Saturday, September 24, 2011

SWSE Kotor Session Summary #1

The introductory session ended with the Transporter, his ship and passengers ionized and and sinking below the surface of manaan following the escape pod our Dark Jedi friend barely escaped to after losing a battle with an unnamed Sith wearing red robes on his ship full of force 'zombies.'  Our Selkath Hero rounded up survivors and staged a rescue operation on the sinking ship such that it didn't impact the underwater laboratory.  They finished the session defending the researchers and other members of the order gathering supplies and research equipment from the rapidly flooding lab from a pack of enraged firaxan sharks.

Here's where they started:

"As the members of your order and the lab scientists hurry to get the research data, equipment and kolto reserves to the ship you are alerted by one of your underlings that Shasa is not with you. She was last seen swimming toward an underwater geyser calling out that she had seen the Progenitor. You grew up with Shasa, together you two were swayed by the Sith and captured until you were eventually freed by the one who you would eventually find out was Revan. Shasa, the strongest in the force of the Selkath, decided to mirror some of the Jedi teachings but adapted them culturally in order to protect Manaan's sovereign neutrality. Being force sensitive yourself you were the first member and her second and command. You are recalling this because you are faced with a difficult decision. The air lock was not intended to be used underwater and ferrying people and supplies on and off is starting to take it's toll, cracks are beginning to form and it won't be long before the entire hull of the ship becomes critical. That's not even counting the amount of water the ship took on when primary systems were knocked off line from the ion cannon. Will you abandon your friend or will you chase after her and the shadow of the progenitor."

The Selkath went off to find Shasa while the Dark Jedi accompanied feeling something tugging him at the force.  Our Zabrak pilot remained behind to keep the ship ready to go should a hull breach occur.  The Selkath found Shasa trying desperately to keep rubble from crushing the Progenitor (a massive firaxan shark who makes it's abode at the highest concentration of Kolto in the Hrakert rift) who in turn was shielding it's eggs below from the impending debris.  This led to unique situation because our Selkath hero wanted desperately to help but did not possess Move Object or suitable telekinetic power while our Khil Dark Jedi did.  Rather than help out the Dark Jedi bee-lined straight for the mysterious alien doorway at the sea floor.  Inside he discovered the a piece of the Star Map, a postcognition of both times Revan walked here and found some left over lightsaber parts, presumably ones Revan no longer needed.  Rather than cut and run the Dark Jedi did eventually come to the aid of Shasa and with an astounding roll saved both the Progenitor and it's eggs.  The underwater door was however covered in rubble.

Meanwhile, our Zabrak hero manages to get the engines started just in time as a giant underwater bottom feeder planned on making him his next meal.  With some daring piloting he lured the fish close before maxing out the afterburners frying it out and eventually ramming the creature putting, neutralizing it as a threat.  As the PC's were collected they prepared to leave.  They reached the surface and did not detect the StarForge Capitol ship in orbit.  They searched the wreckage of Ahto City for survivors which the order led down to the underwater colonies while the Zabrak found a crippled astromech droid that he failed to repair (Mechanics checks all have stupidly high DCs)  Shasa asked of our Selkath Force Adept to take revenge for the destruction of Manaan.

As the PC's departed they had a moment to reflect on Manaan, once the jewel of the Galaxy.  It was considered untouchable by both sides in the Jedi Civil War as anyone who would attack Manaan would in turn eliminate the flow of medical supplies to both sides of the conflict.  It would seem that this mysterious enemy is far less pragmatic and far more nihilistic.  They had to cut the melancholy short as the Sith Ship was hiding behind a nearby moon and they quickly jumped to hyperspace carrying the last major of shipment of kolto in the galaxy.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Weapon Types Another Look

I had taken a few cracks at making weapon lists before, each with varying degrees of success.  My most current model as them organized categorically with the idea that weapons created in a similar way, with similar heft and balance, as well as mode of damage should be grouped together.  This way someone using a longsword should have no problem picking up a short sword and someone used to using a mace should be able to freely swap it out with a morning star.  It's simplistic and sensible (on the surface at least) and that's what I'm all about.

