This Blog 2019, Goals and Grommets

Inspired by the 2019 goals post over at Charles's Dragons Never Forget Blog, I figured I would do the same thing. 2018 right around ...

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Anatomy of Balance in AAIE

AAIE Update: I hear the two games of AAIE at Dexecon went well, it was one of the rare play-tests after which I did nto get a small "Please add or adjust X,Y, and Z" For the play-testers so I guess that's a good thing...I'm sure there will be more feed back when I get to talk to Neal.
I'm running a small online game Saturday morning  with one person who has not played AAIE before. I'm hoping to get more feedback after that game as well. Naturally, when I do I'll post it here.
Got to play a game with Charles Akins from "The Dyvers Blog", Jens D, from "The disoriented Ranger" and Jen's pal Marcus on Saturday Morning.

A fun game was had..

The series includes:
The Anatomy of Weapons.
AAIE "The town"
The anatomy of Balance.
The Anatomy of a Perk.
The Anatomy of an Ability
The Anatomy of AAIE Magic

I read this post  over on the "Mythlands of Erce" blog. It inspired me to  post about my views on game balance in AAIE. Consider the points made in that post * a jumping off point for this one.
In other words I'm not going restate what MoE already stated. I get what game balance is. I'm going to write about how it is used to  drive a certain play style in AAIE.

Admittedly some of AAIE is pretty slapdash. Given how the game came about, its tone, its subject matter, and its style that's almost a given.  With that said, I think I put more thought into the balance of AAIE than almost any other portion of the game. In one way game balance can be a knob. **  With  Freewheeling games at zero, and more strictly balanced game (Like D&D 4th edition) at the opposite position. Somewhere around the  proverbial "Eleven." However, I like to think of  game balance as being more like a mixing board covered with dials and sliders that only a PHD like Dr. Dre can possibly make sense of. *** The  mix touches everything about a song it's not just one dial. Game balance is very similar in how even small tweaks can affect how a game plays out.

The first slider considered in the balance of AAIE was character survival.  As a point I wanted this slider to  swing wildly depending on the character. The nature of the game dictated that not every character will be a success or even a viable adventurer. Some characters made a bad life decision when they had the thought, "Hey! Raiding the crypt of the moth coven is a way easier way to make a living than being a grave digger for the rest of my life!"
For people who like to  view games through the lens of old school games, think of it like rolling up D&D stats 3d6 in order and keeping whatever comes out. Having Done that, I have rolled some incredibly bad characters. I have also thrown a few in the bin.. AAIE doesn't let the player throw a character in the bin. For example, some characters will end up with more resolve points than others, they are naturally braver and more capable of facing adversity. In AAIE this slider is not game "Balance" it's more like  purposeful character unbalance.

A part of character creation that does throw some side eye towards balance are the attributes. Part of the original "joke" of AAIE is how attributes are rolled on different dice based on the  character's race.  A Dwarf may have to roll d8 for Resolve, but only D4 for athletics for example. It is a layer of unnecessary  complexity , that fits the original "poking fun at ye-old'e games" concept. However this did give me the opportunity to balance  the races against each other very specifically. The major races of  AAIE all have maximum attribute values that sum to the same number. Meaning a human character that has max on on all of her attributes will have the same total value of attributes if you add them all together as a dwarf, or an elf. The only difference will be how the attribute values are distributed. There are some small variations on this theme concerning optional races. Some of which trade lower attribute totals in exchange for more or better racial traits, but generally the attribute balance holds throughout the game.

