Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Redder is better

I have played Magic: The Gathering (as opposed to Magic: The Lathering) twice in the last six weeks. This constitutes the first two times I have played MtG in five years, roughly. The last time I played with any sort of regularity was Third Edition, and I had still had some alpha and beta cards in my deck. Enjoying the high school level of arguing around what a colon meant and how there was a cap on the same card now, and what did it all mean?! Could I spent my theoretically infinite black mana to make my vampire a horrific monster? Did he gain unlimited damage and toughness when he ate bitches?

I pretty much stopped collecting cards when Mirage and Ice Age were the two big sets. While the cards had fewer rules, they were all about the shit ruining. Let's face it, the primary goal of MtG is to ruin shit. Now the shit ruining has more variety, and more rules. The goal hasn't changed, and never will.

Last night was interesting because it was the first time I had ever participated in a draft. The experience was a positive one, and the drafting process is something that I can get engrossed in very easily and treat as the first game in the overall meta game of draft play. The three parts to this game would be draft, deck and sideboard creation, and play. Drafting is something that always interests me, in just about any possible type of draft scenario. The strategy of the counter-pick early on is something I believe in strongly, if given the opportunity. Sometimes this ends up being a formative experience and you draft your team/character make-up/deck around those early picks. You then have the choice of thematic picking or strong picking. You can also "draft bait" by leaving certain elements on the table and then either scoop them up or entice others to take them.

Part of the drafting excitement in MtG is that first pick when you open a pack. It's a moment of excitement, and you get to make an informed decision before anyone else. Each pack that opens grants this moment of suppressed excitement, though later packs are less exciting than the first, because your deck has begun to coalesce. Later picks become arguably more valuable, and you have begun to take note of what other decks might be forming by when cards are taken. This is somewhat guess work in seeing who took what, but it's much like a game of memory to see when cards are taken. If it's not clear, I treat this like a puzzle without a unified solution, and delight in the experience, even if my building and play aren't up to snuff.

I was lucky to open a deck that had this dude:
Holy crap. I didn't know what any of that junk meant, but I was clear about two things:
1) Cards that look visibly different in MtG are better than cards that have a normal design. This has always been the case.
2) It had a red symbol, signifying Ultra Rare.

Planeswalkers are, as far as I can tell, from the Plane of Shit Ruining. They exist to be bullshit. Had the text on the first ability been clear, I would have begun the process of fecal destruction the next round. However, due to Text Parsing Errors, something now rife in MtG, this was not the case. The word next is confusing and exists only in case a card prevents your normal end phase. This lead to my moment of confusion driven embarrassing anger. This happens when I think I understand something and it turns out to not be the case because of some error and it makes me look foolish. I get a flash of anger directed at no one but myself, followed by embarrassment because I got angry. So the Venser, the Shit Ruiner died because of an error that turned out I was correct about, but there was really no way to tell. Oh well. That's the biggest issue with MtG, there are HUNDREDS of clarifications about the text. While the text is normally pretty clear, interactions are just not. This is a finicky barrier to play, not really to entry. Still, live and learn.

The next example of Redder is Better comes in the form of this swell fellow:
Now, his cost is very, very excessive. However, we were playing a multi-player game, so the build was slower. Please note his red symbol. Now couple that with a -1 loyalty cost to make him unblockable. Yup, look at that, shit is ruined. The power level of red is just an order of magnitude higher. It's silly. Of course, some common cards are unbalanced in multi-play as well. I am fairly certain gaining 20 life off of a 2 casting cost card is unintended, but them's the breaks.

The other big path to defecation destruction is Infect. Infect negates regeneration, adds poison counters to make the game twice as short for you, and exists to make proliferate crazy awesome. This is working as intended and is awful. That being said, once you cope with it, it's neat. Then again, all of these counters everywhere are pretty bad. It's 4e higher tier debuff/buff/status tracking. There are counters and conditions everywhere. We had a lot of dice for visual tracking so it wasn't that bad, it was just...voluminous.

