Time waits for no hoppolite – or does it

Players will always surprise you. That’s something you learn as a GM and something you have to be prepared for – things not going as you foresaw or anticipated. In an established game this can be a cause for concern for a GM who lays careful stories and plans for key moments.

But in game testing, where you want things to break, so you can fix them, it can be a boon.

I’m having to come to terms with a game breaker in VANGUARD – Timeloch. Timeloch is an esper ability that allows the player to control time – time travel in narrative is hard enough, but at least the story moves with the time travel – but timeloch allows for bubbles of suspended time, within a continuous time stream.

I love the idea of a timeloch esper, and I don’t want to take it out of the game – but I definitely need to tighten up the rules surrounding this profoundly influential ability.

The problems have been coming to light as one of the game testers is a rather powerful timeloch, capable of creating bubbles of static time at a distance. This has allowed him to suspend enemies, block incoming ballistic attacks and avoid all sorts of other damage and danger. And while I commend his use of the ability and clever ingenuity it is obvious to me that I’ve let it go to far. The rules for the abilities are clear in terms of what the timeloch can do – but not so much in what they can’t do. And I am to blame for the game break here as I let the player manipulate the ability in ways that I had not anticipated or planned for – so I could see where it would lead.

As an example: this character timeloched an enemy combatant, moved in close and killed the enemy with ease. Now the description clearly states that any object that comes in contact with a timeloched object becomes subject to the same time loch so in practice he should have been timeloched the moment he tried to touch the enemy and if I’d played it that way there wouldn’t have been any issues.

But having allowed the attack to go ahead I set a precedence which I’m now going to have to reverse, something I don’t like doing.

But this and other uses of the ability in the game test has bought up loads of questions concerning how this ability should be administered. Are things caught in the timeloch still subject to external influences such as fire, heat, other esper abilities? While in the wording of the rules a bullet shot at a timeloched target would be halted in the same timeloch the moment it touched the target – does it then continue on the same trajectory and velocity it had once the effect wears off? And what if an esper with pyro-kinetics decides to melt the target in timeloch -are esper abilities beheld to time when activated?

Do these issues even need to be clearly laid out? or should it be up to each individual GMs interpretation and how they want to play it? I’ve been GMing for a long time now and one thing I try to do in designing mechanics is ensure that there is as little stress on a GM as possible, the least amount of confusion and reason to break play to have to consider possible outcomes of one decision or another – but as a game designer you can’t build in every scenario, because the players will always find a new path to lead you down.

Hurry up and wait

It’s a common saying in the army – meaning that everything is done with urgency even if the momentum to move forward is being hampered by other means.

At the moment Vanguard is on the go slow – first it was school holidays, now it is moving house, and while I’m working frantically to get things done I don’t seem to be getting very far.

That said the second playtest pack is still in production and going well, the game testing of the second pack is also going well, but there are just not enough hours in the day for me to feel like I’ve accomplished enough.

Had a great conversation with two of my senior testers the other night to try to sort out the last real issue with ship to ship combat manoeuvring and while the suggestions and ideas have yet to be trialled by fire I’m satisfied that the resolutions will not only mean the basic combat rules are complete but also that the rules really keep ship to ship combat in the realm of roleplay rather than tactical TT games (like x-wing or full thrust). The pilot and the crew will make a difference to any engagement. With engineering crew keeping the ship in the fight as medical crew keep the personnel going and the pilot(s) skill and experience can be a real deciding factor in a conflict.

But with things on the home front in upheaval I can’t say when production is going to get back onto a predictable track.

Weapons free

So my son and I spent some time testing out the space combat rules for VANGUARD. Was a great experience, found lots of stuff to fix and lots more to think about and add in. The control of a multi-weaponed ship was a bit overwhelming for him at first but once he realised he could fire off volley after volley of self-guided missiles at me he got into the spirit of it. 20140406_120222The first engagement was just between a confederate light frigate (the Dasseula) and a tanarii cruiser or Axura, the Axura is slightly lighter than the Dasseula but weapons wise they are about equal. The Axura was a little bit faster but really that didn’t help it against the firepower and fire control of the Dasseula. Yes, the Dasseula won, not decisively, it took some heavy damage before it managed to obliterate the Axura in a hail of high-accelerated flechette, but obliterate the Axura it did. But even so it still needed to fend off a few missile volleys the Axura had sent on their way prior to being destroyed. The battle was fast, I wouldn’t say furious, the ships kept their distance, fired volleys of self-guided missiles and then engaged with ship to ship projectile weapons, which really were the decisive damage in the battle, with the missiles taking their sweet time to reach their targets. The speed of the battle was a little unexpected, although I thought the damage system and damage to ship systems mechanics I’m playing around with worked really well. It’s given me lots to think about so that’s good. And now I think this week I’ll be able to put the finishing touches on the starship rules!


