Friday, December 14, 2012

Who Gets What?

Monster Adventurers (David Chow)
Aron Son left a post that, if I read it right, goes to a VERY key point of the JAGS Rules: Who should buy which abilities ... and how do you know? When faced with literally hundreds of possible buys--mostly within the same cost range--how can you know which ones you should get? How will anyone even know which options exist?

First Things First
There are a few key tools we already here:

  1. Chapters: We have broken up the chapters into Generic Archetype Abilities: stuff that is "more than normal" but not "super human"--for the most part. Psionics, 'Innate Powers' (which includes 'Super Powers'), Domain Control (Fire, Ice, Wind, Earth, Love, Death, etc.), Fast Company (Action heroes), and so on. This should help as you can go to the general chapter that makes sense.
  2. Tags: Powers are 'tagged' with names like Super, Extreme, or Natural. These tags can be used to limit what "goes into a game." If you are limiting characters to making "intelligent animals" you can keep them away from Super Powers (or Extreme powers). If you are allowing "mutants--but not super heroes" then stay away from Super--and so on.
  3. Advice: We have some--but very limited--pieces of advice on things like "making bosses." A few powers are even listed by name (here is how you have one "boss" attack a bunch of lesser characters", etc.).
  4. Table of Contents: The TOC (right now) is over 20 pages long and lists each ability and a cost or a note that there are several costs for the ability. Browsing this could help.
  5. Statted Out Artwork: As you've seen, we are including artwork with powers-lists. This should help a prospective player get a feel for what kinds of powers a given character type might have. If you find a picture that's "kinda like your guy" you can use that list of powers as a template.

How Can We Improve On That?
What more could we do? Here are some thoughts:

  • More guidance: I'm iffy on this--but it would help. Being more explicit in the opening section of each chapter would certainly help if I could figure out what to say. I do think there are some key things we should call out if I can figure out where to put them (such as how Innate Abilities like Quick and some Cybernetic Abilities like Science Agents Hardwired Reflexes and so on compete with Fast Company). The list of characters is, kinda, this--but it doesn't exactly go into Character Design Strategies.
  • Cross-References: I have been told we need this--but thus far it's been hard to implement due to my lack of understanding exactly how to do this with Word->InDesign. The idea is this: there are powers that can go multiple places. Take "Death Ray/Touch." It can go in Innate Powers ("Death Ray"), Death Control (obvious), Chi Martial Arts (Dim Mak), and maybe a few other places (future/cyber-weapons: Death Wand or Black Ray pistol). I want to list the power exactly once--but where? And where do I tell someone who hasn't digested the whole book that, yeah, this exists--just on Page XX? The answer is with a short table at the start of a section that has Cross-Refs that lists power names, a very short description, and page numbers. So I want to do this--but it strikes me as a kind of last-thing-to-do. It's also a lot of work.
  • Index: a Table of Contents isn't alphabetical--If I have an Index (and possibly: Synonyms!) then a person looking for "Detect Life" power can find Detection (Innate Power) or some of the super senses and get an idea of where / what section to look in. This, too, requires technology to do well. We have it--but my Index Fu isn't up to speed. Also: we may have to split Archetypes into two books. If we do that, does Vol 2 have the Index? How does technology help with that?

NOTE: One of the things I am thinking on now is what the cost for Mobile should be--right now it's kinda expensive--especially when mixed with other TAP cost abilities. I'm thinking maybe it ought to come down a good deal since Fast Company characters really ought to have it. We need to do some serious analysis on how good it is and the Simulator won't really help a lot with that.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

System Tests

Cyber-Operative (Derek Stevens)
We're going through the book and building characters. There's a lot of play-test in this thing already but there is literally no way to playtest everything that we've added. The closest I think we can come is:

  • Keep play-testing until (a) the chapters are finalized (close) and (b) the chapters are proof-read (starting on chapter 3 right now).
  • Create characters (and use the Simulator where applicable) doing a careful word-by-word read of the powers. If something seems off, fix it.
The creation of a character you do not intend to play is an interesting thing. For one thing, I'm overly "kind" to the game system when I'm not making a character I want to play: I'd rather soft-land the character rather than "exploit loopholes." Now, as it's my game, I'd rather there not be loopholes--but when I'm making a character I intend to play--and making him bad-ass, I will be far more interested in exactly how the rules will work than if I'm making "An NPC."

The person above was a semi-successful test: I wanted someone with the Science Agent Package who wore Power Armor (Cyber-Suit). I was afraid, going in, that this would be a failure. It wasn't: Although you don't see the results there, you, the point-totals more-or-less worked out. I'm slightly more iffy on the specific details.
I bet it's still unreadable
What you see up there is the list of powers and their general effects with some compilations off to the side. The take-away is this:
  • Her "karate punch" does around 12 PEN damage. Not a lot for a 48 AP character.
  • Her armor-level is 6 (under coat), +4 (Plate) with a bunch of extra PEN Defense and 32 ADP. Not bad.
  • Her Neo Adrenaline and Overdrive Glands (lots of extra REA, better dodges and blocks, etc.) kick in on Round 2 (and cost 5 REA).
Here's the big one: She is expected to carry a gun ... and not pay for it. How do I know that? Because that's how I envisioned things for "this game."

In the game I would play her--something a bit like a cyber-operative Doll House style scenario where she gets personality overwrites to go out and "do missions" (or whatever)--she would have a "standard gun" for whatever "the PCs get." Probably? An SMG.

She would use that--almost exclusively--over HTH combat--and her armor is fairly well constructed to go up against that kind of fire-power: she's probably at -4 to be hit with her +1 AGI Bonus, gets a great CON roll of a 14-, and the damage that does get through will tend to come off her suit's ADP first and then chip away at her DP while she's dodging most of the attacks (since she has an extra +3 REA for it).

I'd also give her a katana: I know my tropes.

In this world? She's great--this is a success. However, if I were expected to pay for the gun the same way I paid for the cyber-suit ... I'd be out of luck. 

Now, I didn't construct the character that way--I went in trying to make a fast, durable Science Agent with a Cyber Power-suit--but I'd be happier if her native attack stacked up better to her defenses. I would also like it if she had some negative Damage Mods (maybe with a Dodge?). I'd have to give her cyber-reflexes for that--and I didn't have the points--but that's life.

So is this a success? Yes--but I found an error (I hadn't put the +8 DP in the Cyber-Suit rules--and had to go add that in--and for two other Power Armor suits). So, you know, not perfect.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Mobility Abiltiies

Armored Mutant (Hector Busamante)
I got back the second proof-read chapter of the book (Generic Archetype Points) and was pleased to find a large number of edits--which fits with my internal assessment of how many errors I make. We are moving along to the (far more complex) Innate Powers file which has more than "just powers" but also a whole lot of rules for creating animals and larger or smaller characters.

