Monday, June 25, 2012


There's a bunch of stuff I'd like to write about--but I don't have a lot of time so here's something short that came up: Traumatize!

The Traumatize Attack
So I'm re-doing the Telepathic attack powers. There's a bunch of them (different kinds of memory manipulation, Burn Mind, Mind Control, etc.) and one of the questions that came up during our Psi game of long ago is this "how do you have it that someone who was savaged by a telepath has like, lasting psychological damage?"

This is the sort of thing you'd expect in some fiction--or darker games. It's pretty, well, dark--yeah. And is that really necessary?

Well, our Psi game was very dark--and, as I think about, mental assault is dark too. Of course so is physical assault and we don't have rules for PTSD. So do we need them for Psionics?

The answer is "no." We don't need them--but I had a set of rules written up--a Traumatize attack--and I decided I would like to keep the basic concept. After all, if you are going to sack someone's mind, having lasting (if only for a few hours or day) disorders might be a good bit of color.

So I went to transcribe it--but then there was a problem: who the heck would take it?

I mean, sure: some villain. Some PC with an attitude--okay. But I decided that I didn't want people running around with a Traumatize attack because it was oh-so-good and I generally don't want "villain" powers in the game (example Villain Power: Diseased Sword--it cuts you and then you get deathly ill like a day later--very few PCs will get any value out of this--but they sure would fear fighting it).

So I adjusted the standard Burn Mind attack to have an optional rule where, for +25% power-boost your damage results can have "traumatic" effects where the target suffers temporary psychiatric problems. This has the beneficial effects of:

(a) Getting rid of a power
(b) Solving the "who would ever buy this?" problem. Lots of people might buy Burn Mind. It now can come with it.
(c) Having that stuff in there as an optional rule instead of a separate power.

Another Note
Although the rules (probably) won't make it into JAGS Revised Archetypes, the rules for crippling in combat do exist. In our formulation, when you suffer a wound result you can--if the optional rules for crippling are in play--elect to take a "cripple result" instead. That means (probably) rolling on a table based on Wound Result.

So let's say you are playing a gritty fantasy game and you suffer a Dying Result. That's bad--but you go "I'll take a Crippling Roll" and on the Dying Table (maybe we could even do it by damage type too--I always loved Fantasy Warhammer critical hit charts!) you could roll like "lose a leg" or something. Hey, it's better than being dead, right?

At the higher levels there's stuff like "Facial Scar" and "Missing Ear" and "lost eye (eye-patch).

So that's how in JAGS you can get crippling injuries! We, of course, could add psychological trauma to that list too ... if we wanted to / if anyone cared.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Finishing Up Psionics

My wish to complete the JAGS Revised Archetypes books is limited only by my intent to have a power-set that is complete to what was originally scoped. If not: I'd declare it done right now. This means transcribing the Psionics rules.

Originally there was a bunch of random Psionics files that got turned into JArch1.7 (which you can download). This was the first almost-complete JAGS Archetypes book and I'd even started working on artwork for it (the last stage before editing-ruining "fixes") when we realized that it just wasn't the book we wanted to produce.

This was clear for two reasons. The first was that, well, a bunch of the rules didn't quite work--that included a fairly disastrous test of the Telepathy rules. The second was that we realized there were some "bad answers" encoded into the framework.

We knew that stuff like -4 Damage Modifier against all attacks was worth some % of your AP's--but we didn't quite know how much--or how to codify that in rules. We knew that fast company characters who somehow did a lot of damage were too good--so we had this rule for "high damage" and "low damage." But it wasn't a good rule.

So we created the Combat Simulator which began a new era of testing (learning how to use the simulator is what the first part of this blog is about). Back to Telepathy ...

So we had a JArch 1.7 version which touched on how we saw Telepathy working. An earlier version of these rules got a pretty good playtest in a campaign set in post-apocalyptic Miami. The telepath in the group was reasonably powerful and the basic abilities worked okay.

However, at that time, the rules were emphatically non-scalable. Chi Fighters (What the other two characters were) had very discrete limits. Cyborgs a little less--but not much--there were like three "grades" of them. Within those limits the rules worked okay.

The problem came when we tried a very similar cut of the rules (what is in JArch 1.7) in a game where everyone played a telepath. It became clear that we were not able to do a lot of things we wanted to--and that a good portion of the abilities simply didn't work--there were rules holes all over the place.

So I wrote a Telepathy v3 file.

It fixed the rules--but kept the vision relatively intact.

Now I need to take that 56pg file and "update it" to the new framework. That means two major things: 1. Simplify it greatly. The new framework favors a lot of small-description powers rather than long ones. It also favors more straightforward effects rather than special rules systems (like Chi Points).

2. Re-evaluate the vision. In my vision telepathic combat is a little like grappling (shudder). The idea is that you establish a "mind link" (or "lock on" as the current PDF calls it) and then you can start trying to mess with their minds.

While in a mind link people can "mind strike" each other using their WIL as STR. So if your telepath mind-links with a super Tai Chi master martial arts master with a 15 WIL you may have telepathy but going 1:1 with his superior mind is a bad idea ...

