Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Domain Control Part 2

How Do You Know When You're Finished?

I just completed the Domain: Void Control. I knew I wanted to do Summoning--a Domain Control around both conjuring and playing "extra-dimensional entities" (sample power: Return to Home Dimension). I'd like to have at least some framework for Illusions (although that's very complex when you break it down).

In a very real sense the Mind Over Matter (now Domain Control) chapter is done.

Which means to a pretty large degree JAGS Revised Archetypes is "done."

Sure, I need to transcribe the Telepathy rules. I need to re-create and dust off the Telekinesis rules. I want to flesh out some more ESP style powers and do the (short) Astral Travel section.

I need a "gear" chapter (it can be thin--but I want some AP costs for "standard items" like handguns, bullet proof vests, and grenades). The "Back of the Book" chapter with all kinds of fleshed out new rules will be a bit complicated--but those are still mostly written. The chapter on modifying powers will need some serious thought and play-test.

But those are in the margins. To a large extent the book "is done."

Isn't It?

Programs vs. Projects And Role-Playing
Consider these three questions. Imagine you are introducing a new player to the concept of roleplaying. Before tackling the questions imagine the person ... maybe it's your girlfriend (or boyfriend) who has never RP'd before.

"You are going on an adventure into a perilous abandoned mountain fortress. It may contain monsters, traps, deadly technology and magic. You will need to bring things to protect yourself. What do you choose ..."

Option 1: "You may bring anything you can think of--but you have to clear it with me. We'll have discussions about what's appropriate, what's too much, and how much you can bring with you."
Option 2: "You can bring anything you could buy in a regular Sears store--with a 500.00 budget. You can use the Internet or a catalog to search ... or go to a Sears and look around."
Option 3: "Here is a list of gear. In each column you can make two selections. For example, in Column C you can choose between a six-shooter, walkie-talkies, and a first-aid kit with skin-sealant and pain killers." 
The question here that I have is "which will produce the best experience for the group?" In my experience the answer is "C." For starters, I have never seen anything generate so much excitement at the very beginning of a game as a price-list with key decisions to make. I make no claims as to fully understand the reasons for this--but I have some ideas.

For beginner players I think that a price-list with decisions is one of the things everyone can get their heads around ... do I want a gun? Someone better choose the first-aid kit. Man, walkie-takies would be good to have!

The first one ("A") allows for much more creativity but is unstructured and can take a lot of time. Option "B" is more structured--but the list is too large--a Sears Catalog is a big thing to look through. It's also got a lot of stuff that is out of scope (either too expensive or things like toys that no one would want).

I will note that the "Real Answer" is that it depends--on the group, the genre--and so on. I suggested a "new roleplayer" because (a) I think having a price-list is sort of a pro-tip in introducing new players to thinking about the game and (b) because it omits a long history which could, of course, skew things towards "A" if the players and GM are very familiar with the genre and so on.

What Does This Have To Do With Anything? Especially Archetypes?
When we set out to make JAGS Revised Archetypes we wanted a best-practices solution to a huge power list. Clearly what Hero System did is fantastic--deep, flexible, smart. It has some problems for us in practices--but ultimately if people want that level of flexibility it's an incredible system.

But we wanted a price-list ... for character generation. We wanted to have a categorized and deep list of abilities. The categorization is hugely important because it allows structured thinking for people who want to approach it without "digesting the whole thing." We wanted depth because we think that provides flavor and color which, we think are not just nice-to-have but can be crucial in generating excitement.

The above line deserves more commentary than I'm going to go into here--but, at least, for my style of play, being able to buy abilities that are specifically flavored without having to construct them--is a point of interest for me (and our group).

So the mission is not "to cover everything possible"--but instead to provide "enough coverage" at "sufficient depth" so that the player, when choosing powers, has to make interesting choices that drive critical thought in a specifically structured way--the same way that the player having to choose between the gun, the first-aid kit, and the walkie-talkies may find the exercise itself interesting.

I'll note there that there are a substantial number of people who hate this kind of thing too. Clearly another approach is called for with them (random char-gen, rules-light systems, etc.). I actually like this kind of play as well myself--I've found many modes of play enjoyable. JAGS Revised Archetypes is built around the first model and we're very, very well aware it isn't going to please everyone.

Programs vs. Projects
In the Information Technology world, which we are well familiar with there is the question of a program (an ongoing series of projects) and a project (an effort to accomplish a specific outcome). One of the key questions that distinguishes them from each other is "how do I know when I am finished?"

For JAGS Revised Archetypes it is clear to me that I could, easily, "never finish." There are powers floating around in my head that are not included. There are powers that are included that I think, maybe I should expound on. So how do I know when I'm done?

The first answer is in the categorization. We created a taxonomy of abilities a long time ago (Psionics, Fast Company-action heroes, awesome-but-not-super powers, super-powers, animal/mutation powers, and so on). So when that taxonomy is mostly filled out we know we've at least touched on all the areas we want to talk about.

The second issue is that of "sufficient depth." That's harder to cover but it's a judgment call. Do we have enough Water Powers to make two different Water-Control Super Heroes? Do we have enough Chi Martial Arts stuff to kinda-sorta cover Street Fighter II? Stuff like that. It doesn't have to be literal. The goal should not be completeness but rather a sufficient level of material so that the player can have an "interesting time choosing what they want."

That's why it's key that there are no obviously degenerate powers--the best attack in the game ... the only defense you'd want to buy, etc. Have we achieved this? Probably not. I'm sure in the 100+ pages and 200+ powers there are errors and things that have not been thought through. I'm certain there are inconsistencies.

There are hard philosophical questions: Is the ability to become insubstantial ("Phase Out") a flat-cost? Or should be be a percentage of your points? How about Invisibility? Which is worth more (especially if it's non-combat invisibility that you can't attack while using)?

There are points where I'm just guestimating the value of things. I'm sure I've done some thinking at point A that I forgot at point B. There will be a review and a proof-read--but I don't have any illusions about what that'll get us in terms of perfection.

But perfection isn't the goal. Just "good enough." I think we're pretty much there.

I think after maybe six years of working on this I'm almost done with this thing.