It has been hard to get back into the mindset of being a Magic player, but the experience has mostly been fun. I look forward to learning more of the rules and embarrassing myself less often. Seeing people's decks work as intended would be a lot of fun, too. I just need to get used to having my shit ruined as an acceptable way to have fun. I just need to remember that kobolds are too good to block.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Home, home on the range

In video games you run into it all the time. You find yourself thinking, man, I wish I was a melee guy right now or, man, I wish I was a ranged guy right now. MMOs are the biggest culprit, unsurprisingly, with certain encounters favoring one role, class or spec over the others. While many feel this is a chance at a spotlight, others believe that this leads to marginalization. However, think back to single-player, or even group play games. You have experienced the same thing, I guarantee it. We all remember the Lightning Enchanted jerks from Diablo. We remember the horrible "deathblow" abilities that chunked away at melee life. Mass Effect 2 brought on the death of the Vanguard by making charge a death sentence or impossible to use in a lot of circumstances. Dragon Age and Dragon Age 2 tend to favor ranged in most circumstances, but you still need a few melee folks in the group. Still, there are many times when tank and three ranged is the correct answer. Of course there are times when melee is blatantly overpower for the ease of use. The melee weapons in Left 4 Dead 2 are a good example. That ninja sword was made for zombie murder. Fallout 3 and onward treat melee with more reverence than it possibly deserves.

Melee seems to come with the built in expectation of low survivability for those that choose to deal damage that way. As a result, the sustained damage, and often burst damage, tends to trend higher. This can be expanded to include ranged physical damage dealers, as well. Rangers, hunters, etc.

That's all well and good for video games, but what about for table top games? Is there a difference in efficacy between ranged and melee classes that has been taken for granted or not explored? Let's take a look at a few different systems.

DnD: 4E:
Melee Damage Examples: Barbarians, Rogues, Monks, Avengers, Rangers
Ranged Physical Damage Examples: Rangers
Ranged Magical Damage: Sorcerors, Warlocks

Taking this sampling, in no way entirely complete, I think the edge goes to the Ranged classes. The melee classes deal a lot of damage, but are subjected to auras. This is a pretty huge deal in 4e. Auras, auras, everywhere. In addition, you have the marking mechanic, which encourages tanking. The creatures often end up in melee range, which is good for all parties involved, except the melee characters are likely to take splash damage, or be included in attacks. Additionally, once in melee, the characters have an increasingly hard time with mobility. It's very hard to get away from things, especially without taking even more damage. Even if you aren't the focal point of the attacking creature. Charge can help as a gap closer, but it's not a hard gap closer. It's still subject to the dreaded attack of opportunity.

Due to their "fragility", ranged classes tend to end up with more hard escapes. Teleports and damage avoidance are high. Damage for the ranged magical classes tends to scale extremely well, and often multiple targets over a large area can be hit with spells and effects, without limiting the damage that is being produced. Even if they are in melee range, they aren't limited as to what they can cast, because of the way shifting works. They are rarely threatened to any large degree, and auras almost never come into play. Now, you can actively work around this if you are running a game, but you have to work to do so. If you do it every time, it does tend to marginalize the concepts of the defender, and it can frustrate the melee, as they can't pick all of the targets in the same manner than ranged can.

The edge in fourth edition goes to ranged classes, strongly I feel. Though this scales from marginally to greatly as the game progresses in level.

DnD: 3e, 3.5e
Melee examples: Fighter, rogue, ranger, barbarian
Ranged physical damage: Rogue, ranger
Ranged magical damage: Wizard, Sorcerer, Cleric

3e had some parity issues, to put it mildly. Multi-classing and prestige classes were just nuts. However, I think 3e and 3.5 were more friendly to melee, at least early on. Once you get to the later stages of the game, the ranged classes begin to not only dominate, but make you wonder what you are doing wrong.

Auras aren't really a thing in 3/.5E. Multi-attacks, however, are. So many multiple target, multiple attacks. It's as bad as early MMO cleaving. Without an artificial tanking mechanic, it meant if you were close, you were going to get battered. Spiked-Chain Fighter serving as a statistical anomaly here, there was very little incentive to play a melee character. Rogues did great with evasion and greater evasion, but if you lacked that, you were going to have a bad time. Of course, you could pick up a lot of that as a ranged character, simply by using a bow, for example, as a rogue, and not give up your sneak attacks. Even more so than 4e, you really, really had to have potent magic items in 3e to compete as a melee character. Not to mention that you didn't bring any of the party utility the way the magical ranged classes did. We all know that buffing was ridiculously powerful in 3/.5E. Movement was less of a big deal here, as the scale was simply different and it didn't tend to quite be so frustrating. However, again, Spiked Chain Fighter might as well have been from a different game.

Prestige classes allowed for things like Mystic Theurge, Arcane Trickster, Hierophant, and Arcane Archer. The first three are the holy trinity of ranged ridiculousness. The first two are the most egregious offenders, but Hierophant and Neutral with Negative Energy reversion is a really, really close third.

The edge in 3/.5E goes to ranged classes, with the caveat that with enough gear it eventually evened out. The gear level for this was ridiculous and required SR or Immunities, but hey.


