Sunday, March 13, 2011

Simpler = Better

I'm starting to come to the conclusion that it is much better to start small and simple than elaborate and grandiose.

This may appear to a be a "no brainer" to most folks...certainly, it would seem to be wisdom that I myself already know (or can certainly grasp) can just be difficult to actualize it, and it's certainly a challenge to execute it without losing the nuance that you want.

And here I am specifically talking about game design. I started writing up a typical, long-winded post yesterday describing the actual play events from Thursday's play-test of the new game. But as I formulated my thoughts on how to describe what happened, I began thinking more and more about what worked and (much more importantly) what didn't.

So I didn't get around to finishing the post. Instead, I was up till 3 in the morning figuring out how to get more of what did work into the game, and where I needed to cut "the other stuff."

There was a lot left on the cutting room floor...including most of the magic system as written.

That's pretty shocking considering the fact I had the magic chapter (and system) sewed up weeks ago, and completely finished (as far as text goes) even before LAST week. And even more shocking considering there has been almost ZERO magic use in the entire play-test.

One enemy mage cast one spell. It did some damage. End of story.

And NOW the system is getting the axe...or rather, it's getting a sever hatchet job. Charisma, as an "all powerful stat" for magicians has had the rug pulled out from under it.

And why exactly is that? Well, the reasons are actually a lot more complicated than the solution. Here are the problems that arose in the game:

1. The planning and "communicating-plan-with-GM" phase got completely bogged down. That was the biggest drag on the whole evening (in my opinion). As I said in my last post, I now see the wisdom in having a "Caller" for any group larger than three or four...and probably even for those sizes. More Moldvay scouring is definitely needed, as well as a few scratch rules on how it ought to work.

2. Though the problem hasn't arisen yet, issue #1 gives rise to one of the first reasons to change the magic system. If the Caller is (generally) the character with the highest Charisma score, that's going to make the party magician the defacto Caller more often than not. Why? Because cybernetic implants destroy a character's Charisma (one becomes "more machine than man") and Charisma is the lifeblood of magicians (determining their power level), making it double likely that they will have the highest CHA in the group...and I don't WANT that to always be the case. I want sleezy magicians and corrupt magicians and irritable, unlikable magicians to all be possibilities. Not every wizard needs to be "jolly old Gandalf," for goodness sakes!

3. Combat needs to be even more streamlined than it already is. It's not "bad," per se, but it's got too many moving parts. This was silly of me. I ended up skipping or glossing over or forgetting several of those "moving parts in our play-test in the interest of pacing, and the fact of the matter is that I want the game to move along briskly and not get bogged down in of the reasons I started designing this game was because I was frustrated with Shadowrun (and other games of the genre) bogging down when the theme of the game often involves wham-bam action on top of the intrigue and double-crosses.

My main mistake in this regard? Trying to write Shadowrun in terms of the "B/X system." What I ended up with is pretty much that, right down to having two separate damage tracks (Hit Points and Endurance Points mimicking "Physical and Mental Damage"). Ugh. Guess what...we're scrapping Endurance altogether. Damage is damage, and it's all going into Hit Points.

4. And because of THAT I needed to re-write the fatigue rules for casting spells. *sigh*

5. Skills needed re-vamping. Here's a place where I tossed out a terrible system (Shadowrun and most other "skill based systems") and put in a re-vamped but not-all-that-great system (namely, B/X thief skills with their ascending percentages). Unfortunately, the latter is dumb...there's just too much chance of failure at low levels, and applying it across all skill areas (computer use, demolitions, vehicle piloting, etc.) makes the characters all look like a bunch of incompetents. In the play-test we had the computer expert failing to hack very routing, non-secure systems, and a demolitions expert incorrectly building a bomb for another character (with the expected results of such a SNAFU).

This is NOT what I want to see happen. I now have more of an idea why the "real grognards" HATE the addition of the thief class. If characters formulate a decent plan and carry it out, success shouldn't based on the single roll of percentile dice under a 25% or 30% chance. Hitting a guy with AC 3 isn't even that hard for a 1st level character (especially with an ability bonus). I've got a couple different things I'm considering for these skills (including junking "percentile rolls" all you have the skill? or not?). But I haven't decided yet.

