Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Domino-based Combat Mechanic

I currently own two sets of dominoes. Every time I reach over them to get to some of my other gaming supplies, I think, "Surely I could use these for some RPG-related purpose!" Well, today I woke up from a nap with just such an idea: using dominoes as combat rolls.

This mechanic would work best for a simple exchange-based combat system. Each player draws a domino, orients it horizontally, and then flips it face-up. Just like a Magic: The Gathering creature card, the value on the left side is the offensive attack modifier (power) and the value on the right is the defensive or armor modifier (toughness).

As a further option, each player can declare an offensive or defensive stance before flipping the domino over. If offensive, they rotate the domino so the higher of the two values is on the left/attack side. Similarly, for a defensive stance the larger value should be moved to the right. (Actually, this should perhaps be the standard procedure so as to avoid any questions about some players' flipping technique, since the pips on a domino can sometimes be felt while the domino is still face down.)

Of course, each domino end gives a +0 to +6 modifier. Or, at the expense of a little -3 math, a linear progression from -3 to +3 (including 0). Doubles could perhaps allow for some special effect--such as the option to use a certain feat or combat stunt.

I'm not quite sure where I want to use this mechanic yet, but I quite like it--especially for an exchange-based combat system where each character is supposed to "roll" only once per round/exchange. For melee combat, this works pretty well using a single die roll--the higher roll between two combatants deals damage to the lower. However, things can get a bit fuzzier with ranged combat, multiple combatants, or when you'd like the option of two combatants injuring each other in the same round. This domino approach still means only one "roll", but you conveniently get two values. Very slick! Can't wait to try it somewhere...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Die Mechanic Flavors

Yesterday on the bus I started mentally comparing Dark Heresy's roll-under d100 die mechanic to that of Zludge's 2dF. In particular, I was curious how much such a conversion would affect the percentage likelihood of success in different situations. But I came to realize that this is too low-level of a comparison. Instead, it's more important to consider the assumptions behind a mechanic and the resulting "flavor" that it imparts.

Here's what I mean in terms of 4 different die mechanics I've been working with lately:

d20: linear skill variation. Here, the die roll just provides a random bonus to the skill. The average d20 roll is about 10 (10.5, actually), so against a DC of 10+skill, there's about a 50% chance of success or failure. If using critical success (natural 20) or critical failure (natural 1) rules, there's a 5% chance (for each one) each roll, regardless of the character's skill level. Because the roll distribution is linear, you are just as likely to roll at the extremes of the range (+10 or -10) as you are at the character's actual skill (+0).

Zludge: curved skill variation. As for d20, this just provides a bit of randomness centered on the character's skill level. However, a curved roll distribution is weighted towards the skill level: there's a 33% chance of rolling +0 on 2dF, but only an 11% chance of rolling +2. If +0 is sufficient to succeed, this gives a 66% success rate.

I feel this curve limits some of the "gambling" flavor of d20, especially since the range of possible roll values is so small. It's almost like playing diceless--it's unlikely you'll get very "lucky" with a roll. But this goes the other way too: it's more unlikely you'll fail miserably just due to a bad roll. Instead, you have to intelligently play based on your character's skill level.

Dark Heresy: linear roll-under. Here, you roll d100 and roll under your skill value. The degree of success is determined by just how far under you roll. Thus, as your skill level increases, so does both the likelihood of success and the possible degree of success.

In Dark Heresy, the average skill starts at about 30, so this gives only a 30% success rate (though this can be modified based on the circumstances; it seems DH's default curve center-point is for a pretty challenging task). Since the distribution is linear, each skill improvement gives the same return: +5 skill increases your chance of success by 5%, regardless of whether you purchase the increase at a low or high skill level.

Assuming few characters ever achieve the max skill level of 100, there is always a chance of failure on a roll. It feels that your fate is controlled much more by chance with this mechanic: your skill only sways the likelihood of success, but there are no guarantees here. Every roll is a gamble. (I actually like QAGS's "the Price is Right" spin on the linear roll-under mechanic a little better, but it produces the same results.)

GURPS: curved roll-under. As a roll-under system, this too seems to have a bit more of a gambling feels. For example, you're just as likely to roll an 18 on 3d6 when you have a skill of 8 as you do with a skill of 16. However, since the distribution is curved, at least most rolls will be centered around 10.5. The chance of rolling an 18 is only 1/216. Skill increases at higher levels provide increasingly limited returns.

After considering these differences, I think I am correct in going with the Zludge die mechanic, since that is the flavor I want in my games. As applied to Dark Heresy, this may reduce the "grittiness" a bit. However, I do still plan to try QAGS a bit, to see if my expectations for a linear roll-under system really do bear true.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

New Year's resolutions

The past few months have been rather slow with the gaming as I've been busy with my PhD work. Now the pressure is really on to finish that up this Spring semester. So it looks like the RPGing will be scanty for the next 6 months or so. However, since it's my addiction, it's unlikely to be completely non-existent...

