Monday, January 28, 2013

SA 2.0 Dev Blog #4: Energy Economy - Gnosis


  One of the most core changes we wanted to make in the new edition was to energy. However, we didn't want to drastically change how energy functioned to fuel powers. WoD's version of energy is very different in that it is primarily used to fuel very powerful powers while basic rolls are used to fuel most powers. This simply wouldn't work in a LARP because there isn't any way to test one character's skill with another and maintain the flow of the game. Generally speaking, energy works very well as the primary fuel behind supernatural powers in the game.
 We had extensive community discussion about how people use energy and have seen some amazing results. Players range from a handful of 2-3 energy per game to some who go up to and over 100 energy in some games. Over this past weekend I started the event with 10 energy, and ended it with 1 after regaining some from a spirit. As a new character without any major alliances with wraiths, I faced significantly limited energy access. Many other characters have what essentially is an infinite pool of energy. Whether it comes from feeding medicine, or the wraith shifter cycle. The specific issue we are looking at changing is this infinite energy cycle. We want energy to be a valued resource. One that is spent sparingly for incidental purposes but is burnt rapidly when necessary for survival. When we approached the energy system this was our goal, and along the way anything we could do to bring the game closer to canon was a significant plus.

What's Wrong with Infinite Energy?

  This was one of the first questions we heavily debated as the rules team. Initially there were differing points of view on it. Here's a summary of the points made there.

1) The current system requires cross factional alliances to achieve unlimited energy. The exchanges place individuals at a certain vulnerable positions during the exchange which they could be taken advantage of.

  There was lots of debate about the positive and negative nature of this particular point. Currently the game is built up with certain alliances (Shifter-Wraith and Vampire-Human) based upon the energy reliance of each group. We felt this alliance wasn't working the way we wanted and wasn't necessarily the best in the game. If shifters didn't rely on wraiths for energy, their alliance would be around both wraiths and shifters disliking spectres rather than a very closely woven energy reliance. Humans should generally not want to be fed on because it significantly harms them, currently SA fails to represent this.

2) The current system benefits more experienced players significantly. It takes a few games to build up the alliances needed to have access to infinite energy, but overall I wouldn't consider it difficult.

  For vampires the drain/medicine combo just needs a single ghoul to keep the entire vampire populace fed. One wraith with usury can load up the entire shifter faction so long as they're willing. Newer players are generally limited to their starting energy their first weekend with little access for more without begging it off. Vampire feeding poses no risk most of the time.

3) Scaling for bigger fights is very difficult because everyone comes back to the next fight at full energy. This comes from numerous ST complaints about the difficulty of posing a challenge. We have characters with 40+ energy, that's 20 resists before they start taking damage in each and every fight.

  All you really have the potential to do is have one big fight that over taxes people to pose a decent challenge. Small encounters are meaningless as there's no long term cost for the fights. The new Agg rules will help with this, but removing infinite energy is another step to help out this. If you spend 20 energy in one fight, that should mean that there's less energy for the next fight, or at least the fight after that.
  Removing infinite energy is also a move to combat the superhero mentality. With infinite energy you may have been in a fight 2 hours ago, but now you're fine and ready for more, new issue, new combat, no regrets, no consequences.

4) Energy was being expended frivolously. Sparkles on friends, merciful sleep just to make someone stop talking.

  Clearly energy wasn't a valued resource. I'd seen some characters discourage people from doing these sorts of things because they're wasting energy, but if something is free and plentiful, you can't wasting it. While there's an RP component of this, the rules were actively counteracting the RP.

5) If we could remove infinite energy, we would have to re-balance energy costs across the board.

  Some characters spend 50+ energy per game on Sense Taint. We simply couldn't expect this to continue in a limited energy environment. A number of powers would have to become free, specifically sense powers. Free from a resource perspective doesn't necessarily mean totally free. If we wanted to avoid someone walking through the tavern taping every shoulder with sense taint we'd need to put in a RP or time cost while removing the power cost.