6. Speeding up combat (again): I've decided I'm going to implement some of my "mook rules" from my B/X space opera least with regard to certain combat traits. I'm also thinking that my rules for shock/stun need to be greatly simplified (duh) well as finding a way to distinguish between lethal and non-lethal damage while only having one "damage track" (hit points). I think I've got it worked out, but it'll be needing a bit of play-testing.

Of course.
; )


  1. makes the characters all look like a bunch of incompetents.

    characters for wfrp all feel like this when they start out. you actually get used to it. (human average is 31%) spend some xp on relevant skills and stats, and you might be looking at a 60% chance (for a character you might consider 2nd level!).

    even with the lowly 31%, if you add blessings or spells or luck rerolls and it doesn't look so bad anymore. not sure if your system offers any similar options though (implants, magic, "focus", karma)...

    if a plan depends on 1 guy doing something successfully, i don't see why there shouldn't be significant risk of that guy failing (and ruining the original plan, resulting in chaos, which should always be fun :)).

    another simple fix is making basic tasks automatic (hacking a gameboy), only testing for tough or risky actions, and also letting characters know if they failed at something (the bomb!), if they have time to evaluate their work.

  2. A lot of skill checks in B/X are based on d6 (open doors, search etc) so you could go with that direction. I agree though that less is more when it comes to skills. Perhaps having a skill should mean automatic success at any but the hardest things. So the skill check is only for doing *exceptional* things.

    You could go with non-lethal damage working like subdual damage. That's already in the game and is similar to the dual track system - without being dual track. Temporary Constitution damage might also be an option, and would make a certain amount of sense.

  3. You could adopt something like Hackmaster Basic's skill rules - I.E, the difficulty of the task adds a multiplier to the skill percentage. If you make it very simple, it could be something like; Chances for easy tasks (Skill %x2) and very hard tasks are at (Skill %x0.5) where the base score is just for standard checks.

    This may be a bit clunky for what you want, though...

  4. Hello, a few unsolicited ideas from UWoM:

    * Skills: I made it a point to explain to the GM that rolls are only for when the possibility of failure would then result in a truly negative consequence.
    --Next, I explained that a base of 50% or so was assumed, and that the listed percentages (at the time I wrote for the OSR) were added to the base %, and that a task was considered solved if 100% were reached (roll-high), and that other tasks needed more or less than 100%. This gives you as GM more flexibility when determining difficulties and consequences. My system has abandoned all d10's and straight %d in favour of 2d12 and an chart, but the premise is still the same: 100% is success in normal circumstances, and occurs on average 50% of the time.

    * Two Types of Damage, One Track: I have Alertness and Performance. Alertness Effects could range from having a bag pulled over your head, to suffering intense pain, to the effect of using one's (in my case, Dynamic Pool) powers such that they drain the character without actually damaging the character.
    --Performance is anything that inhibits physical action: Entangling attacks, stunners that also paralyse the muscles, poison coursing through one's veins, a short sword through the gut, etc.

    There is only one total (DP for my game), and two tracks based on the same total. When Alertness drops, other features suffer, but until unconsciousness sets in (roughly 67% of the total), the character can go on, but at a linear penalty. Once at KO, unless it happened suddenly, the PC is on the floor. Coma is the worst Alertness Effect result.
    --Performance involves blood loss, and heavy blood loss, and unconsciousness (at the same level as Alertness), and Dying. Most folks are KO'd by that time, although the dying soliloquy is possible if the damage was sudden rather than cumulative.

    Little check marks and totals for each level remove the need to track each 'hp' of damage; once greater than the previous level, the next worse/better effects transpire.

    As magic can be powered by Alertness, mages and powered individuals have to gamble whether their efforts will yield more effect in total than their piecemeal participation without the 'big spell'.

    Further, PCs can push any attempt by 'burning' DP. Every 4DP so used yields +1d6 added to the Action Roll results. Of course, I let Players spend 8DP each after the fact to boost an already rolled Action Roll, if they feel it is worth it. Heh-heh.