And on a related note, I was in the bookstore a couple days ago, flipping through RPG books and settings. Though I was intrigued by a few setting images, I realized that I really could fit some of these into my existing worlds. For example, there's the whole "jungle filled with vine-covered temple ruins where savage lizardmen worship dark gods yet lost laser guns can still be found" milieu. I realized such a planet could easily be placed in a Warhammer 40k universe (along with a separate Shadowrun-like hive city planet, etc.). Similarly, such a jungle (sans laser guns, perhaps; though with Magic Missile wands available) already exists in the extreme south of Tellure. So I don't need to build a whole new campaign to run an adventure or two in these worlds.

So, with these two insights in mind, I'm figuring out which of my many threads are important enough to keep open, and which should be shelved for now.

Rule systems [OPEN]

These two are merging somewhat, as z20 becomes complex enough to support d20 PCs. In short, I can run z20 rules as DM while players are still working in d20. The core of z20 is pretty close to done, though. That's good! And I'd like the combat system--particularly possible actions in combat, etc--to (mostly) mirror Zludge Prime. It's already close, so that should reduce duplicated work between these two threads.

Dark Heresy/Zludge Prime
I'm converting DH a bit, and using it as the basis of what I want Zludge Prime to be. I need to decide if I want to play it with its own d% mechanic for a while, or some QAGS-like variant, or straight Zludge 2dF. But this should eventually become my heavy-weight simulation-gaming system.

I just downloaded the QAGS quick-start last month and it seems pretty cool. I'd like to play around with it a bit (as is only; no tweaks for now!) with a few one-offs adventures.

Along with one-off games, I'd like to explore this way of generating stories on the fly.

Rule systems [CLOSED]

This primarily means finishing the narrative-based combat system I've started. But I also need to figure out how exactly Huffy varies from Fluffy.

This too needs to be clarified.

Zludge Prime, Fluffy, Huffy, (and even z20 to some extent), distilled into modular rules and a collection of GM tools. Is this still worth doing?

System reading backlog
I have a number of free and quick-start PDFs downloaded, nearly all gaming/simulationist in nature. Most of these boil down to essentially the same thing: a collection of attributes/skills/feats to define PCs, a die mechanic, and a list of combat moves. In the process of clarifying Zludge (above), it'd be good to skim through these for more comparisons and ideas to filch.

Campaigns [OPEN]

S.'s line. Decent testing ground for z20.

B.'s line. The place for d20house (though it may become more z20 behind the screen).

Tellurian Tales
My original, primary line. I'd like to get back to some solo play on this again. It's been way too long... Should perhaps be a d20 PC test-bed for z20, with a focus on story. (Now that I've got the d20 rules down, I'm finding solo combat to be rather tedious...)

(Warhammer 40k)
This is my own tweak/compilation of Dark Heresy and Rogue Trader. The story has only be slightly sketched so far, so more notes, sketches, or even testing solo one-offs would be good. (However, real play should not start until after the dissertation or one of the other campaign threads closes!)

If they truly are one-session games... (but see below).

Campaigns [CLOSED]

Interludes & Ailithorn & (solo Planescape)
Shelve these solo Tellurian strains for now. The Planescape Gith monk thing is meant to be preparation for Dragonwars after the end of RHoD, but that'll be months yet, so don't worry about it now.

Columbia: Fantasy in the New World
This started as a "D&D western" idea, but has expanded to include Carribean pirates, lost Atlanteans, and dark jungle ruins in the jungles of South America. But, as mentioned, versions of these things could captured in my other settings (at least for now).

Squirrel Attack! & Mouse Guard
I'd like a little anthropomorphic animal action, but I should leave this be for now. The official Mouse Guard RPG looks really good (and a little more narrativist than I'm used to), and so I wouldn't mind reading/owning it at some point though.

I enjoy this system, and have a few ideas on more insomniac stories, as well as other forms of madness (including something along the line of JAGS's Wonderland). But these will keep until after I finish my dissertation...

God's Dogs
Except for the one adventure I already have prepared for B., this is too similiar to Dark Heresy to have a separate campaign (especially right now).

Heavy Metal Atomic Wasteland
Nothing planned in this at the moment anyway.

I think B. needs to take the lead on this one before it'll move ahead.

(As-yet-unforeseen world ideas)
My one-offs rarely stay that way, but tend to become full campaign worlds instead. Beware those! Jot the ideas down, but don't spend more than one writing session on them.

Well, with all that in black-and-white, it seems pretty clear: focus on playing my main/oldest 3 D&D lines. To that end, tweak z20 as necessary. In preparation for the future, play around with Zludge Prime and Warhammer 40k. For lighter gaming, try QAGS and Mythic in some one-offs. Other ideas--whether rules or worlds--should be jotted down for future exploration and expansion, but no new lines should be started for now.