Enhanced Mobility
After some discussion--including feedback here--we are looking at a suite of "enhanced mobility powers." These allow you to:

  • Always take a 'free step' with an attack (instead of just when you make a very good Initiative roll).
  • Make a "continued move" for 3 REA instead of 5.
  • Get a "Free dodge" with any move you pay REA for. This should include a dodge when closing distance with a Long Move action.
  • Possibly 'retreat' as some kind of Medium Action (allowing you to hit-and-run without getting your turn interrupted by a parting-shot).
The intent behind these is as follows (note: this sort of thing is probably all one power):
  1. The basic JAGS rules do charge a fair amount for running around. You can't easily hit someone and then run. You usually do pay a fair cost for "charging into combat." You are encouraged to move up "kinda close" with one move and then close all the way with a second (rather than rushing across the battlefield). If you run-by people you get hit without a defense. This is done to encourage a kind of tactical wargame feel if playing with a battle map (allow "Front lines" of defense, encourage 1-on-1 face-offs, etc.)
  2. For some characters, though, and some battles, we want a lot of fire and movement--especially when the net impact of that is small (i.e. the mental image of flying super heroes flying all over the battle zone firing blasts at each other--there is no/little net effect of the movement--but it looks good). Additionally, some characters (Fast Company action heroes, for example) will be much more mobile than others and will use it to good effect---but it should more or less cancel out against each other.
  3. The split between characters who "just take damage" vs. those who block or dodge it is a big deal: characters with lots of armor designed to soak up damage don't spend REA on anything but attacks (as a rule--or movement) so they tend to be a lot more "mobile" if they want to be. Characters who must reserve some REA for defenses tend to be less mobile as a result. This goes counter to what we want (hence the "free dodge with move").
The net impact of adding these will require some testing and thought but I think it will generally help if we can make sure that players are properly guided to those abilities where it makes sense.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Gaming Night

The Gang

The planets aligned last night and people were in town and available. So we did our weekly game face-to-face. I texted the picture to several wives who were somewhat astonished we were outside. As all our characters and stuff were on computer we needed:
  • Power. We have live power out back and I was able to get a power-bar and extension cord.
  • WiFi. My house has a re-broadcaster but only my computer was able to pick it up. Why? I figure "practice" (honestly, no clue). One guy had a phone with hot-spot capability but you had to pay for it. As we weren't going to be outside all night we didn't want to pay money for 2 hours of wi-fi
However, it turned out that you could get to google documents and Gmail without paying if (a) you used chrome and (b) you did not surf anywhere else. So we did that.

It was ... a really good session.

JAGS Update
I am having the next chapter proofed (Generic Archetype Abilities) so we'll have that in good shape. There is a GAT I am considering adding. It was in J-Arch 1.7 (the previous release) and I'd taken it out for this one because I wasn't sure how to price it--and I wasn't sure anyone would miss it. Someone did--so I'll consider putting it back.

The GAT is Mobile. It allows you to take a free step in the direction of a HTH attack when you make that attack (for normal REA). How much is this worth?
  1. Very fast characters with high Initiative get this "for free" any time they make an Init roll by 5 or more (which they often will)
  2. Characters with ranged attacks mostly don't benefit from it or need it.
  3. There is sometimes a bit of an issue about using a step action to disengage by attacking someone else. Could I, for example, "attack a friend" using the step action and then intentionally missing in order to get away from a more dangerous attacker?
We don't cover a lot of conditions but I think that's, kinda, what a GM is for. The intent of the rule is to make combat more dynamic and, as Step actions are more than 1 yard right now (they are a Walk distance) you can go pretty far if you are using a battle-map. This can have significant tactical ramification.

My thinking is that Mobile is probably something like either 4 AP (possibly with, like, +6 DP along with it or so) or a low-cost TAP power (again, probably with some extra DP in to round it out). I'm also not clear "who has it." Clearly some characters, some time, will want it--but who is (a) a pretty mobile fleet-of-feet character who also (b) doesn't have a high Initiative. Initiative is pretty cheap ...

So I'm not really sure--but since I got the request I think it's worth putting in.

There may be some other similar powers that make you really mobile (a Run or Sprint action for 5 REA Long) or a Run or Sprint action for 5 REA Medium (which would be the ability to seriously attack and then disengage). If you could combine that with, say, Teleport or Phase Out you could use it to hit and run pretty ... impressively (unless facing someone faster than you who was Waiting they could, probably never actually get a chance to hit you).

Clearly these are more expensive powers--but they do not simulate easily (the question for the Medium Action move is this: how often will someone be faster than you and waiting? The answer is: kinda rarely if we assume you combine this with being built for speed.

ALSO: Right now I let Initiative bonuses stack because, ehh--why not (and because Fast Company characters often get (a) +5 Initiative for their Fast power and then (b) may take extra stuff that also makes them fast--and I want that to add together rather than robbing them of that extra (little) bonus). However, if there is a power out there that makes you able to hit and then retreat without the opposition getting a chance to hit you back? I might re-think that.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Vehicular Combat

John McLear (Hector Busamante)
Over the past week, while traveling in NYC, I took a chance to revise the Gear file based on some work another player had done (he turned some Traits--general super-powers--into "gear" and had some questions). The chapter has been revised and streamlined--the general intent made more clear, illustrated with a couple more examples, and rationalized across multiple pages a bit better.

There is still a "gap" in the JAGS rules here: Vehicular Combat.

