Sunday, February 10, 2019

Things I think about things: Savage Worlds Adventure Edition



So, a few months ago I decided to jump on to the kickstarter for the new Savage Worlds edition. It's been one of my most-used RPG systems (as you can tell from all the conversions I've done) and my favorite "traditional" RPG. Not to mention a significant inspiration for my own system: Badass Kung Fu Demigods. So, I figured Pinnacle had earned an investment. 

Although the book itself won't materialize for a few more months, Pinnacle has released the pdf. It went through a few revisions, but seems to have stabilized enough to give it a proper review so I figured I'd look it over and share my thoughts. 


First Impressions

This is the biggest Savage Worlds core book so far but it's still fairly lightweight compared to other mainstream games (clocking in at slightly over 200 pages). Production values are good, lots of good inspirational art pieces and generally easy on the eyes. 

The broad strokes of the system are still familiar to anyone whose played SW before (die-step attributes and skills, wild die, Aces and Raises, Wild Cards and Extras, etc) and it should be pretty easy to learn for veterans. 

However, it doesn't take long to figure out that this is also the most dramatic overhaul SW has gone through. Previous editions usually kept about 90% of the content intact and mainly served as an easy way to consolidate rules from the last editions supplements and provide some new balance tweaks. The Adventure Edition is a different kettle of fish and has some significant mechanical changes. 

The engine and chassis of the original system is all there, but otherwise you're looking at a hefty overhaul. A lot of Edges are slightly different, the action economy is significantly different and there's been significant alterations and standardization of the "general" rules. One significant pattern I've noticed is a tendency to reduce or limit bonuses (many things that granted bonuses before now remove penalties or allow things like free re-rolls). The focus seems to be on creating a more "smooth" system where it's harder to rack up probability-busting bonuses.

Let's break it down:

Races

This is probably going to be the most familiar: almost all of the races are fundamentally the same as those in previous editions. The biggest change is an overhaul of the race-building system. It was an area I always felt was a little weak in previous editions, doing things like assigning +1 Toughness the same value as a boost to Vigor (which includes +1 toughness and more). It mainly suffered from a lack of granularity, trying to fit almost all abilities into either a 1-point or 2-point category which rarely worked out too well.

The Adventure edition improves things a bit, but mainly by rounding down rather than up. To use the example above, a die-type boost to Vigor is worth 2 points and +1 Toughness is worth 1 point. Racial advantages above 2-points are also presented (like Construct, which clocks in at 8 points). 

However, it's still probably the least impressive part of the new rules...granularity is still an issue. For example, that +1 Toughness for 1 point means it's "balanced out" by something as basic as reducing Pace by 1. Likewise, it means that some of the racial advantages are comparatively weak. 1 point for +1 Toughness or +2 Armor is definitely a lot more worthwhile than paying 1 point for something like immunity to disease or only having to sleep 4 hours a night. 

Some of the higher-point advantages are questionably priced as well, having things like an extra action (reducing multi-action penalties by 2) priced the same as having a set of claws that inflict Str+1d6 damage (i.e. just a built-in shortsword). It also still fails to recognize that "open" advantages (like a human's free Edge-of-choice) are better than "set" advantages as a racial ability.

Overall, the races presented in the core book are fine, but GMs should probably be careful allowing players to design their own races...there's a lot of potential for abuse.

Hasty House Rules: Speaking personally I'd probably rate a free Edge (the base human advantage) and an attribute boost as 3-point advantages (the free edge being worth more for flexibility, the attribute boost for increasing your maximum attribute rating and bypassing the 1-per-Rank limit on an attribute increase). Then lesser, but significant advantages like improved Toughness can be clocked in at 2 points and dinky bonuses like disease immunity or not having to sleep much can remain 1-pointers. 

Hindrances
 
Hindrances are going to be pretty familiar as well, although one significant difference is that you can take any combo of Hindrances adding up to 4 points: 4 Minor Hindrances are fine as are two Major ones. 

There's some new Hindrances in the mix and several Hindrances have minor/major versions they didn't before, such as Ugly which ranges from unpleasant looking to basically deformed. 

The Adventure Edition does make official a rule I don't think much of...providing players with a Benny whenever their roleplaying Hindrances come up. By itself that's a fine rule (I'm a FATE fan after all) but I've always felt it misses out on a major problem, it turns those Hindrances into stealth advantages, while others remain flatly disadvantageous. 

For instance, an Arrogant character gets the 2 bonus points for a Major Hindrance and gets a Benny whenever they act Arrogant and haughty (which was presumably what they wanted to do in the first place). But a character with Bad Luck gets 2 bonus points for a Major Hindrance and one less Benny a session and that's that. 

