Friday, July 26, 2019

Badass Kung Fu Demigods Pre-Penultimate Draft Completed

And now we have it completed, the latest draft of Badass Kung Fu Demigods

Still definitely not the final design, but getting closer. Definitely getting closer.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Badass Kung Fu Demigods, design journal pt 6

So, I'm skipping ahead a bit because I had a bit of inspiration and wanted to get my thoughts down before it faded. In particular this concerns Powers and another one of those sacred cows that needs to be sent to the vet.

So, the current system divides powers into three categories: Basic Powers, Signature Powers and Release Powers (formerly called Trumps).

While Signature and Release Powers are player-designed, Basic Powers were universal and consisted of some very basic, straightforward ways to spend Energy. To understand the idea behind Signature Powers its important to look at the DNA of this system, which of course was heavily inspired by Exalted.

In Exalted, each charm category featured a selection of "Excellencies" which were basic ways to boost your effectiveness when using the linked ability. Rolling more dice, rerolling dice, etc. This should sound pretty familiar if you know my basic powers. I liked the basic idea of having an efficient, straightforward use for Energy to improve your odds, but I didn't feel like players needed to be charged a "power tax" to get such a simple ability (let alone purchasing a version for different abilities the way Exalted did). So, I hit on the solution of providing everyone with a selection of Basic Powers for free, generic ways to convert Energy into bonuses.

Now, since then I've steadily chipped away at Basic Powers as I realized some needed to be changed into more specific powers or didn't need to be powers at all (such as the one that forced you to pay energy to make a ki-blast or whatever). Now I'm down to four Basic Powers...and I think it might be time to take the concept behind the shed and send it to a farm upstate.

The thing that made me think this was the Flawless Power. It's not a bad power or anything (spend an EP to reroll a failed roll) but it makes me realize that there a lot of different, interesting ways you could do the same Power, especially now that I have introduced Core Traits.

You see, since I have Core Traits now I intend to incorporate them into power design, especially offensive powers. By tying powers to specific Core Traits they'll become more important and the difference in style and approach becomes more significant and one of my goals is to make a character fighting with Heat feel different than a character fighting with Impulse.

So, I came up with four variations of the Flawless Power, one for each of the Core Traits which help to illustrate the possibilities of Power design and the themes of the Traits.

Roar Of Blood (1 EP)
Just when your opponent thinks they have you beaten you surge forward, heedless of your enemy's weapons. With a spray of blood you lunge for your opponent's throat.

You may spend a point of EP after failing a Heat roll where your opponent scored at least one Strike against you. Your opponent keeps any Strikes they earned, but can only spend them on damage and only after you reroll and assign any Strikes you earned (if any). You may choose any number of dice from your original roll and then re-roll them, taking a new result based on the new rolls (or your original result, whichever is higher).

[[So basically, accepting damage in order to get a reroll on your attack, with the bonus that you can keep any high results from before. Since Heat will also get Powers that reduce damage this'll synergize well with them and prevent opponents from getting tricky with things like conditions. as is appropriate for Heat it provides very little benefit on defensive rolls.]]

Shattered Mirror (1 EP)
With a flicker of motion it's revealed that the figure your opponent was fighting this whole time was really an afterimage left by your incredible speed, finding only air where you were standing just a moment before.

You may spend a point of EP after making a failed Impulse roll, forcing both you and your opponent to roll again. You both must accept the result of the new roll (although you can always choose to use this Power again).

[[I view the Impulse Trait as a little chaotic and flashy, the classic "tricky ninja" Trait and with an emphasis on dominating lesser foes. So this power really shines when bad luck puts you in a hard spot against a weaker opponent but against a more powerful opponent it mainly serves as a way to blunt the dangers of a really high roll]].

Shining Clarity (1 EP) In your mind's eye you can see your actions and their consequences unfold in your mind's eye. This precognition lasts only for a split-second, but it's enough time to make an essential change in your strategy and snatch victory from defeat.

You may spend a point of EP after making a failed Style roll. You may immediately reroll your dice and take the new roll as your final result (or the original result, whichever is higher). If your new roll is still a failure you can use this Power again.

[[Since Style is kind of the poster-child Trait for the Flawless Power, this is the most basic, straightforward and efficient version of this power and focuses on preventing a crappy roll rather than trying to maximize your final result.]]

