Thursday, May 22, 2014

CORPS 3.0 is under way!

Things may have been quiet here in the land of Tabletop Game Design Goodness but that doesn't mean we've been anything but busy over in CORPS land.  A lot of new ideas have been kicked around, so many in fact that we felt that it was time to up our internal release number to 3.0.  While to the vast majority of the world this means absolutely nothing but to the half dozen or so CORPS players of the world this is big news.  While there are still a few radical changes being tested and tried out I can say this change has thematically been about simplification.  We've simplified spells, we've simplified knacks hell we've even simplified talents.  We've all but eliminated the use/need for power points while reducing the burden of adrenaline points into a few key decisions rather than a plethora of mild to irrelevant ones.  Our overcasting system for spells has also been radically altered and is now both easier to use and much more versatile.  We have also with some sadness removed the critical hit chart from the game and replaced it with a faster critical system that doesn't require a lookup chart.  I was personally saddened by this as the chart lookup was a pretty fun and interesting mechanic for the game but with relatively high percentage of crits being scored on both sides we felt it was slowing down combat too much to be worth it.  Finally on top of all of this, we've made building a character a much simpler task than it once was.  The estimated character build time has dropped from nearly 45 minutes down to about 20 or 30 depending on the character build and how well the player knows what they want.

In this post I wanted to take the time and highlight a few specific changes we've made and how they compared to the old 2.5/2.6 system.  In particular I wanted to give a sneak peak into how the layout for spells are now and how the talent system has been simplified.  To lets get into this action filled post and slaughter the masses in... eh i mean see what we have in store with the new spell layout.

So to demonstrate some of the complexity of the old spell system I've chosen a spell of the elemental sphere that has had some power issues due to it's complexity and been responsible for more than few rule changes in its time. I'll outline the sections below:

Spell Header:

Whirlwind (OU)*

Keyword: Force, Zone
Spell Type: Offensive Utility
Area of Effect: Area 2 in 10
Duration: Encounter
Static Modifier: 1/2  
Save vs Reflex: 14 + level + Pr bonus
Spell Effect:
You create a zone of raging winds in an unoccupied area with the origin square within range.  The zone counts as difficult terrain. Creatures who enter into the zone on their turn or start their turn in the zone gain the battered effect.  Creatures who end their turn in the zone take damage as if they failed their saving throw but are not slid.  When a creature with the battered effect leaves the zone they must make a saving throw vs fortitude and they lose the battered effect.  If a creature fails it’s saving throw against this zone they can spend 1 square of movement per square of forced movement to reduce the distance they are slid.
Failure: Battered targets take force damage equal to the level chart below +Pr bonus and can be slid up to a number of squares listed on the level chart.
Success: No effect

Whoa that's quite a bit.  The first lines are pretty important, we need to know the damage type and the fact that the spell is an offensive utility spell and a zone spell no less is important.  The fact that it's an area 2 in 10 (i.e. it's a 5x5 square with the center square being within 10 squares of the caster which assumes a square grid battle mat)  The duration informs the reader that the spell will last for the entire encounter. The next line however was a little odd.  Our static modifier value.  This was our answer to static bonuses causing certain spells to become grossly overpowered.  The way it worked in theory was simple but in practice was a pain in the ass.  Basically this worked by assigning a player a static value through talents, knacks magic items and what not to say that they got say a +20 to damage for all spells.  However some spells target a single creature, some target multiple creatures, some like this spell cover an area of ground that can repeatedly injury enemies and players depending on how many times they find themselves in the zone.  Given the fact that various spells can potentially affect a number of different enemies we had originally decided to assign fractional static modifiers which determined what percent of the static value was applied to that particular spell.  In this case a +20 would just mean +10 damage which seems easy enough but we had different fractions ranging for 1/3 to 1.

Now that may not sound too bad but we also had in combat bonuses and dividing out fractions that weren't friendly in the middle of combat either led to a cluttered sheet or pauses in the game play as people got bogged down with the math while figuring out what their character's wanted to do.  Our remedy in 2.5 had been to simply let in combat bonuses apply to everything so there wouldn't be any real time division but we still had to deal with them in the character creation process.

