Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Skills and Techs

Although this might change in the final version, here's how the skills system is turning out now.

Skills are broken down into levels (and, in some cases, tiers, with each tier having a full set of levels). Each tier/skill level has a standard DC (difficulty rating), and a standard MP Cost (used to determine how many skills you use in combat). The abilities listed for each level will have that DC and that MP cost, always. Similarly, the XP costs to train a given level do not change.

In general, all the abilities that are listed for a skill will be variations on the same. The main difference is in the special bonuses attached to each level; at the lower levels, they come with hindrances, preventing you from using them effectively, while at the highest level, they offer special abilities.

There are four skill levels, numbered 0-3. Zero level is "Untrained"; first level is "Novice". Second level is "Competent"; at this level, you can expect to start getting skills that are not hindered or which have special effects. Third level contains mastery skills, which will tend to be specialized; either the skill itself will have specialty abilities at 3rd level, or you may select special abilities from a list, which are permanent to your character.

Certain skills are themselves a specialized version of another skill. For example, Martial Arts is a specialized version of Weapon Proficiency. These skills have prerequisites; in order to gain a level in Martial Arts, you must have an equal or greater level in Weapon Proficiency. In return, you may find yourself using abilities at a lower level than you did previously; Novice-level martial arts abilities may be equivalent to Competent-level weapon abilities, for example. Because the DC is lower, you will get more critical hit bonuses on the Martial Arts ability, which is especially helpful when taking multiple actions per round.

When you take multiple actions per round, you are said to be using a technique or "Tech". There are special rules that apply to techs.

First, you can only roll one skill roll per round; every other skill roll takes its AAR value. AAR stands for "All Average Rolls"; Every D4 is counted as 2, every D6 as 3, D8 as 4, and D12 as 6. For commonly used skills, you may want to write this number down for reference. Naturally, if your AAR is not high enough, you cannot perform the skill this way. This is especially important to remember if you take attribute damage, as it can substantially limit your options.

Second, any failed skill (Whether rolled or performed at AAR) ends your round immediately. You retain any unspent MP for defense actions, although the MP you spent on the failed skill is spent normally. Additionally, any ability that has the Turn Eater hindrance (usually seen on 0- and 1st-level abilities) will end your turn immediately, preventing you from using any other actions, including mental and social actions.

Third, if you gain critical success bonuses on any skill, you can refuse to apply them to that skill. If you do, they pass on to the next skill you apply during that round. If you do this, you can chain several skills together, producing a final attack with a stack of additional bonuses. This is especially useful for allowing you to specialize in other skills (Jump, run, acrobatics, perception, aim, etc) and apply these to relevant situations.

There are of course a couple caveats. If you use an ability with the hindrance Crit Eater (Almost all 0-level abilities have it), any critical successes you had previously disappear; they cannot be applied to that ability nor any that follow. Additionally, the GM may rule that certain skills are incompatible, meaning that you cannot use one to gain bonuses for the other. For example, critical success at lockpicking will not allow you to land strikes in a melee, nor will sword proficiency help at picking locks. In addition, any skill that takes more than a round to perform cannot be used as part of a tech; you cannot perform other actions leading up to the start of a long skill, nor chain other actions after its end.

Fourth, there are certain situations in which multiple people can contribute to one Tech. This is prevalent when discussing magic, but also works for knowledge skills, group combat, crafting, searching, and other cooperative tasks. Not all skills will qualify, and the above restrictions apply, can use long skills as long as they're being performed concurrently, or in some preset pattern. For example, multiple crafters of different kinds may work on a project in succession, rather than at the same time. You'll have to ask the GM what sort of cooperation they'll allow.

Fifth, you will notice that certain weapons and skills have a "Crit pool" (term subject to change) that contains unique or rare kinds of bonuses. For example, long or chain-type weapons might have the "Trip" bonus in their crit pool, while an assassin's dagger may have the "Stamina Attribute Damage" bonus. When using that skill or weapon, and ONLY when using it, you may opt to transform a normal critical hit into one of these specials. If you inherited bonuses from earlier in the round, you may use them to select from the crit pool; however, the crit pool is not passed down to the next skill in the line. Unless otherwise noted, special crits do not stack (can only be successfully used once per round, and cannot be used more than once per ability), and you must successfully perform the ability (land the attack, etc) for the crit to take effect.

