Friday, April 11, 2014

An A1V type star....

An A1V type star orbited by a stellar remnant walks into a bar.
Bartender asks, "Why so sirius, eh ?"

Thank you, thank you !  I'm here all week, tip your waitresses, they're great

Friday, March 7, 2014

Now that I am, how do I have? (or, Stuff) <- More rules.

Now that I am, how do I have? (or, Stuff)

Oh Yeah.  Throw in a mask, and I'll drive it off the lot !

If you need something that isn’t permanently linked to your character, you need to roll enough successes, which vary by the value & scarcity.  The career you use is citizen, unless your adventuring career would be more appropriate. As a guide, your social class is defined by your CITIZEN career.

Night Train Rockafeller,
Millionaire Hobo
(rejected player character)

Class                                         CITIZEN
·        RICH                                   5
·        UPPER                                 4
·        WORKING                             3
·        POOR                                   2
·        BUM                                     1
·        DESTITUTE                         0


Forobtaining  stuff, determine how many successes it costs from the table below:
·        If your CITIZEN is greater, you have it (until it gets blown up) !
·        If your CITIZEN is equal, you can be assumed to be renting it, but have to make a single success citizen roll each adventure to keep it.  If it is blown up, you now have a new hobby –paying it off !
Ha !  Thought you were safe up here !
Luckily I have

·        Otherwise, roll the above number of dice, adding the citizen rating to each.  Yes, the rich can have it all.   As ever, each 7+ is a success.  If you have enough successes, you have it till you don’t

You can only roll if it is possible to succeed.  However,  if the item requires more successes than possible, a player can gain one free success before rolling by reducing your Citizen by one . Two successes requires lowering it by  TWO levels. OUCH ! If you get it, you lose it between adventures, but regain your CITIZEN points.  

While lots of common stuff is bought using your CITIZEN skill, career specific stuff can be different.  Any time you need to roll for an item, instead of your CITIZEN, you can use an appropriate CAREER . The adds are still the citizen rating, but the number of dice rolled is determined by the career.  Thus, a BUM (1) would normally  be unable to obtain a pistol (cost 2) as he can only roll one dice at +1 (CITIZEN dice +CITIZEN) ; however, an ex Army (3) BUM rolls three dice for +1 (ARMY dice +CITIZEN).  Two successes and hes a Hobo with a pistol !

NOTE that in a major pinch, you can reduce the career you substitute as if it was CITIZEN.

If you have NATURE instead of CITIZEN, your effective CITIZEN is BUM.  Use careers where you can, Tarzan.   In his case “RICH BASTARD HEIR” turned out to be his career.

Cost of stuff with some examples, or, everything has its price, sweetheart !

NOTE: that Items rated at 6+ require either being WEALTHY, or reducing you CITIZEN or CAREER, or being an NPC villan or patron, who can have a citizen higher than 5. Characters, never.
Free/dumpster divings      0             Rags. Old butts.  Ketchup and chickenbone soup. Squirrel.  Shank. Club. Beano.
Cheap/Ubiquitous               1            Old clothing, gum, shiv, smokes, Poison Liquor. flop
Inexpensive/common           2            Zip gun, , Cheap Booze, Old Car. hardscrabble, apartment
Affordable/uncommon         3            Pistol, Rifle, Shotgun Sm House, Car,  good stuff Booze, farm    
costly/Unusual                    4            Lg House, fancier car, sm airplane,country estate Military arms (BAR, Grenade) top                                                               shelf Booze:
Luxury/uncommon               5            Mansion,Yacht, fighter, race car, lab, big/new plane, tank, plantation,  best Booze
Ruinous/Rare                      6            Secret base, rocket, flying yacht/HQ
Priceless/Unique               7+           Hope Diamond, The Mona Lisa, Battle cruiser, Spy army

Examples of transport:  match with value (hints: one is 0, one is 6)


Monday, March 3, 2014

Some FAQqy stuff for BAGS I left out, or possibly have been written since

Daring dudes doing stuff doingly !
What all this should look like.
The Century Goose destroys the KMS Death Sun with a lucky shot (tm)
The earlier post jumped right into character generation.  here are the two semi-mandatory "how to roleplay" and quickstart parts.
How do I play this?  What do I do ? Where is My Butt?  I’ve used both hands and I can’t find it !!  
 Okay, here is the topline: You pretend to be a someone else having a bad day, otherwise called a HERO having an ADVENTURE. 

·        Since adults argue even more than five year olds playing cowboy (got ya !  Nuh UH!) we have numbers and rules to make decisions easy and (sorta) impartial. 

·        To do stuff you roll dice to see if what you want to do works, and how well.  The better you are at stuff, the more dice and higher numbers you generate –which is good, because harder stuff needs bigger results.

