Saturday, March 23, 2013

Regeneration and JAGS

I'm taking a short break from the (immensely educational) exercise of trying to test-create characters from the Worm-verse to talk for a moment about regeneration in JAGS. I'll also talk about learnings so far.

What We Have Learned
There are a few things the act of trying to create characters from the Web-Serial Worm has taught us. Here are some of the key ones:

Power Modification: We have always found this a sticking point because (a) it is complex and (b) our methodology deals with a bunch of fiddly decimal points which, frankly, no one likes. We had tried to use a "Mod Points" system which extracted some of this difficulty but, really, it doesn't seem to hold up in practice as well as in theory. So we're looking at just using decimal numbers and saying "fuck it."

There are two kinds of modifications: the kind we can test with our Java Simulator and the kind we can't. The kind we can test are things like "takes a Round to charge up" or "Armor Piercing." The kind we can't are things like "only in sun-light." For the first the rule is easy: you take whatever the tested modifiers are and you multiply the damage done by them.

For the latter you assign a modifier of SMALL, MEDIUM, LARGE, VERY-LARGE or EXTREME and you add all the modifiers and use the chart:
So three Mediums make a Large and so on. These are different methodologies and so they will need different explanations. It's messy--but we're getting a much better handle on it than we had in "theory land" where we didn't have a good set of highly problematic characters to test the system against.

Errors and Typos: Although we are having the book proof-read, the proof-reader is not a roleplayer. This means there are classes of errors that can't be caught by her. Using these characters tested some of the powers we'd considered but had never implemented in play. In most cases the raw material was there for the character but the specifics were not in the book. For example:

  1. Animal Control and Swarm Body. The powers were more or less there but as written they didn't work to my satisfaction.
  2. Vital Strike was in the book but needed the "only if you Penetrate" option to be complete.
  3. The power Bodyguard works well--but additional levels of it are not cost effective.
Batteries of Attacks: We need to think hard about how we will handle certain types of "grouped" attacks. The current rules say "you pay full cost for your most expensive attack and then 1/3rd cost thereafter." This is fine for Super Strength and Heat Vision--but if you have either a billion different types of super-arrow or a bunch of normal guns and knives this gets kind of silly (do I pay for my Glock AND my six-shooter ... and my knife?). There needs to be some kind of sanity check rule that allows for "batteries" of attacks" when the GM and players rule that they are not really additive in terms of value (the arrow guy does get some benefit from having the Tangler Arrow and the Explosive Arrow and the Armor Piercing Arrow--yes--but if he just dumps all those points into the Cruise Missile Arrow he'll probably win more fights that way assuming most fights come down to dealing straight-up damage ... which we think they will).

In the Worm-verse there are a lot of characters with regeneration--far more than we've usually had in our games. Part of the reason is that most game systems we've played haven't paid a lot of attention to regeneration and part of the reason is that our general view of it was as a minor after-the-battle type of thing rather than "your primary defense" sort of thing.

Here's how it works today in JAGS.
  1. Round 2/3 FIGHT! One of the powers we have is the Super Street Fighter power where you can, once or twice a combat, heal a significant ("Major") amount of damage and get rid of Damage Effects. Essentially you get your "second wind."
  2. Healing: Healing powers can be used on others or yourself and you get back X-number of DP for some REA. This X-number recovers once per day.
  3. Fast Healing: you heal quickly but not in-combat-quickly. You are probably good to go an hour or two after combat.
  4. Immortality: There is a level of immortality which is basically just "I heal completely--even if killed." As with other kinds of 'combat-immortality' this is pretty much "all your points." (or, well, so many of them you are not likely to be even remotely effective against people of your same scale).
  5. ADP recovery. Ablative Damage Points may be actual flesh-and-blood (and therefore heal slowly) but they can also be a bunch of other things (cybernetics? Generally "cussedness"?). We allow ADP to "Come back after a scene" if the narrative allows for it in some way (i.e. the damage done could be declared superficial, you get bandaged or get painkillers, you stop by the cyber-repair shop--or whatever). 
In the Worm-verse there are a few things that are needed to be added:
  1. Crawler's Regeneration: I would say this character gets a Major Wound back each Round. This probably does not remove damage effects (if he gets Stunned or Dazed, he still suffers it) but would wake him up pretty quickly. At this level you pretty much have to kill him in one shot or do extreme, grievous damage to have a chance.
  2. Really Fast Regeneration: Healing one or two Minor Wounds per Round would be below Crawler's level but still pretty extreme. It would make any fight where you didn't dominate quickly a losing proposition but not as bad as Crawler's. I'm not exactly sure who I'd give this to--but probably just about any character with better-than-Lung's regeneration.
  3. Lung's Regeneration: This might be "Fast healing" (which we have) but is probably, rather, some (low-ish) number of Damage Points per second so long as he isn't at Injured Condition (badly hurt, out-of-the-fight). It would also explicitly heal limbs. The reason to make this separate from after-the-fight speed regeneration is that fighting Lung is explicitly a bad deal if it goes on for a while. He gets stronger as he fights. This, in JAGS terms, would mean healing damage taken during the fight.
  4. Night's Regeneration: she heals "instantly" and completely when she's not being looked at. It's not clear to me if, in the darkness, her attack-form always insta-heals or if it's just the transition back and forth that heals her. This functions even if she is unconscious (nobody blink!). 
The Good News--We Can Simulate: I'd normally be very reluctant to include these abilities in the game as, if we got them wrong, we could "break it." To address this, we built a Java simulator that runs quite complex battles of characters against each other. Usually these characters are pretty basic--the battle is done to isolate a specific ability and see how its presence shifts the odds of victory around at different cost levels.

We don't currently have the hooks in the code for these levels of regeneration but we're putting them in.

This isn't being done "just" so that you could play Worm-verse characters but rather because, after looking at the characters we've decided that regeneration at a level of being a "primary" defense.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Trickster Part 2

After completing Trickster Part 1 in our ongoing series of play-test creating characters from the Worm-verse (an excellent web-serial about super heroes/villains), we had some discussion and did some deeper examination. Here's where Trickster wound up:
He's Bigger In Real Life

So a few things:

Area of Effect-Selective
The ability to hit an area but only hit specific targets in it ("Smart Bomb") has to be less attractive than the ability to have a few additional attacks every other Round (which is what I gave Worm-verse uber-villain Jack Slash). After doing some math it looks like the "damage divisor" that hits the sweet spot is 3.5.

What does that mean?

It means if you have an "attack" (like, say, a gun) and you want the ability to hit multiple targets you have two choices: (a) buy something like Mass Attack which gives you the ability to fire directly on separate targets--but usually something like "every other Round" or "once every three Rounds" or something or (b) hit an area-of-effect but within that area only hit enemies.

These have to be "roughly even"--one choice should not always be better than the other. The deal is that the attack that gives you more to-hit rolls every other Round should do a bit more damage than the attack that always hits "everyone you want to" within the attack's effective radius.

It turns out dividing the damage you do by around 3.25 is that sweet spot. The "Area-Attack-Selective" does less damage per attack than the shots-every-other-Round. It's better at taking out larger crowds though.

Trickster has this--and he pays dearly for it.

The Swap Other People Attack Further Examined
I'd call this attack Castle after the chess move and while it may not make it into the game in print, here's how I'd do it:

  • Standard Effect: Targets are swapped but this does NOT redirect any attacks they can make (they simply re-target if they were launching an attack)
  • Major Effect: Targets are swapped and any attack that was being launched will miss harmlessly.
  • Critical Effect: Targets are swapped and the target (a) will be hit if there was an attack coming at the swapped character and (b) if one of the targets was launching an attack it may be re-directed at someone else.
  • Catastrophic: Same as Catastrophic effect but targets placed in line of fire are at -4 to Block/Dodge.
I'm rating this a B+ as before.

Bodyguard and Defender
I gave Trickster these powers because they allow him to (a) use his power defensively for 1 REA instead of 3 (so he can do this a lot and often) and (b) he can use it to defend "his team" 2x per Round.

NOTES: Bodyguard Level 2 isn't especially cost effective. It costs 8 AP for another +7 Damage Points (a bad deal) and the ability to do one more defense per Round. Maybe additional "levels" should cost 4 AP instead of 8?

Trickster Is Over Points
I experimented with a few builds and some ideas (what if he had a "mega swap" usable once per combat for a lot of extra juice?) and decided to just build him on "more points." He is, after all, the leader of a powerful group of supervillains. I selected 192 AP as a large number and put a whopping 160 AP into his attack. We'll discuss the ramifications of that in a bit.

Trickster In Combat
Trickster pays a huge 160 AP for his ability giving him 120 Intensity. This is enough to 'swap' Weld or Jack Slash reliably but NOT enough to swap them into immediate danger or reliably re-direct their attacks. In the web serial he swaps Crawler--a massive character--with a garbage truck. He can't do that either.

