June 24, 2012

Another Month, Another Update

We've got another simple one this time around. Links here and here.

General Changes:
-More typos fixed, a few things made to sound clearer, certain sample Gears were still illegal after recent changes. 
Character Creation:
-Clarification on how purchasing items works, plus you can now buy up to 10 PP of them per Arc. 
Mecha Construction:
-Clarified that Mental Link gives a singular Action for all of your Remotes.
-Slight buff to Challenger, the Penetration bonus works in all situations.
-More clarifications for Transform, again, yes.
-Added a Range 0¨for Duel-able Weapons, see Playing the Game.
-The Conditions Chain Reaction and Power Down were buffed to work off the Damage Result. All-Out Attack stats lowered in response.
-Extending Punch is no longer a Technique and is more of a reliable long range melee attack now.
-Modified Radiant Fist to be a better finisher move, its Penetration now scales with Tension.
-Buffed Vulcans with +2 Range.
-Ground Zero buffed with modifiable range to better represent its concept.
-Incinerator is now Reliable.
Playing the Game:
-Range 0 is now part of the rules as written. It still works just like it did before, invading another person's Zone makes it easier to hurt you but lets you shoot past them, and weapons that can be used in Duels now have the Range 0 distinction. 
Running the Show:
-Nothing! For once.

My favorites of the bunch are the modifications to Radiant Fist and the Conditions Chain Reaction and Power Down. Now they really hurt, and All-Out Attack can actually represent its original "You are already dead" concept. Radiant Fist deserves special mention, because I think that damage scaling with Tension makes for awesome finisher moves, even if it makes the combat math go bonkers, so I am testing it out by making it part of just this one Weapon and only with Penetration for the time being.

June 20, 2012

Intermissions as Operations

As a bonus other thing I would like to see modified, I want to add more depth to Intermissions, and hope to make encounters in them as fun as the Operations themselves. That would make it possible to run games in the style of the Giant Robo OVAs or Xenosaga, and let you save up the giant robots for those times when you want to make the robots an occasional thing, to keep them special.

The Intermission system right now is fairly robust, which is to say it can do nearly anything elegantly with a minimum of complications, but suffers from being fairly bland. Skills are like Weapons, but without any of the special effects, and Traits are like Upgrades that cannot be enhanced. Item rules are almost nonexistant, and in fact are simply Traits with a few extra rules attached. I also am being very generous by calling that extra paragraph "rules".

The upside to this is that, as advertised, you don't need to refer to the book a lot to roleplay Intermission scenes. You don't need special rules to research a weapon capable of countering the enemy's latest gimmick, you can just roll an Extended Academics Test and you'll probably find something of value eventually, nor does social combat function any different from normal physical combat at all; You just tell people enough unsavory things until they break down like the bad guys from a series of videogames featuring Ace Attorneys.

There is nothing wrong with this per se, but with all the range of viable choices and tactical depth present in Operations, it is a shame that all you really need to solve any kind of Intermission challenge (whether it is social, investigative, a battle, or of some other kind) is a high stat first, an appropriate skill second, and a trait to help out possibly maybe as a tertiary benefit.

Now, there are limits to how much more complexity I want. As far as items go, I would rather not invoke the common "Inventory minigame" traditional to RPGs, with ridiculously long shopping lists of items half of which are never going to be relevant. Things like that bog down character creation too much in a game where you already need to stat up TWO characters instead of one, so they are going to stay as Traits.

That said, Traits could stand to be more like Upgrades than they are right now, for one they could scale and improve over time, for two they could have more interesting mechanical effects. Most Traits are tied to flavor right now, and they tend to provide an Advantage when that flavor makes them beneficial to you. Keeping in mind that GGG is effects-based and more about cinematics than realism, what Traits need is to be able to cover the kinds of of scenarios that PCs usual face (from diplomancing to treating wounds to hacking databases) problems in a way that is mechanically interesting without being tied to overly-specific fluff.

For example, a common problem with many games in which you are expected to do investigation is that when the PCs fail their rolls to find a clue, the game comes down to a halt until someone figures out a new lead. Many games with investigation as a central theme give people a chance to automatically pass such checks at the cost of some other resource or a limited number of times, in this way they help to keep things moving without necessarily needing a derail of several hours to find another lead.

