January 27, 2013

A Tribute to Player Agency, part one.

I have no idea when the next update is going to be, or am even sure of what is going to be in it, so might as well talk a bit about how the last one and how its many changes came about, their whys and hows. The most obvious (and probably biggest) one is that to Attributes and, by association, to Skills. But where to begin?

Well, how about at the beginning?

The first thing I knew I wanted to change for pilot rules was to make Awareness a new stat. The old rules for Defenses weren't panning out too well, the math worked in a vacuum but it was easy to powergame and (more importantly) the process of powergaming led you to not take risks and wasn't very fun. Then there's how some of the rules for resisting things weren't quite as gripping as I wanted them to be. A character on the defensive had no input on resisting social combat other than increasing their Genre or Plot Armor, while the character on the offense could actually roll for it and also apply oh-so-many Skills and Traits and Tension to it plus whatever other stuff that could apply.

The main reason the game did not have Awareness at first was because I wanted stats to be a proactive thing, something you go out and use to make things happen instead of a mechanic that would cause the opposite. And Awareness is, for the most part, a stat that doesn't get much done. Sure, there's a few Skills and Miracles here and there, but by and large Awareness is there to contribute to your Defense and to be rolled against other Skills or Defenses.

Awareness as a stat is, therefore, a lot less powerful but paradoxically a lot more necessary to the average character - everyone needs a modicum of Defense. That's why I figured it would have to be cheap, so it would not cost you an arm and a leg in PP to buff it up a little just to be safe. That way it does not get in the way of all the other stuff you want to get for your character.

I didn't completely figure out how Defenses were going to work out until a while later though, but after coming up with the idea for Awareness I thought maybe I could also have a Willpower stat. The way I saw it, it would handle the defensive stuff Awareness wouldn't make sense to roll with, plus let me rework the Plot Armor rules a little bit. Unlike Defenses Plot Armor was thing I wasn't too dissatisfied with, it was just... boring. You had three HP tracks to improve. How fun and exciting. Yippie. Ki. Yay.

So! Awareness worked for noticing things meant to trick or entrap you, while Willpower would be used to resist doing something against your will. Pretty simple. This way convincing a really stubborn but careless person to see things your way is harder than just lying to them, and with a high enough Willpower you can actually resist torture instead of having too much mental HP for them to bother with. Plus, it is a mecha anime game, yelling really loud and being gutsy is kind of A Thing that should be legit cool. It then joined Awareness in being a cheap stat for pretty much the same reasons.

So how did they actually come together into the new rules for Defense and Plot Armor? First I had to figure out whether I wanted to keep separate tracks of Damage or not, and that was the part that took the longest time to figure out. See, I thought it would be cool if you could add up your Fitness to your Awareness for your Physical Defense and Fitness to your Willpower for your Physical Plot Armor. It made sense and seemed like a logical update to the old rules, and for the longest time that was what I ran with... Except it didn't play out too well.

There was no way the numbers worked out in a way that was satisfactory. If stats kept their scale between 1 and 5 ish you were looking at very, very squishy characters. A single result of 10 (Not even a die roll of 10, just a total result) would have dealt 7 Damage to someone of average defenses, which is enough to take out two Plot Armor Layers. This was more manageable with the modern scale for stats, but had the issue of making the characters with higher stats ridiculous. We're talking of Defenses in their 20's coupled up with the corresponding Plot Armor being somewhere of at least 10. Might as well not bother with actual rules and just say 'The character is impervious, don't even bother' at that point.

It was at that point that I started thinking maybe I should honestly drop the separate Defenses and Plot Armor types idea, because all other options were weird as all hell. If the three different types shared the same numbers the distinction would have been pointless, and averaging two stats to get a Defense didn't really fix anything in the long term. In the end, while separate tracks added a little bit more to the gameplay, I figured the simplicity of the ground level rules was a high point of the game and chose to stick with that.

So I kept it to one Defense and a general Plot Armor track. The next thing was making them not suck because boy those numbers could get really low. It was at this point that I got really sold on the idea of an Attribute scale going all the way up to 10 and maybe a bit higher. Why? Well, I would answer in depth but this post is getting pretty long as is and I haven't even started talking about Resources, Skills or Traits yet.

I'm going to be splitting this up into three parts, with the next one focusing on some nuts and bolts of the math involved in the process. Until then, may your defense match your offense.

