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?

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