·        When you screw up, bad things can happen, like when you fail to jump a chasm (you fall to your doom), or fail to not be punched (you get ouched).  In which case, since no one here is very creative, usually this means you get hurt or lose cool stuff. Sometimes you die.  Again, we have numbers and rolls to determine when or if this happens (see: playing cowboys).

·        Players work together , dealing with a scenario designed and run by a referee.  Everyone says it isn’t player vs GM, but we all know the truth after our first game.

·        If you make a point of doing well, you can get better at what you do, or learn new things. Plus, you get to keep cool stuff, especially when the bad guys “don’t need it any more”.

·        Got all that ?

How do I know what to roll ?
Here is the quickstart version for those too excited to actually read the rulebook before play; nowadays, this is invariably described as the universal resolution mechanic, which, as far as I’m concerned, illustrates much that is wrong with RPG design these days (future rants on this topic will include the terms “engine”, edition versioning, rules “patches”, GNS (?) theory, “standard modifier”, “immersive fiction”, fiction as example”, "cultural models", "quickstart" and probably more….)

·        So, to do stuff, you roll some six-sided dice, add modifiers to each dice, and determine how many get a 7+. These are successes. Then add automatic successes for the final total.

·        The number of dice you roll is 1 + the career relevant to what you are doing.  Basically each career is rated from 0-5 indicating how long you have been doing that, or how good you are. 

If you have no relevant career, and you cannot whine beg and rationalize a way to use one that you do have, you roll only the one dice. Plus, you should be ashamed to call yourself a gamer.

·        The modifiers to each dice are whatever stat is relevant to the task.  Again, they are rated from 0-5, strictly indicating how good you are at that kind of task.  Note that having a stat at 0 = kinda screwed

·        Roll your career dice, add your stat to each one.  All rolls that get a 7+ are a success.
·        Harder things need more successes, extra successes mean you succeed elegantly.
·        Finally, if you have a relevant advantage, and an advantage is anything from a prop to an amazing physical ability, you get a free success.  Multiple advantages can give you multiple extra successes. Yay team !

So, easy tasks should either only require one success, or be a gimmie. A skilled task (one an unskilled character couldn’t be able to do) should require 2, 3 or 4. Note that with a six dice max roll, hitting a 4+ for successes pretty much requires having some free successes from advantages. Plus, there are mechanisms to burn GRIT to get better results. Read on. Or play. 


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

On random character generation

On random character generation

I like it random*.  I like being surprised by what the numbers mean –or finding out how to make sense of them. 
* shut up.

I also like point buy systems – I like being able to hit the ground with the character I feel like playing.

At one end we have the roll 3d6 in order & suck it up (OD&D)
On the other we have complete customization down to the last .1%; nothing is randomized (Champions/TFT, GURPS).

I've seen it argued that Random vs allocation systems are at the heart of what makes one a true roleplayer, and worthwhile and self assured person; It works both ways, too: random players are innumerate boobs role who play to play a loser, allocation players are "compensationg for personal powerlessness".
For me, the problem is thatwhile I like playing what i am handed,  I cannot help but be a munchkin, given the chance. , while I love getting to play exactly the character I want, I know myself.  I can’t help but look at allocating numbers as an optimization problem.
All the supervised generation characters tend to revert to the basic type I like to play –all combat guys end up as Thrudd bigaxemann , the VERY strong of the strong hills of strongaria  ; all wizards are Bored-Flak the pyromaniac genius, living platoon support weapon; all thieves as Batman.  Period.
Also, it doesn’t have to be numerical optimization per se: I had to have a GM limit my character choices in a 3.5 game to only base classes and feats because I kept locking up with options, and I could never quite finish the damn character. 

So, I tend to want to design games with random generation; but, with rules lite gaming (which I prefer) there is a stats problem I’ve never seen mentioned:
 if you only have two or three stats, it is very easy to get screwed by one low probability roll;
and the likelihood of getting a low and a high to balance out are not excellent with three possibilities.  And yes, I know one can get gifted by a single outlier roll which is good –or even two.  But, one, no one complains about that, and two, it can screw the other players in terms of fun or participation  if one guy can handle all the mental tasks.  But the real problem that messes with both is the character who cannot function.  So that’s what we worry about, essentially falling off the left side of the bell curve, which for only a few rolls is surprisingly steep.

Less stats is always at the heart of Lite RPG design, but more stats at least means more hope of an acceptable distribution.  So rules lite typically are point buy/allocation systems, with or without numbers. Let’s call them Supervised.  And, to even things out, we could call the random ones Stochastic, but that is pretentiousness of a level barely tolerable after using “Supervised” so let’s stick to calling it  Random.

The first version of BAGS used a pair of D6 to generate 0-5, skewed ((roll 2 d6, subtract the high from the low.  Most frequent roll is a 1 with 5 being least frequent (1/36).  Good, right ?  Nope.  At least one character could not roll above a 1, and indeed had a 0,1,0 character.  With the original BAGS rules, that meant that for any action or interaction test, he needed a 6 to succeed. Hes a good roleplayer, so he sucked it up and played thru until I changed to 7+ for success –then he complained.  At which point, the party (and me) realized that despite his best efforts, he couldn’t do jack , so any situation which was complicated by more of the players failing a roll pretty much was always the case. 