Basically, you can't balance Aspect-Style roleplaying flaws (where you're given in-game bonuses to encourage you to roleplay) with concrete mechanical flaws. Sure, some mechanical flaws can also be roleplaying flaws...but where is the line drawn? Does a Small character get a benny every time they take damage? That's clearly a non-starter. 

I have no problem with tying roleplaying flaws to the benny-economy, but those shouldn't be using the same rules as mechanically enforced disadvantages that actually alter your stats or rolls. 

Attributes

These are virtually unchanged: the same 5 attributes, ranked by die-type and doing more or less the same thing. Likewise derived stats like Toughness work out the same as well. You get all the attributes at a d4 and have enough points to make them all d6, just like before.

The only significant difference is that Charisma has been ditched and it's simply rolled into the effects of Edges and Hindrances. 

Skills

Although the basic idea is the same and you'll see a lot of familiar skills, this area has gotten a significant overhaul. 

Players get more skill points (17 total), but that's because 5 are automatically tied up in "Core" skills that automatically start with a d4, leaving you with 12 remaining.  
*Athletics: A catch-all that rolls up the former climbing, swimming and throwing skills all into one, in addition to serving as a general skill roll for being spry.
*Common Knowledge: which replaces the former common knowledge smarts roll
*Notice: Works just like previous editions
*Persuasion: Again, just like the previous versions, although it's noted as being very useful for the new "support" rules. 
*Stealth: No longer will you have to deal with that one player who's unskilled in Stealth, now everyone gets a d4 by default. 


There's also a bunch of modest changes to the skill list (lockpicking turned into the broader "thievery" skill, for instance), some skills (like streetwise) are removed and Knowledge has been split into several more predefined skills. 

Edges
 
This is where a lot of the big changes happen, too many to go over individually (that's what buying the book is for anyway). But generally speaking you'll find most of the familiar edges here with slightly different mechanics. Several come with slight "upgrades" that make them more appealing, for instance Brawny gives it's bonus to toughness and carrying capacity, but also boosts your effective strength for purposes of meeting weapon minimums. Block grants +1 to Parry like before but also reduces Gang Up bonuses against you by 1.

Edges that granted flat bonuses to rolls have been reduced or altered (for instance, each level of attractive gives +1 to persuasion and performance instead of +2, and charismatic gives you a free re-roll on performance rolls). Several that used to grant bonuses now remove penalties instead (such as the near-ubiquitous marksman edge)

A lot of Edges are more...defined. For instance, Dodge specifies that it's bonus doesn't combine with Cover. Martial Arts comes with defined rules for interacting with natural weapons and whether unarmed attacks count as natural weapons. 

Professional Edges have been towned down fairly significantly and a variety of new non-combat Edges are introduced along with Edges linked to the Test and Support rules introduced in this edition.

Some significant changes come up with the power-based edges but I'll save that discussion for further down. 

Legendary Edges in particular get a hefty boost with the crowning eye-popper being the Tough As Nails Edges, no longer limited to a Toughness bonus, they now increase the number of Wounds you can take before being KO'd!!

They're still disappointingly scant however, I'd really like to see a few more but it's understandable that they're more setting-specific. Hopefully with this extra kick we can look forward to some cooler Legendary Edges in future releases. 


Gear

Gear is pretty much unchanged other than a few tweaks here and there (armor has a minimum strength rating now).

Otherwise, you'll see stuff that's mostly pretty familiar.

The Rules!

Here we go, this is where the real meat of the changes happens. Going roughly in order: 

Bennies are expanded, allowing things like re-rolling damage by default, as well as drawing new initiative cards and even regaining power points.

The action economy is significantly altered. Multi-action penalties are similar but you can now repeat the same action more than once (with a cap of 3 actions per round). That's a big deal, because at a relatively mild -2 penalty you can fire your gun or swing your sword twice. Even firing full-auto multiple times a round or casting multiple spells a round. Needless to say that's a pretty big change. Full-auto weapons and combat Edges can make for quite the damage output (not to mention things like spellcasters laying down multiple AoE spells at once).   

This is one of those changes I'm going to have to see in action to really evaluate. My knee-jerk reaction is that this is going to push things towards the crazy end of things, with the potential for a huge amount of destruction in a single round for relatively mild penalties (-4 for 3 actions ain't nothing, but it's not insurmountable either). However, it's entirely possible that I'm overestimating the impact this will have and the feasibility of taking multiple actions. It definitely boosts the effectiveness of guns and automatic weapons even moreso...cover is important!