Inertia dampeners

The travail of hammering out space combat rules continues in earnest and I think we’re making headway; also simplifying the starship construction rules is nearing completion for first draft so that’s good. It hasn’t been easy to keep the technical side of design but with a simplistic approach to allow young players to feel they can do it without exploding a vessel (ba-boom).

After Jerry Ozbun’s run of Code Red on NIMBUS-6 at a convention he had some great feedback which highlighted some issues to look at. And while Jerry was the first to admit some of them were purely due to a lack of system knowledge others I felt would best be served by looking at them closer.

The major one being damage. As it was the damage from weapons, versus armour was fairly linear (which is fine), but the health of the individual didn’t maintain this same scale. Instead it was defined by the character’s toughness. This lead to situations where many character’s would get knocked out of a battle in the first hit, as some only had 1 health to begin with, and if they weren’t covered in sheets of polycarbon nanoweave armour they would be out of the game (at least for a while). So to compensate for this there were two options, multiply the character’s health rating or divide the damage. We worked on dividing the damage – which worked well, but meant there was a math equation between the players and figuring out how much damage they had taken, and for the younger gamers (and most of the gamers) this broke the suspension of disbelief, taking them out of the game and causing a stress.

So it had to go. I put my head down and started crunching stats and trying out different game mechanics.

This lead me to take tough out of health itself and instead use it as a meter for determining whether or not the character could shrug off any damage that made it through their armour. So far it looks like it will work (at this point in time we haven’t actually tried it) and it means that the weapon damage remains linear as does the armour ratings. What it does do, that was an unexpected boon, was creating a situation where by certain weapons could not have their damage ignored.

Why is this good? Well in a previous post I mentioned the search for a solution to large scale weapons damage and the problem with linear damage systems being too overwhelming but games compensating with mega-armour or other such measures. Now in VANGUARD given, if this new system works, if a character gets hit with a .50cal round that makes it past their armour, they won’t be able to just shrug off the damage, even if it’s just a scratch, because a mere scratch from a .50cal round is like a smackdown from a 9mm – and that’s the point. Some weapons, if they hit then the damage they do is substantial.

This doesn’t mean that the character has no defence against them, they still get to dodge out of the way, and if that doesn’t work get the attack adjusted by what ever armour they are wearing – but if that isn’t enough to stop the attack from damaging them, then they’re not going to be able to just ignore the wound like they might from a smaller weapon. This form of damage from a weapon is referred to as its threat rating; so a knife might have a threat rating of 1 while a .50cal sniper rifle a 7 or 8.

So far it looks like a great restructuring of the damage system – looking forward to testing it out. And I’ll let you know how it goes.

Head down

So I’ve been keeping quiet the last few days but that’s because I’ve been working solidly on the starship rules. They’re still not ready but I’m slowly bending them into submission.

The main issues I’m having at the moment is reconciling scale. I want the rules to mesh seamlessly with the rest of the rules, for characters and vehicles; but as would be obvious it is a matter of scale – and speed.

A starship moves so fast that on a character scale it is gone before it was even on the board – and the scale of a ship means that it’s never really going to be on a board – it may be the board but it won’t be on the board (i.e.: map to a character scale)

The reasons are obvious, but then you look at vehicles and while vehicles also are not moving anywhere near as fast as a starship fighter craft like the cutterleaf or the sparrowhawk can appear in a character scale scenario and then you have to work out some sort of speed scale that allows for this scale of interaction. So you have these vehicles in a half way house – because they are slow enough to allow for character interaction but fast enough to play a part in ship to ship conflicts in space.

And the third consideration is weapon scale. The logical thing is to keep the scale of vehicle mounted and ship mounted weapons in line with character held weapons, it’s logical, easy and straight forward and let’s face it, if you’re in your kaltec ranger armour and you get hit with a ship mounted particle cannon, there really isn’t going to be much left of you. But the scale issue of damage is in making it accessible to the younger player – after all that’s the goal of VANGUARD. Now if we were to keep the scale of the ship mounted weapons in line with character mounted weapons, it’s feasible that some of the damage adjustments could range into the hundred mark and then perhaps you have issues of slowing combat down while you run multiple attack arithmetic.

