Sunday, 26 February 2012

ORE Vampire part 2: Damage

Storyteller-Style Damage

The way ORE force fits the hit location to height doesn’t appeal to me much – it seems like adding an extra dimension for the sake of it. Okay, I quite like the way it’s handled in MaoCT, but for other ORE games the integration isn’t seamless.

Besides, hit location tables are so seventies, and few of my gaming group use or like them. This is one area where abstraction is actually a good thing.

Lethal and nonlethal damage

Splitting damage into lethal and nonlethal types is common for ORE and Storyteller systems, but is binary – a weapon either causes Bashing or Lethal damage. ORE has a nice way of downgrading Killing damage to Shock by action of armour.

The Amazing Engine rpg Kromosome setting uses a nice mechanic to differentiate between lethal and nonlethal damage.

When the percentile dice are rolled to hit the ones die is used to work out lethality. If the die is higher than the weapon’s lethality rating, it does killing damage, otherwise it’s just bashing/shock. Armour (or Fortitude) will modify the lethality of the damage, as well as soak hits.

This system is a nice fit with the ORE height roll. And crucially it makes damage variable while making amount of damage independant of lethality.

Shock and Fatigue

Very few systems do instantaneous damage with immediate but without lasting effects.

This is not what comes to mind in the modern Vampire tropes, where supernatural creatures throw each other around like rag dolls but are only temporarily affected.

I propose a few (re)definitions:

  • Shock is an instantaneous effect that can temporarily slow someone down
  • Injury (lethal or nonlethal) is a lasting effect that will also slow the character down, and is recordable.
  • Fatigue is simply cumulative injury that affects the body’s base state. This is what happens as you mark off wound boxes.

Characters can suffer both shock and injury as a consequence of taking damage. Some weapons may be designed to deal shocking damage (e.g. a taser or blackjack).

Damage Presentation

Kromosome just uses a traditional pool of hit point and fatigue (a bit like Palladium‘s HP/SDC approach). The problem with this is the need to grind through Fatigue just to knock someone out – good for PCs, tedious for running combats.

For the Department V game I used a grid. Each wound level was a row of boxes equal to some formula involving Stamina. Nonlethal damage knocked off boxes along rows, and lethal damage knocked off entire rows, one per point. This was attractive to look at but in play massively emphasised the need for PCs to get in lethal shots – if anything, the grinding was worse.

(That was inspired by the system in the Cyberpunk 2020 Character Sheet with its four boxes per wound level. I never liked the damage scaling in CP2020 but the feel of the system was very good.)

Exalted uses a nice hybrid of the CP2020 and (old) WoD with the first few wound levels represented by multiple boxes. Mostly this is an example of how damage scaling has been tuned to a high-fantasy setting compared to the default horror setting.

I feel that a single damage track à la Storyteller is still the best, where both lethal and nonlethal hits contribute to current wellbeing. However using one level = one box means you have to be very careful to tune the damage scale. Using the CP2020 approach has a benefit that you can be more relaxed with the scaling. There are other benefits when presenting Aggravated Damage as well (see below).

One other alternative is not to use any kind of track or running tally, but to count each wound individually. The Maelstrom RPG did this. It’s useful if you want to track how each wound heals over time.

Damage Scaling

The ORE silhouette puts ten boxes in the torso and four in the head. Four kills to the head will kill a character, otherwise ten are needed for a kill to the torso. Five hits will take out a limb.

Weapons tend to do damage in the range of Width, plus one or two for the larger weapons. This means that a two to four width shot (Shock or Killing) to head or limbs is going to destroy that location. By comparison a similar shot to the torso isn’t nearly as final.

Whether you like this scheme or not (and I don’t – it’s arbitrary and in some cases just wrong) it’s significant for a couple of points.

  • firstly if damage is scaled on Width+ then damage will be in fairly predictable increments of 3-ish, more with bigger weapons.
  • secondly, a character struck by an above-average hit will, 70% of the time, suffer a serious setback – incapacity or death. The other 30% will be a torso hit which won’t incapacitate – hey, you weren’t doing anything with those internal organs, right?

The role of Stamina

The standard RPG trope is Stamina (or Body, Constitution, Endurance) equals more hit points. But in ORE the Body is primarily skill-oriented, so doesn’t confer extra wound boxes.

The old World of Darkness way was to use Stamina to “soak” damage, which made for a lot of dice rolling, and also doesn’t translate to ORE well.

The NWoD is streamlined so that Stamina just adds more wound boxes. (There are quite a few system changes with the new system – some people think it’s broken, because weapons become disproportionately important and at the same time don’t reallydo much damage).

Whichever approach you take, using ORE damage ratings makes Stamina useful as a “threshold” stat. For example, you could rule that any one injury that exceeds the target’s Stamina results in some temporary shock – regardless of whether it causes actual lasting harm.

There is a temptation to apply Strength and Stamina as direct damage modifiers. The problem with that approach is the extremes of scale (e.g. Strength 1 vs Stamina 5) are larger than the normal width of a roll, so base stats dominate over skill.