As it stands there's about a half dozen categories for melee weapons only.  Of course one thing that I carried over from the 3.x days were damage types, specifically Slashing, Piercing and Bludgeoning.  I liked the idea behind it, that weapons had differing ways of dealing damage and that enemies and certain armors (given the right splat-tastic book) would treat some damage types as ineffective and others as effective.  This was predicated on the somewhat bizarre system of 'I have damage reduction against everything but this'.  So for example a skeleton may have DR 5/Bludgeoning.  Now we can all agree that an arrow or the thrust of a dagger should have little effect on a walking, talking (well maybe not talking) skeleton.  A sword slash would also be inefficient since a slash is geared towards soft targets  but not to the same degree as a stab would be.  In this respect you would think that the piercing type weapon would be ineffectual, the slashing weapon would have reduced effectiveness and the bludgeoning weapon would reign supreme.  However, in this odd DR/"My One Weakness!" system all damage types save the magic bullet are penalized.  So to remedy this you could adapt the system to be more flexible or build something from the ground up.

Then I read this interesting post over at Delta's D&D Hotspot and the subsequent discussion in the comment section and I was very impressed.  So much so that I spent some time skimming over the exhaustive work of Matthew James Stanham of Silver Blade Adventures fame in this post on Dragon's Foot.  Matthew's post takes a look at how the interactions between specific weapons and armor class evolved organically between the edition's of D&D and it's precursor Chainmail.  If you're interested in mechanics changes over the ages it's some very interesting stuff so take a look.

In the meantime I'd like to take a look at the categories of damage types outlined in the comments section of Delta's post.  To summarize the contents of the posts and citations; the basic principle is that the more concentrated the force of impact the more likely the user was to damage the target.  Conversely, the more surface area (and I'd wager thickness although it's not clearly stated) of the armor that catches the impact the more the force of the blow can be spread out and absorbed by the armor rather than it's occupant.  A fairly straightforward principle grounded in basic physics.  It reminds of me of a weapons and armor lecture I had in school where one of the topics we discussed was laminated armor and how a single uniform sheet of material could better absorb an impact rather than multiple plates riveted together.  Of course, like all armor there is no one size fits all approach and there are very likely times when piecemeal construction would be more suitable, ablative and reactionary armor immediately come to mind but I digress.

Now that we have the guiding principle down let's look at the construction and intended use of different categories of weapons.  I will be quoting Matthew who is quoting Catherine Hanley author of War and Combat who appears to be quoting Gamble.   My aren't citations an tangled web of confusion?

The axe was a powerful weapon, as Gamble explains: 'By combining a relatively smaller curved edge with a heavy head, all of the striking force was combined to hit in a small area, which is opposed to a sword in which the force is distributed evenly along the entire length of the blade.'
"The axe, with its greater weight concentrated behind a smaller cutting edge, had the potential to inflict terrible wounds if used to its maximum effect, as did the mace, whose heavy head was capable of smashing bones even through layers of armour."

Now if we look at this we see that the Axe is almost guaranteed at inflicting damage against an armored opponent due to the force being confined to not only a small area (the axe head) but an even smaller area on the edge.  Compare this with a hammer which has a similar principle of confining the force to the head but the flat blunt edge causes the force to be spread out.  I think the sword comparison is especially apt since the Axe and Mace are making full use of the wielder's moment, err sorry torque, much like how it is easier to use a wrench or open a door the further your arm (and the force you exert) is from the pivot point.  Contrast this with a sword whose impact can be anywhere from the tip (maximum torque) to the cross guard.  While this makes for a versatile weapon allowing two forms of damage, cutting and impact as Matthew later explains, it does however limit it's effectiveness at penetrating armor.

Now then, since we've looked at the basic physics on how the weapon deals damage let's think on how to translate this to game mechanics.  If we define damage, or perhaps more specifically damage dice, as a reflection of how much harm the weapon deals to the users body there are two ways to look at the Axe.  First off, it's construction makes it very likely to penetrate armor and thus chop into the target's body.  However, it's small area of impact also means that only a small portion of the users body will be hit.  Of course if the axe embeds itself deep enough this could lead to a very severe injury.  Looking at it this way we see that the axe has a good chance of causing moderate wounds, however due to the nature of it's construction if it hits the right place and makes a deep enough wound it could be very fatal.

