also makes it easy to do things like distinguish super-powered Navy Seals from "Spy Kids" who might have some exceptional domains (hand to hand combat) but lack a full-spectrum of training. There's more to say here--but it's a complex issue and I want to focus on the Armor thing.

The Armor Thing
So why am I going to sell some kinds of Armor for CPs? The reason is that for making certain kinds of fantasy or alien races it's very, very handy to be able to charge things in CPs rather than APs. For example, if you are playing fairly low-level Fantasy and want to have the PCs start with 4 or even 0 APs, how does anyone play an elf? Elves live a long time, have (maybe) night vision, and so on?

One way is with the Class system I've described elsewhere: this would give some roles (classes) AP to use at the start of the game and others would be expected to have equipment to deal with it. This works for /role-in-the-party/ but it isn't good for "race" which is only part of that.

So we want to do something else. The solution is to have a section of abilities (Senses, some kinds of bio-mods like longevity, etc.) that are paid for with CP or AP. Thus, a selection of "light-weight" armors will fall into this category.

Another Armor Question
There's another armor question that I'm working on. There are two stats for Armor types that are not tracked by the simulator. These are:

  • Can you wear "normal" armor on top of it?
  • Is it visible (as armor)
The first is only meaningful in games where you can find or buy normal armor and would be expected to. Super hero games wouldn't count unless it was some kind of everyone-wears-kevlar super-agents game or something. 

For the second, it's a matter of surprise: if you appear totally human until someone takes a shot at you that's an advantage over appearing like an armored hulk (they'll shoot something heavier). Of course armor could be intimidating ... so ...

Basically neither of these are currently being factored into price but I think they could be to the tune of +1 or +2 ADP or DP (something minor) but I haven't decided yet.


Thursday, August 4, 2011

What Color is Neutronium?

Here is the current list of "unusual armors"

There's some stuff in there that's not too exciting (Bullet Proof Skin: less armor, more PEN Resistance) and there's a few things that are "interesting" but not far off the mean (Steel Skin). There are some powers that have niche appeal (Power up FF and Power Up Armor that both cost you REA to run each Round).

And then we get to stuff like Atomic Fur, Razor Plates, and Neutronium Shell.

I think Neutronium Shell is a glowing black-green carapace that crackles with ultraviolet light. When hit and the damage penetrates the Force Field it strobes radiation in the direction of the attack! That's pretty unusual. Atomic Fur is some kind of mutant-wasteland neon-colored fur that can emit weird colored electricity when struck (it's a resisted attack). Razor Plates are dark metalic armor plates that have ultra-sharp edges that can slice up a hand-to-hand attacker.

These are all weird. I'd like more of them: not an infinite number, just a few more strange cool armor types that aren't easily assembled with the "Basic stuff."

Why? Well, (a) that's just how I roll, I guess, but (b) although these rules will be used for everythign from alien races to super heroes and the like I love the idea of a "roll on the mutant power table for some abilites." I think rolling Razor Plates or Atomic Fur would be a damn cool thing to get for your character.

What do I know :)


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

More about Transparency

What I Am Working On Right Now
I'm rationalizing the Powers armor list. It isn't that big but there will likely be some thought into how it is organized. I'll talk about that in a moment.

One note: I'd like to start cleaning up the web-site in conjunction with working on JAGS Revised Archetypes. One thing that has stopped me is lack of good web graphics collateral. I'm not sure where to find good, cheap web-style artists who can help me with (a) a revised logo and (b) some graphics of specific sizes and color content that will look good on the web. I realize I can do a lot of it myself (take a graphic, run some kind of "button-ize" filter, and then "save for web"). I'd rather have someone else do it for me.

Likewise, I'd like to update the logo but only have vague ideas about what to do with it. So that's holding me back.

You can see the original post here. Transparency is defined as sharing with the Players what the GM knows. Making all rolls "on the table" is an example of higher transparency. Keeping the effects of damage or how badly hurt an NPC is from the PCs (save for what the GM declares they can see) is an example of lower transparency.

We tend to favor higher transparency as a rule. Let's look at a specific example-case that makes it especially interesting.

Partial Coverage ADP
One rule that we're playing with right now is "partial coverage ablative damage points." In JAGS if a target has partial armor (like just a breast plate) it is assigned a 'coverage number'  (usually 3 or 4). If you hit by less than or equal to that amount you automatically go against the armor. If the roll to hit exceeds the coverage though, the attacker has a choice: apply the full amount you hit by to the armor and go against it or reduce the amount you hit by and hit around the armor, ignoring it.

Remeber: in JAGS, the more you make your to-hit roll by the more damage you tend to do. With penetrating weapons (like swords or bullets) this is even more dramatically the case.

