My current attempt to make ability costs in Kalos Mechanism 4e reasonable and self-balancing:
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I am this close to calling Kalos Mechanism 4e “done”. The last thing that bugs me is this:
That is a whole lot of modifiers. I really want there to be fewer, or at least to make the modifier for each condition more intuitive. As it is, I don’t think anything about this table is intuitive.
I have standard modifiers (-/+3) and major modifiers (-+6). I like the idea of that, but even though the major modifier only applies in a couple of conditions, it still seems like something tacked on arbitrarily. I am considering getting rid of the major modifier.
There are SO MANY conditions, and they all seem to have a different effect.
I am really only completely happy with four conditions:
- Character is attempting a called shot (+1 damage bonus for each -1 AV penalty)
- Character is using suppressing fire (-1 damage penalty for each +1 AV bonus)
- Character is distracted or surprised (-3 AV, -3 DV)
- Character is prone in ranged combat (+3 AV, +3 DV)
Hmm. What if I flipped this around, the way I did with equipment? Rather than sifting through to find the appropriate maneuver or condition, and then seeing what numbers are attached to it, how about I list two basic conditions — a combat bonus (+3 AV, +3 DV) and a combat penalty (-3 AV, -3 DV). And then give a few examples. Like so:
If something significantly aids or impedes the character, the GM may apply a combat bonus (+3 AV, +3 DV) or a combat penalty (-3 AV, -3 DV).
Only the highest bonus applies, but all penalties are cumulative.
Some examples of circumstances which grant a combat bonus are being invisible, hidden, or behind cover, being prone in ranged combat, and being part of a team (see Working Together).
Some examples of circumstances which impose a combat penalty are attempting to disarm or takedown a target, being prone in hand-to-hand combat, being blinded or in the dark, being distracted or surprised, and being underwater or weightless.
Additionally, a character making an attack may trade accuracy for damage, or vice versa. For example, a character may choose to incur a -2 AV penalty in order to gain a +2 damage bonus if the attack is successful.
Finally, a character may dodge. A dodging character gains double the normal combat defense bonus (+6 DV), but incurs double the normal combat attack penalty (-6 AV).
What do you think?
Contemplating a more equipment-based, less powers-based game system. I like the 1-10 attribute range and using 2d6 for task resolution, so let’s start there.
Task resolution: 2d6
Because I like “roll high == good”, let’s add the numbers that help character to the player’s roll, and add numbers that hinder the character to the number they have to meet or beat — the target number.
What helps the character? Their attributes (Agility, Brawn, etc.). Their skills. Any modifiers, such as if they spend an extra action aiming (which helps them), or whether they are trying to shoot while sprinting (which hinders them). And any equipment, if it helps the character (e.g., an accurate gun) or hinders them (a poorly made sword).
Natural ability, skill, equipment. How much impact should each have? Let’s try to have each contribute equally to the character’s success. The mean roll on 2d6 is 7, with a standard deviation of 2.42. If the skills range from 2 to 12, and equipment ranges from 2 to 12… hmm. Let’s apply the standard deviation and use that as a range. The skills could range from 5 to 9, and the equipment could range from 5 to 9.
That’s a bit much. Perhaps if skills and equipment were approximately as important as the character’s natural ability (e.g., their attributes). Skills + equipment = 5 to 9? Maybe 2 to 5 each? Make it 1 to 6.
Equipment is self-leveling, in that most of the time, opponents will have similar equipment to the characters. What about skill? I think 1 to 6 should work for that, too. That takes it back to 2 to 12: Abilities = Skill + Equipment in impact. I like that.
How much should it cost? Let’s look at the worst case scenario, a character who puts all of their points into Brawn and the Hand-to-hand Combat skill. I like the current (Kalos Mechanism 4e) attribute cost curve (rank 1 costs 1, buying from 1 to 2 costs 2 pt., buying from 2 to 3 costs 3 pts., buying from 3 to 4 costs 4 pts., etc.). So let’s say that the player has gone all-in on Brawn, and has Brawn 7. Getting a +1 in Brawn (for Brawn 8) would cost them 8 points. So getting a +1 from having Hand-to-hand Combat as a skill should cost… what? What should a +2 cost?