The Palladium system used to deal with this scale issue through the use of megadamage and while I had many fond games using the Palladium system (Robotech and Rifts mainly) the megadamage scale never sat well with me, it always felt contrived (as it was) and lead to a clear arms race between the players and the GM, always upping the armour they were wearing and the GM always having to up the weapons the bad guys carried to compensate, until eventually everyone is running around with megadamage armour and weapons and then the scale not only becomes redundant but ridiculous. Part of the problem was that the palladium games made megadamage infantry portable weapons readily available (through the use of powered armour or whatever) and the moment this happened the individual soldier on the battlefield (in megadamage resistant armour) is no longer a vulnerable individual but a god of war. And while there are plenty of power gamers who find that thing cool I find it distances the player from one of the great things about roleplaying games, exploring the ideas of what make us human – and perhaps the most important of these is mortality.

So getting back on track, I don’t want to differentiate scales. You’re Molen jumps infront of a frak cannon tearing up the void of space he will get shreaded. But I’m still struggling to find an elegant solution to simplifying large scale damage.

All systems

I posted this to the G+ community the other day but didn’t get a chance to post it here…

Today I mainly worked on the starship design rules. I’ve got a working protomechanic but I’m concerned it’s a little over complicated so going to try to pare it down a little. On the up-side it uses a lot of similar mechanics from the rest of the game system so that’s good.
At this stage the ship design rules are a bit like character design and I think there will be ship ‘talents’ as well. These will define special aspects of the ship as well as non-standard components or characteristics.
One interesting aspect to the design system so far is how ships can be built in a modular fashion, so sections can be built independent of each other, but could share a combined power source and that different systems could have their own control network. This will enable the development of large starships, (like the Enterprise for example) where different parts of the ship could be detached and remain independent or combined, as well as different sections of a ship having different design principles (such as heavier superstructure or more weapons etc.
The current prototype can also allow for the tracking of power consumption which means you could divert power from one system to increase another during times of need. But then the working out of what consequences this would have I haven’t gotten to just yet.
But it’s pretty exciting – now I just have to make it manageable and easy to track. But the possibilities for tactical ship design are obvious.
These sort of mechanics are well above the age bracket I’m looking at so they’re really for the GM and older players to mess around with.

Today I continued with ship design rules. I’ve got a lot of inputs and trying to think how to simplify but still give enough flexibility and realism to make it exciting.

I’m reaching a bottleneck when it comes to energy consumption and loss of energy…

Catch up

Phew! Well I was so tired last night (or at least my eyes were) that I couldn’t find it in me to post an update.

Yesterday was pretty tough, but I managed to get the nutwerk pages done and as I sit here typing I’ve got one last skillset template to complete (Yay!).

After that it’s a matter of filling out the advanced loadouts for the templates and then I can move on.

But for now here are the nutwerks, enjoy :)


Nutwerk species description pages

Jam tomorrow

Today I was working on layout and some new set up for skillset templates.

There is one thing that I’ve learnt in making games; no matter how much you love it, no matter how much you’re invested in it and love the game, there are just times when it’s hard, when it’s a slog and when you’re looking forward to what’s coming not what needs doing. That sort of sums up today.

It’s not that what I’m working on isn’t cool, isn’t interesting, isn’t going to make the game better; it is and will. It’s just that there are so many other things I want to get done and they carry more emotional weight than what I’m working on now.

So what am I working on? Skillset templates, these are the beginning character templates that will make game setup a matter of minutes rather than hours. In effect you can take a template, choose a species and you’re good to go.  But there’s also options for modifying a template, a little or a fair amount, depending on how much character gen you feel like doing -  I mean you can still go the whole hog and do a scratch build – that’s ok to.

In addition to working out the base templates I’m adding in skillset only talents, so when you choose a skillset as your character’s job or role, you also get to choose one of the unique skillset talents to go along with it; and so they’re pretty cool.

Along side those I’m listing the skillset loadouts; equipment packages based on how advanced your character is in their chosen job. So the template will start with a base of 3 in the associated skillset with a list of armour, weapons, equipment and the like, and for each additional rating in the skillset, the character will be able to upgrade their loadout.

This is just a way to get game play started fast; grab your template, choose your species, update your loadout and you’re good to go. All that could be done in 5-15 minutes. But I’ve still got to generate the sixteen templates and format all the details on the character sheets in the computer – hours of fun it is not, but someone has to do it :)