Another significant introduction is a set of new conditions which are used to standardize a lot of the miscellaneous effects from various actions: 
*Shaken The old classic is still around, but uses the newer rule for recovering fully on a successful spirit roll (no "unshake but lose your action" anymore). 
*Stunned: Stunned is a rougher version of Shaken, knocking you down and distracting you (see below) and preventing actions and giving opponents the drop on you. Needless to say, it's pretty harsh (and is recovered using Vigor rather than Spirit). Fortunately not a lot of things will Stun you, mainly magic or special weapons like tasers. 
*Distracted: A general "messed up" status, inflicting a global penalty to trait rolls. 
*Vulnerable: A lesser version of "the drop", you get a bonus to your actions against the victim. 
*Entangled: prevents you from moving and distracts you. 
*Bound: Can't move or act (except to break free) and distracts and renders you vulnerable.

Biggest thing I notice is the synergy with distracted and vulnerable. Although vulnerable is meant as a kind of "drop-lite" it's bonus applies to "Actions and attacks" against the target. This doesn't make much difference for straightforward attacks (as they aren't opposed rolls) but if you get your target distracted and vulnerable (which can be done with grappling or confusion spell for instance), this means that if you're making an opposed roll your opponent is at -2 and you're at +2. That's nasty when combined with spells like puppet or mind reading.

There are a few other nasty "double-ups" like that...for instance, if someone is stunned they're Distracted, which penalizes the roll they have to make to recover from being Stunned, on top of giving opponents the drop (which they can use to Shake you, and recovering from that is also penalized by being Distracted). In short, don't get stunned. 


The next significant new ideas are "Test" and "Support" Actions. Tests replace Tricks and Tests of Will from the previous editions and instead is intended as a generic "try and get an advantage" attempt. Pick a skill, explain how the skill can be used to create an opening (using knowledge or notice skills to find a weakness, using athletics to run circles around them, etc): you roll your skill and your opponent rolls whatever attribute is linked to that skill. So if you want to use your Notice skill to work out the pattern of your opponent's kung-fu, then they oppose you with their Smarts. Victory means you can make your opponent Distracted or Vulnerable, while a Raise shakes them. 

Support is the inverse, you pick a skill that you're using to assist an ally and make an unopposed roll with each success and raise adding a +1 bonus to your opponent. This can include using skills like persuasion or performance for bard-style encouragement. 


Adventure Toolkit

A lot of these I've only skimmed so far given how situational they are. 

The chase rules are familiar, but a bit less abstracted which may not be to its advantage. 

The dramatic task rules are more or less unchanged, just with some vague language tightened up and a few alternate options. 


Both fear checks and hazards are essentially unchanged, although they do incorporate the new rules verbage. Same goes for Interludes and Mass Battles

One new set of rules her is Networking, essentially a more formalized set of rules for digging up dirt and investigation, using Persuasion or Intimidation. It's not particularly complex, mostly amounting to a long-term skill check with abstracted results to find clues or basic aid. It's not a bad idea but lacking in meat...not much more than "make a skill roll, if you succeed you get what you're looking for, if you get a raise you get more. A critical failure has things go wrong".

There are also rules for "quick encounters" which are basically just a super-short version of a round-by-round encounter with abstracted results.

Social conflicts have become a bit more detailed but are otherwise fairly similar.


Powers


Powers have received a pretty major update and the theme they're focusing on seems to be increasing the flexibility of spellcasters.

For instance, one of the most significant changes is that the new Power Edge gives you two new Powers, meaning most spellcasters are going to have a much bigger bag of tricks than they did before. On top of that, several powers have been "collapsed" into one, for instance there is no more Healing and Greater Healing, instead Healing can be improved by spending more power points to do things like cure disease/poison, restore body parts or ignore the golden hour.

In addition, there are new "power modifiers" that can be added to any power, adding things like AP, inflicting fatigue, or letting you do things like choose to remove targets from an AoE effect. The majority are offensively focused but there are a couple of "buff" effects you could potentially apply to beneficial powers...which are a little bit lame since they're limited to two very specific effects (boosting pace or adding a concealing shadow effect) but since they're the only beneficial effects they'll often get applied by default. Most powers have a selection of specific modifiers available as well

The ultimate example is the Wizard Edge which lets you pay an extra power point to change a spell's trappings on the fly (presumably this is meant to be mostly cosmetic or for interaction with a creature's weaknesses/immunities, as there are no specific trapping "effects" anymore).

Power Points recover faster too. They only recover when resting, but they now recover 5 PP/hour spent resting (up to 20 PP/hour with improved rapid recharge). The final result is that spellcasters can cast spells more often and with a vastly improved breadth of spell effects.

