Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Evil (in my opinion) Game Design

    After having posted the great Extra Credits episode on Humane Game Design, I had to post a link to this.  I like to read, they have a great mix of different articles and write about even serious subjects in a funny manner.  But when I came across this article on 5 Reasons I Lost $9,000 On An iPhone Game, I had to post something about it here.
    I have never been a casual game fan, I like to accomplish something in my games.  I'm currently playing Skyrim (yeah, I'm well behind the curve) and I like it (despite some flaws).  I like having quests and completing quests and building my own house (I had to get the game of the year edition for Hearthfire).  I like getting stuff done.  Which has been a problem with me and MMOs, the repetitive nature of their content feels like I haven't gotten anywhere.  But while I may not like that kind of design, the game described in the cracked article sounds downright evil.  Like it was meant to use social pressure to force people to spend money on what is marked as a free-to-play game.  That's a whole 'nother level of horrible game design.  I cannot fathom why people would play this sort of game at all, but I do feel sorry for them being manipulated (weather deliberately or not) into spending way too much time and especially money on a game.
    No deep thoughts, not right now at least, just something so amazing I wanted to post a link to it.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Post #101

    I kind of clebrated my almost 3rd year and almost 100th post (think it was #93) a little while ago.  So I didn't want to distract my actual 100th post and just past 3rd year in my really long breakdown of 13th Age.  But here, let me say it, happy birthday to me for hitting 100 posts and 3 years since starting the blog.  Crazy but fun.
    Also, I wanted to write because I added a "Pathfinder" tag and so had to go back and re-tag a whole bunch of old posts - apologies if that means your feed reader pulled up a duplicate of any old material.  I should have made that particular tag a long time ago but somehow over-looked it.
    Not much to say, hope you are all doing well :)

Looking Under The Hood Of 13th Age

    A little while ago I posted some old work I did looking at the character creation options in Pathfinder.  That got me thinking, what if I took the same look at my current game, 13th Age?  So, here goes...

    13th Age has a much simpler mechanical structure than Pathfinder, one of the things I really like about the game.  I expected that there would be fewer choices and disjointed options than in Pathfinder (which had 3 BAB progressions, 2 save progressions, 4 skill point per level progressions and 8 different numbers of class skills).  In a way I was right, but I was also surprised at how strange some things got.  So let's look at what is nice and simple:
  • All characters get 8 Background (ie, skill) points, max of 5 in any one, and they never get any more (instead the character level and an attribute are added to all checks)
  • All characters get 3 points for Icon Relationships and an extra point at Champion and Epic tiers
  • All characters have 8 Recoveries per day (the fighter gets 9, but through a special Class Feature)
  • All characters get 1 Feat per level, which is primarily used to increase the power/options of an existing Class Talent
  • All Classes give a +2 bonus to one Attribute, but not the same that is increased by the character's Race
  • All characters get 3 Class Talent points to buy extra abilities (though the number of starting ones, and cost, varies)
    This is a good foundation, in my opinion.  I like when all the characters are built on a similar scale, with each having meaningful options, instead of some classes having a lot more to do than others.  I don't think that there needs to be a ton of different progressions, I think it's totally possible that every character chooses 5 things for example, as long as they choose from different useful pools of options and each available choice is meaningful, then there's no reason in my mind that shouldn't work.

    Then it starts getting a little weird.
    Let's look at Armor Class.  In 13th Age your class determines what your AC will be for each type of armor (being either None, Light or Heavy).  So instead of the armor itself having a modifier, the class determines the armor modifier - which seems totally backwards to me, but okay.  Out of the 9 starting classes in the core rulebook, there are 7 different armor values:
    None / Light / Heavy-
        10 / 10 / 11    Sorcerer & Wizard
        10 / 12 / 13    Barbarian & Bard
        11 / 12 / 13    Rogue
        10 / 12 / 14    Cleric
        10 / 12 / 16    Paladin
        10 / 13 / 15    Fighter
        10 / 14 / 15    Ranger
    This baffles me.  None of these progressions seem so distinct that they add anything in their complexity.  I mean, there isn't such a huge jump in the numbers that one class will seem totally different from another class, and thus worth taking (except between the very highest and lowest of course).  And the classes that are best/worst get a little weird too.  The Rogue has the highest AC with no armor, a whole 11 instead of everyone else's 10 - wow, what a big difference.  The best Light Armor classes are the Ranger (at 14) and the Fighter (at 13) - neither of which is that much higher than the norm of 12, or even the default of 10.  The highest Heavy Armor AC is the Paladin (16) with the Fighter (15). 
    Also with AC there is weather or not you take an attack penalty from wearing Heavy armor (and only heavy, nobody has a Light Armor penalty).  6 Classes have a -2 to attack in Heavy armor, including the Ranger who has the 15 AC but loses to the Fighter for second place due to the -2 hit penalty.  Now, if you are a Wizard or Sorcerer, both of whom get an 11 Heavy Armor AC, then taking a -2 to hit is totally not worth it - and even the pathetic +1 AC is not worth it without a penalty.  So why would you ever do so?  Why is it even an option?  This is not a meaningful decision.  The -2 hit for +1 AC (since for everybody the Heavy AC is only 1 higher than the Light AC)(the 12/14 Cleric and 13/15 Fighter and 12/16 Paladin do not have any attack penalties, and thus zero reason to ever wear Light armor) is a crappy trade-off that drops your damage output by a lot for a pathetic increase in survivability.
    Finally we have Shields, which are a +1 AC for every class (so no shield specialists) and every class that takes a Heavy Armor -2 penalty also has a -2 to hit with a shield (making it +2 AC for -4 to hit), except for the Bard, who only has a -1 to hit (why, exactly?).
    Now my question is, what do we gain from this complexity?  What do the players get and what does the GM get from having so many different numbers?  With 7 progressions for 9 classes only the Sorcerer/Wizard duplicate, and the Barbarian/Bard almost duplicate (except the Bard is -1 hit with shields and the Barbarian has no penalty), and everybody else has their own thing.  Do the 1 or 2 point differences really make any meaningful difference in the feel or play-style of each class?  Do we really get any better storytelling from the class having the AC instead of the armor type being the same AC for everybody (a la Pathfinder/D&D)?  Because if so I must be the one strange guy who isn't feeling it.  This is a muddle of numbers that do not seem to make any sense, and do not seem to have any worthwhile choices.  Every class should just have their one best armor type, and wearing anything higher gives a +2 (+4 would be better) AC but a -2 to hit and skill checks (so the extra combat survivability means being less useful across the board).  Or, say that No Armor and Light Armor give your Dex bonus + 1 to AC and Heavy armor gives your Con bonus +1 to AC.  That way light, quick fighters will go lightly armored and brawny fighters will go armored.  You could add a little DR, which 13th Age does not have, into the mix saying that Light Armor is DR 2 and Heavy Armor DR 4 - but again each class takes a -2 to rolls in higher armor than they are meant for.  [Normal 13th Age adds the middle of your Con / Dex / Wis, which means having one really good ability score is not much help for your AC - a fine idea to reduce the min/max'ers out there, but also makes everybody feel the same and means having one noteworthy score that should define your character instead has limited usefulness.]  With DR any tradeoff in reduced hit or skills or whatever means a guaranteed reduction in the damage you take, which is a more worthwhile choice (you may be less effective, but you will live longer).  Really, whatever the means, it seems like there has to be a better way to distinguish the classes - these progressions are all so close that they don't feel very meaningful, and they don't scale so even a +1 AC that might be something at first level will be totally inconsequential at 10th level, and they don't seem to ever offer a reason to choose to wear armor that is not the best for your class.  That looks like a bad design to me.

