Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Slow But Steady

I'm working my way slowly through Innate Powers--which is tough because there's a lot of stuff to review and try to get right. And the explanations of it all have to be at least decent if not actually "tight."

There is some question where to put standard blocks of rules. Take, for example, Charge Up.

Charge Up
Charge up means, in the simulator, that the ability (an attack) is not useful on Round 1 (or Round 2, for example, if it has a Charge Up of "2"). It generally does not cost REA to "charge" the ability (if it does that's a different matter) and, well, that's that. Contrast to Cool Down which means the ability is useful on the first Round of combat but then takes some "time off" after use.

These are simple rules--but the specifics get more complex. Let's take a look:

  1. Charging an ability allows a Roll for Initiative by everyone who can sense it. It's presumed to have some audio component and it's unambiguously a readying for attack. You can't be facing down the enemy leader and "charge your fire blast" and have him 'not realize it.'
  2. You can't "hold" a charged power. If you don't use it next Round it's inactive the Round after--in general--although the intent of the rule is take the ability out of play on the first Round of combat so there are some optional rules about "holding" the charge so long as "combat is still going on." This would, likely, be a GM call at some point.
  3. Activation Abilities Work With Charge-Up. If the power has a Charge and an Activation Roll that's okay. The charge Round happens (there is no activation roll--the power simply isn't available) and then on the first Round where the ability is possibly active you start rolling. If you make the roll, the ability is online. If you miss it, the "charge" is saved until the activation roll is made. Then it's either use it or lose it.
  4. Once charged an ability can be used for its entire Rate of Fire. If the Rate of Fire is Standard (two shots a Round for 5 REA each) you can Charge the ability, fire both shots (or however many), and then it's off-line after that until it charges again. Some abilities have both Charge Up and Rate of Fire of 1--meaning you must charge after every shot--but not all of them do.
Who knows, there might be some more.

Clearly this text, with an example or two, needs to go somewhere. But where? How many places? In the first chapter there will be some mention of these standard rules--and short descriptions.

In the back of the book there will likely be the full descriptions with all the caveats.

What goes in each section or each power description? That's not so clear to me. The obvious answer is to produce some boiler-plate that goes in the beginning of each chapter. However each chapter has multiple sections. Do I need a table or description there? It has been suggested that if I can get things short enough I could have like a "footer" on every page with some notes about the rules. That's interesting--but I'm afraid that very short descriptions may actually make things worse if they are not extremely clear.

And that's just one of the issues I'm struggling with.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Body Types

Here are some notes on "Body Types." This is still under heavy consideration.

Robot Body
Tends to keep going after taking component damage

  • No biological weaknesses
  • Few Vital Organs: PEN Doubling on 6+
  • Must go to Injured before taking "Minor Wounds": No HURT, No MW until Injured
  • CON +1
  • Can be re-built if robo-brain is intact (limited true-death)
  • Component Damage: Damage results MAY be "capped" (Round 2, Fight-style) with limited results (the robot is cut in half and upper-body still functions fine)

Animated Material (Rock Body / Iron Golem)
Very hard to stop. Crumbles and cracks instead of bleeding

  • No biological weaknesses
  • Small-ish wounds have NO effect (chip-away/cracks): NO HURT, NO INJURED
  • Feels No Pain: +2 CON
  • Hard To Stop: No Stunned until Injured
  • No Vital Systems: NO PEN Doubling, No PEN
  • Limb-Loss Option: Can Round-2 Fight with limb-loss effect

Crystalline Body
Hard but fragile.

