Monday, October 24, 2011

Chi Armor!?

What I'm Doing Right Now
Waiting for a conference call to start--but if I wasn't, I'd be testing CHI ARMOR! Chi Armor is a kind of defense where you pay 5 REA and get some Armor (or ADP) for that Round only. Now, exactly how much you get, how often you can buy it, and so on ... that's kind of up in the air. Also: It's a "bad power." What does that mean?

It's a Bad Power
So the first thing I do is take our 32 Archetype Point characters in our computer simulator (there are a bunch of new readers for the blog) and I deduct 5 REA from them, keep Initiative the same, and then "spend" 2 AP's on ... +12 Armor. That seems about right for a first run and I test it.

The Percent of Victory (POV) should come out to about 55% or so for our test characters--could be as high as 60% and it's okay. But when I test it, here's what I see: we have 4 "Test characters" who fight a bunch of "Herd characters" of the same approximate points. We have four modes of test character:

  • Mixed Armor and DP (MX)
  • Full DP (DP)
  • Force Field (FF)
  • Full Armor (FA)
When I give these guys power-up armor it's something like this:
  • MX: 75% POV (too high)
  • DP: 23% (way too low)
  • FF: 18% (way too low)
  • FA: 89% (way too high)
Now, on the balance--if you average them--the average isn't all that bad (the exact average varies by total AP Cost and so on) but what this means is this: if you have a lot of armor and you buy charge-up armor you rock out. If you have some armor and you invest in it, you're just "way ahead of the curve." If you have some other form of defense? It's a sucker-buy.

Now, that's assuming you have 12 REA and otherwise fit the profile of our test-characters: that's probably not the case--especially for Chi guys who will have all kinds of Flurry of Strike stuff and quick-blocks and extra REA and whatever. But still: baseline? This ability is either too good or it sucks and that category depends on who buys it.

So What Do We Do?
Well, before I discuss that, let me tell you something else: I'm doing this not just with Armor--but with Ablative Damage Points (each point of damage removes one). The way this works is you have a reserve of ADP that gets hit when you pay the 5 REA but is "transparent" if you didn't. So, okay--what do we see with that?

The same thing. The same thing because: when you knock off an attack and you double-down on defense fights take like 6-15 Rounds (too long) and your ability to absorb damage through armor (which does not degrade) is really, really important.

So? So What Do We Do?
I don't know yet. It's a nice power--and one we want to promote--but it looks like we have some thinking to do in order to make this balance. Here are some thoughts:
  1. The armor doesn't stack with anything else. This seems pretty safe. We'll have to cap how much of it you can have too because the "going rate" (4 Armor for 1 AP) is a sure-fire winner if you sink a bunch of your AP in it. Still, this is better than nothing and most Chi characters won't be armored to begin with.
  2. Give out ADP--but not that much. Assume that any character who buys it will have more than one attack to stack on top and work accordingly. It's a very bad deal for the wrong guys--but it is good for the right ones--just not overpoweringly good.
  3. Give out Power Field instead of ADP. Power Field has PEN Defense--but it also goes before armor rather than after (unlike ADP) and degrades whenever it's hit. That should be safer. I'm testing that. Plus, you glow (probably) so that's like The Last Dragon!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Chi Questions

With a cut of the GAT rules off to some review (and posted here--feel free to review) I'm turning back to Chi: mystical martial arts moves. The idea is to be able to play Mortal Kombat / Street Fighter type guys while amping up to the Hero-style Kung Fu army-fighters (at higher power levels).

