Wednesday, August 13, 2008

If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It ... But What If It Is?

The first thing that told me something was wrong with the system was actually when I was assembling the pregenerated characters for "The Magic Belt of Oz". The combat oriented characters had a Fighting skill of only 1. Sure, they all had Deadly Weapons to make the skill useful, but they weren't very good with it. Then I thought that Oz Points would raise that skill when it was needed, but a fight scene often has a number of rolls they would have to make, and Oz Points are a slowly renewable resource.

Something was going to have to give. I tried to give as little as possible, at first. My initial solution was to reprice the Deadly Weapon trait, so that instead of spending 2 points on Deadly Weapon and 1 point on Fighting skill, the characters would have instead spent 2 points on Fighting skill and only 1 point on Deadly Weapon.

It might have worked if that was the only optional skill. But if there were no master fighters, than there were no master craftsmen either. Or master poets. Magic proved to be the last straw. Since the magic system uses 2 optional skills, the fact that neither of them can be very high proves a very glaring error indeed.

If I had any kind of experience system, situations like this could be resolved in a session or two, once the character accrues enough XPs to buy off the deficiency. But the system as it stands does not have the granularity or the depth to really support it. Players would eventually buy up every skill to it's maximum level and all characters would be so similar and so proficient that they would be uninteresting. Also, there's very little character growth through the stories, so it's a little unnecessary when trying to model the fiction. The Oz Point and Friends List system should work to maintain interest and increase character depth over time.

I was wary at first of the idea of "skill traits". I liked the idea of having the variety and granularity that a skill rating provides. However, there didn't seem to be much of an alternative without adding too much complexity to the system. And simplicity is one of my design goals.

Since this change started with the Fighting skill, that leads us into the changes to be made in the combat system.

First of all, let's go back a few entries to where I mention my tenets for design of the combat system. One of them was "Not everyone is a fighter". So making the Fighting skill less useful was a good thing from that perspective. However, the typical gamer perspective is that "everyone is a fighter." A few people I talk games with will use the combat system of a game to get a grasp of it's mechanics. Whenever I mention something new that I'm working on or bought, the question is usually "How does combat work?"

No one wants to sit on the sidelines while everyone else is out being bad-ass. Everyone wants to contribute to the important parts of the game. Everyone must be a fighter. So I folded the Fighting skill into Athletics, which is a skill that every character has. I debated a "skill trait" for fighting, but then realized that everyone would probably take it anyway and then complain about wasted points.

Now it was on to the combat system itself.
The original iteration of the combat system was largely a statement of "You can fight if you want to." There was some basic structure, but nothing interesting. The updated combat system (which will be on the site in a few weeks) will have a selection of maneuvers. In no particular order, these are:

Painful strike: The default attack that anyone can do. Inflicts Wits damage.

Knockdown: A special attack that knocks the opponent over, as well as inflicting Wits damage. This is basically the same attack that Mighty Blow grants, but it allows any player to attempt it by taking a -1 penalty on the attack roll.

Injuring Strike: This is the attack that takes off limbs. Those with the Deadly Weapon trait can attempt it at no penalty, but someone with an improvised deadly weapon (taking down a sword from a wall display, perhaps) can make the attempt at a -2 penalty.

Impress: This one is new, but makes a lot of sense when you look at the source material. This is a challenge of Presence vs. Wits. Most of the fights in the stories were not of the "last man standing" variety that we see in RPGs today. In my previous blog entry on the combat system, I mentioned the idea of Tik-tok administering a spanking to the leader of the Wheelers. The Impress maneuver is typically used after a Painful Strike or Knockdown attack to exploit the opponent's now-weakened Wits rating, much like a parent spanking their child and saying "Don't do that again!" Even if the attempt doesn't get you what you want, it will often rattle your foe enough to produce a Wits penalty.

Defend: By taking this maneuver, your character becomes devoted to defense. They gain a +1 bonus to every roll they make to avoid an attack. They can also make a normal defense roll to protect those within arm's reach. (This is the "Shaggy Man" rule. In "The Road to Oz", the party is running away from the Scoodlers who are trying to put them in the soup pot. The Scoodler's respond by throwing their heads at the adventurers. The Shaggy Man catches every one and drops it down a chasm. You didn't think they were all aimed at him, did you?)

Cast a spell: If the character is a wizard, they may attempt to cast a spell with a simple ritual, or a complex ritual that takes a small amount of time. If a spell has no ritual requirement, they may combine it with another action (likely an Impress attempt).

Movement: This system is intended to be largely abstract. If a character wishes to move a significant distance, the Narrator may decide that such movement will take all of the character's turn to complete.

I should have a revised character creation chapter on my site by next week, which will reflect the revised character creation options that I've mentioned here, along with a few other tweaks.

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