Monday, May 14, 2012

I Love Mechanics Mondays: Advantages and Disadvantages

Ryan Macklin got to writing about advantages and disadvantages a little while ago, and basically said everything that I would have said for what I wanted. To reiterate his key points, disadvantages:

  1. They should always fucking matter. No such thing as a free lunch.
  2. If you tie it to character currency[i.e., build points], whether getting some more or paying some, you’re encouraging uninteresting — no, I’ll go as far as to say bullshit — behavior.
  3. The player should not be powerless to incorporate them, especially if they are tied to a reward cycle.
  4. And frankly, let’s tie them to reward cycles, whether it’s growth currency (XP) or competence currency (things like Fate points).
The principle reason being is that disadvantages put the work on the GM, generally, to take advantage of them, so they should be few in number. Advantages? Well, the player will WANT to remember to implement those at every opportunity.

Advantages got less attention - I think my favorite implementation, at least conceptually has been Adventure!'s implementation, which effectively added a sixth dot. This supercharged the advantage - You didn't have Resources: 6, you had "Wealth Beyond Avarice"; you didn't have "Contacts: 6" you had "Kingpin" and so on and so forth. The idea of titles and names for these backgrounds traits just caught my imagine, and even years later I have a certain fondness for the concept of playing a Daredevil who's power is buried in the wealth of backgrounds.

I think my ideal would be a four tiered system - something that gave you a minor/moderate/major advantage in a conflict or challenge, with the fourth tier being "overwhelming", and basically if you weren't equally matched in advantages you were going to lose. For something like resources it would be something like $100/$1000/10,000/500,000 of extra spending money or something equally ridiculous. Overwhelming should break the step increases.

Monday, May 7, 2012

I Love Mechanics Mondays: Your Turn to Go!

A friend of mine was posting about the sweet spot of rules for him, a subject on which he and I can disagree all day long as we have some fundamental disagreements, but something he brought up was the tick based initiative from Scion (and 2nd Edition Exalted).

The idea is fairly simple. Instead of combat being broken into rounds, there is only combat. Every action in that round takes a certain amount of time, and you just keep actions. Someone might take three quick actions to your slow two actions, or something might take an amazingly quick action.

Which got me to pondering all the various types of ways to determine who goes when, and what I liked from them.

The simplest is just some version of "Initiative, everyone goes at the same time" chaotic and silly, and gets into trouble when people start trying to interrupt each other. Plus the tactical decisions that this choice brings just does not interest me.

Next simplest is going in order of an attribute or skill. Reign used this one using a "Sense" attribute, or Fate with Alertness. Not one I'm a fan of, but it is simple.

Next up is roll a die, add a modifier. One of the most traditional, it is simple, fast, and effective. Can be incredibly "swingy" from one round to the next (if rolled every round) or one combat to the next (if rolled once per combat) if the die roll is significant larger than the modifier. Only question is whether you go for the simpler version of rolling once per combat or once per round.

One neat system is probably the one introduced to me by 7th Sea. Roll a number of d10 equal to an attribute. Each die tells you which segment (of 10 per round) you go on. Roll 1, 2, 3 you'll go on the 1st, 2nd, and third segments. Roll 1, 7, 12, well those are the segments you'll go on. I liked the back and forth and flurry of actions  - it seemed to suit the swashbuckling mood well.

Marvel Heroic Roleplaying has an interesting system: "Choose." Players decide which person goes first for whatever reason (tactical advantage, narrative truth, what have you) and then that person who chooses who goes next - this includes the opposition, so you don't want to leave them towards the end of the round else they'll all go, and then go immediately again the next round for a double whammy. Neat, but very system/setting specific.

Finally, the tick method, where each action has a cost till the next time you go. Some actions are fast, and other actions are slower. I've heard that Feng Shui uses this, by giving a number of beads/counters and each "tick" you remove a bead till you act, and then gain a new number of beads.

So what do I like?

In my heart of hearts, I like the tick based method, for how it emphasizes timing as the critical tactical decision versus location or other decisions. The problem is that it is very hard to balance "right", frequently it becomes a race to the fastest action as quickly as you can, and you need to find a way to put a hard floor in how fast an action can happen. If all actions, generally, run between 3 and 6 ticks, then you are fine; however, if can get people down to 1 or maybe 2 ticks the balance issues change significantly.

Plus, I haven't seen an implementation that a wide variety of people understand easily. And really, that's my goals for rules nowadays, easy, straightforward rules systems that folks get.

Which is why I keep coming back to 7th Sea's implementation. It allows for multiple actions. It is simple and kinetic (and I do like kinetics in my dice, where every die means something even if it is just a lot of potential you can feel in your hands) and it is easy to keep track of, if dice intensive. Savage Worlds/Deadlands usage of cards is similar, where the players are dealt a number of cards, and go in order from highest card to lowest card, but I find that a touch less elegant as it requires another item to track, and the actions are a bit random due to the die mechanics, at least in Deadlands, first you roll dice, then you figure out how many cards you get. Far more complicated than "Roll x dice, go on those moments", though, the latter doesn't allow for someone to suddenly get a burst of speed, at least not natively in the rule's set at least.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Modeling Conflict: The Role of Will

A little bit ago (as this was supposed to go up last week), Rob Donoghue posted bit on Why Anime Conflict is Hard. And while I responded there, it did get at something I've been looking for in games since I was introduced to the idea that something beyond mere skills and natural abilities might affect a conflict.

The earliest incident that I was introduced to was probably White Wolf's willpower. Where your drive to succeed, you will, could actually make you better at a skill. Heroquest for all that it is a horrible system for what I actually want out of a game, is wonderful in the conceptualization - where Death Ray at 16 is just as useful as Love for my Family at 16. Where what you might feel for a person, place, or thing might be as useful as what you know what to do, or what natural ability you were born with. Unknown Armies had the three passions - Fear, Anger, and Noble. So on and so forth.

But to bring this back to the post - how do you quantify Will? How do quantify someone wanting something more (and it still, maybe not being enough).

White Wolf probably has it best - Willpower gives you more dice to throw, which generally changes the odds. A trick might be to adjudicate how many willpower points you are willing to spend. Normally you can only spend 1 willpower; however, if something you care about (like your life) is threatened you can spend 2 willpower; and ultimately, if it is something that you are willing to die to protect, you can spend 4 willpower. 

Fate allows something similar, where you can always spend a fate point for a +1; but if you have an aspect related, you can get a +2 or a reroll.

The other alternative is "What are you willing to risk?" If a mechanic could somehow push the results up a notch, but let you keep trying to succeed. However, that gets back into conflict resolution on a scene level; where the conflict is resolved and you get to determine how you succeeded. And unfortunately, that's why a lot of books/anime/movies are best resolved at the scene resolution level rather than on a task by task basis, because it is so very hard to come up with a system that can do this sort of thing on a task level.

So what's my ideal? A system that factors in the why as much as the what. That normally, everyday things are just some roll of the dice. However, when things really, truly matter, then you can accomplish amazing feats. However, especially in the nature of fighting anime, I still want someone who is merely rolling base dice, if they are good enough, to be able counteract all that will; it should not be will alone.

White Wolf's Willpower allows for some of that; unfortunately, the pool refreshes too slowly/is to limited for much of what I want. Something to ponder as I continue working on things in my brain. Because yes, of course, I am trying to build the perfect system for me.