Monday, March 9, 2009

Continues to Wrestle with the Demon Called System

Gene makes raises some interesting points in his comments on the previous post (we're still in Mechanicsburg)

I'd love to read comments from the people who love Rolemaster crunch, and how they'd like to see a modern version of it. I tend towards simplicity.

And I think I lean that way myself. I don't think anyone in our group has a real love for the absolute depth of the RM crunch, but some do like the appeal of a deeper combat system with more options. Sherri wanted to make a comment on this, but stupid Blogger's doing the weirdness with the comment verification system, so she sent me the following question:

But, why does this campaign need "more crunch"? Is it because of the players or because it will be fight-of-the-week? I mean, the description of the campaign sounded pretty narrative-friendly...

It isn't necessarily that the game will be fight of the week, but it will be more action intensive than other campaigns. I think the system has to reflect that. I think if you look back on the other three campaigns I've run in this setting: The Pillar of Fire campaign, the Pavis campaign, and the Red Emperor campaign, you'll see a pattern there. I don't think that the heavier action-emphasis necessarily came out of the system, but the nature and direction of those games.

Third Continent campaigns have tended to have a feel closer to JRPGs. We have exotic locations and dungeons (Pentekki, the Great Lost Library, the Ruins of Pavis, the Ogre Underground), travel episodes, and grand scale conflict (defeating Lord Death on a Horse, the Battle with the Red Legion, the Siege of Whitewall, Artalen's Tower, Reclaiming the throne of Ardakell, Battling the Sulda, Defending the Giant's Cradle). But I also combine that with thematic considerations-- questions about purpose, meeting interesting NPCs, playing political games, gathering forces and allies and so on.

I want to move away from absolute crunch, to a more middle and flexible space. I think, for example, Crux succeeds on that point-- a combination of combat and social concerns. I want to have a great deal of narrative flexibility, which is why I'm building the story around the idea of characters building the stories of their gods up and shaping the narrative in that way. But at the same time, I do want to have the action portion of the game have significant weight. I'd ideally like a balance between the two. I think something like Will's Hunter game manages that well-- combats come, and they have a significance to the story-- when we have combats they are challenging and require us to utilize our strategic and tactical sense.

Specific to this post, I'm not a fan of GURPS attack/defense rules. If I have Mace skill level 18 and roll a 5, I hit but haven't scored a crit. If the defender has Block 12 and rolls a 12, he's warded off any attack except a critical hit. This means that even a high skill character will repeatedly fail to hit a high defense character. There's no melee solution for this problem.

I disagree-- or at least I haven't sense this problem as much in play. (And actually, in your example, a Skill of 18 I believe would give you a Critical Hit with a 5). I do think criticals help to slightly ameliorate this problem, but only slightly. I think what the system encourages is a couple of things (and by this I mean the way I run the game and plan to run the game). First, Gurps builds in the Feint maneuver-- which makes a high skill level with a combat skill worthwhile. Feints are effective and require a player to make some choices. Second, the limit of number of Parries and Blocks in a round does mean that Gurps does encourage grouping up in order to take a Big Bad down-- and I'll come back to that point (Big Bads) in a moment.

Now, consider the way that I'm going to handle things-- players will also have drama points to allow them to roll an additional die when attacking and choose the best results. That means two things-- one, the use of a drama point can increase the chance of getting a critical-- especially since you can spend those points after you've made the original roll. Two, hits that connect can be made more effective potentially by spending the drama point when rolling damage. Beyond the drama points, the system will have within the Combat Styles the ability to pick up elements which will increase one's Feint score or can be used to reduce a target's Defense roll when ganging up on a target. I think that will help reduce this problem. I'll also have Stunting rules.

One of the considerations to make here is about how combat is handled-- essentially in any kind of fight, you have two types of adversaries-- Mooks and Named Characters. Mooks serve as fodder-- they can provide a challenge, especially en masse. Some may be tougher than others, but they provide an interesting obstacle in the game. When I last ran Gurps we had the simple house rule that you did double damage against Mooks. Mooks will have a low defense roll-- if they manage to block, parry or dodge, it will be a lucky thing-- the exception rather than the rule-- and can be played up at the table. Named Characters, Big Bads, on the other hand should be tough to fight. They should be able to turn aside attack and force the PCs to come up with alternate strategies. I think that's important. In a sense, the attack/defense rules and rolls are really for PCs and Named Adversaries-- the ones who matter to the narrative of the story. In that sense I think the attack and defense rules work as they give the PCs satisfying methods for using their skills to survive. So they should get hit often, but also be able to evade attacks and cheat death.