What if skills cost the same as attributes (rank 1 costs 1, buying from 1 to 2 costs 2 pt., buying from 2 to 3 costs 3 pts., buying from 3 to 4 costs 4 pts., etc.)?
I think this will result in characters who have a few skills at the same level as the attribute, or a lot of skills at a low level with a higher attribute. That is just a guess. I will have to write up some sample characters to really see how it will work out.
Looking at that, should I price gifts and powers the same way? I think I will try that and see how it works.
Some notes on attacks and defenses. If the player hits with an attack, they roll a number of dice based on their weapon.
Should I add the character’s Brawn or Agility (or Presence, for mental attacks)? If I do, I either need to boost defenses to compensate, or allow the defender to add their attribute, too. That means that a high-Brawn character is both more likely to land a punch and will do more damage with it when it lands. Is that okay? Maybe.
I changed my mind about this. Being better at hitting makes you hit more often; it doesn’t change how much damage the weapon does.
As for the weapon or armor, it will have two mechanical features: a roll modifier and a damage rating. I suppose on a table, those headings would be Mod and Damage.
Resolving an attack is (meet or beat the target number == success):
(2d6 + Attribute + Skill + Equipment) vs. (8 + Attribute + Skill + Equipment)
And resolving damage is (target’s Health is reduced by the difference):
(Weapon Xd6) – (Armor)
Damage is rolled in d6s.
I am thinking 1, 1d6-2, 1d6-1, 1d6, 1d6+1, 2d6-2, 2d6-1, 2d6, 2d6+1. Negative modifiers will not reduce the rolled damage below 1. For example, if a player rolled 2d6-2, and the dice each showed a 1, the total would be 1, not zero.
I changed my mind about this. I decided to go with 1d6+[Power Level].
Armor and force fields stack. Armor is a set value that does not degrade (at least, not at inconvenient times). Force fields are ablative, their defense lowering by 1 upon each attack until they cease to function. A force field with rating 7 becomes 6 after the first hit, 6 becomes 5 after the second hit, and so on. Once the force field is reduced to zero, it ceases functioning for the rest of the scene. Perhaps the emitters coils need to cool off.
Since damage is rolled and defenses are not, how effective do I want defenses to be? If a certain quality weapon does 1d6, what does that quality armor look like? How about 4? If it’s 4, then the matching damage and defenses look like:
What about force fields? At the defense ratings I gave armor (above), any force field is probably going to make the character immune to attacks from similarly-equipped opponents until the force field expires. Maybe that’s okay. So let’s make the force field defense values the same as what I gave armor.
Ah, if armor and force fields have a range similar to that of attributes, maybe the Armor and Force Field powers should grant a defense equal to the character’s Power Level. Blast and Strike (and Mental Blast) should also be redefined as dice. I guess I need to add a Damage column to the Power Level chart.
What about a secondary injury track for nonlethal injury? I have been perceiving a need for this for a while: a path of damage that makes the character unconscious, but not dead. Currently, I refer to this damage as “stunning”, and I direct the player to “record it separately”. But if they are already recording it separately, why not make that easier by having a second attribute for it? Then, I could use that attribute for other things, like powering spells.
What to call it? I currently have Endurance. In games which distinguish between the two (that I can recall), Champions uses Stun/Body. Gurps uses Fatigue/Health. Space 1889 uses Stun/Health (sort of). So some choices for “stunning” tracking are Endurance, Fatigue, and Stun. Choices for “killing” tracking are Endurance, Body, and Health.
I like terms that describe a “full” reservoir rather than an “empty” one. The only word like that in the “stunning” list is Endurance. Removing that from the “killing” list gives us Body and Health. I think Endurance and Health make the best sounding pair.
When an attack inflicts Endurance damage, the character’s Endurance is reduced until it reaches zero (excess Endurance damage is ignored). A character with zero Endurance is unconscious. If the character is attacked again with an attack that inflicts Endurance damage, the additional damage is treated as Health damage.