Aggravated Damage

Vampires and other supernaturals tend to have weaknesses which balance their advantages. To make the weaknesses really bite, you could consider knocking off one wound level for every point of damage from fire, for example.

This approach could make fire disproportionately deadly for players. But that could be just the effect you’re after, right?

Final Comments

I still need to work on the scaling, but my preffered approach (from player readability PoV) is

  • a single damage track – but possibly split into multiple
  • Stamina provides an instantaneous threshold for any one attack (a “shock threshold”?) as well as providing a “buffer” for the damage track
  • weapons are rated for Lethality, and a roll with sufficient Height is lethal (otherwise it is bashing damage)
  • armour may reduce the lethality of weapons as well as reducing damage (but not necessarily “shock”)


Monday, 20 February 2012

VampORE, part 1: The WT Archetype

This isn’t relevant to anyone who is likely to play in an ORE-based Vampire game, since the framework for character generation is deliberately constrained to generate vampires and only vampires. But to put a vampire in the context of generating a WT character, I’d probably go with the following to generate an archetype for a vampire:

Source: either Genetic, Life Force or (obviously) Paranormal. This depends on whether you view vampirism as a transmissable blood disease, a manefestation of the blood itself, or a supernatural creature that has to drink blood.

Permission: Super, or possibly Power Theme.

Intrinsics: This is where it gets interesting. Firstly, a whole load of Allergies to Sunlight, Holy symbols, Fire and the like (although Fire is already damaging, of course). You could treat the vampire’s thirst as an Allergy, reducing their Willpower when their blood gets low. These can be varied depending on clan weaknesses.

Next, there’s the Inhuman intrinsic flaw. This could selectively apply to some vampires, or could apply to all of them depending on whether they cause humans to instinctively react to a predator.

Finally you could consider No Base Will or Willpower. You’d need to call it something else to avoid confusion with vampire Willpower, but it would mean that vampires can only power their disciplines by stealing Willpower (or any vital force) from others.

ORE Vampire

One-Roll Vampire

I was a bit disappointed with Wild Talents as a superhero game – but as a toolkit for building a supernatural game it could work nicely.

Since retro is never out of fashion, I’ve been thinking of going back to old-school VtM.

Vampire came out in 1991 and as an impressionable goth it captured my imagination for three reasons:

  • it had really nice character sheets
  • it de-emphasised combat in favour of roleplaying
  • vampire myths had not yet saturated the rpg and spec fiction market

ORE is another buckets-of-dice system it could be fairly straightforward to drop-in a different system.

But why bother?

  • Storyteller system sucks – especially when you do want to run combat
  • System does affect the feel and presentation of a game
  • White Wolf has rebooted the world with Vampire: the Requiem. I want to see what happens when you keep the world and reboot the system. Both approaches can challenge the players’ expectations and freshen up the game.

I’m going to write a series of posts for the reboot.

Here are a list of changes I would make if converting Vampire to Wild Talents:

  • revised damage system (shifting away from the ORE damage silhouette)
  • how to increase the number of attributes in ORE/WT from 6 to 9
  • disciplines – how to apply the WT design rules to vampire powers
  • how Passions can take the place of vampiric Virtues
  • what to do with Willpower, Blood and Humanity
  • tweaks to the ORE combat system

That’s it. Now what do I call this project – VampORE? Hmm.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

ORE, part 2: Wild Talents

A while back I decided to stop trying homebrew rpg systems and use a commercial system – something modern.  I bought Monsters and Other Childish Things and Wild Talents, together with a few supplements in a sale.

The MAOCT campaign is still happening, using the rather good Dreadful Secrets of Candlewick Manor. A few sessions on and my main criticism is the sheer information overload – that and the distinct lack of child NPCs in a game about 10-15 year olds. If they were to write a second edition of Candlewick I’d like to see a few family trees, and maybe some local maps.

I won’t hold my breath. Usability improvements are not the top priority for second editions at Arc Dream. If they were, the index for WT2e wouldn’t be a complete joke (referencing the table of contents?).

Not For Beginners

I ran my first and only session of WT on holiday with a bunch of players who were newcomers to the system, but not to gaming. It was a terrible mistake. I had ambitions of gun-fu combats from Hard Boiled and Wanted. The unfamiliar dice mechanics, sheer volume of rules and my lack of instantaneous knowledge totally upset the flow and the game ground to a halt.

I wanted a superhero game that could be played out of the box, and I had seriously misjudged the level of commitment needed. But even if I had been familiar with all the rules, my players weren’t. Basically I was seduced by the idea of a supremely flexible system of powers, and bought the wrong game as a result. That doesn’t make WT a bad game in itself.

Critical Acclaim

WT has some quality ingredients. Greg Stolze (the awesome Spherewalker Sourcebook), Kenneth Hite (lots of GURPS, plus others), Dennis Detwiller (Delta Green) and Shane Ivey (err… blowing his own trumpet here). It should be good.