Stubborn Defiance (1 EP) 
In the face of imminent defeat you refuse to give up. The only acceptable response to failure is to try even harder until the impossible no longer exists. 

You may spend a point of EP after making a failed Guts roll. You can select a number of dice from your original roll equal to your current Fighting Spirit and roll those dice again, taking the new result or your original, whichever is higher.

[[As befits a Guts move, this Power only really shines when you're an underdog in a fight and have been surrounded or are taking a lot of damage. It's a super-cheap bonus when you've built up a huge Fighting Spirit but is incredibly inefficient (and perhaps even unusable) in other situations.]]

So, this should give you an idea of the way I'm thinking right now. I fully intend to include some sidebars with a cleaned up version of this very discussion in order to illustrate the design principles in order to help you create your own powers.  

The one Basic Power that will still remain is Supercharge which won't really be a power anymore, so much as kind of the most "basic" use of Energy (instead of just fueling powers). The bonus will revert back to 1 EP = +1 bonus die, because I no longer have to worry about balancing it against other Basic Powers. And lets be fair, I don't think anyone was going to use Perfection. Overkill will probably suffer the same fate as Flawless, getting folded into other powers as a way to build up additional Strikes.  

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Badass Kung-Fu Demigods design journal pt 5

So, this one is a little bit stream-of-consciousness. We're getting into the tall grass here because while I don't have any grand new inspiration for these rules the changes I made previously will have some significant knock-on effects which will require tweaks and modifications throughout.  So we get to the part where I try out a lot of ideas that feel like they might work and see what fits into the gaps we've left.

One of the first things to consider is the idea of what you do during your turn in a Clash. The original three-action structure was built around the division of Fighting Styles and Backgrounds. If you wanted to leverage a social or mental ability in combat you would take an action like Psych-Out which would allow you to engage your foe in a way that they aren't necessarily buffed to hell against. 

However, the new Core Traits are universally applicable for combat. You can fight with Guts or Style or Heat or what-have-you. If your opponent wants to try and cut you in half with a lava axe and you want to try and hold them off by standing stock still and giving them a steely glare then you can go for it. In this situation, there's never a reason not to take an Attack action unless you're trying to do something outside of combat (like tackling an obstacle) and even that could theoretically be interpreted as an Attack against the Obstacle or GM. 

So why not just go with that? On your turn you make an attack. Whether it's an attack against an opponent or a security system or a giant wall of ice. If you succeed then you get a Strike, plus additional Strikes earned as normal. Like before the defender can earn Strikes but only the attacker gets a free Strike for basic success, preventing every defense from becoming a perfected counter-attack. 

So, with that our next concern is how Strikes can be spent and whether or not that needs to change. Let's look at some ideas...

*Damage: So, damage obviously remains unchanged. It's hard to get more straightforward than this. 

*Boost: So this is a little tricky. I originally increased the value of a Boost because I felt that 1-die was a pretty poor comparison to dealing another point of damage. Now, I can definitely say that just spending a strike to make a roll Boosted is probably too much...that's a big-ass bonus. But at the same time...the other option is damage: i.e. the way to actually end the fight. The bonus needs to be big for anything to be worth sacrificing one of the mandatory steps on the road to victory. A 1-die bonus is obviously a non-starter but a 2-die bonus is a little awkward and results in dice-creep as more and more dice get stacked into a roll. The meandering conclusion I'm coming to is that maybe I should handle it like spending your Spotlight: a Strike can be spend to add a generic 1-die bonus or to turn a roll under the umbrella of one of your Defining Traits into a Boosted roll. I like that it provides a big, but conditional, bonus and makes your Defining Traits a bit more important. 

*Declarations: These were messy to begin with so they probably needed to be codified a bit more. I'm probably going to narrow Declarations into more narrative changes and create more defined additional effects. Below are some things I'm thinking about. 

*Conditions: So, the original function of Declarations was intended to provide a means of restricting your opponent's options in combat: disarming a swordsman, pinning a speedy character to a wall with a spike, etc. Now the problem with this was kind of obvious: pick a Trait that can't be shut down like this. A kung-fu master can't be disarmed after all, and if you don't rely on speed or mobility then it's harder for opponents to restrict you. This was somewhat resolved with the division between Fighting Styles and Backgrounds. Since Fighting Styles were broader they couldn't really be "shut down" in the same way. However, that also made them a little bit toothless as they couldn't really have much of a meaningful effect on combat anymore.