A 64,000lb garbage truck would have about 4200 Damage Points in JAGS so it's out of scale for any normal character. If Trickster was Scale Number 50 he could do it pretty easily--but then he'd have 50x as many Damage Points too--and be virtually indestructible.

On the other hand: Trickster on the battlefield will be enormously disruptive for any sane group of characters to deal with. He will be constantly interrupting any action they take and then making rolls to swap characters around. In addition to the spatial/tactical issues (swapping hand-to-hand characters out of combat-range or the like) every attack launched--and especially those launched at him--will have the risk of landing on an ally--a substantial risk.

If he was 128 AP--a legal "starting character" he would clock in at around 76 Intensity--which is still enough to swap most 128 AP characters for spatial movement and can swap Coil's guards around all day long. He could massacre a team of mercs.

So What About The Garbage Truck?
One of the things that JAGS (and, I will submit, simulative RPG's in general) has problem with is characters who are very, very effective outside their ability to "take it." Consider Purity. Her blast, at full power, can "level a building." There doesn't seem to be much by way of limitations on it--she can fire it often and accurately (when she is fully powered up, anyway).

What if she were to "fight herself"? The mirror-match is not the end-all-be-all of good gaming but it's a decent litmus test to see if your characters and system is going to work well. If the test comes down to "who fires first" then you are possibly setting yourself up for some bad gaming if the characters are "intended to fight."

In JAGS firearm combat is fairly deadly for normal people--it isn't as deadly as real life (we looked at real firearms data) but it's pretty bad. We don't even enforce things like blood-loss and realistic you-get-shot-you-aren't-playing-for-the-rest-of-the-scenario healing times. However, when you get to "destroy a building" any hand-waving no longer works.

If Purity can shoot a beam that'll do 4k damage (destroy a garbage truck) then if she does fire on anyone--Jack Slash, Weld, whatever--if she hits, she'll total them. And then some.

So it's not clear what the "right thing" to do is in that situation. Our Scale Number rules allow for extremely powerful characters but they increase your ability to take it too. 

A Thought: We do have some (sketchy) rules around 'over-powered' attacks. These are really not meant for super-hero characters--but if an attack is designated as 'over-powered' then if any "PC or Named NPC" (important character) is targeted by it, they get some very powerful defenses such as "Any defensive action ALWAYS works." You could do Purity this way: if she fires her full power beam at Jack Slash and he has any action points for a defense it'll miss--but if he doesn't, he's in big trouble--but you can't really do Trickster that way since he pretty much "never misses."

Basically, in JAGS, something like Crawler is modeled at such a high power-scale due to his size and durability that even basic super-scale attacks are like trying to beat up a garbage truck: you'd better be really high power-level.

A NOTE: A lot of superhero fiction doesn't get the variance in power-level right either. I can kick the door of a car and maybe dent it. I can't do that to the size of a garbage truck. A 9mm would probably bounce off the side of a truck--but a 125mm shell goes right through it (they did in Iraq when garbage trucks were used against modern armor). There is a huge difference in the kinetic energy of a handgun to a machine gun shell (which does not equate 1:1 to damage--but it is probably semi-proportional). If a super hero can be hurt by a powerful rifle shell, the plasma cone of a Rocket Propelled Grenade (which will cut anything but main-battle-tank front armor) will leave a fist sized hole in them ... at least.

One More Note: Crawler isn't really hard to teleport because "he's so big" but rather "because he has so many Damage Points"--which, yeah, he has because he's so big. Remember that we're using DP as a proxy for how-bad-ass someone is. If Trickster in JAGS tries to swap Accord (a pretty big-league super-villain) for someone about to be incinerated in a nuclear reactor it'll probably fail too because Accord probably has a ton of Damage Points (even if Accord is armored his armor will give him DP or ADP in JAGS). Again, this is intentional: the game system wants to maintain a level of 'balance' that prevents someone with a small investment in a "cheap shot" from taking out heavy-hitters.

In this case it doesn't really jive with the fiction.

What About Trickster As a Leader?
I considered giving him (a) A success Point Pool for defensive actions. This would help ensure that, during the early stages of a fight at least, he was almost always successful in redirecting attacks and (b) some Commander type stuff--but I didn't.

For one thing the first wasn't really necessary: his investment in the Swap attack will tend to make him very successful against anything he'll reasonably fight and for the second? Well, he's not much of a leader. He's good with the psychological aspects of manipulating teammates to kinda keep them going (although their innate loyalty to Noelle is really central to that) but he doesn't seem to present much of a "leadership" role in their combat effectiveness.

JAGS has ways of handing the more mundane elements of leadership with "normal character stuff" and I think that would work for Trickster without necessarily requiring that he hand out Success Points.

In the end, I give Trickster's build a C+. His power "works" but it requires (a) a new Resisted Attack (which, okay, people are expected to be able to create--but even so it required a lot of modification and a little interpretation) (b) he's over points to have the base-line level of effectiveness I think he needs, and (c) he still can't do everything in the stories the way his character did (that's, again, a willful interpretation but still).

On the plus side, Trickster as a character--even at 128 AP--would be absolutely AWFUL to fight against which is in keeping with the story.

Exit questions:
  • If Purity hits a clone of herself with her beam is it instant death--or does she have some native defense that allows her to absorb that level of damage?
  • If Trickster tries to swap Accord (or a similar bad-ass) into certain death does a master super-villain have any "working defense" against it? Is there some way to "break out of Trickster's grab effect before it lands?"
Post Script: Trickster should have some kind of 'tactile detection sense' which he can use with his power. He can "feel if he has someone" before swapping them--so that's maybe 4 AP and some extra Damage Points. It's also possible he can lock-on to someone and then swap them "shortly after." If that's true then that might be another enhancement.

Final Note: we describe enhancements as Small, Medium, and Large with explicit decimal multipliers for these. This doesn't work for tested effects like Armor Piercing or Area-Effect-Selective where the numbers don't fit neatly into those categories. So we need to think on how to explain that to people.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Trickster Part 1

Trickster is a character in the Worm-verse who presents a variety of special challenges and questions for JAGS.

His basic capability is that given two objects "within his range" (which is considerable) of roughly equal size and mass, he can teleport-swap them with each other. He can do this "instantly" (the closer, the faster) and can, for example:

  1. Swap his team, who is surrounded, with various gun-men surrounding them at the time of fire.
  2. Swap himself with your friend--so as you are about to hit him, you wind up hitting your friend.
  3. Swap a garbage-truck sized monster with an actual garbage truck.
  4. More mundanely, teleport himself or someone else, away from or into danger if there's a mannequin or something available to swap.
There's more--but that's enough to start with.

Teleportation In JAGS
Teleportation in JAGS comes in three or four flavors. There's Tactical Teleport which is just an expensive form of movement and lets you teleport around as a long action (meaning if you teleport away or teleport close to a combatant they can hit you on the way in or out). This is "safe" in terms of the game rules (it doesn't overbalance combat).

There is Strategic / Long-Range Teleport (and gates) which let you cover long distances--again, as a long action.

There is Flicker which is basically the "blink" power which lets you move in or out of combat before you can be hit (it still costs an action) and lets you 'teleport-dodge.'

There is Snatch which lets you teleport someone or something to you.

There is no "swap" power.

How The Game System Treats Teleporting People
Teleporting other people is usually "pretty bad." Sure, maybe you're teleporting your buddy out of danger--but if you can teleport enemies--and, say, teleport them a pretty good distance--then you could teleport them to prison (an inescapable prison--or, I dunno, the Phantom Zone). If that's extreme, how about "up in the air" (if they can't fly or take the fall easily).

If it has to be from one solid ground to another (which isn't terribly unreasonable) then you, at very least, could have an iron box or something to teleport them into. Put a thick lexan window in it if you have to be able to see the target zone.

The way we handle doing unpleasant things to people that doesn't involve outright damage is with a Resisted Attack. This compares your attack's Intensity and their Damage Points and ADP and there's a resisted roll. The more you succeed your roll by (the better you roll) the greater you can screw them over. This is how Mind Control works. This is how Fear powers work. It's how nerve toxins work--and so on (disease, trapping someone in another dimension, and so on).

Resisted Attacks go from A+ (where any success is death or close to it) (Death Ray) to D+ where the best success still leaves someone able to flee, usually (weak tear-gas). There are some pretty good guidelines for making up Resisted Attack levels (there are four) and assigning a letter-grade and figuring out the cost.

Players are expected to be able to do that with some GM assistance--so having a Teleport Other power isn't too hard to figure out.

How bad is the worst case? Well, it's probably distance based in this case. Probably the best roll gives a success when the target is still at an extreme range. It could also be the level of match necessary (a really good roll allows a less-close swap).

NOTE: This changes two things about the character right away. (1) The power's ability is moderated by how bad-ass the target is (so Trickster probably cannot Swap Crawler--a villain the size of a garbage truck--unless he has a very high power) (2) It does not "always work." It can fail on him--something that doesn't seem possible in the Worm-verse.

