Monday, November 29, 2010

Moving on to Magic

Note: I’ve been working on this particular post for two weeks- and kept revising it until I got to some semblance of order. Here goes…

For your physical abilities, it works best to have one attack/defensive ability, one resistant/soak ability, and a wide range of linked abilities that can be used to add to damage or for specific situations.

- Fighting is used to attack and defend.
- Stamina is used to soak and resist.
- Might and Precision are used to deal damage or make other (non-combat) physical actions.

If I want magic to parallel this (and I do), the same paradigm needs to be in place.

- Focus is used to attack and defend.
- Resolve is used to soak and resist.
- Flame Bolt, Arcane Dart (etc.) are used to deal damage and as the ‘master abilities’ for other spell actions…

For instance, your caster has Focus +4 and Flame Bolt +6. When he attacks to wound with magical flame, you roll 2D+4 (your focus) to attack against the target’s 2D + focus defensive roll. If you hit, you roll 2D+6 (your flame bolt rating) vs. the target’s 2D+ resolve soak roll. However, if you purchase the spell ‘wall of flames’, this spell is linked to your Flame Bolt +6. If you purchase a spell to boost an ally’s fighting ability using your flame, you boost at +6 (not +4). Focus is ONLY used to take a pure damage attack, or to defend against such attacks.

Some non-combat applications may be linked to your focus or resolve. For instance, I think Lore would be linked to Focus, whereas Leadership (your ability to inspire others to perform heroic actions) would be linked to your Resolve.

This seems pretty simple and comprehensive.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Basic Combat Abilities

I see abilities falling into three basic categories: physical combat abilities/ magical (supernatural) combat abilities/ functional (useful and non-combat) abilities.

Let’s start by talking about physical combat. This becomes an important decision for the game, since the danger is that you over-simplify how things work and lose veracity. Here are the two options:

1. You have ‘fighting’ as the single attack ability. This includes all physical combat: swinging a sword, firing a bow, throwing a dart. This has support in the great epics: Odysseus hacks through foes with sword and spear, then returns home and fires a bow better than anyone in his household. If you are trained in combat, you know how to use weapons.
2. You have melee and missile as distinct abilities. Legolas doesn’t pick up a sword and swing it because he’s put all of his points into missile. Gimli doesn’t bother asking Legolas to borrow his bow; he runs up to stuff and swings his axe at it, because that’s where all his points are…

It’s difficult, because there are benefits to both approaches. However, combat has two facets: hitting and dealing damage. We can put the variety on the back end. Your ability to deal melee and thrown weapon damage is dependent on your might- how hard you hit. Your ability to deal missile weapon damage is dependent on your accuracy/precision/dexterity (not sure what to call that)… so the difference between Legolas and Gimli (who both have Fighting in the +8 or +9 range), is the ratings of the linked ability. Gimli has Might +7 or +8, while Legolas has accuracy/precision/dexterity in the +9 range. Gimli picks up an axe because that’s what will deal the most damage in his hands; Legolas picks the bow for the same reason.

Therefore, Might and Precision (liking that one more and more- I’d rather stay away from ‘dexterity’ and ‘accuracy’ feels a little more limited for some reason) determine what weapon you’ll prefer. You’re just as likely to hit with any weapon- but you deal more damage with some than others.

And now to the stickiest part of this- when you start adding your might + your weapon damage rating (for instance) and you have Might +8 and a weapon dealing +10 damage, you are going to be hitting for +18 damage. This is pretty considerable, and starts to scale past the dice. The higher your total bonus, the less important the dice are. When you are hitting for +18, whether you roll a 2 or 12 is not nearly as important; you are still going to hit for at least +20 damage. Then again, if a storm giant manages to connect with his great spiked club, shouldn’t you feel it?

Three ways to handle this:

1. You can wield a weapon up to your might rating, but you don’t add the two together, you just take the weapon damage. Blech. This feels way too limited; because you have Might +8, you get to wield a +8 weapon and you deal up to +8 damage.

2. As above. You add your might and the weapon damage rating together. Have Might +6 and wield a sword +9? Congratulations, you deal +15 damage with every strike.

3. A hybrid system; your might sets the maximum rating for weapons you may wield; with might +6, you may wield a weapon of up to +6 rating, dealing a total of up to +12 damage. You now have an incentive to keep increasing might, and your weapon damage scales nicely, but it never gets out of control.