Vehicular Combat: What We Know
We have tried before to write a cohesive vehicular combat rules-set. Here's what we know right now:
  1. Vehicles have a DRIVE Score. Most vehicles have a set of DP (a small amount) set aside for something called DRIVE (it was called CORE) in the original rules. If you "shoot this out" the vehicle stops. This is necessary because a car has a few hundred DP based on weight but a single shot from a handgun can stop it (and we know that, for example, destroying the tires is a lot easier than crushing the whole car). Hitting Drive usually requires a called shot that hits by 4+. This makes vehicles fairly easy to stop (if unarmored) by decent shots.
  2. Vehicles provide Cover. If you declare you are shooting at someone in a vehicle they get some cover. This is generally 3pts for a standard car and maybe 2pts for a motorcycle (and maybe 4pts for someone in a car "crouched down and hiding." These basic cover rules assume that even if your shot penetrates the car easily--which, our research, suggests will happen for any civilian vehicle and nearly any firearm--there are complexities around hitting targets you can't see well that provide defense.
  3. A moving vehicle provides a set of to-hit modifier negatives to both shooters in it and attackers. Generally firing from a non-mounted gun gives a -2 in addition to some other speed modifiers. I think the general speed modifiers for most vehicular combat will clock in around -3 / -4. For L2 attackers a "drive by" is pretty random.
What Else Do We Know?
Here are some things I think we know.
  • A vehicle moves based on its speed--not the driver's Initiative. Faster vehicles move first (higher Init) and every vehicle must move before you can check for collision. As an Advanced Rule, a vehicle can move "in reaction" to another vehicle's movement even if it is slower--that is, if I move my vehicle counter on top of yours and say "my PC jumps from my car to yours!" you can say, "Not so fast, I take my reaction move to push my vehicle ahead--see, there's still space." If my vehicle is faster, which it must be, since I moved first, I will, by the end of this, still have closed the space-gap--but not, yet--all the way.
  • Having a vehicle move basically straight and not accelerate costs the driver 0 REA. However, any kind of combat movement, acceleration, turning, or deceleration, costs the driver 5 REA. If this is not paid (the driver is Stunned, Dazed, Unconscious, or uses their REA for other things) the vehicle is "out of control" and may crash. We do not have concrete rules for this--but a skill roll is probably involved with some significant negatives based on situation.
  • A Vehicular Dodge is allowed to stop an attack that hits DRIVE. This is the primary purpose of Combat Vehicle Operations skill. It is all important: if your Space-Wing Fighter Jock gets shot by the enemy fighter craft, (a) the enemy is almost ALWAYS shooing at DRIVE (your engines) (b) their shots are either 20mm cannons or "space 20mm cannons." They do a lot of damage. If you are hit, your vehicle will EXPLODE and you will probably DIE. You have a large battery of SP (because you are a super fighter jock) who spends some of those (instead of the craft's DP) to make sure that you don't get blown up. These Success Points are essentially your "DP" for vehicular combat. NOTE: a vehicular heavy weapon hitting the body of the vehicle may fuck it up pretty badly anyway as they can do 100's of points of damage.
Things We Do Not Know
There are some things we are, currently, not clear on.
  1. When a vehicle gets shot up without a called shot (i.e. at the driver or at DRIVE) how do you determine if, for example, characters were hit? If I fire an RPG at a normal car, if it detonates in the passenger compartment it'll likely kill everyone inside. If it hits the back bumper it'll annihilate it but that's all. Sailing ships, for example, would take all kinds of cannon hits without sinking: apparently what got most of them was not the raw damage from the hull being breached but rather fire.
    • There seem to need to be some rules for "blow-through" (the vehicle is hit but the damage doesn't hit anything vital and it's cosmetic, you lose the radio, etc.)
    • There needs to be a way for a character with defensive SPs to spend them to mitigate hits with vehicular weapons that would kill the whole party: there has to be a reason to get into a vehicle. Your gaming experience should not become totally fragile.
  2. Are there any specific rules for specific maneuvers? If we were playing with counters, how do I move the counter? How do I handle 3D combat? It appears to me that, without resulting to a battle-map, most maneuvers are rolls against vehicle ops skill to accomplish something. Failure may or may not result in a crash (usually not, actually, our current thinking is that crashes are usually the result of either (a) low / no skill and a missed roll or (b) a high-skill level character specifically "risking a crash" to accomplish something harder.
  3.  What are the needed "standard dramas"?
    • Racing Dramas: We have some good ones. We've tested them and they work.
    • Battle Ship Exchange Of Fire Dramas: For fleets or long range combat where maneuver is more strategic (facing of ship rather than exact location--lack of "dodging" and more about being hard to track with guns, and so on) do we have special rules?
    • Dog Fighting: How do we handle situations where a more maneuverable ship tries to out-maneuver several attackers. NOTE: because of the way SP points work, if you have a fairly small number of them, larger numbers of attackers add up fast. Is there some kind of dog-fight drama that simply "prevents being shot at?"
  4. How are vehicles used in "ordinary combat"? For example, what is my roll to run over someone in a car? If I use the car as a weapon with some regularity ... do I pay AP for it? If I am buying "ship's guns" with AP's--ultra long range cannons that (presumably) do a ton of damage ... but never get any closer to "the action" than orbit or a port ... are there rules for that? How do those cost in terms of APs?
  5. How do I charge APs for certain kinds of vehicles?
    • Mad Max's car: almost no one has a car. He has a great one. How many AP is that? How many AP is a cycle?
    • Mal's Space Ship: does a PC pay AP to be "the captain" who owns the ship? Or is that a non-AP convention?  Do PCs pay APs for "better personal fighter-craft?" How about "ugrades for their assigned mecha?" (indications are "yes"--but do we have any guidelines as to how much?)
  6. It appears from research that "vehicular heavy weapons" are quite capable of targeting individual humans (and that is my experience as well as an anti-vehicular wire-guided missile launcher in the army: I hit targets down range that were not much bigger than a playing card sized area. It could have been a person). Furthermore: current fire-control systems seem to almost guarantee a hit if you can line up the targeting system on the target. This makes movement and cover all important in modern vehicular (tank) battles. Do we have some set of rules that (a) covers vehicles and rolls to take cover but also (b) covers on-foot PCs and the need to take cover? If we do not have good rules for how cover protects, facing a military heavy weapon is simply a death sentence and however "realisitc" that is or not, it's not good for the game.
  7. How do different kinds of weapon-mounts work: fixed guns vs. turrets? Indications are that turret guns allow fire in situations where fixed guns don't. Slower moving heavy guns have some kind of modifier that lighter machine guns do not, and so on. Maybe those "dog-fight dramas" allow you to evade fixed guns but not turrets?

There's probably more but ... that's what I got now. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Have-Not Game

Cyber Eye (Santiago)

We hit a major milestone in our 2-year Have-Not game last night when we exited a major series of "dungeons" which had taken us maybe eight or so play-sessions to close out. The adventure was a culmination of a number of threads bringing us closer to the probable conflict between us and ... the rest of the world. At this point, having gotten around 1 level per "dungeon" (with a few extras) we are around 104 AP characters--immensely powerful having come from 8 AP to start with and well above almost anything else in the world.

The game was never meant to be completely open ended--we knew it would end and that we'd move on and play something else: it's pretty clear we are on the back-nine of the game-world. Our next game will likely be a super-hero game designed to stress-test the existing rules and while I'm looking forward to that it's bitter-sweet to see the current game which I've greatly enjoyed winding down.

Our general mode of play (these days, anyway) is to have pretty lengthy games--but I think our more regular pattern (over the past, say, 10 years) is to start games--have them run a few sessions--and continue them if they "catch fire" or dump them for something else, if not. Our last three games, a moderate-length Psionics game (we were students at a school for telepaths where some of the students were a-moral children of the conspiracy that ran the world), a lengthy Cyborgs game (we were cybernetically enhanced US Marshalls living in an age where "the singularity," or, more appropriately, several possible "singularities" were about to happen), and then Have-Not (2 years+) seem to be beating that spread.

I'm not sure if this is because our limited play-time (2.5 hours per week) makes it harder to start new games or because we're getting better at hitting winners. I think it's the latter--but a high barrier to entry suggests that could be responsible for the track record. I'm not sure how to objectively test this (although it feels like while the Psi game had some weak points, the Marshalls game and this one are certainly home runs).