These rules are here because (a) it's a game--so things that always work on opponents are generally not a big part of the terrain and (b) the based-on-damage-points construction makes the same "Cause Fear" power that works on mooks ineffective against Darth Vader even if the build the GM went with didn't include some special anti-fear powers. I can discuss this more--but it's part of the theory that we'd prefer simpler characters to complex characters and do not want to have large lists of defenses just to make sure that characters don't fall prey to unusual attacks at every turn.

Teleporting Two People
The above power would work fine for just teleporting someone somewhere (a "Beam Me Up" power). However, that's not how Tricker's power works--it hits two objects at once. We could model this as two to-hit rolls, but that doesn't really do the power the way we'd want to. That's certainly not how it plays (and that would suck up a lot of actions).

The most likely way to do it is to treat it as Area-Target with Selective fire. This is used for "smart bomb" style attacks where you can damage just-your-enemies. In this case it can hit "everyone" and then Trickster can pick and choose sets of two people to swap. This makes it (right now) about 1.5x more expensive.

We need to determine if this is the right call: if it was more cost effective for Jack Slash to buy Area-Target, Selective with his knife than to buy extra attacks every other Round that's probably not the behavior we want to encourage. We like having extra attacks every other Round.

But so far, this is how we're doing it.

Teleport As a Defense Or In Response To An Offense
So now we get to the situation where someone says "I shoot Trickster" and he says "I swap your buddy with me and you shoot your friend." This is using the power as (a) a 'Blocking' action. Usually when you block an attack or teleport-dodge out of the way, it just misses (the GM can try to determine where the attack goes--but even if there is another character "roughly in the line of fire" it is in no way guaranteed to hit that target. It is also using it as (b) an attack on someone else when a person shoots at you.

This is a general violation of the JAGS battle rules. However, there's a way: Damage Fields are things like being electrified, or being on fire, or have acidic blood or whatever. When you are hit, they trigger and, usually, damage the attacker.

This is what Trickster has--with the exceptions that: (a) he does have to declare an action unlike a Damage Field--but it's a blocking-style action so he can do it when attacked and (b) it triggers the Area Target so he can, in response to an attack, spend REA on a "block" and then swap groups of two as he wants--if he can make the rolls necessary to do it--which he probably can--all his points are there.

NOTE: to swap someone into the line of fire you probably need a higher-level success than swapping them just to a location.

The 4 levels of success would probably look like:
  1. Standard Level: Target is Teleported
  2. Major Level: Target will miss with an attack (necessary as a Block)
  3. Critical and Catastrophic Level: Target is hit with incoming attack or targets the wrong person.
This rates a B+ which is fairly "kind" to him since directing other's attacks at teammates is pretty effective.

NOTE: this configuration allows him to react to attacks on his person. He can (and would) buy Bodyguard to react to attacks on other members of his 'team.'

What Does This Cost
Right now, let's assume he puts about 64 AP into it--an astonishing half his points. The Rating for Swap is B+ and it has a delivery system of "6" which is Area of Effect Selective. When we add usable as Block Defense that's probably / 1.3. This means:
  1. For 8 Archetype Points he gets 14 Intensity.
  2. With 64 AP invested he gets 111 Intensity. That's ... a LOT.
It's not enough to do a garbage truck though (although he can swap any of the characters created).

Friday, March 15, 2013

Worm Characters: Weld

In the process of (seemingly randomly, I'm sure) picking Worm characters to model I have chosen Weld. Weld is a young leader of the Wards (the government sanctioned teen-aged in-training super-team franchise). He is a made-of-metal super-strong, super durable guy who manages to be "leadership material" despite being visibly non-human (something that isn't said much about but seems to be almost an actual policy--if a secret one).

Weld is metallic and can deform his body--somewhat. He can stretch limbs and deform but he does not seem totally plastic or able to slip under doors or anything like that. He is also pretty much non-biological. I believe he does not eat or sleep (I might have that wrong).

In addition to his non-human biology he 'welds' to metal when he touches it. Sometimes this is unintentional: he can shake your hand and bond to your wedding ring. If someone fires metallic darts at him, they'll stick to him and slowly be absorbed messing his face up for a while.

Weld was both straightforward and posed some interesting questions:
If You Squint You Can See Him ...

Weld is built using the Automaton rules: he has "No Biological Weaknesses." This means what it says--he doesn't need to eat nor sleep. The rules say he needs some 'down time' (around 4 hours a day) which is pretty non-productive--but he's more machine or golem than flesh. Chemical attacks are meaningless. He can't get sick. He doesn't need to breathe.

Most importantly: he does not take traumatic Penetrating Damage (he still takes damage--but it doesn't get the huge multipliers biological people take when a "good hit" is scored and their armor doesn't hold up).

A few points:

I gave him Stretching with just the basic power (it also has multiple "levels") and a VERY LARGE defect which is that he can only deform limbs and extend them. He doesn't use stretching to move or slide through small spaces. He can still be grabbed or grappled. He doesn't "bounce" or take negative damage modifiers from attacks that deform him. In short, he can alter himself a bit--but that's it. The cost goes from 15 to 2 AP.

Automaton, Armor, Strength
Weld has Super Strength, the Iron Automaton package, and extra "armored skin." What does this do? It gives him a punch for a whopping 45 points of damage, a weight of around 800 lbs, and 24 points of Armor with a 60 PEN Defense--not that he'll need it much since he doesn't take PEN damage (but wait--there IS a reason).

In the story he "grows" a club-weapon and I bought that with the defect that it takes a 5 REA action to create. I also allowed him to grow a sharp weapon (although to my knowledge he has not) and use that to stab people. His Basic Damage is built with the cost-modifier to allow the use of a blade.

Skin Armor: In the story Weld gets stabbed in the eye by a mind-controlled ally. The stabbing is with a dart and it hurts him ... a little. In JAGS Full Armor is generally treated a bit like a 'force field' in that it covers everything. But the reality is that everyone has weak spots. A weak-point is treated as "coverage 8" meaning you need to hit Weld by 8 or more and then, if you do (that's a really good hit) you can choose to bypass the armor. I left Weld with 8pts of armor from Automaton and +16 from "Skin Armor" with the weak-point defect (-1 AP to the cost--a minor difference).

This means that the attacker got a very lucky hit and was hitting only against 8 Armor. It's unlikely that Shadow Stalker, without using some special powers, could deal 8pts of damage--a strong person stabbing you with a shiv does around maybe 3-4 PEN--but it's at least possible a few points could get through.

On the other hand, a full-auto assault rifle burst does around 27 PEN and Weld would feel it to the tune of around 3pts of Damage on average but he can take that all day.

Damage Points and ADP
Weld has around 38 Damage Points (a moderate number--lowish for a super hero brick) and 66 ADP (which is a good number for him). If he hits himself he will take about 1/3rd to 1/2 of his damage each hit and will be able to hurt himself reasonably badly in 2-5 Rounds (his Automaton body can actually go longer than normal before it starts feeling the damage). He is very tough.

Absorbing Metal
There is no "weld with metal" power in JAGS but there is Magnetic Control which I bought at Level 4 (which is, frankly, a lot) and gave it a VERY LARGE (-88%) defect that says it's only to stick and then "absorb" metal. This gives it a 26 Grapple pull which is more than a normal man could break. If something gets stuck in him, he can break it off and get it out--but mostly, it's stuck (if you don't have his super-strength, it's really stuck). This would also apply if he was struck with a metal weapon.

I am thinking on how to handle the "always active" element of this (usually sticking something to you in a fight takes an action). There are rules for "damage fields" (such as being on fire). Those might apply reducing the strength a bit.

I treated the "absorbing metal" (and his ability to shed it) like eating metal. There is no specific power for a very unusual diet like that--but he's super strong and tough--the game rules would allow him to bite off and chew metal. There is no reason not to allow skin absorption of it.

Weld is a pretty strong leader. I had the points and gave him Commander Level 1 so he can lend SPs to his allies (as well as himself).

Weld vs. Jack Slash
What would happen if Weld fought Jack Slash? Well, Weld is exactly (or, well, in the Worm-verse) the 128 AP character Slash doesn't want to be stuck in a small arena with. For one thing, Slash's super-damage will never apply: Weld doesn't have internal organs. For another thing Weld's armor is too high for Jack to really hurt if he can't get the Armor Piercing working.

However, Jack can. Jack's Armor Piercing attack is 36 PEN Value. Weld's full defense is 60--that's a roll of a 15- Armor Save for Weld if Jack does not hit weak points. That's "almost always" (above 90% of the time).

However, Jack has about a 17- to hit. He can hit weak points on a 9- (around 45% of the time) and he will. He can attack around 3-4 times a Round and still dodge incoming punches (Weld will attack twice a Round and will not save any action points trying to block Jack as he can't block ranged attacks anyway). Each hit that Jack gets on a weak point will deal around 15 Damage to Weld as the Armor Piercing effect will remove the (light) under-armor.

