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Author Topic: Xev20 - Big System Questions  (Read 362 times)
The Captain of Crunch
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« on: March 08, 2012, 04:54:15 AM »

Xev20 will still happen, one day. It is shaping up to be a modified rule set upon the M&M d20 engine, because it's a system I know and you can do a lot with it. But that's neither here nor there at the moment. Today (as in this thread, not just today ...) I want to discuss some big rules issues that could shape the entire game. I'd like to gather ideas people have on other side rules, things like honor, insanity, taint, wealth, and character progression. I want to make my game as fun as it can possibly be.

There's something about M&M that isn't fun; there's a 25% hit chance. Well, there's a 50% chance to hit, and a 50% chance to affect someone with most attacks (damage attacks have a 75% affect rate, because a first tier affect is a penalty on future saves). This means 75% of the time, your attack does nothing. The game goes fast, and we went though an 8 round combat in less than an hour real time, but a lot of player actions went like this:

Player: I shot it with a normal arrow. *rolls a d20* I got a 14.
DM: That's a miss.
Player: Well shoot.

or

Player: I shot it with a normal arrow. *rolls a d20* Yes, a 19.
DM: That's a hit, what's your damage DC?
Player: DC 16.
DM: *rolls* It saved.

It got me thinking back to the days we were playing D&D4E. Players had really cool encounter powers, but they missed about 45% of the time (and when we ran a high level game before Weapon Expertise, they were missing 60% of the time). I then started to wonder if a lower miss chance would make the game more fun. Just look at many computer games, like WoW or Final Fantasy; "Miss" is a rare occurrence, and it sucks when it happens. It would require HP or whatever system was used to be heavily reevaluated so combat would take the same amount of time, but maybe it would be more fun.

For instance, what if vs. a typical enemy at your level, a roll of 1-5 was a miss, a roll of 6-10 was a glancing blow (1/2x damage), a roll of 11-19 was a hit (1x damage), and 20 was a crit (2x damage). If you're 4 levels higher than someone, then 1 is a miss, 2-6 is a glancing blow, 7-15 is a hit, and 16+ is a crit; against someone 4 levels higher than you, 1-9 is a miss ...

Damage and HP would need to be adjusted, of course, but it may lead players to feel less like they're wasting their turns. In classic D&D, spellcasters often had "miss for 1/2 damage" or other effects on a miss. If something like that were applied to everyone, would you enjoy your turns more? Or would the inflated HP, or deflated damage, make it feel like a slug fest, even if the number of combat rounds remained the same?

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The other issue I want to ask about deals with character advancement. There was a period of time I wanted to remove magic items entirely and just give out more feats to make up for the lost power (this was for D&D4E, mind you). I thought that it would give players more control of their customization in a way that was less ham-fisted than giving me "wish lists" or going to the "items-R-us" store. But then I started to realize that magic items were an integral part of character advancement. Not only were they mysterious (you didn't know when you were going to find something new and shinny), but they happened between level ups (the part that I think is more important).

Though literary heroes aren't Christmas trees decked out in all the finery (those not from D&D books mind you), they still find a few magic items in their journey (sting, the mithril coat, and the ring). Game heroes find a bit more, that's all.

Do you think that finding magic items is an important part of the fun of character advancement? Would this need to exist in a point-based game where you gain 1 or 2 points ever session or encounter? Can magic items exist alongside a point-based system, or do they conflict with each other?

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Next, in a game that will be a healthy mixture of exploration, interaction, and combat, is it important that everyone be able to reasonably contribute at all 3, or should players be able to min-max these sides of their characters and become specialists at one at the loss of the others? A game where all three are fairly balanced allows DMs to not specifically cater to the player builds, and can have more variety of challenges. On the other hand, a character where players are free to specialize as they will requires a DM to cater to them, so the players get to play their characters as they see fit.

I started out playing PnP games with D&D, and I was a DM the first time I ever played. I can't imagine running a game that isn't combat focused or at least combat heavy. I love having exploration and interaction, but I came to fight too. The idea of letting a player build a purposefully weak combatant seems strange to my style, and when it has happened it has disrupted play (I had an instance once where someone took a trait and a flaw that gave them a 5 ft. movement rate, and he chose to fight with a whip and play a dwarf bard ...).