On the other end, some of the previously overpowered spells (looking at you Quickness) have been toned down. Quickness now removes 2 points of multi-action penalty, but doesn't grant you the ability take a whole second action or take more than 3 actions total. That said, a lot of powers have been collapsed together...Slow, Speed and Quickness are all one power now and given that spellcasters have more powers now than they did before this seems a little much. 

The final result is a little hard to evaluate, partially because one of Savage Worlds flaws is that there is no automatic "balancing" between Power-users and mundane characters depending on setting. The rules for being a mage are the same in a medieval fantasy where your mundane allies are toting swords and shields and an apocalyptic cyberpunk game where normal humans can carry around fully-automatic weapons and grenades. 

In previous editions the Powers seemed to mostly be in line with the medieval fantasy level...a sorcerer was a bit more dangerous than an archer or warrior but was limited by their power point supply and the ability to affect enemies. Move up to modern day or beyond and the spellcaster quickly falls behind the curve when compared to guns and high-tech equipment (this is often mitigated by specialized arcane backgrounds with a bit more oomph such as what is seen in the deadlands settings). 

In the adventure edition, the spellcasting rules are probably roughly on par with modern or near future capabilities (assuming players have fairly free reign with equipment) but look like they'll dominate when compared to mundane heroes in pre-gunpowder days. There are some very impressive new combat Edges, but not to the degree that spellcasters have.

TL:DR
 
 I'm planning to upgrade to this edition with my games, which should tell you that I consider it to be an overall superior edition. However, it's not flawless and there are a few areas I'm going to have to watch and possibly shore up with house rules.


Saturday, July 28, 2018

Undead Friend

Undead Friend Chapter 01 

I've mentioned in the past that I had a webcomic, which is no longer with us. I was always kind of a crappy comic artist and the plot of my comic makes me practically cringe in shame in hindsight. Especially with the rise of the isekai genre in anime/manga/light novels, the plot of "character who shares the name of the author gets thrust into fantasy world and discovers craaazy magic powers" feels especially eye-rolling in hindsight. I don't regret doing it, but I also don't regret that it's no longer online. 

But while was always a bit of a webcomic casual, my wife was dedicated to her comic work. She ran two comics with a better update schedule than I ever did and then she actually put in the effort to learn how to draw properly. As I've brought up before she has spent the last few years in a very bad place, suffering constant pain and just unable to do much of anything, let alone keeping up with her comic work. 

About a year ago we finally hit on medication that could take care of her pain, at first reducing it significantly and then removing it entirely. It's hard to express just how amazing it has been to do that and how dark things got while we were struggling through the last few years. Unfortunately the medication had a few side effects and one of them is a bit of emotional numbness, so while NJ was no longer suffering, she found it difficult to engage with most activities and could not find any of her former passion for art. Fortunately, we were able to adjust her dosage and add a new med to help counteract that. About two months ago things finally "clicked" in her head and she started drawing. And never stopped. 

It's insane. She gets up in the morning, sits down at her art station and draws. And draws. And draws. She'll spend 12 hours a day drawing, easily. And that's only because I eventually have to force her to go to bed so I can get up in the morning. On weekend evenings she'll easily stay up past 5 am without any sign of slowing. 

Which brings us to Undead Friend. Undead Friend was one of NJ's original webcomics and now that she is in a place both physically and emotionally that allows her to create again, she is making up for lost time by rebooting Undead Friend. She started drawing about two months ago, completed the first chapter within three days and has only accelerated since then. She's already drawn and completed eight chapters, each longer than the first. In fact, the only reason she's started to slow down a bit is to spend time to work on redesigning her website, setting up her patreon and even going back to redraw some pages that she found unsatisfying. 

With plenty of buffer we decided to release the comic on her birthday, July 25th. She's uploaded the first chapter in its entirety and is going to be releasing 3 new pages every week. It's a little soon to provide much of a plot summary without spoilers, but at it's core Undead Friend is a story about a pointy-haired dude who meets and befriends a chipper ghost girl and the two proceed to get themselves way over their head after they're pulled into a mysterious deathgame (these things happen). Interested? Of course you are. So you can find the comic right here: 


You may notice my name in the credits there, but I assure you this is really NJ's show. I'm providing some dialogue tweaks, scene ideas and a bit of storyboarding...but my main job is to annoy her with incredibly specific and pointless questions and then resolutely insist that we must come up with answers to them. Can zombies eat a sandwich? Can ghosts ride in cars? What happens if a vampire gets blown up by a grenade? 

 She hates it, but I know it's important work I do. Oh, and the answers: No. No, but they can fly fast enough to keep up. And they'll be very annoyed and may have to be patched up by a ghost. 