The fight goes something like this: Jack goes first and hits 4 times landing two hits for 30 damage through weak points. Weld "Feels nothing" (this is against ADP) and closes with a flying tackle. Jack dodges (Jack's dodge is probably much better than Weld's to-hit roll).

Jack goes first the second Round and does two attacks saving two defenses. This yields a 15 pt hit. A few more of these and Jack will be hitting Damage Points, which Weld will feel.

Weld hits on a "good fighter" 14-. Jack dodges on an expert 17-. About 1 in 3 or 4 attacks will hit. When they do, they will hit for about 60%-80% damage: about 38pts. Jack takes off 8 for his armor and suffers 30. Jack can take about three of those before he's likely to drop.

This gives Jack about 3 or 4 Rounds to finish Weld. He may have to get a little lucky--but I would put him at a bit of a favorite to win (albeit marginal).

Worm Characters: Jack Slash

As I continue to look at the Worm-verse characters (a super-hero/villain web-serial which you should be reading if you care at all about superheroes) I wanted to do psychotic bad guy Jack Slash.

Jack Slash is the leader of the "Slaughterhouse Nine" who are supreme sadistic psychotic villains. They travel around doing terrible things to people and more or less semi-unstoppably wreaking havoc. They're pretty much all heavy-hitters across some dimension and pose one of the larger threats in the story that isn't from an 'Endbringer' which could single-handedly destroy a city.

In the case of Jack Slash he is a guy who can expand the "cutting edge" of his knife across a vast distance using it, kinda, like a gun(!). He can kill multiple people with one swipe--and he has been biologically augmented to be quite hard to kill (exactly how hard, we don't know).

The Knife
Jack presents an interesting challenge for the system: exactly how hard does he hit? Clearly against a character who is literally made of metal (Weld) he can't do a lot--but if you are mortal and bleed he can instantly slice you up.

An even harder question is: what does he do against someone in, like, SWAT armor (or, if we don't want to get into Kevlar-vs-knives at least a "knife-proof-suit")? In other words, how does he fare against armor? I might have missed something but my recollection is that (a) he hits around it if it's worn and (b) I would imagine he could puncture a fair amount of armor but could not, for example, cut through a metal pipe with a single swipe (I could be wrong).

Here's where I came down:
  1. Extra Damage on Penetration and a hit by 4+ ("a vital hit"). The way guns and knives work in JAGS when you are hit, if you have armor, you get an "armor save" to prevent "being penetrated." If you make the save you take "impact damage" (like a punch or hit with a baseball bat). If you fail it, STAB. So if Jack hits you and you fail your armor save you take a LOT of damage.
  2. Armor Piercing. The way Armor Piercing attacks work in JAGS, if your armor fails a save the Damage Reduction it gives drops to zero. This makes any such hit far worse statistically.
I gave Jack 40 AP ("Level 5") Ranged Armor Piercing PEN attack (bought as 'Gun' damage). He does 18 PEN if he doesn't penetrate (about a hit from an assault rifle--okay, that could cut a thin metal pipe) and 40 PEN if he does (which will double to 80 damage on a decent hit and you won't get any armor against it). This is enough to critically injure any of the characters I've made so far and he would likely penetrate all of them.

NOTE: The printed rules don't quite do this power the way I'd wanted to (the PEN and Hit-By 4 or more). The "Vital Strike" Power comes close--but I did some Simulator testing and will add the Extra-Damage-On-PEN version as well as a result of this.

Hard To Block
I gave Jack -3 To be blocked by all attacks. This is largely unnecessary as most people can't block a ranged attack anyway (and it was expensive--but he's a master villain so cost is no object). I decided that even if you were the sort of person who could "block" a ranged attack (such as, maybe, someone with a beam weapon using it to 'suppress' incoming fire or someone like Worm's Trickster who can 'block' you by teleporting you somewhere as you attack) it would still be hard to do that to Jack.

Maybe attacks that generally can't be blocked should be cheaper to make unblockable? I'm not sure: a lot of characters rely on their blocks to some degree.

Hard To Hurt
Jack has been bio-augmented. I looked around in Cybernetics and so on and finally decided on:
  1. +48 Ablative Damage Points. These he can take and feel "no pain" which we see in the web serial (the Nine don't feel pain after being augmented by one of their bio-manipulators).
  2. Fast Company Level 2. This makes him hard to hit and hard to hurt if he is hit. It gives him high reflexes and Acrobatics. It gives him extra HTH damage bare-handed and extra actions per Round. It also gives him +12 Damage Points
  3. Internal Armor from cybernetics (the web serial calls out "protective sheaths" over the organs). This gives him 4 Armor with an extra 4 plating. Considering that a police side-arm does 6 damage a good hit (which hits around the plate) may scratch him but pretty much cops with hand guns could shoot at him all day to almost no effect.
Combined, this package makes him incredibly hard to take out for a 128 AP character (he's 400pts though) if they are built the way the Worm characters tend to be. On the other hand, if the 128 AP character puts half his points in Power Blast, that's another matter.

Use A Magnifying Glass ...
Life at 400 APs
There is a version of JAGS done a long time ago that had diminishing returns built into the super power scale system. You could take 1 "G Class" Power and "sell it down" to two "E Class" Powers, and so on. The numbers worked out so that dumping all your points in one thing didn't pay off all that well. This was, in its way, a thing of beauty--but we did not stick with it once we formalized the Archetype Point system.

As a result, it's pretty cost-effective to take your 400 Archetype Points and put 133 of then in an attack, 133 in Damage Points, and 133 of them in Armor. This character will win a lot (but not all the time--and they'll lose the guy with 200 in Armor and 200 in an attack). 

Jack Slash, at 400 APs is not going to hurt someone with 133 Armor who deals around 148 pts of damage with a Power Blast twice per Round. To put this in perspective, the guy shoots Jack and manages to hit for around 70% damage (114 points). This blows through the internal armor, all the ADP, and does 58 points of "real" damage to Jack who suffers a Major Wound which likely ends the fight.

On the other hand (a) Jack can dodge pretty well, especially with Fast Company: the character's odds to hit, assuming he is an average attacker could be below 50% and (b) This is a bit like Jack going up against Purity in the Worm-verse: he would not want to stand there and take building leveling blasts all day: under heavy fire the character runs for cover.

Still, if you are buying armor in bulk you will pretty easily outstrip Jack's ability to hurt you if you have 400 AP to play with.

On the other hand: while Jack is not the most efficient 400 AP character we could build, against 128 AP heroes he is a death machine. For one thing, without armor--and a lot of armor (for that level) he is going to eviscerate heroes pretty quickly. His multiple attacks mean that he can open a combat by hitting around five different heroes hard enough to seriously hurt them.

His damage is enough to cut through "mundane" armor pretty easily and, assuming he has very high native combat skills (likely) he can probably hit around any plate armor people are wearing. He could slaughter a squad of Coil's combat troops in a matter of a Round or two probably taking next to no damage even if some of them rallied to fire on him.

Slash Vs. Skitter, Oni Lee, and Flechette
Sure it's a bad match-up but these are the three characters I've got. In the show-down, it's kind of a toss up as to whether Flechette can go first or Slash. Slash is probably 75-100 Character Points, Flechette is probably closer to a "normal" 50 (especially as a Ward). She is slightly faster than Slash as her powers give her more Initiative but Slash is natively faster. I think there is likely a 5-10% chance he goes first.

If he does, he has between 5 and 6 attacks on the first Round. Three of those must be against separate people. The other 2 or 3 can go against the same person or double up. He 'slashes' (Mass Attack--meaning he hits masses of people) and hits each character once. Jack probably hits on a 15 to 17 or less.

He hits Oni easily--but Oni Teleport-Dodges effectively (about 50-60% against Jack's very-high to-hit). If he fails, the team-leader, Skitter, pitches in some Success Points so he makes it. He leaves a clone behind which Jack's attack easily kills.

Against Skitter she is hit. The hit will want to hit "around" her armor as she will have some plate and some "full coverage." Here her SP pool is vital: if Jack doesn't get lucky enough to score a penetrating hit either because he doesn't hit by enough to get around the plate (a bad to-hit roll) or because she can "buy down" his level of success with her SPs, she'll be injured--but live. If he does hit by 4+ and penetrate, she will suffer around 80pts of damage or more and be taken out of the fight if not dying outright. She has around 40 DP and 12 ADP. This will score a Major Wound.

The odds are her SP Pool will save her from this first hit.

Against Flechette Jack, again, wants to hit by 4+ and Penetrate. Flechette has no armor but has Fast Defenses. This means that Jack must hit by Flechette's Agility-10 + 8 (Fast Defenses) + 4 (for a "good hit"). If Jack has a (high) 17- attack skill ("Ranged Knife?") and she has a 12 Agility (which is high but not unrealistic for a 50-pt hero character) he must roll a 3 or less. That's like 5% chance. Her Fast Defenses mean he doesn't get his maximal damage. He does, however, hit for 18 PEN. She likely takes half: she's cut but her reflexes get her out of the way.