    In addition to armor, 13th Age adds 2 other defenses, Physical Defense (PD) and Mental Defense (MD).  These are like the Fortitude save and Will save of Pathfinder/D&D, and I am glad to see the 13th Age guys choose to make them act just like armor class (roll over by attacker to hit) instead of the strange extra mechanic Pathfinder/D&D used (roll over with different progression to resist).  Here for the 9 classes we have really 4 different progressions:
    10 / 10    Fighter
    11 / 10 or 10 / 11    Barbarian, Bard, Ranger, Sorcerer
    11 / 11    Cleric
    12 / 10 or 10 / 12    Paladin, Rogue, Wizard
    Now, I'm counting the 11 and 10 or 12 and 10 as one line, because weather you have PD higher or MD higher really doesn't matter, you're resistant to one thing more than another.  Again though, is the 1 point difference between the Fighter and the Barbarian/Bard/Ranger/Sorcerer really enough to make an edge case out of them?  And don't Fighters normally get portrayed as being tougher than smart?  Or if you want to say they are tough all over why not make them 11/11's like the Cleric?  Again, with a non-scaling defense do we really get anything out of splitting it this fine?  I'd love to see someone write a computer program to simulate a thousand fights and see if the 1 point difference made a statistically significant difference in the outcome.

    Weapons are a whole 'nother kettle of fish.  On the one had, weapons almost follow a perfect even progression: there are 5 types of weapons, 1-Handed Melee, 2-Handed Melee, Thrown, Crossbows and Bows.  Within each type there are Small, Light/Simple, Heavy/Martial.  Then we get to the exceptions.  Except there are no Heavy/Martial Thrown weapons, and there are no Small Bows (personally, what makes a Small 2-Handed weapon I have a hard time wrapping my head around, but I'll roll with it).
    Now, 1-Handed Melee weapons all do:
        Small:  d4 damage
        Light/Simple:  d6 damage
        Heavy/Martial:  d8 damage
    Except for the Rogue, who gets to do d8 damage with all 1-Handed Melee weapons, and should really have that as a special class talent/feature instead of repeating the weapon table for every class.
    2-Handed Melee weapons all do:
        Small:  d6 damage
        Light/Simple:  d8 damage
        Heavy/Martial:  d10 damage
    These are the same for every class, nice and consistent.  Now, the potentially 2-point difference is not much, again, but damage dice do scale - you roll your level in dice for each hit, so that's a 2 point spread at level 1 but a 20 point spread at level 10, so it might just barely clear the hurdle of being significant.  Barely (since the HP of the monsters also scale, hard to say if it matters much).
    The differences come with that attack penalty, just like with Armor, each class may have a penalty to hit with different weapon types:
        4 classes have no penalties to hit with anything (Barbarian, Fighter, Paladin, Ranger)
        1 class has a -2 hit with Heavy/Martial 2-Handed weapons only (Bard)
        3 classes have -2 hit with Heavy/Martial 1- and 2-Handed weapons (Cleric, Rogue, Sorcerer)
        1 class has -2 hit with Light/Simple and -5 hit with Heavy/Martial 1- and 2-Handed weapons (Wizard)
    Does the Bard really need to be an edge case?  Do Sorcerer's really need to be better with weapons than the Wizard, given that they have the same AC progression (and Hit Points)?

    Thrown weapons are a bit easier:
        Small: d4 damage
        Light/Simple: d6 damage
    And nobody has a penalty to hit, oh, no, wait a minute - Wizards, and only Wizards, have a -2 to hit with only Light/Simple Thrown weapons - really?  "Wizards throw like girls," how mature guys.

    Crossbows are supposed to be easier to use than bows, the book says at one point that while they shoot slower they have lower to-hit penalties (though really Heavy Crossbows take a move action to reload, so you have to stand still, and Small and Light Crossbows take a Quick action, which is essentially free, so they are not that much slower):
        Small:  d4 damage
        Light/Simple:  d6 damage
        Heavy/Martial:  d8 damage
    Bows do the same damage, minus the Small category:
        Light/Simple:  d6 damage
        Heavy/Martial:  d8 damage

    When it comes to penalties:
        4 classes have no to hit penalties for any Bow (Barbarian, Fighter, Paladin, Ranger)
        3 classes have no to hit penalties for any Crossbow (Fighter, Paladin, Ranger)
    Wait, I hear you ask, what happened to the Barbarian?  Well, being a backwards and primitive fool the Barbarian has the highest to hit penalties for any class with a newfangled Crossbow, a -5 to hit with all sizes.  I'm sorry, that's stupid.  The great thing about the crossbow was that it was so easy to use.  Sure, a Barbarian who's never seen one might have a -5 to hit on his or her first shot, but then would realize it is a stupidly simple weapon to operate compared to the bow, and quickly lose that penalty.  Really, guys?

        2 classes have a -2 to hit with a Heavy Bow  (Bard, Rogue)
        3 classes have a -1 to hit with a Heavy Crossbow  (Bard, Cleric, Rogue)

        1 class has a -2 hit with Light and -4 hit with Heavy Bows  (Sorcerer)
        while 2 classes have a -2 hit with Light and -5 hit with Heavy Bows  (Cleric, Wizard)
    Again, do we really need the Sorcerer to be one whole point better with one type of bow?  Why not make him a -2 Light or Heavy and make him significantly better?  Or, the same as the Wizard (again, same AC and HP between them)?

        1 class is -1 hit with Light and -3 hit with Heavy Crossbows  (Sorcerer)
        while 1 class is -1 hit with Light and -4 hit with Heavy Crossbows  (Wizard)
    See comment above.

    Again I ask, are these really that different that they are meaningful?  The Barbarian's whopping -5 to all crossbows is a very meaningful penalty (stupid, but meaningful), but a lot of the others seem to be pretty close to each other.  And is the extra 2 points of damage per level a meaningful trade-off for the +1 AC of a shield?  Or having nothing in the off-hand?  These just feel so close, while they kind of add color they don't really seem to make a lot of difference, or feel from the player's perspective that they are building towards a certain style of fighting.  There doesn't seem to be a lot of reason to take a sub-optimal choice, so why not just print the best choice for each class and forget the rest?  For that one edge case where the party loses all their gear and has to fight with scavenged weapons?  Why not make that situation the default numbers but a -2 hit and damage then?  Two lines instead of a dozen for basically the same thing.