BESM's solution is to make combat a contested roll. You compare the total of attack and defense rolls, plus skills and modifiers. Whoever has the highest total wins. Most systems have an attacker roll against the defender's fixed defense target number, which is simpler still.

GURPS is bad for contested rolls because you need to calculate a negative number (skill 18, roll 12, -6 margin) which you then multiply by -1. This gets especially difficult if your effective roll is negative (skill 18, roll of 6 with +8 to hit, effective roll of -2, -20 margin).

Attacks against a fixed number are simple, but do take a certain amount of control and reaction out of the player's hands. Sherri and I have had that discussion on a number of occasions. I agree that Gurps contested rolls have a math/calculation problem, but that's why I rarely have them come into play. I try to eliminate/reduce mechanics where that would happen. Part of why I like the Gurps closed (i.e. roll under) system for attack and defense is that I can see and measure the probability of hitting and evading. An open contested roll takes away some of that ease of calculation. I like to have those things in a certain range-- at least based on my time running Gurps I know how to look at those things. When I've run/played in systems with an upwards contested roll for Attack and Defense, there's a scaling problem. It becomes easy for someone to invest to dodge-- unless the system has multiple action penalties, in which case defense becomes a losing proposition. That's the case in Unisystem and some Storyteller. There's nothing more unsatisfying as always losing those defense rolls-- there needs to be a happy medium. Old Storyteller at least has your roll helping to reduce potential damage. Scion/NWoD has the problem that Defense is easy, and hitting is hard.



Characters have four basic stats:

Strength (ST)
Dexterity (DX)
Intelligence (IQ)
Health (HT)

All stats begin at 10. You may raise your ST and HT by +1 for 4 points per. You may raise your DX and IQ by +1 for 8 points. Initial Stats may be reduced below 10 to gain points as a disadvantage.

Several figured characteristics are based on these basic stats.

-- a roll to resist mental effects, impulses, and so on. This is equal to a character's IQ to begin. It can be raised by +1 for 2 points.

Perception-- a roll to notice things. This is equal to a character's IQ to begin. It can be raised by +1 for 2 points.

Basic Speed-- a measure of reflexes. It is used for calculating Move and Dodge. It begins at (HT + DX)/4. It can be raised by +0.25 per 2 points.

Move-- the number of yards/spaces a character can move in a Move action. It begins equal to Basic Speed, less any fractions. It can be raised by +1 yard per 2 points.

Hit Points-- a players starting HP is equal to their (HT + ST)/2. Players may add +1 HP for 1 point. They may only double their starting HP.

Skills are based on a particular stat. Most Physical skills are based on DX and most Mental on IQ. For 2 points, a character gains a level in that skill equal to the stat. This can be increased at a cost of 2 point per +1.

Specializations can be purchased for a skill. Each Specialization costs 1 point for a +1 with skill rolls when you perform an action relating to the specialty, or 2 points for a +3. The list of skills will include a list of typical specialties.

There are three kinds of Magic-- Sorcery, Divine and Spirit.

Sorcery-- these mages purchase skills with the various different Schools, each representing a particular kind of magic. These skills are based on IQ. To be a Sorceror, players purchase the Sorcery advantage. Players may purchase additional levels of Sorcery, each one allowing the caster to add an additional modifier to their spells. Levels of Sorcery cost X. Sorcerors may also purchase from a set of additional advantages-- for ability with some modifiers, for ability to resist fatigue, and others.

Divine-- these mages purchase skills with different Schools. Priests and Initiates may purchase from a limited set of Schools, based upon their god. To practice Divine magic, players purchase the Initiate advantage. Players may purchase additional levels of Sorcery, each one allowing the caster to add an additional modifier to their spells. Levels of Initiate cost X. Initiates may also purchase from a set of additional advantages-- for ability with some modifiers, for ability to resist fatigue, and others. Initiates may also purchase additional easily invoked powers and abilities related to their god.

Spirit-- on the Third Continent, adventurers and explorers can develop a set of small-scale magic knacks and abilities, called Spirit Magic. There are about two dozen spells-- each one may be purchased for 1 point. They're cheap and easily used. I'll have more on this in the section on magic and casting.

Characters can choose from among a set of special abilities-- Physical, Mental, Social, Special Items, Backgrounds and so on. Some of these can be purchased after character creation.

Characters begin with a set of points to spend to buy their various abilities, stats and skills. They may also choose disadvantages to gain additional points in character creation.

Combat Styles are packages which include a number of elements-- these elements can be added to combat maneuvers. A Combat Style costs X points. At the beginning, players may add one element to their actions. Players may purchase levels of the Combat Master advantage-- each level allows a player to stack another element to their actions.