So, with the creation of Core Traits as a consistent character element we have an opportunity to bring back some of the old ideas so I'm experimenting with the idea of Conditions: temporary, semi-freeform status effects. Conditions come in four types:
  • Debilitating Conditions: effects that weaken, sicken or shock the body. This makes the victim's next Heat roll Busted. 
  • Disrupting Conditions: effects that unbalance, throw off or confuse opponents. This makes the victim's next Style roll Busted. 
  • Binding Conditions: effects that restrict movement or slow and hinder the target. This makes their next Impulse roll Busted. 
  • Mental Conditions: Something that demoralizes or harms the willpower of the target. Makes the next Guts roll Busted.
The condition also creates a situation and maneuvers (i.e. free actions) cannot contradict the effect of the condition until it is removed either a Strike is spent to remove it or the opponent makes the Busted roll which automatically removes the condition.

Conditions may not seem like they last very long, but the intent is that a Busted roll is a big enough penalty that most characters will switch to a different Core Trait for combat and wait until they score a Strike in order to avoid it. So, if you've got a d8 Style and an opponent disarms you (a disruptive condition). Now another opponent is trying to punch you. You could accept a Busted roll on that defense and be immediately rid of the condition but against all but the weakest enemies that's going to put you in a dangerous situation and you'll likely end up with a point of damage or two (and maybe get another condition slapped on you). Or you could switch to your d6 Impulse Trait and fend off your opponent with 2d6 (average of 8.4) rather than 1d8 (avg of 5.1).

So conditions leave you with the choice of accepting a long-term but minor penalty (often forcing you to forgo beneficial trait synergy) or a major but one-shot penalty. This seems about right to me.

There may be more to declarations but I feel like figuring out conditions and Boosts is a good start here. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Badass Kung Fu Demigods design journal pt 4

So, these rules are a little bit slapped together compared to the previous, still extremely slapped-together, rules. Unlike the previous ideas this really has no equivalent from previous versions of the game and involves a bit more brutalization of sacred cows. 

In previous drafts one element I've consciously avoided has been any kind of meta-currency: no fate points or bennies or hero points or what-have-you. BAKFDG started off as kind of a substitute for Exalted, one of my favorite games in concept (if not execution) and before I made it I looked at a lot of Exalted substitutes made by others. One that always rubbed me the wrong way was FATE, because I felt the central conceit of Fate points clashed with the high-powered setting of Exalted. I felt like it was important that the Exalted not make use of out-of-game metacurrency because it undermined their status as supreme, monolithic badasses. One of the Chosen does not win a fight because they're a main character and a main character always wins a fight..they win a fight because they're a quasi-divine warrior who can punch through castles. 

While I haven't changed my mind, I have come up with a mechanical concept that I quite like and straddles a satisfying middle-ground between "self-reliant ubermensch" and "cast adrift on the seas of narrative". For now I'm referring to this as the Spotlight system. 

Each character has a Spotlight which can be expended in a variety of ways: 

  • Make a Boosted roll related to one of your Defining Traits. 
  • Get Back Up: recover from being KO'd (probably still injured?). Can only do it once per scene.
  • Make a narrative declaration about the scene. These are normally relatively minor, but can be significant if it relates to one of your Defining Traits. 
  • Fill up a Tension Bar. 
  • Trigger a combo (I'll get to this later, assuming I don't decide that combos are ridiculously overpowered). 
Everyone gets a single Spotlight at once and they're "refreshed" once everyone has used their Spotlight. I might introduce a mechanic to restore your Spotlight in exceptional situations, but I like the elegance of just refreshing as soon as everyone has had a chance to use it. This does carry over from session to session, so it will kind of rely on folks not hoarding...but that's also kind of a table problem. Rules can't fix bad players or bad GMs. 

I do feel like I'm missing a use for spotlight I thought of at some point and neglected to write down, so expect the possibility of this list expanding a bit.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Badass Kung Fu Demigods design journal, pt 3

Fun fact, a few days ago I noticed a persistent scotoma floating around the center of my vision. So, hopefully I'm not going blind...but if I am I better hurry up and get this stuff written out while I still can (I've got an eye exam in a few days, hopefully it won't be something to worry about). 