Putting this into game terms I would give the axe a small damage die (d4 or d6) and a large critical, whether it be critical modifier and/or critical range depends on your interpretation. If it's a system where armor is used as a target number to hit then the axe would receive a bonus to hit for armor.  Comparatively the simple sword whose damage, if using a cutting motion, depends on the amount of area the blade is able to slice leads to a highly variable damage.  Let's say damage dice of d10 or d12 with a bonus to hit against lightly or unarmored targets.  Lastly, we have the mace which relies on similar principles of operating as the axe.  It does not however have the Axes simultaneous strong and weak point of minimal area/focused impact making the mace the least variable in terms of damage, let's say 2d4 for the good average.  This is just a shot in the dark here but I'd wager that mace can more easily transfer it's force through the rigid metal of plate than it could the soft and flexible material of leather or hide.  Similarly, if the plates in platemail are non-overlapping the mace would have an even easier time of transmitting force than it would moving through the non-uniform interconnected layers of chain or scale mail.  For this reason I would give the mace a bonus to hit versus banded and plate mail, a penalty to hit vs chain/ring or scale mail and no modifier versus light armor of leather or hide (although I'd have to reconsider for brigadine).

To quickly summarize we have
Weapon    Damage     Critical          vs Armor
Axe            d6             18-20/x3       +1 hit any armor
Sword        d10           19-20/x2       +1 vs light, -1 vs heavy
Mace         2d4            20/x2            +2 vs plate/banded, -2 vs mail

Note: These values are for the most part created in a system vacuum.

This was whipped up on a bout of inspiration so I'm sure there are a few flaws in the logic and reasoning here and there.  I'd like to take a look at the methods of damage dealing Matthew describes, cutting, thrusting, and impact, but my creative urges have already expired so I'll leave them for a later post.  That being said if you have any thoughts you'd like to share on the matter I'd very much welcome them.

Star Wars Saga Edition Kotor Creation

After an explosive failure of a Shadowrun game (no seriously one bad roll and a PC exploded against a poorly equipped biker gang following the absolute humiliation of being pulverized and robbed by the same gang in a published introductory adventure) we decided to run a different game.  A few games were proposed with Legend of the 5 Rings and Star Wars being the top contenders.  Choosing to have something a little more familiar to lick their wounds with the players chose Star Wars.  The Saga edition is one of my absolute favorite rule sets, it combines the Keep It Sweet and Simple design approach with an incredibly flexible character and multiclass system.  Well as flexible as d20 will ever be without throwing the baby out with the bathwater for point buy silliness.

I'm currently playing through Kotor II with the restored content modification and really enjoying the depth of story Obsidian (formerly Black Isle) created.  I liked it so much that I decided to take a few cues from it.  Here's the primer I had for character creation:

This is StarWars, you are an important person or someone with a great destiny.  You do not play second fiddle to some named character nor do you preoccupy yourself with the banal life of a nerf herder.  Your character will either have taken part in some great act in history, such as the strike team that took down Darth Revan, a general or legend of the Mandalorian wars, an assasination of a major political player, etc. etc.  Otherwise you will have some great destiny ahead of you, such as restoring balance to the force, reinvigorating the republic (or perhaps Sith empire), or the restoration of a world destroyed in the many wars this galaxy has recently had to face.

That being said it's assumed that you are all good to some degree, you may have had a nasty past in either of the wars but at the moment you are repentant or at the very least stuck at a crossroads in your moral outlook.  If you are dead set on playing a Sith that is fine and you could easily start out as a Revanist Dark Jedi.  However, there will be no baby eating or outright socio/psychopathy from the get go, if you do your character instantly becomes a villain and you can roll up another one.  If you want to be a Sith your going to have to work for it, your going to have to fall and it's going to have to have meaning.

Each character starts with a trait relevant to their backstory.  A scoundrel may have a danger sense while a veteran would have increased starting hit points.  A demolitions expert can stop her allies from setting off mines and a grey jedi can use limited dark side powers without accruing mass amounts of dark side points.
Additionally depending on the first talent tree you select you will be receiving a bonus feat or ability.