Ablative Damage Points are a specific kind of defense: unlike "normal" Damage Points (DP) which everyone has, when you suffer ADP you don't ever have to make a wound effect roll (to see if you were Stunned, Dazed, knocked Unconscious, or worse). ADP, unlike armor, is reduced by every hit: if I started a Round with 20 ADP and got hit for 12 pts of damage, I finish the round with only 8 ADP remaining. If I then get hit for 10 damage, I'll lose all my remaining ADP and suffer 2 actual Damage Points worth of damage. ADP doesn't prevent "extremely high damage" from good hits with Penetration Damage attacks but it's a good way of having a character who can stand up to a lot of punishment even if they'll tend to drop more quickly once their ADP is gone (this is perfect, for example, for a lot of monsters or bosses).

When dealing with ADP with "partial coverage" it means that the ADP has a coverage number (let's say 4) and that if the attacker hits by 0-4, their blow is automatically applied to the ADP. If they hit by 5+, though, they can choose to hit around it.

The question is: what's the logic a Player (or the simulator) employs when deciding whether or not to hit around the ADP?

That depends on how much they know--far more than partial coverage Armor does. Here's why:

  1. ADP, unlike Armor doesn't prevent Penetration. When a PEN damage attack (like a sword) hits the target makes an Armor Save. If they succeed the damage is converted from dangerous PEN damage to far less dangerous Impact damage. Unless the attack totally eclipses the armor there is a pretty good chance of a save. With ADP,though, there isn't--so deciding whether to hit around it or not isn't such a no-brainer.
  2. If the attack will break through the ADP and do DP damage it may force a roll. Whether or not it forces a CON check to see if the target suffers debilitating wound effects will depend on how much damage you are doing, how tough the target is, how badly damaged they are, and whether or not the ADP will totally absorb the damage or not. This is a complex decision made harder if you don't know how much ADP the target has left.
  3. Good Hits with a PEN weapon tend to "double." If you hit by 4+ (A "good hit") with a PEN damage weapon your damage tends to be 2x the base damage of the weapon (a 9mm handgun has a base damage of 6--a "good shot with it" will tend to do about 12 points). If you "hit around" the ADP your attack will tend to hit by less than 4 (unless you hit very well, in which case you might otherwise see 3x or greater damage!) so it's a tough decision since the attack will likely Penetrate anyway.
So What Do You Know?
Usually in our games we don't tell the players exactly how many DP or how much ADP the target has (you can see it's badly damaged--but you may not get an exact count). On the other hamd, the simulator will 'know' so do we use that in the calculation?

Secondly, as some hits will probably hit around the ADP the target may have taken both DP and ADP damage while still having ADP left (if the ADP is standard it'll all be gone before the target takes 1pt of DP damage). In this case the questions will be things like "if I hit around, what are my chances of forcing a CON roll?" and "What are my chances of moving the target to a higher/worse condition category?" These are things the simulator can calculate exactly, a player might know to a degree, and an experienced player would probably have a better grasp of than an inexperienced player (based on what the target looks like, what the GM is like, etc.)

Do we make the simulator all-knowing? Canny? Random? What represents the true-value of partial coverage ADP?

Finally, there is a consideration that is even more complex: if you are fighting on a team your decision about what and how to attack can (and, in our experience, often is) based on what you know about your team-mates and the opposition--especially where they go in Initiative Order (it is more advantageous to attack enemies earlier in the order since if you can disable them, they can't attack and may give your peers a chance to attack rather than waste action points defending).

Whether to hit around ADP or not would count double here since ADP damage alone won't take anyone out--but if you hit around it and deal damage to DP you have at least a small chance of taking out any semi-reasonable target in one shot.

This, of course, gets even more complex when you add armor with partial coverage--but we're presently not trying to do that (the game will allow it--but I wouldn't go trying to write simulator logic for it).

It is Likely
It is likely that the 'correct' algorithm is something like "if the average hit around would force a CON roll but attacking the ADP would, on average, not, then hit around" but, as I've said, I don't know how likely the average player is to have the information to figure it (not to mention the ability: I don't want the cost to be based on your mathematical acumen).

The Question of Transparency
This brings us to the fundamental question about transparency: how would we recommend handling targets taking damage from a theoretical standpoint?

There is one example I'd like to look at since it's interesting: what would I do in a situation where a PC is encountering something unusual in the world and does damage to it. Imagine a mundane PC police officer who enters a building and comes face to face with a Chi fighter. He opens fire and hits twice--the Chi Fighter is either immune to bullets or otherwise highly resistant--but the character only sees a tattooed hugely built bare-chested man and the Player may have read the Chi rules but is unaware of the character's stats in the game.