I was going to give examples, but really it's simple here. Spellcasting is really, really powerful. It can be frustrating...until you get your powergamer options. Ice Mace and Chains, Pain, Bonedance, etc. etc. Once a caster advances, melee exists as a frontline to not overrun the casters. The casters are the show, minus rogues with questionable math. Spellcasters can even help out the melee with a little choice. The weapons created with magic rock face. Being able to get things like Air Throne with a spell were pretty ridiculous. The complete glossing over of things like how evil some magic is certainly helps, too. Not to mention that getting in range of horrors seems like a Bad Idea. Of course, Earthdawn was pretty egalitarian about the ranged vs melee attacks. However, it was a setting based on the danger/allure of magic. It's not surprising that the outcome is what it is.

Over the Edge

It's classless. It's a great system, but holy shit guns. Having a gun is just better than everything else, even with limited skill. Kung fu is bullshit, get some more guns. You should be a John Wu film.

Spirit of the Century
Very little difference, it's narrative play. Every gets to be awesome in their own way. I liked that a lot.

So, I think for the most part, in the games I have played, that ranged seems to win out. In part it's because it is easier to mess with melee characters. Being in range of the bad is the biggest detriment to the melee characters. Then again, ranged characters also tend to have more use out of combat. Though, that's another entry all together.

In video games, mechanics are introduced to mess with ranged characters, where movement means less damage or less safety. With the turns of table tops, it just really doesn't work this way. As mentioned before, having monsters appear on them, or ignore defenders or whatnot is ok sometimes, but not something you want to lose a lot. You could do things like increase auras, but that's just obnoxious. So what are some ideas to even things out a little in combat?

Eye of the Storm - Reverse aura. You would have a small area of safety around certain units, but that opens you up to attacks. Some options include a dampening field that lowers damage dealt, encouraging players to get close to be more effective, a storm that strikes lightning in the cloud around the eye, or strong winds that decrease the ability to strike actively or moves characters around.

Tendrils - Ranged attacks in addition to melee attacks. Tendrils wouldn't occur as often as ranged attacks, but a character being lashed by something if they were far away or just as an extra damage kicker of the creature would add a little more risk.

Pillars - Things that require line of sight. If the characters can't attack every round, it's obnoxious for them. They feel useless. However, if the characters can use cover and take bonuses and penalties from doing so, it might be encouragement for risk.

Cones, Splash, Breath - More pie slice/wide area attacks. Punish everyone, be equal!

It might not be as big a deal as I am making it out to be, but I do think there is a disparity. Usually this is in survivability, and the trade is very slightly more damage for the melee. However, sometimes this isn't even the case. It might be nice to keep that in mind for future design.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Tanks for the Memories!

Welcome heroes! You are about to enter a land of mythical beasts and terrible creatures. The very fabric of the world is at stake, as the vague construction of folk tales, public domain writing, and nearly plagiarized ideas of others come together to create a rich, social gaming experience. That's right, it's an MMORPG!

Well, brave adventurers, I am glad you have decided to play the game as a group! It's always a better idea to have a base of people to play the game with, even if that leads to complications in the end-game scale that I won't go into, because it's not important right now. Now it's time to build a well rounded group. Ok, you need two or three damage dealers, maybe three, but that damage dealer should probably be a support guy, a tank, and a healer. Ok guys, who wants to heal? Oh, cool! We have one semi-interested volunteer and one half-hearted please-don't-agree-to-let-me-heal-I'll-bitch-everytime-we-play-and-then-re-roll-later-on-as-soon-as-I-can-and-demand-aid-in-leveling-my-alt volunteer. Picking the semi-interested volunteer? Excellent choice! Ok, now, who wants to tank? Anyone? Anyone? *sigh*

Tanking. It's a mechanic of just about every MMORPG you can name. The guy or gal that gets smashed in the face by a six story troll wielding an axe that shoots bears on every swing, that the tank has to then taunt to make sure the party doesn't get eaten by axe-bears. While the rest of the group is saving lives, or murdering Garalt of the Murderous Pony Clan, the tank stands there, and sings Bohemian Rhapsody to drown out the beatings. However, what the average tank lacks in e-stardom, he makes up for in Little Punkin' Feelings. The words "Main Tank" leave a film in my mouth not unlike the grey-green mold on the dishes left filthy in the sink over a long vacation by a college kid on break. People that care about the words "Main Tank" and demand that the other tanks be referred to as "Off Tanks" tend to be Prima Donnas. They are one step away from getting a guest spot on Drop Dead Diva. If the game has symbols or numbers you can assign above a monster, they will demand they tank the one that is the most important...all the time. The extremely high demand on one or two well-equiped tanks in every single end-game guild leads to an almost arbitration-like situation where the tank has to be catered to, or he bails, leaving the guild in the lurch. What does this make other people do? They don't like tanks, and are quick to blame the tank, or bash the tank, or otherwise hate the tanks they come across. While it's not necessarily the right thing to do, you can understand the backlash.

