Sunday, November 22, 2009

Ugh, SO LAZY ><

Wow, I really fell down on this one. Its been nearly 2 months. Ridiculous I say!

To be fair, I havent had much time to work with the Anima project lately, busy with papers for school and whatnot.

However, something else interesting has come along. You may or may not be familiar with Warlord, Reaper Miniatures fantasy skirmish game.

Well, during last years Reapercon, Mike managed to get a few copies of the 2nd edition play test rules. After reading them, we discovered that the rules as they were were pretty bad. Not necessarily in their function, but very much in their layout and presentation. In the few weeks that followed, we embarked on a desperate quest to create a feedback document that we could send in. We even asked Gus (the editor) to delay the publishing of the book, but that just wasn't possible. So we sent in what we had, and hoped for the best.

Well, the book got published, and it turns out that almost all of our changes were implemented! And though I don't want to sound too full of myself, I have to say that the book is massively better for it. Even better, I recently got to play a few games of the new edition, and its actually really fun! I wasn't actually much of a fan of 1st edition, but 2nd is definitely a huge improvement. While some of the improvements to the base rules are due to yours truly, the real thing that makes the game better is the total re-balancing of all the data cards, and I had nothing to do with that. So go Gus and Co.!

Aaaanyway, long story short, Gus recently contacted Mike and asked him if we would be interested in giving the rules another going-over for clarity. He also said that if we did, he would be able to give us something a bit better than "Playtester" in the credits! So super cool.

Now, after my first read-through, The rules themselves are pretty solid (as they should be, since that's the part I went through last time :P) but a few of the special abilities could still use some work. The real challenge here is that I cant actually recommend any changes to how anything actually works. That will make some of the SA's hard to cut down.

Regardless, I haven't given up on Anima! Quick re-cap on what still needs to be done:
  1. Need to figure out how Critical Hits will work.
  2. Combat can probably still be pared down and streamlined more.
  3. Should probly take another look at Characteristic checks.
That's all for now, I will try to be back sooner than 2 months this time :D

Monday, October 5, 2009

Anima Gets Tabled

And so, we come to the next big task in Anima: getting rid of that giant combat table! This will be a bit convoluted, as its gone through a few different stages, but bear with me.

Now, the Combat table works on something approaching a formula, but as we will see later, 'almost' doesn't cut it. On a basic level, the Combat Table works thus: The attacker rolls his attack ability, and the defender rolls his defense ability. These rolls are then compared, and the defender's roll is subtracted from the attackers roll. For each 10 points that the attacker wins by, the defender takes 10% of the attacker's base damage, -10% per AT (armor type) of the defender. So if I hit you by 60, and you have AT 3, I do 30% damage. If the defender wins, then he may spend his action to make an immediate counter-attack with a +5 bonus for every 10 points that he wins by. So if I attack you, and you beat my roll by 30, you would get a +15 on your counter-attack.

One solution that I have seen is to convert the game to use d10's, and divide all base damage by 10. What you can do then is compare the attack roll and defense roll, and then if the attacker wins, simply subtract the defenders AT from the margin of success, and then multiply whats left by your base damage. Effectively, instead of saying "I hit by 60, so I do 60% of my 100 damage", you would say "I hit by 6, so I multiply my base damage of 10 by 6". The end result is the same.

Now, this system works pretty well, and can even be done with d20's (simply divide all damage by 20 instead of 10) but there are a few small problems. You lose a lot of resolution and distinction between weapons and stats when you divide everthing by 10 or 20, since everything is in increments of 5. Also the Combat Table doesn't actually work that way.

While it follows a formula for the most part, it has its own little quirks that are pretty much impossible to model with a formula that anyone can do without a graphing calculator.

