Friday, October 19, 2012

RPG Design Ramble #2

So, as I mentioned on the last installment of "Lawfulnice Rambles On Forever", we've mostly got character creation finished (at least the outline - details like a list of skills, statting out the abilities and so forth are still to come). But that's only a small part of the game - we've still got to figure out combat.

Combat is generally one of the most important systems in a game, if not the most important. Even when combat isn't the focus of the game, whenever you end up with guns drawn on each other, it's instantly a matter of life and death. A lot of games get flak for having huge, detailed combat rules but almost nothing for social situations. But it's the life-and-death nature of combat that makes it needed, trying to put numbers to everything. Munchkins, minmaxers, they try to get every edge in combat, and having solid answers to "what happens if I hide behind cover" and "what happens if I run on ice" speeds things up in a tense situation and heads off a lot of arguments.

Not that there's anything wrong with munchkins or minmaxers. I've done my time on CharOp boards. But as a game master I know I don't want to have to come up with every answer in combat. Social situations are much easier - you don't need rules for just talking to people. It is good to have rules for diplomacy, intimidation, and such, but they're definitely secondary. With a good group you don't need any social rules at all (but the same could in theory be said about combat rules).

Anyway, we want to keep combat simple here, and we want to generally use the same system as mecha. Mecha has each of its four stats do something in combat, and has the player roll four dice and assign each one to a different stat. We've already decided how people are going to roll for initiative, so we know when people are going to roll their dice. We just need to decide how they assign them and what that means.

So step one, we need to figure out everything that has to be determined in combat. And since this is a revision of the existing mecha rules, they'll probably carry over there if things work out. Now, we're looking at melee combat, ranged combat, psychic combat (thought I probably won't call it psychic in the end... I need to do more worldbuilding). And with attack and defense for each, that's six numbers we need.

I've been kind of flip-flopping back and forth on this. There are two real ways to go with it. I can keep the attack and defense for each type of combat together, so it's easy to remember (like, physique for melee, intelligence for ranged, awareness for psychic or whatever). Or I can keep them separate so you have to choose between putting your high stat in attack or defense. (So if Int is for ranged attack and Awareness is ranged defense, and you've got a 6 and a 1, you have to make a hard choice).

Despite the fact that our goal is to keep things simple, I want to start by considering the second option, splitting attack and defense. Now that'll give us six items spread over four stats.

Physique    Melee Attack
Intellect    Melee Defense, Ranged Attack
Awareness    Psychic Attack, Ranged Defense
Empathy        Psychic Defense

This arrangement gives us some interesting overlaps, and is nicely symmetrical. We do have two stats, though, that are currently a bit weaker than the others. We'll keep that in mind for later.

But there's an important part of the combat equation that we haven't covered yet - damage. This is actually one of the hardest parts of the process. How many hits should it take before a person goes down? How dangerous is combat? What will happen as someone gets damaged?

Games have handled these questions in a lot of ways. Hit points is a very common option, and one of the easiest but least-satisfying. With hit points you just make a number smaller until you hit zero, and then you're done. As long as it doesn't reduce you all the way to zero, a giant fireball and stubbing your toe have the same effect. Other games assign penalties (or even bonuses!) as a person takes damage to show that they're being worn down.

Warhawks' mecha system has a damage grid that gets filled up as the enemy literally blasts away your armor and equipment. It's a compromise from making a system as complicated as Battletech but keeping the interesting ideas of 'armor placement matters' and generally taking damage more as a machine than as a man.

Of course, that whole 'taking damage as a machine' thing won't fly here for the infantry scale. So instead of having a damage grid, we need to figure something else out. Fortunately, I do have an idea. We have four dice. One of the best ways to show that a person is being worn down is going to be removing some of those dice as he gets hurt. So the dice themselves are a type of very visceral, very tangible hit points.

So that's one part of the equation. As you take damage, you'll lose dice. But not every hit can make you lose dice or else combat will be incredibly deadly (which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but not what I'm going for). And if a weapon can only do from 1-4 damage, total, there's not a lot of variation. Even a single point of difference would be massive!

So to decide if you lose a die, we'll have a form of accrued wounds. As you take damage, it goes into a damage pool that you have to roll against. If you fail, you lose a die and erase the damage you've taken. Remember those two stats that have been left hanging? We might be able to use them here. Since we'll want to roll this wound thing every time you take damage, to make it more tense, we'll avoid actually tying it to the dice you roll for your turn.

The procedure is therefore:

1) Get attacked
2) Compare their attack to your defense
3) If you're hit, take damage
4) Test against the damage you've taken so far
5a) If you pass, no bad effect
5b) On a fail, you take a wound.
6) Every wound you have removes a die from your rolled pool.

Not bad. We'll further specify that any stat without a die assigned counts as having a '0' assigned (kind of a parallel to the '7' for a skill in that it's beyond the bounds of dice).

But you'll also notice we've got /two/ stats to use. That's an opportunity. It lets us have both physical and psychic damage. Psychic damage can be used for fear, actual telepathic attacks, insanity, even combat stress and PTSD. All good stuff. And neatly separated!

But clearly, being really scared or sad won't straight-up hurt you (unless you have a weak heart, I guess). So the psychic damage can't cause wounds as such. This is an opportunity for a sanity system to come into play. Too bad they all suck. Time to make our own.

Next time, Sanity, and maybe I'll get around to Guns this time.

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