I like that--but it's complex. Do I need to keep that? What if I drop it and make all the telepathy attacks one-offs without the concept of "mind-linking?" What if I take out the Mind-Strike thing altogether and assume that there is no way for non-telepaths to hit back mentally?

It's not as cool and colorful--but it's a lot simpler.

I think the middle ground here is to see if I can present a very simple mind-link system that covers the bases (how do you break a mind-link if you're not the initiating telepath who can just drop it?) but doesn't take 50 pages to explain?

That's the key thing.

Last chapter ...

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Types of Games

The current "open chapter" is Psionics--which presents a whole host of questions (some of which I have discussed here). However there's another top-of-mind question: the previously discussed Utility Powers.

As said before, the idea is that if you get 32 AP for abilities and you split it between "attack" and "defense" of various types you get a decent degree of balance out of the rules. Maybe not perfect--but: really? Better than we thought (thanks to many millions of sample combats with the Java Combat Simulator!).

However when you start drawing from those points for things like super senses or telepathic communication or even flight that changes. Sure, if you can fly and fire energy beams and no one else can, you'll win a lot of fights--but in an even match (say: indoors?) those 4+ AP have a pretty severe effect on your Percent of Victory (POV). This, statistically, encourages nothing-but-combat characters.

Not what we want.

So what do we do?

Well--if you've been following ... it's what we've already done once. We split point-types between Character Points and Archetype Points because we noted there were some pretty good mathematical reasons for having different cost-schedules. We found in GURPS and Hero we were differentiating between "normal character stuff" and "paranormal stuff." So we formalized it.

Now we can do that again: Combat APs and Utility Power APs. This gives characters a pool of points to use for all that non-combat stuff. Now, the rules are slightly more complex than that: for example, you can always move APs from your Combat Points to your Utility Points if you want to--and how TAP powers are calculated are based on your Combat Points--not your Utility Points ... and okay--this isn't a complete write up of the rules--but you get the idea there's some additional thought around this.

Let's get one thing clear: this whole point-partition thing? It's Advanced Optional--we don't expect most games or most players to care that much--we just want the framework there in case people do.

But that raises the interesting question: what kinds of games use Utility Point Pools?

What Kinds Of Games Use Utility Point Pools?
The big one is superhero games. That's where how well you fight is important and so is color. You want both aspects to be firing on all cylinders for a good supers game. How about Chi Martial Arts Street Fighter type people? They should, maybe, have some non-combat healing type powers and still compete strongly in the Kumite so ... yes. Super Spies? We can see some APs on things like "Drive any Vehicle" and weird senses ... right? Okay--good.

Do they all get the same ratio of Utility Points? How many should they get anyway?

Well, we think there are two "schedules" for Utility Points (if you are using them).

  1. A lot: you get half your combat APs in Utility Points. This is the schedule for supers. A "powerful" 64 AP Super character would get 32 AP to spend on Utility stuff and could have some pretty good flight, senses, environmental support, etc.
  2. A few: you get 1/4th your Combat APs in Utility Powers. So a 16 AP action-heroy super-spy type gets 4 AP in Utility Powers. Enough for one good stand-out trait or so.
What Games Don't?
Some "color" is always good, yeah? However there are some games where Utility Points don't make sense. We think these are (to name a few):
  1. Low AP Games. Clearly if you get 0 AP you don't get Utility Points (or ... do you? There could be a game with weird stuff but no combat stuff--but that's weird). If you get 8 AP for "one trait" you probably have to choose combat or not (or split them yourself).
  2. Level / Adventurer Games: Our now-epic Have-Not game has run for almost 2 years and advanced the characters from Level 0 to Level 9 (each Level is approx. 8 AP). This has been a triumphant success of the Level System and the balance mechanics. There is no reason to mess with that by adding in other kinds of APs.
  3. Standard I-Don't-Want-Complexity Games: The CP/AP split is, we think, necessary for some kinds mechanical issues that are very hard to solve otherwise (consider that rolls cover a range of numbers from 0-20 but most powers are scalar and can go up to any level. If you don't want to trivialize having 20- skills you need to do something about cost-schedules ... the most elegant is to split points). There, we're sure, be plenty of games where the GM just says "You have 12 AP, go for it"--and no one will worry about Utility Points vs. Combat Points. The difference in POV just isn't that much.
Are There Other Kinds Of Games?
Well, sure--and we're not even covering all kinds above. What are "psychic detectives" (we tried a game like that and it proved the ESP rules needed a lot of work). We ran a game with Telepaths and those inexorably mix Utility Stuff (communication, some Mind Reading) with Combat (Psi Blast). If we sell the abilities separately--as we are wont to do now (but did not in the cut of rules tested) then some work needs to be done to resolve that (you kinda must have basic telepathic communication before you can launch most kinds of mind attacks--do we ... formalize that? What does the printed rule look like on the page?).

But "Telepaths" isn't really a game type. It's just focus of Traits. It's like "Cyborgs" where the characters might be more like super heroes or more like adventurers or whatever. 