Next we had saving throw, which was the value needed by the enemy to determine their success or failure at avoiding the spell.  While this isn't completely unheard of in many tabletop games, figuring out the reflex bonus for each level and then making a check against the enemies reflex saving throw was just another feather in the pile resting on the camels back.  The last part of the header was the spell effect.  This was done in a very very specific manner so that we could be sure of what the spells capabilities were.  Some of these are necessary and still exist in 3.0 such as declaring the area must be unoccupied, this is because if you could cast it directly on enemies it would be an attack spell which follows a different set of rules.  But the rest of it basically involved applying some unique effect on the creature as a place holder that started at the beginning of their turn or when they entered into the zone and came off at the end of their turn or when left the zone.  This was done because we felt that if a creature had a power that could move another creature that it should be able to move that creature through the zone without hurting.  Least players start double dipping and move an enemy into a zone potentially damaging it once and then again when the creature starts their turn in the zone.  Well someone might be quick to say well only have the zone affect a creature when they enter it, well that can lead to a problem because a ranged attack could run into a zone of burning fire and take damage once then be protected by it from melee attackers for the rest of combat.  Something that is just an utterly stupid yet perfectly valid loophole.

Oh and one last thing about spells, each caster build had a pool of power that was used to fuel their spells.  We called these power points.  They used to cost a variable amount depending on which spell you were using but then we leveled everything out and simplified it so that all spells would cost N+2 where N is your current level.  Seemed simple enough, at level 1 each spell cost 3 power points.  Well in 3.0 we even further simplified that by totally removed power points from spells.  Now basically all normal spells can be cast to caster's content.  While I am sure some of the old school red box and advanced D&D guys may look down on this move, for us it all became apart of simplifying things and in this case it's one less thing you need to track as a caster.


Level 1-5
Force Damage
0
1
1
2
3
Level 1-5
Slide Distance
2
2
3
3
3
Level 6-10
Force Damage
3
4
5
5
7
Level 6-10
Slide Distance
4
4
4
5
5

Next we have the damage chart which is actually something we expanded on in 3.0.  Initially our fear of having too many charts (chart lookups in a game really slow things down) had caused us to originally use a formula to look something like Xd6 + Y + Pr bonus.  Where X = 7/10 * level and Y = 17/10 and your Pr bonus was say 5.  So at level 1 that means I do how much damage???  Exactly.  This was another pain point in building a character sheet.

Activated Ability: (At level 6 the 2 AP option becomes available)
1 or 2 AP: When a creatures fails their saving throw you can increase the distance they are slid by a number of squares equal to the level chart below based on how many AP you spend.

Level 1-5
1 AP
1
1
1
1
1
Level 6-10
1 AP
2
2
2
2
2
Level 6-10
2 AP
4
4
4
4
5

Ah the activated abilities.  This was a bitter sweet spot in our spell design.  The concept behind this was that a number of spells in each sphere had a bonus option that a player could spend their Adrenaline Points on.  Each of these bonuses carried out a number of unique effects which while cool in concept made it a lot more difficult when creating spells and more confusing for players using those spells.  In this particular spell it isn't bad, others were even more simple just adding additional damage to it, but the character sheets often suffered in that they needed to include these additional options.  Of course this got far worse at the higher levels.  So the solution was.... CORPS 3.0

Out with the old and in with the new:

Whirlwind (OU)*

Keyword: Force, Zone
Spell Type: Offensive Utility
Area of Effect: Area 2 in 10
Duration: Encounter
Saving Throw: 13 (Medium)
Spell Effect:
You create a zone of raging winds in an unoccupied area with the origin square within range.  The zone counts as difficult terrain but does not line of sight or creatures. When a creature exits from the zone they must make a saving throw with the results of success or failure listed below.   Creatures who end their turn in the zone automatically damage as if they failed their saving throw but suffer no further effects from the zone that round.
Failure: The creature takes force damage and can be slide up to the values listed in the level chart below.  A creature may spend 1 square of movement to reduce the distance they are slid by 1 if they have the remaining movement or actions to do so.
Success: No effect

Level 1-5
Damage
4
5
7
9
9
Level 1-5
Slide Distance
2
2
2
2
3
Level 6-10
Damage
11
13
15
15
17
Level 6-10
Slide Distance
3
3
3
4
4
Level 11-15
Damage
19
21
21
23
25
Level 11-15
Slide Distance
4
4
5
5
5

Well it certainly takes up less room but some things are certainly missing.  Perhaps most noticeable is the removal of the AP option.  Yes that is right individual AP powers have been yanked in place of sphere specific powers.  The spheres are now better support distinct playstyles with in the sphere allowing players to choose an aspect that belongs to each sphere.  In the cast of the priest sphere you could go with a holy priest or a shadow priest.  Each of these builds have a specific power they can put their AP towards that helps empower nearly any of their spells.