I see option 1 being frustrating to players (“so I can NEVER deal more than +10 damage?”) and option 2 being relatively easy to bypass (I’m not going to bother upping my might rating; I’ll just keep buying a bigger sword!). Option 3 is the best of all worlds, although I think that the weapon rating limit should be might +1. With might +0, you can wield a dagger (a +1 weapon) and deal +1 damage with it. If you pick up and swing a short sword (a +2 weapon) or long sword (+3), you are going to have trouble (due to your limited might), and you still only hit for +1 damage. You don’t have sufficient strength to maximize its potential.

This seems to work just as well for precision. With precision +1, you could wield a short bow to full effect (a +2 weapon, meaning that you deal +3 damage with it), while the compound long bow (+6) requires precision +5 to get the full benefit of.

Hmmm. Let’s stack this up against some armor…

You have a fairly decent fighting type hero (+5 across the board; +5 fighting, +5 might, +5 weapon; just for purposes of our discussion). You attack at +5, and deal +10 damage.

Against a comparable foe (wearing +5 armor too!) you hit about 50% of the time; each time you hit, you score an average of 5 points of damage (you are going to roll an average of 7+10=17 damage; the target is going to roll 7+5=12 to soak).

Against a dragon (fighting +8, armor +10, might +10, bite +10), you are going to have a tough time hitting (needing to roll 3 more than the dragon’s resist to hit). When you hit, your average damage of 17 is going to be opposed by an average soak of 17… in short, as a mid-level hero fighting a dragon, you are going to have a tough go of it, but it’s possible!

To summarize:

- You make all attacks using fighting
- For melee damage, you roll might + the weapon rating (limited to might +1).
- For missile damage, you roll precision + the weapon rating (limited to precision +1).

Also, this has some cool implications… for example, the game can include ‘finesse’ weapons (something I included in Mythweaver and really liked) such as foils and quarter staffs. These weapons are melee weapons that link to precision instead of might. However, this should be more limited (maybe half your precision rounded up?) A light, fast swordsman can still deal good damage even though he has no might to speak of… In our Legolas example, with his precision +9, he can pick up a rapier +5 and get the full benefit of it, dealing +14 damage. This isn’t quite as effective as his bow which drops +19 points at a clip, but is a LOT better than a dagger +1 from his might +0.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Opposing Abilities

One of the things I like about Resolute is that you only purchase the abilities you use. This keeps the character sheet and number of stats you have to keep track of minimal. In Mythweaver, if a goblin had negligible might, you still had to record that on the character record; there’s still a spot for might, so you have to write something in, even if it has no bearing on game play. Resolute doesn’t do that. If you have no particular might, your might is +0, and you don’t bother writing it down.

However, one of the things I really like about Mythweaver is that your abilities oppose themselves. If you are taking a casting action with an ability that uses Willpower, the target uses Willpower to resist… if you swing a sword using Prowess, your opponent rolls Prowess to evade it. It’s a nice, intuitive system that tends to work well in play. The frustrating thing becomes when you attack a giant; your dwarven fighter has a harder time hitting it than your elfin archer or your gnome caster; the other two are attacking its weaknesses, while you are engaging it against its strongest attribute (your Prowess +10 against its Prowess +10). This also, however, makes a good deal of sense. A spell caster’s greatest foe is a character good at melee; a thief’s greatest foe is a spell caster; a slow, heavily-armored fighter’s greatest foe is a light, quick, ranged attacker.

Right now, Fighting targets your foe’s Evade. If, however, fighting targets fighting… this makes more sense. You aren’t going to learn how to swing a sword (for instance) without also learning how to defend yourself against sword attacks… it would all be part of the same training. A high-level wizard is not going to have mastered casting spells, but never have bothered to learn how to prevent those same spells from affecting him.

This means that, in general, the game can have fewer core abilities, and can have more applications of things you build off of those core abilities. Each ability should be a multi-faceted and valuable thing. Here are some things I’m considering:

Armor is not a unique ability, but is instead an application of your stamina. You need great stamina to wear heavy armor. Part of the reason a typical bookworm sorcerer doesn’t go around in heavy plate mail is because he doesn’t have the proper conditioning to wear such armor. So, if you have stamina +3 and armor use (at a default cost of 2 character points), you can wear armor +3… ring mail or the like. Once your stamina gets to +5, you can start wearing chain mail, and once your stamina gets to +7 or better, you can throw on the plate mail. This makes sense for dwarves, who have the best stamina and also tend to wear the best armor. This also means that characters with high stamina tend to be more durable- which makes sense.