You can actually do this (or something like it) with the current rules, but by making specific mechanics for investigative Traits we can make them more interesting mechanically than, say, rewriting "Lucky" to apply only to Investigation Skill Tests.

The way Traits would improve like Upgrades is rather self-explanatory, an organization-themed Trait could be powered up to have more retainers the more PP you spend on it, and a style of martial arts will unlock the Secret Succession Technique sure to destroy any who fights you after it is fully enhanced.

We note down the kinds of things that a character could want to do, and make a category of Traits for each. Here's such a list, with a few examples.

-Combat (For people who want their martial artist or sniper to be unique mechanically)
-Healing (Like Support Upgrades, but for characters)
-Movement & Vehicles (Vehicles that can emphasize terrain versatility, combat viability, etc)
-Knowledge & Research (Various ways to get clues from the GM)
-Allies (From having dozens of mooks to a singular ally stronger than you are)

This is only a sample short list, but I hope it gets the point across. I frankly have no idea if this is going to work out, but it could add a lot of fun things to do in the game beyond robots.

June 15, 2012

Simplifying Combat

The main difference between a lot of mechs in a certain videogame franchise that shall not be named is that some of them dodge out of the way of enemy attacks, while others shrug them off with sheer toughness. By giving characters two sets of defensive stats - both obligatory - and making it so that characters have to balance between both or just choose one as their main defense, we can simulate this feature.

There is a small issue with the distinction between Evasion and Armor, however, which has been bothering me a little bit due to getting in the way of speed and flow of play. It is not an issue with Evasion and Armor per se, though, I am talking about the half-rollover Accuracy-to-Penetration mechanic. Not only the math involved is not elegant, but it also adds opportunities for confusion to arise with the GM. They either need to give you the precise excess bonus or the precise rollover for you to do the rest of the math, or simply tell you to roll and then do the math themselves. By splitting the damage process like this not only does it add waiting time until you get your Damage total (or fail to deal any Damage), it makes Armor that much better than Evasion and Accuracy much better than Penetration by default.

Now this last one isn't quite entirely true, the abilities out there that serve to counter Armor are usually that much better at brutally murdering specialists than the ones that counter Evasion, and there's a few that let you add your entire excess bonus to the Penetration roll to just make them even all the time. In this way, betting with Armor is usually going to pay off better, but when it doesn't then it just plain wrecks you. In theory anyway. In practice it is easier to counter anti-Armor measures as a specialist rather than to survive anti-Evasion enemies as the equivalent. This is for multiple reasons, from the higher survivability granted by a naturally higher Threshold to... well, the fact that if you're naturally sturdy then bouncing back from a fall is easier.

Point is, I'm not entirely happy with the way using Mixed Tests as the default for mecha Offensive Actions works right now. I see a few options to fix this little issue off the top of my head.

Bunch up up Evasion and Armor into a single defense:
-With a single roll you know your Damage and there is no room for miscommunication shenanigans
-It lets people fluff their defenses however the fuck they want, alternating between dodging and tanking is what mecha do in anime after all.
-The abilities that improve your offense or defense are that much more valuable since instead of each having a niche now they always help out.
-Damage is less explosive, since Tension no longer adds 1.5 or 2 points of damage per Round but 1.
-Having a single defensive stat sacrifices a lot of in-built flavor
-We sacrifice depth of gameplay, now there's that much less room for customization offensively and defensively.

Make Evasion the only defense but turn Armor into a damage reduction stat that runs off your Genre, much like Intermission defenses work:
-It is fast. Not as fast as the first, though.
-It gives Accuracy and Penetration clearly distinct functions, with the second one being akin to traditional damage bonuses.
-I'm already considering dumping that element from Intermissions, so there would be no longer anything to mirror after that.
-I really don't want to keep encouraging people to hoard up Genre.

Mixed Tests now roll all the relevant skills die at once and only add up the excess from the two rolls if they both pass:
-Fast, though the slowest of the bunch here.
-It makes Mixed Tests work better during Intermissions as the ridiculously swingy checks they're supposed to be.
-We keep the flavor of having both defenses.
-Ideally we wouldn't have to rebalance existing abilities much afterwards, we could potentially keep them as is, too.
-We lose some depth, though nowhere as much as with the first method.
-We now have two mechanics that are exactly the same by themselves and have lost all distinctive mechanical feel they once had, which is an utterly pointless thing to have outside of a flavor perspective. We can still make counters or enhancers for each work differently to help there, but it bugs me.

