Wednesday, February 20, 2013

SA 2.0 Dev Blog #9: Deliveries and Effects

In case you couldn't tell, the change to combat speed is a really big thing. This is something that is going to bleed over into numerous areas and alter combat significantly. One thing that I want to make clear is that the one successful strike per second applies to Damage, Status, and Mental attacks. But fortunately this isn't the only way we have in place to prevent machine gunning these things.

Damage Attacks

  There are two kinds of damage attacks, packet and boffer. We want to clarify that these two will work the same way with the single exception that packets are thrown, and most boffers are not. This means the both packet and boffer damage attacks can be blocked with weapons and shields. We also wanted to clarify the way calls are made. We've broken the call into three parts which I will discuss in no particular order here. First, we all know the damage <number> part. This states how much damage is being caused by the attack assuming it successfully hits. Second we have the <type> of damage which indicates if the particular attack will be considered aggravated damage to the target.
  Finally we have added a new part called the <meta>. While an attack will have only one number and one type, it can have a number of meta calls. The primary disadvantage of meta calls is that they will take much longer to make the attack. Meta calls already exist in SA but they don't really have a clear designation in the rules. Powers such as Umbra Strike, Breach, and Balefire already use a meta call. Some <meta> calls can be applied onto other types of attack powers such as status and mental. We're specifically breaking this out so that we can have a clear list of what we can expect to fall into this category. Below are a few examples of some <meta> calls:

Disarm - A disarm attack that strikes a targets weapon causes him to drop the weapon if he does not resist the attack.

Tainted - If this attack is not resisted immediately the target will become tainted.

Unresistable - This attack can not be resisted. Targets that are immune will still state “no effect”.

  You may notice Disarm up there as a meta call. This change means that a character using the fatal flaw power would add the "Disarm" meta onto their attack call. If the attack strikes a weapon the defender will be forced to drop the weapon. If it strikes the defender's body they would instead take damage from the attack. So you might see an attack call of "Disarm Silver 1". With avoidance this attack could be resisted even if it only hit a weapon.
  Damage attacks are currently primarily resisted with the avoidance power. This is somewhat of a mainstay power that is really vital to long term survivability of anyone who is seeking to engage in heavy combat. One issue with the current iteration of this power is that it doesn't scale at all with the difficulty of an opponent. Avoidance allows me to resist a damage attack for 2 energy regardless of if the attacker is swinging for one regular point of damage, or eight points of fire damage. The issue with this is that a character with 20 energy can take 15 hits of an opponent swinging 2, or 12 hits of an opponent swinging 8. The totem swinging 8 is not really a bigger threat even though they happen to swing 4 times harder than the ghoul with might.

  It's worth noting here that PC's damage range is typically around 1-3 damage per swing. There are people who can hit for four and five damage per swing, but these are exceptions and they have put notable experience and IG effort into doing so. Most new or moderate characters we expect to swing for 1 or 2 damage, elder vampires and crinos ahroun three, alphas and werewolf elders four or maybe five if the moon is just right.

  We wanted each of those points to be more significant and bring in a more substantial reward for increasing damage. Avoidance is now looking like the following:

Avoidance - (Self)

Cost: Energy equal to the <number> of the damage attack call.

Call: “Resist”

You may resist a single damage attack and any meta calls associated with it.

  So in our above example with the Disarm Silver 1 attack it would only cost a single point of energy to resist the attack. However, when facing a totem level character you might have to pay six or eight energy to resist the attack. Suddenly the 20 energy character can survive 4 hits from the totem who is essentially their god instead of 12. However, for the character swinging 2, things remain the same. It is still 15 hits to take an opponent down. I use the totem example as an extreme case. The difference between the 15 hits for an opponent swinging 2s is now 10 hits for an opponent swinging 3s, 8 hits for an opponent swinging 4s, and let's not forget 30 hits for an opponent swinging 1s. Also each hit can come no faster than once per second, so you gain a lot of survivability by not taking all 15 of those hits in the first three or four seconds of combat.
  There were initial concerns about the math of this system. But we realized that after very little practice we all fell into the same routine of handling it. Mentally we counted our energy on top of our health for one big pool. If I have 10 health and 15 energy then I have a pool of 25 possible damage to take. If I get below 10 I need to start taking the damage, but the math stays the same. If I use a power it deducts one from the pool. This actually made handling the fairly easy. 