Mechanically we want:

  • A rich variety of fighting styles and strategies available
  • Rules that ensure you don't just do one thing (throw a Chi Fireball) all the time over and over
  • Encourage strategies that carry over from Round to Round rather than having very little bearing from Round to Round
  • Don't get bogged down with complex rules or "Chi Points" or other Chi-only mechanics.
As expected, we learned a lot from the GAT creation--and I'm now applying that learning to the Chi rules. Here's the outstanding issues and questions for now:

  1. We presently don't simulate "unlocks"--that is powers that can only be used when some event has passed (such as "I took a lot of damage" or "I successfully blocked six strikes" or "I knocked out one opponent" or whatever). As such we either have to change the simulator (and that would be a pretty big change) or estimate. We also don't simulate large battles so the "I knocked someone out" unlock would only apply in a minority of the fights in our line-up and thus wouldn't tell us everything we'd probably want to know.
  2. We don't do strategy around fire decisions. A Chi Bolt or Chi Punch can be "charged" by not using it each Round of a fight. If you unleash it on Round 1 it doesn't hit that hard. Wait for Round 2 and you get your money's worth. Wait for Round 3? It hits pretty darn hard. Round 4? I'm not sure we're going to track that far--but still: we can simulate each attack but not the decision making as to whether the combatant holds off or not. I'm not sure we need to--but it factors into the costs.
  3. Use Only If Last Attack Hit. Combos and certain other attacks are slated to be useful only if each attack in a chain hits--so I declare "Three Chain Punches for 12 REA!" If the first two hit (and are not blocked/dodged) I get to throw the third one--but if the first two miss or get blocked the rest of the REA is wasted--so it's a risk. We don't simulate that. We could--but it's a bit complex. Some moves, likewise, will only work after another attack has hit ("Finishing Move") but don't need to be declared up front. Is this really a defect? I'm not sure.
  4. Charge-Up-Armor: We can allow characters to pay REA for defenses (to keep a Force Field up or to have Armor so long as they pay REA for a step--but don't really move). The simulator doesn't track that. If they lose the REA the armor won't go away. It also will never make a decision to dump the armor (represented as a 0-damage attack that costs REA) and go for extra attacks--something a character might well do.
So we need to decide what to do about these things ... and a few others.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Buying GATs

Generic Archetype Abilities

Generic Archetype Traits (called GATs) are unusual, special, or exceptional abilities that are both not specific to any particular genre and fall into the category of not-quite-super powers. As a general rule they are available in any game where you have APs although checking with the GM and other players is always a good idea.

GATS And Super Powers (And the Meta Game)

Generic Archetype Abilities are meant to be used to build “heroic” characters for various genres of fiction (for bullet-dodging higher-powered ‘action heroes’ also look at the Fast Company chapter). Using these rules, and with enough APs you can be quite a bit more than humanly possible.

This raises some questions about what exactly a Generic Archetype Trait is. In this section we sell:
v  Extra size and strength. If you buy enough of it you will be stronger than any human who has ever been measured.
v  Extra Toughness and actual armor. If you interpret this literally as an innate ability it would mean, for example, armored skin or that the character is able to absorb bullet fire without (much) consequence.
v  Abilities explicitly described as equipment (“Chainmail”). This could mean paying APs for “mundane equipment”—something that usually doesn’t happen for most games.
v  Extreme abilities such as the ability to unleash flurries of attacks or a “hail of bullets.” You can also buy the ability to apply your full Dodge roll against ranged attacks (bullets and lasers)—this is likely to fall into the category of a “super power” in many people’s minds.

So what does this all mean? Are GATs super powers or not? Are they equipment? Can you actually have a “normal person” being armored with the GAT “Tank”?

