Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Retooling Action Cards

Today's entry is kind of a system brainstorming document. I've been using the Action Cards system for a number of years. I first ran it for a mini-series game for one of Rob's HCI games. I then modified it and used it for the long-running City of Ocean campaign. When I started the Libri Vidicos game I decided to go back through and formalize the rules pretty thoroughly. More recently I adapted Changeling: The Lost to use to system, implementing some basic system changes as well as the new rules and mechanics to deal with the particular needs of the campaign.

Right now I'm working on a version to use with the next Sunday Campaign, which will be high fantasy set on the Third Continent. Previously I've used Rolemaster in all four campaigns set there. I'm never going back to RM, but it does set some expectations about power level and such. I thought about using a modified version of Storyteller, but I don't think that would do exactly what I want. My other choice, Gurps has a number of problems: a really wonky magic system and difficulty scaling to higher power levels. Plus you have the question of whether to work in 3rd or 4th edition now. I've decided to go with card based for a couple of reasons: first, it is something I made up so people aren't obliged to buy anything; second, it is flexible and narrative driven; and third, I'm curious if I can make it work for this kind of game.

So one of my goals (and one of the reasons I did those entries on combat from a GM and player perspective) is that I want a little more crunch and detail from the combat system for Action Cards. Or rather, for this kind of campaign, I want that crunch. So I've been thinking about some approaches that add things without making it too heavy or breaking what's good about the original version. So below are some of my thoughts. If you've played in one of the Action Cards game you might find this interesting. You can see versions of the rules here for LV and here for Changeling. Otherwise feel free to skip all of this.

The biggest change I'm imagining for this version will be that players have two decks: one for standard actions and one for combat actions. The Action Deck includes results for Physical, Knowledge, and Social. I'm debating about adding a Will stat in there as well-- it could cover magic casting and such. If that's going to be important, it might be worth it. EDIT: I think this will actually be a Mind, Presence, or Wisdom category-- covering Willpower, Magic Casting and Perception. that moves Spot checks out of the knowledge category which is a good thing. The Action Deck would have eighteen cards, as follows:

Action Deck
12 Standard Resolution Cards
-6 Fixed
-6 Open
2 Self-Done Cards
1 Failure
1 Success
1 Unintended Consequences
1 Deadlock (specified)

The Combat Deck would have three results sets: Attack, Defense, and Damage. Attack and Defense would follow the standard progression (Catastrophic, Bad, Just Missed, OK, Good and Sacre Bleu!). Damage would be a set of fixed results across the 12 basic cards. Damage results would be as follows: Weak (1), Fair (2), Decent (3), Good (4), Solid (5), Resounding (6). Since they're fixed, damage results themselves couldn't be bought up, but edges for damage with a particular type of weapon could be taken. The other results would have damage numbers associated with them as well. For the Combat deck, that you would need a starting 50% ratio for failures in Attack and Defense. These could in part be bought up-- I might reduce the number of fixed cards.

A smaller combat deck means everyone would reshuffle at the end of each combat round.

Combat Deck
12 Standard Resolution Cards
-6 Fixed
-6 Open
2 Self-Done Cards
Gain Advantage
Lose Ground

For modeling action choices, I would use a modification of the Gurps system. On your action you'd get a substantial half-move, plus free actions (like talking, perception checks, drawing a weapon), plus a normal action (like an attack, casting a spell, or more movement)

Action Choices and Basic Maneuvers would include:
*Move (so a full move as a character's action)
*Long Action (multiple rounds required)
*Combat Maneuver (like disarm, called shots and so on)
*All-Out Defense (either a bump or repulls for defense?)
*All-Out Attack-- which sacrifices a defense pull for one of the following options
-Two attacks at -1
-One attack at +2
-One attack at +1 Damage

Essentially, attacks happen as follows-- player declares an attack. He makes a pull from his combat deck to see if he succeeds. Defender makes a pull as well to see if he evades the attack. This is a contest, so the defender must beat the attacker's pull value. I might include a mechanic for weapon parries and shield blocks (used once per round) allowing Defender to win in a tie. If the attacker wins, the character makes a damage pull. That value is calculated by the GM against the damage table.

There are two tables for damage calculation--
The first compares the damage type versus the armor. This gives a damage class, listed as A, B, C, etc. Weapons are broken up by damage type (crushing, slashing, piercing, energy, etc) and if they are light, medium or heavy weapons. This is crossed against the armor, again broken up by type (cloth, leather, chain, scale, plate, etc) and if they are light, medium or heavy.

