Grappling with grappling

The single most difficult thing to design in a game, in my experience, is grappling. It sounds simple, doesn’t it? Two people wrestling. It’s literally the world’s oldest sport. But in game after game, it’s ridiculously complicated. The first game I ever worked on, Gatewar, had a full page of tiny print describing it. We did our best with Bulletproof Blues, but I was never really happy with it.

Fortunately, with the new task resolution in 3rd edition of Bulletproof Blues, we were able to drastically simplify grappling.

This is a work in process, obviously: it may be a bit different when the book is published.

Grappling

A grapple is a special form of close combat attack that does not inflict damage, but instead restrains the target’s limbs and prevents them from moving freely. The attack value (AV) of a grapple is equal to the attacker’s Brawn, and the defense value (DV) of the target is equal to the defender’s Brawn or Agility (whichever is greater).

If the attacker’s roll is greater than the defender’s roll, the defender is restrained. A restrained character is not helpless, but they can’t use normal movement until they break free of the grapple. Attacking a restrained character is easier, and a restrained character’s attacks are easier to avoid: a restrained attacker incurs a penalty die on all attack rolls and defense rolls while restrained.

A grapple is not normally able to inflict damage directly (like a punch), but the attacker may attempt to use leverage to hurt the grappled character.

Breaking Free Of A Grapple

To break free of the grapple, the restrained character must use a task action to roll their Brawn or Agility (whichever is greater) against the attacker’s Brawn. If the restrained character has XXX Telekinesis, they may use their Power for this roll. If the restrained character’s roll is greater than the grappling character’s roll, the restrained character has broken free of the grapple, and they may use their movement action for that turn. Alternately, the grappling character may release the restrained character at any time, without using an action.

Hurting A Grappled Target

If the attacker wishes to exert strength or leverage in an attempt to hurt the restrained character, they must use an action to make another attack roll against the restrained character.

Grapple vs. Grapple

If the grappled character succeeds in a grapple attack against the original attacker, both characters are considered restrained. Neither character can use normal movement until they break free of their opponent’s grapple. Both characters incur a penalty die on all attack rolls and defense rolls while restrained.

Throwing A Grappled Target

If the attacker wishes to throw the grappled character, the distance an attacker may throw the defender is based on the Brawn of the attacker and the mass of the defender. First, look up the mass of the defender in the “Lift” column (rounding to the nearest mass value), and find the corresponding Brawn for that mass. Subtract that from the Brawn of the attacker, and look up that resulting value in the “Throw” column. This is how far the attacker can throw the restrained character.

New task resolution in BB3

Bulletproof Blues 3rd editionIn Bulletproof Blues second edition, task resolution took the form of:

2d6 + action value vs. 8 + difficulty value

In Bulletproof Blues third edition (currently under construction), all rolls are opposed:

2d6 + action value vs. 2d6 + difficulty value

Why? Three reasons.

First, new players often forgot the “8” in “8 + difficulty value”, and would need to look it up. Having to look things up is no fun.

Second, when on the receiving end of an attack, players like to feel that they have some influence on the outcome. Although it makes little difference statistically, players feel more involved if they get to roll some dice when their character is attacked.

Finally, making the roll 2d6 vs 2d6 gives a more varied result. Compare the 2nd edition roll to the third edition roll.

On lethal damage and scary weapons

In the current version of Bulletproof Blues, there is no difference between the damage inflicted by a sword and the damage inflicted by a baseball bat. There is a simple reason for this. Aside from a handful of specially designed weapons, like rubber bullets and tasers, any real world weapon is lethal — and even tasers and rubber bullets can cause death or crippling injury.

However, in the comics that Bulletproof Blues seeks to emulate, there is a big difference: a character who carries guns and/or swords is not regarded in the same way as a character who carries a hammer or a ball-and-chain, even though, in the real world, these weapons would all be equally lethal. A character with guns is a killer. Guns are scary. Swords are scary.

Thinking about this, and how we might apply this distinction in the next version of Bulletproof Blues (which is a long way off), it occurred to me that there is a real-world equivalent for this phenomenon: the “assault weapon”. The term “assault weapon” was popularized in the late 1980s by an anti-firearm lobbying group seeking greater restrictions on civilian firearm ownership. This effort was successful, at least for a while. The U.S. Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 restricted ownership of “assault weapons” in the United States from 1994 to 2004. However, the distinction between an “assault weapon” and an ordinary rifle was a cosmetic one. This rifle…

Ruger_Mini14

… and this “assault weapon”…

Bushmaster_AR15

… are functionally the same. They are, for most practical (rather than cosmetic) purposes, interchangeable. The difference is not in the weapons themselves, but in our perception of them. “Assault weapons” are scary looking… much like guns and swords in a superhero comic.