That said, we could try out weirder things. We could make different mecha attacks resist using different mecha defenses, in the same way physical/mental/emotional attacks have different defenses - though they would keep a single HP bar. I'm honestly leaning more towards combining the other options, though, as that is kind of wonky in multiple ways.

Mixed Tests could use the fix, but I do think that having a single roll for standard combat stuff is the way to go. At the same time, I don't want to lose the flavor of Evasion and Armor (not entirely, at least) nor the simplicity of unified mechanics (when I start to propose fancy subsystems as fixes, please shoot me), so I'll have to think on this matter for a bit.

June 3, 2012

Points in the Middle

Genre Points add to your survivability by reducing the damage your Plot Armor takes during an Intermission, they are the only modifier to Initiative in the game, and - of course - fuel Genre Powers during mecha Operations. They are the one mechanic that links the Pilot with the Mecha by design, and in doing so they also ensure that PCs are that much better than the average NPC. So far, so good.

The problem with the benefits that Genre Points provide is that they're contradictory. You want to stack and conserve them to be unbeatable in the ground and to avoid having to use them out in the field as much as possible. As a stopgap measure, Genre Points reset back to three at the end of every Arc to at least encourage people to not worry about this for longer than a few sessions at a time, but the issue is still present: You don't want to use Genre Powers.

Given that they are one of the game's key features, I think that is a bit of a problem. There is also the issue that, for all the wacky things you can do with Genre in your robot, Points cannot be spent to do any cool stuff at all in Intermissions. Not even rerolls. While I don't intend for every power to have a pilot-scale equivalent effect, some way to be able to contribute to Intermissions would be nice - specially if we're diminishing or removing their defensive contribution.

Luckily, there are a ton of relatively simple to implement solutions to these issues, some of which I have already posted - though they were intended as variant systems to replace the Episode Arc structure and as such don't address more than that. Unfortunately they have considerable drawbacks to them, such as removing the Episode Arc structure entirely. The most obvious solution of all, to simply remove the bonuses granted to Defenses, makes it so that NPC enemies have a very easy time murdering the PCs thanks to Tension bonuses. Fixing this by increasing PC Defenses in turn messes up the math with the DNs and starting Modifiers from Attributes and Skills, though perhaps Genre Points can be spent to mitigate some of that.

While I generally like to stick to the simplest and most elegant solution, there isn't a satisfactory one here from what I can see. Redoing some of the Intermission math would be preferrable to avoiding the issue and sticking to half baked resolutions, and I am thinking of combining multiple ideas into one.

This was my first idea:

-Defenses are now a fixed number independent of Genre Points, a 5/8/11 array that cannot be boosted with further PP.
-A Genre Point may be spent to reroll any one Test at an Advantage or to force someone else to reroll one Test with a Disadvantage, you may do this any number of times per Intermission or even per Scene, but only once per Test.
-Genre Points spent during Intermissions turn into Temporary Genre Points at the beginning of the very next Operation, still providing a bonus to Initiative.

This one fixes all issues in a relatively elegant way, unmodifiable Defenses hurt a bit (specially the one at 5) but you can still buff up your Plot Armor and can now force the higher rolls made against you to pretty much fail. Why stop there, though? Another alternative also springs to mind, a slightly more radical one:

-Genre Points are now a fixed number (starting at three) that is reset after each Operation. The number increases with every Arc by one. You can still gain more by roleplaying, but they will be reset back to three if you don't use them the next chance you get.
-Defenses use the fixed numbers from current Plot Armor (the 4/5/6 array) and can be boosted with PP up to 10 times, Plot Armor now runs off your Attribute entirely and may not be upgraded further.
-You can spend a Genre Point to roll an additional d10 on top of a Test you have already rolled, or to add 5 to the DN of any one Test (as in the optional rules for stacking Advantages and Disadvantages), you may do this multiple times per Intermission or Scene but only once per Test.
-Genre Points spent during Intermissions turn into Temporary Genre Points at the beginning of the very next Operation, still providing a bonus to Initiative.