Humans - Essence

  I'm going to note that the system that we currently feels works great is the human sorcerer system for energy. It's a fairly closed system, their energy returns each morning. They don't really have the ability to trade it around by themselves. It basically works fine. A sorcerer gets their energy pool x3 per event with very specific points at which the energy returns. This just works. If they get into a jam on Saturday morning, they need to be very careful until Sunday morning. We wanted to see other factions work just a little more like this.

Finding a Fix - Gnosis

  I'd like to admit that I didn't think this problem could really be solved well. Everything I'd come up with didn't manage to really close the loop. I thought there was no way to provide energy in a way that fit the game world but limited total consumption. Another member of the rules team proved me very wrong. Yay for working as a team. As a note, I'm super excited about this idea, so if you're going to rain on my parade, do it nicely.
  One other part of the conversation that needed to be had is what is the limit on an individual basis. Should each person only be spending their base energy each game? (I did say we had bad ideas) And is there a problem with people who spend 100+ energy per game. After tossing this back and forth we came up with some general numbers as a starting point for energy. I'm actually not going to say what it is because the system is fluid that it can be adjusted if it is to limiting or too open. But we're looking at the limit being around the ability for a fairly experienced character to refill their pool a couple of times.

  The largest part of the fix comes from a system that already exists in game, but doesn't really work very well. In my over 3 years of playing a shifter, I've only occasionally used spirit masks. As a source for shifters regaining energy they don't really work on a large scale. If you consider some of the energy pools that exist in the game, it's pretty silly to assume that finding a couple of masks ranging from 3-7 energy would ever make much of a dent in their pool. This is compounded with the wraith transfer system just means that if you ever get low, you're not going to spend hours looking for gnosis from trees.
  Additionally, the Caern system is awkward at best. The moving of cards adds a large OOG piece of utilizing this supposedly holy site. In my experience, when I'm taking gnosis from the caern, I don't end up doing any of the RP because the OOG logistics take too much time. Plus with the caern hiding and the ability to find energy elsewhere, it's not worth it.

  So here it goes... First off, Spirit masts would become mainly static locations. While there is likely to be some plot evolution about where they are, they won't be something that is placed randomly each game. You can expect that the spirit masks will be where they were the game before. While I'm describing it, I'd like to shift the name, to help adjust to the concept. These are Gaian Nodes. These are holy sites to shifters where they come to meditate and reconnect with gaia.
  Secondly, each shifter will be able to access each node once per phase of the moon (once per game). By spending a minute meditating and RP making a small offering, shifters and kinfolk can use these sites to regain gnosis. This means that a brand new character needs only be shown these spots to recharge, and older characters will return to the same sacred spot to reflect on their connection with gaia. There will also likely be tainted nodes which may draw those on the darker side or those who have expended their energy and are willing to take energy from what ever source they can find.
  Finally, a Caern will act as a big honking node and will provide a significant portion of the available energy to shifters. Control and access to the Caern will be a highly political topic with a significant impact on those who find themselves unwelcome. Rebel characters may try to sneak in to access the Caern when it is not being well watched. In short, the Caern will be a big deal both IG because of social significance, but also OOG as a source of energy.

What I Hope For

  Here's what I hope to see as a result of this change:
1. I'd love to see shifters that have been having a rough weekend getting low on energy with little hope of finding more. The warn down to the bone feeling can lead to some great RP and will show who the real warriors of Gaia are. It also makes a decision point about taking from a blight more of a life and death decision.
2. I'd like to see some real advantage to having control of the Caern from a numbers perspective. Garou have a hard job keeping the caern safe. This rewards them for doing so. It also gives some power over who can and can't use it to whoever controls it and tension about who is and is not a member of the sept.
3. This may be a small thing but I like the idea of little shrines popping up in game where shifters go and make small offerings for gnosis. And imagine the anger if such a site becomes defiled.
4. I really want to see someone get ambushed at a node while trying to regain energy. Nodes are basically a place where shifters go when they are weak to become strong. It is the perfect place to jump someone.
5. The pay off for having a huge energy pool will decrease. The difference between a character with a 20 and 30 energy pool will be 10 energy per game, not 10 more energy every time they get filled up. For some characters that 10 energy equals 40 more per game. Each character will have their starting energy, plus what they can get from nodes, which is the same for every character.