    I hope my unsolicited examples help you come to a totally different, much more K.I.S.S. Old Skool solution. :D

  5. I forgot to add that the current Performance total sets the new maximum for Alertness, as boo-boos often really distract folks. :)

  6. When I was a teen, my friends and I developed a simple RPG which we titled "The Nasty Assassin". Roll 3d6 for your characters stats (ripped right from D&D), roll your hit points, roll your AC and weapon damage. You could wear anything you wanted, do anything you wanted and shoot fireballs out your ass if you wanted. Any time you tried to do something that required a die roll you rolled a d20 against the appropriate stat. Roll lower, WIN! Roll higher, YOU SUCK! Every game was free flowing, characters could take any path they wished and there were no books to consult. DM had final ruling.

    THAT was easy roleplaying! :)

  7. @ Pavo: I've played D6 type games like that before.

    @ Reynaldo: That's the kind of thing I am trying to avoid.

    @ Stuart and TS (re skills): The roles already take into account "automatic" stuff, and rolls only being needed when in danger of failure doing bad things (like a bomb maker blowing himself up). Even so, I'm feeling like ANY chance of failure is too much, unless there actual bullets whizzing overhead.

    @ Stu: There are still all the D6 type actions in the game...these work great! I do not consider kicking in a door to be a "skill."
    ; )

    @ TS (re damage tracks): Pretty cool idea, though I'd probably just scrap Awareness and keep Performance (a bag over the head affects one's performance, right?). It may be a little chewier than I want (I'm trying to keep damage tracking and dice adjustments minimal), but definitely food for the ol' noggin.
    : )

  8. For excellent 2d6 B/X inspiration check out


  9. I'm becoming a bigger fan of simplicity, myself.

  10. I'm not sure you need to define a separate stat for exhaustion/non-lethal damage. It can come from the same pool, but just recover faster. You, as the DM would need to track that Waldo Deathgoat had taken 12 points of non-lethal damage or whatever, but as far as the player was concerned, he'd still only have x hp, regardless of the damage type.

    This is already modeled in the abstraction of hit points....that exhaustion slows you just enough that the next bullet you would have otherwise dodged ends up in your brain instead. It makes as much sense as any of it, imo.

  11. @ IG/Heron: Actually, that's kinda' what I decided to do...coupled with Stuart's suggestion of ripping off subdual damage.
    : )

  12. Shadowrun assumed the PCs to be pretty experienced already. Not quite grizzled, but they've been around the block. I'd say level 3-5 depending, as the equivalent.

    Example: In Shadowrun 2, a character cuold reasonably be expected to start the game with Firearms 6. This gives six success rolls, each of which must be 4 or higher at short range to hit. 50% chance. This means on average, 3 of your 6 dice will succeed, giving you a solid hit every single time at short range. Whether that hit actually deals damage depends on armor and the durability of the target of course. We can assume that's built into the D&D AC system and HP for high-level characters. Let's further assume that Chainmail is the equivalent of say an Armor Jacket when it comes to Shadowrun. The target of a Heavy Pistol, 9M damage, wearing an Armor Jacket of Armor 5, needs to roll 4+ on his Body dice (probably 6 of them). End result: 3 successes on average. The pistol round hits and does M damage (3 of 10 HP for the character). I look at that as a hit for 1 or 2 points of 1d6 HP in D&D.

    That means the Shadowrun character will shoot at the D&D character and hit for 1 or 2 points while the D&D character has a 25% chance of hitting for 1d6 points. Average damage output is less than 1/3 for the D&D character.

    This is why I think the Shadowrun character is effectively a 3rd or 5th level PC in D&D.

    Of course you can have people of lower level. The average gang member might be 3rd or so. A pampered wage-slave might only be 1st. In Shadowrun the PCs start out more experienced and advance slower, it's less Picaresque.

  13. @ D30: Huh..that's all good stuff, though I didn't bother to work out the math/averages myself. However, the average 1st level character in my game would have 9-10 hit points and a THAC0 of 18-16...probably in that 3rd level range you're talking about!
    : )