Saturday, April 14, 2018

BAKFDG v .8, Signature Powers and Trumps

So, getting to the end of the changes for this version. Like I mentioned last time the EP available to characters have decreased, but the value of each Energy point has increased. To try and be a bit more formal with power construction, I've divided Signature Powers into three levels of strength:

1 EP Powers provide a significant bonus, usually in the form of a unique mechanic, the ability to bend the rules in some way or a new way to spend Strikes. These are "workhorse" powers, which are meant to be used often but don't dramatically alter a Scene by themselves. These are the powers you can use without Ascending above Heroic level as well, so most of the subtler or more non-combat themed powers go here.

Some examples:
  • Mysterious Stranger: a power that makes you supernaturally unmemorable and difficult to recognize. 
  • Reflect Bullet: Spend a Strike and an EP after a successful attack to "bounce" the attack to another opponent. You keep the same roll result as before and all the same powers. Think Xena's chakram. 
  • Shapeshifter: Take an animal form and get a 1-die bonus to any rolls that the form would be useful for. Sort of a multi-tool power, allowing you to disguise yourself, get into weird places and so on. 
  • Spellbreaker: Spend a Strike and 1 EP to end the effect of one of your opponent's ongoing powers. 
  • Unbreakable Iron Spirit: A defensive power that lets you invest 1+ EP into an ongoing effect. While this power is on you ignore any damage that does not exceed your EP investment, but has no effect on attacks that inflict more damage. 

2 EP Powers typically require you to Ascend in order to use them, so they represent more dramatic abilities that can make major "background" changes or give you access to a significantly larger set of options in how you interact with other characters or your environment. This is also where powers that can provide large amounts of extra Strikes are situated.


Some examples: 
  • Cross Burst: The equivalent of a multi-attack power, after a successful fighting style roll you can spend 2 EP to then compare your second-highest die to your opponent's second highest, earning Strikes as though it were a second attack. 
  • Mind Crush: For 2 EP you can devour the memories of a KO'd opponent or an Extra, this renders them a vegetable and gives you access to everything they knew. 
  • Shattered Mirror: Spend 2 EP to declare whatever just happened was an illusion or ruse, this cancels the effects of the roll and forces both you and your opponent to reroll, giving you a bonus strike if you succeed. 
  • Skin of Black Iron: A more reliable damage-reducer than Unbreakable Iron Spirit, this power prevents any opponent from spending all their strikes on damage. 
  • Warp: Teleportation. In addition to the general utility of the power this lets you break engagements automatically by spending the requisite EP. 
3 EP Powers are the top of the chart for Signature Powers (at least in theory, I'm sure there's at least one or two 4 EP worthy powers out there). These let players dramatically redefine the current situation and using one will often dominate the current scene. Currently there are only 4 examples of 3 EP powers:

  • Absolute Radiance: Control the minds of any Extras within your vicinity, emitting a light that crushes free will and potentially mindjacking hundreds or thousands of people. 
  • Blade Of Ultimate Impossibility: Turn your Fighting Style into a conceptual weapon, letting you resolve situations that would normally not be possible with combat abilities. Some examples are cutting a curse free of someone's body, punching a tree into a chair or slaying a drought with your spear. 
  • Quantum Suppression Field: Cuts the EP of all other characters in the scene in half. A powerful, but selectively useful ability. 
  • Real Breaker: Lets you make retroactive Declarations. For instance, with a normal Declaration you can disarm someone, with Real Breaker you can declare they left their sword at home, even if they were just hitting you with it a moment ago. Can't undo damage or dramatically change circumstances for anyone who is not an extra. This might normally be a 2 EP power, but I'm adding an EP just because I bet there's some real shenanigans more creative players could get up to with the ability to rewrite reality. Just a hunch.  

Trump Powers
Trump Powers have been a bit of a rough area in the game. I started cripping from Exalted, limiting players to just one power at a time but permitting Trumps to serve as a combo of different powers. Then I decided that was too limiting and let powers be combined freely, so Trumps instead had a specific set of powers that unlocked access to your Tension meter for extra EP. The main problem there was it meant that you had to have all the "pieces" of the Trump already. If you wanted to launch a multi-attack power that steals EP you needed to have purchased both an EP-stealing power and a multi-attack power to combine them. This meant that just having a Trump with more than one Signature Power required you to invest almost all your Signature Powers in the individual "ingredients" of the Trump.

Well, my current solution is to allow Trumps to be purchased in two ways. "Blank" Trumps are the simplest...they simply provide access to your Tension Meter to fuel any combination of basic powers. These are your straightforward attack moves and powers...if you just want to launch a punch that punches much harder than normal, that's a blank Trump. Think something like your average Kamehameha, Wind Scar or Warnicorn Stampede.