So what we are thinking about is a new power enhancement: Scary. “Scary” powers are not any more effective or lethal than other powers, but bystanders perceive them to be more lethal, and more dangerous… and the people who use such powers are perceived as more bloodthirsty, and more willing to take a life.

What do you think?

Third time’s the charm

Following up on the previous blog post, here’s what I am thinking now for combat resolution in ZeroSpace. Currently, the resolution mechanic looks like this:

2d6 + action value [+3 or –3] vs. 8 + difficulty value [+3 or –3]

We want to split up the character’s contribution and their weapon’s contribution, and make both meaningful. That will look like this:

2d6 + attribute + weapon [+3 or –3] vs. 8 + attribute + defense [+3 or –3]

I was pretty happy with the simplicity of “action value” and “difficulty value”, but if we have players adding two things (e.g., attribute and weapon), than coming up with a name for that sum just seems like a needless complication. On the other hand, it does make explaining the game mechanics a lot easier. I’ll keep “action value” and “difficulty value”, for now, and just define what those values actually are on a case by case basis. It might work. We’ll see how it goes.

We currently call the number assigned to each attribute its “rank”, so I suppose the simplest thing to do would be to call the numbers associated with weapons and defenses “rank”, as well (rather than attack rating/defense rating).

And since weapon-like esoteric powers and alien traits would need to work this way as well, we need to add an attribute for them, which I’ll call Power, at least until I think of something better.

So what would this change look like, in practice? It would go from this:

Blast

Blast is a short range (10 m) attack of pure esoteric energy which inflicts endurance damage. The Blast has an attack rating equal to the character’s Willpower.

Dissonance

Dissonance is an unarmed close combat attack which inflicts endurance damage. Dissonance has an attack value (AV) equal to the Willpower rank of the character with the power.

Dissonance ignores all normal forms of protection such as armor and energy shields: instead, the defense value (DV) of the target is equal to their Willpower. This is particularly effective against inanimate objects, since they have no Willpower.

A character with [[ZeroSpace:Esoteric_Orders#Harmony|Harmony]] is unaffected by Dissonance.

Ward

Ward permits a character to use their psiblade or psistaff as protection against most single-target attacks: anything which inflicts endurance damage and is aimed at the individual character.

The defense value (DV) of a character with the Ward advantage is equal to their relevant defense attribute + 1, or the attack rating of their psiblade or psistaff, whichever is greater. As always, this does not stack with armor, energy shields, or other forms of defense — only the highest defense value applies.

Ward does not need to be activated: it is always on, as long as the character is alert and has a psiblade in their possession.

Armor

Armor provides protection against most forms of direct damage: anything which inflicts Endurance damage. The defense value (DV) of a character with armor is equal to their relevant defense attribute (Brawn or Agility) + 1, or the defense rating of the armor, whichever is greater. As always, this protection does not stack with energy shields or other forms of defense — only the highest defense value applies.

Close Combat Weapons

The attack value (AV) of a character using a hand-to-hand weapon such as a club or a knife is equal to their relevant attack attribute (usually Brawn) + 1, or the attack rating of the weapon, whichever is greater. A knife with attack rating 1 wielded by a character with rank 2 Brawn would have an attack value of 3.

To this:

Blast

Blast is a short range (10 m) attack of pure esoteric energy which inflicts endurance damage. Blast has an attack value (AV) equal to the attacker’s Willpower rank + Power rank.

Dissonance

Dissonance is an unarmed close combat attack which inflicts endurance damage. Dissonance has an attack value (AV) equal to the attacker’s Willpower rank + Power rank.

Dissonance ignores all normal forms of protection such as armor and energy shields: instead, the defense value (DV) of the target is equal to their Willpower rank + Power rank. This is particularly effective against inanimate objects, since they have no Willpower.

A character with [[ZeroSpace:Esoteric_Orders#Harmony|Harmony]] is unaffected by Dissonance.

