February 3, 2013

A Tribute to Player Agency, part deux

Last week I went over how Awareness and Willpower came to be, with a little bit on how the three types of Defense and Plot Armor converged into a single substat each. Right now I would like to elaborate a bit on the specific execution to this, and specially the math involved, but that needs a preliminary explanation of how stat values more or less doubled in number.

There were many reasons behind this change, but I would most likely not have bothered if I also hadn't noticed a small problem with the previous Stat + Skill system - Attributes gave you too much of a bang for your buck. Sure, they were more expensive, but higher stats carried a lot of benefits, not the least of which were being one half of your Defense. What is more, there were only three Attributes, which once increased helped you a great deal to all Tests. Skills, on the other hand, were about a dozen and each had very specific applications. It was clear that just giving Skills half the cost of an Attribute increase wasn't really keeping them balanced to each other.

Now I could have looked for a way to make Skills more important, but it just seemed like it would be a lot simpler to make use of my Advantage/Disadvantage system and just admit that Attributes are the buiding blocks of a character. As an aside, I really like Advantages and Disadvantages, they're simple yet tactical, they diminish the element of randomness to tests your character is good at, yet also let you take a risk by sacrificing some of that stability for a potentially much higher result. As an aside to this aside, I am going to integrate that sidebar (the one with rules for the conversion of stacking Advantages and Disadvantages to additional dice/DN) to their regular rules entry. Anyway, moving on, or rather back to, Skills.

I actually wanted to have only two Skill Levels in Adept and Master early on instead of four, and they would work off just like the current ones do. Since each Advantage is, roughly, a +3 bonus it meant that Skills got a lot stronger than they used to be - having five levels and each one of them being a +1. Specializations and PP Costs would not solidify until much later, but this gave me a good working foundation for what I would need to hammer next: The Actual Attribute Numbers.

I was going to have to rewrite what an Attribute score meant fluffwise, and each Nature's starting values with it. The former part was was mostly a copy and paste job with different numbers, but the latter proved trickier. See, characters are meant to start off as above average with one third of their stats, rather bad at others, and par for the course with the last chunk. But if I make the average a 4-5, then that means they succeed automatically at things that the same characters from the previous version of the game would have needed some luck (or Skill!) to overcome. Not only that, but just having Master Level skill at anything gave you a shot at something of the highest Difficulty Number in the game (20) even at an Attribute value of 0, let alone a much more likely 6-7 at it.

Clearly I was going to have to rewrite all the standard Difficulty Numbers to make everything tougher (by 5, or maybe even 10!!!) and oh my God how do I make weaker characters even stand a chance to get anything cool done when I'm trying to make things HARD for them!!11oneone.

I was trying to reconcile opposite ideas.

Now don't get me wrong, I think things being easy by default takes away from your choice of what you want to be good at, but this would be only one half of the rules - the less important half at that. So I made my choice, and it was to make things generally easier for everyone by keeping the same Difficulty Numbers. All PCs are now a little bit better at doing mundane things than before just by default, because as I like to say, games are more fun when things are happening than when they aren't. All Hail Player Agency.

With that issue solved, I made some quick math and wrote in numbers that seemed reasonable for each Nature. Consider, the average starting value for Attributes is 4, that plus a roll of 6 (or 5 and a Tension of 1) beats a DN of 10, the basic DN for things that are more or less difficult. An above average Attribute at 6 can meet a very, very difficult DN of 15 by rolling 9 or higher, a thing that is considerably easier with Advantages from Skill training. Being terribly incompetent at what you are doing (Failing a DN of 5) now requires you to have a low stat and to roll poorly so it happens less often, which takes it away from being frustrating to making it hilarious when it happens instead. Reaching DN of 20 is possible, but never guaranteed, not even if you go all the way and spend 40 points to get your highest starting Attributes to 11 and gain two Advantages - the result averages out at 23, which is more than enough, but you could also get a 19.

All in all, the numbers looked pretty nice. So this was a good time, I felt, to tackle the specifics of Defenses and Plot Armor. I added a flat 5 bonus to Defense because it is a number that lets people automatically shrug off some Damage if their Awareness is low and gives them a chance to resist if it is high. It is the equivalent of any Offensive Test having an automatic two Disadvantages to their roll. Then came Plot Armor, which I decided I would actually nerf a bit by taking away one Layer because that fourth Layer (or rather, the first one) never made too much sense anyway.

But wait, last time I said that characters were squishy with just their Willpower as Plot Armor, and that was with four Layers! What changed between now and then? My outlook on things, mostly. Instead of making Pilot combat a back and forth deal like it is with Mecha, I figured I would rather it be quick and brutal for anyone who isn't up to being a fighter at the ground level. I decided I would ditch Consequences because they made it harder to come back from the brink of defeat than they needed to, and instead added Willpower Tests to not be knocked out.

As another aside, this lines up with everything I've been saying since 1.4 about making your choices matter more. You can tank very well for as little as 12 PP (assuming you are not a Coordinator) but you have to make it a thing you want to do, rather than expect it to be the default. You choose where your agency lies, and not being able to fight enemy soldiers on foot doesn't make you any worse at actually piloting, so unlike in other games it is perfectly fine to be a wimp that would pass out from a strong breeze.

The last mathhammering that needed to be done was concering Specializations. It seems obvious in hindsight, but I had no idea what to do with them at the time. Then I figured out I could adopt the 3-5-7-10 Upgrade cost scheme and make them cheaper than the Adept and Master Levels but only a little bit worse, and all was good. While I was at it, I renamed, clarified, or rewrote some Skills, split up a couple into separate ones, there is not much of a story to that.

It gets more interesting in the part where I brew Miracles into this hot mess. So we'll take a look at that next, as well as the various Traits and the last of the six stats in Resources. Plus some discarded mechanics that didn't see the light of day, and maybe some of the new toys I would like to add later.

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