For example, If you hit by less than 30, you don't actually do any damage at all, regardless of the target's AT. It still has downsides for the defender, but no damage. Seems easy at first right? Just make it to where our d20 rolling friends have to win by at least 6 to do damage! Easy right?
Unfortunately, no. Because if you hit by 40 against AT 0, you do 30% damage, and if you hit by 50, you do 50% damage. It follows the formula after that. Also, according to our formula, and taking the 'hitting by 30' threshold into account, hitting someone with AT 1 by 30 should do no damage, right? Alas, no. It still does 10%. Same for AT 2. All together, the table doesn't start making any kind of sense until you are hitting by 50, or attacking a target of AT 3 or more.

Regardless, I soldiered on! I ditched the combat table and divided all damage by 20... Except, dividing all damage by 20 sucked. All weapons did 2-5 damage, and were very similar. Also I had to worry about things like "how do I handle what was previously a +5 strength bonus? Does it add 1 to damage? I mean, that would essentially quadruple its effect!" So as a solution, I divided all damage by 5, and multiplied all life points by 4! This solved the problem, in that it kept the damage and HP in proportion, but created the new problem that everyone has like, a billion LP. (a first level character could easily have 400-500 LP under that system) Either way, I was ready for a quick playtest.

Three things became clear as I pitted my level 6 Warrior against a horde of trained soldiers.

  1. Characters with no supernatural abilities SUCK.
  2. The quadrupled HP and damage numbers were clunky, and difficult to use.
  3. By just cutting 30% off of every hit, to take the 'hit by 30' threshold, no one could do any damage.
So, I pondered how to fix this. I don't want to just get rid of the 30 point threshold, as its important to the game's balance, and a great many things in the game work around it, specifically, many effects that don't do damage, but instead inflict some kind of effect, require that you hit by at least enough to do 10% damage. To remove that 30 point gap would increase the power of these abilities by a lot. In addition, taking out the weirdness of 'glancing hits' against weak armor would likely make those lighter armors better than they really should be.

So I pondered and thought, and ultimately, I came to the conclusion that I would have to leave the Combat Table in. Now, that does kinda suck, and you will still have to find percentages, but, there is good news.

The primary thing that this lets me do is instead of drastically inflating damage and LP, I can actually shrink those numbers! In fact, both can be divided by 5, reducing the work required in keeping track of them and calculating them significantly.

So while you still have to calculate a percentage, it wont actually be that difficult, because you will likely be taking a percentage of a number between 10 and 20, and that's not so bad. Not ideal, but workable.

So, in conclusion:
  1. The Combat Table stays
  2. All damage values and life point totals will be divided by 5.
That's it for now! Next time we will take a closer look at what can be done for critical hits!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A cold shower for Anima

So the first problem I identified with Anima is that the numbers are all big for no real reason or benefit. Lets see what we can do about that.

The most important goal is to convert the game to some kind of dice other than d100's. The reason is two-fold: One, to reduce the math to a more manageable level, (whats easier, 87+ 65, or 19+13?) and also because I don't like d100's. The reason I don't like them is because they are clunky, and hard to read or roll multiples of at once regardless of whether you use Zocchihedrons (seen to the right), or just the classic method of 2d10 read as digits. In addition, pretty much all games that use d100's, including Anima, always have their bonuses and penalties measured in increments of 5 anyway.
The truth of the matter is that you pretty much never actually need statistical resolution down to a single percent. 5% is pretty much the smallest increment that anyone is really willing to care about in tabletop gaming.

So then, what kind of dice can we use instead? I have seen some people attempt to convert Anima to using a d10, but I personally think that you lose too much resolution. There are a large number of 5 point bonuses on the 100 point scale, and reducing the game to a d10 requires rounding those up or down.
Because of this, I have chosen to go with d20's. The d20 is always a good substitute for the d100 because it essentially breaks the 100 point scale down into 5 point chunks, which, as I said before, is about as small a difference as anyone really cares about.

Now that we know what kind of number scale were working towards, we can actually get down to the business of converting!

The dice mechanics in Anima come in two forms: Ability Checks and Characteristic Checks.