  • No biological weaknesses
  • Turn 1/2 DP into Armor (4 DP : 1 Armor)
  • 1.5x PEN Defense
  • No Minor Wound
  • No Hurt Condition
  • PEN doubles on 2+
  • Major Wound is 2/3rd DP (fracture)
  • At Injured Condition, Minor Wound *does* become Major Wound and is 1/3rd DP as normal

Energy Body
Protected by an energy field instead of skin

  • No biological weaknesses
  • Slow flight
  • No PEN Doubling / PEN Damage (all damage is impact)
  • Automatic Force Field 
  • Automatic Recovery when paying REA for a Wound Effect
  • "Dispersed" (STUNNED) when Force Field is down. Recovers for the 5 REA
  • Normal Stunned effect is 3 REA.
  • Wound Effects allow some movement as the character re-forms close-by.
  • Hard to hurt (negative damage mods) when Dispersed.
  • Hard to mix armor with (armor is still "inside" the Force Field

Liquid Body
Easy to "splash" but hard to hurt really badly. Especially resistant to physical damge

  • No biological weaknesses
  • Impossible to hold/grapple (very high Def-Grapple and Auto Escape) (other L-bodies can grapple)
  • 'Flow' movement form
  • Does not automatically stretch unless stretching is bought
  • Puddle defense move (10 REA for large negative damage modifiers)
  • Characters get 2x BLD in ADP against Physical Attacks
  • Hard to mix armor with: Armor does not apply to SPLASH threshold
  • No PEN Doubling / PEN Damage
  • SPLASH THRESHOLD: 1/3rd DP. Any attack that does more than that gets auto-Stun (NO Effect is Stunned)
  • SPLASH THRESHOLD: You can still get a Daze or "Unconscious" (splattered) which is 10 REA instead of 8.
  • You CANNOT get anything more than that.
  • Each SPLASH done in the same Round gives a cumulative -1 CON Roll towards Splattered
  • NO Hurt Condition
  • NO Injured Condition
  • At Serious Condition, any wound is a Major Wound and can take the character out
  • ?Check how Force Field works with this (is it "too good")?

Gas Body
Very hard to damage, has trouble dealing damage.

  • Gas movement (float, go through vents, etc.)
  • Immune to most physical damage
  • -8 DM from Energy Damage
  • No Armor effects in gas-form (armor only applies in the physical form)
  • ?Maybe Armor counts as ADP in gas form?
  • No PEN Damage / PEN Doubling (from energy)
  • Large Weapon bonuses DISPERSE. A hit is checked for damage. If damage is => Minor Wound,Disperses the gas body (Daze)
  • Can be grappled by vacuum cleaners and collected in force fields and so on
  • Character takes a -8 DM to any attack launched while in Gas Body against the physical world. This may/may not apply to Psi attacks (i.e. it doesn't if the GM rules there are enough Psi attacks to make the gas body vulnerable to those)

Friday, January 20, 2012


What I'm Working On Now
I am digging into the Innate Powers list. It's complex. I am now on Iteration ... 3.5 let's say. What's in Have-Not is 1.0. What's in JArch 1.7 is v2. I have an unpublished file that is good--that's version 3.0--but it was done before the most recent batch of simulation and the Big List of Attacks--which taught us a lot. So I'm using that to update it.

What's Interesting?
What's notable is that the file is interesting to me. Enough time has passed that it's fresh to me--so I can see all the errors. But there were interesting decisions made that I'd forgotten about--like how I handled water-movement. I'd looked up the speeds of various sharks and things and used them to calibrate my swim-speeds. That's always nice (Extreme swimming is, like, as fast as a submarine--super swimming is faster than anything we see on earth).

Balance Issues
The Extreme Body Types (Animated Material, Energy Body) have the biggest changes--since I actually simulated their components (or close to it) I can have a far more scientific cost mechanism than before.

Thomas' Questions
Thomas asked a few questions in his post. Let me follow up.

1. JAGS REA Economy
Thomas notes that JAGS's mania for charging for movement may result in stationary battles. What do I think?

We'll have to do a detailed deconstruction of the rules for me to be sure of this--but here's my intended position:

(a) Moves that give tactical advantage need to cost REA. If you close with a guy who has a ranged weapon--or even a longer reach one? That needs to cost you--he paid for his range/reach in damage.
(b) The rules do allow for more movement than it sounds like. Any strike may or may not involve a yard or two of movement of both parties--including moves to the left or right. If you are playing with a hex map, anyone taking a block or dodge action can move back in any direction and the attacker can follow. If you move two spaces that would require extra REA (a Retreating Block) and gets you a better block. This 'incidental movement' is in the rules, I'm pretty sure.
(c) There are some rules for Circling which you can invoke. That gives some fairly unstructured--but not exactly static movement that can be used.
(d) Let's face it: most of JAGS combat is going to be, unless strategy is in play, two people standing toe-to-toe and duking it out. This is because in many situations that's optimal--if people are not playing with a battle map and are just doing some D&D-style combat we don't want the rules to get in the way of that. It's still exciting and making tactical decision making required would be heavier weight than we want.