  As a reminder, this is a piece in perspective. If you try to apply this directly onto your current game experience, it's not going to look very good -- unless you're new, then it may look better. Gift costs will need to be adjusted, other energy systems will need to be adjusted, NPCs will need to be seriously nerfed, transfer systems will need to be in place, and powers will need to be balanced out. But imagine going into a game knowing that you have a certain amount of energy to play with, you can go get more when you need it, but at some point you're going to run out. To me this makes the game better, a bit harder, but much less wacky. If you're the majority of the game who has never spent over 50 energy at an event, what are you worried about?

  (Wraith and Vampire versions to come in the following weeks)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

SA 2.0 Dev Blog #3: Aggravated Damage


  In WoD canon aggravated damage (agg) is a really big deal. Most supernatural creatures can heal non-aggravated lethal or bashing damage quickly with only moderate cost. Aggravated damage however, takes days and willpower to heal. Normal damage still matters but you get really scared when aggravated damage comes around. Also, almost all supernaturals have a method of dealing aggravated damage. Werewolf claws, vampire teeth, and many powers all cause universal agg damage. It is moderately easy to come by and it hurts.
  Is the history of SA agg has worked a number of different ways. It has generally been utilized to prevent a supernatural from using their natural regenerative properties to get back up after being beaten down. There was a time when only if the hit that took you down to 0 was agg damage would you be unable to get back up. Most recently agg comes out in the form of exposure damage (fires, sunlight for vampires, or being staked with an agg weapon) or from weapons and powers. It getting hit with agg once you are at 0 health or by the hit that takes you to 0 health prevents you from using your innate regeneration. This means you can walk through fire from 10 health to 1, then if you get stabbed, all that fire doesn't matter any more. Additionally, most highbie characters have the regenerate power and they can just get back up even with the agg.

Examining Problems

  If you can't tell from my notes above, I feel the current SA system is broken. Someone swinging agg should be among the most terrifying opponents in the game. I'm sure that for some characters it is. But once you have the "survival set" of powers, it simply doesn't matter any more. This isn't how it should be. When someone comes out throwing fire I want to have to run and hide, or grow a set and decide to rush in against the deadly onslaught. There needed to be a significant way to convince me
  One of the first thought I had was of the Wounds system in an old tabletop game called Earthdawn (I believe Shadow Run has a similar system). In this system a major hit could cause a wound which decreased the dice on all your rolls and took some serious time to heal from. This felt more like aggravated damage but debuffs are significantly problematic in LARPS. Having a -1 or -2 in a d20 system is a fair and good way to work. Having -1 damage in SA is massive, but having -2 or -3 would be crippling. It's difficult to balance out in a LARP setting.
  There was also some talk of immediate death if you get hit with agg while unconscious, rather than the weird staking or throwing in the fire rules we have now. In the end this was decided to be serious overkill, but there were aspects of the idea that had merit. If you're a werewolf, and I have a silver weapon, at some point me stabbing you should kill you, like dead dead.

Getting Hit with Agg

  In the end we needed to clarify more than just how agg works and instead rework the dying process so that it makes more sense. This lead us to a pretty major thought about agg. Aggravated damage is how you kill supernaturals. There's a couple of other ways, but really, you beat the hell out of them with whatever they are "allergic" to. Agg should be just as dangerous at any phase of the awake and dying cycle. Though repeated exposure should kill you at the dying side.

  Our final picture on agg is that each time a target is struck with aggravated damage their maximum health is reduced by one. This is per strike not per damage. So taking "fire 4" as a vampire would only decrease their maximum health by one. The primary way to kill a character would become doing agg to them a number of times equal to their maximum health. Thereby taking their maximum health to 0, which is dead and unable to be healed. This means that a character who takes a couple of balefire shots will go into future fights with lower maximum health.
  We liked this idea specifically because it gave another way for people to be come worn down over the course of an event. After one good fight you might be down a couple of points, after two you're down a handful and are very concerned about getting into a third. It also made agg scary. If someone throwing fire could reduce my maximum hit points. I'd want to be really careful about how I engaged them. However, with the new combat rules, this isn't as terrible as it sounds. You're only dealing one attack per second so it's not like you'll get jumped and suddenly be down at five maximum health. But there were still a number of issues we had to work through.