    I'm going to run through the Hit Points since this post is getting long.
    There are 2 parts to Hit Points, the base multiplier that calculates your maximum HP and the size of your Recovery Dice that you roll when you heal, and there are 5 different progressions:
        x6 and d6  (Sorcerer, Wizard)
        x6 and d8  (Rogue)
        x7 and d8  (Bard, Cleric, Ranger)
        x7 and d10  (Barbarian)
        x8 and d10  (Fighter, Paladin)
    Why not drop the Rogue with the Sorc/Wiz and raise the Barb with the Ftr/Pally ?  Let's look at some level 10 characters (no Con mods, raw numbers):
        Fighter and Paladin have 8 x 24 = 192 HP, healing for 10d10 or an average 55 HP (or about 34% of max)
        Barbarian has 7 x 24 = 168 HP, healing for 10d10 or an average of 55 HP (or about 30% of max)
so they heal for about the same and the extra 24 HP might be one more hit, but might not make a difference when the base strike damage in the generic monster table is 135 (the 10th level Iron Golem does 50 damage per attack, and 5d10 damage on a miss, and makes 2 attacks).
    This is what I mean when I ask if there is any statistical difference in the numbers.  Sure, the Fighter and Paladin have bigger raw stats than the Barbarian, but does it really make a difference in play?  Are the players going to feel like they act and react differently from each other?  If not, then why not just use the same numbers for simplicity's sake?

    Lastly, the same thing that was hardest to compare in Pathfinder is the hardest thing to compare in 13th Age: the Class Features, fixed for each class, and the Class Talents, which are purchased with the 3 points every character gets.  Just a few observations:
    The default idea seemed to be that each class would have 3 Class Features and 3 Class Talents.  Personally, I like that idea.  The Bard and Rogue follow that pattern.  The Wizard has 4 Class Features listed, but one is a definition of how a type of spells work, and so shouldn't be in the Class Features section, they should be in the Spells section, and so the Wizard follows that pattern even though he doesn't seem to.  The Sorcerer is the same, he has 6 Class Features listed but really 3 are spell types in the wrong place and so only has 3 real Class Features, thus on the default.  So we end up with 4 classes that follow this pattern, the Bard, Rogue, Sorcerer and Wizard.
    The Fighter only has 2 Class Features, but gains a bonus Class Talent at 6th level, so ends up with the default 3/3 but in a delayed fashion.  Why?  How the hell should I know?  Looks like stupid design to me, but YMMV.  Likewise, and doubling down on the concept, the Barbarian and Paladin only get 1 Class Feature, but get 2 bonus Class Talents at levels 5 and 8, delaying them even more than the Fighter and other classes.
    The Cleric gets dumped on, only getting 2 Class Features and never gaining a bonus Talent, leaving him a little under-powered (in a sense, I know it is hard to compare these Features and Talents directly, which I consider to be another sign of bad design).  The Ranger however, gets hosed with no Class Features and but at least the 2 delayed bonus Talents, and so is the weakest overall character class, hands down.

    Now, complicating the above factors is the fact that some Features/Talents increase and some are fixed abilities.  For example, Cleric/ Sorcerer/ Wizard spells all increase in power at 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th levels.  So do the Cries and Spells of the Bard, the Flexible Attacks of the Fighter and the Momentum powers of the Rogue.  This makes things worse though.  While the Fighter, Bard, Rogue, Sorcerer and Wizard all end up with their 6 Features/Talents eventually, they are also gaining power at 4 other levels.  Meanwhile the Barbarian and Paladin eventually gain the 6 Feature/Talents that are fixed, at only 2 levels (5th and 8th), but nothing else increases.  And the Ranger gets next to nothing, 2 delayed levels of advancement, and only gets any kind of increasing ability if they choose to take an Animal Companion (which has a minor, incremental advancement each level).
    Talk about imbalance.

    So, looking over this really long post, what do I want you, gentle reader, to take away from this?
    Well, first off that even though something is simpler than something else, does not make it simple.  13th Age is a simpler system than the Pathfinder we played before, but due to similar structures they are equally hard to modify if you don't agree with the choices they were built upon.
    Second, this is a good example of just how crazy I am and why you don't want to know me in real life.  The hours I've spent looking at these numbers (for Pathfinder and 13th Age) have been enjoyable, quite fun really, and the kind of thing my mind constantly works on.  I like this stuff.  I like pulling apart systems and debating design choices and asking myself, how would I do that differently?  I am a sad and strange little man, give thanks to the deity of your choice (or random chance) that you are not like me.
    Honestly, I don't expect anyone to take anything away from this.  Like I said, this is the kind of stuff I like to think about, and I know that very few other people feel the same way.  In fact, if you've made it through this post diligently reading the whole mess then you should get up and go get yourself a cookie for being dedicated enough to parse my madness.  I'm not sure if there is a point.  Now granted I complain about some choices in the descriptions above, but those are just my opinions.  Given the lack of 13th Age house rules on the 'net (do a Google search of the term) it seems that most people who are playing the game like it just fine.  Again, this is my own madness, shared with very few others.  It does mean trying to house rule the system is difficult, since I want to change things in fundamentally different ways, and eventually house rules become a completely different game from the original if taken too far.
    Which is the hardest thing for me.  No other game out there is quite my game, the way I would do it - and while I've tried writing my own games, and have a few times, I still have not found that particular combination of rules and mechanics that really feel right to me.  That I can embrace.  I'm very apathetic in the edition wars or the old school vs new school because neither of them does what I want in quite the way I want.  I guess on top of being crazy I'm also very hard to please ;)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Things I Love About 13th Age