Another interesting feature is that we've  removed reference of level in the header portion of the spell. This change was done to our saving throw system.  No longer is it level based.  You make a single 2d12 roll and that's it.  Level 1 or level 10 it doesn't matter.  While this does run into the hypothetically another developer has often used that a level 1 wizard's wall of fire shouldn't have the same change of affecting a powerful being like a demi-god or ancient dragon as a level 10 wizard's wall.  Well the key difference here is the strength of said wall.  You'll notice for the spell above the different between a level 1 spell and a level 10 spell is about 13 damage and 2 squares of push.  That may not sound like a lot but this is an insanely powerful combination.  Because difficult terrain costs 2 squares of movement an enemy in the dead center of the zone will need to spend 5 squares of movement to get out of the zone.  If a creature has only 4 movement they then need to do a double move which gives them 8 squares of combined movement.  If they spend the 5 to get out and fail their saving throw then can only reduce the slide distance by 3, and what do you do with that remaining one square of slide?  Of course! slide them back into the zone.  Granted they've already taken damage that turn from it so it won't hurt them again but next turn they need to attempt the save again or take more damage and be slowed down again.  This kind of zone is built more for slowing down and distracting creatures then it is for dealing damage, which brings me to my next point.

You might recall from above my little spiel about static modifier values.  Well in 3.0 they are out the window.. well mostly.  For offensive utility spells definitely.  That means that the value you see in the chart is the value of damage you deal, hell we don't even include the caster's attribute bonus anymore.  All the damage is worked into the spell so that you can copy the damage and slide distance right out of spell document and have correct values.  There are a few exceptions to this but only a few, such as maybe the odd spell sphere bonus or talent.   Attack spells still have static values but the fractional modifier that used to help regulate them has been removed.  Instead these static values have been worked into the base spell itself.  So if you have a +10 damage bonus to spells that applies to all spells, single target, multi-target, AoE, it doesn't matter they all get +10 to the listed damage.  While this does make the static bonuses essentially stronger for mutli-target and AoE spells, it's not quite as noticeable because that spells damage as been adjusted accordingly.  We've put the math into the background of the spell so now it's much simpler to play the character rather than trying to figure out on the fly fractional bonuses.

One thing you may have also noticed about the new spell layout is that the damage chart now goes up to level 15 even though the current level cap for the game is level 10.  Well that is where our overcast mechanic comes into play.  In 2.5 you used to have a spell specific overcast option where you could spend an extra move action when casting a spell to do something an extra 1d8+2 which would turn into an extra 2d8+5 at level 6.  While minor, to put it down on a character sheet  you needed to have each spells damage, then look up to see what each spells overcast damage was and add them together.  Sure adding up 2d8+5/1d8+2 to know that you're final damage is 2d8+5 or 3d8+7 with overcasting but it's putting that on the player when really there isn't a need.  Now in 3.0 overcasting simply allows you to cast a spell as if you were 1 level higher.  Simply put the final value you'll put down on your sheet is there already.  More importantly this expands overcasting to ALL types of spells rather than just attack spells like the old system.  On top of that, we as developers don't need to list out additional text for each spell indicating what it's overcast damage is.

And?  Well that's it.  There is no longer an AP specific add-on ability to any of the spells of the sphere.  Also the total number of spells each sphere gets has been reduced from 42 to 33.  In the earlier versions of the game we loved options, hell we still do.  But there is something to be said for having to many options without clear paths to go down.  A few of the spells we had only had subtle differences, the kind someone first making their character wouldn't realize until several levels later down the road.  It would only be then that they'd realize if they'd guessed right.  We wanted to remove that locking in without really knowing what you're getting yourself in to.  We wanted there to be a few distinctively different paths that people could see/take and then give more advanced players a chance to deviate from those paths as they saw fit.  In any case we really think that these changes help make casters a bit easier to manage which had previously been one of the pain points of our beta testers.


