Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Strange Bedfellows: Red/White, Part 1

Blue: "You know what's wrong with Blue?" says Red to White. "They don't care. All those precious lives you seek to preserve, all those higher ideals you aspire to, blue is completely apathetic towards them."

Black: "You know what's wrong with Black?" says White to Red. "They don't care about how anyone feels, including themselves. Rather than doing what feels best they hurt themselves again and again, leading miserable lives because they think that just a little more power over others is going to make them feel happy. It's insane."

Red and White can both get behind a passionate dedication to a higher cause. They believe in something so strongly that they want to fight for it.

White: "You have gone astray in your fervor; your eagerness makes you impatient. The right way to achieve your ideals is through an ordered society." White rejects the words of its forefathers thusly: "Your faith in organized systems blinds you to how they violate the ideals on which they are founded!"

Red: "You have gone astray by becoming fascinated with the abstract. You want to know the key to being happy? Doing things that are fun, rather than putting it off because you worry that something wouldn't be 'fulfilling' enough." Red rejects the words of its forefathers thusly: "Real pleasure is the kind you earn, by working hard to do what your heart tells you is right. You can't imagine what it's like, because you've never tried it yourself."

Green: "If only you two could see," muses Green. "Your heart's in the right place and you'll fight so hard, but you have so little idea of how to achieve your goal. You fight the symptoms but have no conception of the underlying issues. You want to make the world a better place through destruction, to be a martyr for your cause even though you could do so much more for it if you took the time to ensure your own survival."

(As always, feedback is most definitely welcome.)

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Magic: Strange Bedfellows (Introduction)

Though I stopped playing Magic around the time that Torment came out, I still like to keep an eye on the game. And lately my interest in game design has led me to go back and read through a big chunk of Mark Rosewater's old columns. They're awesome. Also awesome is Ravnica, which I've always intended to take a close look at. But on an oddly discordant note, I find Mark's descriptions of the opposed-color matchups rather lacking. I keep feeling like there connections between the opposed colors that are being neglected, and as a result the pairings lack a coherent, sympathetic view; like trying to blend oil and water. In particular, his description of the Red-White outlook struck me as "these two don't work together, and they're in denial about it."

Now I just want to be ABSOLUTELY clear here. What I'm about to do, I do not do as a critic. This is not my attempt to show how things "should have been done"; that would require an in-depth knowledge of how said things were done, whereas I've actually put off my research into Ravnica so as to not make any deliberate attempts to be different.

So what is this dark deed I intend? I'm going to come up with my own ideas for what the opposed-color guilds in Ravnica should be like from a fluff perspective. Because as a designer I've had some ideas and it sounds like alot of fun.

Here's the creative approach I'll be taking: an examination of each color in the pie in relation to the guild in question, in the form of an ideological debate.
-First, I'll get my basic idea of the pairing via the two colors that are friends of one of the guild's origins. See, what happened there is that the guild's other origin color leaned in and, playing devil's advocate, whispered "You know what's wrong with them?" There are tensions between two allied colors that an enemy can appreciate.
-Second, their two origin colors, and how "purists" belonging to each of those colors think their brethren in the guild have been lead astray.
-Third, the color they're both friends with. I see this as the guild's blind spot, something they've overlooked and not given much thought to when they.

In my mind the advantage of the opposed-color guilds is that they've been more open-minded and thus realized that the world is more complex than most people think. And their weakness is that they've now lost that open-mindedness, that having come up with a more complex ideal they've seized onto it as the "true" right way despite the flaws it still retains.

At this point, my intent is take whatever concept I've arrived at for each pairing and briefly run to through Mark Rosewater's set of color questions so as to better clarify their outlook. There'll also be some musings on the form the in-world guild itself would take (rather than just the views of the color pairing) and the mechanics of the pairing.

Finally, I'll take a close look at what was actually done with that color pairing, comparing and contrasting it to my own. Value judgments will generally be avoided here, since we can assume my own versions will (through some strange coincidence) perfectly match my own personal preferences.

Well, here goes!

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d20 Rethought: Damage Done Different

I've talked alot about taking damage on this blog, but I really ought to also describe mention the differences in d20 Rethought regarding how damage is dealt. There have been some changes made here too, again in the name of streamlining character creation and ensuring that once an aspect of a character is optimized, it *stays* optimized.