Then you've got Trumps that do something special. When purchasing a Trump you can choose one or more Signature Powers (which you do not necessarily need to know as regular Signature Powers) which will determine the Trump's effects, and then combine their cost together to determine the minimum cost of the Trump. In order to use these Trumps, your Tension meter has to be high enough to pay for the cost of the Trump and if your Tension meter exceeds it the additional cost can only be spent on basic powers or to improve the effect of the Trump's powers (for effects with variable costs).

So, for instance say you want to build a Trump out of the Cross Burst and Reflect Bullet power, creating twin razor sharp energy disks you can sling from one opponent to another. Reflect Bullet costs a minimum of 1 EP and Cross Burst costs 2, giving your Trump a cost of 3 (let's call it the Dual Crescent Buster).

So, in order to use the Dual Crescent Buster you've got to get your Tension Meter up to 3. Just for the sake of argument let's say it's at 5 currently. Activating the Dual Crescent Buster nets you 5 additional EP, you spend 3 on the Trump and with the extra 2 you activate the basic powers Supercharge and Overkill (helpful, since it'll ensure there's at least a bonus strike to spend on the Reflect Bullet effect).

Just to go all out on the example, lets say you're rolling 6d10 right now from your Supercharge and Fighting Spirit/Knacks and facing 3 opponents who all roll 3d8 for their defense (all unworthy opponents)

Dual Crescent Buster gets an 16 on the first opponent, with the second-highest die being a 9. The hapless opponent rolls a 4 and a 3 as their two highest rolls. That's 6 Strikes! (3 from the 16 vs the 4, two from the 9 vs the 3 and 1 extra from Overkill). Easily KOing the opponent with 3 of them, spending one to trigger the Reflect Bullet effect and maybe spending the last two on a couple of Boosts.

Your reflect bullet lets you target another opponent, keeping the original 16/9 roll. The second opponent does a bit better, getting a 6 and a 5. But that's still 5 Strikes, letting you KO this guy, activate Reflect Bullet again and collect another Boost.

The second activation does require another EP, if you had saved some of the bonus EP from your Tension meter you could use that, but you can also provide it from your regular EP pool or even Overdrive. So that's the same 16/9, this opponent gets the best roll so far with a 7 and a 5, cutting the number of Strikes earned down the 4, but that's still enough to KO an unworthy opponent and activate another use of Reflect Bullet or use for a Boost or Declaration.

So yeah, Trumps are pretty darn strong if used right, if nothing else that guy just earned up to 4 Boosts (an 8-die bonus) for their next roll, so if there's another opponent left on the field they're screwed even though our character just fired off his Trump and emptied his tension meter.




Friday, April 13, 2018

I thought of it first VIII: Raw Meat Diner

A little interlude here as I share something I thought of at a sushi restaurant 

So, raw meats in some form or other are obviously considered a delicacy...you've got sushi, sashimi, steak tartar, carpaccio , etc. But obviously there's limits on how they can be served and what meats are safe to eat raw.

So here's my great dumb idea. A restaurant (by necessity, an expensive one) which serves meat that has been irradiated immediately before serving, with enough x-rays or gamma rays to completely sterilize the dish but not something like microwaves which will cook it. So you have 100% safe and 100% raw meat. Obviously you're going to want to marinate or season it somehow, no one wants just raw slabs of chicken (okay, lets be honest, some people probably do. People are weird).

Obviously this would be a weird, luxury establishment. No hole-in-the-wall diner is going to be able to afford a gamma ray emitter, the necessary safety precautions and the buttloads of insurance that this idea would require. And the sort of people who might be eager to chow down on a plate of irradiated raw chicken and pork are probably the same sort of people who think edible gold is a good idea or pay for 500$ hot dogs.


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

BAKFDG v .8, Powers

Look at all of these updates. I'm so amazing!

So, one of the bigger changes in this version is dropping the amount of Energy available to all characters...1 EP at Heroic, increasing by 1 per power level up to 5 at Limitless. This is largely to make it easier to track and handle EP supply and to make things like Overdrive and Tension EP more valuable, since previously it was largely possible to simply pour EP onto a problem until it goes away and large teams had nearly overwhelming quantities of EP.

This is kind of a step back because this is the EP rules I originally had a few versions ago, but this time the value of EP has been increased, so there's less points to keep track of but they're more useful individually. This also helped rebalance some problem Powers like Overkill and Flawless. Flawless in particular needed some extra work since it basically amounted to doubling the number of dice you could roll..an issue solved mainly by limiting only to allowing the rerolling of failed roll. This made the very basic dice-adding Supercharge Power weaker in comparison but that just meant it needed to grant 2 dice per EP rather than one. Not necessarily as elegant as 1 EP for 1-die, but it works.