Mental Attacks

  Mental attacks are a huge part of the game, huge. For me the fact that I can use a power on a target and the player has to play that they don't know what happened is the largest difference between SA and lesser LARPs. Unfortunately, they are often one of the most commonly misplayed parts of the game when it comes to combat. In spite of several clarifications the exact rules for using mentals in combat remain difficult for people to follow. We wanted this to change mostly so more people understood and could follow the rules. We wanted to avoid the confusion that was currently taking place and we also really wanted to get rid of the OOG touch thing that never made any sense. If we're attempting to play a WSYWIG game, we shouldn't run around touching people and saying it is OOG.
  Our solution was to establish a mental range. The range we decided on was about ten feet. The "about" is a very important piece of this picture. We did NOT want people stopping the game to measure. We also don't have a problem with 10 feet occasionally being 12 or even 15 feet. We hope that it will be pretty obvious when a target is at 20 feet and not a viable target. About 10 feet is conversational range or close combat range, but not hiding behind my battle line distance. We want you to be able to target any person who is within about 10 feet.
  However, if I'm surrounded by four bad guys who are all trying to get swings in at me and I shout "snarl" (which under the current SA rules is not a legal attack in this situation) the four bad guys shouldn't have to go OOG to decide who I was attacking. So as an additional requirement, you need to have the attention of your target and your target (the player) must understand that they are being targeted. This means that a character can't ignore me to avoid mentals, and neither can a player. If they're actively ignoring me then they probably realize that I'm targeting them. Now there happens to be many ways you can indicate a target IG. First off you can still touch them. If I tap you on the shoulder and say Horrid Reality, it is obvious who I am targeting. But this touch is IG. You can also point, with your finger. But this will only work if the player is facing you. You can also call out IG something to grab their attention. "Hey, you in the stupid red hat with a big ostrich feather. <Terror>". In combat if someone runs right up to you, looks right into your eyes, and says "Monsters", you'll know what to do.

  Our testing showed this worked really well in the most chaotic of combats. It also means that if someone is being extensively pummeled by numerous people, your mental probably won't be able to land unless you run up and get right in their face. For casual situations it also worked great because you didn't have to deal with the awkward OOG touch.

  But this wasn't all we wanted clarified. The ability to hand out mentals at longer range had to be tempered and balanced. One thing we also weren't fond of was that your willpower rating seemed to simply be an indication of how many mentals you would need to be hit with before one would effect you. Most people resist mental attacks immediately before even considering the situation. This causes an strange chain mental attack to get through someone's willpower so your mental would actually do something. In a limited energy environment this would be a problem. We also felt  there were mentals that opened up good RP opportunity being resisted because people didn't want it to become a threat later on. We really wanted mentals to be effective to guide people towards things they aren't incredibly opposed to and willpower be used to avoid those things that they feel too greatly violated their characters desires. We felt that requiring the resist up front was actually what was causing the bulk of the problem.
  What we wanted was we wanted willpower to Break mentals, not resist them. This specifically would allow for characters to take the effect and only worry about breaking it if it put them in a really bad of a spot. It made characters with extensive willpower very difficult to control and it gave some opportunity to people that were under the effects of a mental. The less wholesale nature made for much more interesting situations. No longer could you trust that the obedienced opponent was really on your side for good, he might break out of it. The beast minded guy would behave oddly for a bit but when five other guys came in to take him out he'd suddenly snap out of it realizing his life was on the line. Overall we saw that most mentals would stick for at least 20-30 seconds before being broken, rather than being resisted straight away. This rewarded mental attackers by getting some payout for using their power. It also got rid of the ability for mental attackers to just chain cast their mental until a target stopped moving. If you hit me with merciful sleep 5 times, I'll take it, then resist, get up and keep on running. It only takes 1 willpower after the last one sticks for me to get free.
  It was also much more fun to get hit with a mental power. With terror I'd run for a bit, decide I wanted to be back in a fight, burn the willpower and return after around a minute. With obedience I'd start off obeying the command but when it was starting to look like it might get me killed I'd decide that I was done with this particular command and break it. My initial reaction became to roll with the mental until it put me in a really bad spot. So instead of being instantly resisted, it became a great opportunity for RP.