Jack then has 2-3 attacks to re-distribute. He goes after Oni again. Probably twice. Oni can keep dodging but (a) the clones will pretty much die instantly and (b) Oni's dodge may not protect him which would result in him dying. This likely drains Skitter's REA (she spends action points to lend him SPs) and SP pools. It also drains his action points (he has to pay to doge). This looks like Slash killing a couple more Oni's as he teleports frantically around.

Then the team gets to go. Jack decides (the battlefield is flat, empty, and there is just a moderate range), to focus his last attack on Skitter. Again, if she has SPs and action points, she'll survive but I don't think she gets lucky twice and goes down. NOTE: she might just be very badly hurt. If things go Jack's way she'll take a critical wound but they may not--her armor and plate combined has a reasonable chance of standing up to the knife's "basic" attack.

Assume she is hurt and down but not out or dead.

Oni probably doesn't have a lot of actions left. The real him takes a shot at Jack. He is in a similarly bad position as Jack is against Flechette: he has to hit Jack by 4 (Jack's AGI Bonus) +8 (Fast Bonus) + 4 (a good hit) = 16 to get a "vital hit" on Jack. This will almost never happen. Against grazing hits he does half damage and then the shot hits jack's internal armor. Jack takes a nearly meaningless 2pts of damage from the carbine round. He doesn't feel it.

Flechette is different: she has 1 or 2 shots left (assuming she tried to dodge Jack's Slash--which she probably would even though the odds are well against it) and fires both. In her case she has a similar problem with a "good hit" but her bolts hit for half damage and ignore Jacks' internal armor. He is hit for 8 damage twice.

I don't know if Jack insta-regenerates in the story: in this build he doesn't--but until he gets back to Bonesaw he's down those points (assuming Flechette has added "damage does not heal" as a SMALL advantage). This is still above his ADP so he doesn't feel it.

Round 2: Jack doesn't have his Mass Attack this Round so he concentrates his three attacks cutting up Oni. Without Skitter's SP, Oni blows a dodge roll and goes down.

Flechette answers with three bolts. These likely do, again, around 8-10 damage each. The problem is that now Jack's Ablative DP is all gone and he's taking Damage Points. This he feels. His internal armor doesn't help him. Jack may have around 32 Damage Points which gives him a "Minor Wound" value of 11. This means that Flechette needs to get "a little lucky" to score a hit he'll really feel.

Problematically, the next two rounds probably go Jack's way: both he and Flechette are largely immune to the catastrophic damage effects a vital hit with a penetrating weapon can have in JAGS but Jack's agility is higher (he's a higher point character) and his number of attacks is slightly higher (he can use one of the Mass-Attacks against Flechette every other Round).

Jack 'likely' wins--but he's bristling with bolts and actually injured by the time it's over.

Also Note: the others may not be dead. Oni likely suffers catastrophic damage due to low armor and no SPs but Skitter might be able to survive while injured and if the simulation allows for disengagement Flechette will have several chances to break off if she has to (so will Jack, which he would probably want to once he starts taking Damage Points instead of relatively meaningless ADP).

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Worm Characters: Flechette

Making Worm-verse characters is proving so educational, we're doing another. This time: the cross-bow wielding super-heroine Flechette.

Flechette can "tune" an object so it can pass through and then embed itself in some other object--it also ignores some wind resistance and gravity. She also has enhanced reflexes and timing (and a "sense of angles") which allows her to fire swing-lines from her crossbow (Arbalest) and parkour around the city.

From a construction standpoint she is dead center of what JAGS ought to be able to do. How did she turn out?

Thoughts On the Worm-Verse
When converting any character from fiction to game mechanics you will likely have to make some intentional interpretations and decisions similar to what, say, Peter Jackson did when converting Lord of the Rings from the page to the screen. Not everything will work the same and that's okay: the two mediums are fundamentally different no matter how closely they line up.

Invulnerability And Damage In the Worm-Verse
As noted previously there are a lot of characters with "invulnerability" to damage. Often this shows up as near-instant regeneration but sometimes it's literal invulnerability (Siberian) which is something like "I didn't actually get hit even though the attack appeared to land" and something close to it (Alexandria) where the interpretation might just be that the character is defended "above the scale" of anything reasonable.

In this case, Flechette has a power that can penetrate anything: what happens if she uses it on one of the many invulnerable characters? What happens if she does it in the fiction? What happens in JAGS?

What happens if Flechette shoots Alexandria or Siberian?

In the fiction we don't know--it hasn't happened--in JAGS, here's my take:
  1. What's the power definition in print? Siberian would take full-spectrum Invulnerability. That, in JAGS, equates to "does not take damage from attack." It, in essence, reduces all done damage to zero. The bolt would not penetrate (the unstoppable force bounces off the immovable object). JAGS Also contains "Nigh-Invulnerability" which is a whole lot of armor (and Alexandria probably has a Scale Number multiplier as well). In this case the armor goes to zero. The bolt penetrates. If Alexandria has biological systems under that invulnerability (if she relies on her invulnerable heart beating to get blood to her un-cutable brain) then she could die if shot in the heart. NOTE: Alexandria might even be comparatively light on damage points after being so well defended otherwise--although if she has a Scale Number multiplier it would apply to those too. Flechette might be able to really hurt or even kill Alexandria in JAGS but she'd probably have to get pretty lucky and it would take more than one shot anyway.
  2. Go to the definition of the powers. JAGS has a stasis power (it doesn't work exactly like Worm's Clockblocker who can also stop time but is close). It renders things indestructible when in stasis. In this case, as as with "invulnerability" the definition of the power is that the laws of physics don't apply: the bolt would bounce off a stasis field as the molecular modification effect just doesn't apply. 
I wanted to give her Fast Company--a package ability that gives characters the ability to dodge bullets, enhanced acrobatics, and damage reduction (due to reflexes) when they are hit. There are four levels of it and I gave her Level 1. I wanted Level 2--but it proved a bit too expensive for what I was trying to do.

I also wanted to give her Expertise +3 to attack skill due to her enhanced native ability with angles. That, too, proved a bit pricey and I went back to +2. That's not bad.

The Arbalest itself is a L4 (32 AP) PEN attack which Ignores Armor. This is, to my mind, almost entirely dead on in terms of effect: she can stick the bolt "in an Endbringer" (a world-scale supervillain monster) as it has a ton of armor and her attack just doesn't care.

On the downside, after adding the Ignore Armor rule, the attack just does 21 PEN damage. I say "just" as that is roughly what a bullet from an assault rifle does. She can fire it two or three times a Round (depending on how fast her normal character is--but probably 3x) and she is going to hit on, probably, a 17- which will do a lot of damage to characters who aren't either immune to PEN damage or rely on armor to protect them. An average shot will do between 42 (2x damage) and 53 points. 

She could kill Skitter in one shot.

The Flechette power has a couple of interesting effects.

Pin Someone To The Wall
Flechette can use her crossbow to shoot someone's clothes or shoe, have the dart go through it, and then release her power fusing the bolt to the wall. She can do this to a person, fusing the bolt inside them (she did this to Skitter, of all people, fusing Skitter's costume to the bolt and the bolt to her bone so she had to get a doctor with a saw to cut her out of it before she could get the incriminating costume off--it was bullet-proof too).

How do you do that? I discussed that with another person and the conclusion was that this was a trivial advantage: it costs Flechette 1 Damage Point. Why? Well, if the bolt was just cruelly barbed it would have a very similar effect but with more blood and pain--but it wouldn't really cost more points (you could, maybe, give it a higher Damage Modifier--but I'm not explicitly modeling that right now).

How does her "shoot someone and pin them" attack work? It's probably a hard shot at like -4 to hit on top of any other modifiers. As she is definitely Level 3 (Expert level) with the crossbow she ignores -3pts of that making it a fairly easy shot for her if the target isn't otherwise hard to hit. The pinning power is limited to the strength of their clothes.

Super Parkour
JAGS has a couple of "urban movement powers." The Swing Line Gear ability allows for a super-version that lets you "swing around the city" without having to make Acrobatic rolls or have a chance of falling. There are two versions: the Swing Line (1 AP) for 10 yards per second (20mph) or the Speed Line (which is about the same but goes 30 mph). I felt the Swing Line was better as she's not that fast (even a sustained 20 mph is probably a little fast for her but still ...)

Damage Points / Armor?
I gave Flechette 32 Damage points (and she gets 10 for Fast Company). She gets an additional Generic Archetype Ability for 4 AP with Fast Company which could be a lot of things. Clocking in at a likely 15 (tough normal person) + 32 + 10 = 57 DP I think she's pretty well defended (especially with her good dodge and her negative damage modifiers). 