As I get ready to do the next, probably final pass, on the rules, I have to determine how we explain this and what we need to do to ensure that player's trust in the rules isn't damaged by too many options and too much game-design theory getting in the way of comprehension.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Another Issue: Special Moves ...

My original intent with this blog was to, as I did something--even very little--daily--to write a quick post. In my mind it would be something like "added a new Generic Archetype Ability--still need to edit ..." and that would be that. The idea would be mostly to keep my forward momentum up since I assumed no one would be reading.

However, people are (to a degree) reading--and conversely that makes me less apt to write: "found another error. Need to fix last search and replace on Mind->Domain" or similar cryptic stuff that no one but me would care about.

However, that creates gaps in posting even when I have been doing light if steady work.

Which is why some of this will seem strange.

Special Martial Arts Moves
Back in the day we created a bunch of special martial arts moves like "Counterstrike" and "Perfect Back-Fist" and stuff like that which were purchased with Character Points and would give color / flavor to martial arts battles. Most of these were taken from non-mystical real-world training and represented an "unusually effective" form of training in the move: anyone could train to throw an Uppercut (that's just a punch or cross in JAGS terms)--but the special "Power Uppercut" represented a character with extreme training in that move--like a boxer who specialized in an uppercut that would floor people.

So, good. We had 2 CP, 4 CP, and 8 CP moves. There are a lot of them (maybe 30?) and they're reasonably colorful and reasonably balanced against each other. Some thought has been put into making sure that you don't do nothing but throw your signature move over and over in a fight.

So, good.

They had gone in the Chi Martial Arts section--but now that section doesn't exactly exist any more. It has become Domain Control Body / Chi Control and is more aligned with the Archetype Rules (even beyond what I wrote here). It's less fiddly--there is no longer a concept of Chi Points (I liked it--but it made it hard to integrate / balance against other Archetype Abilities and was, simply, unnecessarily complex).

So what do I do with this big list of Special Martial Arts Moves?

Answer: Put the list at the bottom of the Fast Company rules--along with some GATs for "Gun Fu" (some Wanted and Equilibrium style stuff). This makes some sense: Fast Company characters (maybe with some Chi or Gun-Fu or just some standard GATs are the template for super martial artists and human-frame superheroes. So, good.

But something happened when I started transcribing the rules. Originally the marital arts moves were in the context of our original set of Chi Fighter rules which granted, IIRC, 150 Character Points to the players. Now, this was kinda before the age of AP's so you used CP to buy special Chi Moves--and we had actually run "the tournament" where several players created Chi characters (about four or five each) and we had them fight--or just eyeballed them--to see what would happen: WHO WAS BEST!?

This, we think, resulted in a pretty balanced set of rules before the age of the simulator.

I mean: not perfect--but it showed us where min-maxing the system produced holes.

The problem was that while a 150 CP character (and these guys were pretty optimized) might have 2 or 4 CP to spend on specific moves to, for example, deal with a Grappling Attack they otherwise weren't well prepared to handle, today's 50 CP characters simply did not.

Going through the list I thought: I'd never spend 4 CP on One-Inch-Punch even if it is what you do when you're grappled by someone who out-wrestles you ...

Worse, back in "the day" there was nothing really competing with CP for HTH damage. The concept of Archetype points existed--yes--but not GATs. Not really. Today, if I want to buy hand to hand damage I have a plethora of choices for many games--and with the Fast Company rules I will almost certainly be using those options ... they're hard to avoid.

So I'm looking at these previously "very balanced" Special Moves and going: I need to half the price of all them ... and maybe even tinker with them to make them better deals (we know, for example, that things that cost 5 REA at the start of the fight--essentially putting the character at "one attack behind" their opponent are  more costly than we'd thought in terms of Percent Of Victory).

Keeping On Trucking

There happens to be a lot of things I want to write about--and I haven't been able to (lots of stuff at work and home, etc.). However, I have time for a quick note here ...

State of Play
I have done another pass over Domain Control and tightened things up a good deal. I'm becoming more and more happy with with--still not 100% yet (needs more undead attacks ... and, do I put in Plant Control?)--but as I said last time--it's getting there.

I have done a second pass on Innate Powers--having left it fallow enough to see the problems. There are still some gaps. We need to test the various bizarre body-types (crystal body, etc.) and put some deeper thought in. Still--it's almost there too.

We have settled on "Utility Powers" as a term for "non-combat powers" (like senses, movement forms, and stuff like "weather control"). There will be optional rules for a set of APs for those as well as combat powers. This will remove the unpleasant choice of having to sink your combat parity to have more colorful characters. This still needs more thought--but I like how we've done it (for the most part).

This will, however, have some ramifications for character design--so it's only 80% baked.

We need to look at auto-fire, double-tapping, and 3-round burst more--and what the place of those are in the game (do they exist to simulate some real abilities? to reward high skill characters? to reward automatic weapons? to add color to some kinds of combats?). This is a topic of some debate.

More later ...