Unfortunately that's all the time I have for now so I'll have to dive into further detail about some of the other 3.0 changes in later powers.  Questions or comments?  Tired of me not proofreading these posts well enough?  Let me know.  Curious on other stuff I'm working on?  Checkout my website at nortain.net  Until then, keep on gaming.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

So you want to build a character?! Better download that character generator

You may have heard this a few times when playing a new RPG that involves a lengthy character creation process.  There are a few RPGs out there that making a character more or less means you need to get some software to do it.  Sure character builders are nice and helpful, but for some games it's just absolutely a must have.  Off the top of my head rolemasters comes to mind.  Creating a character in that by hand is roughly equivalent to slicing open your right eye with a jagged piece of glass then sewing it shut with a rusty needle.  Needless to say I can think of other things I'd rather be doing with my time.

So I bring this topic up because not too long ago I brought in a small group of co-workers and decided I'd try walking them through building a character in the CORPS much like a DM would in any RPG where the players have tabletop gaming experience but have never heard of the title of the game they are playing.  Since this was done during lunch breaks at my day job I've found it actually difficult to cut it all up into hour long character building sessions.  Although an hour may sound like a long time, if you factor in people are eating their lunch, arriving 5 to 10 minutes late and then getting side tracked with talks of Star Wars and comparing the merits of D&D 3.5 vs D&D 4e time flies by with very little actually being accomplished.

In the first session I had I don't think the players did more than select their theme points.  So much time was used describing the game and overall how things worked that the players were almost at a loss to decide the route they wanted to go.  Luckily one of the players has a 'de facto' build he always used when playing a new RPG so he knew what he wanted and I was able to easily guide him into the kind of path he'd want to take to make that character happen.  But still, selecting theme points, once you're familiar with the game, is only slightly more difficult than selecting your character's class in most other RPGs.  Ironically the choices that really decide the outcome of the character are usually simple and quick, and the choices that tend to be more trivial (e.g. what talents should I get or what skills do I want to know?) take a lot more time and generally have a lot less impact in the game.

Anyway getting back to it, once the theme was out of the way and the players had a better idea of what they wanted to make I was able to layout the resources used to build the them and what kind of decisions the players had to make.  From it I ended up creating a new document called 'How to make a character in CORPS' which is our first attempt at a user friendly guide that lists all the steps for making a character.  Prior to this we'd just gone through making them from memory and previous characters we'd made since we were able to turn a concept archetype into a character on paper in 30 to 45 minutes.  Going through with people unfamiliar with the game was a totally different ball game hell maybe even a game with no ball like hockey or bobsledding.  However with it, came a new outlook on things and great suggestions to help make the process easier in the future.

At the end of a couple sessions it was clear one character was making 3 combat / 1 general fighter type. Well in actuality he was a shirtless (yes he insisted his character would be shirtless) cowboy who was a bare knuckle boxer.  This was actually a great test for the limits of our system as quite a bit of debate among developers had arose from the decision on supporting a character who willing chose to fight unarmed.  One developer had at one point insisted that wielding weapons is ALWAYS better than not and that to accurately reflect fighting throughout history it should be considered inferior to be unarmed and therefore no one would want to do it in the game.  Of course I felt the view was a little narrow. People play tabletop games for a variety of reasons.  Some people like the combats, some like the social interaction and role playing, others enjoy living a life as an extraordinary character in extraordinary places.  Min-Maxing, while something I do enjoy in RPGs, isn't a must for everyone, and certainly didn't seem to be so for the player making his bare knuckled boxer.  This actually ended up leading to a few simple design changes which let us better support unarmed combat and make it fairly viable in the game.  I don't know if I'd go so far as to say it's optimal, but it's definitely viable.  Needless to say I wouldn't want to step into a ring with that guy even if I did have a sword or an ax.

It's really hard to say how such a character will pan out down the road.  To date, all testing in the game has revolved solely around level 1 characters while the other 9 levels are all theorycraft at this point.  We have it planned out, in great detail even, but how things will actually play out remain to be seen.  So thanks to that player's choice for creating a unique character type, we got to slightly tweak the CORPS system to better handle and easily allow the creation of such a character while still allowing them to contribute as much as a more common mainstream character.

The other player who had made good progress in making his character was going the magic route with a 3m / 1 Stealth caster.  His choice in spell spheres were a bit limited since we only have a little over half the spheres finished at this point, but still there are plenty of options in my opinion.  At the end of the day the player decided upon the warlock sphere.  This sphere deals primarily with crippling enemies with magic attack spells and/or killing them over time through corrosive and demonic curses.  I really felt the spell spheres had come together thus far as they had been streamlined over a series of iterations to essentially reveal two primary builds in each spell sphere.  In the case of the warlock sphere you had the warlock who focused on debilitating attacks and the other who focused on damage over time attacks.  Granted there are a lot more options within the sphere than just choice A or choice B.  In fact there are 42 spells in each spell sphere for a 3m caster and since you start out being able to only pick 6 of them and 1 armor type spell I think there is room for plenty of variation within any given spell sphere.