After character creation we ended up with

A Khill Dark Jedi - Former apprentice of Revan and Malek who fought in the Mandalorian Wars.  After the end of the Jedi Civil War he returned to Korriban with many of his comrades.  After the predictable infighting a trio of Sith Lords emerged however, none of them espoused the same principles nor commanded the loyalty that Revan once had.  He and a few others planned a mutiny but when the vocal dissidents starting mysteriously disappearing he and the remaining Revanists took the remaining Capital ship and fled.  The story picks up with him sensing a void in the force as the rest of his crew is annihilated and transformed into force 'zombies' by a certain masked Sith Lord.

A Selkath Noble (Force Sensitive) - Creator of the Order of Shasa he is the Selkath most gifted in the force.  He spends his time in the underwater research lab searching for any more signs of the Progenitor that Revan supposedly encountered on his trip to Manaan.  When the story starts he rescues the downed sinking space craft and escape pod as the Manaan capital is orbitally bombarded, destroying a portion of the underwater lab and cutting off escape.

A Zabrak Pilot - A veteran of the Mandalorian wars he has had his share of war and took to hiding during the Jedi Civil War to avoid another enlistment.  That didn't stop him from taking part in it, rather than fighting he would transport civilians out of combat zones and bring medical supplies to the needy.  The story begins with him exiting hyperspace at Manaan to pick up a Kolto shipment only fight a Sith Capital ship opening fire and downing his spacecraft.

Playtesting Mark 1

With some excruciating work I've managed to finalize the level 1 abilities for 4 of the starting classes.  I've also managed to narrow down what stats I wanted to include and how I would use them and set values for them.  On top of that I had a rudimentary combat system and I was itching to test the new Stamina mechanic, Class features as well as the smoothness of combat.  So a playtesting we go.

In previous posts I've talked about Hit Points, Wounds, Armor and Defense.  Since then I've reevaluated and revised these to make them more elegant.  Since many people's gripe with armor as damage reduction is that it slows down the game and adds unnecessary rolling.  So my solution was to originally have armor affect only your Wounds ignoring HP altogether as hit points represent your ability to not be hit.  This meant that there would be an extra die roll but it would only come up at certain and important times.  Since armor had become slightly marginalized I decided to swap from differing dice sizes to different amounts of dice, adopting a 1d6/2d6/3d6 spread for light, medium and heavy armor respectively.

Of course things didn't stop there, I started thinking about people who had little in the ways of Defense (the first of three lines of defense before imminent death) who would prefer to wear heavy armor.  In this case their HP would quickly be chewed through before reaching Wounds at which point their armor would kick in.  To this I proposed two solutions.  The first was that you could voluntarily have faith in your armor and allow an attack to go straight to wounds bypassing HP entirely.  This set up a sort of gamble in that the character could probably guess which attack his armor could absorb entirely but of course some attacks may be more than meets the eye.  It's risky and I like it, and it's why I've decided to keep it.  The other solution..not so much.

The second proposal was that armor would provide a flat damage reduction for HP, a 1/2/3 spread for the light/med/heavy armor categories.  This eliminated the need for extra rolling and provided a benefit to people wearing heavy armor even if their defenses were extremely poor.  It sounds nice but in actual playtesting it's far from it.  For a player (and DM's armored NPCs) it's one more thing to remember for every time he takes damage.  Mathematically there is a snafu when damage exceeds HP and goes straight to wounds.  As an example if the player is wearing medium armor and has 4 hit points left and the DMs monster deals 7 damage to him there are a few mental gymnastics you need to do before you can resolve this.  First the 7 damage is reduced by 2, down to 5, this 5 is deducted from hit points leaving 1 damage remaining which carries over to wounds.  The wounds then have an armor rating of 2d6 nullifying the damage.  You can see how that can be confusing and the opposite of rapid combat.  You could create rules and caveats that could manuever around this problem but that would make much less elegant and one more aspect of combat the DM keep stored in his working memory.  So out the door it went.

Aside from that the rest of things went fairly smoothly.  The basic premise of the spell/shaping and mana system turned out fine but as for the actual execution it still needs some work and an eye for balancing it out at higher levels.  The importance of speed was not recognized until actual play and it gave me an elegant idea of what bonus to give people that are unarmored (+1 speed).  Stamina was interesting but partially forgettable due to it's overlap with speed and because the player was getting used to other abilities.  Class features and weapon qualities were all distinct and gave each character their own combat flair.  All in all it was a pretty good playtest and I'm psyched for the future.  Now if only editing and publishing tools weren't so irritatingly inefficient.