If the enemy has armor or a magic effect that blocks that specific type of critical, the armor automatically wins, even if the opponent does not take a defense action; however, the armor takes damage from the blow, and so has a limited number of uses. If you notice the armor break when selecting such a crit, the next time you use it, it will likely get through.

Note that the tech system is extremely powerful, and also extremely flexible. It allows characters to specialize in various skills and apply them to related situations; however, it also exposes the vulnerabilities of a given fighting style. If most of your skills revolve around a particular attribute (Strength, perception, etc), you are far more vulnerable to attribute damage; if you rely on some particular skill or item a lot (A sword, the running skill, etc), enemies can adjust the situation to prevent you from using them (Disarming you, spreading caltrops or other hindrances, etc). If you wear armor or make other notable changes to defend your weaknesses, you risk tipping off a well-informed enemy as to what sort of skills you excel at. However, if your style is spread among many skills, you'll have less experience in each of them.

The tech system is also useful for GMs. Since the DSP settings (as currently envisioned) use humans as much or more than monsters, there has to be a way to mix things up without giving the GM extra work. However, the "Monster Manual" concept from the D20 and similar systems gives the players an even chance of having out-of-character knowledge of the fighting tactics and weaknesses of an enemy. For the DSP, therefore, a good GM can choose to create a generic fighting style that a group of opponents use; for example, enemies that use blinding attacks, tripping weapons, martial arts, and swimming skills to drown opponents.

The GM can have any number of mooks (lesser random encounters) that use that style, but facing them will be entirely different than fighting mooks of another style, meaning that they are essentially different monster types. And until the players first see or hear of this fighting style, they can't make any preparation, but once they do, they can start devising countermeasures, and certain characters may choose to specialize in fighting against that style. If that style of mooks becomes a major part of the story, those that specialized in fighting that style become major players themselves.

On the other hand, players that have a glaring weakness in their fighting style and then become famous will find that enemies quickly adapt; they may find that enemies start having armor that blocks their specials, and weapons or skills that overcome their weaknesses. At times like that, teamwork is particularly important, as long as the entire party doesn't have the same weaknesses.

All in all, I really like how it's turning out. There's some drudge work I need to do before it's ready for a playtest (filling out skill lists, equipment lists, bonus lists, etc), but I'd like to see it--and I'd like to PLAY it. It seems like it'll be a lot of fun. I hope you'll like it too!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Profile: Ooria

Ooria (also spelled Uria) is a mountainous nation in the southwest of Contel, on the planet Draco in its First Age. It contains almost no meadows or pastures for commercial farming, and conducts a great deal of trade with Seyona in the east for food. Its principle exports are stone and metal; however, these exports are largely from a few mines and quarries. Most of the population of the nation is spread out in relatively small townships, many of which are unreachable by normal means.

However, Ooria is not a nation of normal means. Its military is divided into two divisions: The Valkyries in the sky and the Earth Monks on the land. Each has a special form of magic that is unique on the continent; the Valkyries store weapons in extradimensional pouches, leap into the sky with air magic, and rain down blades on their enemy, while Earth Monks eschew the normal limitation on earth magic and manipulate stone and dirt at long distances.

Adding to this dichotomy, the Valkyries and Earth Monks face a sharp gender divide; the Valkyries are a female-only military branch, and the Earth Monks are a male-only branch. Institutionally, both are fully recognized and respected by the government, and both are respected and somewhat feared by the populace. There is also a grudging mutual respect between the two, but it is a respect that often comes with doubt, petty arguments, and other friction. The Valkyries are the only all-female military on the planet, and are given commensurate respect.

The Valkyries and Earth Monks both travel through the mountainous nation in order to hold it together. They intercept bandits, find missing people, deliver supplies and mail, assist those who need medicine, etc. For this reason, they are typically trained in many such tasks. The Valkyries are used more for carrying supplies, although the Earth Monks take over in particularly bad weather; the Earth Monks are better at tracking, foraging, medicine, and other tasks, although the Valkyries are trained in such things as well, and can be employed to cover very wide ground at once.