Here is our thinking:
1.       One of our goals with GATs was to take a set of abilities that many games would like to use (and which didn’t have a specific flavor) and put them all together in one place for convenience. We left actual super powers (like “teleport”) for the Powers chapter—but even so, some things (such as Armor as given in the ability “Tank”) are listed here because there are a lot of conditions where a character might have the Armor ability, you might want to track it with APs, and we wanted a “Generic” version of Armor in a centralized place where you would likely go looking for it.
2.       The interpretation of a GAT is left up to the players and can change from game to game or even between characters in the same game. Take a character with 8 / 40 Armor bought as a GAT. In one game that would be a literal super power (armored skin!). In another game it might be that the character is just “really, really tough.” In yet another game, the armor-effect could be defined as luck—attacks always seem to “miss” or “don’t get a good hit” or whatever. In many games that ability wouldn’t be legal if the characters aren’t allowed to have abilities like that. Finally: it might be worn armor if that piece of gear was not normally available to the characters without their spending APs for it. How the in-game fiction treats things can be quite different from how the mechanics treat these. That said, we expect more literal game than a less literal one—the “luck” interpretation could get hard to explain after a while.  Also note: we have specified some GATs as extreme meaning that they are not available when playing with either low numbers of APs or more “mundane” games.
3.       A GAT can indicate equipment. We included GATs that read like equipment even though characters don’t usually pay APs for mundane equipment and even though there are more detailed equipment rules later on. We did this because of the way that weapons work when they are bought (The “Level 1” vs. “Level +” Costs for damage). We wanted a (small) section of GATs that would buy damage at the Level 1 cost so that if players were playing a game where they were expected to pay APs for weapons the rules would be centralized. We described these as weapons and armor even though they could represent other things in a given game.

A Final Note On GAT Names: We’ve tried to give the GATs somewhat colorful names because it’s more interesting and they are “generic” already. Just because a GAT has a specific name doesn’t mean that’s the only way it can be interpreted. Usually the mechanical effect can be attributed to many different things. Work with the GM and other players to determine what is appropriate for a given game.

Combat GATS (general)

Combat GATs

These are the Generic Archetype Traits that are impact physical stats and/or directly improve the combat ability of the character.

Combat GATS (TAP)

Total Archetype Point GATs

These Combat GATs improve things like REA, AGI Bonus, and Skill Rolls. GATs that modify rolls have a cost based on the total AP count of your character as they are essentially a percentage of your total points. As such, we have given you a cost table for each GAT instead of a fixed cost. Choose the value closest to your character’s AP value to get the cost for your character.

NOTE: Each GAT has 3 decimal numbers after the word TAP. These are the decimal multipliers we got from testing at the 16 AP, 32 AP, and 64 AP levels. The %-cost of a TAP GAT changes at each level for most GATs.

This is explained in greater detail in the back of the book.

Non-Combat GATs

Non-Combat GATS

Non-Combat GATS tend to give bonuses that aren’t focused on improving stats or damage. They may well help with combat in other ways (such as providing a Success Point Pool that can be used for any purpose—including combat) but are usually not as good as combat GATs in the same range (the pool in question may only recharge once per game session instead of every combat).

Advantages that Non-Combat GATS give tend to fall into one of several categories:
Bonus Type
Applying The Bonus
Event Success Point Pool
An Event Success Point Pool is an SP Pool in the form of [ Total SPs / Amount You Can Spend On Any One Roll ] that recharges when some specified event happens (such as when the character beats someone at a game of chance/skill that has real stakes). The thinking is that the player will try to maneuver the character to set up these situations to recharge the SP pool. The GM can limit the recharge of this to once per session if necessary to cut down on side-trips but should allow a recharge (possibly with minimal time at the table) whenever there is a logical organic circumstance for it.

An example would be a character with an event pool that recharges when they win a pool game for small stakes. Every time the group rolls into a new town the character will seek out a game. If this is interesting to play out, play it out. If it isn’t for the specific time the GM and Player can agree to recharge it. The ideal situation, however, will be to have the character’s interaction with NPCs drive interesting encounters (a con-artist trying to recharge their pool may meet the local con artist community, etc.)
Session Success Pool
A Session Success Pool is an SP pool in the form of [ Total SPs / Amount You Can Spend On Any One Roll ] that is recharged at the beginning of every game session and doesn’t recharge during the session except at the GM’s discretion if “sufficient time” passes (usually a day or so of no important activity—but just “waiting for the pool to recharge” may not work.

“Can You Have ‘Fans’ Without Paying APs?”

A lot of these GATs give you things (for APs) that a character who has spent only CPs on things maybe ought to have. Can a multi-millionaire (someone with 12 CP in Wealth) have a secret base? How about a Level 4 rock-god—can’t they have fans? Or even a level 3 rock star? The answer is “yes.”