That said, the GM can go a long way towards making combat more dynamic by setting up situations where movement is interesting / required.

(e) In the Fast Company PDF there are some rules for "Stunts"--basically you can either "spend a stunt point" or make an Acrobatics / AGI roll to get some kind of advantage. Usually that "comes with" a movement effect. These rules are, to my read, not bad--but not heavily playtested. I'd advise taking a look at them. If you are going to play a free-wheeling swashbuckling style 3-musketeers game give everyone 8 CP in Acrobatics and have a go.

Finally: There are a number of things in the rules that can really encourage types of movement and strategic movement. Range-Mods for weapons (SMGs vs. Assault Rifles came up long ago in a game we played). So can the use of cover. In the more recent rules, having the PCs have SP Pools can further encourage defensive play since the SPs can negate or mitigate the "one good roll means I'm hit badly" effect. This may be useful in convincing players NOT to just go for broke.

2. 1 REA Moves vs. 0 REA Moves
Yes--we changed things that used to cost 0 REA to 1 REA. Why? Basically two reasons. (a) to make "weird" REA numbers useful and (b) because having some "skin in the game" playtested to be a good thing. Having a 0 REA Strike meant you always did it--and if you didn't you were really leaving money on the table. Having it cost 1 REA meant sometimes it wasn't worth it. Sometimes it was. This was very positive in our playtests. YMMV, of course.

3. Guns OR Melee Weapons At Close Range
One of the biggest things we worked on was giving people in close or HTH combat cover from each other vs. Ranged Weapons. Right now in our Have-Not game, my gunslinger often has cover-issues from the other 3 HTH characters running up and attacking a boss. I have to move around to a vantage point I can shoot from that doesn't risk hitting my team.

The flip side of this is what about guns in HTH Combat.

(a) You should be able to block a gun at HTH range--treat it as a Sharp / PEN weapon (so for most character's it's hard but not impossible).
(b) We are going to hamstring rifles in close combat--and make them a little harder to deploy than pistols if not already "ready" using two hands. We do have rules for this (I think they may even be referenced in the basic book somewhere). These are optional rules. In our Have-Not game there are definitely "slots" for handed weapons (I can carry two pistols--but would need to move to one two-handed weapon). The simulator doesn't really track that--but okay. In a grapple or grab a rifle would be pretty shut down.
(c) In a Grapple or, especially, a Hold situation you can block a weapon (gun or knife) at some bonus. A gun, probably at a bigger bonus than a good knife. These rules are not published yet--but they're not hard to figure out.

In the movie Equilibrium the main character uses Gun-Kata to deflect the barrel of a gun by slapping it away continuously during the fight. In Wanted the characters (Fast Company of some sort, for sure) can "hit a bullet with a bullet" to block during gun combat. How do you do that in JAGS?

Well, for just slapping it, as I said above, treat it as a Sharp Weapon--and, maybe you get pluses with some kind of Gun-Kata training package.

Blocking Bullets is a 1 REA power that enhances a Block you already have (if you wish to simply use Kung Fu to block bullets). There are some CP-only abilities that could be used too (these are less well defined right now) but would make blocking a bullet (or catching it in the teeth) much riskier. This is good for drama but not good for gaming since a PC who pays for that is taking a huge risk in getting shot every time they try to get value for their points. But, again, it's not hard to figure out.

On the other hand, having a reliable block against bullets based on your Skill Block is pretty cheap.

But Fire Arms doesn't give a Block. Does it?

The solution to the Wanted issue is to just give Fire Arms a block (probably "at skill level") for 1 AP and then Enhance it for 1 AP to work against Range.