    So recently I've been posting and working on a lot of house rules to 13th Age, and taking a look at some of the game's structure (which I'll post soon).  This might lead my gentle reader into thinking that I don't like the game.  Which is partially correct, there are most definitely things that I don't like about the game.  However, there are some things that I absolutely love about the game - which I want to touch on here real quick.
    The impetus for this post came from another blogger that I follow, 1d30 had a post on "The Yin and Yang of Treasure Division."  This post, for those who you who choose not to follow the link, talks about many different ways to handle dividing up the party's loot at the end of the adventure.  Which is a part of gaming that can cause great contention.  And reading this article I said to myself, thank God I don't have to deal with that.  See, in 13th Age magic items cannot be bought, that's in the rulebook - so I decided to run with that concept and ignore the gear the monsters are using completely, instead I give all my players one magic item of their choice every level (and yes, that means they started with one at first level).  So there is no selling loot, no arguing over who gets what, everybody gets something and since they can choose hopefully they are all getting something useful (well, the magic item rules (or lack thereof) are a bit wonky, but still).  I still remember playing the whole Rise of the Runelords campaign and having to write down every item, ask who wanted what, total the costs and then the selling prices, and divide that evenly amongst everybody.  It was a colossal pain in the posterior that I had to go through at the end of every gaming session (calculating the value of spellbooks was a particular torture).  Not having to do it has been a wonderful boon for both myself and my players.
    You know another thing I'm glad I'm not calculating?  Experience.  At the end of every adventure all the players go up a level.  Period.  We don't meet very often, so a nice fast progression lets everybody develop more and more of their character's powers and awesomeness.  How much XP is the level 0 peasant worth?  None.  No XP.  Ha ha, ding dong the witch is dead.  It was another huge waste of time to track that stuff and I'm glad to be rid of it.
    Massive list of skills, class skills and skill points per level?  Gone, and good riddance.  Everybody started with the same number of points and I've been giving them an extra one every level (since we use the Expertise and Approach system, which is a little more complicated than the vanilla book's Backgrounds).  <pushes the Staples "easy button">
    While there are things that bother me a lot, and baggage that has haunted 13th Age from other D&D versions, I do have to admit that they did a nice job of simplifying things and dropping some really annoying mechanics that did not add anything meaningful to the game.  Some people may love crunching the numbers and fighting over the spoils - I sure don't, and I want my players to focus on their characters' development and the storyline, not the logistics of maintaining a "murder hobo."

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Why Modifying An Existing Game Is So Hard

     I love game design, I've even designed a few of my own RPGs from scratch.  It is a hard, mentally and spiritually challenging slog that your players may look at with disgust at the end.  No one in their right mind should ever do it.  For those of us who are cursed with that mindset however, there is a big dividing line: do you design your own system or modify an existing system?
    I've done both, and designing your own system is easily a few thousand posts of concepts and philosophies - but I want to look at modifying an existing system.  Specifically, since I am house ruling 13th Age, which is built off the D20 System, let's look at Pathfinder.
    A few years ago I got the idea to start working on a tweak of Microlite20.  I spent a lot of time on it, and managed to write 2 or 3 posts, but after many hours driving myself crazy the idea had as many holes in it as I'd started with; so the whole thing kind of fell by the wayside.  Recently I stumbled upon an un-posted article I had written that I want to share with you.

-----here is a post I wrote about Pathfinder:

Deconstructing Pathfinder To Tweak Microlite20 - and creating my own Microlite system

    Ever since I first read Microlite20 I was amazed by it.  It took the Pathfinder/3.5 rules and boiled them down nicely to their bare essence, for a rules-lite, more old school feel to the system.  It's one thing to tweak and twist a system, another to see it well enough to hit it's heart.  However, being me I just had to look at how I could tweak microlite myself.  One thing I thought of was with the BAB and saves.  Microlite does not use the base attack bonus or saves.  Everybody gets their level for the BAB and saves are mostly based on skills.  Which is okay, but I was wondering about maybe adding a system to build classes with the BAB and saves to make them more in line with the core Pathfinder (and since Microlite classes don't do much).  So I started looking at the core Pathfinder classes to deconstruct how they were built, and I was surprised.
    I started with the 3 elements above, and wanted to see how many different types there were in the Pathfinder classes.  So I just looked at the core classes: Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Sorcerer, Wizard.  Turns out there are only 3 possible BAB progressions, either maxing at 20 or 15 or 10.  There are only 2 possible save progressions, maxing at 12 or 6.  I decided to throw hit dice into the mix at that point, and there are 4 possible hit dice, d6, d8, d10 or d12.  So we have 2, 3, or 4 possibilities for 5 measures (HD, BAB and 3 Saves).  Not very neat.  I wanted to see how they were balanced against each other, so I made a simple system where each possibility cost 1 point (so 1-4 pts for HD, 1-3 pts for BAB and 1-2 pts for each save) and totaled them up.  The highest was 11 points for the Barbarian, Paladin and Ranger.  10 points for the Fighter and Monk.  9 points for the Bard, Cleric, and Druid.  8 points for the Rogue. And only 6 points for the Sorcerer and Wizard.  Okay, not too bad, a spread from 11 to 6 points, but that's not counting skills or abilities.
    Even though Microlite20 only uses 4 or 5 skills, at this point I was just curious about the underpinnings of the Pathfinder system, so I wanted to see how many class skills each class had, and how many skill points they gained per level.  Skill points per level was pretty easy, there are only 4 possible progressions (2,4, 6 or 8 each level, plus Int of course).  The fun was looking at how many class skills there were.  Now, this is counting Craft and Profession as only 1 skill each, and each Knowledge as a separate skill - that's how the book has them listed in the class descriptions and the skill table.  Turns out that for 11 core classes there are 8 different class skill totals- 9, 10, 13, 14,15,16, 21, 28.  What a fiddly mess!
    Having put my foot in it, I decided to go all the way.  Time to total up the weapon/armor proficiencies and the number of class abilities.  Weapons and armor are pretty easy.  There are 2 weapon groups, simple and martial.  Lots of classes have only partial access to a group, or access to a few exotic weapons, we'll call that worth 0.5 point.  There are three armor groups, light, medium and heavy.  There are two shield groups, shields and tower shields.  With each group worth 1 point, and the partial weapon groups worth 0.5, we get a spread from 0.5 for the Wizard up to the full 7 for the Fighter.
    Class abilities are the hardest part.  It's easy enough to just total the number of class abilities, and I'm looking here from levels 1 to 20.  But, some of those abilities increase over time and some are fixed benefits.  Rage increases in duration, but uncanny dodge is a fixed ability (with improved uncanny dodge a fixed upgrade).  So I really want to weigh this total.  I'm going to count leveled abilities, including things like bonus feats for fighters and wizards, as worth 3 points, and all fixed abilities worth 1 point.  I think it's more accurate than a single point for everything.  This yielded the most incredible results.  The Monk has a whopping 11 leveled abilities and 12 fixed abilities - 23 abilities total worth 45 points in my ad hoc scale.  While the poor Cleric has the fewest, only 3 leveled abilities (spellcasting, channel, and domain powers) and 1 fixed ability (swap healing spells) - 4 total worth only 10 points.  Now, here's where things get troublesome.  Spells throw off the whole thing because they themselves are so random and out of balance.  A level 9 spell is god-like Wish while a level 1 spell is only slightly better than a sword-swing.  But casters can only memorize so many spells.  So while in my scale spellcasting is a 3 point leveled ability it's a little harder to pinpoint than that.  Still, going off what I did, I totaled up all the core classes.  And they ranged from the 62 point Monk to the 24 point Sorcerer.  Which actually came out surprisingly close to how I'd imagined.  The monk does have a lot of spell-like abilities at higher level, half of his abilities level up, plus he gets a better attack bonus, better saves, more class skills and more skill points per level - all without having to juggle spell slots like the Sorc.  Again the level 9 god-spell disparity messes the exact comparison, but really the Monk does kick the Sorcerer's wand overall as a class.
    So what have I gathered from this little foray?  Well, I knew that Pathfinder and its antecedent D&D 3.5 had no underlying balance or structure, and this just puts it right there on paper.  Numbers and ranges and possibilities go all over the place.  Class abilities were just chosen and thrown in at random, hoping it would all balance out in the end.  Which it more or less does, because people are smart.  Once they learn the system they adapt to it and make up for its weaknesses.  But having someone Rule Zero your flaws is not a good design strategy.

