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.

One year later

One year ago, the Kickstarter campaign for Bulletproof Blues Second Edition successfully funded — thanks to you!

So where are we now? The PDF and print versions have been completed, sent to the appropriate backers, and made available on DriveThruRPG. The open game content has been made available at RPG Library. So far, so good.

Now for the not so good. We have the manuscripts for Ruins Of Atlanta and Martian Mayhem (Evangelists From Mars), but we are still working on the Cosmic Adventures manuscript. We have commissioned art for Ruins Of Atlanta (we probably won’t have the funds to have art for Martian Mayhem or Cosmic Adventures, sadly), and James Shields’ art looks great, but personal issues have delayed the layout, and it looks like that delay will keep on being delayed for another few weeks. That’s distressing.

We have two backers who generously supported us at the GALACTIC SENTINEL level of support. We will be contacting those backers in the next few days to start arranging a time to play the live game session reward for that backer level. We are sorry it has taken so long to do that: you deserve better.

Thanks again for your support. We hope that the game has given you some entertainment while you wait for the snow to melt.

Happy gaming!

Bulletproof Blues Second Edition print cover

Bulletproof Blues Second Edition print cover

Status update: art for Ruins Of Atlanta

We have good news, and we have bad news: which would you like first? Bad news? We may as well get it over with, then. Due to events beyond our control, both personal and professional, among the Kalos Comics staff, Bulletproof Blues Second Edition is about two months behind where we’d hoped to be by the beginning of August. We want to assure you that this is a delay, not a derailment — the book will be released, just later than we had hoped. We are disappointed, and we know you are, too. Thanks for sticking with us.

Now for the good news! We have the completed manuscripts for Ruins Of Atlanta (by Jason Tondro) and Extraterrestrial Villainy (by Steve Long), and we have started working on the layout for Ruins Of Atlanta. These supplements are great fun, and we know you’ll enjoy them. In fact, we were so pleased with Ruins Of Atlanta that we felt it deserved artwork to go with Jason’s delightful text, even though art for the sourcebooks was not part of the Kickstarter. We scoured the world for an artist whose style would match the setting given form by Jason Tondro, and we found one in James Shields, a freelance character artist who loves superheroes, sci-fi, and roleplaying games. We commissioned ten pieces of original art from James for Ruins Of Atlanta. Like all of the art in Bulletproof Blues Second Edition, the finished pieces will be released under a Creative Common Attribution-ShareAlike license, meaning that you will be able to use them in your own projects!

Here are four examples of works in progress from James Shields. What do you think?

Ruins Of Atlanta preview 01 by James Shields

Ruins Of Atlanta preview 03 by James Shields

Ruins Of Atlanta preview 04 by James Shields

Ruins Of Atlanta preview 02 by James Shields

On blocking and dodging

We are making some minor changes to blocking and dodging in the second edition of Bulletproof Blues. For one thing, expertise in blocking or dodging gives the player a +3 bonus on those rolls (that’s how expertise will work in second edition). For another, an extreme success on a block or dodge task roll alters the order of play so that the attacker’s turn comes after the defender’s turn on following rounds.

As you know, the difficulty of blocking and dodging are both based on the rank of the attacker’s power or weapon. That seems strange to some players. Wouldn’t it make more sense to make these rolls against the attacker’s Accuracy or Prowess? We base these rolls on the rank of the attacker’s power for two reasons.

First, a character only chooses to block or dodge if the attack has already hit them, which means that there has already been an Accuracy or Prowess roll, and the attacker rolled well enough to hit. There is a good chance that a second roll would have a similar outcome, so we base the block and dodge rolls on the rank of the attacker’s power or weapon in order to give the defender a chance to change the odds, particularly against attackers with very high Accuracy and Prowess.

Second, the rank of a power is more than just how much damage it does. The power’s rank also reflects the character’s skill and finesse in using that power. By basing block and dodge on the rank of the power, we take into account how much control the attacker has over the power in addition to how much sheer force they are using.