When an attack inflicts Health damage, the character’s Health is reduced until it reaches zero (excess Health damage is ignored). A character with zero Health is unconscious, their Endurance is also reduced to zero, and they are probably out of the fight.
And you know, I really need a rule for head shots. Head shots (or maybe just “called shots”) are commonplace enough to need a rule. How difficult is it, and how much extra damage does it do? What the hell, let’s make it do double damage (determine damage as usual, subtract any defenses, then double the result). So how hard should that be? It should be really difficult. How about a -6 penalty?
That brings me to another topic: bonuses and penalties. At the moment, I have standardized on +/-3. How do I make a -6 mesh with that? I am considering mixing that up a bit, to having a minor penalty (-3) or a major penalty (-6), and minor (+3) and major (+6) bonuses. Currently, all bonuses and penalties are cumulative. Is that easier, or harder, than saying you only apply the largest bonus and the largest penalty?
Alternately, a “called shot” could be a different type of modifier entirely. I could say that you get a flat +1 damage for each -1 modifier on the roll. Incur a -5 modifier, inflict an extra +5 damage
(determine damage as usual, subtract any defenses, then add 5 to the result). I could balance that with “suppressing fire”, which gives you a flat +1 modifier for each -1 damage. Gain a +4 modifier, inflict 4 less damage (determine damage as usual, subtract any defenses, then subtract 4 from the result). If I go this route, modifiers will have to stack.
Tangent: robots have no philosophy. That’s how you can tell them from automata aka artificial general intelligence. A standard proof that a given robot is not an AI, and is instead driven by an extremely complex but entirely pre-defined set of instructions, is to ask it, “What is the meaning of life?” The standard response programmed into all robots for well over a century is, “I’m sorry, sir. I do not understand the question. Perhaps you could rephrase it?”
I think “called shots” (a flat +1 damage for each -1 modifier on the roll; incur a -5 modifier, inflict an extra +5 damage) are distinct from “suppressing fire” (a flat +1 modifier for each -1 damage; gain a +4 modifier, inflict 4 less damage). Anyone can use a called shot, but only certain weapons are capable of suppressing fire. Modifiers do have to stack.
Time to get to work.
If damage resolution is a (new) separate step, I can tweak it so that regular attacks (guns, fists) do more damage than exotic attacks (drains, mind powers). If I can make the initial task resolution simpler, I would feel better about adding damage resolution as a separate step.
GURPS works like this (X, Y, Z are static numbers):
- Attacker: 3d6 vs skill X
- Defender: 3d6 vs skill Y to avoid being hit
- Attacker: xd6 for damage
- Defender: subtracts defense Z
- Defender: applies the difference as damage
Three sets of dice.
KM currently works like this:
- Attacker: 2d6 + X vs …
- Defender: 2d6 + Y
- Defender: applies 1/3 difference as damage
I am contemplating making it this:
- Attacker: 2d6 + X vs …
- Defender: 7 + skill Y
- Attacker: calculates the difference as Z
- Attacker: 1d6 + Z vs …
- Defender: subtracts defense A
- Defender: applies the difference as damage
sigh … So much more complicated.
If I reduce the impact of Expertise (2d6, re-roll 1s, rather than 1s and 2s), and reducing the penalty of not having a skill (2d6, re-roll 6s, rather than rolling 1d6), that makes rolls less extreme all around. All else being equal, the best an attacker can roll would be 12, and the worst a defender can roll would be 2, a difference of 10.
If also I change it so that a bonus die is an additional die to roll, but you only count the two highest, that also puts a cap of 12 on rolls. But how would a penalty die be handled? Roll 3d6 and what, count one highest and one lowest? Two penalty dice would be … roll 4d6 and count the two lowest? Blarg. I don’t like that.
If I change expertise/unskilled as noted above, and change bonuses/penalties to being a flat +X/-X (2? 3?) each (stackable), then a character will always roll 2d6, and adding bonuses or subtracting penalties becomes trivial.
That would make Mind Blast a great deal less one-sided. With that, I might not need to make changes to how damage is resolved.