Ward

Ward permits a character to use their psiblade or psistaff as protection against most single-target attacks: anything which inflicts endurance damage and is aimed at the individual character.

The defense value (DV) of a character with the Ward advantage is equal to the rank of their defense attribute + the rank of their psiblade or psistaff. As always, this does not stack with armor, energy shields, or other forms of defense — only the highest defense value applies.

Ward does not need to be activated: it is always on, as long as the character is alert and has a psiblade in their possession.
Armor

Armor provides protection against most forms of direct damage: anything which inflicts Endurance damage. The defense value (DV) of a character with armor is equal to the rank of their defense attribute (Brawn or Agility) + the rank of the armor. As always, this protection does not stack with energy shields or other forms of defense — only the highest defense value applies.

Close Combat Weapons

The attack value (AV) of a character using a hand-to-hand weapon such as a club or a knife is equal to the rank of their attack attribute (usually Brawn) + the rank of the weapon. A knife with rank 1 wielded by a character with rank 2 Brawn would have an attack value of 3.

That’s not so bad, is it?

Fine-tuning ZeroSpace combat

While adding some notes and ponderings to the Starships chapter of ZeroSpace, I thought of something. At the moment, the way weapons work is that the character’s attack value (AV) is equal to the attack rating (AR) of the weapon or their [relevant attribute] + 1, whichever is greater. Which works out like this:

Novice Marksman (Agility 3)…

  • using a target rifle (AR 3) = AV 4 (Agility + 1)
  • using a sporting rifle (AR 4) = AV 4 (from rifle AR, or Agility + 1, same value)
  • using a sniper rifle (AR 5) = AV 5 (from rifle AR)

Expert Marksman (Agility 5)…

  • using a target rifle (AR 3) = AV 6 (Agility + 1)
  • using a sporting rifle (AR 4) = AV 6 (Agility + 1)
  • using a sniper rifle (AR 5) = AV 6 (Agility + 1)

Note: The “Expert Marksman” character would have expertise with rifles (+3 bonus), but that would apply regardless of whether the attack value is based on the weapon or the character’s Agility, so it was easier to just leave it out of this comparison.

The point being that under the current system, the weapon really doesn’t matter unless the character has really low attributes.

I was thinking of changing it so that the character’s attack value (AV) is equal to the attack rating (AR) of the weapon or their [relevant attribute]+1, whichever is lower. Which works out like this:

Novice Marksman (Agility 3)…

  • using a target rifle (AR 3) = AV 3 (from rifle AR)
  • using a sporting rifle (AR 4) = AV 4 (from rifle AR, or Agility + 1,
    same value)
  • using a sniper rifle (AR 5) = AV 4 (Agility + 1)

Expert Marksman (Agility 5)…

  • using a target rifle (AR 3) = AV 3 (from rifle AR)
  • using a sporting rifle (AR 4) = AV 4 (from rifle AR)
  • using a sniper rifle (AR 5) = AV 5 (from rifle AR)

This has the opposite problem, in that it would make the character’s attributes (mostly) meaningless, which is even worse (if something has to be meaningless, it shouldn’t be the character).

So how do I make everything meaningful? I could add the attack rating of the weapon to the character’s [relevant attribute], and drop the +1:

Novice Marksman (Agility 3)…

  • using a target rifle (AR 3) = AV 6 (Agility + rifle AR)
  • using a sporting rifle (AR 4) = AV 7 (Agility + rifle AR)
  • using a sniper rifle (AR 5) = AV 8 (Agility + rifle AR)

Expert Marksman (Agility 5)…

  • using a target rifle (AR 3) = AV 8 (Agility + rifle AR)
  • using a sporting rifle (AR 4) = AV 9 (Agility + rifle AR)
  • using a sniper rifle (AR 5) = AV 10 (Agility + rifle AR)

This is actually closer to how combat worked before I simplified it.

One consequence of this is that I would need to revise the attack rating of attack powers (such as Blast). Essentially, they would act like weapons, and the attack rating would add to the character’s relevant attribute. This might not be a bad thing.

Another consequence is that defenses would need to be adjusted in order to keep parity, but that’s a minor issue.

P.S. Following up on this, I would need to add a new attribute to indicate the “power level” of things like alien’s claws or an esoteric order’s blast power — basically, any power that acts like a weapon or a defense. That would be needed to make those powers/abilities work the same way as ordinary weapons and defenses do.

I am thinking of going the easy route and calling that attribute “Power”.