I'm not entirely sure what I'd give her. Possibly 4 / 10 Armor (I don't know if her costume is armored or not). Possibly Gunslinger which would give her an extra 2 PEN damage (after the reduction) and a little more defense? I could spend it on +16 additional DP or +24 ADP for more defenses.

Here is Flechette
I know, I know: unreadable

Even the simplest characters do pose some questions though: in the case of Flechette she can use her power without shooting it. She can attack hand-to-hand with her Ignores Armor spikes. How do we do that?

The easiest answer is to just let her use her power at "point blank range." In this case nothing really changes and game-effect wise it's like a shot at point blank. That's not how the fiction reads, however.

The second way would be to give her two powers: a ranged Ignores-Armor-PEN attack and a HTH Attack that's the same. The HTH Attack would do more damage (partially because HTH Attacks are simply more efficient damage-wise in JAGS but also because she would get to add her Strength to it. Her Strength damage is not all that high--but she might get a point or two).

The problem with that is that JAGS generally charges extra for a different attack and HTH vs. Ranged typically counts!

What would I do? Well, firstly as the GM, I wouldn't blink: she can use the attack HTH and add her Strength damage adjusted downwards for the Ignores Armor attack. She would not get the "more efficient damage" when she uses the attack at point-blank range though. For that she would have to pay extra.

Secondly, as the game designer, I think there needs to be some general rules about attacks that are "really similar" being grouped together for a very small cost. Just as I think Oni would benefit from a "he can have any normal gun up to the biggest he paid for--and a knife" rule, I think here there is space for some kind of "Flechette can use any weapon strike or shot with the Ignores Armor effect" for a little extra (maybe 1 AP?).

This also gets to Hawkeye style characters who probably WILL have to pay more for their giant array of arrows--but not as much as the current rules would imply (the real value of having great versatility is usually not as high as the value of doing A LOT more damage with one attack).

A Note About The Bow: The Arbalest gets a SMALL (-.06) defect which winds up (a) saving her 2 AP and then (b) saves her 5 AP total after the multiplier for Fast Company and +2 to-hit. The "defect" for the Bow is that:
  1. It's a device so it could get taken away. Yes, she can still use her power on something else but probably not as easily on a common gun (or else why doesn't she carry one)? And, anyway, she still probably needs to have something like a weapon to do maximal damage.
  2. It's a device so it can (albeit very rarely) suffer mechanical failures, get jammed in the rain or mud, need (albeit rarely) to get reloaded, etc. The game system assumes most super-devices are pretty resilient, rarely get taken away, and that the players are not tracking bullets--BUT it could come up--so it's worth "a little."
  3. It's two-handed and big. The crossbow is obvious, hard to conceal, and takes both hands to operate normally. This is contrasted to, say, eye-beams which could be used if you're tied up or even "power blast" which, if fired from the hands, at least just requires one hand free.
In JAGS you don't get much for having the device be a gadget though.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

More Worm Characters: Skitter

Creating Oni Lee was a valuable learning experience--so we choose another character. This time the main character: Taylor--also known ... as 'Skitter.'

In the Worm-verse, characters get powers through a trigger event that is usually super-horrible. In Skitter's case it was being traumatically bullied by mean girls at school. Instead of getting something like flight, super strength, and invulnerability (which is 'common' and has its own name after the heroine Alexandria--the 'Alexandria package') she got ... the power to control bugs.

But boy can she--she can direct thousands of bugs to individual tasks such as making bullet-proof uniforms out of spider-silk or appearing as "copies of her" with masses of insects in the air (or using bugs to draw arrows for people to follow).

She also has a "bug sense" that allows her to 'see' a huge area and even determine things like body language (skin-mites) on people.

Skitter is also a "Thinker" meaning she is treated as a master-mind type with great strategy and tactics. Part of this is clever writing where she uses her powers to maximal advantage in unusual ways. Part of it is her ability to 'see' everything that is going on--she can tell where invisible people are or whatever as she can use her bugs to sense all kinds of things.

More Notes About The Worm-Verse
The act of making these characters is educational--they are reasonably unique and well defined. There are clearly places where using the JAGS system to model them either breaks down educationally or ... breaks down altogether.

Super-Speed and Invulnerability: The Worm-verse has several "over unity" characters. Over-Unity is the term that the perpetual motion guys use to describe a machine that gets out more energy than you put in. In JAGS, though, I'm using it to describe a character where the Total AP cost multiplier is greater than one. That means that the character is "more points" than "his Total AP Cost." It's a paradox.

In JAGS super-speed is a % of your character points. So is Invulnerability (in fact, INV is like 80-90% of your character points if it's total and to-everything). Worm has some characters who have both--and more (super-strength). Characters like Siberian aren't just "high points" they're "impossible points" (depending on "how you do the math," anyway).

To be fair, as good as these characters are, they are treated as impossibly high scale by the fiction too--so having the math get weird around them isn't that bad. I'll talk about how we're addressing them later.

Shakers: There are characters who can change the world on a substantial scale. One character can warp space making the battlefield longer or shorter. One can instantiate other worlds on top of the 'real one' during the fight. These are things that JAGS could potentially model but are kind of beyond the scope of what we're doing with these rules right now.

Skitter's power-set poses a few interesting questions. The first is: how do you model a swarm? It turns out we have rules for that--albeit ones that needed some work / review.

How DO You Model a Swarm?
A swarm in JAGS is a bunch of ADP ("hit points"--but no "wound levels or effects"), near invulnerability to normal attacks (bullets and punches do 1pt of Damage no matter what--other attacks usually take large negative damage modifiers), a relatively light "attack" (of various kinds--teeth, poison, etc.), a basic movement power, and an area-covered (and the swarm is selective within that area).

However there were not easy rules for buying this package so I had to create them.

Skitter's Swarm is "Level 3" clocking in at around 75 AP's (she actually pays less, I'll get to that in a moment).

Animal Control: Bugs!
When I first sat down to do Skitter I thought I would use Battle Beast as my primary power. This is 75% of your points and you get a 100% AP cost ally. This is the classic kid with the giant-robot friend or whatever.

My second instinct was to buy Skitter an "Animal Companion"--Swarm. This was actually pretty easy to do with the system. My basic problem with this was that I wanted Skitter to have more than 32 APs worth of her own powers (although that does seem like a lot for an 'un-powered' teenager, doesn't it--that's like super-spy level APs ...).

So I looked at Animal Companion: Swarm. That was pretty easy to do. She would have about a 75 AP animal companion and it would do what her player told it to (the player would play both). I might buy "expendable" for it and "telepathic link"--both fairly cheap--to represent actual in-game telepathic control and the fact that she isn't emotionally attached to it.

The problem here, though, was that Skitter doesn't just have a friendly swarm of bugs that follows her around--she actually has Animal Control. If she runs into "the Beekeeper" who uses sonics and pheromones to control his swarm of bees (or whatever) she will hijack control of them and run them herself. An Animal Companion doesn't do that.

So I looked at Animal Control. It didn't work the way I wanted it to--so I modified it (slightly) so that AP's in Animal Control equate to the APs of the animals that you control. If what you control is one specific thing (insects) then took a look at the rules around summoning a swarm.

Skitter has two limitations on her swarm that come up regularly:
  1. It takes her time to summon it. She generally travels with bugs--but if they're killed or whatever she has to call insects, They come quickly (in combat, even) but are not "instant" or "teleported in."
  2. She is limited to the insects around her. This is often not a problem as she has high-caliber insects with her if she's ready (and later in the series gets access to more exotic insects)--but sometimes she's stuck with roaches.
I considered the first a LARGE (-.31) defect and assumed a not-already-summoned Swarm would accrue at "one level" per Round. This means that she'll usually be at full strength on her Third Round (and summoning the Swarm costs 5 REA). Note that the full Swarm is not subtle and is definitely creepy. Even if she takes time to conceal it in the walls or whatever, the GM could well rule that it is 1 or 2 Rounds away if she's being at all sneaky.

I considered "access to Insects" to be a SMALL (-.06) defect since if she is put in a compromising situation she loses her good insects--but otherwise, most of the time, she has them.

Each 4 AP's invested in Animal Control gets 6 APs worth of "Swarm." She has Level 13 Animal Control for 52 APs. This results in 78 APs of Swarm. A pretty powerful attack over a large (30 yard) area.

Swarm Sense
Animal Control lets her detect things through her animals but she can do better than that. She has a kind of omniscience over a large area when she wants to. That's done with Life Sense with a limit to "only things with bugs on them"--which is kinda everything and "doesn't get detailed medical information" (Life Sense detects cancer, cyborgs, and mutants--Skitter can't determine that unless there is some outward sign). This allows her to 'see' (as in "target") people rooms over. This is an expensive sense (8 AP). I considered the limits to be a 'wash' as the lack of medical information is made up for by the fact that she can uses bugs to "see" the terrain by having them crawl over things. If her bugs get killed, that's a limit--but even that gives her info Life Sense wouldn't.