Monday, November 26, 2012

How Do You Make A Car Invisible?

Officer Law (Hector Busamante)

One of the sub-systems that we're working on right now is Gear (equipment, devices, etc.). The rules for gear are complicated for two reasons:

  1. You do not always pay AP for gear. In no game I can imagine would you pay AP for things like normal clothes, a toothbrush, etc. That's (reasonably) common sense--but in a lot of games you won't even pay Archetype Points for things like weapons and armor. For, for example, a modern-day Cops game the PCs would have very few AP (if any) and things they buy would generally represent unusual native abilities (such as an exceptional physique or extreme detective skills). The gear would just be "issued" to them in-game.
  2. When you ARE paying points for gear there are still a few ways it can go:
    • You can take a Trait like Powered Flight and turn it into gear (a "flight ring"). This is an example where being equipement is usually a (small) disadvantage (or, if you make a very limited flight-rig that's dangerous and difficult to control, a substantially larger disadvantage).
    • You can take some gear you did not pay points for (like a normal car which "anyone" can get in most games for no AP) and turn it into a tricked out vehicle. That's another implementation of the Mod-Point rules. In this case, while you do pay character points (MPs) for the modification, you do not pay them for the initial piece of gear (assuming it's something "anyone" in the game could have).
Which Brings Us To The Question
So as I look over the Gear rules, I find that to a certain extent they work "okay." Ability modification rules are always complex (take, for example, a theoretical simple set of rules that simply reduces the cost of an ability by a set % amount per defect added: how do you handle the case where the %-total reaches 100% (free) or above 100% (you get points for having a defective ability)).

Our current rules work as follows for modifying a non-combat power: you pay (for enhancements) or get (for defects) a certain number of Mod Points (MP). So being a "simple hands-free device" is -1 MP (a defect). That "-1 MP" is per 8 AP of the Ability

So if I have 1 to 8 AP spent on Flight and I turn it into a "Flight Ring" (magical, thought-controlled, small and convenient) I get 1 MP "back." If I have, say, 16 AP spent on Flight and I turn it into a Flight Ring I get 2 MP back.

I can use those MP to buy other small advantages or I can turn them into Damage Points if I want to.

That, conceptually, isn't so hard.

Okay--but what if I want to make a car invisible (I have a cloaking device for my automobile!). Firstly, the rules, as written right now, don't address this (or do only barely). Secondly, the answer isn't that easy even going by "what I think should be the case."

Let's See
  1. We presume the "basic car" is 0 AP in cost. In most games you don't pay Archetype Points for a normal car. In a Mad Max post-apocalypse game where the guy with the car is a big deal? Maybe. But in most games you don't. For purposes of this question, let's assume you don't.
  2. There are rules for "Awesome Upgrade" (which invisibility certainly is) but these are generic and  are best applied for stuff that we don't and are not going to have rules for. In the case of Invisibility we do know how it effect combat. We know some things about entering and leaving "cloak" (8 REA Long Action).
  3. There should be some basic rules for "modification cost to ability that does not directly effect the character." Let's say that "doesn't effect you is half price for the power: so if I want to put Armor on the car to make it tougher for 4 AP I get 8 AP worth of armor on the device. This would be represented, by the way, as -16 MP cost (for people keeping score). That rule isn't clearly listed--but let's say it was. Okay ...
  4. But Invisibility is a TAP-cost power: it's cost is based on a percentage of your Total AP Points. Is that still right for the car (which is 0 AP points) or is it based on your character (which is, let's imagine, 32 AP)?
What are the right answers for these points?
  1. We already have some rules for modifying "0 AP gear." Firstly we tend to "Assume" it cost 8 AP for purposes of doing the Mod Point math. That is, if some enhancement is listed as +4 MP (which is 1 AP for the character to spend) that's for 8 AP worth of an ability (so to put that enhancement on a 24 AP Trait would cost 12 MP or 3 AP if you wanted to pay AP for it). For a 0pt piece of gear we assume it's 4 MP. This is a simple rule (a 747 jetliner is the same "AP cost" as a Ford Focus--which probably isn't quite right--but hey).
  2. While it isn't 100% exactly how invisibility will impact vehicular combat (even from what we know about it) we can make some good guesses: it is hard to "shoot out the engine" of a vehicle you can't see--called shots become far more risky or impossible. That can be a big deal when shooting at vehicles where a lot of "hits" won't disable anything critical. So, yeah, we should probably try to use as much of the power description as possible.
  3. The cost for having a trait only work on a device is probably heavily dependent on the device. For example if you take the Trait "Flight" and declare it "only works on my clothes" (which you then wear and fly around in) that's like having the Flight power yourself. If you take Flight and declare it works on a camera so it can hover around and take pictures ... that's not like you having flight. Big difference. It also matters whether you can be expected to be inside the device or not. That's a big deal. Having an invulnerable clock-radio that will ignore any attack that hits it on your bed-side is cool. Having an indestructible trench coat that does the same thing is much, much better.
  4. We could do something like say the TAP cost for the vehicle is based on it's assumed cost (8 AP) but there is a point raised: does it cost fewer AP for a low AP character to have a cloaked car than a high AP character? Maybe it should? Especially if the character can, say, fire out the window while remaining mostly invisible (the reason Invisibility is TAP costed is that it presumes the advantages will be more severe the harder the character hits, etc.). So there is a case that the cost for the car being cloaked should be based on the cost of the owner.

So, you know--that's something we're thinking about.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Proofing The Opening Chapter

Gravity Control: Hector Busamante
I'm having my mother read the opening chapter of JAGS Revised Archetypes. Firstly she is a competent editor and has edited at least one other published book. Secondly she is not a gamer in any sense and, although she has, actually gamed with us (story below) once or twice, does not natively "get it." If she can understand the chapter I figure I'm in good shape.

I ran a game for both parents and an experienced game friend several years ago when Hurricane Wilma knocked out the power for several days. With very little to do and housing a friend from an hour north who was staying by himself, we figured it might be a way to pass the time. It was a success.

The game I ran was one where the characters were "Space Rangers" who were new on assignment and wound up with a disabled ship in "pirate space." They, keeping their identities secret, wound up on a hidden pirate space station (large) trying to beg, borrow, or steal parts necessary to repair their ship. The only visible supply of parts were in the hands of a local crime boss (to an extent, everyone on the station was a crime boss) and the parts could be had for "bounty hunting."

The PCs could've chosen to try to steal the parts (I made it clear that was possible but risky--they were heavily guarded) but decided to run down the bounties. It turned out the targets were two lovers on the run (Romeo and Juliet) and in the end the characters had to decide whether or not to bring them in (to get off the station), let them go and try something else, etc.

They hit on an idea of taking some of the bodies they'd accumulated and having them surgically altered to appear as the targets. It was an idea I hadn't thought of and allowed a win-win where the PCs got their bounty and the lovers got to escape--the (very short, tightly run) was deemed a success--and fun.