The damage pull, modified by any bonuses from the cards, from the weapon, or the target's armor, should yield a number. Cross this with the damage class to see the wounds actually inflicted.

Armor (Leather, Chain, Plate, Cloth===Light, Medium, Heavy)
checked against
Damage Type (Pierce, Cut, Crush, Magic===Light, Medium, Heavy)
yields a Damage Class

Damage Class (A, B, C...)
checked against
Damage Pull
yields wounds delivered.

Need to figure out range of wounds and easy to manage wound penalties.

Only the GM will be doing any kind of look-up here.

Armor defined by type, weight and other bonuses. Heavier armor gives penalties to Defense pulls. Magic armor might negate some wounds or act as heavier armor with lighter weight.

Weapons defined by damage type, weight and other bonuses. Weapons might give a Parry bonus, an attack bonus, a damage bonus, and so on.

Other Combat Mechanics to work out:
-Critical Hits: maybe I should have a separate deck for this-- could combine with hit location (i.e. draw two cards, one for location and one for effect).
-Called Shots: two pulls-- one at a modest penalty to see if you hit and a second to see if you hit the intended location (difficulty threshold varies based on what you're trying to hit).
-Disarming: should be easy to work in
-Grapples: as disarm, relatively easy to mechanic out.
-Combat Status Effects: Bleeding, Unbalancing, Knockdown, etc for color.

Keywords on the Combat Deck will be fairly narrowly defined:
(Weapon) attack, (Weapon) parry, (Weapon) parry, feint, multiple opponents, free dodge, hit location, initiative and so on. I need to figure out the balance of costs here to make this work-- but there shouldn't be a difference in cost between keywords on these and the standard resolution cards. That would make things complicated, the question is: balancing the keywords available, versus the cost of raising a thingy.

Charlie Stross has an interesting commentary on multi-book series and the difficulties involved with them. I think there are some parallels with the problems inherent in running a lengthy (let's say multi-year) campaign.

The Art of Being Late


  1. Wow, this is very Rulemastery complex!

    You suggest a LOT of cross-referencing. That'll slow things down.

    First suggestion would be to limit weapon and armor options. Realistically, not all options are in common use at the same time. Chainmail fell out of use when plate became common, because plate is lighter than mail. Buff coats were used by the mob. Arming (broad) swords disappeared with the rise of plate. Shields fell out of use during the age of guns and rapiers. Fewer options will make cross-referencing easier.

    My intuitive solution for Combat Cards would list damage for each weapon separately. A few cards would have weapon specific notes, acting as critical hits and misses. A two handed sword with a ricasso grip on the blade could note that you've stabbed a chink in the armor. A mace could bypass (collapse) any armor. A dagger might note that you couldn't get close enough.

    Defense notes would be specific to each armor type. It'd also include a few crit hit and miss cards.

    In the spirit of Action Cards, I'd allow Players to create a few of their own critical effects for themselves.

  2. I do like the idea of making combat a little 'crunchyer'. I was thinking along the same lines for the 'Gears of War' game that I want to start later this summer. I love how the card system leans toward the narrative but as alot of my game will fall to combat I like the idea of a second deck for combat.

  3. You'd only really have two charts for look-up and they'd be on the same page. Players would have their armor noted like so:

    Ornate Half-Plate (Plate Medium, -2 Defense)

    Weapons would look like this:

    Falchion (Cutting Medium, +1 Damage, +1 Attack)

    Crits would be a card draw in a separate GM deck, mostly for color, with the results noted there. I don't think it'd be as complicated as it sounds, but you raise some interesting points. I do want it to be a mix of generic with the ability to have slightly different weapons within each class-- those notes and looks ups don't matter in play, since players note those things in character creation.

  4. So far, every concept I've seen you enact has been elegant. I don't think I could write this up, but if you can visualize it I'm sure you can! For me, this'd be a perfect thing to discuss over beer and pizza. I love this kind of stuff, and I'm eager to hear more about it.

  5. There's always Paizo's critical hit deck. The product page has several card samples:


    Each card has four effects; one for each of the three weapon types and one for magic. It could be used as is and converted to Action Cards on the fly, or otherwise used for color commentary and generic effects.