Conversely, shield use should be linked to fighting, not your armor. A shield gives you a pool of points that you add only to armor soak rolls (whereas now those points can be added in a number of places). However, your ability to use a shield effectively is not about how durable you are; it’s about how well you position your weapon and your body in combat- this is fighting. It also makes sense that the classic Greek warrior with the lighter armor but the huge shield has this because he may have fighting +8, but stamina only +4 or so… his +8 shield helps to offset the relatively light armor he’s wearing. I know that the whole story of the 300 is predicated on the tremendous stamina of the soldiers present, although I’m going to argue that this is more about Resolve than Stamina per se, and I’ll get to that later…

Friday, November 26, 2010

Combat Sequence and Time Management

The other big impact that getting rid of successes as a concept has is on combat sequence. The current game breaks down scenes into rounds, and each round you roll for sequence, taking a number of turns based on your successes on a sequence roll. Again, this is more trouble than it’s worth, and causes you to do constant number conversions.

This rule is here for the supers game. The Flash needs to get more actions each round than other heroes- that’s one of the things that makes him the Flash. However, I shouldn’t build an entire system around the fact that I need Flash-level heroes to have a perk. Later in the process, I know that one of the attributes of Hyperspeed (or whatever it’s called) is the ability to take multiple bonus turns each scene. That seems reasonable enough. If you have Hyperspeed +8, you get two perks: you can travel up to 8 bonus units on a turn, and you have a pool of 8 bonus actions that you can take along with other turns you take that scene. I’d think you could only take one additional turn at a time, but Hyperspeed +8 would allow you to take 2 actions on each turn you take, for the first 8 turns each scene. That’s pretty cool, and seems to fit with how the Flash operates. He does a lot of stuff at once.

This means that when you roll sequence, you only roll once for the whole scene; you then act in order of sequence rolls for the remainder of the scene… this means that everyone gets to act on every rotation, and no one at the table will be sitting there for that long. It also means less rolling in general; you don’t have to roll for sequence every 3-5 rolls; after the initial sequence roll, everything you do is to either attack, defend, roll damage, soak damage, or take a non-combat action.

This also means that the distinction between preparation and resolution phases is a dinosaur. In truth, this was almost a dinosaur with the release of 2.0, but it managed to hang on into the next edition of the game. I originally added this to give heroes with things like force fields a reason to activate them. Combats went so quickly in the first version of the game that a character with a force field who was slow to act often got dropped or taken out of combat before even having a chance to put up the force field. The last edition of the game had managed to partially fix that, and this revised approach to time and combat sequencing makes the need for the preparation phase obsolete. By my later game sessions of Resolute, almost all preparation phases were used to get the +3 attack bonus going into the round; I can always put up my force field later! If the vast majority of players end up taking the +3 bonus, then either it’s too good, or the alternate options are too weak. This gets rid of that problem altogether.

Successes May Have To Go...

"Success" as a concept doesn’t really fit with the other parts of the game. It’s a level of complexity that doesn’t give the return on the investment. Here’s an example for wounds from the current version of the game:

I roll to attack with my sword, and roll 7+5=12. The target rolls evade, and gets 6+3=9. I get to hit by +3, and get to add that to damage. So far, so good. I like the idea that the level of success of the attack directly impacts damage. Now, I roll for damage, getting 7 on the dice +4 (my sword’s damage rating- more on that later) +3 (the degree of success on the attack)= 14. My target rolls his armor to soak, rolling 8+2 (his armor rating) for 10.

In the current Resolute rules, this is 1 wound. His armor roll of 10 means that I only deal 1 wound between 10 and 19, 2 wounds from 20-29, etc. In short, there is no difference at all (for this particular attack) between a damage roll of 10 and a damage roll of 19. I’ve done as much as I can to nickel and dime my way to get every point I can out of my attack and damage, and in the final analysis, I needn’t have bothered for this particular attack. True, over time I will hit more often and deal more damage the larger my ratings are, but on a swing-by-swing basis, the amount of damage I do is going to ‘feel’ pretty consistent.

In play testing, my players understood that dealing 1 wound was a fair amount of damage, but never really got over the feeling that you weren’t doing anything to your foe. It may be that dealing 1 wound to a foe with 10 total wounds is the same as dealing 10 wounds to a foe with 100 wounds, but the second one provides a more fulfilling game experience. Isn’t that what I’m after?