Skitter Is Smart
While I am not making the "basic characters" here, Skitter would be pretty easy to make. Modestly athletic and, uh, smart. That's about it. She may have some low level skills (first aid) and can climb and run okay--but mostly she's smart if no genius computer hacker. 

I wanted to apply that to JAGS and I wanted her to have a couple of Success Point granting powers: specifically Commander and Strategist. Both of these give you Success Point Pools (usable each combat) which you can lend to your friends by giving them orders or advice. Commander also gives your side +1 Initiative! Skitter, however smartly or dumbly the player plays her has a bunch of SPs to dole out each combat to her allies. This is not to be underestimated: it makes her both a valuable team leader (she has to be 'the leader' to give the Initiative bonus) and "buff" character for her side.

I gave her L1 Commander and L2 Strategist. This is a valuable combination.

What About Atlas And Super-Bugs?
During the story Skitter gets a giant bug she names Atlas (created by a bio-manipulator) she can fly around on! She also gets some "range extender bugs" from the same character (but they self-destruct after a time). How would I model those? JAGS "models those" by just declaring them. If you have Insect Control and there's a giant flying bug within your AP level? You can control it. That's what she does (as it has no autonomous direction she doesn't worry about it flying off if she's not actively in control at all times).

Same for the exotic range-extenders. If the GM puts in "death wasps" who are bred with super-neuro-toxin and they're within her AP range (which is a whopping 78 AP) she can just control them too.

This is the difference between an Effects-Based approach and a more power-definitional take. My initial "Animal Companion" model was, also, effects based: I was just paying points for the Swarm effect straight up without thinking about the Control aspect.

Another thing along this line is that she creates "decoys" of herself by using masses of bugs (it helps, of course, that she is often covered with a mass of bugs). Again, this has no specific cost: her player has her order the bugs into a roughly humanoid shape and then people get perception rolls to see through the ruse. She usually does this at a distance.

I'm not charging her for "talking" through her bugs as, again, the Control Power allows them to "hum" in whatever way she orders them. If you have Animal Control for dogs you can have them bark out morse code. If you control birds? You could just have them talk.

Skitter In Combat
Here's her stats sheet:
You Don't Have To Tell Me It's Unreadable ...
She gets 26 DP for her Animal Control and I gave her 6 Armor (coverage 4, probably) and 12 ADP. She's still grossly under-defended without using her SPs to dodge attacks (which she can do--but then she's less of a buff for the team).

A lot of Worm characters have this issue. Assuming she is at -1 to be hit by ranged attacks (A 12 AGI--not unreasonable--but a little high for her) she will be hit at a 13- by skilled attackers. About 80% of the time. She an spend 4 Success Points to make them miss if they get an average roll of a 10. Her SPs will go fast.

In combat she must stay pretty far back and let the Swarm do all the fighting. 

The Swarm itself is fairly bad-ass against normal people. It can deal around 11 PEN per Round over a large area. This will kill normals quickly. It will start to hurt even armored people (so long as they don't have skin armor or a sealed suit) in 4 Rounds--a long time--but if she can hold out she can hurt a lot more people that way.

I divided her combat points between: 
  1. A PEN attack to represent insects tearing at eyes and arteries--something she does in the serial, albeit reluctantly.
  2. A Resisted Poison Attack and Pain Attack. This is actually very powerful at the points listed. She can cause a lot of pain without having to breach armor (the RA will work on anyone with exposed "flesh" even if she can't penetrate it). The Poison attack does have to breach armor--but after 4 Rounds she can get around worn armor.
  3. A Spider-Web Tangle attack. It starts at Grapple 20 and can get up to Grapple 120 if someone waits around for it. This is fairly easy to break the first Round but if you don't you are quickly webbed up. For a more detailed build I might look into "Subtle" as a modifier since many of her targets don't realize they are being webbed until it is too late.
My analysis is that she is weak in 1:1 combat--very weak for 128 AP (an 11 AP PEN attack is good against normal characters but won't do well stopping any power-house kind of character) but can be quite an annoyance with the pain attack and actually extremely deadly with the toxic stings. Her value would be around 80 Intensity for a B-class attack (potentially deadly toxin--but not insta-lethal) and that would take out or at least mess up most 128 AP supers.

In short, if she can hurt you ... she can really hurt you. If you don't have biological weaknesses and exposed skin? She's got nothing.

This is, I think, very true to the writing and I consider this a success.

NOTE: I learned a good deal--mostly that the framework around swarms--the directional thinking--allowed me to create the necessary powers (actually buying the Swarm, actually determining what would be necessary for Animal Control to provide it)--but it wasn't all there to start with. If I'd tired to make Ant-Man the system would've failed me there too.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Oni Lee Revisited

So continuing with the last post we did some deeper examination of the character Oni Lee from the Worm Web Serial which, if you like good writing or super heroes in any configuration you ought to be reading. Remember that Oni is interesting because he combines Teleportation and Duplicate in an interesting way: when he teleports, he leaves behind a duplicate that can fight on its own for a few seconds.

Some Thoughts In General On the Worm-Verse
The Worm universe is fairly well realized in that the characters are richly and generally believably drawn and the power-scale ranges from "street level" to "really, really high" (if maybe not reaching 'cosmic'). The descriptions of the character's abilities are pretty detailed and the author puts thought into how they operate and clever ways to use or combine abilities (the main character is all about that, really).

There are a few things to note:

Lack of Armor
Not a lot of characters have armor or are really resilient. It's true that the main characters wear armored uniforms that are at least somewhat bullet-proof (spider-silk). However, that would not help with shots from energy weapons, crushing blows, or the like. A great deal of their combat staying power is, like the early X-Men, around not being hit directly.

Exactly how this plays out in an RPG is interesting. Firstly, the characters can be assumed to use a lot of tactical movement and maybe suppression. Secondly, it's explicitly stated that most super-battles are not participants trying to kill each other. Characters who go for the kill are few and fairly far between in the Worm Verse (Oni is one such exception).

The way JAGS handles this is two-fold. For characters who are supernaturally fast we give then negative damage mods which means they will be hit but for less damage each time. We also give them enhanced Agility which means they are harder to hit with ranged weapons and can dodge bullets the same way they dodge fists.

Secondly we have Ablative Damage Points and regular Damage Points which you can buy pretty cheaply and still be "human." Worm characters would tend to have a lot of those.

Finally there have to be rules for making certain things "defensive actions." A character, Trickster, can teleport others (exchanging them for any other object of roughly equal mass / size). In combat if you try to shoot him he exchanges you for someone else and you attack your friend.

That's something JAGS can handle but it takes some tweaking (you make Teleport Other a Ranged Damage Field which works as a Block Effect and has a Resisted Roll Effect Table that, if he rolls good enough can redirect your attack as he sees fit). When I get to that character I'll talk about what we learned about using "non-traditional defenses."

Power Levels
There are explicit character categories and power levels in the Worm-verse. This is useful. Oni gets a "?" on the Wiki meaning I don't think anyone ever said what his rating was. In JAGS terms I am going to try to keep most of the characters around 128 AP or less as is the "general rule." Some characters who are major league, however, would clearly be a LOT more.

Oni would be a candidate for being lower powered on the basis that he's kinda "street level" (although his leader, Lung, was, indeed, a heavy-hitter for the universe). I was happy to keep him at 128 AP though as I wanted to give him a heavier weapon than he generally carried in the stories.

Oni Lee's Stats
It's pretty hard to get a table working in Blogger so here's a screen shot:
Yeah, That's Legible
Here's the take-away: he has Duplicate (up to 2 dupes at once for 3 active characters). He has both Teleport and Flicker which is a kind of teleport that gives a dodge and lets you attack in ways that are hard to block (teleport and flank) as well as enter and leave close combat with a Medium action. It makes you VERY mobile.

He has Tough Guy, a Bullet proof Vest (4 Armor over his chest for Coverage 4) and Manic which gives +3 HTH damage and +3 Init (he will tend to go first). He has 18 AP's of Gun which could be like an AR 15 or something. We are assuming his knives and grenades are either ignored or are part of that cost.

He hits for about 22 PEN damage depending on exactly how the gun works out. We will assume he can fire 3x a Round (14 REA, level 3 skill). His dodge roll I am going to estimate at a very high 17- (he gets +2 for Flicker-dodging).

His Power: Here is how we did it.
1. Subtle for Teleport, Flicker, and Duplicate so it doesn't show. This is "small" and is +.06.
2. REA Link: Duplicate to Teleport. Duplicate is FREE (REA wise) when paying for a Flicker move (including a dodge) or Teleport move. Also SMALL +06. NOTE: Duplicate normally cost 5 REA and you can bring in all your duplicates at once.

The Link:
1. Cannot do them all at once. This was judged SMALL. It might be higher but many characters can dodge for 1 REA. Notably? He can't (in this configuration) but that was a decision I made intentionally. I prefered making him physically tougher to faster dodging.