I could build this balance into the system, or I could build it into character building guidelines catered to each campaign. A CR system could come with a tool to measure each character's combat potential (potentially even their combat ability vs. various things), and then an average between characters could be taken to determine a "fair fight", but that might be extra work. Now, I will readily admit and agree that anything I make will probably only be played by me and my group, but I like to be thorough.

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Last, what are your thoughts on encounter vs. daily balance. I like the idea of different characters playing different and having different modes of output, but I have grown to dislike daily things, or at least dislike having daily things be a large part of a character's power. I don't like the game allowing players to nova (burn out all their good things in the first fight) and then require a rest; I hate the 5 minute workday. I don't like balancing the 5-minute workday with story issues at every turn (it's too dangerous to rest here, you get ambushed while you rest, the princess is attached to a Saw-esque timer device ...). I don't like the mechanics to dictate my plots (if the players have to rescue the princess before nightfall, then that means I can only have 3 to 5 encounters before they save the princess ...).

Some say daily makes more sense, than encounter; one of my players says this, in fact. I disagree. Regathering your mana, making more smoke bombs, or simply catching your breath could be as easily justified during a 5 minute break as it could during 8 hours of sleep; it's all in the story of the mechanics. But as I learned while trying to work on class mechanics, Vancian spells for the D&D3E Wizard allowed the Wizard to have a metric-F-ton of spells to access (even if some rotted away in their spell book for years, only to be called upon once). This could be handled with other things, so I'm still not entirely sold.

Thoughts? I'll stop rambling, but I'd love to hear your thoughts on these and other rules subsystems.
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« Reply #1 on: March 08, 2012, 01:57:26 PM »

I think that what more HP and more consistent hitting really mean is less randomness. This may or may not be what you want. Rather than trying to land the one blow that ends the fight, you're consistently dealing damage that will end the fight in a given number of rounds, so the goal then becomes simply to survive and minimize damage/resources consumed/whatever for that number of rounds. Put another way, on average, the character who has a 20% chance of dealing 50 damage and the character who deals 10 damage consistently are both going to, long-term, inflict an average of 50 damage for any given 5 rounds of combat, but they will feel very different, and use different tactics.

The computer RPGs you have cited are very much about consistent damage and, generally speaking, quite abstracted HP. If you're going to abstract HP to this degree, I'd recommend against using terms like "glancing blow" and "hit" and so on, because a character who is ostensibly human could not realistically suffer an actual hit from some of the nasty weapons/magic/whatever flying around and remain standing and fighting.

For the sake of comparison, my own Asura system is a high-lethality system where HP represents actual damage done, and as a result, it's very much about the probabilities. Hits are calculated by comparing one's attack value to the enemy's defense value, adding in a die roll with a mean value of 0. An outcome of +0 or +1 is a glancing blow, +2 to +5 is a solid hit, and +6 is a "resounding" hit, which has a 1 in 6 chance of being a critical. The typical combat involves a lot of missing and a couple of glancing blows before someone lands a crushing hit and ends the combat. Of course, this introduces the possibility that someone might land a crushing blow early and end the combat right there, but most "important" characters have some supernatural powers at their disposal that somewhat mitigate the wild swings of probability that could happen, like the ability to boost one's attack or defense by a small amount in exchange for taking a small amount of damage or expending other resources. For what it's worth, so far, the system has performed pretty well, but I haven't given it nearly the amount of testing I'd like, of course.
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« Reply #2 on: March 08, 2012, 05:07:37 PM »

I've always loved the HP/VP system from one of the iterations of d20 Starwars. I do like the idea of a battle consisting of a bunch of parrys (lets say between swordsmen here), a few knicks (that have a profound effect on capabilities), and solid hits which end the fight (or nearly cripple someone). That would be exciting. Standard "hits" would be taxing HP in that blocking them tires you, and you can only do so for so long. But that still feels like a "hit".

Wiffs where nothing happens are too common in M&M, and in the battles I've run it makes me feel like something's missing. To me, it seems like a hit should always accomplish something, whether it's actually injuring your foe or just wearing them down.

I do agree with you on trying to ensure that the description is right.
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« Reply #3 on: March 08, 2012, 10:46:20 PM »

With per encounter versus per daily powers, I think a lot depends on the emphases you want your game to have.