Now, if you hit by +3, you add that to damage. If you score +7 in damage beyond your target’s soak roll, congratulations. You’ve just scored 7 points of damage. Doesn’t that feel better than 1 wound? It does to me, too!

Ways to Read the Dice

The current edition of Resolute has a blending of two ways to read dice… in one way, you take the totals of the dice added to the linked ability. An attack roll works this way. In another way, you count the number of successes as a multiple of the resist. If the target rolls 7 to soak damage, you deal 1 wound at 7, 2 wounds at 14, 3 wounds at 21, etc.

In short, the game has a wee bit of an identity crisis.

In my notes, I have a long comparison between two alternate dice systems. I have already made up my mind, but I figured I’d at least let you know what I was thinking…

In Guardians of Metro City (my first ‘real’ supers game), you rolled D6’s and counted ‘successes’ on the dice. 1=-1, 2 or 3 = +0; 4 or 5 = +1; 6 = +2. If your hero had might +4, you could end up with a result between -4 (if you rolled all 1’s) and +8 (if you rolled all 6’s). I toyed with the idea of keeping the foundation from this system and porting it over to Resolute… roll 2D for everything, and count your successes. This gives you a result of -2 to +4, and a decent bell curve. You add your ability as automatic successes; if you have might +3, every time you roll might, you end up with a result between 1 and 7. This works great mathematically, and gives very predictable results while also giving a good deal of variety. However, this system revealed two big flaws as I played with it (and read over reviews of that game):

1. This dice system is somewhat counter-intuitive. You can ‘learn’ how to read the dice, but it’s a thought process. Every time you roll, you have to think about what a 5 ‘means’; a 5 isn’t 5, it’s +1 success. You are constantly converting numbers in your head.
2. The scale of numbers is way too small for long-term play. The benchmarks work nicely for the most part… might +1 is Captain America, +2 is Beast, +3 is Spider Man, +4 is Iron Man, +5 is the Thing, +6 is the Hulk. However, this is relatively unfulfilling in play, and for extended campaigning. Although going from +4 to +5 is a HUGE difference, you still only take +1 from what your hero was before. The psychological effect on long-term play is considerable. You ‘feel’ the difference between a +4 and a +7 as your character grows… between +3 and +4, not so much. That is the actual difference in the two systems between what the numbers ‘mean’.

In the end, 2D6, total and add the attribute is what I’ve decided on… and this has some important implications…

Monday, November 15, 2010

Let’s Talk About the Dice

Resolute is a 2D6 game. That’s its identity, and it’s something I feel like is not up for discussion.

In thinking about this, I’ve gone back and looked at much of my old Mythweaver stuff, and I really like the idea of the progressive dice system from Mythweaver. It works very well for that particular game. At level 1, you roll D6 for everything, while by level 20 you roll D20 for everything. This way, a level 4 and a level 12 character with the same ability score are not going to end up with the same average result; the level 12 hero is inherently cooler.

Two things about this for Resolute: A) Resolute is also a supers system and B) There are other ways to solve this.

In a supers system, you end up with a HUGE problem if you start scaling dice this way. As a for instance… let’s say that a level 1 hero with might +1 should be able to lift a good amount- we’ll put 500 lbs. out there as our benchmark. This is now difficulty rank 7. Your level 1 hero needs to roll his best result to get to 500 lbs. A level 1 hero with great might may have a rating of +5. Fair enough. So, you set your difficulty for 10 tons or so at DR 11. All well and good. However, you now have a level 10 hero, who rolls D12 for everything… even with might +0, just by virtue of being level 10, this hero can lift 10 tons nearly 20% of the time! Batman, who may only have might +1 or +2, is able to routinely lift hundreds of tons, because he rolls D20 for everything. The scaling is all wrong for a supers game.

An alternate way to solve this is to give upper-level heroes discretionary points to add to rolls as needed. Your level 10 hero still only rolls 2D6 + his ability; even if that ability is only +1 or +2, he still has the opportunity to beat a lower-level hero because of his access to hero points (or whatever these become in the game going forward). These become the equalizer. They are something that has to be in the game going forward in some way, and I have several ideas about how to make that work.