This leads to having to personally know one of the tanks to prevent this behavior. In fact, the only way you can be 100% sure of this not occurring is to do it your-damn-self. This means you have to accept the burden of responsibility, and you have to make sure you are on your game all the time. It actually is one of the harder jobs in the games, and this is said by someone who has played just about every role to a fair degree in different games. Does this excuse the douchedom? No, Bobby Massengil needs to sit the fuck down and not be such a bag of saline.

Being the guy that steps up to tank, I have tanked a lot. In a lot of different games. Now that I have a good amount of experience at it, I can say that up until this point the Rift class Riftstalker is the single most fun I have ever had tanking. That doesn't mean much unless you know what else I have played and what else I have experience in.

EQ1 - Paladin tank, in a small guild of world-first guild alts. Tanked just about all content through Planes of Power, when I stopped playing. Other characters played were a druid, rogue, and wizard.

WoW - Paladin tank, in a small guild focusing on 10-man content in WotLK. I ended up tanking a lot for various 25-man guilds too. All content was cleared in the 10-man setting, including hard-modes. Stopped in Cataclysm, but most of the available stuff was cleared before I stopped. Other characters played were roughly a million healers, some melee dps, and some ranged dps. So easy to level and gear, why not?

Warhammer - The elf tank guy. Mostly in groups and in public quests. Played a white lion, shadow hunter and warrior priest besides that.

Rift - Riftstalker spec rogue. Most of the other time spent as an assassin spec rogue, but some as marksman/nightblade. Some low level dudes in the 20-30 range.

So, a smattering of tank classes over various games. A few times clearing most of the content,and a few times just as a mook. I feel I am well-versed in comparison, as well as stating what it is about Riftstalker that makes it the most fun tank class I have played in a game so far.

In EQ1 tanking really was as simple as hitting taunt as often as you could and using a weapon with threat generation on it. You might want to use spells as a paladin, but only ones that had a stun component so that threat could be generated. You stood in a corner and got the monster as close to you as you could. The phrase "stand on his nuts" was coined during this era. Tanks didn't have to do a whole lot of anything besides stand there. You had to have one tank per creature on a raid scale. The idea of holding multiple creatures at a time just wasn't a thing. People like giant creatures in epic encounters, right? Sometimes there were threat wipes, you had to just be quick to save people then. You had to move them around sometimes, but it was rare. Overall, simple, very gear dependent, and not very interactive. Still, necessary.

In WoW tanking was much more complex, and there were many fights where the difference between a bad tank, a normal tank and a good tank were huge. Of course, it was never a showy difference, and it just helped speed up the fights or slow down the mana intake. Originally, it wasn't much different than EQ1, but slowly fights became more complex, and you had to tank swap, first without taunts and then eventually with taunts, tank a lot of adds that would spawn randomly, most out of effects, use line of sight tricks, kite things around while staying out of melee range, and even interact with objects that let you tank through other means. Fights that were just-stand-there-and-take-it-in-the-face were few and far between. As a paladin, you were the master of area threat gen, and you had a lot of spell tricks that were useful. Your cooldowns weren't great, but they eventually got better. You had some ranged tricks, and some interesting taunt methodology. It was easier to tell the difference between bad and decent, but hard to tell the difference between decent and good, unless you were very observant. Dual Spec made tanks more common, but bad tanks were more common too. I call that a wash. Overall, it was more fun to tank in WoW than in EQ1 by orders of magnitude.

In Warhammer it was a mixture of EQ1 and WoW tanking. The difference here is that you had more to manage on your character than things on the monsters, in a lot of cases. This is micro-management that appeals to me. It seemed less complex than WoW, and more like EQ1 tanking for the most part on an encounter basis. Then again, the addition of tanking doing things in PvP was huge. Taunting a player did things. That's worth mentioning for its own merits. The steps in the PvP direction were huge, but the PvE aspect was nothing to sing about.