January 13, 2013

Sweet 1.6

It has been roughly one year and about ten updates since the first release, and things have changed a lot since then. But I think things are looking pretty stable from now on. This one's got a good number of small adjustments in addition to the big stuff. The 1.4 rules changes have seen enough action I'm confident in making what I think will be the last batch of those for a while.

Have a link.

General Changes
-More fixes regarding making the early chapters universally readable without knowing what a Gear or Avatar is. Also Dramatic Themes got changed to Genre Themes.
-The return of the Quick Rules Reference sheets.

Character Creation
-Rescaled Attributes and added three new ones.
-Modified how Defenses and Plot Armor Work. 
-Modified the way Skills and Traits work.
-Added Miracle Skills representing supernatural talents.
-Added more Traits.
-Rewrote Equipment Rules.
-Determinator now ignores the effects of Maiming for a Round.
-Nerfed Impregnable Defense.
-Changed Imagination is the Limit to Hidden Power

Mecha Construction
-Increased Chassis starting Attributes a little.
-Moved suitable Features to the beginning of this chapter.
-Made Anti-Gravity cheaper.
-Removed the Terrain Adaptabilities that are also Features.
-Nerfed Stealth Field.
-Buffed Alternate Forms a tiny bit.
-Buffed Sidekicks.
-Nerfed Expansion Pack and Assistant slightly.
-Rewrote Combination Upgrades. Again.
-Small nerfs to Armor Breaker and Bombardment.
-Buffed Interference Cloud a little.

Playing the Game
-Added a clarification on how Advantages and Disadvantages work.
-Reworked Disruption and Mixed Tests. 
-New type of basic Terrain: Base.

Running the Show
-Adjusted Enemy Generation to new Pilot rules.
-Expanded Grunt and Boss versatility a little.

Good thing I explained the how and why of Pilot changes in broad last week, because that saves me from making this post comparable to a script dump of the average Hideo Kojima title, and I want to touch on the Mecha stuff a little. Base stats went up to further differentiate the four types from one another, since their expected survivability was more or less the same against non-specialized weapons, give or take a Turn. 

This was because I did not want defensive builds to be really, really difficult to crack, and because things are more fun when people are affecting each other than when they aren't. Thus the default was that you could increase your defenses to be very tough to take down, but anyone could just mirror your efforts by spending the same points in corresponding offensive buffs and keep you in line.

Where this kinda failed was that nearly every defensive Genre Power was ditched a while ago, so a character who intended to be good defensively had to not just fight offensive stats, but also Tension and nearly every Power under the sun. A starting Evasion of 18 is not very intimidating when your regular-use Weapon has a total Accuracy of +6, has an in-built Advantage under conditions that aren't very tough to reach, and you have dozens of ways to give them another Advantage to roll 2d10 instead of 1d10 and Tension is going to make it harder to dodge every Round.

So nearly everyone has wildly different survivability rates now against different Enemies, for the most part I increased defenses, but everyone received a small boost to offenses as well just to keep the stonewall uber alles in check, plus a boost to Energy since it can be used either way. Energy costs have been decreased enough for everything in general that Assistant no longer needs to be the crutch to end all crutches, and will be fine giving you points back 50% of the time and double that much another 10%.

The transfer of Features from enemy-and-maybe-PC-material to the mecha section is a stealth buff to Alternate Forms, since they cost 0, you can now get a lot of mileage out of those by only spending the requisite 3/5 UP. It also makes Imagination is the Limit absolutely fucking ridiculous, more than it already was, so now it plays to a different trope and has to declare what it wants to do beforehand.

Lastly there's Combiners, who are in a fierce competition with Transformers to see who gets to have the most changes to their rules, and I admit making those work in a way that makes sense and is elegant has been tough. Combiners should now play better to their Genre conventions while having an unique mechanical role to call their own. God Combination is very distinctive from Unison Combination, as opposed to one of them being better than the other, and Component Unit lets you make those G-Falcons and Laganns with as little fuss as possible.

Next time I hope to bring a lot less balance changes and a lot more prebuilt NPCs and Enemy creation/usage advice.

January 6, 2013

New Year, New Version... Preview.

Pretty much everything that worried me about the changes to pilots has turned out to be working just fine, so the next update will be coming out soon enough. The main deciding factor for a release next week would be whether I can get Dota 2 to work again getting proper editorial duties in motion to ensure the pdf contains language recognizable by the human brain and not just a misshapen doppelganger of it. In lieu of that, here's a bird's eye view of the changes to pilots and intermissions for your perusal.


