PDA

View Full Version : Help with my battle system - the weaknesses of a playtest



Ghostlander
05-03-2014, 08:39 PM
So I recently did a playtest, where I didn't get to prep, and I'm not even close to the best GM i know. Furthermore, I am using a "super hero" type setting, in a modern era. This made it worse because the nature of super hero type games is more reactive than active. The world does not beg for player exploration like a fantasy game would. Or even a sci-fi. So I think i'm going to covert to a more post-cataclysmic event setting, still within the hero genre.

Anyway, on to the system, because i know the above factors didn't help at all, but the battles got stale and I'm wondering what to do to up my system. I thought it would work fine, and it did at first, but slowly drifted out to "i attack, he attacks" and so on.

Basically, you have stats, might intellect agility spirit endurance. These play into your chance rolls (or checks i guess u call em) and other effects. And you pick a battle theme for the character within either elemental ( can control fire, water, earth, etc) Control (darkness and gravity control) Duelist (melee weapons or fists type fighting) Marksman (ranged weapons like bows and guns or whatever u can think of) Frequency ( light and sound control) These are the basics, and each section corresponds to a stat for the chance roll modifiers. I'm also trying to simplify my explanations here so, yeah. U also pick a background, asset, obstacle, and while u level, perks ( bonuses like using d8 instead of d6 for damage, or aoe at the cost of extra energy, or being able to travel faster and in more directions using whatever battle themed creation you come up with. Hell even temporary invisibility power, etc)

Okay so, During a fight you can take several types of actions. Attack, which uses your theme in some way to damage the enemy ( player creates the means of the attack within their battle theme) Defend ( rest of the round u dont do anything but take 25% less damage, or just take a blow for an ally) Hinder ( these are various special effects like bleeding, rooting, disarm, expose, etc) Heal ( attempt to heal yourself or another character similar to an attack action, using intellect or spirit) And Boost ( You select another action and next turn, when you use that action, the effects are greatly increased) Hell, there are some perks that give you extra action options like ultra mode, summon mech, team attack.

Again, simple run down. Now, There are a good amount of combinations of things you can do with these types of action. Rules are very clear when describing. However, in the test, most players did nothing but attack actions even though I explained the rest. And then it became stale for them and me. Was pretty frustrating.

Do people just want "set abilities" instead? Like. Okay I picked a Pyromancer. I have exactly these 10 abilities to use when its my turn that have cooldowns. I dont need to come up with anything because its right there. Its off cooldown so thats what Im doing.

It kind of bums me out to think people just reject a system where I try to get them to think of whatever they want to do and be able to make it happen....and they dont..and have a terrible time because they didn't have enough things they could do... >.>

Again. I already admit a world that had time to be built, and npcs that were already created for characters to find and talk to, would add more investment into the game, and make fights more meaningful, give them some sort of driving purpose the character has in mind.

I'll definitely do that next time.

jpatterson
05-03-2014, 10:16 PM
Do people just want "set abilities" instead? Like. Okay I picked a Pyromancer. I have exactly these 10 abilities to use when its my turn that have cooldowns. I dont need to come up with anything because its right there. Its off cooldown so thats what Im doing.

Well, the obvious solution is to make a version of each - one set of rules that lets you freeform within that element, and another that has a stock set of abilities. Playtest both and see what people think. It might also be possible to make 10 abilities but also note that it is an open creation system, and if there's something that isn't there, players should feel encouraged to come up with things, either by using the existing powers as templates to modify, or inventing something wholly new, if that is the mechanic you want to feature and encourage.

You need to consider why you're making the game, who you're making it for, and if you plan to publish or just have a house system. You shouldn't work on things you don't like or enjoy because they will never get the attention and depth of thoughtfulness that you will give to things you DO enjoy. If you are specifically making a system that uses freeform powers, then you should MAKE that system. No, not everyone will like the idea or use it, and that is much harder for a designer if they have a limited (locally and imaginatively) player base to draw from (such as one's friends and family). I'd recommend considering online skype/virtual tabletops as an option to keep open for trying out what you DO make.


As for me personally, I understand the unwillingness or inability to pick up on and therefore "reject" such narrative freedom. A friend tried to run Ghostbusters many years ago for our group when I was about 20, and none of us really quite grasped the concepts of the game, me especially. All I had played was Call of Cthulhu and AD&D2 and such, and though the GM could have done a much better job of explaining and highlighting EXACTLY what it was players COULD do and were expected to do (INVENT a device that can track red ghosts that smell like cheese), when your only frame of reference is pre-made powers and abilities and usual dice rolls for pass/fail binary results, even if he had come out and told us exactly what to do, my only response at the time would have been to blink and say "Huh?" I simply was not able to grasp even the basic idea behind looser, more player-narrated actions that had mechanical effect - it was and to some extent still is like trying to build a bridge across a chasm but starting from the middle - no foundation for a player to work from (or so it can seem).