Problems with this System

  While we really liked the idea of this system we encountered a number of problems with it. First off, agg is really fairly common. People wielding flaming weapons could essentially kill anyone quickly (10 seconds). The current fire sword power was also broken powerful with these rules but remains frustrating to use. However, we had already discussed this particular problem when we were looking at powers that were overly complex. We had agreed that fire sword needed to move to the same as silver claws, 1 energy for 1 swing with the "fire" type. Also flaming weapons needed a similar power down basically granting the fire sword power to that specific weapon. This allowed us to remove many of the free sources of agg in the game. This means that in order to kill a supernatural through powers means you'd have to intentionally spend 10+ energy. With the changes we were looking for the energy system, this is costly, but worth it sometimes.

  The second major problem was the idea of a character being stuck at 1 or 3 maximum health for the rest of the event. While this may be fun for some players to be the severely wounded character, for others it would make them want to climb into their car and drive home. Clearly there would need to be a way to heal agg. Not a quick and instant way, but a way that it could be healed back up to a playable level. Interestingly enough, we haven't decided exactly how this will be done. Our discussions so far have really been focused around willpower a big part of the healing agent. We want willpower to play a bigger role over the course of the game and give people multiple ways to get warn down to become susceptible targets. But exactly what this will look like hasn't been decided yet. If a player can use willpower to heal or have some means to buy healing through potions or the like then a character becomes weakened, but not unplayable which is the feeling we're going for.

  Finally, there's the issue with Regenerate. In our early discussions it was clear we didn't like this power. This power is currently one of the biggest sources of metagaming in the game. Characters with the regenerate power who are beat down to unconscious are basically still conscious enough to be able to decide when to regenerate. It's unrealistic to expect players to make unknowing choices for their character at this point. While this leads to some thematically appropriate jumping up and escaping, it's bad gaming. Regenerate is a big power in the game. In most of our calculations regenerate along with immunity powers is what extends the kill time on characters to unreasonable levels.
  In the end we decided to make regenerate equal to +4 maximum health pool. This means that someone trying to decrease your maximum health to zero would have to spend four additional energy to do so after beating through four additional health points. We feel that this is still a very strong power that many people will want but it no longer has the game shattering effects of Regenerate. With this power even after taking four hits of agg is at the same maximum health as a character without this power.

Making it Work

  For lower XP characters I see these changes having an interesting positive effect. While a character may be struck with a few points of agg over the course of a weekend, someone being dropped by Fire 3 (going down after 4 hits) would need to be worth spending an additional 6 energy to kill. In this case getting dropped is just as easy as today, but actually killing the character requires sustained interaction as well as significant energy expenditure. Meanwhile a high XP character who is in their 3rd or 4th fight of the day may find their maximum health dropping to dangerously low levels making their death a more real possibility.

  We are quite aware that this will require a significant change in how NPCs are built. No longer will the group of 2 Baali throwing balefire be a small roadside encounter. There will be lasting effects of each notable combat that will leave those involved significantly weakened. This will also open up the opportunity for characters seeking to get revenge upon a adversary more time to do it. Even characters with a significant Willpower pool will be weakened notably after a decent fight. This leaves some time in which the wounded individual is quite vulnerable before healing.

  Finally, we hope that this brings back some of the atmosphere that is removed by slowing down combat. If each blow means more the sudden flurry isn't as necessary to make the game scary. We did a number of battle tests with this system and we liked the results we saw. Being a character that gets into 3-4 big fights every weekend is going to be more dangerous, but I think that in reality that is good for the game. When combat erupts, more people will run away, rather than towards the fray.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

SA 2.0 Dev Blog #2: Big Rocks

Finding the Problems

  One of the first things we did when we started working on the new edition of rules was find out what we considered the major issues with the current system. We called these the big rocks. It was important that we figure out where the big rocks went before we tried to move around the little stuff. There was a number of small issues we wanted to deal with but we had to keep pulling back to the big picture. A number of issues cross into multiple big rocks such as Vampire Feeding which plays a role into pretty much all of them.
  As a note we've made it through most of the big rock issues at this point and are moving into the more tactical process of writing rules that display out intent. This often requires us to go back and readdress our big rock decisions.