But back on topic, when I was talking about the Core Traits (which I'm pretty sure are going to be reduced to Might, Style, Reflex and Mettle, or some synonyms thereof). [[EDIT: I've settled on Heat (strength), Impulse (speed), Style (skill) and Guts (willpower)]]. I mentioned that I wasn't going to completely get rid of player-defined abilities and that's where Defining Traits come in.

Your Core Traits are the things that are universal, making Defining Traits the personal, customized elements of your character (before getting into crazier stuff like Powers). A Defining Trait is kind of a combination of the previous draft's Backgrounds and Knacks all in one. They're usually meant to be big, broad concepts that cover a lot of ground. Some examples of Defining Traits: 

  • Giant Robot Disguised As A Teenager
  • Machine Shaman And Techromancer
  • Renegade Alchemist
  • King Of The Moon 

By themselves Defining Traits have two very simple functions. First they define your character in a way that establishes permissions (I'll try and come up with a pithier term) allowing a character who is Megacorp Neo-Count to flaunt their wealth, get invitations to social gatherings and have a closetful of gilded codpieces or a character with a Infernal Motorcycle flying on wheels of fire or calling their bike with a whistle. 

The second is when one of your Defining Trait is relevant to a roll you're making you get a 1-die bonus to the roll. This isn't cumulative with multiple Defining Traits (so don't worry about stacking all your Traits into combat or anything). So the Neo-Count gets the bonus if he's driving his custom supercharged sportscar or bribing someone with a large stack of cash or intimidating someone with his family's reputation. 

This doesn't sound like much, but the main benefits will be related to a brand new mechanic I'm calling the Spotlight mechanic. While Spotlights have other uses (which I'm still tinkering with) one of the primary uses will be to allow you to expend your Spotlight in order to make a Boosted roll related to one of your Defining Traits. 

Although I haven't settled on a final decision I'm thinking characters will probably have two or three Defining Traits, enough to cover most any normal starting concept.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Badass Kung Fu Demigods Design Journal pt 2

So, here we get to the bit of inspiration that ended up sparking the series of ideas leading to this re-write. It's a pretty small change overall, but it opened up a fair number of new doors so I'm quite pleased with it. I hope it doesn't turn out to be secretly broken as hell, because I'd hate to have to ditch it. 

The change has to do with how traits are rolled. Like the previous drafts the Traits are rated by a die-type which ranges from d4 to d12. The latest version involved rolling two dice by default and taking the highest result. The change was pretty minor, instead of keeping just the highest, both dice are added together. 

So, understandably this might just seem like just throwing around bigger numbers, but it does give me an important additional lever. One of the frustrations of the previous drafts was the inability to fiddle around with the mechanics of the system too much when it comes to powers and abilities. It's one of the downfalls of a rules-light system, and finding a satisfying middle ground was tough. 

You see, by keeping two dice I open up a new door: increasing or decreasing the number of dice "kept" on a roll. So an extremely advantageous roll is referred to as Boosted allowing you to roll and keep three dice, while an extremely disadvantageous roll is referred to as Busted and you only get to roll a single dice. To keep things from getting crazy both effects are non-cumulative, your roll can only be Boosted/Busted once and if it is both Boosted and Busted the effects cancel out and you roll normally.

The previous bonus dice rule remains, adding extra dice but still keeping the original number. So a Boosted roll with three bonus dice means you roll six dice and keep three. negative dice are removed...they were never a significant element to be honest and the more dramatic effect of a Busted roll is more useful. 

By simply having both the Boost/Bust mechanic and regular bonus die I can now work with a much larger variety of effects. For instance, it becomes a great way to represent the difference between Power Levels...a character with a higher Power Level gets their roll Boosted when acting against someone with a lower Power Level. Busted rolls are a good way to represent a crippling-type Power and Boosting rolls is a good way to represent an exceptional bonus (like a holy-themed power Boosting your rolls against creatures of evil). 

This also provides a good way to represent the power of a Champion-class NPC, giving them an extra die, independent of the Boost/Bust system. So a normal roll is 3 dice, a Boosted roll is 4 and a Busted roll is still 2. That alone should make a champion encounter powerful enough to easily challenge an entire team of PCs. 