Getting back to the player, and one of the things that myself as a developer had failed to notice was the horrible format that the spells were being display in.  Primarily it was that each spell that did damage used a formula for determining what those damage values were based on level.  To me this made perfect sense but to player he said the looked like quadratic equations.  Shifting gears and trying to view things as a new player I could see what he meant.  Here is an example of one of the old spells.

Lifesteal (PE)
Keyword: Shadow, Fortify
Spell Type: Physical Effect
Area of Effect: Ranged 1 in 10
Duration: Immediate
Static Modifier:  Full
Crit Die: 2d8+1
Spell Effect:
          On hit target takes Xd10+Y+ Pr bonus shadow damage and the caster gains Z temporary hit points.  
          X = 1 + 1/3 * level  
            Y = 3 + 3/5 * level
            Z = 3 + 9/10 * level

Overcast: Add d10 extra damage for 2 PP.  At level 6 add 2d10 extra damage and increase the THP gained by one for 4 PP.



I had to laugh a little because it really did look intimidating, especially with a list of 42 and a few other perks and bonuses lying about all listing formulas that needed to be 'solved' in order to write it down on your character sheet.  We had originally done this because the developers were fearful of having too many charts.  Having seen how games like rolemasters and dare I say, the infamous F.A.T.A.L. went so overboard with charts as to make even the most experienced players groan in frustration and agony.  Still after stepping back from the problem another developer decided that having lots of small charts, namely for each spell, would be vastly better than having cryptic formula laid out detailing the correct values per level.  After the edit this is what spells look like now.

Lifesteal (PE)
Keyword: Shadow, Fortify
Spell Type: Physical Effect
Area of Effect: Ranged 1 in 10
Duration: Immediate
Static Modifier:  Full
Crit Die: 2d8+1
Spell Effect:
          On hit target takes shadow damage equal to the level chart below + Pr bonus.  The caster also gains a number of temporary hit points equal the level chart below.  

Level 1-5
Shadow Damage
1d10+3
1d10+5
1d10+7
1d10+9
1d10+11
Level 1-5
Temporary HP
3
4
5
6
7
Level 6-10
Shadow Damage
2d10+11
2d10+13
2d10+15
2d12+17
2d10+20
Level 6-10
Temporary HP
8
9
10
11
12

Overcast: Add d10 extra damage for 2 PP.  At level 6 add 2d10 extra damage and increase the THP gained by one for 4 PP.


Now the spell is much easier to read for a character when trying to figure out how much damage they'll do with a spell.  Got a level 1 character who knows lifesteal?  Damage is 1d10+3 + Pr bonus and you gain 3 temporary hit points.  No figuring out or rounding down fractions.  Another little improvement we made is we reduced the overall number of dice you'd be rolling when casting spells at higher levels.  It can still be a lot with certain powerful spells, but overall we reduced the absolute maximum number of dice you'd roll for a damage value from 10 to 8.  I know that probably doesn't sound impressive but across the boards the number of dice being rolled has been reduced by about 2.  The actual number of spells that will have you rolling 8 or even 6+ dice at level 10 are fairly limited.  By increase the static + damage to dice roll we're were trying to make it so that each level saw some gain in power.  Previously you'd have spells that didn't change for 2 or 3 levels and then jumped up by a d10 or d12 nearly doubling the damage of the spell the level before.  We wanted to avoid the drastic increases and opted for slower but more steady gains in spell power as the characters increased in level.  Overall I think it's a good change because people will still be able to feel some weight to their damage rolls (any gamer of dice will tell you this is a fun feeling) while not needing to make 12 different rolls for a single attack.  (that number is assuming a worst case along with a player only having 1 of a certain die size.  And I mean com'on honestly who only has 1 of each die size at a table top RPG???  An experience DM should easily be able to lend players 2 or 3 of any kind of die if needed.  Of course this is all in theory so I'm going to stop rambling now, especially in parentheses no less...)

In any case, while it's been fun finally taking some people not familiar with the CORPS system through the process of building characters it has also been a good learning exercise for the developers.  We've had a chance to further improve our system and hopefully make it more enjoyable for players who decide to tempt fate and roll the dice in the CORPS.