And WT has been critically acclaimed.  Google for “Wild Talents Review” and you’re unlikely to find a review under four stars.

(Kurt Wiegel of Gamegeeks doesn’t like to do negative reviews.)

I’m going to break away from the crowd; I do not think Wild Talents deserves anything more than a 3 out of 5 stars. I think it’s a complex game with great power, but deeply flawed in its presentation – giving me the experience of an epiphany one moment, and the desire to wipe my arse with the pages the next.

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    p>Positives

    WT has some excellent writing in it – from Chapter 11 onwards. Kurt Wiegel proclaims the section on building histories as worth the price of admission alone, which is laying it on a bit thick but a good comment – it’s the best part of the book. Sadly I don’t think this is packaged in the smaller, cheaper WT essential edition, which is just the rules.

    The artwork inside is lovely, paper is thick and glossy and the text is well laid out and not too small.

    The actual history presented in the timeline is nice if you’re likely to use the Godlike timeline, and providing general inspiration.

    Quirks

    This game is highly abstract, and while I don’t think abstraction is a bad thing in itself it needs a lot of interpretation and imagination. As I’ve mentioned before combat is “interpretive” rather than “narrative”. Select the dice pool, roll the dice, interpret the result. The Cult of ORE tout this as a strength, but I have yet to be convinced – although I do like the way width = initiative.

    This abstraction goes further when designing powers. I like the principles – you choose the source of your powers, then for each power you have a Quality (does it Attack, Defend, or be Useful), a Capacity (does it affect you, something at range, speed, something massive) and then pile on Extras and Flaws to “tune” the effect. It makes a lot of sense to me. The problem comes in the time it takes to explain the concept to players. Like the family trees and maps in Candlewick I asked for, would it have killed them to provide a flow diagram for generating powers? Talsorian did this for Lifepaths in Cyberpunk 2020.

    This issue of obscuring process flow in text is something I encounter all the time at work, too; people generally don’t appreciate the value of presenting complex workflows pictorially. In the case of this game it looks like the authors have taken the player’s familiarity for granted.

    Disappointments

    WT is “unashamed” about its lack of power balance – pointing out that a low powered character could build powers that turn off the sun if they wanted to. Fair enough.

    Why then have a points system at all? A points system should help the GM to match power levels between players and antagonists. Being open to abuse is one thing, but if the points system doesn’t make the game easier to play, it has little value.

    Also, I found the authors prone to giving the vaguest advice in places where definition is badly needed. In character creation they recommend “not just giving a pool of points, but setting limits on how much can be spent on stats, etc”. Fair enough, but what limits? If you’re concerned about players exceeding normal human levels of competence, then what are those levels? You might think I’m asking too much but they took the trouble to do a statistical analysis of Supers population by decade and country in the design chapter – so they recognise that providing a sense of scale is important. (edit: there are a couple of pages of sample characters right at the back – but it’s still too little information and in the wrong place)

    Like most complex systems we learn by example; so to understand how powers were created I looked at the “Miracle Cafeteria” chapter where a list of common powers have been developed using the toolkits. And it was here I kind of lost my patience – because in about half the cases I looked at I just couldn’t get the numbers to add up when I plugged it into the fan-made spreadsheet. Why couldn’t the designers just show their working?

    Lastly, the character sheet is just rubbish. I know, hardly the end of the world but seriously it looks like it was banged out in Microsoft Word. Character sheets are the way the player interacts with the game mechanics. Games like Vampire and Everway show us what a well-laid out character sheet can do for the mood of a game.

    Final Comments

    So why does everyone else froth about this game when I have had such a mixed experience?

    You see a lot of games being forgiven for bad mechanics because of the “quality” of their game world – and by “quality” we really mean “quantity”. But I gave up on Exalted because the sheer volume of text obscuring how to actually play was more than I had patience for.

    We are gamers. We pay for and play games. And in other segments of the gaming industry – such as boardgames – critical acclaim is given to clarity of rules and quality and balance of gameplay, not just a pretty box. In the video games industry reviewers are merciless.

    So the conclusion is that WT has been reviewed well on the strength of its atmosphere, its world design and alternate histories, by gamers who are willing to forgive its difficult rules and fudge where necessary. Because that is the RPG way – we expect inconsistency, arcane rules, and having to fight the 300 page rulebook to extract value.

    I don’t think WT is a bad game, but these days I value simplicity of system. I was hoping that WT would be flexible and simple at the same time. I think it can be made simple with some work, but that wasn’t what I wanted.

    I’ve been thinking about rebooting Vampire the Masquerade using the ORE, with WT to reinterpret disciplines. Using WT to develop a framework is going to be a lot more effective than asking players to use the rulebook as it stands. WT is a meta-rpg; it’s a toolkit for building a semi-homebrew rpg under the ORE framework. As long as that’s your expectation of the game it can work, but it needs a big investment.