This one changes the flow of gameplay to a much more faster paced one. Sure, Defenses can get much higher and every character with Genre can now outright say "No." to anything by increasing DNs on the spot, but you can also overpower them that much harder. Potentially, anyway. The one issue I have with this is that it might get repetitive since the same Powers might be spammed every single Operation, likely in the same order to boot.

I don't think either of these is going to make the final cut though, but they're a start, and will probably both help shape the final version.

June 1, 2012

You are doing WHAT?

Because I just cannot stop making games, my next experiment is a fantasy heartbreaker dnd retroclone. I intend to use it to see how well some of GGG's conceptual strengths fare in a different context, as well as to try out some ideas I've had around for possibly improving the game next.

Anybody who is familiar with both DnD and GGG can tell the results are probably going to be terrible/amazing/hilarious. For now, it is just a short writeup, I will have to add proper rules later.

And no, it is not going to delay further updates, since they'll be on the simpler side of things for a while as previously announced.

Copyrights & Dragons

Mission Statement
To make a game that sticks to traditional D&D tone and feel while also taking the gameplay in a new direction.

Design Principles
-Stick to the legacy things I hate about D&D that I could maybe perhaps like if they were implemented differently, but throw away the things that are just plain annoying to play with.
-Much like how 4E made people care about the battlefield I want to give the game a twist, and I will be making combat revolve around timing your powers and using them at the right time during the ebb and flow of combat.
-Do away with the arms race style of traditional progression and focus on conditional abilities that add versatility instead.
-Streamline a lot, you should be able to remember all the rules after a single read through the book, disregarding individual abilities.
-Make it clear that PCs are heroes capable of taking on armies, with mechanics for them tending towards success, and to make combat fun whether it is versus hordes, bosses, or a duel against a rival foe of similarly mythic proportions.

Pretty minimalistic. You are a Hero, you might not be a well known one yet, but there already are bards singing tales of your exploits somewhere and you damn well deserve them. Only a few individuals become the stuff of legends, and it is rarely intentional. Some gained their fame after saving a community from a pack of raiders, others are rumored to be the bastard offspring of a Deity with a mortal, and a certain few are perhaps just lucky enough to be wielding items of untold power. No matter the origin, Heroes are the stuff epics are born from... if they live long enough to see their tales through.

-Characters have the six traditional Ability Scores, which are fixed after character creation. Then there's Hit Points (possibly to be renamed) and Action Points which are both variable. Ability Scores thusly serve as what other editions have as Skills, Defenses, etc.
-Core resolution is rolling a d20 under your ability score. This replaces BAB, Skill Ranks, etc.
-There are no modifiers for easier/harder tasks, but you may spend AP to succeed at any task whose roll you have failed and a 'harder' task makes it so you have to spend more AP. You are heroes, after all, you can damn well do anything you put your mind to if you try hard enough.
-AP are a PC's lifeblood. They can be regained by doing things according to the PC's Alignment (d20 Modern style Alignment) aka not-Aspects.
-Powers are in, nearly all of them require the spending of AP, and depending on their category repeating their use in the same combat will either be impossible, suffer heavy penalties, or be actually free to pull off.
-Combat (whether it is physical, social or otherwise) has a Flow system which keeps track of how many rounds have passed. Flow is a measure of the rising tension in combat as people make mistakes, enemies seize each other's weaknesses, and moves get easier to read. As Flow goes higher some of your Powers grow stronger, others become weaker, and things generally change a lot.
-Central to a PC is their Power Source, it serves as a template which they can use to channel their AP in different ways. Arcane PCs can enhance their Powers metamagic style with extra AP, Divine PCs are at best when taking action in name of their alignment, to give a few examples.
-Races and Classes both provide a PC with a tree of Powers to take after each level up. Controller types are better at high Flow when they can get their doomsday spells just right, Strikers rely on low-Flow hit and run tactics, and so on.
-Feats are out, everything that actually requires rules is a Power and is active. If it is not a Power, you can roll an Ability Check for it.
-As for items, you are assumed to possess most kinds of mundane gear, with magical equipment being equivalent in rarity and usefulness to a Power, and acquired by the same means.
-NPCs come in three forms: Minions, Elites and Mythics. Minions are unnamed and have minimal statblocks, Elites are named characters and just like PCs complete with having names and tales about them and everything, while Mythics are monsters of legend with puzzle-like elements to them.