These are all extrapolations of the rules and that's easy for me to do in a blog-entry as the game designer but harder for a reader to just do. I understand that--but it's the best answer I have right now.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Body Types

I'm working my way through Innate Abilities--a mix of super powers, animal-style abilities, and "mutant powers." This is the compliment to the Generic Archetype Abilities as it is crucial to the rest of the book in complex ways. It is the base-line repository for many (albeit not all) unusual abilities.

It has to accomplish a few things:
1. List enough attack powers to make monsters (most monsters, anyway), all animals, and a decent number of "energy" or "mystical" attacks.
2. It has to have rules for playing very large and very small characters.
3. It has to have a wide variety of each category of ability--there will not just be 'Armor' but different kinds of Armor-plates and other rules around similar defenses to give the character and style.

Body Types
One of the first sections is "body types." I wanted to make sure that non-human animal-style characters would have some options that would give them basic templates to work from. For example: Quadruped (fast) gives the character superior stability and higher ground speed. They have a lower shoulder-height than a human of the same BLD and, unless they do something special, have no hands (but four legs!).

The Centaur Issue
I have a list of all or at least most of these abilities with "stat blocks" (although they are not "Complete and up-to-date"). One of the early ones is Centaur Body Type which is a humanoid torso (arms and head) and a lower body of something else (snake? horse? spider? etc.).

The purpose of the body-type is two-fold: (1) to let the character "play that thing" but secondly (2) to separate the JAGS-sian generalities around "Big things." JAGS is pretty dedicated to making big things "big." If you play an intelligent Elephant in JAGS you are going to have hundreds of Damage Points. If you play a "horse-man" you're going to have "a lot of DP."

And you're going to be big too. And bigger things hit harder in JAGS.

But there's a problem: in our formulation a Centaur with a sword who weighs 1500 lbs doesn't hit as hard as a 1500lb Giant with a sword--so says I. I mean, they could: and if you think they do, fine.

But they don't have to. The human torso's arms will not be as strong as the horse's legs. Presumably the arms can't lift a fraction of 1500 lbs as the legs can (and jump it). Furthermore, while a centaur might train to get their weight into a strike it seems unlikely that the kinematics of a horse will match up as well as those of a full on body twisting sword swing.

I mean--maybe not: I'm not an expert--but it seems to me that a centaur with a sword would strike like a very strong man--but not as well as a 1500lb sword using giant (although if you do assume weapons better created for the centaur they would get the advantage of their mass).

If you are buying the Centaur Body Type you have two options. The first is that you treat it just like a human. This is the case if you think that a Centaur with a sword hits as hard as the presumably optimized giant. In that case you just buy the stability / ground move. Maybe a Trample attack and hooves. And you're more or less good to go.

But if you take the other option then what? The other option is this:
You get a Centaur Body Type which limits the damage you do with punches and weapons to roughly that of the humanoid part (plus a bit) and you use your less optimized attacks (trample, mule kick) with your horse-portion. This means that the Centaur pays less for its size than a "Giant humanoid" of the same size since the horse-attacks (Trample, Mule-Kick) are less efficient in terms of REA and other things than punches or sword blows.

If you do that, then it is cheaper to be large like a centaur. This is good--there are all kinds of things out there that are not as efficient in terms of weapon usage as a human. Take, for example, a shark: it has a charge-in-and-bite attack. This is a powerful attack but the damage comes primarily from its jaw strength and not from the "ram attack" it does. A great white shark can weigh 4200 lbs. However if it swims up and bites you, while often fatal it is not always fatal the same way that JAGS would treat a human of that size swinging a sword at you.

What To Do?
What we are doing is this: providing a list of "body types" (Quadruped, Pisciform (fish), Avian, Insectoid, Serpent) and giving them some "basic attacks" that are usually less efficient than punches and human kicks. This makes their size and strength cheaper. If they do take something that optimizes their weight then they need to pay the same price as everyone else.

How'd I Come Up With Those Forms?
It turns out that there are (I checked) six phylum of animals--and under that a whole host of "orders of animals." I went through those and tried to get categories that made sense for the game. Especially since there will be some weird combinations (air sharks?) and the game categorization is not the scientific one (reptiles are a different phylum than mammals but crocodiles, cats, dogs, and horses are all four-legged creatures with different bio-weapons, skin-coverings, diets, and movement abilities).