In Rift, they made the interesting decision to allow three of the four archetypes to tank. Warriors, Clerics and Rogues all get at least one tank soul (read Talent Tree, but you get choice). Warriors get several options, Clerics get one, and Rogues get one. I play the Rogue version, the Riftstalker. While raiders and players are more experienced, making them extremely jaded and selfish, Rift tends to Not Fuck Around with its requirements on tanks. Yes, Rift end-game content was cleared quickly. Yes, people are saying It's Not Hard Enough! I hate to break it to you guys, but MMORPGs have been around for years now. You have seen a lot of mechanics, you have strategy guides available because the competition is more or less gone, and you have communities where things are discussed rather than hoarded (see EQ1 for all this). That doesn't mean the game is easier, or the mechanics are less complex, but that you are better prepared for the game. Rift tends to train its players by having "raid" encounters pop up in every zone. The low level raids have some fairly complex mechanics requiring positions, add killing, avoiding things, running away, etc. This leads to players being more comfortable with mechanics, as they see them all the time, and aren't surprised as the shift in the game meta once they reach max level from a PvE aspect (see WoW, EQ1, Warhammer, etc.). The dungeons reinforce this, with having similar encounters as each dungeon is entered. Having to kill things in a certain order, avoid things, run away from things, watching for buffs/casts/emotes and then reacting, etc. There are several open zone raids for PUGs also, which lets people get even more practice. It's not surprising that people find raids easier with that in mind. I will be interested in how their end game progresses and the feedback they get as a result. Anyway, I am digressing, and I should get back on track.

What makes tanking as a Riftstalker different than the other classes and what makes it more fun? Well, it's nice to have to care about watching pathing, being careful with pulls and using CC sometimes, but not all the time. Riftstalkers are rogues, and like all rogues, they rely on combo points and finishers to use their abilities. This means that starting a fight is extremely interesting. You have to work to get your armor increased, to get up your mitigation, and to maintain threat, all at the same time. You then have to keep the buffs from falling off. You have different cooldowns to work with, one that purges effects and makes you immune for a short time (three seconds), one that is the standard take-less-damage style of cooldown, and a strange one that allows you to delay all damage taken for ten seconds, where you take it all at once. This requires thought to use well, but it can make the difference between a wipe and a win. It's tough to use well, but I appreciate that.

To complicate things more, the Riftstalker has a huge mechanic available for the micromanager. The Plane Shift. Plane Shifts are teleports that work in various ways, but the Riftstalker gains benefits for a short duration after every teleport. This means that the Riftstalker should try and rotate through the teleports to make things easier, and to increase his efficacy. However, two of the teleports change the position of the creature, so using them is harder than just clicking the buttons. With cleaves, breath attacks, etc. it becomes important to communicate and work together to get the best out of the attacks and defenses. Area threat is limited, but it's a good weakness for the class. Working to gather things is difficult, but rewarding once you can do it well. On top of this, the tank really, really has to pay attention. It's everything WoW raiding was for tanks, and then more on top of that. I say this seriously. It's not necessarily harder, but it is more active. The differences aren't any more obvious between decent and good, but healers seem to comment more. Healing and mana throughput are more important in Rift at this stage, so that parallel seems to garner commentary. I love active play, and being able to manage the efficiency of my character through my play. It's nice that if I am having an off-day I won't completely screw my group, but good play does make a huge difference.

It will be interesting to see where tanking goes from here. This has easily been my most enjoyable experience so far, and I look forward to see how other games learn from this. Not to mention to see what I can cannibalize for other mediums.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Building a system for a new world, part 1

Earlier in the week, I spit out of lot of things I would like to see in a system that would work for the world I have in mind. The first major problem with a gritty combat system is, well, combat. Hit points just don't really do it, even low numbers of hit points seem wrong for something like that. However, a hit location table top game seems...distinctly terrible to want to play. Getting in combat, while it should be rough, should not be instant murder if a sword glances off a tree limb to catch you unaware. Well, I mean, it might have been in the Real World, but whatever.

I was thinking of a party combat system that might work out alright and give me the answers that I want. So let's talk about what I WANT to happen, and then I will see if I can get on the right track. First things first, I will outline what I WANT to happen in combat, the goals, if you will.

1) Combat should be quick.
2) No numbers should ever reach triple digits.
3) Armor as being representative of mitigation and ablation rather than avoidance.
4) More skirmish style in groups.
5) Magic as a game changer.

This is where I want to start. Before I worry about what numbers are assigned to what, I need to worry about how the system should work overall. I have five overall BIG GOALS. That's not too bad. Why these five things? Speed of game play and pacing. Combat being a big feature can be fun, but there should be more to this game setting than hacking and slashing. Combats might break out with almost no prior warning, and it's important that the person running the game has the option to spontaneously generate and resolve combat in a way that is organic.