----- and here is the table I made for myself showing how each class was built:

Class-                Barbarian    Bard        Cleric        Druid        Fighter    Monk        Paladin    Ranger
    Hit Die:                  d12        d8            d8             d8              d10        d8             d10        d10
    # Class Skills:         10         28            13             13               10         14              10          15
    Skills/lvl:                 4           6              2               4                 2            4               2            6
    Max BAB:              20         15            15             15               20         15              20          20
    Max Fort:               12          6             12             12               12          12             12          12
    Max Ref:                 6          12             6               6                 6           12              6           12
    Max Will:                6          12            12             12                6          12              12           6
    # Lvl Abilities:        4          6               3               3                 4          11               6            6
    # Set Abilities         7           1               1              9                  2          12              9            11
    Wpn/Arm Prof        5          4              4.5            2.5                7           1               6             5
Total # of pts-            39        43            27.5          34.5              34         62             47           52

Class-                       Rogue        Sorcerer    Wizard
    Hit Die:                    d8           d6              d6
    # Class Skills:          21            9               16
    Skills/lvl:                   8            2                2
    Max BAB:               15          10               10
    Max Fort:                  6            6                 6
    Max Ref:                 12            6                 6
    Max Will:                  6           12               12
    # Lvl Abilities:          5            4                 4
    # Set Abilities           9            3                 1
    Wpn/Arm Prof        2.5           1                0.5
Total # of pts-            45.5         24               26.5

how the point totals were calculated:

1-4 pts for hit die (d6, d8, d10, d12)
1-8 pts for class skills,counting Craft and Profession as only 1, but each Knowledge skill separately
    (9, 10, 13, 14,15,16, 21, 28)
1-4 pts for skills/level (2, 4, 6, 8)
1-3 pts for BAB (max 10, 15, 20)
1-2 pts for Fort (max 6, 12)
1-2 pts for Ref (max 6, 12)
1-2 pts for Will (max 6, 12)
3 pts/ leveling abilities (ie, any class ability that gains power/level(s), includes bonus feats as one ability)
1 pt/ set abilities (ie, any ability that gives a fixed power/effect)
0.5 pt/partial weapon list or exotic weapons; 1 pt/weapon cat (simple, martial), armor cat (light, med, heavy), shield cat (normal, tower)

-----okay, so why do I drag out all these numbers?

    The thing about modifying someone else's system is that you need to understand the framework, the concepts that make up that system.  Like a skeleton in a body, each game has certain assumptions and relationships that lie under the numbers and hold them together.  In a system like Pathfinder, just looking at the character creation alone (didn't even touch races or combat or spells) there is a complex system of interactions.  And if you introduce a new ability or rule you need to think about how it might interact with that underlying structure and what unintended effects it may have on gameplay.
    Now, Pathfinder is a good example to me, it's complicated but not as bad as it could be (imagine the Hero system analyzed this way - heck, the game really is all its framework out in the open).  And it has the potential for all kinds of crazy as you add new abilities and feats and classes and spells and items into an already complex mix.  Also, it has no rigid framework.  It was a patchwork growth of the old D&D system that they pruned a little.  Which is what's so funny about my modifying 13th Age, itself a modification of the whole d20 tree.  And what makes it such a dangerous rabbit hole of first modifying stuff, they wanting to modify the foundational underpinnings of the game itself.  Which leads to rewriting the whole game in the end - so the supposedly easier way, to just modify someone else's work, ends up with you writing your own game after all.

    Anyways, just a peek behind the curtain of some of the things you have to consider when you want to modify a game, and just how deep the rabbit hole can lead :)

The Homeless Nerd Reviews- Ant-Man

At a glance- another entry in the Marvel cinematic universe, this time a bit of a heist movie mixed in with our superhero movie

What is it?  The Marvel movie universe continues to expand with a new hero, Ant-Man.  He's something of an interesting choice, not one of the biggest characters, but one that is recognizable to the comic readers.  The Hank Pym Ant-Man was an Avenger for a very long time, and when not wearing a suit he was still in the background as the super-scientist/inventor.  This is the newer Ant-Man, Scott Lang, an ex-criminal turned hero.  Like with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, this is a superhero movie at its core with a bit of another genera for flavoring.  In Winter Soldier it was the spy movie mixed in with tights, in Ant-Man it's the heist movie.  This is kind of nice, it adds a bit of a new element to the standard mix, but at the same time it makes for a bit of a strange movie that doesn't always seem to know exactly what it wants to be.

The acting-  Paul Rudd is the titular hero, Ant-Man/Scott Lang.  I've watched very few of his movies (according to his IMDB page) but I liked him a lot here, he had a good mix of earnest hero and criminal goofball that the character needed.  Michael Douglas is fantastic as Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man, and from the moment you first see him on screen I thought he was great.  Evangeline Lilly was fine as Hope Pym, and honestly the movie would have been better if she got some extra screen time to flesh out her character.  Corey Stoll plays our villain Darren Cross/Yellowjacket, in a role that really brought back Jeff Bridges in Iron Man 1, and he does good with what little he has to work with; sadly the bad guy is pretty much a moustachioed-twirling caricature instead of a complex person, which is sad.  Michael Peña should totally get a best supporting actor award, he steals the scenes he's in.  And it was great to see a cameo by Anthony Mackie.

The story-  Back in the 80s Hank Pym was the secret hero Ant-Man.  After losing his wife he retired from the hero business and vowed that no one would ever use his invention.  Flash-forward to today when Pym protegee, Darren Cross, has taken over his company and is one the verge of creating a new Ant-Man, this time called Yellowjacket and designed for widespread military use.  Pym is afraid of how his technology could change the world, not for the better, and recruits ex-thief Scott Lang to be the new Ant-Man and destroy all of Cross' work.
    This is a perfectly serviceable story.  Pym is not the flashy inventor like we saw with Tony Stark/Iron Man; instead Pym is fearful of how his invention could be misused.  Which at first blush seems a little silly perhaps, but if you think about it being able to shrink down allows for some pretty scary invasion of privacy and assassination possibilities - so he's got a point that if widely used his tech could be a very bad thing.  There are a lot of family sub-plots going, with Scott estranged from his daughter, Pym and his daughter issues, and even Cross who feels abandoned by his former mentor, Pym.  Sadly, none of these really felt like they were given the time and development they could have used.  Oddly, I was wishing they had made this movie longer, and used the extra time to spend on developing the characters - much like the last Marvel movie, Age of Ultron.  Oddly enough, a lot of the best moments seemed to come from the supporting cast, the 3 quirky fellow thieves that Scott knows and, well, the ants themselves.  We get a long montage of the different kinds of ants, who were all given their own personalities (great job CGI department) and they are Scott's number one resource.
    Overall, this was a solid movie.  It was not incredible (like The Lego Movie), it was not unwatchable (like Amazing Spider-Man 2).  It did a nice job of expanding the future Marvel universe, since we shall no doubt see more of Ant-Man in the future.  While I don't think Marvel has hit the real depth and emotion that exists in some of their comic stories (some were very deep, others of course, not so much) they have seemed to find a workable formula that makes for watchable movies.  Now, having raised the comic movie bar from rock-bottom to decent, the question is weather or not they can raise the bar further and make some really compelling stories in the time-limited movie format.