I have since come to enjoy rules lite games and do try to encourage more narrative and creative actions and mechanics and really enjoy the idea of Dan Bayn's Wushu Open (check it out if you haven't) and now I also have found how difficult it is for other people to understand the freer mechanics.

Ghostlander
05-03-2014, 10:53 PM
Well, the obvious solution is to make a version of each -
You need to consider why you're making the game, who you're making it for,


As for me personally, I understand the unwillingness or inability to pick up on and therefore "reject" such narrative freedom.

I have since come to enjoy rules lite games and do try to encourage more narrative and creative actions and mechanics and really enjoy the idea of Dan Bayn's Wushu Open (check it out if you haven't) and now I also have found how difficult it is for other people to understand the freer mechanics.

See I understand the standpoint. I'm wandering into dangerous territory with this style system. And I'm having second thoughts for a couple reasons. Firstly, if people take the time to describe some awesome feat and it only ends up the exact same as any other description, why bother?
I have perks to cover that mostly, but if a character isn't too sure about what they can and cannot do I understand that.

For some reason it seems like even in an RPG< people like being given more limits than freedoms. Strange but yeah.

I guess set ability rosters for each "class" just makes life easier for everyone. I will admit it's getting complicated on the freeform side of things over here.

jpatterson
05-04-2014, 11:33 AM
Although it's a bit complicated for my tastes, the important thing that HERO system really hit on and works for all games, in my opinion, is "effects based" powers, meaning you decide what you want the power to DO, first, then you decide how it does it. It is somewhat the opposite of the Wushu system but both actually work similarly, in that you add more detail as you go, to bridge the gap between "what I want to do" and "how I do it".

In HERO you are adding specific interpretation of aspects that make up the component of how your power works (obvious accessible focus, ranged, area effect damage), while in Wushu you're aiming for a "target number", but in this case it is simple "as many dice as I can get", so you narrate additional embellishments and details, leaving "I attack the thug" in the dust for "I screech into the parking lot (1 die), and hoist myself athletically out of the car through the window (+1 die) and slide across the hood (+1 die), and land on my feet while delivering a spinning punch to the thug (+1 die) = 4 dice to roll to see how significant the attack is".

I've found the observation about freedom and "limits" as you refer to it,to be mostly true with some people, though if you think of the idea more as "structure" rather than limits, I think you'll find you'll be both less disappointed or resentful of people who don't like or can't seem to grasp the idea of freeform play, and it will also help you write or design toward a goal of what works as the upper limit of what level of individual narrative control you can give to players without them becoming vaporlocked and paralyzed from too much choice. I recently spoke to a fellow GM about this because without one or two specific characters, his players tend to simply meander and not only not come up with plans or ways to do things if given free rein, but also get lost even doing things everyone agrees on, going off in irrelevant directions instead of sticking to an obvious goal.

I think some of the pushback is from people not wanting to invest time and effort into coming up with ideas or descriptions that may have no value, if for example, their rolls fail. Wushu avoids this by making the description have merit on its own, since whatever is described DOES happen, without fail - it just uses the dice to tell if the action has *significant* result, so even if the action fails to do anything, the players have made a narrative, persistent change (or meta-change) that they and others can build off of (such as creating a clump of bushes with a nature power). By and large, we are efficient in many ways, mentally or physically (putting in less work if possible, to get hopefully greater result is the ideal) so people don't want to bother describing something that might not have any effect.

It might not be something you want right now in your game but if you consider it a baby step, you could put the 10 powers in, and encourage players to simply embellish what happens, and give them a Wushu-like die or bonus for each additional detail, so the more descriptive they are within a structure, the better their chances of success, but they still have the confinement of the original stock power to grow from. If you can get them used to that, you may be able to guide them toward taking fuller advantage of the openness idea and see them move away from the existing powers to create their own.

Something else you might do is have some random tables around, either for each combat or each turn in a combat, or for each player when they use a power. Have them roll once or twice to come up with some "elements" such as "motion" or "entangling" to spur some creativity. Maybe that whole round of combat will reward any actions or powers having to do with "deception" or "illusion", giving them a bonus if the players can work that in somehow. This adds what they see as limitations or structure, but is really just a random agent to help inspire creativity. Or for an even more mechanical approach, make the table using actual mechanics, such as "Range" or "Damage", encouraging the players to focus on a particular aspect of the power, so a power that is used for a "damage" roll might suggest to the player to cast/invoke a power with energy (like an electric shock) or physical component (a thorny tangle of vines shoot out of their hands).