Taking a look at the first point outlined: Combat should be quick.
What slows down combat, to me?
1) Action Choices
2) Mathematical Calculations
3) NPCs
4) Chatter precipitated by long combats and players going off topic

Those are the Big Four, if someone was asking my opinion. Four is a direct result of numbers one through three. Three is really a result of complexity with numbers one and two. So that leaves two big issues for combat speed.

1) Action Choices
2) Mathematical Calculations

In 4e, you have five types of actions you can take: Standard, Move, Minor, Free, Opportunity. That's a lot to keep in mind all the time, then you have the problem that all actions are not created equal. Leaders and Defenders often very much desire Minor actions. This leads to the gameplay style of deciding whether or not to call down your actions and forgo something else. Previous editions of DnD didn't have this concept, so something like healing was all you did on your turn. 4e makes healing important, but it makes it a secondary thing that every leader can do, and it's sort of glossed over. Leaders perform other roles, and they also heal. I like that model, healers get to do other stuff. However, healing in combat is something that I don't want. It slows down the pace of combat, and it doesn't fit the way magic works in the world, particularly healing.

Resolved: First step to speeding up combat, no healing in combat. So what do healers do? I will address that later on, it works out for them.

The other big use of Minor actions in 4e is the use of a Marking mechanic for Defenders. This is a "keep hitting me, I'm a tank!" mechanic that sort of makes sense realistically, but sort of doesn't. I like to think it's dedication to attention and the Defender does little things to try and hinder his opponent if he diverts his attention elsewhere. This is all rationalization though, and I know it. The idea of being a guy that takes all the punishment is interesting, but I think it can be supported in other ways. So let's go ahead and get rid of this conceit as well. Minors are used to sustain Magical effects as well. Do we need this? Probably not, but I might come back to it when I talk about Magic later on.

So that means I have effectively removed Minor actions. All of a sudden this looks a lot like 3rd edition, rather than 4e. Well, let's hold on and see what else we can get into. Let's talk about the Move action. Movement in 4e has really irked me, pretty much for ever. You have a couple of styles of movement, and all of them seem woefully underwhelming for my purposes. You can move your speed in squares, you have alternate forms of movement (teleporting, phasing, etc) you can Shift one square, you can Run, you can stand up, you can fall down.

I don't think there is any real reason to re-invent base movement. Redefine it maybe, sure. Let's face it, this game will use miniatures.

So now let's look at shifting and why I think it's just a sad, sad member of the movement family. Shifting is for repositioning, but it doesn't really allow you to reposition in any meaningful way. Some Defenders care about shifting, but most people do not. One square doesn't get you much. You can't avoid getting attacked in this way without then using your Standard action as a Move action, and then only sometimes does that help. It also leads to strange options where charge is king, and having powers you can substitute for charging is the way to go. When things appear that get increased shifts, or powers that allow shifting, it's clear how important movement really is in making combats change their course. Of course, you can just eat opportunity attacks and get somewhere, but is that the ideal way to make combat flow? I firmly believe the answer is no. Movement and use of a battlefield is so important to combat in just about every other medium, why not in a table top game too? On the party level it just falls to the way side a lot, and becomes a slogfest. That is not what I want. I want dirty, horrible urban fights with sprawling countryside skirmishes. I want people to be moving all over the damn place for one reason or the other, and not just because of Fantastic Terrain. How can I achieve this?

1) Shifting is a good start, but it's not enough movement.
2) Too much of this type of movement is not good either, because why would you ever move normally?
3) Adding more types of movement seems to be the answer, and getting rid of some also.

What to drop? Charge probably needs to go. Prone/Getting Up/Squeezing, they all probably don't need to be different. In-place movement. Run? Run can probably stay. Shift becomes different. Alternate forms of movement get simplified. Alternate forms of movement require concentration to sustain so their value in combat goes way down, once combat has started. This refers to magical alternate movement only. Mounted movement just needs to follow a couple of rules that change based on standard movement. Overall, some consolidation, some removal from combat, some outright removal.

Why get rid of charge? It doesn't really work as intended, and it's explanation is poor. In-square movement takes your movement, pretty easy. No real reason to make them all different things. Run giving a penalty to defense and increasing movement is solid. It should probably give a bonus to attack or damage, and serve the role of charge as well, if used this way. That makes things a little more equal. Now shifting, you clever bastard. Shifting should probably be half of the base movement speed, and can be used offensively or defensively. So if you are defensively shifting, you gain a bonus to defense until your next turn, but take a penalty to attack. If you are offensively shifting, you gain a bonus to offense until your next turn, but take a penalty to defense. A balanced shift changes nothing. Now, this make shifting more complex, but I think it adds a lot to the skirmisher feel. More quick movement with pros and cons. It makes things a bit less static, but messing with math can cause problems, so this needs to be looked at when math is covered.