Ooria was by all accounts founded by an Offworlder, one of the few places where they're historically recorded. It is assumed that they came from Terra, but the details are lost to time. In addition to forcibly equalizing gender roles in the country, the founder also made a pact with a peculiar evoloid species, the Laras. Laras are winged humanoids that seem to gain energy or nutrition from wind or altitude; although they can survive at ground level, staying long causes them to waste away and die. Additionally, they are an aggressively empathic race, such that being touched by another living being--especially without permission--is very close to traumatic. They remain humanoid in appearance, and intelligent, but as a species have little interaction with humans.

The pact between Ooria and the Laras is one of necessity for the Laras; the Oorians agree to give them what food, material, and care they need, with minimal contact, in exchange for scavenged goods. Laras, not needing to rest, circulate around the entire continent; they tend to pick at battle sites, abandoned houses, and other untended places, picking up anything that seems valuable and returning it to some central storehouse only they know of. When they must trade something with the Oorians, they trade from this storehouse, or from their own individual stocks. They tend to trade a lot of armor and weapons (not knowing, or perhaps caring that the Oorians manufacture such, and value them less than most), but also may have rings, necklaces, books, bags, etc.

Cino, the capital of Ooria, is on a hollowed-out mountaintop, and is one of the few places on the continent high enough for Laras to live comfortably for long periods of time. It has many floors, all of stone and metal, with the monarch living at the very peak. The monarch's floor is triangular and has supports at its three corners, each leading to the roof of a building below; one building houses the Valkyries, one the Earth Monks, and one houses the civilian government. Although this was clearly done for philosophical reasons, everyone involved admits that the arrangement is exceedingly unpopular and impractical.

Cina more than most is a city that fears both weather and seismic events. They do not have much glass in the city, and the high winds allow rain to get through wooden walls or shutters if they are poorly made; they are also in excellent position to be struck by lightning, although they have sufficient grounding that it's not a problem most of the time. The biggest fear is an earthquake; they are high enough up that any shaking of the earth below creates great torque, quickly becoming powerful enough that no magical support is sufficient to prevent damage. For that reason, a great number of earth mages and Earth Monks are dispatched to the base of the mountain to constantly monitor, ward, and protect the city. By the end of the first era, the city had still been nearly wiped out twice by seismic events, but was rebuilt both times.

News, or lack thereof

AMA just came and went this last weekend. I was invited along at the last minute by friends, and considered bringing DSRPG to the game room for a test.

In the end, I didn't have enough ready for a playtest, especially not since I was working most of the time I was there (manning the club table, if you must know). However, the deadline made me get serious, and it showed me that it's not really all that far from being ready. The biggest problem between me and playtest-ready Alpha 2 is the skill system.

In some ways, I'm not sure what to do with it. Basically, the skill system categorizes abilities into some level of some skill, and pretty much every level of every skill has something. The skills themselves get special bonuses and hindrances, which are themselves distinct from lesser bonuses (from skill criticals, equipment, etc) and lesser hindrances (from equipment, etc); these specials vary in strength, and can be powerful like Aspect bonuses, or barely more than crits.

A major question for me, though, is how to balance it. The DC of a skill goes up 10 when you use a higher level ability (5-15-25-35); if it didn't go up, you would get 2 extra crits for the same roll. That means additional specials, or the lost hindrances, must surpass that in value.

In some places, it's not hard to understand. For example, the Level 0 Weapon Proficiency(X) attack ability "Whack" has no specials and two hindrances: "Turn Eater" and "Crit Eater". That means that you cannot crit with the attack at all, and it will be the last thing you do in a round, even if you have additional MP. Considering that's the "Untrained" level of skill usage, hardly surprising. When you go up to the Level 1 skill "Slash", you lose "Crit Eater"; it's still the last thing you do in a round, but now you can at least make use of a high roll to crit the enemy. It's not until you hit Level 2 that you can make multiple attacks per round.

However, having gotten rid of those hindrances, what makes the mastery level weapon proficiency worth it? If I just add one bonus' worth, it's not worth the increased DC. If I add two, that's a heck of an improvement over previous levels. What's thematically appropriate? Under what circumstances would you use a mastery level sword attack anyway--knowing that the increased DC makes it harder to overcome an enemy's defense action? Are they highly specialized attacks, do they auto-succeed against certain defenses... what are they?

This needs more thought, and there are many similar questions for each skill that must be added. It's a confusing thing.