I have observed (and leveraged this) that new players really like price lists. I created the game with a short list of gear that they could choose from (not knowing what would happen--but knowing something would) and let them take a few minutes to make trade offs. This seems to be a way to generate interest and energy early on. I think AD&D really benefited from it's (often obscure) price list. I think a lot of people miss this.

I also wanted to give the players strong parameters (you are on this station, there are these things around) but no strong guidance. Even the core decision to attack the crime boss or try to play the game was explicitly left open (of course bounty hunting was so attractive I doubted they'd gravitate to the riskier solution). The big decision (what to do with the lovers) was left completely open. There was no easy answer (I figured they would not send the two kids back to face death--but I thought they might do it).

For making characters, I think it's clear that the full number of options is overload for new players. I gave them basic character templates and let them pick from a set of equal cost "packages." This is "simplification for new players" but it illustrates a point that should never be forgotten: the more work you do to make everything in play relevant to the game the tighter the experience will be.

I didn't put in cyber-hacking because I knew that there wouldn't be cyber-hacking in the 4-6 hours of play we were going to do in a blacked-out house. Now, this rule can (and has been) taken and run far too far with: if I didn't put cyber-hacking in JAGS because "JAGS isn't about that" it'd be a huge mistake. In a game that is designed to, maybe, be run for 2 years with the same characters and players you are necessarily going to want to do things differently than in a 4 hour game for players who have never played before and may never play again.

For those players they expect--and are reasonable in it--that whatever formative decisions they make, they will be relevant. When making a character for a game that may run hundreds of hours those expectations are often going to be different. A player who understands both role-playing and the dynamic of their specific group well will know how much agency they can expect to have when introducing elements into the game (i.e. a cyber-hacker space ranger will, in a long enough game, find places with a cyber-net and will generate situations where the hacking is likely to be useful even if the first pirate space station they crash on isn't one).

This is also something behind the thinking of costs in JAGS: I find that having an "8 point" slot where you can put "one really good thing" (8pts), "two pretty good things" (4pts each), or "four okay things" (2pt costs) is easily grasped and that the ease of understanding and responding makes for a good dynamic during play.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Immortality ...

Dr. Death (Domain Control: Death) by Hector Busament

Let there be no mistake: we're still churning through JAGS Revised with a vengeance. There are all kinds of powers, combinations of powers, new powers, and expansions on old powers that we need to nail down. I'm very pleased with the product but it's not finished.

Let's talk for a moment about immortality.

In JAGS there are a few powers that confer--or come down around--making you immortal. These fall into several categories:

  1. The very cheap. Things like Won't Die Of Old Age, Ignore "Death" Results (but you can still be killed by extreme damage, decapitation, etc.), and various kinds of hard-to-kill (but still normal to knock out) are pretty cheap. Taking random "death results" out of play isn't that expensive and most PCs don't die of old age anyway. There is Soul Jar which lets you be immortal so long as your enemies don't find your vulnerable hidden soul--which, of course, they will start looking for as soon as they know you've done this. It's cheap--but it has ramifications.
  2. The Medium Cheap. There are forms of Immortality where, for example, you can be "put back together" if someone is there to reassemble the parts. There is a form of for-real immortality where you come back in a season. These are around 4 AP or so. Inexpensive compared to, well, not having to worry about dying ... exactly.
  3. Expensive. In the TAP-Cost range is Immortality where you come back in a day or so--or even "nearly instantly." This costs, scientifically speaking, Yo Momma. There is also Invulnerable which is kinda like Immortal--and Very High Defenses (hundreds or even thousands of points of Armor and DP) which can simulate this for most purposes. These are also around 80-95% of your points.
Some Observations
The first observation I want to make is that immortality is, in my experience, usually corresponds to an otherwise expensive character. Greek gods, for example, are a lot of points. Invulnerable attackers tend to have pretty powerful attacks--not always but, like, Juggernaut is no wimp. JAGS addresses this by assuming he's a LOT more AP than the PCs (so he can spend like 90% of his power on being invulnerable and then have his 10% remaining to trash the PCs). 

JAGS does handle this (Scale Number, for example is slightly more elegant than just saying he's 1000 AP or something but the fact is that these abilities fit into a category similar to abilities like "mimic / absorb the whole team's powers" that are hard to model in a point-based game system.

Our Thoughts
So here are a few of our thoughts.
  1. The General Mode of Play. Our mode of play is, on observation (although this is not so explicit) that so long as the PCs are generally within "bounds" death is unlikely. That is: there are few unannounced death-traps. There are not "random encounters" that include things likely to create a TPK. There GM usually "plays fair" to an extent around PC death and suicidal actions are generally double checked to make sure the player is taking on the risk / understands the situation*. And so on--in a "level based" model I would say that it's usually fairly clear where you are going from a Level-1 encounter to a Level-5 encounter and the GM just doesn't "spring that on you."
  2. Being unable to be taken out of a fight (invulnerable, immortal and back pretty fast) is worth a lot. It means you generally can't lose so the cost has to make sure you usually don't win (if you are "equal points") because 'balance.' Balance is a tricky concept at the best of times but clearly in combat if you can spend AP's to win a battle you can also spend APs to "never lose" and that models pretty expensively.
    1. BUT: what if Immortal, back-real-fast was only, say 50% of your points? Or maybe 70%? We generally don't think PCs will spend more than 50-60% of their AP on defensive abilities in the most extreme case and we know from modeling that if you spend 70% of your points on something that does NOT apply to combat mechanics (i.e. you can be killed and you re-form about an hour later) you will lose almost all your "equal-level" fights. In other words: maybe the current costs of around 80-90 AP are too high?
    2. ALSO: For Invulnerable we are stating that if you spend X% of your points (90? 95?) on, say, Armor, at some break point (the TAP cost for various kinds of Invulnerable) you get EVERYTHING (you go from, say 90 Armor to 9000 Armor or -infinite- Armor). This is an interesting statement: we DON'T say that for Strength, for example--why not? Because not-losing is palatable but always winning (I hit for -infinite- damage) seems more problematic to us.
  3. We do not directly address the game-play ramifications of immortality and we have only limited exposure to them in practice. Being able to take suicidal risks (the immortal guy loads up with explosives and runs into the enemy midst) is something that is outside of the simulator and is more in the realm of game play. Being able to insult the Emperor and get away with it because you can't be executed (and, if you "return to your home realm," can't be captured) may have impacts on play beyond the game mechanics. We think that many of these impacts are negative as they remove drama (or even just the appearance of drama) so they should be carefully considered.
The Big One: When Do You Come Back?
Our biggest question, though, is around when the PC comes back. Firstly, do we go in-game (days, minutes, Rounds, months?) or do we go meta-game (sessions, hours of play, etc.). It is not hard to switch back and forth for a group that has a good routine down but being prescriptive about it could have problems (our play sessions today are 2.5 hours--but in high school a "play session" could last 48 hours). 