If you have paid the character points or otherwise built a character who ought to have some of these things you can, in fact, get them without paying APs. The line of thinking here is as follows:
v  If You Pay APs Everything is Easier: A secret base bought with APs would still probably have a bunch of people who know about it—someone had to do the work. There are probably plans on file with someone somewhere. It might be very secure—but really secret? That’s hard to do. You also tend to get “top quality” things you pay APs for. If you have fans or believers or whatever they’ll likely be a good deal better behaved if you paid APs for them—after all, they’re an advantage. If you just paid the CP for the status you may get more of the headache as well.
v  If You Pay APs You Get What You Pay For: If you paid CPs, you get what you “deserve.” A character with a L3 skill will get income from it. If you have the Trait “Wealth” you get a CP multiplier. You can have a L2 skill (or, conceivably, no skill at all) and have fans or believers or a secret base or whatever if you pay the APs for it—and it’s legitimate (or at least seen as legitimate by a lot of people).
v  You Can Get Some Extreme Stuff More Easily: You should always get GM permission for anything that’s listed as Extreme—but unlike a Level 4 skill—which makes you either “the best in the world” or one of the top tier and therefore has implications for the campaign, if you are spending your APs on some exotic trait you may still be one of a very rare handful but the GM isn’t obligated to treat you as the absolute top of the pyramid and that should make having a character with it less of a hassle for the GM.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Update ...

What I'm Working On Right Now
Well, to be honest? I just got back from one of the hardest, longest slogs of work I've done in living memory. 16 hour days, working until midnight ... flying up to NYC to make a major presentation. That's happened and there's still one or two major elements to close out.

Also? I'm getting a new house--we're trying to close on it mid-November. They say that's stressful and no kidding.

And? My wife is due our second son in February.

Well, I just completed most of the non-combat GATs today. I've been making notes on my iPad and finally transcribed them and built them out in the master document. It's looking good--but it's definitely just a first pass and needs some refinement. Still: it's almost done--and it's going to be more useful than the last batch (the JArch1.7 document).

I took a step back and looked at component elements of what I wanted a non-combat archetype Trait to be. There were several elements that needed to be separated and then sold piece-meal so we could get away from "We covered sports heroes and aristocrats--but didn't have anything for famous Astronauts--" or whatever.

I'll try to put more up when I have the chance.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Ballad of Phoenix Jones

Phoenix Jones Stops Assault from Ryan McNamee on Vimeo.

This is video of real-life Seattle super hero "Phoenix Jones" patrolling, getting involved in an altercation, and (allegedly) breaking up a fight. He was arrested soon after and taken to court--but he was released (he claims--and I think the video backs him up--that he wasn't just pepper-spraying people on the street).

This is interesting for a few reasons.
1. It's live footage of the guy in action. Clearly he's traveling with a camera man--this is savvy. I don't know if footage like this exists other places, but it's pretty compelling. There's no way he isn't at least kinda-sorta in this for the fame and this gets him fame.

2. He doesn't suck. Clearly he's in shape. He has a cool costume: According to Wikipedia he has a bullet-proof vest and stab plating. He carries pepper spray (and uses it liberally). When attacked by a girl wielding a purse he didn't hit her--he was kind of backed off--but I think it's safe to say he could've clocked her. He chose not to.

3. While it's chaotic and hard to tell what's going on, it's possible he made a difference. I have no idea if he's a stand-up guy or not--but I'd like to think he is. Even if he's a bit weird.

So what's the point?

What Are His Stats!?
Oh, come on--like you didn't see that coming?

Well, let's start: I recently benched more than 210lbs--if I can do it he can. That gives him an STR of 12. He's been kicked and stabbed (so he says) and he's not daunted. So that's a high CON. Let's give him an estimated PHY of 12. This puts his fighting weight at 170 lbs (an 11 BLD) but let's say he cuts so he walks around at ~185. Seems reasonable.