What would we want the player/character to know?

Firstly I'd want to minimize the gap between Player and Character knowledge as much as possible. That's a personal preference but outside of serious "take me all the way out of the game" meta-gaming I don't have a particular soft-spot for watching people work on "not playing the knowledge." If the guy is literally immune to bullets I would tend towards saying that the bullets "seem to go right through him. He doesn't even blink."

If the guy is just hugely resistant to mundane damage (let's say Chi Fighters in this world have 100's of DP) then then I would want to describe the effects as minimal (blood like a pin-prick as the bullets seem to indent the skin but then fall away. He blinks--but that's it). Again: the idea is to impart information to the player and the PC that is in keeping with the game mechanics.

What if the situation is specific: the guy is immune to metal but not flesh or the night-stick? What if the immunity requires a "block" action to "absorb" the bullet's energy?" In these cases I see things as though it were in a movie: the director is spending money for the special effect so you'd want to show him sort of "catch the bullet" or maybe have the "metal pass through him as though he were a ghost to it."

But There's One Situation ...
However, the above being said, there's a situation where I would want to keep some information from the players: if the encounter was being played (by my side as the GM) as the initiation of a tension building scene where I wanted to imply there were bullet immune things but not spell out what they were or whether that was truly the case then I might employ less transparency.

I believe that would would be my right as the GM--up to and including: making rolls out of sight or forcing Perception checks to glean any information about the bullet impacts. I might, for example: not tell the Players what their negatives to hit were ("you see a silhouette on the fire-escape: either you take a super-quick shot or it's gone!"). I might even tell them, after the roll, that there was a negative that I'd applied due to the quickness of the shot.

This Is Outside The Rules
In JAGS there are no rules (currently) for mysterious negatives to hit. A Player will usually know if they hit or not--however, there is also no rule that says the GM must divulge all the modifiers to the Player. The book (so far as I know--and I wrote it but I don't remember every line) is silent on that. I think that's as it should be: ideally there is some good guidance and discussion on those points ... but failing that, I believe leaving it in the hands of the participants is the right way to go.

If the GM wants there to be a lack of clarity around whether or not a shot hit I think that all things being equal the GM should deserve (and therefore have earned) the Player's trust. If the relationship is dysfunctional (the GM is using the rule to punish a player) then I don't have a lot of respect for that and I wouldn't expect the Players to either.

What About Changing the Dice Rolls?
So what about, in conditions of low transparency, changing the dice rolls? Would I "cheat" and change a roll? The answer is almost universally no. It isn't universally 'no' because I've done it. The only situation I can remember was ignoring some rolls at the tail end of a long session where the PCs were battling radioactive zombies: they PCs had clearly won and I was interested in terminating the battle. Instead of just cutting to "you mop them up" I instead had the last two rolls "take out" the remaining zombies without checking or applying the rules.

I don't consider this a best practice but I did do it. I also don't consider it harmful: I'm pretty sure no one at the game would've complained if they'd known. It's even possible someone got some mild satisfaction out of it. I'm not sure.

One thing I wouldn't do is change the die rolls--even hidden ones--to meet my feelings about what a better story would be or to save or kill a PC. While I'm not actually absolutist about that--I simply am not enough of a theory zealot to hold an absolute opinion--I consider doing that to be a fairly weak approach to solving whatever problem I'm trying to solve and believe there are better tools ... and that having and allowing the negative outcome is preferable in the long term for everyone involved.

So while I might change the level of transparency I would not use a low level of transparency as a 'shield' behind which to manipulate the game rules at a meta-level.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011


What I am working on right now
So I installed InDesign on the new system (it loads much faster off my SSD hard drive now) and I went back to the Powers list (previously: Mutant Powers, Innate Powers, Bio-Powers, and now just leaning towards 'Powers') and had a look.

There were a bunch of different armor types that I had (tested only somewhat in the previous incarnation). I decided to do a quick re-test of them. Why? What's going on with that?

The basic list of defenses looks something like the above: there are several "atomic" defenses that you can combine in fairly standard ways (buy some Armor for 1 AP per point of Damage Resistance and then combine with ADP).

We sell these defenses to a certain degree a la carte in the GAT section (you can just go and "buy" the component elements ... to an extent). So what I want to vend in the Powers section is a little more complex. Like what?

As you can see, these are a little more complicated. For one thing, they combine things like extra PEN Defense (but no "under-coat armor) and there are some weird coverage (Carapace has coverage 5). But mostly when you get into negatives to Init and AGI Bonus ... not to mention extra damage due to weight, you start getting into hard-to-calculate territory.

Basically the moral of the story here is that if I am going to "vend" armor that isn't just straightforward combinations of the basic elements then I need to test it.