Resolved: No Charge or Run. It's all one thing. Shift becomes better and more important. Little things spread out become In-Square movement. Alternate Movement Methods are primarily out of combat concerns or Full Turn actions, so it matters less and causes less frustration.

Ok, so that takes care of minors and moves. I still have Free actions, Standard actions, and Opportunity actions to cover.

I will quickly cover Free actions and what I am looking for in Opportunity actions before calling it quits. Free actions are probably fine. You can use them whenever you would be able to use them. A better list of what falls under this is needed though, to limit what can be done in a way that makes sense. Without a better sense of everything else though, this waits. Free actions are tricky and deserve more consideration than it seems to warrant at first blush.

In Opportunity actions I am looking for some of the following things:
1) Not slowing down combat
2) Not discouraging movement
3) Doing away with vs. opponent and per-turn styles of opportunity/interrupt actions. This is an area that has been split wide open in 4e and needs some suture to make it a little less ridiculous and more wieldy.

A long rambling tale of ideas, to be sure, but hopefully it's an intriguing start.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Scales and Simulationism

I like running games and telling stories. I usually pick up whatever edition of any game I am most familiar with and then run something in that rule set. I might or might not bother to write my own setting. Generally I take an existing setting and modify it to fit my needs. The last setting I bothered to write from the ground up had gnomes and halflings as the horrific enemies. Elves were the dominant race, treating humans and dwarves as slaves, which most of them were. Orcs were the bastions of freedom, and seen as the only ones able to fight the elven oppressors with any sort of success. The world was also on the cusp of evolution, all races were beginning to have children with genetic defects that allowed them to change their physical features, even appearing as different races. I didn't bother coming up with my own rules for it, I just picked and chose from available 3e DnD materials and went from there. I only ran a scant few games of the setting, but it was pretty fun. The system just never felt right. In this instance, I want to run games in a setting without any pre-existing game systems.

I am finding more and more that the ideas I have just don't translate to any one system, or even any two systems. There are a lot of strong options, and a lot of systems that seem like they would meet the goals, but they ultimately fall short. The problem is that I want to run a squad combat game. I don't mean like DnD where your adventuring party runs around and does things, but something akin to Dawn of War, Company of Heroes or even Myth: the Fallen Lords. It's a pretty simple concept, but one that doesn't lend itself to any easy resolution. Players would spend a session or two playing a normal, if gritty and harsh, adventuring style game, and then one session resolving the military campaign from that battle. Each player would take ownership of a company and guide their company through the battle. Survivors from previous battles would be better than fresh troops who hadn't seen battle, and military founds could be spent on boosting certain companies with better weapons, better food, or even creature comforts.

The Black Company D20 setting that came out years ago first spurred this, but I haven't had an inclination to stop being lazy and actually do something with it until recently. The situation is further complicated by wanting to run squad combat while adventuring combat is also occurring. Of course, getting across gritty realism coupled with flexible magic is not something that's easy either. I had been inspired to think of healing as a two part process, mainly from playing Arkham Horror. Physical wounds are one aspect, and the mental anguish caused by those physical wounds is the other aspect. That way, even healing wounds has a side effect, making combat not always the right answer, but not so incredibly perilous that a stray lance spells your death. There has to be the appropriate balance.

This had lead me to think of partially co-opting the Earthdawn (don't run away yet) system of Wounds in some way, or maybe the WW system of degrees of Wounds, but again, not so complicated. I don't like tracking hit points really, it's a great way to track your character's power and all, but I think there can be a more fun and less math heavy way to go about it. Which has led me to a dual wound system. There are only two types of injuries, superficial and serious. Superficial wounds would tick over into serious wounds if they either go untreated, or enough of them accumulate. This number might grow as a character increases in power. The number of serious injuries able to be sustained might be flexible as well, but again, probably a low number. Armor helps to determine the type of wound receive. Each attack is an either OR sort of thing, accepting SERIOUS WEAPONS, like magic or siege weapons or the like.

Magic poses a potential problem, but I think it's manageable. Magic again cribs from Earthdawn a little bit, and a little bit from a crafting system. Please don't run, I think it's ok. I will go into specifics about how it works later, but the gist of CASTING magic is as follows:
1) determine strength of access
2) determine effect
3) decide if you are keeping access for later use
Magic has advantages and disadvantages to keeping it ready to access.