My recommendation- worth paying full price for, but catch the cheap show if you can

P.S.- of course, this being Marvel, there is a small scene in the middle of the credits, and another small scene at the end of the credits

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

13th Age House Rules - Shapeshifting

    My quest continues to re-vamp 13th Age.  The Shapeshifting Talent house rule needs some setup though.  I loved how 13th Age simplified the D20/Pathfinder mechanics, and introduced some new role-playing elements; but it felt like too much of the role-playing stuff was structureless "just make it up" like the one unique thing and background systems.  So I decided to incorporate some the the concepts and mechanics from Fate Accelerated, replacing skills with Expertises and Approaches that were dynamically combined to make a "skill check."  The Expertises were just broad areas of what the player knew how to do- Fighting, Exploring, Investigating, Working and Talking.  The Approaches were how that character went about doing the action, which determined the possibly consequences and complications.
    There are 6 Approaches, in basically 3 opposing pairs, and I re-named them recently: Forceful and Clever, Quick and Deliberate, Noticeable and Sneaky. 
  • Forceful is the most direct, damn-the-torpedoes-full-speed-ahead way of tackling a problem.  It is a power attack in a fight, or an intimidate check when talking, it's crafting like a blacksmith- with direct and raw strength, climbing a mountain or a brute-force denial of service attack or password hack.
  • Clever is approaching a problem from a different angle, finding a solution "outside the box."  It's using the environment against an opponent in a fight, finding a hidden door or path or trap, putting together seemingly unrelated clues, inventing or improving a device or tricking someone into saying more than they meant to.
  • Quick is all about speed, moving around problems to get to the end.  It's a flurry of blows, parkour-ing through the city, running a massive database search, jury-rigging something to keep operating for a few more minutes or running a quick con on the door guard to get inside (knowing that soon he'll realize he was fooled).
  • Deliberate is about caution, minimizing the risks or failure.  It's aiming carefully so you don't shoot your ally who is engaged with the monster, planning the safest route, searching a room with a magnifying glass to find every possible clue, repairing something (or someone), or slowly building rapport with someone.
  • Noticeable is for when you want to be seen, when you're projecting your real self.  It might mean shouting at the monster to attract its attention (so it goes after you instead of your squishy friend), leaving a trail or signaling for help when you're lost in the wilderness, organizing a manhunt or asking for the public's help, marketing and packaging your new widget or sharing your own painful experiences to convince someone else to change their ways.
  • Sneaky is when you want someone to see something other than the real you.  A feint in combat (or false opening), hiding your tracks, surveillance, hidden compartments or disguise and acting.

    So, that was just to lay the groundwork for actually talking about Shapeshifting.  In 13th Age the Talent to Shapeshift is broken into two parts, Scout (or non-combat) and Combat forms.  Scout form is a small animal, something not an effective combatant like a bird or squirrel.  Combat form is big and scary like a bear or wolf.  By default you can transform into one type an unlimited number of times and the other a limited number of times per day.  This is okay as far as an ability goes, but seemed a little flat to me.
    When I think of shapeshifting, the first thing that comes to mind is the danger of losing oneself in the mind of the animal you transformed into.  I like the stories where shapeshifting isn't just a generic change of shape, but also a change of nature - you are no longer yourself, now you have this animal spirit/nature that is going to color all your thinking.  This animal nature can make you much better at some things and the animal form can give you some extra abilities - but always at the cost of some of your humanity.
    So, in this revamp we introduce the Shapeshift Die.  I don't know why I have loved the idea of the Escalation Die so much, but I find myself incorporating something like it into all my ability revamps - including this one.  The Shapeshift Die is a d6 that does not start in play.  When the character chooses to shapeshift, they have to choose a number to set the Shapeshift die at, from 1 to 6 - and they have to choose one Approach that represent the type of animal they are shapeshifting into.  So a bear or wolf might be Forceful, while an owl could be Clever, a bird Quick, a housecat Sneaky.  The Shapeshift Die represents the degree of the shift; I have an idea to link different animal abilities (like Scent or Claws or Pounce from Pathfinder) to each number on the Shapeshift Die, but that's still a work in progress.  The Shapeshift Die is also added to all rolls using the Approach chosen - but it is subtracted from all other Approaches.  This represents how the animal nature is coloring/strengthening or interfering with the human nature.  When the character shapeshifts back into their human/normal form - they lose all animal abilities and lower the Shapeshift Die by one, but keep it's modifier to the Approaches; even after leaving the animal form, an echo of it is still going to linger.  The Shapeshift Die lowers by one on each short rest, and resets to zero on every full rest.  If the character shapeshifts again, while the Die is 1 or higher, they have to set the Shapeshift Die at least 1 point higher than it currently is at.  For example: Bob turns into a lion to survive a fight, and sets the Shapeshift Die to 4.  After the fight it drops to 3.  He manages to take a short rest which drops it to 2.  But he's been stuck in the wilderness, so he wants to shift into something that will help him survive.  His new form has to be set to 3 or higher - even if it is the same approach/form he previously used.  This is because the new form (or re-attuning an old form) has to overcome the human nature and any traces of animal nature.
    Now, eventually I want to use the Approaches in combat for all characters, in which case the Shapeshift Die will help in or out of combat.  For now though, each Approach needs some sort of combat ability:
    Forceful- add 2 x Shapeshift Die to your damage
    Clever- add the Shapeshift Die to hit
    Quick- add the Shapeshift Die to your Armor Class
    Deliberate- add 3 x Shapeshift Die temporary hit points
    Noticeable- all enemies engaged with you take the Shapeshift Die as a penalty to hit anyone other than you
    Sneaky- increase your crit range by the Shapeshift Die

  Another thing is that 13 True Ways has an option to buy Shapeshifting for 1 Talent or 2 Talents.  The 1 Talent version can only shift into one type while the 2 Talent version can shift into anything.  I'm not sure how much I like this - not many Class Talents have 1 and 2 cost versions, and I hate making specialized mechanics.  But, you could keep the same system - a 2 Talent ability can shift into anything in or out of combat.  A 1 Talent ability has to choose: either it can only shift in (or out) of combat into any Approach, or it can only shift into 3 or the 6 Approaches combat or not.  Either way should limit it's usefulness enough without making the ability useless.