Right now in Fimbulvinter I'm playing straight-up Pathfinder which uses Vancian spellcasting.  It takes quite awhile to heal damage naturally and spells are in limited supply.  As a result I'm hoping this will tend to make players take resting, establishing watches, finding a secure location etc seriously.  If you can regenerate your hp and spells and other "combat resources" very swiftly, you get  faster-paced game, but suddenly things like being wounded are less grievous.  Spellcasters don't feel the need to ration their spells in case they need them later.  In a game where powers are daily, there's a sense of scarcity.  Better be cautious with your hp and your spells or you'll end up in a tough spot.
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« Reply #4 on: March 09, 2012, 07:06:11 AM »

I've never played M&M... but if it is d20, I think a "miss" is not really a "wiff" it's the opponent dodging or parrying, in conjunction with armor turning blows. It's just that d20 uses a passive parry mechanic. Maybe to achieve the feel you want, instead of a passive mechanic like AC, you should introduce active defense (roll on defense as well as offense).
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« Reply #5 on: March 09, 2012, 07:38:56 AM »

Steerpike

With per encounter versus per daily powers, I think a lot depends on the emphases you want your game to have.

Right now in Fimbulvinter I'm playing straight-up Pathfinder which uses Vancian spellcasting.  It takes quite awhile to heal damage naturally and spells are in limited supply.  As a result I'm hoping this will tend to make players take resting, establishing watches, finding a secure location etc seriously.  If you can regenerate your hp and spells and other "combat resources" very swiftly, you get  faster-paced game, but suddenly things like being wounded are less grievous.  Spellcasters don't feel the need to ration their spells in case they need them later.  In a game where powers are daily, there's a sense of scarcity.  Better be cautious with your hp and your spells or you'll end up in a tough spot.
Well, one aspect of game systems could be 'units of measure'.  'encounter' vs 'time limit',  a lot of that comes in with where you want the game to balance, on the encounter or on the exploration.

Resource management could also be looked at as tactics vs strategy.  I like having as much strategy as tactics, but an encounter-centric game is more centered on tactics.
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« Reply #6 on: March 09, 2012, 03:39:45 PM »

sparkletwist

I think that what more HP and more consistent hitting really mean is less randomness. This may or may not be what you want. Rather than trying to land the one blow that ends the fight, you're consistently dealing damage that will end the fight in a given number of rounds, so the goal then becomes simply to survive and minimize damage/resources consumed/whatever for that number of rounds. Put another way, on average, the character who has a 20% chance of dealing 50 damage and the character who deals 10 damage consistently are both going to, long-term, inflict an average of 50 damage for any given 5 rounds of combat, but they will feel very different, and use different tactics.
One thing you can do about this issue is manipulate the damage dice. Get that "10 damage consistently" but widen the range so it can go way higher. Critical hits can similarly bring back the occasional one or two hit kills.

On the encounter/daily thing, it's important to remember that an encounter is a metagame measurment and daily is an in-game measurement.

Encounter powers have the problem that they might strain suspension of disbelief if not justified. Literary Vancian spellcasting (where you can prepare spells whenever you want, but it still takes a while) would be justified encounter powers. Encounter balance doesn't have to mean encounter powers either. I'm building my game so individual encounters are life-threatening, and I'm using ritual-based healing for the big wounds (and at-will hp healing that is considerably slower than damage output).

Daily powers have the problem that an eight hour rest doesn't actually cost anything. Easy solution here is just to set a hard limit on how often you get them back, making it take an actual day rather than just "eight hours of rest." Daily balance (applying to things like hp too) is weird for some games with many or few fights, but you don't really need to worry about that if you're not making the game for other people.

One underutilized thing is adventure balance. Item creation/purchase/encumbrance gives you a real easy way to justify limits on resources per adventure. If many items are expendable and cost funds, it can give a similar set of options to D&D style spellcasting and preparation. Also it's an easy way to scale difficulty up or down (by giving players more or less loot).
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« Reply #7 on: March 09, 2012, 11:04:07 PM »

Phoenix

I've never played M&M... but if it is d20, I think a "miss" is not really a "wiff" it's the opponent dodging or parrying, in conjunction with armor turning blows. It's just that d20 uses a passive parry mechanic. Maybe to achieve the feel you want, instead of a passive mechanic like AC, you should introduce active defense (roll on defense as well as offense).