In the current version of Kalos Mechanism, I divide attacks into:
- Normal attack: Combat skill (Agility or Brawn + Power Level) vs Target’s Combat skill (Agility or Brawn) plus armor, etc. (Power Level)
- Mental attack: Mental Combat (Power Level) vs Target’s Mental Combat (Presence) plus Mental Resistance (Power Level)
- Alteration attack: Combat skill (Power Level) vs Target’s Combat skill (Agility or Brawn) plus Alteration Resistance (Power Level)
- Unusual attack: Combat skill (Power Level) vs Target’s Combat skill (Agility or Brawn)
I think that’s worked out pretty well in play.
So that all gives me this:
- If unskilled, roll 2d6, re-roll 6s.
- If has expertise, roll 2d6, re-roll 1s.
- Each bonus is +3.
- Each penalty is -3.
- Normal attacks are (Agility or Brawn) + Power Level vs (Agility or Brawn) + Power Level
- Mental attacks are Power Level vs Presence + Power Level (if has Mental Resistance)
- Other attacks are Power Level vs (Agility or Brawn) + Power Level (if has Alteration Resistance)
If I still wanted to tinker with Mind Blast, I could modify the “margin of success” on a per-power basis, rather than it always being +1 damage for every 3 you succeed by. I’ll keep that in mind, but for now, I want to see how these changes work out in a game.
What do you think?
I have an idea to flatten the upper end of the dice rolls. Rather than each bonus adding another die and you add them all up, each bonus adds another die and you just count the two highest dice. So at a certain point, you are just as good as you can possibly get (12), rather than rolling 3 or even 4 dice and getting absurdly high numbers.
I am also considering making “expertise” give a flat +3 bonus, rather than having the player re-roll 1s and 2s (although that seemed like a neat idea at the time). Or maybe drop it to re-rolling 1s.
That doesn’t address the “I added 6 and you added 12” issue. In THEORY, it is supposed to work like this:
1) Unless one of us has some kind of advantage, or one of us doesn’t have that particular skill, we both roll 2d6. Level playing field, as it were.
2) We both add our relevant attribute. You might have 8 and I might have 2, which really sucks for me, but in that case you are an Olympic medalist and I’m, well, me, so you really ought to have the edge over me in that case. But in general, I assume that we’ll both be in the ballpark. Still a (mostly) level playing field.
3) We each add the PL of our equipment (gun vs armor, knife vs armor) or our Power Level if we have the appropriate power (Blast vs Damage Resistance, Mind Blast vs Mental Resistance).
On paper, that all looks reasonable to me. And I think it works for attacks that have relatively common weapons and defenses. It’s the weird shit that breaks it. If the character with Mind Blast has even relatively modest 5 Presence and 5 Power Level, that would be 2d6 + 10 vs a typical target’s 1d6 + 5 (no Mental Combat skill and no Mental Resistance). My worst roll is better than your best roll.
And this is where I start to vapour lock, because on the one hand, I think mental powers should wipe up the floor with a normal person. But on the other hand, I think a person with Agility 5, Power Level 5, and Blast should be more or less on par with a person who has Presence 5, Power Level 5, and Mind Blast.
Champions used to balance that by making Ego Attack (or whatever it was called) do half of the damage of the same cost Energy Blast.
I am open to splitting “to hit” and “damage”. That would allow me to stick the normal attributes on the “to hit”, and stick the Power Level on the “damage”. That would drop the “to hit” of the hypothetical mental attack above to 2d6 + 5 vs 1d6 + 5, which is not quite so grievous. Then damage and defenses would be… I’m not sure what, but something based on [equipment or Power Level].
Maybe damage/defenses could be … 2d6 + PL? No, the swing of that is way too high (you shoot me with a Derringer, I roll 2, you roll 12, and I have a hole in my chest the size of a grapefruit). 1d6 + PL?
I think I have the Bulletproof Blues game system, aka “Kalos Mechanism” (I like that name, but I doubt anyone else does), as refined as I can get it, in its current incarnation.
For the most part, Kalos Mechanism works the way I want a game system to work, but there are some edge cases that still annoy me. A big one is plain-vanilla mental attacks (and to a lesser extent, other attacks with rare defenses). Mind Blast is probably the best example.