I've included the list of big rocks below and explained why we feel it's an issue:


  Lack of clear combat rules causes spamming attacks to be the most effective method to take down an opponent. It's not particularly safe and generally not much fun. Mental rules in combat are unclear and not well followed. The general belief is that brawl boffers is the most effective tool unless the fighter is incredibly skilled in combat at which point sword and shield is probably the dominate form. We'd like to see combat rules established in a way that promotes fun, safe, and effective combat.

Energy Economy

  There energy trade in game is currently very free. Energy has little value and is easily created. This creates a number of problems. First and foremost is that the only limited resource in game is coin and willpower. Even in the middle of combat it is possible for people to refill on energy and jump back into the fray. ST isn't able to whittle down energy over the course of a day or event. There's no ability to have a prolonged doom. This means that all that really matters is the size of a particular fight, not the sustained and tactical use of powers. We want energy to be a valued resource that needs to be well used, not wasted. Our goal is to make a finite system for energy.
  As a side note I'd like to say that I didn't think that this could be done successfully. I couldn't come up with an idea that worked. In the end, I didn't. But someone else on the team had an idea that did work, and we ran with it. It sounds impossible, but I really feel that what we've done here is fantastic and adds great flavor to the game.

Killin' a Bitch

  Actually understanding what it takes to kill a character requires a masters degree in advanced logic, and even then is incredibly difficult. Being taken down doesn't equal killing. This means that dying in open combat is very difficult leaving only assassination as the primary method of a character dying. This issue is compounded by the Regenerate power, Withstand, and immunity powers which allow someone to fall down and get back up only to become immune to damage. It can take over an hour to kill an opponent with the right combination of powers. We feel that most of the fight should happen before someone falls down, not after.

Immunities and Resistances

  Heavily involved with the above we felt the need to look over the current immunities and resistances. In the system currently too many powers favor the defensive over the offensive. Large and supposedly badassed NPCs who hit for as much as 8 damage were as easy to resist as a human with a stick. Taking a look at the foundational resistance powers seemed necessary as we looked at immunity powers as well. This meant how things like Hasty Escape and Form of Vapor worked needed to be addressed. We feel that no one should ever be invulnerable.

Character Knowledge

  Though not as major an issue as some of the others we very clearly wanted to define character knowledge and how it works. Issues with what was and was not character knowledge need to be cleared up to avoid things like not being able to ask someone about information on their character sheet. We want it to be clear what your character knows and how that can be influenced.


  We need some, you know, rules for these. That are clear. Also we want to make this part of the game available for more players.

Richness and Depth

  There were a few areas that we felt could use some enhancements with regards to feeling like a more important part of the game. Adding a little bit more into Powers, Virtue, Abilities, and Merits felt like something that could open up the options for people playing the game. We wanted to have more than a couple of viable merits for each faction. We wanted abilities to be a little bit more exciting. We also wanted to encourage people to spend virtue. We want to have less in faction crossover with powers and have more defining powers in appropriate trees.

Friday, January 11, 2013

SA 2.0 Dev Blog #1: Combat System

  For those not aware, I'm on the Rules Team of a local Dark Ages World of Darkness LARP called Shadow Accord (SA). We are in the process of developing a new edition of rules for the game and I wanted to start sharing some of the process here. Partially these posts will help explain what it takes to do create a rules system, but the series is also designed to give people in the game some idea about what is coming up. I'd also like to note that this is my version of the decisions and why they came to be. There were several of us involved in each decision and others may have come to the same conclusion for different reasons or may have just given in to popular demand.


