Monday, November 26, 2018

Iterative design with Neoclassical Geek Revival

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I've been publishing NGR for some time, and it existed as the jumble of "piecemeal" rules for well over a decade before that.  Part of the reason I keep publishing it is because I very strongly believe in iterative development, that something will never be "perfect" and so its better to have it be "good enough" and then improve upon it with future versions (which should all be largely compatible).

Streamlining the action economy of rounds and the successes mechanic for hits/critical hits are improvements that followed this pattern, the renaming of attributes so each has a different starting letter (instead of Strength and Social you now have Strength and Charisma for example), the Luck attribute being replaced with the Fool class. All of these improvements follow a pattern.  During actual play something comes up that either slows down the game (it doesn't run as smooth/intuitively), is confusing, or is an obvious better/worse choice than alternative in all solutions. So I list it as a problem in a notebook, ideally ranked next to other problems so I know what to focus on first.  Then I have a combination of waiting for inspiration and just making random changes to the rules in question, followed by the important follow up of actually testing the changes in  real games. If it is better than the current rule, content, or mechanic after testing, it goes in.

Better has a few different criteria:  Is it intuitive? Does it tie nicely into other parts of the rules? Is it quick to resolve? Easy to remember? Does it bloat the size of the rulebook?

So lets look at a few examples of upcoming or rejected NGR Iterative changes.

Problem:  The current exotic tag (for weapons like a spiked ball and chain) makes an successful hit on a roll of 18 or more a critical hit and every miss by 10 or more a fumble.  The goal for this is to model that these weapons are either great or terrible.  Good roles do better, bad roles do worse.  This is a suitable enough rule BUT it has some irritating rough edges. It slows things down a little because you don't know if its a fumble or not until after the defense roll.  Its the only time that happens. Its a potential break in the flow of combat (which I want to be as invisible as possible).

So the solution I am testing is instead to have an exotic weapon give +2 to hit on rolls of 12+ and -2 to hit on rolls of 9 or less.  Its the same general feel (good rolls do even better and low rolls do even worse),  but its quicker to resolve and easier to remember (+2/-2 is a standard bonus in other weapon tags, like throwing).  It also can be written in exactly the same character count so it won't add to bloat.

But the big question that can't be answered without game play is how does it affect the table?  Will this make it so everyone wants to use exotic weapons? or no one? or it becomes too essential for warriors and/or the opposite? 

Problem:  There is no way to handle causing someone to bleed out.  Fights happen with dealing damage.  You can die the slow death of failed healing rolls and travelling health checks,  but in the middle of a fight you can't cut someone and have them slowly taking damage and bleed out.

The solution I came up with worked great a model.  You could spend a success to cause a "bleeding" tag.  The target took 1 point of stun a turn (temporary damage, aka blood loss) for each point of damage they took from that hit with a slashing or piercing weapon (one asterix, but not important for here).  In NGR luck points reduce the damage you took (unlike HP which are removed from damage being taken),  before you start getting into serious actual wounds.  So if a high level warrior still had luck points, they wouldn't be cut by the first goblin and then bleed out.  You'd keep bleeding until you bound the wounds.

Elegant, works with the other systems, easy to remember.  But it wasn't going in the rulebook (Though hey, feel free to use it in your NGR game),  because of how it affected game play with monsters.  It made them hunting targets.

Don't get me wrong, this is "realistic",  you don't hunt a dangerous animal by running at it with a sword and shield and fighting it until it dies before you.  You shoot it with one arrow and stay back as it bleeds out. You follow it at a distance and then break its neck as its passed out.

That isn't how I would want a fight with a griffon to work out. It brings out questions of what is damage with a sword  if that doesn't involve bleeding?

Problem: A GM generating a unique spell on the fly (or usually converting) isn't always super easy.  The template system in NGR works well 95% of the time, and "Hark! A Wizard!" has enough content that you can just run with that.  But it could be better, it could be even easier.  I tested out my theoretical new template system in "The Gem Prison of Zardax",  its a "build a spell" generator where you pick a means of delivering the spell (tough, a beam, an explosion, a spoken word, etc) then the effect, and then a quirk.  I think that could be more useful for a GM, so I've been testing it.

Its intuitive, it fits into the existing rules (and existing content is unaffected and will still work), its just as quick to resolve, and doesn't really add anything to the page count. Its just as or potentially more memorable.  As long as it pans out in tests this will probably be in some future edition.

By running this process constantly the rules are constantly improved in small discrete bits and have minimum issues (if any) of reverse compatibility.

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