While it's not stated in the game text under the hood I grouped attributes broadly  into Action attributes, skill, skill attributes, and save attributes. Action attributes are the ones most commonly used in (you guessed it) actions. Brawn used for  melee attacks, Athletics for ranged combat, attractiveness for social actions. Skill attributes are knowledge, intellect, and leadership used for  tasks like spell casting, interacting with  hirelings, and  lore. While the  save attributes are resolve, focus, and myst, which are used when a character needs to save against some kind of horrible misfortune , that cannot simply be dodged. If you are wondering yes, blatantly stole this style of grouping from  the Mayfair exponential system, scrubbed off the vin numbers and drove it to the chop shop. WHy this  groupings are important to this article is that they help certain races have the potential to be better art different roles. A Dwarf that rolls very well for attributes will always be a better at actions than an elf that did the same. While that high rolling elf will always be better at skills than a similarly well rolled dwarf.

Further, attributes max out at eight **** and directly modify the difficulty of rolls. It is a point of balance that pluses and minuses beyond the value of attributes don't exist in AAIE. Characters at level one and at level five, have the  same general modifiers to their rolls. What changes are the special abilities they have available to them to solve problems, not the overall chance to succeed. This balancing act causes a play style change. Even a higher level character has to  work towards their strengths and away from their weaknesses where attributes are concerned. If the warrior has a 1 in athletics, that warrior is never going to be any better at shooting bows. Sorry.


Another big balance knob on the mixing board is combat. With AAIE I made a decision to keep resolve points***** relatively low for both enemies and  player characters. Damage on the other hand can be quite high especially where high level monsters are concerned. The result is combat that rarely goes beyond three rounds win or lose. Infact three to five rounds was my target length for combats. I want players to know if they are out matched quickly (so the players can  choose to run or to stand and fight). If the Characters are not outmatched I want them to dispatch the opponent quickly. Going back to the first paragraph where I stated not every character will be particularly viable as adventures, one can assume weak characters will get cut down fairly often, and  fairly quickly. This is akin to the DCC funnel concept. Some characters are going to  die before one has what it takes to stick. Another reference to  Old school gaming, where charater death was expected, and  characters weren't all perfect crystal constructs destined be nursed until level 20. Sometimes the  warrior is armed with a frying pan and has five resolve points, other times the warrior is armed with a battle ax and starts with  forty resolve points. It's admittedly huge swing, and combat is balanced to take down those weaker characters quickly, especially if they get into melee. Resolve pools that top out at around 100 (Give or take for special circumstances) for  monsters and characters alike. High level monsters with a single special attack can do almost that much damage on one perfect roll. ****** 

It all moves the game toward a scene of frantic activity during combat. The players know they  have to either get away quickly, or  face whatever the monster is going to dish out. That decision needs to be made quickly, as even the best character can't stand in combat for very long if the monster is dishing out high damage. The Gm running the combat should feed into this frantic vibe. Giving fast paced description and asking for as many rolls as possible for rapid fire actions actions is suggested. Even if the gm runs at a different pace the game balance itself adds the desired "fight or flight" tension. The balance between character resolve and monster damage helps creates that tension.

Thanks to Neal, players can have new characters at the push of a button, which enhances the funnel like feel of the game. Originally  My idea was players would have to make the best of what ever character they rolled up, and the character creation process while fun when done as a group, would also be long enough that players would want to try to keep their characters alive. However with the one click character generator, players feel far more comfortable just wading into the jaws of death. I was a bit against it at first I thought it changed the  core feel of the game too much. I was wrong. The ability to make characters quickly makes the game better in the long term.

I have more on this aspect of the game, but this is long enough as it is.
At least I hope it's clear that balance can be a myriad of things in a single game. All of these small decisions add up (hopefully) to create the play style envisioned by the author.

Perhaps I'l do an "AAIE Balance" part two some day?
Either way..
I hope you enjoyed