Right now, my instinct is to take this out of the reward system (where it is now) and also take this out of its connections to level (you get discretionary bonus points based on your level). Instead, your hero points (or what I’m calling Resolve right now, since this fits with the game’s title best- your resolve is how well you do extraordinary things- well duh! Perfectly appropriate for a game called “Resolute”) are an ability you buy. Now, Batman has as much Resolve as the Hulk has strength… how the heck is he able to fight his way out of the Hulk’s bear hug, when the Hulk has might +12 and Batman has +2? Because he spent one of his many Resolve points (because his Resolve is up in the +10 range) and was able to counter the Hulk for this one action.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Ground Rules

Here are some ground rules I’m working with as I approach this project:

• Game design is a holistic thing- all elements of the game are ‘designed’, and work together. This is true on every level. It’s important to be aware that every element of the game has to be there on purpose- I never want to default to doing something just because ‘I’ve always done it that way’- similarly, if something works, there’s no reason to change it.
• Story trumps all. I’ve been inspired to play games where I’m excited about the world and the story of the game- not where the mechanics look cool. I want the mechanics to help tell cool stories.
• Everything you need should be in the core book. I thumbed through the D+D Essentials core rules, and was impressed that they’d managed to get all of the core rules of D+D into one book – until I realized that you didn’t really have rules for character building… or for monsters… or for much magic… oh, snap. You are going to need a lot more…

Back to the Drawing Board (Again!)

I’m a game designer. Yeah, so what? Well, this means that I am happier than a pig in a pile of pig excrement when I’m actually designing. I like pulling apart my own games and tinkering with the underlying pieces. Either I need an intervention, or I need to embrace this and keep on keeping on… so the latter it is.

While working on a set of mecha and battle suits rules for Resolute the RPG, I realized a couple of things…

I wasn’t really happy with the existing rules for granting bonuses. My whole idea of a battle suit (like the Iron Man armor) is that it takes what you already do and enhances it considerably. If Spiderman takes the Iron Man armor and puts it on (I know, it’s hard-wired to Tony Stark and no one else can just put it on and there’s all sorts of good reasons he wouldn’t), he should get stronger than Tony Stark would- because he’s Spiderman, and he’s already much stronger than Tony. If the suit grants +5 to might, there’s a big difference between going from +1 to +6 and going from +5 to +10. The first takes you up to where Iron Man should be (roughly)- the latter takes you to Hulk-level strength. I don’t like this. The law of diminishing returns has to kick in somewhere…

The system already has a law of diminishing returns built right into the point-buy system. Going from +1 to +2 in an ability costs only 1 character point, but going from +9 to +10 costs 5. So, if my hypothetical suit grants +10 character points in might, this is going to take your +1 might hero to just shy of +6… but it’s going to take your +5 might hero to only +7 (but nearly +8). This is a much more reasonable way to look at upgrades of abilities.

Looking at ability progress this way, I went back to magic and other powers that can grant bonuses to abilities. Spells were limiting from granting bonuses, because these scale way too quickly for the system. If you have a casting ability +10 and you purchase a spell that allows you to increase the target’s might, you grant a character with +5 might a temporary might of +15, and this goes beyond the scope of the numbers of the game. It’s simply too much. However, approaching magic with the same bonus system as above, your +10 ability now allows you to grant a very weak target (might +0) considerable strength (might +5), and it allows you to increase the strength of a storm giant (might +10) a notable but not outrageous amount (to might +12). The spell gives a larger bonus to lower-ranked abilities, but grants a minor bonus at higher levels.

This changes the approach to character building for hybrid casters, and also for characters that will always team up. While you want to have high armor, you can maximize your points by taking lower armor as your standard setup, and then taking a spell that allows you to enhance your existing armor rating with a magical buff.

Finally, I’ve always been a little unhappy with the minor differences between the Supers and Fantasy systems- the big one being that Thor, god of thunder in one set of rules has a completely different build than Thor, god of thunder in another. This is a quirk of the fact that the supers system is designed around big, strong heroes who generally don’t carry weapons- while the fantasy system is designed around big, strong heroes who almost always carry weapons.

While I’m at it, I’ve also been a tad bit unhappy with the difference between how physical attacks work, and how spells work. Spells always hit, and the target just rolls to soak damage, whereas physical attacks require two rolls- one to hit, and one for damage.

So, I need to revise my rules for physical combat, magic, enhancements… and these things are going to have huge ripple effects on the fundamentals of character design… gah.

So, rather than go back and revise what I’ve got, I’ve decided to go back to the drawing board (hey, it’s only a 16-page game, right?) and see how I can re-develop some of the key ideas for the system. I’ll be posting results here (since I assume that much of this will be ‘actual play’ using dice and such). I have no idea when this will be done, or what the final package will end up being. Feel free to comment on the project as I go, or until I give up in a fit of frustration and walk away from the whole thing.