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)


  1. I do think energy economy in game is important, but I would make a suggestion like this...

    From an RP standpoint, perhaps you might think of replenishing energy for shifters in such a way that it is tied into sun (for Corax) and moon (for other shifters)...such as at some point while the sun is out a Corax can go meditate in the daylight (as sometimes Helios does not burn so bright) and receive a certain amount of gnosis each day from such a source and in kind, garou could do so after sunset and receive so much gnosis from meditating under the moon. Just a suggestion. In this way, there is a balance shift that correlates to the seasons as well. There is a limited number of daylight hours during the winter and there is a limited number of evening hours during the summer.

    Just a thought.

    Also, politically, I think you need to make sure that the gnosis pool is more equally spread. It is my limited understanding (as a new fledge) that sometimes the fera have a much more difficult time at receiving such help.

    1. A shifter's power does not come from Luna or Helios like that, though they are tied to her/him. Also, there's the consideration of moon phase (if one were to regain gnosis from the moon, is it always the same amount even if there is no moon to see? How can you meditate through the clouds? On a New Moon? etc).

      A potential consideration, though :)

  2. I ADORE the idea of "holy places" that one can meditate at to get gnosis back. I can see both good and bad things coming from having known nodes...

    1) More places to guard, when guarding the Caern is a pain in the ass already. If these are the places where energy MUST be regained, they become a necessary resource, but one that can't be hidden or relocated should it become endangered - which they will. A foe would be an idiot not to try to control these. There is enough hassle and dislike of caern duty as it is not to consider how this would expand (and potentially make the faction much less desirable) if in essence the forest was now full of tiny caerns that had to be looked after. An ally would be an idiot not to try to protect them.

    2) Once locations are known (and they will be known), they're just one more place that could be rendered permanently unusable if known to an enemy - once an enemy knows, that's not something you can take back. It's the same issue we had over and over in previous games and MT when proximity to the town made the Caern obvious. Once it was known, it was out, and EVERYONE and their freakin' brother would bother it. Let's face it... Ushaw Moor sucks at maintaining the Silence/Veil. It's just too small and too strange to maintain secrets, not to mention riddled with loose lips and careless comments.

    Despite those concerns, I am VERY encouraged to see an RP element put into regaining Gnosis. It shouldn't just be a resource that is handed around in numbers, it's the ESSENCE OF A GAIAN'S SPIRITUALITY, and should be treated with more reverence than "Wouldn't it be funny to see Fights-With-Pikes stare off into space for a while?"

    For the "once per moon cycle" restriction, would that be per character per site? Or just per site? Example: Could two characters each choose to use the same site once a game? Or would those two characters have to find two different sites, and once used those sites were tapped for the remainder of game for any other character (much like spirit masks now)? I hope it would be the first option, because one of the most frustrating things as a shifter looking for Gnosis was to spend time tromping through the woods, finally finding a mask, and discovering someone already got to it first.

    1. In answer to Carla's question, each character could use each site once per game. There would be a handful of sites, each character could use them all once per event.

      One other thing is that the sites wouldn't be easy to taint. It would be required to corrupt the land around it significantly. That's more of an ST thing than a rules thing. I wouldn't want a simple ritual to turn a good node into a bad one. I feel that nodes would be common enough in the world that it wouldn't be necessary to guard them, just as glades aren't guarded now. Location of the nodes isn't up to rules (STs and Deco probably) but there's always the idea that they would all be on the bawn, making caern duty more than just sitting still and turning it into actually patroling. But that's not necessarily my call.

      In regards to Kim's post. One of the biggest questions in SA with shifters is always how much to customize the game for Fera. We could go so far as to make trees for each Pyro, and Phase of the Sun, have different crinos rules for each. In the end here I feel that simpler is better. I'm curious if Fera would rather see a restriction placed on when they could access nodes. Corax during the day, Bastet during their Pyro, Ratkin probably like shifters or only at night. I wouldn't mind additional restrictions.

      The idea of centralizing a portion of the gnosis in the caern is to make the caern something worth having political control over. Currently it represents a burden with no real benefit. This change could make life somewhat more difficult for all characters that weren't willing to play nice with the wolves, or perhaps it would make the fera want to claim the caern as their own and kick the wolves out. Oh the political drama!

  3. Very simply, I think this is genius and it makes me miss SA so much more.

  4. Out of morbid curiosity, was the notion of a Caern that gave out gnosis-over-time ever considered?
    You know, like cannon - you meditate at the Caern and you get gnosis back.

    We did this for Gaslight and it seems so far to be working fairly well. The Caern's health determines how big the radius of an area that this gnosis-regain effect occurs, and can affect the gnosis regain rate. Doing things for local spirits can temporarily or semi-presently affect either (though more commonly the size as opposed to the rate; rate is kind-of a bigger deal).

    I think the 'base' was 1 gnosis regained every 10 or 20 mins within the radius, but I believe it was only a 5 foot radius. The idea is to slowly but surely fight for the health of the land, and have that grow... and perhaps other larger events would cause the rate to increase or decrease.

    Thus, folk care about the area, can improve their area in small ways to a greater effect over time by helping local spirits who'll in turn help the Caern Spirit, and generally make the Caern be the place to be.
    It also allows a limited amount of screwing around and training with gifts and such because you could use a few gnosis in training and safely regain it over time.
    (I know you'd mentioned this above as a bad thing, but, I think a lot of players really like doing this)

    It is perhaps apples-and-oranges with what you are doing - but - I am curious if it ever came up in brainstorming.

  5. The exact idea didn't come up but the concept of slow recovery was discussed. We discussed allowing people to spend time meditating or some such to regain energy. In the end we didn't want to require people to be stuck at a specific "doing nothing" waiting for their energy to come back. There were even discussion in which I wanted the time at each node to be 10 minutes rather than 1 minute. We didn't want people to spend their event trying to get energy back, we wanted them to be able to go out and interact with people. At the same time we wanted to restrict the total energy available at an event so that people could be worn down over time. Having slow recovery makes me think of diablo when you get a low mana and health regen rate. I'd often times return to town and walk away from the computer in order to save wasting potions. We really want people who spend a bunch of energy to be down something for the rest of the event.

    This idea also allows flexibility in how much energy is available at a particular event. It also allows people to go into an event knowing about how much energy they have to play with. I think that we'll see more playing around Sunday as normal. I'd also note that most people who play around with powers are generally the people less likely to need it for brutal combat later. But either way there is a cost to spending energy. People will still play around some, but those who don't are at an advantage long term.

    We also have the same idea bout the Caern increasing in value as it is taken care of and protected. Rather than increasing the radius it can increase the total energy available to the faction.