*The  best part of it is the Mythlands of Erce is written  far better than this blog, so the points made about game balance on that platform are clear and concise. What I'm about to write by comparison is .... well ... "my stuff."
** So can I.
*** I know  Dr. Dre is not an actual doctor. However, he is a lyrical surgeon as well as a beat clinician. I feel that's close enough.
**** Ok Ten if you're a Tortel and have a high resolve, but that's the only one, and Tortels suffer in other areas because of it.. 
***** (think hit points for the sake of this article. it measures ability and will to fight. if a character's resolve falls to zero they may simply crawl home, or  on occasion get gnawed to death by a  pack of  rats.)
****** Monsters get a number of damage dice based on their level, it is possible (not likely) to have a random monster that can do 10d10 damage in around. However it is up to the  GM to determine before the game how those dice are divvied up amongst possible attacks. Dragon breath for example.... or some other crazy attack  might  do that kind of damage.. Depends on how demented your GM is.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Anatomy of a Perk: (AAIE Game stuff)

Game Update: Neal still editing, Game is being run twice at Dexcon This weekend: July 8tyh and 9th I think, once by Neal and once by one of his friends..

The second part in my "The Anatomy of" posts. This series is about  the parts of AAIE and what the heck I was thinking about when I slapped them together. *
The first part about Abilities can be found here. **

Perks, how to get them, and what they do for you:
Perks are an in-line reward mechanism. What I mean by "inline" is that the rewards happen during play, not as part of the level up system.
When a player rolls They first check to see if the action they are attempting is a success. If the action is successful and the  players effect die is high enough *** the player earns a perk. (or triggers a perk if that's how you want to say it.)

Perks are special effects that Player abilities , equipment, and even the  environment provide access to. It's most common to have three Perk options when using an ability. As it is the maximum number of  optional perks that can be attached to any one action is  five. While the maximum that can be triggered at one time is two. What this means is that most of the time when triggering perks the player will have options and will get to pick what works best for their character or the part as a whole. While ti takes a bit of luck to trigger a perk, it gives the games combat some depth beyond a simple decision to attack, or not to attack.
Combat perks include such classics as stunning a target, doing extra damage, pushing the opponent away, knocking the target down and  some others. Perks tied to abilities may be the same as the combat perks or  may  include perks specific to the  ability being used. Many priest abilities work on this principle. For example, the  priest ability "cure poison" has the following three perks associated with it.
  • Perk 1: heals 1d6 resolve to the target
  • Perk 2: Extracts the poison so it may be kept.
  • Perk 3: Restores 1d6 of the targets focus in the process
Remember the perks are only available on a successful roll. The perks above assume the poison has already been cured, these are results above and beyond the common successful result when using an ability. in this case the Player could choose the first perk, and grant a small amount of healing to the recipients resolve pool. I mean the  poison must have had some vector to get into the target and must have left some effect, so chances are the recipient is hurt at least a small amount. 

The second perk allows the retrieval of the poison for the priests own use, whether it be benign or  nefarious. This perk is completely unique to this ability. It not only allows for some cool description of how poison might be collected from a target, but also allows for the  creative use of the poison down the road. 

Lastly the third Perk allows the  player the option to  restore a bit of the  recipients Focus pool. Am AAIE  priest exclusive, the restoration of focus is a representation of a priest's abilities calming and mind clearing effects.

A very strong roll will allow a player to trigger two perks. In which case a players using the ability above Could choose to use perk one and two  making themselves an all around healer or  any other combination of the three available perks. 

In the event a perk is triggered the player describes how it happens. While there are mechanical effects when a player triggers a perk, for example character hits with a hammer and the player chooses "knock down" as the triggered perk. It is more important that the player gets to say how the enemy was knocked down. That player gets to decide what that looks like in the heat of battle. This  bit of focus on the player and their character, as brief as it might be, is a bit of reward in it's own right.

Furthermore, when ever the  Gm gives up control for a second and says "tell me how it happens" to a player there is  a chance that things will veer off into totally unexpected direction. In AAIE those hard curves into totally  unexpected directions are the goal posts by which the success of the  game will be measured. The  intentional inclusion of unpredictability built into the game is what makes it not to everyone's taste but also what makes it what it is.

Thanks for reading.

* hint: I was thinking about food.
**Public service message: Warriors strike is the exception to the rule, if a warrior starts with it, it's super useful. 

***How the dice work will have to be some other, equally dry post.