Secondly, for games with any sense of pacing (which is, to our experience, most of them) coming back "in a month" or a season is like not coming back at all. An entire campaign could last a season. Our current game has run, real time, around 2 years and I'm not sure we've covered a year of in-game time.

The obvious answer is to have some kind of "intent" mapping. If the power says "You come back in a season" that could be "you come back in two sessions" if the GM agrees that makes sense. That's okay. But do you really want to not play for two sessions? I mean, if you were dead-dead you'd come back as soon as you could make a character and get re-integrated. If play time is the thing, what do we say to someone who says "I'm paying AP for the 'privilege' of less play time." (yeah, but you get to keep your investment in the character--so there is that). 

The Other Big Question: When Is It Appropriate?
When am I allowed to buy Immortality--even the cheap kind? In some games like "Dungeon and Dragon style games" that might not be right for the "feel of it." How do we codify that?

Friday, November 2, 2012

JAGS Continues ...

You are probably going "What the heck is going on with JAGS!? Where's the next update." I realize many of you can't make it through the day without regular updates so I apologize for being sparse. Okay, not really--but it helps me to keep this blog updated once in a while :)

Let's see:

  1. We are creating a SLEW of characters using abilities that haven't been used before (of which there are many) and trying higher point builds (128 AP--supers characters). This is informative.
  2. We are proofing the book. This is depressing (not so bad--but, man, there are a lot of mistakes in there and I'm not just talking about typos).
  3. We are still collating artwork. 

For each single character sketch (of which there are a lot) we are actually doing their AP Traits. So we have a strong guy and he's Built plus some other stuff. We have a super-heroine with gravity control and give her various capabilities -- doing the stats--which should get printed next to the picture in the final book. As far as I know statting out the artwork is pretty unusual for a game book.

Something We Learned
So the simulator tests Resisted Attacks--remember: an RA is like Blind-Target, poison gas, mind attacks, etc. It has an Intensity score that is compared to your DP (plus some other stuff) and then there's a Resistance Roll and several levels of effect. So if I use some kind of Mind Control and my Intensity dominates your DP (you're like a normal guy and I'm like a master villain) I get a Critical or Catastrophic effect and can order you to kill yourself or something. If you're more my peer then maybe I get a Standard or Major effect and it's not so bad.

Well, in the Simulator we were testing VERY simple characters--all attack and defense and DP. Not so much in stuff like Super Hacking or whatever. It wasn't relevant. But what we discovered when making a bunch of characters is that the real, interesting characters had a LOT fewer DP than our test characters. We also discovered that the less powerful Resisted Attacks (compare "Tear Gas" to "Nerve Gas") had way too high Intensity so that even if they required a Catastrophic Effect to take you out, their proportionally higher Intensities would get that.

So we are re-tooling our Resisted Attack charts to both reduce the Intensity for most attacks a bit and to make the "weaker attacks" have even lower Intensities than they used to.

What Else?
Well, we did get some interesting looks into the powers and have revamped several of them "on contact" with a real character. Maybe I'll post some of the characters we're making here ...

Cover for Domain Control chapter by David Chow

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Remote Gaming

I want to talk for a moment about remote gaming. I've touched on it here--but I want to do it again in more detail. At this point, right now, the only gaming I do is over Skype--with two kids (one 7 months, one three years old next week) and friends ranging from 25 minutes away to over a thousand miles, the gaming group I have simply can't meet easily and, frankly, I don't have the time I used to.

This isn't all bad--firstly, I expect when the kids are older to have more time--but also: given the difficulty of gaming period, I think a regular weekly session speaks volumes to the commitment I have to have it work. If you follow the link in the last post you'll see some of the artifacts that were created for the game we're doing now--and you can see how rich this is in terms of audio-visual (we had that before, face to face--but not like that).

So here's our method

1. Skype
Skype is a mixed blessing. Nothing else we've tried works so well--but it doesn't work especially well. Skype's user interface is confusing--sometimes confounding. When someone calls me, I sometimes get it on my iPhone and not my desktop. Players have dropped. Voice has been choppy.

You can't do group video (hey, maybe that's a plus?). On the other hand, mostly? It works fine. The sound quality is good. It's pretty easy to set up (I think the UI is so bad because it is designed for grandparents to be able to use it at the expense of, like, having the chat-window easily and clearly accessible).

In any event, it is free and it (mostly) works. I have a group "Gaming Group" which I push the call button for at 6:30 PM Sunday nights.

Recommended: I have a Turtle Beach head-set which is both comfortable and very high quality sound and mike-wise. It cuts out environmental noise and seems to do a good job otherwise.

Recommended: Make a group for the whole gaming group--it saves the pain of having to individually add everyone each time.

2. Google Docs
For mapping we have tried all kinds of things. Nothing--nothing--has come anywhere close to Google Docs for purposes of mapping and tracking. We have:

  • A Google Spreadsheet dice roller. This handles rolls and Initiative for the group. We could build it out to do resisted attacks and wound tracking--but have not done that yet. Jeff, a former player, built an incredible online server for JAGS Initiative handling but when I moved I never set up the Linux box it ran on again. It's better--if only somewhat--I don't have to open my firewall or manage Dyndns to keep it going. Google Spreadsheets seem to work well enough.
  • A Google PowerPoint for mapping. We create smiley-face icons in different colors for each of us and move around on the blocks that the GM draws. This works outstandingly well. We have had grids for tactical battle-maps, large sketches for outdoors areas, and plenty of interior maps. The only thing Google Presentation lacks is a Union operator to join shapes. As it is we have to layer them to make turns and such--it's a little difficult at first but after a few times the maps even look decent. You also have to keep in mind that your icon needs to be right-clicked and "moved to the front" so it doesn't go under a newly added corridor (or the GM can Order the corridor block to "back"). However, given the vast array of other shared drawing tools and mapping engines ... this is by far the easiest and best.
  • A Google Spreadsheet for damage and gear. I have a long-running spreadsheet that shows the gear / treasure, SP totals, healing potions, and so on that we have acquired. We can go back through the list and see things we were doing two years ago.
Recommended: Get everyone on Google Docs and use Google Talk for chatter if you don't want to speak over someone.

Face To Face Gaming
I want to note that we do, rarely, do F2F gaming when the GM is in town for the holidays and we can get everyone together. It's rare but like 1-2x per year. I'm not sure it's better: what would improve my experience most is moving from 2.5 hours to a 4 hour time-block which we have done in the past (when I was running a regular f2f game about 3-4 years ago we did 4 hour time-blocks and that seemed about perfect).

I the future that's my goal--but it'll have to be when the kids are older / more self sufficient.