Ability checks are the most common roll, and involve rolling a d100 and adding your total ability modifier, whether that is an attack roll or a skill check. Ability checks also follow the rules for Open Rolls and Fumbles.
Converting these over to a d20 is fairly simple. We just roll a d20 instead of a d100, and divide all of the ability bonuses and penalties by 5. So if before you had a +90, now you have a +18. The difficulties would of course need to be divided as well.

The Open Roll rule in Anima comes into effect if you roll a natural (as in, the number on the dice) 90 or more. In this situation, you get to roll again, and add the second roll to the total in addition to the first roll. If the second roll can also 'explode', but the number required to explode increases by one each time up to a maximum of 100. For example, if you have an ability of +50, and you roll a 93, you get to roll again. If this roll is a 90, it does not explode again, as you need a 91 on the second roll. Your total in this case would be 233.
Using d20's, I would have the first roll explode on a 19 or a 20 (equivalent to a 90+) and then have the follow up rolls only explode on a 20.

Fumbles in Anima are fairly clunky. Any time you roll a 1, 2, or 3 on your d100, you fumble. In this situation, you roll again, and add a modifier based on what exactly you rolled to produce the fumble. This new total indicates the severity of the fumble. There is also something called
'Mastery'. Mastery comes into effect when your total ability is 200 or more. In this case you reduce your fumbles by 1. meaning you only fumble on a 1 or a 2.
The way I choose to convert/fix this mechanic is very simple:

I remove it.

Critical Fumbles are stupid. They always have been, and always will be. They sabotage your character concepts, and don't really make any sense. The only characters who should ever 'fumble' at something are incompetent douches, and Its pretty rare that anyone wants to play one of those. For my conversion, a 1 will result in a simple failure, nothing more, nothing less. Once a character achieves mastery, then it wont even do that. It will just be a 1, which is bad enough.

Characteristic checks are rolled on a single d10, and use a roll-under mechanic. They are commonly employed in opposed rolls, which function on a weird indirect comparison. (as is often the case with roll-under systems) There is also a special rule for these opposed tests when one ability is greater than the other by more than 4, as well as the 'rule of 1 and 10', which basically says that if you roll a 10, you actually rolled a 13, and if you roll a 1, you actually rolled a -2.

Since we are using d20's now, it seems reasonable to go ahead and change these checks over to d20's, and, while were at it, were going to attempt to convert it to a roll over system as well.
Since the attributes are based on a 10 point scale, the first thing we need to do when converting to a 20 point scale is double them. That way, the proportions of the random element (the die roll) and the fixed element (the characteristic) stay the same. Also, instead of rolling your die, and then comparing it to the characteristic, we will be rolling the die, adding the characteristic, and then comparing it to a fixed threshold.
Before, if you had an average stat (5), you had a 50% chance of success. (roll a 1-5) This means that in our new roll-over system, an average stat should also have a 50% chance of success.
With the new average of 10, the threshold for 50% success would be 21. Its 21, because that means that you need to roll an 11 or better to succeed, which leaves 1-10, half the possible results, as failures.
That works, but I am somewhat tempted to go ahead and lower that threshold to just 20, as that is a bit cleaner, and slightly more intuitive. It does make it easier to succeed on characteristic tests, but honestly, that's not that big of a deal, especially since it will only matter when making unopposed ability checks. When making opposed checks, it will simply be a direct comparison of results.

Now, as for the rule of 1 and 10, I think that we can safely drop that. It doesn't really add that much, and is fairly complicated.

Alright! So here's a summary of what we have today:

  1. All dice rolls will be made with a d20, rather than a d100.

  2. All abilities, as well as bonuses and penalties to dice rolls, will be divided by 5.

  3. Open rolls will initially occur on a natural roll of 19-20, and subsequently only on rolls of 20.

  4. Fumbles will occur only on a roll of a 1, and only indicate a normal failure regardless of the ability bonus or difficulty. Characters who have achieved mastery of an ability (denoted by having a +40) do not automatically fail, they simply count their die roll as a 1.