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Running JAGS

Thomas wants to know if I have any advice for running JAGS for the first time doing a zombie-style game. This is a more complicated question than it might seem as I have to figure out not only what I want to tell people--but also what I, myself, know that everyone else doesn't.

Here's an attempt:

1. Don't Bog Everyone Down With Character Generation
When I have introduced people to JAGS I usually do it with pre-gen characters and have them pick them. In some cases I have a character with a couple of options (including gear) and let them spend a small number of points themselves. This is especially good with GATs ("Here is a list of 3 GATs for this character--you pick.")

2. Use The Character Generator. The one linked (or I can email you a file) is done in JAVA and produces HTML character sheets. It's not perfect but it's pretty good and should generate decent looking output. This will help players know how much damage they do and such without having to "do the math."

3. Have the Players Pick Gear from Lists. This is a best-practice for any game--but especially survival style ones. It generates excitement and energy (for reasons that I'll admit I'm unclear on--but I have some suspicions). Do I choose the blanket, flares, axe, and first aid kit? Or do I go with the shotgun and five shells? Do I get two walkie-talkies ... or a survival knife and flashlight? Stuff like that. That's less a JAGS thing and more a best-practice thing.

4. For Running Combat: Use a sheet of paper. Write everyone's name down the side including NPCs. Across the top is the Round number. When you roll Init you tell everyone to roll and then call out "+5!" ("I made my Init roll by 5") or "-3" or whatever. You write the numbers down next to their names and go in order of action. For groups of enemies just roll one for each group (say they are being attacked by 12 zombies, use groups of 3).

5. Use ADP for Foes. Keeping track of wound levels for lots of opponents is time consuming. So is keeping track of wound effects. If you give a Zombie nothing by 12 ADP it's either "fine" or it's "dead" (really and truly dead) and that's a lot easier.

For human opponents, a Major Wound, regardless of wound-effect, is enough to take most combatants out of the fight. Henchmen will be crawling away or surrendering if they're close to Injured or Serious condition.

6. Every Attack is 5 REA. This is a bit of a simplification but I'd use it to start with (exception: usually kicks stay at 6 REA). Don't load up on the Advanced or Optional Rules for a first time.

7. Use the Search Function and the PDF. If you own a printed set of rules? Great--but keep a laptop open with a PDF loaded and use the search function if looking for rules.

8. Avoid Grappling. The grappling rules are complex. Unless someone is really interested, don't worry too much. The one exception is, of course, zombie grabs. In this case pre-calculate grapple scores for the zombies and the PCs. As they are not action heroes their Defensive Grapple Scores will likely be around 12-16. If a Zombie has an Offensive Grapple of, say 14, that gives them a 12- to grab an ordinary character. Just have the table printed out so you can refer to it easily.

I'd even hand this out to them--the Zombie Stats:

  • INFECTED BITE: 13- to hit, 1 try per Round, Must Have a Grab, 3 PEN. If you take 1pt of damage you are INFECTED!
  • ZOMBIE GRAB: 13- to hit, 1 try per Round, Close Reach. Grapple of 14 (compare to your Defensive Grapple. If your Defense Grapple is a 12, it has a 12- chance of success if it hits).
  • ZOMBIE BILE: 14- to hit, every other round, Acid burns for 8 IMP damage. GROSS!

And let them puzzle it out (you could even add some really weird stuff like CLOUD OF PESTILENCE that might not appear but could weird them out. Don't forget about RADIOACTIVE or BURNING zombies ...).

Put the damage table for each attack along then bottom so you don't have to calculate it during the game either.

9. Explain How The Dice Work. Train everyone to ignore 6's up front. Do a couple of practice rolls to show how it works.

10. Explain How Made It / Missed It By Works: If I need a 14 or less to succeed and I roll a 10 I "made the roll by 4." Often that's important and it's something that a lot of people seem to have problems with. Likewise, if I needed a 14 and rolled a 16 I "missed the roll by 2." In some situations that might be important.

I'm sure I'll think of other stuff--but that's all for now. Good luck! Let me know how it goes.