Sunday, July 22, 2018

Alt★Hero RPG playtest

The Alt-Hero RPG had its second playtest. The core mechanics are working smoothly. The logarithmic system is as elegant as I'd hoped and it is working well when conjoined with mechanics that can take advantage of it, such as making multiple attacks, attacking in teams, and so on.

All sorts of wonderful emergent properties became evident in this playtest. For instance, combat against large groups of enemies can be easily resolved by using the logarithmic scaling. One attacker with Agility 3 and a pistol is not scary. 16 attackers with pistols (+4 multi-attacker modifier) is Agility 7 and suddenly a threat.  We also learned that Teleport 15 is sufficient to move an enemy into near-orbit above the Earth; the quick use of the logarithmic math (Time = Distance - Speed) let us determine how many rounds the heroes had to finish off the rest of the combat before he fell to earth.

In this playtest we introduced a set of "legwork" mechanics that can be used for crime scene investigation, forensic study of evidence, interviewing crime victims, and other Detective Comics type game play. The legwork mechanics assign"clues" a logarithmic score based on their obscurity; investigators then find clues based on their Acuity stat added to the time (in logarithmic score) spent doing legwork. For instance, if "bullet casing made of strange alloy used only by Dr. Dread" has an Obscurity of 20, it will take The Brick (Acuity 4) a long time to find the clue - 20-4 = 16 units of time, or about two-and-a-half days. If Dr. Quantum (Acuity 12) is on the job, however, he will find the clue in (20 - 12) 8 units of time, or about 15 minutes.

To use the legwork mechanics in play, the Mastermind (GM) should structure multiple different locations with information, along with some sort of time pressure from either the villain's plans or natural events or both. In yesterday's session, for instance, the heroes knew that a powerful superhuman was about to manifest his powers for the first time, and it was a race against time to get the information needed to stop him.

It's still very much a work-in-progress but the framework of a great game is being put into place.


Monday, February 19, 2018

Alt★Hero RPG update

The design for the Alt★Hero RPG is proceeding well. Unlike most superhero RPGs being designed today, it takes a simulative rather than narrative approach. It is a spiritual descendant of Mayfair Game's DC Heroes RPG and TSR's Marvel Heroes RPG. The game mechanics, which I am calling the "Supermetric system", are based on logarithmic mathematics. Each point on the Supermetric scale represents a doubling in real-world measurements. This approach will be  familiar to anyone familiar with DC Heroes. Unlike Mayfair's system, however, the Supermetric system is fully logarithmic. For instance, in DC Heroes a character with a BODY 6 would be felled with six 1 point-hits, two 3-point hits, or one 6-point hits, even though one 6-point hit was worth eight 3-point hits or sixty-four 1 point-hits. Alt★Hero uses some very clever behind-the-scenes math that enables us to carry logarithmic design to its logical progression while keeping the game fast and fun. In playtesting so far, we've found the combat to be very flavorful with collateral damage, environmental interaction, and more.

At this point, the core mechanics are complete and playable so the next step is to begin to develop the character generation system and the full index of powers. One thing I am still assessing is whether to make the character generation randomized (like Marvel Heroes or Golden Heroes), point-based (like Champions or DC Heroes), or hybridized (like Heroes Unlimited). Because superhero combat tends to be so intransitive (that is, it's like scissors-paper-rock rather than high-roll-wins), I have always been skeptical of point-based systems' claims that they can achieve balance. How do you "balance" worldwide teleportation and the ability to lift a 747? On the other hand, for gamers who enjoy such things, building the uber-powerful character within the limits of points is a lot of fun. I'd love to hear what the Alt★Hero RPG community has a preference for!

Fight On,

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Tactical Uncertainty Principle

Advanced Squad Leader did an excellent job with morale. Previous editions of this particular game manfully attempted to address communications and control, albeit in a clumsy manner that was not very gameplay-friendly. But few, if any, games, have successfully addressed the issue of information in war on the tactical level. What passes for “fog of war” is largely limited to something like the ASL concealment mechanism, in which line-of-sight immediately results in full and correct disclosure of the enemy forces. And while this makes sense in light of the obvious limitations of tabletop gaming, it is somewhat strange that computer wargames have not substantially addressed this issue to the best of my knowledge.

So, my thought is this: what if line-of-sight provided unreliable information in the manner Clausewitz describes? What if one benefit of unit experience was the ability to correctly identify enemy units as well as their quantity? There is ample historical precedent after all. One need only read a history of any post-Normandy WWII battle to realize that American troops were prone to misidentifying almost any German tank as a Tiger.