  5. Unopposed Characteristic Checks will be made by rolling a d20 and adding the characteristic being tested. If the total equals or exceeds 20, then the character has succeeded. In opposed characteristic tests, the two characters will simply roll, add their characteristics, and compare their totals. The character with the higher total wins the opposed test.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


So a few years ago, I read a short story called "Grist" by Tony Daniel. It was incredible. Turns out, there was a novel based on it. Two novels. I kept an eye out for these books for a few years, until finally, I broke down and bought them on Amazon.

It was worth the wait... Kinda.

The first book is called "Metaplanetary", and it is absolutely excellent. It was exactly what I wanted (a continuation of the short story) and was just simply delicious. The characters are engaging, the science is very interesting, and about as understandable as one can hope from quantum physics.

Just superb from beginning to end.

The second book is titled "Superluminal", and is even better... until it stops.

It doesn't end. It stops.

Early in the book, a new character is introduced in a small, parallel plotline. This secondary plotline runs throughout the book, reaches a climax, and has a resolution. This climax and resolution is the end of the book. All of the other plotlines, the ones I cared about, and had been reading since Metaplanetary, don't get climaxes and ends. They get no resolution. They just stop. Its like the author got tired of writing the book that I was reading, and so wrote a short story instead, and then put that short story into the book, and called it a day.

Theoretically, the development in this secondary plotline does make the end result of all of the major conflicts a foregone conclusion. But, a fair amount of the earlier exposition in the book is written in the form of Memoirs which suggest that a lot of other things happen that haven't happened by the "end". In addition, all throughout the first and second book, everyone "in the know" is always talking about how a particular character is important, and about how they need to find this one person so that they can get him in gear, and win. Or something, I'm being deliberately vague. Essentially, they have a plan, it seems important, and the characters pursuit of this plan is the story that I cared about.

The little short story in Superluminal has pretty much nothing to do with that. Furthermore, it renders almost all of the struggles and efforts by the characters throughout both books almost completely meaningless.

But the worst part about it all, is that the story that I cared about, the story that was cut cruelly short, was so good. It was incredible. One of the best books Ive ever read. And if it had continued, if that little short story hadn't been weaved into Superluminal and ruined it, I think it might have been one of the best books I have ever read. The story Mr. Daniel was writing would have been great! It would have been an epic tale of Love, Loss, and Regret. Of Heroism and Sacrifice, of Good and Evil, and of everything that it is to be and not to be Human! And it spanned an entire Solar System made strange by the incredible advances of technology.

It would have been amazing. But, it was not to be.

And dispite the awful case of literary blue-balls... It was still great. The books are still good, and I still recommend them...

Which makes the blue-balls even worse!!!! ARRGHHHBLBLHGHHG!!!!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Current Frustration

So, I'm currently working with a game Called Anima: Beyond Fantasy, published by Fantasy Flight Games.

For those not familiar with it, Anima was originally developed and published over in Spain in 2005. FFG managed to get an English version published over here in October 2008. There's also a card game (noncollectable, has 1 expansion I'm aware of) and a miniature based skirmish game. Here of course, I am concerned with the RPG.

Alright, enough jibbajabba, lets get down to business!
So, whats wrong with it?

First off, it uses a d100. I personally don't like percentile based systems, but in this case, that's not actually a problem. While Anima does use d100's, it is not percentile based. Its essential function is more similar to the D20 system. (roll a die, add a number, compare to a DC) Anima just uses a d100 because it likes big numbers. Which brings us to our first major issue!

Many of the numbers in Anima are artificially inflated just for the heck of it. Regardless of how good at math you are, working with big numbers is generally going to be harder than working with small numbers. Ideally, I should be able to shrink the system to using a d20 or a d10 instead.

Character generation is also a bit on the complicated side, though that is actually an unavoidable symptom of one of the benefits that I will discuss below. Also, you only need to make a character once, so I think that this can be left as-is.