Attributes are no longer graded roughly from 0 to 5, but from 1 to 10 instead. Where a 1 is absolutely terrible and 10 is the peak of human ability. We still have Fitness, Intellect and Empathy but they've been joined by three secondary stats that are cheaper in Awareness, Willpower, and Resources

The aim with the three new Attributes is to add a bit of depth to characters, allowing more control over things that previously you couldn't have much of a say on. You now get to roll Awareness to spot a trap or catch a lie, instead of just praying it doesn't go through your Defense, for instance. Willpower similarly would be used when you want to resist torture or walk through fire, without leaving it all up to the offensive roll. Resources, meanwhile, streamlines equipment rules a bit and handles things like wealth and contacts without leaving them entirely to the realm of abstraction.

It boils down to "More interaction = More fun." with a bit of extra PC customization on the side. The only thing that might be raising some questions is why the change in scale. That has to do with Skills. Speaking of which...

Skills are no longer a bonus from 1 to 5, now they're Advantages to their respective Tests. They can give from one to two Advantages to all appropriate Tests, and being untrained simply means not having any Advantages to your Test. Test no longer feels like a word by now. That said, they are more expensive now, which is why Specializations do the same thing but are cheaper, instead of being kinda good and kinda bad.

This cleans up the math a lot. No, it wasn't particularly difficult before the change, but tracking 6 items is easier than a full dozen. For the most part the benefit is that it allows Attributes to be the workhorse for basically everything. I can use Attributes do all sorts of things from a design standpoint, and a PC can Test an Attribute raw without needing to add a Skill bonus on top just to avoid sucking.
Also of note are Miracle Skills, what used to be the old Aberrant Skills, for psychic power shenanigans and assorted juju. They are exactly the same as regular Skills, except that their use always takes off some of your Plot Armor whether you fail or pass. Danger! Excitement! More on Plot Armor later!


Most of the old Traits came back, after a cost reshuffle and power adjusting where necessary, and they are a lot more like Upgrades now. Most have an unique effect applicable a limited number of times per session. But there is a good number of new Traits too, mostly for those dealing with new Attributes.

It does not stop there though! There's also specific categories for Traits known as Deathblows and Assets. Deathblows are modifiers to an Offensive Test that let you make an attack more accurate, hit multiple enemies at once, or stunning them for a little while. Assets encourage the use of Resources more aggressively, throwing around the weight of bribes or political backing to things you want done now, as long as you are willing to repay the favor later. Both Deathblows and Assets are cheap, ranging from 1 to 5 in PP, since their use is much more limited than that of Skills or other Traits.

Equipment is also listed under Traits, and the only significant changes would be that it is now more streamlined thanks to Resources, and that characters without significant Resources cannot access chemical weapons or suits of power armor. 

Defense and Plot Armor

These have been revamped entirely. You have only one Defense and only one type of Plot Armor, and both work off your stats, leaving your Genre alone. Awareness contributes to Defense, while Willpower is much like Mecha Threshold. There's also only three Layers to Plot Armor now, for Damage that lasts Scenes, Episodes, and Arcs. There's also no more Consequences attached to said Damage, so it is simpler to work with.

As amazing as I personally found it to yell at people until they had hilarious meltdowns Phoenix Wright-style, the game is probably better off tracking only physical damage and mental integrity, so that's what Plot Armor shields you from. At least by default, no one is saying there cannot be a Miracle that makes you piss off people so bad they throw their toupee at you screaming bloody vengeance, but that's later.

Overall this boils down to simpler, cleaner interactions with things - or the ability to interact at all. Deathbows make ground-level combat a bit more fun for anyone who actually wants an emphasis on that, and Assets outright solve problems for stalled groups, at a price.

There's also been a few changes to Mecha rules - nothing really big, but still red-text worthy - which I'll talk more about when the Update proper strikes, because that's what everyone cares more about anyway. For the most part we're looking at a few increases to starting stats (mostly on the defensive side of things), revamped, Combinations that should represent the thing they're trying to be in a more clean and faithful fashion, and some Features being added to the Mecha Construction section (replacing Terrain Adaptability where necessary), plus the usual small balance adjustments here and there and oh look I wrote a whole paragraph about it anyway let's cut that short now.