I wanted to comment on this. It's not that a miss is descriptively a miss, it's that a miss is mechanically no chance for an effect. No matter how you describe it, a miss is a miss and you wasted your action.

Steerpike, you do bring up something that I miss from low level 3E D&D; feeling like a scared and lonely soldier in the wilderness. I didn't have those moments in 4E D&D, but I think that's because the premade adventures I ran didn't follow that model, and I didn't get the chance to run anything of my own that was exploration based. It probably could have been done that way, it might not have been a fault of the system. But clearly having natural HP recover far slower did slow the game down; at least you had to rest a full day to let the cleric recover their spells for heals, then rest again to recover their other spells.

And like beejazz says, encounter powers can be justified just like daily powers can. Encounter powers are simply things that can only be recovered by spending some uninterrupted time recovering them (like in my own setting, "drawing mana" could be a slow process, and having it be done daily instead of whenever you want could feel gamist).

More and more, I'm leaning back to wanting a WP/VP type system. If HP are endurance, and not actual physical damage, then HP can recover quickly (catch your breath) and wounds can take time. Wounds could even be hard to heal by low-level magic, which would stretch out the time that they matter. Recovering wounds could be greatly fatiguing for the recipient and the spellcaster.
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« Reply #8 on: March 10, 2012, 06:33:06 AM »

Xeviat

It's not that a miss is descriptively a miss, it's that a miss is mechanically no chance for an effect. No matter how you describe it, a miss is a miss and you wasted your action.
I'm not sure I agree. Most non d20 games (TRoS, Shadowrun, Burning Wheel, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, and WW for example) run much more like you make an attack, I try to defend myself. If I fail I get hit. I've never felt like my action was wasted just because you managed to defend yourself--that's just the ebb and flow of combat. Granted, with no wound penalties, there is less tension to getting hit in d20.

In a game like Final Fantasy, hit-miss mechanics are replaced with oodles of HP. Battles become a slug-fest, where PCs have to deal 100k damage to kill bosses. If you want this kind of model, you could just give everything absurd amounts of VP, though I'm not sure it will mesh will with WP. To me, it just seems likely to decrease the tension, as the game devolves into trading blows and seeing who drops first.
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« Reply #9 on: March 11, 2012, 12:30:23 AM »

Phoenix

I'm not sure I agree. Most non d20 games (TRoS, Shadowrun, Burning Wheel, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, and WW for example) run much more like you make an attack, I try to defend myself. If I fail I get hit. I've never felt like my action was wasted just because you managed to defend yourself--that's just the ebb and flow of combat. Granted, with no wound penalties, there is less tension to getting hit in d20.

In a game like Final Fantasy, hit-miss mechanics are replaced with oodles of HP. Battles become a slug-fest, where PCs have to deal 100k damage to kill bosses. If you want this kind of model, you could just give everything absurd amounts of VP, though I'm not sure it will mesh will with WP. To me, it just seems likely to decrease the tension, as the game devolves into trading blows and seeing who drops first.

What I'm thinking of is how to simulate literary and cinematic battles. Warriors trade parrys and near misses until one tires or another gets lucky. The act of parrying and dodging in itself is tiring, and thus a loss of VP. By having these "misses" hurt VP, you ensure that someone high level can't fight a hoard of low level foes endlessly; they're bound to tire eventually.

I do definitely want to see wound penalties, though. I like how L5R handles them, though I do need to refresh myself on other systems.
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« Reply #10 on: March 11, 2012, 12:06:40 PM »

Another option is the approach FATE takes, where you have "Stress" that disappears at the end of every battle/encounter/whatever, and "Consequences," that are designed to reflect lasting injuries and linger until you've done something about them. In FATE, there are three types: Minor, Moderate, and Severe, each one able to mitigate progressively more damage, in exchange, of course, for being saddled with this consequence, which imposes various penalties. When your stress track is full, you have no choice but to take these consequences. FATE is rather freeform about how consequences impose penalties (requiring the GM to have enemies "tag" them and such) but if you prefer you can always just use straight penalties. My own Asura system uses something very similar to FATE's approach and does exactly that, imposing a -1 penalty for anyone suffering from a moderate consequence and -2 for anyone suffering from a severe one. Mild consequences give a -1 to initiative but otherwise have no mechanical penalty.
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