Friday, June 14, 2019

Badass Kung-Fu Demigods Design Journal: Is This Even My Final Form?!

Sometimes the best thing you can do for a project is put it down for a bit and step away, because you'll often find that in a month or two you'll be in the shower and a little idea comes and knocks on the back of your brain to introduce itself, often completely transforming things in the process. This isn't the first time this has happened in BAKFDG and I had one of those weird moments of out-of-the-blue inspiration which sets off a chain of dominoes in your design. 

So, with that in mind I'm using this to put down a few of the new ideas and try and get them to gel a bit before I write up an actual new draft. 

Core Traits 
So, one of the biggest problems I've run into with BAKFDG is trying to make player characters feel distinct from one another. What is truly the difference between a huge burly ham-hock of a brawler and an elegant cyborg duelist with a laser sword? 

In the previous draft my attempt to resolve this was with Fighting Forms, giving a mechanical distinction between fighting with brute strength and fighting with speed or skill. While I was fairly satisfied with the rock-paper-scissor system of advantages over different forms, I wasn't particularly thrilled about the other half of the equation (basically giving each Form a bonus Strike when you score two Strikes on a roll). None of them were great, and it always felt like Might would naturally be more desirable overall (bonus damage being significantly more advantageous in most situations). So I've been wracking my brain on how to emphasize these distinctions and was stalled out for a long time. 

Getting here involved brutalizing a sacred cow a bit...not quite slaughtering it but definitely giving it a proper maiming. What I'm talking about is the original PDQ-style player-defined Traits, which were already being de-emphasized. At the start of the project Traits were entirely player-defined and there was no real mechanical distinction between different Traits beyond their inherent scope. Eventually I realized the need for more of a mechanical skeleton and divided Traits into general backgrounds and the more defined Fighting Styles. But although they operate within separate realms both still were fairly loose and open. 

Which brings us to a new concept: Core Traits. Unlike my previous drafts, Core Traits are more like traditional RPG stats and are each assigned a die-type from d4 to d12. Each character has five Core Traits: 

Speed (alternate names: Wind, Flash): Just as it sounds, covers speed, dexterity, agility and fastiness. 

Might (alternate name: Mountain, Brute): Also self-explanatory. Being strong and durable. 

Skill (alternate names: Ocean, Style): This one's a little more complex, basically anything that requires skill or training or patience. picking a lock or a pocket would fall into this category, along with things like hacking a computer. 

Power: (alternate names: Flame, Spark): The ability to project your force of personality, energy or mystical power. This is the trait used for things like throwing energy blasts or giving a rousing speech. 

Will: (alternate names: Steel, Mettle): Indomitable spirit and never-give-upedness. 

Basically, all actions fall under one of these five traits. If something doesn't fall under the scope of a Core Trait then it's probably not worth rolling (or handled with a special rule that'll come up later). These aren't the only types of Traits, they're combined with Defining Traits which are player-defined abilities that'll be expanded on soon. 

One notably important element is that each of the five Core Traits is equally useful for combat. You can fight with your Might, your Speed or your Will or whatever. Some Powers might force or limit Trait choices (a psychic battlefield forces you to use Power or Will for instance) but largely each is equally applicable in combat. 

The Rock-Paper-Scissors element will be kept as well. Speed has a bonus against Skill, skill has a bonus against Might, Might has a bonus against Power and Power has a bonus against Speed. Will is an all-rounder and is neither strong nor weak against any other Trait.

Biggest one is that the five-Trait array feels just a tad forced. I'm considering dropping Power which is currently the odd one out in a few ways (mainly in that it kind of assumes everyone has the ability to shoot energy beams and whatnot...not a bad assumption for a game like BAKFDG but not every version fits). Either way I want to keep the Will stat as a all-rounder type, so that'll just collapse the first three into a 3-way RPS set-up. 

This is a good example of why you want to avoid getting too attached to a theme. When I was originally setting this up I went with an elemental theme: Wind, Rock, Flame, Ocean and Steel. But this means I was forced to try and make some of these concepts fit thematically in a way that wasn't too natural.Now that I type things out with a more generic name-set instead of the forced elemental theme I feel a lot more confident in changing to a 4-stat array.