Some spells, if the player wants to make it really complicated might go on for several turns, or have side effects to channel them. Most spells would be instant duration. Most people cannot access magic, and rarely do people choose to access one specific type of magic. Though accepting and being trained in the magic goes a long way to efficacy. Priests gain access to the same types of magic as magi, only though prayer and devotion and adherence to rituals and rites, magi do not need to do this. The other option is bargaining with souls. Only those born with the ability may do this, though they can sometimes allow other people to do it.

How would you advance? Well two ways:
1) Trained skills just take time. Learning weapons, riding a horse, farming, whatever. Different skills take time.
2) Sessions/Stories gives the players feats, aspects, or tricks they can learn and perform. The rough rate would be upon completion of a session for lesser rewards, or upon completion of a story for greater rewards. This is very rough still. I don't think experience and levels is really necessary in this type of game. Probably lesser rewards for most things, greater rewards for the military conflicts.

Death? Death is serious. You almost never get back up if you are dead. There are exceptions.

Tarot Cards. I would like to incorporate the use of Tarot Cards into the game somehow, I am still thinking about it.

Large scale combat. Each squad would have a superficial/serious rating. When they take a serious wound, someone bites it. If the squad has veterans, this might be prevented by expending one of the veteran points they receive. Commanders can do the same, if the squad has any ranking officers. I haven't given this section quite enough thought yet, but I want it to be simple and dirty.

Anyway, I haven't posted in a long time and this is just something I have been thinking of for a long time.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Death and the Resurrected Orc

"Ok then, Grish dies".

I totally and purposefully killed a character of a player that wasn't at my session last night. Granted, I feel the monsters were doing what they should have been doing, but I went into the session with the mindset of being ok with killing one of them.

The fight itself was tough and positioning was a real ordeal, and many other things. As a result, the half-orc was dead, in the corner, molested by poltergeists and yuan-ti boneshard skeletons. He got up, two rounds later. He was feeling much better.

Yes, the death resulted in furthering a part of the story. Was I really gunning for him? Maybe more than I should have been. Though, for the most part, I think the monsters stayed acting how they should act. However, this is the second occasion in which I have injured or killed a player and it results in a plot point. Perhaps this is the wrong way to go about things. I hope that the story and options that result from it will be fun, and offer interesting choices to the players.

I might be making a mistake, though. Regardless, something like this I probably won't do again, at least, certainly not soon.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Unreasonable Expectations

I have unreasonable expectations. Not for everything, or even most things, but certainly for those in the defender role that work hard to be good at one thing, particularly, defense. The problem is, really, in pure defense stats themselves. If you spend time and resources in bolstering one above the others, the expectation is that when you are attacked on that stat, the enemy should miss, more often than not. That's a tough mindset to be in, as a player.

Monsters should roughly hit a player half the time, when targeting armor. Though, monster discrepancies play into this some as well. There is a 2 point fluctuation on any given monster role, and it's not separated by elites or solos. This is a weird inconsistency, and one that's really annoying when statting encounters. The thrust is, when you start pumping feats and really trying to up a particular defense, the player expectation changes. With my current base AC, as an example at level 12, I am hit either 35% of the time or 45% of the time, depending on the monsters being selected (brutes hit less often, but everything else is the same, roughly). This is from three feats used to up my AC and defenses. Otherwise, I would be hit 55% or 65% of the time. This is about on par with other light armor wearers, and only slightly behind heavy or medium armor wearers, which is as it should be.

So taking the 35%, which is most of the mosters. Let's start adding in big fights. My personal defenses go up by 2. This puts my getting hit at 25%. If other players start blowing their's, they can only hit my on a 20. This goes for both types of the monsters, the higher end ones and the normal ones.

You can see how this poses a problem. Monster levels need to start to creep up to challenge me against AC. If the defender isn't challenged, then the party isn't really at risk, in a lot of ways. Things can circumvent the defender, but that leads to the defender feeling useless. Any given fight is balanced around the potential use of powerful dailies. In the fights that dailies aren't used, then the numbers are slightly out of whack, and the feats begin to feel useless. Monsters two levels higher, and on the higher end have a 20% increased chance to hit. So there we are, over the half the time mark, with three feats taken.

This is frustrating, but it's completely understandable and a reasonable way the game is expected to operate, to some degree. Any given encounter is two levels in either direction, so some will miss a lot, some will hit a lot. The upshot is I need to change my expectations of what defenders are and the feats that I take.

It's not unreasonable for me to expect to be hit a lot, but getting hit consistently is really where that leads, as high defenses are pretty tough to deal with. The other option is plan attacks that don't target armor, but that is limiting in a different way.

This is an area that the game doesn't handle well, and as a player, I need to just be better.