Simplifying combat in ZeroSpace (and beyond)

I have been thinking about fine-tuning the game system we’re using in ZeroSpace. ZeroSpace is space opera (or space fantasy), but the game mechanics are intended to be general enough to adaptable to most genres, and I would eventually like to write variations for sword & sorcery, and perhaps one or two more genres.

Specifically, I think combat resolution is cumbersome, but I have not thought of a way to simplify it that I like any better. The gist of it is this:

“to hit”: attacker rolls 2d6 + attacker’s attribute (+/– 3**) vs. 8 + defender’s attribute (+/– 3**)

“damage”: defender rolls 2d6 + protection attribute (typically Brawn) + protection rating (typically armor) vs. 8 + damage rating of attacker’s weapon

** A bonus is always +3. A penalty is always -3. Only one bonus or one penalty applies to a single roll. If the character has both a bonus and a penalty, they cancel out and are disregarded.

See, just typing that out gives me a headache. So let’s go through this step by step and see if we can get somewhere interesting….

“to hit”: attacker rolls 2d6 + attacker’s attribute (Prowess or Accuracy) (+/– 3**) vs. 8 + defender’s attribute (Prowess or Agility) (+/– 3**)

“damage”: defender rolls 2d6 + protection attribute (typically Brawn) + protection rating (typically armor) vs. 8 + damage rating of attacker’s weapon

Thinking of this algebraically… if we treat “vs” as “minus” (because >= is a success), we get…

“to hit”: ( attacker rolls 2d6 + attacker’s attribute (Prowess or Accuracy) (+/– 3**) ) – ( 8 + defender’s attribute (Prowess or Agility) (+/– 3**) )

“damage”: ( defender rolls 2d6 + protection attribute (typically Brawn) + protection rating (typically armor) ) – ( 8 + damage rating of attacker’s weapon )

To make this simpler to read, making these replacements:

attacker’s “+/-3” >> “+ modA”
defender’s “+/-3” >> “+ modD”
“damage rating of attacker’s weapon” >> “DR”
etc.

attacker roll: ( 2d6 + (ProwessA or AccuracyA) + modA ) – ( 8 + (ProwessD or AgilityD) + modD )

defender roll: ( 2d6 + BrawnD + armor ) – ( 8 + DR )

Moving things around so that the attacker’s roll can be compared to the defender’s roll…

attacker roll: ( 2d6 + (ProwessA or AccuracyA) + modA ) + ( 8 + DR )

defender roll: ( 2d6 + BrawnD + armor ) + ( 8 + (ProwessD or AgilityD) + modD )

Simplifying…

attacker roll: ( 2d6 + (ProwessA or AccuracyA) + modA + 8 + DR )

defender roll: ( 2d6 + BrawnD + armor ) + 8 + (ProwessD or AgilityD) + modD )

Simplifying…

attacker roll: ( 2d6 + (ProwessA or AccuracyA) + modA + DR )

defender roll: ( 2d6 + BrawnD + armor ) + (ProwessD or AgilityD) + modD )

Simplifying…

attacker roll: ( 2d6 + (ProwessA or AccuracyA) + modA + DR )

defender roll: ( 2d6 + (ProwessD or AgilityD) + modD + BrawnD + armor ) )

Currently, the damage rating of ranged weaons is fixed, while the damage rating of hand-to-hand weapons is equal to the rank of the weapon or the character’s Brawn rank + 1, whichever is greater. Perhaps the protection rating (PR) of armor should work the same way.

attacker roll: ( 2d6 + (ProwessA or AccuracyA) + modA + DR )

defender roll: ( 2d6 + (ProwessD or AgilityD) + modD + PR )

Because opposed rolls exaggerate the extremes and flatten the median, we will replace the defender’s 2d6 with 8…

attacker roll: ( 2d6 + (ProwessA or AccuracyA) + modA + DR )

defender: ( 8 + (ProwessD or AgilityD) + modD + PR ) )

Which gives us…

The attacker rolls 2d6 + (their Prowess or Accuracy) + the damage rating of the attack [+3 if the attacker has a bonus, or or -3 if the attacker has a penalty]

The attacker compares this roll to the attack difficulty, which is…

8 + (the defender’s Prowess or Agility) + the defender’s protection rating [+3 if the defender has a bonus, or or -3 if the defender has a penalty]

If the attacker’s roll equals or exceeds the attack difficulty, the attack hits. How much the attack roll exceeded the attack difficulty determines the damage inflicted.