Several of the core Basic Powers were also trimmed pretty heavily, from 9 down to 4, limiting it to purely Powers that interact with the raw mechanics of the system in the most basic and generic ways possible: Supercharge, which adds dice to a roll. Overkill which adds Strikes if a roll is successful. Flawless which lets you reroll a failed roll. Perfection the only 2 EP power which just lets you max out your roll.

I've come to the conclusion that easy defensive Powers like Ward and the more extreme Ubeatable were just too effective and extended combat in a way that wasn't very interesting...just dragging things out by no-selling damage and making "turtling up" far too effective a strategy, especially when one side or the other has more EP to throw around, just have the person getting attacked use Ward to cancel the damage while everyone else pounds on the opponent.

Some powers got redefined as something more suitable as Signature Powers, such as Detonation or more limited defensive powers in place of the universally applicable Warding Power. One power that has just been ditched entirely is the Blast power. That's because I realized that it was both not very impressive at even the cost of 1 EP, but also just part of a completely unnecessary division between ranged weapons and close-combat weapons. Since every character now has a nearly universal applicable Fighting Style there's no reason the guy using the gunkata should be able to freely make ranged attacks but not the swordfighter or the punch-master.

So, in that regard my new ideas about ranged combat can be summed up with this picture.



So yeah, ranged combat can be performed by anyone, whether it's a thrown knife, a gunshot, a streak of energy from the tip of a sword or any similar ridiculousness.

Next time I think I'll talk a bit about the new Signature Powers and the loose guidelines on creating them.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

BAKFDG v .8 even more stuff

So, finally done discussing the changes to Traits. Apparently I'm feeling particularly verbose about this draft. Maybe that's a sign I'm finally getting close to a final draft.

Declarations

Declarations are something I didn't so much change as formalized. Originally Declarations were primarily intended to be a way to create or deny "permissions" for certain actions. Got a speedy opponent dashing around, freeze their legs to the ground or pin them under rubble and their primary offensive/defensive Trait becomes useless, forcing them to rely on other Traits as a backup. Likewise, disarm a swordfighter and they've got to find some way to get their sword back or at least find a substitute.

However, with the introduction of Fighting Styles, there aren't any "backup" Traits anymore. Everyone has just one Fighting Style and except in the most unusual circumstances that's all they're going to be using. This means that shutting down an opponent's Fighting Style is just way too powerful, and being honest it was probably never a great idea to begin with as certain Traits were just too vulnerable to declarations. After all, if the only difference between being a sword-master and being a punch-demon is that the first guy can be completely shut down with a single Strike, then everyone is going to stick to punching. And don't get me wrong, I like myself some punching, but I also like big, giant swords and I refuse to tolerate a system that doesn't allow for big, giant swords.


Like So

So, obviously shutting down Traits isn't going to work. But Declarations are also kind of essential (especially with the way Forms work now). So, I decided to work on an actual list of example uses for Declarations outside of shutting down Traits and by the end of it I was very satisfied with how effective they are. Especially the ability to explicitly create or trigger Obstacles and Hazards.

Speaking of Obstacles and Hazards, a small but significant change is the division of these into "active" and "passive" Obstacles. Passive Obstacles are environmental or situational effects that get in your way. Even if they were created by another character, they just sit there and are usually pretty easy to blast through (especially if you've got EP to burn). Active Obstacles are those that represent the actions of another character, someone able to adapt and react to your actions...meaning they can use Powers to boost the Obstacle's roll and can earn Strikes on the roll. Sort of like the difference between being caught in a net and being grappled by an opponent.

Clashes

Clashes in general haven't changed too much, although I did basically ditch initiative. It just wasn't fitting and in the end, deciding turn order is just not that big a deal. Now players choose which PC goes first (by any means they wish), then an NPC gets to act, then a PC, then an NPC and so on until everyone has acted. If one side runs out of characters due to being outnumbered then all the remaining characters get to take an action.

I also introduced the concept of a "refresh" at the end of each round. Instead of regaining EP at the start of your turn, everyone's EP just refills automatically at the end of each round and that's also when your Tension Meter ticks up as well. It alters a bit of the strategy now that everyone gets EP back simultaneously, but overall it simplifies things and makes tracking EP much less of a headache.

Just like with Declarations I formalized the Actions in combat a bit, now there are 3 definite actions: Overcoming an Obstacle, Attacking an enemy, and Psyching Out an opponent. The first two operate much like they always did, but Psych Outs are specifically a Background vs Background roll, bypassing the opponent's Fighting Style. The Tension meter increase also goes to whoever wins the psych out, regardless of who initiated it.