2. Duplicates evaporate after 1 Round. Maybe 2 on a roll. This allows them 6-12 seconds of time which seems about right. This is LARGE. He can't use them for all kinds of roleplaying purposes and has to keep paying REA to create them rather than attacking or dodging.

3. Dodging with Flicker means a Duplicate is hit. These are valuable duplicates and he doesn't get the wonderfulness of his good, cheap dodge working. I will assume he can drop any injured duplicate instantly for 0 REA (it turns to dust or, at least, just stops attacking) but he'd still much rather teleport away and have two of him show up wherever he goes. This is MEDIUM.

The final numbers are +.12 for Subtle and REA Link and -.44 for the defects. The result is -.32 to the cost of Duplicate.

He also pays fewer points for his Manic HTH damage and Tough Guy strength as these are "back-up" attacks compared to Gun. This saves him the 4 APs he uses for the vest.

Analysis: In combat he will fire about 6 times per round for about 20 PEN each time. He will shoot accurately and, if he is crafty people may waste attacks on dupes that will turn to dust at the end of the Round. If he can hurt his targets, he will turn them to Swiss cheese.

On the other hand, a good blast from a 128 AP character can easily do 50 points of damage. Oni Lee probably has about 16 DP for his "basic guy" and then has 27 extra for his character. So he has around 43 DP and 4 Armor. A hit from a powerful blast will do a Major Wound. If he got hit by say Purity (a powerful blaster who might be well above normal 128 AP scale) would total him. He can't afford to go toe-to-toe with any real power-house.

My feeling is that with the modifications this handles a difficult character very well.

In an RPG setting he will almost never really want to get close to a target to knife or katana them--he will prefer to stand back and shoot. We might limit his gun to more of a handgun (which is what he had, usually) and that might actually give him more damage in close if we exchanged Gunslinger for some knife-fighting GAT. However, the carbine gives him more staying power against armor.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Modifying Powers: Sample Characters

As the proofing and playtesting ... and careful reading ... continues (indefinitely, it seems--although once everything is proofed, I'm publishing it even if other stuff is "in the works") I want to look at our on-going struggle with power modification.

Power Modification
The Hero system is sort of the ultimate in "effects based" power-mod systems. They sell you Energy Blast and then you modify it to get Fire Blast or Ice Blast or whatever. They have an extremely good system and if you are interested in customizing abilities it is one of--perhaps the--best place to go.

What are we doing in JAGS? I've talked about this before--and this actually is not the place for our current in-flight thinking (you've seen, maybe, post about Mod Points--and how to deal with attack mods like "Armor Piercing" and so on). We are not currently satisfied with the presentation of our thinking and we're looking at options.

Here is a brief overview of what is happening:

  1. Modifiers are either +(an advantage) or -(a disadvantage)
  2. They are expressed as a double-digit fraction multiple (i.e. .22). You take AP-Cost - (Mult x AP-Cost).
  3. These fractions correlate to a 1/4th AP reduction for an 8 AP power (if that's not clear, okay--just skip it for now).
  4. Fractional APs are made up for with DPs. If something winds up costing 3.75 AP you pay 4 AP for it and get an extra DP. Or you could pay 3 AP and lose 3 DP. Your choice ...
  5. You round to the nearest .25 AP
So if I have an 8 AP power and I put a LARGE (.31) defect on it (-.31) the cost is 8 x .31 = 2.5 = 8 - 2.5 = 5.5 AP.


No--so, okay. No--it isn't. But that's the thinking right now. If you have something better, let me know.

So that was probably mind-boggling.

The Experiment: Worm, a Web Serial
We want to take our (large) existing power-set and use it to model characters. We started by choosing guys like Captain America and Batman. These posed several big problems (what, exactly, is "Batman" like?) and we felt reasonably side-tracked. We also didn't like the big names as a pool to choose from: our powers list pretty much already covered them to some degree.

We tried power randomizers, Marvel-Character-Randomizers, and even Supers games with random character creation rules. We weren't happy with those results either (I could write some posts on that too). Then I pointed out something I was reading: Worm, a Web Serial.

Worm is a super-villain story told in serial posts where a teen aged girl gets the ability to control insects, sets out to be a super hero--but falls in with super villains and ... well, that would be telling. There's a lot of it. It's published regularly. It is very well written. And the characters are wonderfully complex and (mostly) unique. It is deep and rich source material for thinking about powers and modification.

I'm a big fan of the work which is by turns tense, complicated, and intricate. The characters are sympathetic and the power-base is, well, it's interesting

So what we're going to do is select a character (major, minor, two-bit--background color, etc.) and discuss how exactly that works (or doesn't) in JAGS.

Without further ado ...

Oni Lee
Oni Lee is a two-bit street thug bad-guy. He's an Asian martial-arts firearm / knife using assassin who has the following power: he can teleport and, when he does, he leaves behind a duplicate of himself which can continue fighting for a few seconds before turning to dust! His power is subtle: when you see him appear and attack you have no idea that you are actually fighting a dupe! He's already teleported away or behind you or whatever.

How would we do him?

Basic Powers: the default for "supers" is 128 AP and around 50-75 CP. Oni is a badass in terms of combat training so he's probably closer to 75 CP. His powers, aside from teleporting would probably be something like:
  • Tough Guy (a level or two)--strong, harder to hurt--but not super human.
  • Athletic for speed. He's fast but not "super fast."
  • He will pay AP for Guns / Knives. Note: he would use several weapons (hand gun, knife, sniper rifle, sub machine gun, etc.--whatever he can get his hands on). The standard super-hero rules say he will pay for weapons. So he has to pay around 20-24 AP for his most expensive gun. At a minimum, maybe 16 AP for a really bad-ass handgun? Something like that.
  • He spends around, maybe, 20 AP on "fast, armed, tough guy." He may also spend 4 AP or so on body armor.
That leaves "around 100 AP to go."

Teleport + Duplicate: So now we need to add in Teleport and Duplicate and so on. This is, in our lexicon: Linking Powers (combining them in some way to create a new power). In this case we are actually linking: Teleport + Duplicate and Flicker + Duplicate. 

Teleport and Flicker both allow the character to teleport--but Flicker allows it "as a dodge action." So if you attack Oni, he can declare a dodge action (3 REA) and leave behind a duplicate (does it get hit? Yes--if he actually uses it as a dodge, the dupe will get hit--many dupilcates die this way in the story). He can also just take the standard Teleport Action (8 REA Long) and leave a duplicate behind.

The Duplicate ability has a defect: Duplicate lasts 1 Round and then has an 11- chance of lasting one additional Round (roll during Initiative). This is a "pretty big limitation."

So the things to look at are:
  • Normally creating a duplicate costs 5 REA and is a Medium Action. In Oni's case it is a 3 REA Short Action.
  • Teleporting is usually loud--Oni's is subtle. That's a small advantage. As no one can tell when he teleports characters must either see him appear somewhere or just guess as to whether they are fighting the real him or not. Creating a duplicate is usually quite obvious (unless the duplicate is invisible).
  • Duplicates usually last ... well, a long, long time. You can send your dupe in to negotiate for you. You can be "two places at once." Your dupe can rob a bank and then "flicker out" when caught. Stuff like that. In this case, Oni can't do any of that--it's a HUGE defect. BUT: having a few dupes around is so damn good in combat and is, really, still pretty effective (the dupes appear with full REA and stuff so while Oni spends his precious action points to teleport he leaves behind fully capable actors).

So here's what we come up with: 
  1. LINK: SMALL advantage. When you link two powers you usually take the "worst" REA cost of the two and the "worst" rule for using them--however, it's generally a medium advantage to take the better of the two so long as this does not result in "free attacks." In this case, having a duplicate appear and take the hit even removes some of the "dodge" potential so it clocks in at SMALL (which is +.06 in case you were wondering).
  2. SUBTLE: SMALL. Attacks which are "silenced" are not "that much better" than loud attacks. Some attacks (psionics, gas, etc.) make no noise anyway. In this case the Subtle is a small advantage on both Duplicate and Teleport.
  3. DUPLICATE DECAYS: "SIGNIFICANT." This is not as big a deal as you would think (it's 50% off). The complete rack of "roleplaying" value in the quickly decaying duplicates is superceded by the value of the duplicates in combat.
The total defect is around .42 as a multiple.

While I have not done all the math, the character works well at 128 AP.

A NOTE ABOUT WEAPONS: Oni makes the case for a "Guns and Knives" power which allows an AP "pool" which can be spent for easily accessible modern weapons upto the total AP. So if Oni spends, say 24 AP on "Guns and Knives" it allows him to carry hand guns, knives, assault weapons, and so on, up to that limit so long as (a) they are reasonably available and (b) he can "only use one at a time." I haven't made a final call on this--but it seems like a good idea. Maybe the pool of guns costs an extra 1 or 2 APs or something?