Monday, October 8, 2012

JAGS Current State

Here's where we are:
1. We have gotten well into the first (and maybe only) "Art Buy" for JAGS. This is a complex process involving me deciding what art I want and then trying to find ways to make it happen. It's expensive and ... difficult. I sometimes have a clear idea of what I want--other times I just have conceptual direction--and to lesser or greater degrees this aligns with the artist.

We try to find artists whose strengths match the piece. That isn't always so easy to do. It's also true that sometimes an artist ignores what I write and does their own thing. Often this is great. Sometimes it isn't.

So it's a process.

When it is finished, we will then integrate the pictures into the book and see what kinds of "blank space" remains. That blank space, usually, will be filled with art. Depending on how much their is ... and so on.

2. We then need to get the book edited and packaged for Lulu, our print-on-demand solution. I might look for another one--but I've been happy with Lulu. The problem is this: with artwork the book may come to 400 pages. That's too big. Lulu will do a hard-cover premium up to 250 pages.

Does that mean Vol 1 and Vol 2? Yes--and that means two covers and a more difficult editing process. This also creates difficulties: how do I distribute the chapters--they do not break down "easily." Also, I think it's clear the "rules chapters" both the opening chapter and the "Back of the Book chapter" need to go into Vol 1. But I'm not sure.

In any event, the cover art and the editing are both expensive and I have a solution for that--but getting the money together will take some time.

What else?

Well, I'm super excited about some of the artwork we've gotten. In some cases I have ordered things and am trying to figure out if it's "what I want or not." That's my problem--but it speaks to how fluid the situation is.

In any event: the book is coming together and the end is most definitely in sight. For a project I have, at times, emotionally given up on, that's incredibly gratifying.

I also want to point you to a thread on our 2+ year Have-Not game. I'm not in it--the GM is posting it.--but I want to re-post it here ... if I can. Although that may take some work: not sure how will copy-paste will work off a message board.

Here's "Animal Adventurers" by David Chow ...
Yeah, as a computer MMO they'd probably get their asses kicked. I'm still super happy with it.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Two Images from our Have Not Game

This is one of the pictures that will be going in the Archetypes Book. It's a (incredibly cool!) group shot of the characters from our running 2-year Have-Not game. I'm the gunslinger.
By Carlos Cara

Here's an image FROM the game we played. It was used as the map for a "psychic battle" where the PCs got to bring in things / concepts they cared about versus a centuries-old malevolent media super-star.
Every word on there has specific meaning in the game

Friday, September 14, 2012

Ordering Artwork

While the book itself is not "done"--it is not type-set. It has not been proofed. There are a few things we need to add / change (but very, very few, really) we are at the stage where we can start asking about artwork. This is one of the most exciting times for me since it is a very positive (if somewhat difficult to navigate) experience.

I really like seeing elements of the game illustrated and when that piece of artwork comes out that just NAILS it--that hits it not only exactly right but takes what I sort of had in mind and improves on it? That's solid gold.

Our "Round 1" has just completed with several artists being given several pieces. With any luck we will be able to fund a "Round 2" and get the "ideal" one piece of art per 3 pages (which is what we think is sort of the sweet spot--but entails over 100 pieces of art in this case).

We also need to figure out the cover. Expensive ... And whether or not there will be a border piece / page background ...

Sunday, September 9, 2012

JAGS Revised Archetypes (2.0) BETA

Here is the link: JAGS Revised Archetypes.

That should download it. It's about 4 MB. The visualzation on the cover is about maybe 50% of what's in there. I'd talked about having more--but that's where we got to right now and what the heck. Someone out there probably wants to look at it!

My rules: I'm sharing this early with JAGS Blog readers and I would like it if you did two very simple things.

  1. If you download it, please post here that you did--even if you don't look at it.
  2. If you do look at it, please try to give me some feedback even if it's just "wow, that's a lot of pages" and post it to this thread. I'd like to have the public feedback as I think it will help with the "energy" around it.

If you have further feedback or even something like proof-reading, that doesn't have to go here--but any questions or discussion would be great to have out in the open.

This represents a major milestone for me--in JAGS and in my personal life.

If you want a baseline of comparison, look at the J-Arch 1.7 file (link over to the right) to see what the alpha version of this looked like--very different.

I believe this is sleeker, better balanced, more complete, and, really, just a whole heck of a lot closer to what we originally envisioned. The software development maxim: Throw The First One Away seems to hold true to JAGS design as well.

Thank you for reading.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

"Not THAT Done"

I remember -- back in high school, I think--we were getting ready to play and one of the players said "I'm done with my character." The GM looks up: "What's his name?" The player: "I'm not THAT done, dude."

JR Archetypes is not "that" done. But it's pretty done.

I absolutely do plan to post a full PDF to the site and a link here for the blog readers. It will be fully armed and operational." I hope to have it out within a week or so.

What am I waiting for?

1. I have to re-do the front chapter. It's out of date and needs to be tightened up. I simply cannot give new readers a ~350 page book with an intro-chapter that doesn't adequately explain how to use it.

2. We have a "cover" we are working on. Since none of us are artists and have not purchased artwork yet how can this be? I'll put a draft of it up as soon as it's near ready. Prepare to be surprised. Some of you may even be impressed.

So that's that. There will also be a table of contents.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

I'm ... I'm ... Oh, Crap ...

There's been a dearth of posting here because--I'll be frank--I wasn't exactly sure what to post. It should've been the day-by-day stuff I was doing. I couldn't really bring myself to do it. It's not that I wasn't making progress--it's that I was.


JAGS Revised Archetypes v2.0 Beta is COMPLETE.

I mean. I mean ... I finished off Astral Travel and Psionics. I did the Back-of-the-Book chapter. Domain Control ... is complete.

What's missing?

1. I need to re-do the opening chapter now that I've written the final one. I can tighten it up significantly.
2. The whole thing needs to be proofed and edited.
3. Technology Control needs some decisions about how I'm going to handle Rating for hacking into and controlling systems ...


:: thinks ::

The back-of-the-book chapter needs some revision and re-examination. I mean, it's all (mostly?) there but it's not fully playtested or proofed or anything.

But it's done.

I have to say I figured that wasn't really ever going to happen. I'd kind of, emotionally, given up.

What the hell do I do now? Keep revising it? Start ordering art? Historically we've jumped the gun on proofing and had a proofed version returned before "the book was done" which has led to all kinds of errors. I'd rather not repeat that. But ...


Tuesday, July 31, 2012


So okay ... you would probably be surprised to know that I spent the last few weeks re-doing the Animal Creation Rules from Innate Powers. Why? I got bogged down in Psionics. I started doing the Back of the Book chapter. I took a beak to examine some examples of Animal Creation and determined that the rules, although "okay" needed a serious overhaul in terms of clarity.

One of the things I have been doing is going back through the various myriad of chapters and sections and re-reading and then re-writing them for tightness and clarity. This is good ...

All good writing is re-writing.