    This is still very much a work in progress, like all of these house rules have been.  I feel the need to say that I do like 13th Age, it's a good game - it's just not as good of a game as I think it can be, especially when combined with the more narrative, role-playing focus of Fate.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Homeless Nerd Reviews- Terminator: Genisys

At a glance- the 5th Terminator movie, with more humans vs killer robots time-travel action craziness

What is it?  A series is a funny thing, each subsequent movie/book/whatever can really change the tone and direction and meaning of the ones before.  Ideally each work expands on and improves the prior ones, adding new layers while keeping the same core.  The Terminator movie series has not had that for the most part.  The Terminator was an action movie with a little sci-fi twist.  It was nothing special, but it was very watchable and the main star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, did a great job with the most important part.  Terminator 2 added to the first film, showing a cold killing machine learning about being human, and suggesting that there is no fate or destiny and that people can change their future.  It did what a series piece should, kept the same core and expanded it.  Then it all went to hell.  Terminator 3 seemed to have been made just so we could see a female terminator, and it suggested that there was no way to change fate, directly contradicting the previous movie.  And it was not a great movie even on its own rights.  Then Terminator: Salvation made the biggest mistake of all, it took us into the dystopian future the series is built on.  See, there's one problem with the whole man-machine war that lies at the heart of the Terminator storyline - what the hell does Skynet need to keep any humans alive for?  With control of America's nukes Skynet literally had enough firepower to render the planet a smoking husk.  It would have been easy to cause so many nuke strikes that there would be no more ecosystem, no more human life, no more pesky people that Skynet was so afraid of it had to kill them as its first act of sentience.  So why the hell does Skynet bother to capture people, who have to be fed and cared for to continue doing work, instead of relying on its unlimited robot army?  In The Matrix at least the robots kept people around to feed off of them, which is some sort of a reason, good or bad.  In the Terminator series we never get an explanation, and with a little logical thought there seems to be no good reason at all.  Even if you say Skynet doesn't want to destroy the planet with nukes, how about engineering a super-virus, or just letting loose one that it has access to from its seemingly total control of the military?  The whole core concept doesn't make any sense, and Terminator: Salvation really made those flaws stand out (along with the good-guy-turns-into-bad-robot-turns-into-good-guy thing that was actually done better in Terminator 2).  So now we have the reboot Terminator: Genisys which is going to create a new timeline and reboot the series, thus invalidating the last 8 hours you spent committing to the series to date (wow, thanks, I love the "it was all really just a dream" cliche).

The acting- Okay, usually I go over the cast of a movie in one of my reviews, but in all honestly there is only one worth mentioning: Arnold Schwarzenegger is the Terminator.  And he is still awesome in the role he created.  Nobody else is really that memorable.

The story-  We begin again in the future, voice-overed by Kyle Reese, on the eve of the human's victory against Skynet.  We see him go back in time, and then things go wrong.  John Connor is attacked in the future and Kyle is sent to a past that is not the one he was supposed to arrive at.  Sarah Connor is a tough robot-fighting machine and there is another Terminator, named "Pops" of all things, that was sent back to help her by person(s) unknown for reasons unknown.  John is revealed to be a terminator (which isn't a spoiler since the stupid trailer spilled the big secret before the movie was released - great job marketing idiots) and Skynet is now Genisys, a military defense program that is also going to manage everyone's on-line life (and boy is that one of the stupider things in a very stupid plotline) that goes live in 2017 instead of 1997.  Honestly, don't try to think about it too much- it doesn't make any damn sense.  It kind of reminds me of the computer game Bioshock Infinite.  The game is like 15 years old now, so I don't think I'll spoil it for anyone, but the core concept of the game's story is that one character has traveled to a parallel universe and another character has to travel through time.  There's a problem with that however, time travel and parallel worlds/universes are two separate concepts!!!  And T:G seems to have a problem deciding if it is a story about time travel or parallel worlds.  But it has to, because it makes a big difference to the story depending on which one it is.
    I saw the movie two days ago, and I have been trying to think of how I was going to review it, and there are two things that keep running through my mind: disappointing and meaningless.  The movie was a huge disappointment for me, it did not bring anything actually new to the series, that for the last 2 movies (now three) has had a serious lack of new things (except for the "black dust" terminator instead of the "liquid metal" terminator, what a change).  And at the end of the day, one of the things I ask myself about a movie is: what was this movie about?  What was it trying to say?  Even a light, fluff movie like Avengers: Age of Ultron has a sort of theme about teamwork and how we can be our own worst enemy.  T:G though seems to be lacking any meaning at all.  If there was some sort of a message here I can't see it.  It never resolves weather or not they really changed the future, so I don't know if it was going future-variable T2 or future-fixed T3, and honestly those two movies have already explored that concept.  We sort of see Skynet, it even talks, and it almost has a personality, but we never see it enough to know why the evil robot decided to be an evil robot instead of a good robot, so there's a miss on the potential theme of AI evolution.  There are just so many things unanswered that there is nothing solid to hold onto, nothing to form an opinion about.  And that may have been done in the hopes of future movies, but without a solid message in this one I just don't care about any future movies.  Honestly, I hope and pray this will be the last terminator movie I ever see - because the series has sucked so bad that it needs someone to drive a stake though its heart, cut off its head, and burn the body.

My recommendation- see it for free, only because Arnold is worth watching, but don't expect much.

P.S.- there is a short clip about halfway through the credits (something I personally wish would stop, but apparently will be with us off and on forever)

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Player Action vs System Action

    Writing about the Marvel Heroes MMO got me thinking about MMOs in general.  Now, I'm not a big MMO fan.  My gaming experience started with table-top pen-and-paper role-playing games (D&D of course).  It was a few years later when I'd get my own computer, a Commodore 128 (yeah, I'm that old) and I started playing computer games.  Through that, and the 486 PC that followed, I'd mostly play computer RPGs, which were the closest to the pen-and-paper RPGs I was playing with my friends through High School.  So ideas like controlling a whole party, exploring and mapping, leveling and customizing each party member to work as a group were the sorts of games I played.
    Years would pass before I got another computer, a P4 Windows XP desktop (which was sweet at the time).  I started playing a slightly wider style of games, like Diablo 2 and Master of Orion 2, even The Sims 1.  When I stayed with my friends I was introduced to the Xbox 360 and games like the Borderlands first person shooter and the Mass Effect FPS/RPG hybrid.  At the same time we started playing Pathfinder, after a decade-long hiatus from PnP RPGs.  I dabbled with MMOs a little, playing EverQuest 2, Age of Conan, and a little World of Warcraft.  Aaron and Sara would get me seriously playing The Lord of the Rings Online though.
    LotRO was a very interesting game.  I first played on my friend Matt's computer, as a Guardian (tank) that he had as an alt (he liked the Minstrel).  When I started playing the game myself, I made the same thing - a new Guardian, and got him pretty high, to about level 40 (I think the level cap was 80 back then).  He was okay, but as a tank his focus was on drawing aggro from the party members - so his damage output was not great, I could take a beating but it also took minutes (that felt like hours) to kill anything and everything; and when I didn't play with my friends I had no use for half of my skills.  Then came the Warden.

