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).

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Power Modification ...

Hero System's rules for creating your own powers are brilliant and I wouldn't try (exactly) to do them "better." The basic idea is that there's a pretty comprehensive set of generic abilities (i.e. Energy Blast) and then a ton of specific modifiers that you can add on to get "exactly what you want."

This basic idea is going to be applied, to an extent, with JAGS--we have a lot of abilities (although generally not so "Basic" as Hero's) and you can apply positive and negative modifiers.

When this is something we can directly test in the simulator, meaning it applies to a combat power (example: Fires every other round after the first) then we can give you an exact decimal modifier that you can use to re-compute the damage per AP. This is slightly complex (most people will want a calculator) but it works, it's balanced, and the list of modifiers, while not tiny, is not huge.

The harder part is where you have some modifier that does not directly impact the mechanical effect of the power. Take, for example, a Force Field that makes a loud noise, sounds a little like a light-saber when you move around with it, and throws off enough electromagnetic radiation that a lot of people can track it (if they have special gear). That's a defect over an invisible force field that you can casually walk around with without cluing people in.

So, okay: it makes the ability worth a little less. Not a lot less: combat (when you really want a Force Field) is noisy anyway. Something that wrecks your stealth is bad if you're a ninja--but this guy probably isn't a ninja. Being trackable isn't fun--but ... ehh ... it's not that bad. We also assume that character designs will generally not be fatalistic: if the character is a wanted fugitive it is not likely they will take an ability that makes them easily found (it is possible--but it is not the "most likely configuration").

So it's worth a little less. 

Since we do not do fractional APs, how do we do that? The answer is that we give you Damage Points (called Mod Points) back on each 8 AP of purchase. Let's say that this is an "Inconvenient -2 MP" modification. If you spend 8 AP on Force Field, you get 2 Damage Points back for your loud glowing trackable field.

Let's assume you, the reader, think that kinda works.

What if you spend 4 AP? You get half that--1 Mod Point (which converts to a DP).

What if you spend 1 AP? You run into a minimum MP special rule. You probably get 1 DP but it's a GM call.

Okay. Now let's expand the problem a bit:

I have the noisy force field AND I also have super-noisy glow-y flight. When active I shine brightly, I can be seen coming for miles. I leave "glowing lines of force behind me." Basically it's the same problem: anyone who wants me can find me if I'm using the power. This is also 2 MP. Do I get +4 DP for both of them?

Answer: probably yes. At this point we are still talking about slightly different things--and the glowing-lines-of force are, you know, a little different (the news media can tack you).

So then I get Tracking Sense that lets me scan for people I've "put a trace on" for, let's say, 2 AP--and I do the same thing: it's glow-y? Do I get +1 DP for that?

Answer: AT this point, probably not. See, the collection of Mod Points is based on them having to do something "new" so making all your powers obvious isn't all that new anymore. So probably the GM says "no--that's not new."

Problem 1: This is now a GM call and I'd rather avoid that.

Problem 2: I can make a case that I might use the sense when I'm not flying or using the force field and that is at least theoretically different.

Let's bump it up a bit: What if my Teleport Power creates a "pool of spectral unease" around me that turns people off and makes them mistrust me for a few minutes or an hour after a teleport? That's kind of a defect, right? Then: My mystical armor which is always on does it too. Okay, we already know that it's "no longer new" so the GM could refuse it on those grounds. 

Yeah? Not too convoluted.

But wait: having a spectral sense of unease cling to me is kind of a character point Trait. I mean, it's not in the Character Point rules exactly but there are things like Ugly and Obnoxious that kinda do the same thing--they don't get you more DP. They just give you CP.

On the other hand, a "spectral sense of unease" is, almost definitionally, a meta-normal ability (a bad one--but still): it's unnatural. So if it were a good thing (spectral sense of coolness) then it would cost Archetype Points. Right?

So maybe this should get me Archetype Points?

So That's The Problem
There are not just several different categories of defects and enhancements but there are potentially even other currencies that they could be vended in. Superman has two problems with Kryptonite: the first is that he loses almost all of his powers (so all powers have a "Does not work in the presence of Kryptonite" defect on them). Secondly he has a problem with falling unconscious in the presence of Kryptonite. That sounds like an Archetype Point issue: it's very unusual (it's not something normal people can buy--it's related to his unusual / unique physiology).

So What Do I Do?
I think the answer is to simply split things up similarly to the way I have here.

1. If the modification makes the ability less useful (or more useful) it's a Mod Point issue.
2. If it creates the "kind of problem an normal person could have" then you get CP for it.
3. If it creates "the kind of problem a normal person could not have" then you get AP for it.

You are probably limited in how much CP / AP you can get from these.

You might be able to get more than one pay back for a given modifier.

What's an example of #2? Stinky Armor. If your bio-armor has a nasty odor to it then you get a CP Trait the equivalent of Ugly or Obnoxious since the social impact is similar.

If your armor is radioactive, however (minorly, we're sure) you get some AP for it since that's the sort of thing most people cannot get.

In any event, you don't get that much for them.

One More Thing
While I tend to like giving you DP to make up for defects in abilities, if you want to, you can reduce the cost of the ability by 1 AP per 4 Mod Points you have. There's no reason for that not to be legal.

Also Note: there's a limit on how many Mod Points you can get for an ability without GM permission--especially doing things like adding up a bunch of small things. If the idea is that the ability is worth "half as much" because it doesn't work inside 7/11 stores and won't function under the New Moon and doesn't target red-heads, even if you say that adds up to a big defect ... it isn't.

So clearly there will be some judgment calls going on here.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Back of the Book

Am I done with everything? No. I am not. There are still some powers that need to be fleshed out. There are a few things that need to be added. I need to finish up Telepathy (almost done) and do Telekinesis and Astral Travel (not too bad).

I'm working on the dreaded Back of the Book chapter. This is where everything that's been thought about gets laid out. It's gonna be good.