What do you think? How does that sound?

I am thinking of perhaps simplifying it one step further, and combining Prowess and Accuracy into a single attribute. After all, weapon specialization is primarily a factor of buying expertise with a weapon type, so there’s not really a need to differentiate them with different attributes.

Thinking about BB3

We are contemplating possible simplifications in Bulletproof Blues. Here is one of the ideas we are playing with:

Rather than powers having individual ranks (e.g., Blast 7, Flight 4, Force Field 10), the character would simply have a list of powers (e.g., Blast, Flight, Force Field). The strength of these powers would be based on the character’s attributes, with different powers being based on different attributes:

  • Intelligence – sensory powers, many skills
  • Willpower – mental powers, social skills
  • Strength – “brute force” powers, some physical skills
  • Speed – travel powers, “speedster” powers, some physical skills, ability to avoid being hit at range
  • Power – non-mental powers
  • Defense – defensive powers
  • Combat – ability to hit opponents, ability to avoid being hit hand-to-hand

Here’s part of our thinking behind this:

On the one hand, most characters who have more than one attack power, or more than one mental power, etc., tend to have them at the same (or nearly the same) rank. So having to buy ranks in Telepathy separately from ranks in Mind Hold (for example) seems a needless complication. Why not have a base value for the character’s power level, and then have a list of their powers?

On the other hand, the current method, in which ranks in Flight, Super-swimming, and Super-jumping (for example) are all bought separately, makes a character with all three powers way more expensive than a character with just Flight (for example). But the character who has all three movement powers isn’t actually all that more powerful. So why make that character so much more expensive?

What do you think?

P.S.

Here’s a possible drawback of this model: it makes the strength of a power implicit rather than explicit. In most cases, this shouldn’t be a problem — Blast is obviously based on Power, Mind Control is obviously based on Willpower, and so on.

But what about something less obvious, like Stretching? Would that be based on Strength, or Power? Perhaps the attribute should be placed after the power name: “Stretching (POW)”? Or perhaps we should just default to powers always being based on Power unless it is really, really obviously something else (i.e., when in doubt, use Power).

P.P.S.

A second drawback is that this model would make it difficult or impossible to have a team of characters who have similar sets of powers, but at varying power levels. For example, a team of psychics, all of whom have Telekinesis, Telepathy, and Mind Control, with each being most powerful with a different power (one character has strong Telekinesis but weak Telepathy and Mind Control, another character has strong Mind Control but weak Telepathy and Telekinesis, etc.).

Revised block/dodge rules for ZeroSpace

Here is a peek at a work in progress: revised block/dodge rules for ZeroSpace and Rough Magic. These are not final, but it’s a good bet that the final rules will look a lot like this.

Blocking

During their turn, or as a forced action, a character may use a task action to attempt to block a hand-to-hand attack against them. A block might entail using brute force to withstand the attack, or it might involve using finesse to harmlessly divert an attack away: the choice is up to the player. Blocking gives the defender a +2 defense bonus against the attack. If the defender has expertise with blocking, they gain an additional +3 defense bonus when blocking. A character who is using their action to block continues to receive the +2 defense bonus against hand-to-hand attacks until they take their next turn.

Normally, only hand-to-hand attacks which inflict endurance damage may be blocked. However, if the defender has the same power as the attacker, they may use that power to attempt to block. For example, a defender with Telepathy may attempt to block the Telepathy of an attacker, giving them a +2 defense bonus against the attacker’s Telepathy. With the GM’s permission, a character may attempt to block with a power that has a similar theme or power source. For example, a GM might permit a character with Telepathy to block an attacker’s Torment power, giving them a +2 defense bonus against the attacker’s Torment.

A character may choose to block after the attacker has determined that the attack will successfully hit: there is no need to block an attack that misses.

Dodging

During their turn, or as a forced action, a character may use a task action to attempt to dodge a ranged attack against them. Dodging gives the defender a +2 defense bonus against the attack. If the defender has expertise with dodging, they gain an additional +3 defense bonus when dodging. A character who is using their action to dodge continues to receive the +2 defense bonus against ranged attacks until they take their next turn.

A character may choose to dodge after the attacker has determined that the attack will successfully hit: there is no need to dodge an attack that misses.