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'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 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 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 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 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.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Badass Kung Fu Demigods, draft # 8 is done!

Who could possibly be interested in regular blog posts? Your audience? Potential buyers of your game? Naaaaah.

Sorry it's been so long. The good news is that I have been hard at work on Badass Kung Fu Demigods. Just completed the 8th draft a few days ago and figured I'd go over it here...that being the entire point of this blog.

Badass Kung Fu Demigods v 0.8  

So, it's a little bit lighter on the major structural changes to the mechanics, but there's some significant differences here. 
Fighting Styles and Backgrounds
The biggest one is that I've split Traits into two categories: Fighting Styles and Backgrounds. This is actually a huge throwback to the game that eventually transformed into Badass Kung Fu Demigods, the PDQ martial arts game Battle Royale. So, why am I going back to the start? 

First is that I realized that while having combat and non-combat Traits mixed interchangeably works okay for some games like vanilla PDQ, in Badass Kung Fu Demigods your combat abilities are going to be of paramount importance. It's a game about being walking powerhouses who can tear apart aircraft carriers and smack around kaiju. There's no reason that anyone should be building a "non-combat" character in this game. Sure, you can have characters who are good at things outside of combat, and even characters who aren't as focused on fighting as others...but roles like the classic "skill monkey" or "face", characters who might be helpless in combat but provide other advantages don't really fit in a game where everyone's default powers are enough to smack Superman around.

So, drawing from the same "pool" of resources to buy both combat and non-combat Traits means that characters who want to be the very best (like no one ever was) at fighting are going to be sacrificing their non-combat abilities to do it, while someone trying to develop another style of character could fall into the trap of thinking a non-fighty build is viable only to find their utility Traits don't contribute very much when it's time to power up and fight three-headed space dragons. By dividing the Traits out the gate I can ensure that everyone has the baseline combat competence they need without sacrificing utility and roleplaying Traits. 

It also helps solve an issue I've been wrestling with ever since I started working on Badass Kung Fu Demigods...balancing the utility of combat and non-combat Traits. Part of it is that some combat traits are significantly useful outside of combat (things like speed or reflexes in particular see a lot more use than something like swordfighting outside of the battlefield). It was never a huge deal, but it was significant enough to be a constant headache. Especially since earlier drafts focused on the idea of using Declarations to "lock down" certain Traits, and some of them were much more vulnerable than others. 

Introducing Fighting Styles allows me to cut through a lot of that by simply expanding all combat abilities to roughly the same level. No matter what your fighting style is you can attack, defend or destroy stuff roughly equally well. No swordfighter is going to lose access to their Trait when they're disarmed, super-strong characters don't also have to purchase an armor or toughness trait to allow them to defend themselves and it helps solve the puzzle of using magical or psychic abilities in combat in a more meaningful way (namely by dividing up the combat and non-combat uses of these traits). 

The Form rules (another throwback to the original Battle Royale rules, mapping very closely to it's forms with the exception of the lack of a Flame form) also allow me to do something I've been trying to do for quite some time...introduce some mechanical distinctions in how characters fight. For some games a looser style is fine where the guy with a big hammer fights the same as the little speedster who fights the same as the wizened martial arts master. However, you don't play a game called Badass Kung Fu Demigods without focusing on the combat and since everyone fights it's important to feel like your character fights differently from your fellow PCs and even your opponent. I've tried a lot of different ways to get this to work while keeping the light framework that BAKFDG operates on and I think this is the best implementation so far. 

Fighting Styles are divided up into four different Forms: Might (strong and tough), Flash (fast and agile), Tech (skilled and focused) and Arcane (using magic, mind bullets or similar non-physical combat abilities). The differences aren't huge, but they're enough to make your choice meaningful and even introducing a bit of strategy where fighting the right opponent can make a significant difference in battle. The inclusion of Hybrid forms (combining two of them together) gives even more options. 

I spent a lot longer pontificating on just that one aspect of the new draft, so I think I'll save the rest for a different post...which hopefully will be in just a day or two rather than the previous long wait.