On the other hand, (a) no one has ever really accused me of being a good writer and (b) while I can manage to like my best stuff okay, I have not reached the point where the mess of rules that is JAGS Revised Archetypes clocks in at "good writing."

On the other hand, it's a great deal more concise now than it was. The animal creation rules ... work better. I am mostly happy with the mechanics that I have tested / stress tested. Over-all, I am pretty happy ... and getting happier.

I have also, today, "concluded" the Back-of-the-Book chapter. That's "revision One" so it's gonna need some more work--but at least it's there ... "in print." I mean, that's something.

When Psionics--which is not that far from done--is "complete" I will begin the "final revisions" and "fleshing out" stage (that is: putting in the last few powers bouncing around our heads, writing up a few sections that haven't been added--but mostly small things).

At that point I will have to decide: do I do a chapter on "Gear." It would be good and useful. It is also a "new chapter" (even if it's small) and I'm not sure I want to do another chapter right now.

I'd rather start trying to figure out editing and then type-setting ... and ordering artwork.

The idea of this thing ever being done sounds like a fairy tale to me ... but I have a half-ounce of faith that if I just keep working on it, however slowly ... at some point it'll be finished.

Won't it?

Friday, July 13, 2012

A New Discovery ... TAP Revision ...

It's a bit unsettling to, when I think I'm "finishing" the book, make what amounts to a major discovery and rules change. But we did (it's not exactly a 'discovery' as a 'realization'--but hey). Let's set this up ...

An interesting "test challenge" from one of our team led to the conclusion that an optional rule should be less optional and that our costing for some abilities was not just too complicated but NOT VIABLE. We're changing things.

The Jedi Challenge ...
So E sends me an email saying "you wanna test the new rules-set? Make a space-knight Jedi." He lists a bunch of stuff they have: TK, super-acrobatics, block lasers and reflect them back, some "cosmic awareness" and "read person" and control the weak mind ... and so on.

I sit down: this is interesting. Firstly, one thing (this isn't important) jumps out--all our Mind Control centers around Telepathy. Jedi can't really read minds but they (and a lot of other characters) can influence them--so right away I see a space for some influence and mind control type powers that do NOT require Telepathy. Okay, fine.

I also start giving these guys Defensive SP pools so they can duel with light-sabers and not die on the first hit. I give them extra REA and Initiative and all this stuff. A lot of it is TAP-Costed.

What Does TAP-Costed Mean?
If you're new to the blog, TAP-Costed means the cost of the ability (such as Extra REA) is based on how many Total AP's (TAP) your character is built on. We determine this factor (usually a decimal like .50 if the ability cost a whopping 50% of your Total AP's, whatever they are). And early on we noticed that the %-of Total APs varied a little as your Total AP count went up. So an ability might test at .17 (17% of your Total APs for a 16 AP character but only test at .09 (9%) of your Total APs for a 64 AP character.

Why? We think it's because the "normal person" (built with Character Points) is a lot more important at the lower AP levels than the higher ones and the 64 AP test is a more 'objective' view of the ability's worth absent the "regular guy" who has it--which does not mean that the value of extra REA isn't higher at lower levels. It just means that if you played with a hypothetical 1024 AP (a HUGE number) the value of the extra REA in a fight would be FAR MORE heavily based on what you spent your AP on than your (probable) 50 Character Points.

So we got 3 numbers for each TAP ability: the tested value at 16 AP, the tested value at 32 AP, and the tested value at 64 AP. We'd then calculate the cost, rounding normally for each 8 AP "level" of a character from 8 to 64 AP and "smooth" out the intermediate values between the tested ranges (so a 48 AP character's % of a TAP power is the average of the tested 16 AP value and the tested 64 AP value).

I know your eyes are glazed over. The write up looked like this:

Lucky Dodge

TAP [.18,.17,.16]
Description:  You can manipulate probability when being attacked to make it less likely to hit! The Lucky Dodge works like a normal dodge but:

v It only costs 3 REA (even if you don’t have L3 Acrobatics)
v You get +2 to Dodge or Block moves and the dodge works against Ranged Attacks
v -4 Damage Mod if the defensive move fails

NOTE: If using a Block roll the above modifiers still apply save for the +2 to roll.

Lucky Dodge
 Down at the bottom here you can see how we computed the cost for each AP level (so if you are 32 AP, you pay 5 AP for Lucky Dodge. If you are 64 AP, it cost 10). The raw numbers are up at the top so that if you are getting all advanced ... you could calculate the cost yourself (if you are playing on more than 64 AP, you just use the last one).

So, okay--it's complicated--but most people will just use the chart and they're fine.

This is important in a minute.

The Second Thing: Utility Powers

 So the Jedi Write Up had a bunch of TAP stuff if you added it all up it came to .76--a BIG number (that means: 76% of their points went to stuff like Success Point Pools, extra REA, extra Initiative, Reflection Blocks, and 'Chi Leaping.'). 

Of the rest of the stuff (Damage Points, Psychic Abilities) they came to about 29 APs. Okay ... good so far. Except of those 29 APs about 10 of them were on psychic stuff (sensory) and yet they were paying the 76% surcharge on those points too.

We had (thankfully) already written up the (Optional) Utility Point rules that say if you are calculating TAP costs you need only use the combat points and not the movement / sensory / social stuff. So that helped.

But then came the problem: How many points were these guys? Remember: to calculate TAP cost you have to start with the Total AP the GM gives you and take the % of that. But what if the GM just picks a bunch of abilities and wants to know what they add up to?

The Formula
Unless I miss-remember the formula it's this: Total Cost = Fixed Cost / (1-TAP Total)

Fixed Cost is all your stuff that isn't TAP (and, if using Utility Power rules, isn't a Utility Power). So that's around 19 AP (for extra DP, Telekinesis, the Influence ability, and so on). You divide that by 1-.76 = .24 and you get 80 AP (+10 AP Utility) = 90 AP total character. High--but not absurd and it's a pretty bad-ass space knight.

Except ...
Except there was a problem: how did I get the .76 in the first place--remember, these powers each have three ratings. I just "eyeballed" the numbers and said "these guys are gonna be more than 64 AP so I'll use the 3rd number"--but that's not ... accurate. We can't expect even advanced players to do that. There is math that can figure it out--or trial and error--but both of those fail even our (insane) level of expectation.

The Conclusion
Our conclusion is as follows: firstly that you should ALWAYS be able to deduct any points spent of Utility Powers from your Total Cost for purposes of TAP calculation. Paying an extra cost on your "make rocks glow" ability because you get extra attacks kind of adds insult to injury. 

The second thing we're doing is just going with ONE rating for TAP powers instead of three. We're using the highest AP rating (The lowest cost version) and, so long as there isn't a big difference between the 16 AP tested cost and the 64 AP tested cost, leaving it at that.

The difference is usually 1 but sometimes 2 AP (the largest tested differences are around 4 AP for very complex power-sets).