  One of the first things we looked at was the combat system in SA. One of the major complaints that we were continually encountering was claims of unclear combat rules, machine gunning, and the fact that under the current system pummeling you opponent with short brawl boffers faster than they could hit you with a sword seemed the most effective method to defeat an opponent. This isn't entirely a safety issue, otherwise we would have passed it off to the Deco and Safety team to deal with. It was also just a fact about how we wanted our game to feel.
  Currently much combat involved running up to someone very close and trying to hit them repeatedly. Some systems have rules that prevent coming to close to an opponent for safety reasons. However, what we realized was that we really wanted to see was slower, more calculated combat. Less of a giant mesh of weapons flailing with people falling down because they didn't know how many times they have been hit and not wanting to cheat or people who just keep going because it is impossible to count.
  At one of our first meetings we came up with a couple of combat rules we wanted to try out. They were the following:
1.  The attacker must wait 1 second after landing a successful strike to make another against the same target.
2. The defender would only take damage from 1 attack per second per attacker.
3. Each strike must be in a different location.
4. Current SA rules fight.

1.  When we gathered the testing team and divided them up the results were pretty astounding as was the feedback. After explaining the first rules set we set out basic human on human fight. It was drastically different to watch. One thing that was great to see was how each team set up in a line which persisted through a significant portion of the fight. Also our mix of different ability level fighters was minimized as one of the better fighters squared off against an average level fighter. While the expected party still lost, they scored in a few good hits and weren't overwhelmed. It was a good clean fight.
2.  Working under the defender only takes 1 damage was similar but less comfortable. It encouraged people to continue pressing their opponents harshly and led less balanced results. It favored people who swung continuously and quickly.
3.  Forcing each strike to fall in a different location worked pretty well. This actually received the best response among participants. People felt that the rule was easy to work with and remember. However, the fight was fairly quick and continuous swinging was heavily encouraged. The differential between highly skilled fighters and moderately skilled fighters was much greater than in the first situation.
4. One thing was that watching the current SA rules fight was embarrassing after watching the other rules sets. The fight was messy and not much fun. At least we knew we would be making improvement regardless of what decision we went with.


  At the end of that trial we decided to go with rule 1 for the remainder of the play test even though our testers felt that the time restriction was somewhat awkward. We did this for a couple of reasons. First off we had a pretty good idea of what rule 3 would look like. It would be similar to the way things are now but slightly more controlled. It wouldn't be difficult to imagine the results. Secondly, we really like how people lined up and fought cooperatively under rule 1. It forced cooperation and the limited advantage that positioning got you meant it wasn't worth over extending yourself because it wouldn't instantly drop an opponent. You had to position yourself to get a few good hits but you couldn't gun an opponent down. Finally, it led to good fights that rewarded good fighters but only moderately. No longer would a lower level good fighter be able to blow through a weaker fighter with considerable XP in their character. This system would substantially nerf me. I think that for the game overall that is a good thing. In the end we hoped that people could retrain their combat to match the system. Learning a new fighting system is difficult, but it can become natural fairly quickly. I remember the difficulties I had making the switch from Amtgard to a system where I had to call damage.

  As we progressed through the day we saw some of the added advantages. A very powerful character played by a player with moderate fighting skill put up against a group of new characters with considerable fighting skill could hold their own. It was a good fight, but without some additional threat an elder vampire shouldn't fear a couple of neonates. Also, it made killing people harder, which was what we wanted to do since we were looking at a more lethal system in a number of other ways. By decreasing lethality of combat by slowing it down, we could increase the lethality of the follow up to kill someone once you've won combat.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Understanding the Internet better through History

"It is perfectly normal, in this day and age, for a person to use social media to spread doctrine with no factual basis, without checking for any form of historical record, and with the attachment of the name of a notable figure to give the statement credence; this form of ignorance is both an inalienable right of humanity and the foundation on which our great country formed."
 - Thomas Jefferson

"The trouble with quotes on the Internet is that you never know if they are genuine."
- Abraham Lincoln

"The greatest thing about Facebook, is that you can quote something and totally make up the source." - George Washington

"When in doubt, attribute quotes to Mark Twain."
- Samuel Clemens

"The fabrication of Oscar Wilde quotes is among the noblest of endeavors."
- Oscar Wilde

I have to admit I stole this idea from someone's Facebook post. But I liked it too much to walk away from.