  I know there will be some concern that this change might decrease the power of mentals overall. In a few ways it is definitely true. No longer will you be able to chain mentals at a target. No more 5 snarls to insure that the target takes one. But I think we can all agree, this was cheesy anyway. There's also no more guarantee that a person who runs off after being terrored won't come running back in another minute. But again, otherwise the would have resisted the power immediately and they wouldn't be running off at all anyway, or they would have just broken the power in the first 5 seconds anyway in which there's really no change. This change also clears up the issue with knowing if your target has resisted the attack or not. The normal response will be to take a power for at least a little while except in the most extreme circumstances such as debilitating effects such as merciful sleep and horrid reality. At which point we're really not experiencing any change.
  Also the little things are more likely to stick. Passion will be more useful, as will things like induce sin, because if I end up in a situation I'm not fond of I can break out of it. but otherwise I'll roll with it for a while to see where it goes.


  1. I'm glad that all types of attacks are going to be limited by the one attack per second limit. It will at least level the playing field for combat styles.

    I like the idea of modifying avoidance as you've proposed. Treating energy as an extension of health makes sense and will end up making it easier to follow than a static 2 points. I'm not fond of increasing sig calls though. Luckily disarm isn't used a lot, but "Unresistable" is a whopping 5 syllables. I would much rather hear "Hard", "Power", "Heavy", "Direct", or anything shorter than that. It's like fingernails on a chalkboard for sig calls.

    As a side note, I think you made another good point about avoidance that deserves a little attention: "This is somewhat of a mainstay power that is really vital to long term survivability of anyone who is seeking to engage in heavy combat". I think that single statement defines which power trees this power belongs in [the fighting based trees]. I can tell you from personal experience, it didn't feel right to be a good fighter playing an Ahroun that got knocked out in most fights because I didn't have some rare and very protected power that was evidently critical to combat in SA.

    The proposed change for mentals sound pretty good from a perspective of someone that doesn't rely on them in combat. Personally, I'm not a fan of the meta-game rapid fire mentals. With the one attack per second limitation, that shouldn't be an issue either way though. This will definitely affect some mentals more than others. After reading the section, I have a few questions regarding the change:

    1. Is a verbal sig call still required when you decide to finally break the mental?

    2. If I'm having a conversation with someone and somebody else is yelling a mental at me from behind, is it in-game when they yell my name before they announce the mental affect?

    3. Can you still only be under the effect of one mental at a time?

    4. If someone hits you with Merciful Sleep or Frenzy, can you blow a willpower to wake up or calm down at any time during it?

    5. If someone targets me with a mental from 15', can I choose to ignore it because it's out of range?

    6. When I do choose to use willpower to resist or break an effect, am I aware that I was under some outside mental persuasion?

  2. 1. At this point yes. I feel that keeping the information exchange open is a pretty good idea. Though you may be resisting when no one is around 3 minutes into the power.

    2. It is all in game. The attacker must get your attention somehow but any actions to do so are entirely IG.

    3. Still only one mental. Though some things that were mentals are moving to "touch" because of odd durations.

    4. Merciful Sleep is being toned down slightly to allow for the character to blow the willpower and it still makes sense. You aren't asleep but instead dazed. Frenzy is becoming a touch power that causes someone to enter frenzy, which lasts as long as frenzy lasts (1 minute). No mental will make the character unconscious so that it would require some sort of odd metagaming to break the mental.

    5. We have a response call for flubbed calls that we're writing into the rules but the intent of this isn't to require super accurate calls. If someone uses the term Paralysis in stead of Paralyze we wouldn't expect some to call it a flub. Instead if someone does something like "Disarm Paralyze" and shoots their bow at you, that would be a flub. So if someone attempts to use a power at a clearly unacceptable range you would call it a flub, but it's better to allow them to overshoot by a few feet then be an ass about it.

    6. Honestly at this point we haven't clearly written it either way. My initial answer is that it would work much like it does today but that hasn't been discussed at any length. (noting this down to talk about or at least clarify in the rules)