Combat, is, unfortunately, very clunky. There are a lot of little options and modifiers, and even worse, there is a combat table. Basic Attack/Defense works via an opposed roll. The difference between the Attacker's and Defender's rolls is cross-referenced with the defenders relevant armor type (AT) on this big table to find out what percentage of their base damage the Attacker does if they hit, or what bonus the Defender gets if the attack misses. Not only does this mean that the players will have to look at this thing all the time, but it also requires that the Attacker calculate a percentage! Ugh! Division bad!

To follow up the combat table madness, the game also features fumbles. Now, I hate the "critical miss" idea anyway, but Anima manages to take it to the next level. Not only do you have the chance to auto-fail, BUT, you also get the fun of making an additional roll (with conditional modifiers no less!) to figure out just how bad you screwed the pooch.

Anima also has critical hits, which is cool. What isn't cool is that the rules for determining the effects of a critical hit are insane. To score a crit (not counting attacking vital points) you must do at least 1/2 the target's current life points in damage from a single attack. So far, not so bad. Then you need to determine the critical level. To do this, you roll a d100 and add the damage you did, halving any amount over 200. (so a result of 260 becomes 230) Then the defender makes a resistance check against the level of the crit. If they pass, great, otherwise, they suffer a wound with a level of awfulness determined by the amount by which they failed. It starts with just a penalty from the awful pain, which goes away bit by bit each turn. (bookkeeping nightmare) The higher levels also require you to determine the specific hit location, which requires another roll. Like I said, insane.

There are other little things here and there, but those are the main ones that stick out in my mind at the moment. To recap:

  1. The numbers are all huge for no real reason

  2. It has this huge combat table thing, and combat is a bit clunky in general

  3. It has critical fumbles

  4. The rules for critical hits are spawned from the mad ravings of a mathematical hate-machine
So then, you must be thinking, "why bother? That game sounds awful."

That brings us to the next section:

Why is it worth it?

The reason that I want to fix Anima comes from one major factor: It is stuffed with awesome. I mean, to the gills. There's a huge amount of depth and breadth to what you can do with your character. In addition, its capable of scaling the power-level all the way up to the top. Exalted kind-of promises this, but really, you only go up to essence 5 or so, and after that, there isn't much in the way of published content for you. In Anima, it has everything you need to turn the Awesome dial all the way to 11.

While it does have classes, they only change how much things will cost, and what innate bonuses you get. Any character can develop pretty much any ability. And there are plenty of abilities to develop! You can become an unstoppable warrior with the Ki Dominion, master the forces of the cosmos via magic, or impose your will on creation with Psychic powers. You can summon lesser beings from beyond, or invoke the great powers of the world in earth shattering displays of might. And if that wasn't enough, you can also gain power by becoming a devoted champion of one of the 14 deities in the game.

Now usually, a game with that many detailed subsystems would be a total nightmare, but Anima manages to keep things under control fairly well, because all of the different subsystems intersect on the same point. If your playing a Ki-wielding badass, you don't need to know anything about the magic rules, or the psychic rules, or any of the other systems. All you need to know is the Ki Dominion rules.

In short, there are a ton of awesome things you can do in Anima, its just held back by a few clunky mechanics.
Here at Systemic Frustration, that is exactly the kind of problem that I aim to solve.

Woo! I have a blog now :D

So I have taken the plunge and created the pulpit from which I will fling my inane blatherings.

Creating a blog has been something I have thought about for some time now, but only just today did I really figure out what I would write about. Its really sort of silly though. I mean, I talk to myself (at great length) all the time. You wouldn't think that I would have trouble with this kind of thing.

But whatever. Here we are now. The ultimate purpose of this blog is two-fold.

One) To document my various musings on the different Role-playing game systems out there, how they are flawed, and my attempts to fix them.

Two) Provide a pulpit from which I can throw words at you. Preferably at your face. Cause I'm a jerk like that.