February 10, 2013

A Tribute to Player Agency, part trismegistos

So far we've gotten a closer look at Attributes, Defense, Plot Armor, and Skills. There's only two holes left to fill concerning those - Resources and Miracles. And then we can move on to Traits and their ilk. The reason I've left them for last is because their creation is closely linked! You see, early on Resources was going to be Mana Ether Spirit Soul, and it was going to be exclusive for use with Miracles.

That did not work out too well. It would be an extremely important stat to characters who used it, and absolutely worthless to everyone else, and that's not what a supportive attribute (like Awareness and Willpower) is supposed to be. In addition to that, Willpower just got hit by reducing the four layers of Plot Armor to three, so I figured - hey, maybe we could use Plot Armor to fuel off your superpowers! Sure, why not.

The Damage mechanics were always the same from the moment they had a track of their own to their final version, since I wanted the use of Miracles to be unpredictable. As is right now, the average character can use one Miracle per Scene more or less safely, while someone who invests into Willpower will be able to use two. Combat Miracles are unfortunate in that their use will probably take you into the second or third Layers of Plot Armor earlier than you'd like, but they do far more damage to the enemy than they should do to you with each use anyway.

I really didn't have a sixth that anymore, but I did not spend long looking for (or even wondering if I should have) another. But why Resources? I mean, Resources is a thing that you could easily abstract entirely and never have come into play meaningfully to an entire long-running game, and yet sometimes someone's wealth or contacts can be campaign defining. You know, it is not exactly the same thing as the function that Awareness or Willpower serve, but that sounds like secondary stat material to me. The question now was how to implement it.

In addition to having Resources be a thing you could Test when in a pinch, to see if you can obtain an item or to ask a friend for help, I decided I would use them as the workhorse for Equipment, which was previously very vague and almost ignorable. The rules for Equipment might be a bit prohibitive right now, all things considered, but they give you a reason to pay attention to Resources, which in turn gets people thinking more about their character's position in the world, which cannot be bad. That said, I'd like to make items more desirable and accessible in general.

This brings me to Traits! Let's rewind to the pre-1.6 version for a second and explain why they were like that. Because I wanted starting characters to be competent, and because Traits had to match up to Attributes and Skills in terms of XP, I made them very cheap, but they could only be obtained during chargen. Now fast forward to the present, and starting characters are a lot more competent now than they used to be, therefore Traits can afford to be more expensive, and can be obtained after the creation of a character. That said some of them need to be recosted or buffed, not by much but at least a little.

There was one piece of the puzzle I was missing, and that was to make some cheap customizable abilities that could be used to fill up space, in the same way that you can make backup custom weapons for your mecha with leftover UP. Since everything in general was more expensive now, and since even cheap attributes could scale up quickly to costing 5+ points, pilots were in dire need of something to bank their XPs in when they were done getting the big stuff and had some spare PP left. Something more interesting than the old Plot Armor, hopefully. This led to the creation of Deathblows and Assets.

Deathblows came to be as they are for a variety of reasons. One of the things that didn't work so well in the previous version of the rules was combat, mostly because it was a slow drawn-out affair without many of the interesting tricks that mecha combat brought to the table. Fortunately I already knew I wanted to make personal battles a lot shorter than they used to be, but there was still the issue that it wasn't very interesting. I came up with the idea of active modifiers to regular attacks, kind of how like even in JRPGs it makes no difference whether you use excalibur or a folding chair as a weapon, save that sometimes special weapons have a special command you can use with them. The end result left me pretty satisfied, you can use Deathblows to make energy whip attacks distinctive from say a rocket launcher, without bogging down the game with tons of complex rules.

Next there's Assets, which you might be surprised to hear are one of the game's original mechanics waaay back when it was a humble .txt file - albeit with some tweaks because Resources was not a thing. Back then there weren't as many rules for pilots as there are now, so every PC had a free Asset to use as a get out of of jail free card, in a sense. As the rules expanded, Assets weren't so necessary anymore, and I rolled most of them into Traits of their own (Such as Ally and Resourceful) or discarded them entirely. What changed? Well, Resources happened! And since there is already a stat designed to handle these things, I figure there's no harm in bringing them back, though now they would have a cost. As the book itself explains, the idea behind them is that you turn to your Assets when you have no idea how to advance further and want the GM to give you a hand, with the drawback that you will likely have to pay the favor back to the Asset later. They are a panic button with an in-built hook for future developments, and that is a nice thing for both the Player and the GM.

But why are both Deathblows and Assets so limited in their use? I mean, sure, mechanically it would be because they're cheap, but why can't I say, spend 10 PP to to let my character use them all the time? Wouldn't that be awesome? Well, no, it would not be. At least not after the first few times. It would take both Deathblows and Traits from being this awesome thing you use to turn the tide of combat or advance the plot against all odds to a gimmick. Now I do get that, in practical terms, putting enough points in them basically lets you use them every time you get the chance - but you still don't know if you will need them again later, so you always have to think about when the most effective time to use them would be.

And that's that for our look behind the scenes at 1.6 and its changes. As mentioned above, there are a few things I would like to adjust or expand for 1.7. I don't want to approach the levels of 'equipment porn' some systems indulge in (You know who you are) but I do want to expand the list of fancy equipment with more interesting toys. I have no idea when that one would be coming out, perhaps sometime in April. There is a lot of work to be done!

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