How about REF and INT? Well he's apparently An MMA bad-ass undefeated in minor circuits with 11 win and no losses (or ties)--so we'll spot him a 12 REF. Sure, it might be higher. It might be lower. I'm not sure. I'll also give him an 11 INT. I have no idea what his background is--but he's smart enough to carry pepper spray and have a friend video-tape him. I dunno. I'll assume he's no super genius but he didn't seem dumb either.

Total: 35 CP

What About Skills?
He trains at Alderwood MMA. It's hard to tell what they're like--but we'll assume it's the standard: Brazilian Jiujitsu and Thai Kick Boxing. Let's assume with 11 wins (many by submission) he's a competition level black-belt in Jiujitsu--but let's go for L2 in Kick-boxing (Tae Kwon Do in the JAGS rule-set) as most of his wins are by submission. That would be two 14- combat skills with one Level 3. We'll clock that in 12 at  CP.

What other skills might he possess? We don't know what he does for a living (probably not fight) and I couldn't find out with 10-seconds on google. We can assume he has maybe another 4 CP spent somewhere on professional skills or hobbies. Like that.

He might also have some advantageous traits. He could have Leader. He might have Presence. It's hard to know. One thing I want to give him is about 4-6 CP in Toughness and some other Combat Traits (like Natural Fighter). We don't know what exactly--but he's well above a normal guy with 11 wins in the ring. Let's say he clocks in at 24 CP in skills and Traits.

Total: 24 CP

Any Defects?
I'm going to give him -4 CP in defects. Might be Obnoxious. Might be Disturbed. Could be Enemies? We're not sure exactly why he's doing this--but he's hard-core about it and it's definitely not wise. So we'll assume something (even if it's minor) is going on. I'll hold with Watchmen: anyone dressing up and patrolling ... isn't right.

Total: 53 CP

He has a bullet proof vest, an outfit that looks like leather, and, allegedly arm and leg trauma plates. It's the "real world" (man, we hope) so he's probably not paying AP for gear--but we'll total it up anyway.

  • Vest: 4/16 Coverage 4
  • Leather Outfit: 2/5 Full Coverage
  • Trauma Plates: These? I'm not sure. Let's go with 3/8 Coverage 2
This is a little complex: if you hit the trauma plates you don't hit the vest. The basic rules don't cover this--but essentially if you want to hit around all his coverage you have to hit him by 7+ or you need to play with optional rules and aim for the head (-2 to hit, +1 to be blocked).

If you don't want to be so complex we can just generalize his armor to 2/5 full and 4/10 Cv 4 plate. 

Total: 3 AP

His Pepper spray is OC Spray. I did some quick checking (And you can see the video). It's no intant-knock-down police taser. He sprayed a dude who was running around with his shirt over his head. He sprayed one of the women who went ballistic on him. Apparently it also colors the target orange. We'll assume it imparts something like a -2 Initiative modifier and a -2 Vision modifier (so the target is at around -2 to hit). It's probably got a +2 Large Weapon Bonus since it's a spray attack.

We'll assume it's Power is the standard 12 and its Intensity is around a 14 or so. Enough to mess up a normal person but not really effective against a bruiser.

He carries a "stun baton." This is possibly an electric club/stun-gun. If so, it's pretty powerful. The Taser effect is an instant knockdown if it hits most people (treat as Daze -2 for a Minor Effect and Incapacitate for a Major one). combine with a 4 AP club.

I can do the math--but it's almost midnight. Estimate around 8 AP with an Intensity of maybe 20.

Total: 3 for the (weak) pepper spray. 8 for the stun baton: total 10.

Total: 16 AP

Conclusion: Phoenix Jones, decked out with gear, is a pretty effective street-level super hero. At 55 CP (with the -4 Trait factored in) and 16 in gear he's exactly the kind of character a somewhat experienced bad-ass low-level crime fighter would be like. In a fight he's going to be pretty effective--if he gets to pepper spray you and then baton you, he could possibly take on two or three guys at once. He's also well armored and tough: he can take abuse.