But, overall Clashes aren't too different. A few tweaks here and there. Got rid of the multi-attack option...just couldn't think of a good way to handle it that didn't deserve to be treated as a Power. So you can kill Weaklings en masse, but any tougher opponents have to be attacked one-on-one unless you've got a power to go after multiple enemies with one attack.

Next time I'll cover some of the changes made to Powers and their mechanics.

Monday, April 2, 2018

BAKFDG v .8, continued

So, continuing from where I left off on the latest draft of the rules (which can be found here if you need a link). I spend a good while rambling about why I decided to make Fighting Styles and Backgrounds in place of regular Traits. Well, I mostly talked about Fighting Styles but the division of non-combat Traits into Backgrounds was pretty darn helpful too.

First and foremost, I decided that I didn't need as many Traits as before. In different versions I've shuffled between 5 to 6 Traits of varying intensity, now we've got 4 (including the default Fighting Style everyone starts with) but I'm encouraging bigger and broader Backgrounds in place of more traditional Traits. No-one should have a Trait like "tracking prey" or "picking locks"...we're looking at Traits that are more like entire character concepts in miniature, like "Under-King Of the Mole People" or a cyborg who is a "Walking Swiss Army Knife". Since Backgrounds have been made explicitly non-combat, that gives more freedom without having to worry about whether or not it balances with a combat Trait or whether or the crossover with an ability that has utility in both a Clash and a non-combat situation.

That also helped me to resolve a particular niggle involving magical combat. Having hyper-powered wizards, psychics, nano-warlocks or other wielders of vast cosmic powers was always part of the goal for the system. But by their nature those powers imply a variety of combat and non-combat utility. The division between Backgrounds and Fighting Style means that such characters would take an Arcane Fighting Style to represent their ability to tear things up and separate Backgrounds to represent the stuff they can pull off when they aren't tearing things up.

Knacks
Knacks and Styles were never a huge factor in the system, but when working on this draft I realized just how annoying it is to change even a relatively small thing. I had just finished working on the draft, needing only to give it a bit of cleaning up to get things like page markers pointing the right way, when I had a mini-epiphany. It happened just as I was falling asleep too and so I had to go downstairs and write it down before it got lost...then I had to go through the whole friggin document and adjust so much little stuff to match it.

Knacks are a pretty familiar concept from other games...PDQ has Techniques which serve a similar role, White Wolf games have specialties and I bet with a bit more thought I could think up another dozen or so examples. Basically a little "bump" when using an ability in a particular way. Want to be a good swordfighter but be even better as a one-on-one duelist...take a Knack for it. Bam, done. Styles were inspired by PDQ's "unchained" techniques, basically the same thing but applying globally to a character's abilities. Styles are a great way to represent little advantages (like a lucky hat) or idiomatic quirks of a character (such as making them better at everything when not wearing a shirt).

Well, as I was thinking about the system that night I began to ponder if there were just too many bonuses in the game. I like the core system, but I also recognize that no one wants a dice pool system where you've got to roll buckets of dice...especially if you're already using different die-types. Anything calling for more than a handful of d8s or d12s is a problem, if not necessarily a disaster. So I start to ponder places the fat could be trimmed. Obviously 2 dice needs to be the minimum, 1 die is just too random. Bonuses from things like Powers or boosts from Strikes need to be significant to remain balanced with other options so they've got to stay and I'm far, far too enamored with the Fighting Spirit rules to ditch those. That kind of left Knacks and Styles, which are also the reason that most characters are going to be rolling 3-5 dice at minimum anyway, since it's easy to invest in a couple of reliable Knacks and your Style is meant to apply at almost all times anyway.

But I really liked knacks and styles, Styles especially because I think it's important to be able to say "my character gets a bonus to everything when they're drunk/covered in blood/being the loudest in the room". But then some gears snapped into place and started turning and I came to my current solution...basically merging the two. Rather than a selection of Knacks and a single Style, now everyone just has two Knacks that operate much like Styles did...providing a global bonus to all rolls when acting in line with the Style. To keep bonuses from climbing too high they don't stack (this also means buying up tons of cheap Knacks won't be incentivized) and it gets rid of the issue with whether to invest Knacks into Fighting Styles or Backgrounds (because, being honest, they're a lot more useful in fighting styles).

Well, I liked the idea but that meant I had to go through the entire document getting rid of every reference to styles, reformatting all the example characters and generally nitpicking to try and fix this one little rule.

That's probably enough whining about that, so I'll go ahead and post more about the other changes later.