    The Warden was one of two classes added to LotRO (the other was the Rune-keeper).  Classes in MMOs in general, and in LotRO at the time, tended to be very specific.  The Guardian took aggro and survived the damage.  The Hunter had the high damage output.  The Burglar and Lore-master did crowd control (with the Burglar doing some burst damage too).  The Minstrel healed everybody.  There was a Captain class, which had a sort of flexible role, but by and large each class had a specific job in the party.  It was the Warden who ended up becoming the true jack of all trades.
    The Warden used a very different mechanic from anything else in LotRO, and honestly in any other MMO that I've played.  Combat was based on a two-tier Builder and Gambit system.  You started with 3 Builders: the Spear, the Shield and the Shout.  The Spear did some damage to your opponent in melee (Wardens started weak at ranged combat), the Shield gave you a 10 second buff to your defenses and the Shout generated aggro.  Each Builder you used was put into a queue, and when you had 2 or more, you unlocked a Gambit.  So Spear-Spear created a Gambit that did extra damage.  But Spear-Shield created a Gambit that interrupted your opponent's action (some monsters had 1-2 second inductions, if you interrupted them they lost their action - if you didn't they got off a super-attack).  And Shout-Spear created a damage-over-time Gambit.  As you leveled up you learned the 3-Builder Gambits and then 4-Builder Gambits.
    This gave the Warden incredible flexibility, they could focus on damage output or limited crowd control or defense - eventually they could even heal the entire party and drain life from a group of enemies.  The catch was that you had to plan ahead.  Each Builder took about a second to execute, and the Gambit took another second - so it could be 5 seconds from when you started until you triggered your desired effect (which is actually quite a long time in a fight).  You had to constantly be looking at the direction of the fight, at what you would be needing soon, and building your way towards that.  On top of which, you had to remember all the Gambits.  When you used a Builder it went into a special part of the UI, and it would show you the Gambit you had currently unlocked - but it wouldn't show you the other possible gambits.  That was in a list in your skill panel and you just had to memorize it.  So playing a Warden required a lot of thought - it was the opposite of the button-mashing, basic rotation that most MMO classes use.  But, there was a quest early on where you have to get attacked by a group of bandits.  More bandits patrol the area and likely some will join in on the fun.  My Guardian, who was built to withstand all kinds of punishment, was killed.  My Warden took them all on and walked away.  I even soloed elite monsters, who were over-powered for their level, and who were several levels higher than me to begin with.  He was my only character who got the achievement for making level 20 without dying.  He was, in a word, awesome.

    Two things about the Warden that prompted me to write this post.
    First, it got me thinking about Player Action vs System Action. (hey, I did finally get around to the title of this post :)  Every game, from pen-and-paper to computer, has a split between the work the player does and the work the system does.  In most pen-and-paper games the system picks up a lot of the work.  The player decides to attack, and then the numbers already chosen at character creation and the numbers rolled on the dice take over to determine the results.  But then there are more story-based games, even diceless ones, where the player may still roll or bid to gain the ability to narrate the results of the fight.  In computer games, even in the first-person shooter genera there is the difference between directly aiming and auto-assist (when the game will fudge where you were aiming as long as it was 'close enough' to an enemy).  How much the player puts into each action and what the system handles automatically determines a lot of the feel of a game.  This includes decisions - if the game only offers one possible attack, that's mostly system action; but if the player has to choose between dozens of options, that's mostly player action (like Warhammer 40k or any tactical miniatures game where the number of pieces under player control creates a lot of player action, and there are very simple rules to cover the system actions).
    So what, you may ask?  What does it mater if the game is more system or player action?  Well, that hits my second point.  See, the Warden I have described was the original one I started playing in 2010/2011-ish.  Since then they have revamped the system.  A lot of abilities that were standard Gambits are now parts of a skill tree system, which has the effect of narrowing the Warden's previously unlimited choices.  The new skill tree focuses on making you play as either a damage or tank or ranged fighter, simplifying the playstyle for those who might have found it too broad and confusing.  In the process however, it reduced the enjoyment of the class for those of us, like me, who thought the system was perfect to begin with.
    Feeling matters.  If you loved the player/system split in a game, and then that dynamic changes in an update, DLC or patch (or new edition) - well, there goes that good time.  And this matters to me because as a game designer, who is currently hacking 13th Age and FATE, I want to give my players a feel that they will enjoy.  I want them to make meaningful choices, to help build immersion in the game and attachment to the character - but I don't want to overload them and give them more than they are comfortable with.  Complicating the issue is that each person has a different sweet spot for how much work is too much.  Most people seemed to think the Warden was overly complicated, I thought it was a refreshing breath of fresh air.  So how do you build in some flexibility, some give and take, to let people still be equally useful while maybe using different levels of player vs system action?  That is a good question, and a very hard one to answer.  Part of that difficulty stems from the fact that we sometimes don't know what we'll enjoy until we try it.  I had never played a class like the Warden before, and so I could not have articulated for you beforehand what I would like to play.

    One of my dreams, back when I first started working on the idea for my own RPG, was to have three different levels of rules.  Each "Ruleset" would be built on a common core, but each would have a different amount of complexity.  The simplest would work at a high level, describing everything in broad terms, while the other two would get more focused.  Take this example: at the top end you have the idea of "Crafting."  Under that umbrella, there could be classes like "Metalsmithing" and "Woodworking."  And even under a class there were still more specifics- a "Metalsmith" could be an "Armorer," "Weaponsmith" or general "Blacksmith."  That final layer is about as detailed as it's worth going, and it really presents a much clearer picture than the layers above it - but they all nest together in a way, and they all cover the same basic concept; that the character is capable of creating things.  Ideally, I thought, this would give each player the ability to be as broad or as specific as they wanted in describing their character - to find their own sweet spot of detail, and still use similar numbers and a resolution system that could let two different levels of detail interact.  It was a nice dream, and a real pain in the backside to try to make into reality (getting one set of rules working right is a challenge, getting three and then having them interact, was a challenge to the 4th power).
    Still, this idea has stuck with me.  If you look at the market there is a wide variety of style of rules and balances between system/player actions.  Even the continuum of Microlite20 <-> 13th Age <-> Pathfinder shows a lot of variety in a few essentially related systems.  Really, this is just some open brain-storming, hoping that if I try to consolidate my thoughts into a post it might knock lose some great new insight.  Sadly, no luck so far.  But this concept, and what it means for the games I'm working on and playing, is something that I think bears consideration.  It would be great if everybody could play in a style that they felt most comfortable with yet still all fit together.  It might be an impossible dream, but it is a nice dream.