To most American troops, any big tank trying to kill you was a Tiger. Admittedly, the sloping frontal armour of a King resembled that of a Panther Tiger, but a soldier in trouble doesn’t stop to count the road wheels or turn to his recognition handbook. Similarlly, many Allied memoirs talk of being under fire from ‘eighty-eights’, whereas msot German field and anti-tank guns were of 75mm calibre.
Snow and Steel: Battle of the Bulge 1944-45 by Peter Caddick-Adams

The mechanism is relatively simple to implement. For each unit, there is a short catalog of mistaken quantities and types based on probability. One is much more likely to mistake a 75mm field gun for an 88mm than for a 37mm, after all. It is obvious that troops tend to overestimate their enemies rather than underestimate them, both in terms of quality and quantity, so the tendency should be to err upwards. Both the visual and statistical information reported to the player will be inaccurate, then updated as other units make contact or sustained contact causes the initial units to correct their initial error.

It seems to me that this could be as important an advance in wargaming as the ASL morale model was. So, what do you see as the likely costs and benefits of implementing an Unreliable Information model, or if you prefer, Tactical Uncertainty principle?Just because a number of gamers and game designers have expressed interest in it, I’m going to run through my thinking on the subject in public. The more I’ve thought about it, the more I conclude that this could be the most useful new wargame design mechanic since John Hill introduced the morale model in Squad Leader. Also, I’m not going to concern myself with how to implement the principle in a board-and-counter or tabletop game yet, since my primary interest is developing a model that will work for Striker (3rd edition) in the 3DV engine, which is to say, on the computer in a 3D tabletop. While the principle remains the same in either case, the precise model of optimal application will necessarily differ.

The basic Tactical Uncertainty Principle, which is based on the Clausewitzian concept of friction in the form of information, can be summarized thus:

  •  Information reported by LOS is unreliable.
  • The reliability of the information reported depends upon the quality of the unit or leader reporting it.
  • Units reporting inaccurate information tend to inflate both the quantity and the quality of the enemy units reported.

Today, I will focus on the second aspect of the Principle, which states that the reliability of the information reported about the enemy units spotted depends upon the quality of the unit or leader reporting it. For now, I will utilize the five-level unit-quality system of ASL. Here is how I envision the application in terms of pre-modification statistics, with the number representing the percentage chance that the unit will accurately identify the unit(s) sighted.

Elite 85
Veteran 70
Regular 55
Green 40
Conscript 25

A unit with a leader of differing quality will identify an enemy unit on the basis of the leader’s quality rating rather than its own. A unit with the same quality leader will receive an addition 5 percent identification bonus. So, a Veteran unit with an Elite leader will identify enemy units with an 85 percent success rate, but an Elite unit with an Elite leader will do so at a 90 percent success rate.


Will multiple units with a LOS on the same enemy unit make independant roles and report potentially contradictory information (and is there a clean UI for showing this)?

Yes. Yes.

How often will units reroll for possible updates?

Once per enemy movement turn.

Can there be multiple units stacked in a given location and if so, can a unit go entirely unnoticed?

Yes, in the case of a board game and no in the case of a miniatures game. And yes.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

GameBrain: the time penalty

In designing the two-tier answer system for GameBrain, it was obvious that correct fill-in-the-blank answers had to be worth more than correct multiple-choice answers because they are much harder. However, when we decided to incentivize faster multiple-choice answers by reducing the value of a correct answer by as much as fifty percent if the maximum amount of time (10 seconds) was utilized, this raised the question of whether we should apply the same point-reduction to the fill-in-the-blank answers as well.

However, we ultimately decided against that, because it would give an advantage to players who read faster and type faster. Reading faster isn't much of an advantage in multiple choice because the question has already been read and the timer starts anew when one moves from FIB to MC. But typing faster is a big advantage, particularly when there could be a 12-point difference in six seconds. So, we decided to keep a flat point reward for fill-in-the-blank no matter what portion of the 12 seconds is used, and start the penalty gradient for multiple choice at the 3-second mark.

This playtests well, and the only potential issue that remains is if there should be any penalty for waiting most of the 12 seconds one has to do FIB before hitting the spacebar and moving to multiple choice.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Submission time

We've decided to go ahead and submit Elveteka. We've also put a short gameplay video up on YouTube.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Battle Report: July 29th

Another week, another war in Minaria. This game was just a quick two-player one between Werepuppy(as Shucassam and later Rombune) and myself(as Immer). Early on, Immer managed to get Muetar and Hothior as allies. Shucassam gained Rombune and summoned barbarians to aid their campaigns. From here, we begin. 

The most pivotal early battle in this session happens just outside Beolon on the Downs. A roughly even fight between the massed forces of Immer and the Shucassami alliance, ends poorly for Shucassam. With the monarch of the desert kingdom perishing in the battle. Shucassam falls into confusion, its attempt at hegemony failed. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Battle Report: July 22nd

Again we come to Minaria. This week is actually a continuation from the July 1st game, between lastRedoubt, Jared, and yours truly. Who are playing as, the Trolls, Pon and, the Black Hand respectively. 

Last time, Pon was far and ahead in the lead in both power and victory points. They count both Shucassam and Muetar as their allies. The Trolls were second in power but, had allied themselves with Zorn and Hothior. The Black Hand is last, having lost allies left and right, including Shucassam and Immer. From here, we begin.