But crap.  If I give players 5 points, some dork invariably goes for 0,0,5.  If I require at least a 1, the number of different characters is vastly reduced.  More than 5 means you need to limit the max, so basically all you get is Mr average, and miss onestat wonder.  If I change the value of a 0, whatever number it becomes is going to be the most frequent one, and there is no granularity for low stats. 

IIRC, I wussed by allowing players to pick a profile instead of rolling.  Which is okay, but balance in small numbers of permutations equals (for me) boredom.

Okay, here is my new thought.

Mongoose traveller (see, a motion to discuss traveller is always in order) originally included ironman rules.  This harked back to the old “you can die in chargen” rules for Traveller classic/original.  Normally,  in MGT, a failed survival roll left your character alive, but physically messed up –missing an arm, one stat massively reduced, permanent high tech tattoo of LOSER or THE THIRD IMPERIUM SUCKS or ALL SPACE MARINES ARE FILTHY COWARDS on your forehead kind of thing. In the draft of MGT, you could opt to have survival rolls kill your character, and in exchange you got some kind of a reward.

I think it was essentially a level of Ironman per term you rolled for, and in play, you could always use your ironman skill instead of any other skill. Or maybe it was a number of rerolls.  Whatever, it got left out of the final version (boo hiss) because I think the stodgyest members hated it worse than death because it made no sense.  Or was unrealistic, scientifically.  (As decreed by a which  qualified him to have authoritative say on social issues, probability and trade economics, as well as play balance.  )

Anyway, rant over, the point is that it allowed you to be more random and get rewarded, just like one gets a reward for supervised chargen.  Which I like.

So, guess what is next up on BAGS revision planning ?  This:  for each stat you roll randomly, you get a free point of GRIT.  

Wasn’t that a lot to say to justify a simple design choice ?

Yep.  It was.

Friday, February 21, 2014

design factoid: humans do not intuit probabilities or statistics very well at all ; no math version

We see and choose based on perceived and thus not quantified extremes, not the highest probability; in other words, what we want, or what we fear has a BIG influence on how we think about chance.  Thus, State lotteries, thus, too, much superstitious behavior; also, much criticism of game design (see, actual relevance !).

Normally this works well enough, since the universe of avoiding cave bears and such is far from perfectly random and probabilistic, and there is a big bias represented by getting it wrong(eaten) simply based on choosing the average return. So we maximize the best outcomes, and avoid the worst, regardless of likelihood.  But, when it is highly probabilistic, and we don’t crunch the actual numbers, this don't work so good.  

The left side of the probability distribution for most of Human history
 Thus, looking at a probability tree (such as  in Traveller chargen), and deciding “Yuck, chances are I’ll get a one skill wonder or die before I play” Is usually waaaaay wrong.  *
Bottom line: it isn’t rocket science, but it isn’t as easy as speaking. It’s more like reading.   Barring accident or mutation, everybody learns to speak eventually, just by virtue of hardwiring; reading takes work.  But almost anyone can get there.  Rocket science, apparently not so easy, given how often Rocket scientists incinerate themselves and the local area code.

So, let’s look at Traveller more (any excuse will do):  original traveller handled Random/allocated chargen on a direct and a meta level.  Mostly random, but with a big dollop of allocation at a leverage point. Your stats were random, and your character history was dice ruled after you pick the career you are going to play.   And that choice was absolutely critical – most stat profiles could find a good fit in a couple of careers, so you have some choice –however, a bad fit made it very unlikely that you would have a successful resolution before you started play. 
Originally, this meant that you either “mustered out” (were fired) early, with few skills and benefits, or Died.  After the first edition, the vast beeping and squeeking about dying before play became so loud that even without the internet opinion amplipolarizer, that got changed to “fired with consequences” .  But still.   
If you’ve actually sat down and generated tons of Classic style characters (LBB1-3 + COTI for those who know) you find out that, yes indeed, choosing a good match for career and stats does give you a fairly good range of options, and boosts your survival (or non-termination with prejudice) significantly.  And, well, Scouts always die.  But that is on the label.
So, while it looks insanely stochastic (see! real technical jargon) it isn’t even close to as random as the armchair Pseudotravellers (those who only read or skim  the rules before posting and/ or making up their mind)  would have you believe.
This relates to the next topic: random vs purchase chargen design in rules lite systems (like, say, BAGS)
*For instance, did you know that by fiddling with the reenlistment roll typically to make it easier, one can actually increase your likelihood of dying ? You can, trust me –and there is a sweet spot that optimizes the two positive outcomes (survival and retention) . Interestingly, the tables are often already there.