-All damage is done through dice. In other words, to calculate damage you might roll 3d6 or 4d6+2d8 but never 3d6+1 or 3d6+5. The potential drawback with this decision is that rolling large handfuls of dice can slow down play, but this change paves the way for several other rules.
-The die caliber used depends on the source of the damage. A character might use a trick that grants him "2d sneak attack damage" or "+3d spell damage"; you inflict extra weapon damage dice on melee attacks equal to your brawn score.
-"Damage Resistance" minimizes the result of a die roll, while "Damage Vulnerability" maximizes it. A feat's tactic might give you Sneak Attack Resistance 2, a werewolf might have Total Silver Vulnerability (all dice are maximized), a red dragon might have a Fire Resistance and Cold Vulnerability of 5 each. . .of course, there are still some creatures that are flat-out immune to a certain type of damage.

And the single most vital alteration, the one that has some very far-reaching repercussions on the strategy of the game:
-The maximum number of damage dice you can inflict is equal to your attack roll minus the opponent's defense (minimum 1). Let's say I'm making an attack that deals 4d8 damage against an opponent with a defense of 15. If I roll a 15 or 16 on the attack check I inflict 1d8 damage; if I roll a 17 I inflict 2d8, if I roll an 18 I inflict 3d8 and if I get a result of 19 or higher I roll all 4d8 dice.

To help make said repercussions a little easier to understand, I'll toss in another big rule about d20 Rethought that I've only mentioned in passing until now:
-You can spend X vitality and X resolve to get a +X action bonus on your next skill check. (Action bonuses are applied after the result cap.) This can be done in or out of combat. It represents a moment of intense focus on your characters part; the sort of thing where afterwards you often slump back, take a deep breath and wipe the sweat from your brow.

Those are the big, obvious changes from a player's perspective. Read on for an exploration of these mechanic's potential and an explanation of how this business with dice ties into the underlying math of the system.

How this helps character optimization:
It lets damage scale smoothly as your character goes up in level and/or becomes more optimized in that area. Think about it- abilities that improve your damage are going to do so in one of two ways, either by granting more damage dice or improving the die caliber. Thanks to the "attack check-defense" limitation, the former improvement is only useful when your character scores a solid hit on the opponent (more on that below). The latter, meanwhile, is a permanent improvement! In this system, tricks can grant anyone sneak attack dice; a backstab-happy character just picks up more of these tricks, in combination with talents that improve the caliber of his sneak attack die to a d6 and then a d8. A straightforward melee fighter, meanwhile, might have tricks that grant him more weapon damage dice and improve his weapon die caliber via a Weapon Focus talent.

How this helps gameplay:
It's the same idea as the chance to augment your critical hits- the player has a choice, to play it safe or gamble by spending a resource for the chance to hit the enemy even harder. For every 1 point of damage prevention (physical and mental) you sacrifice, you'll potentially be inflicting another die of damage- unless you roll so high that you're already using all your damage dice, or you roll so low that you still don't hit at all.

This in turn makes Defense checks (Spending a move action to roll your defense, and using that result if it's higher that the normal "taking 10" score) a hell of a lot more important when fighting powerful opponents- an average of +5 to defense doesn't just mean an additional 25% of the rolls will miss, it means that your opponent will still potentially be rolling 5 less damage dice if they do hit.

I can take the number of damage dice inflicted, add that to their attack check and compare that against the victim's relevant passive skill check for an attack's secondary effects. In other words, whenever you've got a special trick that pins someone to their wall with their clothing or gouges them so painfully they're stunned for a second or just plain knocks them on their ass. . .the better the attack roll, the better it works.

In a similar fashion, when the players are fighting mooks/minions/minor npcs, the victims can simply make damage saves (DC 10+dice inflicted+1/2 largest die size) rather than the players actually having to roll damage.

My prediction/hope- and this is something that will require heavy playtesting for me to gauge whether I've been successful- is that combat will be a tense affair that can potentially be settled in just a few blows, while still being dramatic, fun, and in practice quite survivable by the player character.

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