Ghostlander
05-10-2014, 02:37 AM
Although it's a bit complicated for my tastes, the important thing that HERO system really hit on and works for all games, in my opinion, is "effects based" powers, meaning you decide what you want the power to DO, first, then you decide how it does it. It is somewhat the opposite of the Wushu system but both actually work similarly, in that you add more detail as you go, to bridge the gap between "what I want to do" and "how I do it".

In HERO you are adding specific interpretation of aspects that make up the component of how your power works (obvious accessible focus, ranged, area effect damage), while in Wushu you're aiming for a "target number", but in this case it is simple "as many dice as I can get", so you narrate additional embellishments and details, leaving "I attack the thug" in the dust for "I screech into the parking lot (1 die), and hoist myself athletically out of the car through the window (+1 die) and slide across the hood (+1 die), and land on my feet while delivering a spinning punch to the thug (+1 die) = 4 dice to roll to see how significant the attack is".

I've found the observation about freedom and "limits" as you refer to it,to be mostly true with some people, though if you think of the idea more as "structure" rather than limits, I think you'll find you'll be both less disappointed or resentful of people who don't like or can't seem to grasp the idea of freeform play, and it will also help you write or design toward a goal of what works as the upper limit of what level of individual narrative control you can give to players without them becoming vaporlocked and paralyzed from too much choice. I recently spoke to a fellow GM about this because without one or two specific characters, his players tend to simply meander and not only not come up with plans or ways to do things if given free rein, but also get lost even doing things everyone agrees on, going off in irrelevant directions instead of sticking to an obvious goal.

I think some of the pushback is from people not wanting to invest time and effort into coming up with ideas or descriptions that may have no value, if for example, their rolls fail. Wushu avoids this by making the description have merit on its own, since whatever is described DOES happen, without fail - it just uses the dice to tell if the action has *significant* result, so even if the action fails to do anything, the players have made a narrative, persistent change (or meta-change) that they and others can build off of (such as creating a clump of bushes with a nature power). By and large, we are efficient in many ways, mentally or physically (putting in less work if possible, to get hopefully greater result is the ideal) so people don't want to bother describing something that might not have any effect.

It might not be something you want right now in your game but if you consider it a baby step, you could put the 10 powers in, and encourage players to simply embellish what happens, and give them a Wushu-like die or bonus for each additional detail, so the more descriptive they are within a structure, the better their chances of success, but they still have the confinement of the original stock power to grow from. If you can get them used to that, you may be able to guide them toward taking fuller advantage of the openness idea and see them move away from the existing powers to create their own.

Something else you might do is have some random tables around, either for each combat or each turn in a combat, or for each player when they use a power. Have them roll once or twice to come up with some "elements" such as "motion" or "entangling" to spur some creativity. Maybe that whole round of combat will reward any actions or powers having to do with "deception" or "illusion", giving them a bonus if the players can work that in somehow. This adds what they see as limitations or structure, but is really just a random agent to help inspire creativity. Or for an even more mechanical approach, make the table using actual mechanics, such as "Range" or "Damage", encouraging the players to focus on a particular aspect of the power, so a power that is used for a "damage" roll might suggest to the player to cast/invoke a power with energy (like an electric shock) or physical component (a thorny tangle of vines shoot out of their hands).

Sorry I didn't reply earlier. As you see in my other post, I understood what you were saying. I agree with the hero system being a bit too much as it's out of my tastes as well.

The embellishment and flavour part is more what I'm going for. Hero too crunchy Gurps too filled with things i dont care about as a player, and the checks and other actions are not to my liking.

jpatterson
05-10-2014, 05:15 AM
While obviously nobody will recommend you directly *steal* ideas from other games, but mining them for inspiration, for good ideas, to develop and mold to your own purposes, to make up the greater framework of your whole game. If you like some parts of HERO but find it too crunchy, or GURPS too bloated and irrelevant, then set those issues aside while acknowledging them as being your valid, legitimate complaints that you feel do NOT fit in your system.

Next, look at the rest of what those systems you DO like, try to find out what parts about them are appealing to you, or that you like, or feel are elegant or demonstrate things you'd like to see in your game. Not necessarily the exact or specific mechanics, but what they accomplish - are they quick? Do they have a large range of degree-of-success that would be useful for my purposes? Are they easier to grasp? Think of how your game could implement a similar procedure and obtain a similar or even better goal, using your own much more appropriate and fitting function to your own game.