January 27, 2013

A Tribute to Player Agency, part one.

I have no idea when the next update is going to be, or am even sure of what is going to be in it, so might as well talk a bit about how the last one and how its many changes came about, their whys and hows. The most obvious (and probably biggest) one is that to Attributes and, by association, to Skills. But where to begin?

Well, how about at the beginning?

The first thing I knew I wanted to change for pilot rules was to make Awareness a new stat. The old rules for Defenses weren't panning out too well, the math worked in a vacuum but it was easy to powergame and (more importantly) the process of powergaming led you to not take risks and wasn't very fun. Then there's how some of the rules for resisting things weren't quite as gripping as I wanted them to be. A character on the defensive had no input on resisting social combat other than increasing their Genre or Plot Armor, while the character on the offense could actually roll for it and also apply oh-so-many Skills and Traits and Tension to it plus whatever other stuff that could apply.

The main reason the game did not have Awareness at first was because I wanted stats to be a proactive thing, something you go out and use to make things happen instead of a mechanic that would cause the opposite. And Awareness is, for the most part, a stat that doesn't get much done. Sure, there's a few Skills and Miracles here and there, but by and large Awareness is there to contribute to your Defense and to be rolled against other Skills or Defenses.

Awareness as a stat is, therefore, a lot less powerful but paradoxically a lot more necessary to the average character - everyone needs a modicum of Defense. That's why I figured it would have to be cheap, so it would not cost you an arm and a leg in PP to buff it up a little just to be safe. That way it does not get in the way of all the other stuff you want to get for your character.

I didn't completely figure out how Defenses were going to work out until a while later though, but after coming up with the idea for Awareness I thought maybe I could also have a Willpower stat. The way I saw it, it would handle the defensive stuff Awareness wouldn't make sense to roll with, plus let me rework the Plot Armor rules a little bit. Unlike Defenses Plot Armor was thing I wasn't too dissatisfied with, it was just... boring. You had three HP tracks to improve. How fun and exciting. Yippie. Ki. Yay.

So! Awareness worked for noticing things meant to trick or entrap you, while Willpower would be used to resist doing something against your will. Pretty simple. This way convincing a really stubborn but careless person to see things your way is harder than just lying to them, and with a high enough Willpower you can actually resist torture instead of having too much mental HP for them to bother with. Plus, it is a mecha anime game, yelling really loud and being gutsy is kind of A Thing that should be legit cool. It then joined Awareness in being a cheap stat for pretty much the same reasons.

So how did they actually come together into the new rules for Defense and Plot Armor? First I had to figure out whether I wanted to keep separate tracks of Damage or not, and that was the part that took the longest time to figure out. See, I thought it would be cool if you could add up your Fitness to your Awareness for your Physical Defense and Fitness to your Willpower for your Physical Plot Armor. It made sense and seemed like a logical update to the old rules, and for the longest time that was what I ran with... Except it didn't play out too well.

There was no way the numbers worked out in a way that was satisfactory. If stats kept their scale between 1 and 5 ish you were looking at very, very squishy characters. A single result of 10 (Not even a die roll of 10, just a total result) would have dealt 7 Damage to someone of average defenses, which is enough to take out two Plot Armor Layers. This was more manageable with the modern scale for stats, but had the issue of making the characters with higher stats ridiculous. We're talking of Defenses in their 20's coupled up with the corresponding Plot Armor being somewhere of at least 10. Might as well not bother with actual rules and just say 'The character is impervious, don't even bother' at that point.

It was at that point that I started thinking maybe I should honestly drop the separate Defenses and Plot Armor types idea, because all other options were weird as all hell. If the three different types shared the same numbers the distinction would have been pointless, and averaging two stats to get a Defense didn't really fix anything in the long term. In the end, while separate tracks added a little bit more to the gameplay, I figured the simplicity of the ground level rules was a high point of the game and chose to stick with that.

So I kept it to one Defense and a general Plot Armor track. The next thing was making them not suck because boy those numbers could get really low. It was at this point that I got really sold on the idea of an Attribute scale going all the way up to 10 and maybe a bit higher. Why? Well, I would answer in depth but this post is getting pretty long as is and I haven't even started talking about Resources, Skills or Traits yet.

I'm going to be splitting this up into three parts, with the next one focusing on some nuts and bolts of the math involved in the process. Until then, may your defense match your offense.

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