Here are the steps for attacking someone with a Mind Blast, with my notes.
1) Attacker purchases “Mind Blast” for 1 point.
Note: I really want powers to cost a flat 1 point. I am currently balancing that a bit by some powers having prerequisites. For example, Mass Mind Blast has a prerequisite of having bought Mind Blast. Should Mind Blast have a prerequisite? Mental Resistance, for example? But I think most people with mental powers will buy Mental Resistance anyway, so why bother with a superfluous requirement? I am conflicted…
2) Attacker rolls 2d6 (1d6 if they don’t have the Mental Combat skill — but they probably will).
Note: I like rolling 2d6. It’s enough dice to be satisfying, but not so many that it’s tedious. And it works well with a 1-10 attribute range
3) Attacker adds their Power Level.
Note: Power Level is what it says on the tin: how potent the character’s powers are. Power Level should be relevant. But it seems wrong to me that the Presence of the attacker isn’t relevant. But if I add Presence to the attack roll, that makes the attack even more powerful, especially since…
4) Defender rolls 2d6 (1d6 if they don’t have the Mental Combat skill — which they probably won’t).
Note 1: I am not averse to setting the target number to be static, but in play, having the defender also roll has worked out well (and it makes some very difficult rolls possible, whereas they wouldn’t be if the target number were static). But…
Note 2: Mind Blast ignores conventional armor, and most people don’t have the Mental Combat skill, meaning they will only roll 1d6 to defend on top of their armor not being applied. Is that how it should be? It strikes me as overpowered, especially since ordinary Blast and Mind Blast have the exact same cost. Which again has me thinking about the 1 pt cost, and potential prerequisite(s).
5) Defender adds their Presence (and their Power Level, if they have Mental Resistance).
Note: This, at least, I am happy with.
6) If the attacker’s roll meets or exceeds the target number, the defender loses 1 Endurance (or 1 Endurance for every 3 the attacker rolled over the target number, if using “margin of success”).
Note: In principle, I like this. I like not having to roll yet more dice. I like that being more skilled with your weapon means your shots are more damaging.
Step 3 and Step 4 Note 2 are really what’s hanging me up. What to do about it, if anything?
On the one hand, I could separate the mechanics for “does the attack hit the target?” and “what is the effect of the attack?” (i.e., roll to hit, and then roll damage), which is what most games do. That would allow me to use Presence (or Agility, etc.) for the “to hit” step, and Power Level for the “damage” step. But I really like the “roll once and be done” aspect of Kalos Mechanism. But do I like it more than I dislike edge cases like Mind Blast?
Am I close to starting another new game system project?
If (if) I do start a new game system project, in which I make combat task resolution more complicated, I think I would want to streamline the power structure. Bulletproof Blues has always been more complicated than I really wanted it to be. But do I really want to do that? I thought I was about done with this sort of thing…
We’ve taken a break from our next Character Pack to work on a project that has been percolating for a while: synchronizing the skills between the various Kalos Mechanism games.
The modern skill list (as seen in Bulletproof Blues and Rough Magic) and the futuristic skill list (as seen in ZeroSpace) were easy enough to sync. That required only a few adjustments in the skill examples. The archaic skill list (as seen in Warlords Of Kruhl) required a little more work. Some skills (such as Computing) have no counterpart in an archaic game, while other skills (such as Piloting and Science) are different enough that a name change was unavoidable.
Another issue with archaic games is the heavy emphasis on religion: unlike modern and futuristic games, gods are often real in archaic games, so a new skill, Religion, was needed. (In modern games, religion falls under the umbrella of the Culture skill.)
|Hand-to-hand Combat||Hand-to-hand Combat||Hand-to-hand Combat|
|Mental Combat||Mental Combat||Mental Combat|
|Ranged Combat||Ranged Combat||Ranged Combat|
Still working on the print version of Bulletproof Blues third edition (revised). We need to make sure the files are perfect for the printer, or they reject them. In the meantime, here is the updated cover for Steven S. Long’s “Evangelists Of Mars”.