Categories
Actual Play Game Design Table Top

Working on a Thoughtful Representation of Drug Addiction for Masks

Hello! Things have been a little quiet on the Masks RPG front lately, because the end of summer is bananas for all my players. We haven’t been able to play face to face, but each player is getting a little Play-By-Post action in (which I’ll figure out how to share), and in the meantime I’m also working on some mechanical stuff to deal with some action that came out of our “Silver Masque” homecoming session.

Inspired by a ‘homecoming’ article in the Masks Fan Favorite fanzine, I added a plotline where alien agents of Vanquish (a looming threat in our Outsider’s backstory) were introducing a super-drug called Invictus into the city’s black market.

As a point of reference, here’s the original “when you first consume Invictus” move from The Fan Favorite fanzine.

When you consume Invictus, roll +Freak.

On a hit, describe the first thing you realize you can do with the powers from the drug.

On a 7-9, the GM will lay out how the power has an unexpected complication or danger.
On a miss, the drug doesn’t (seem to) take, but you’re wracked by an uncomfortable sensation. Mark an appropriate condition. [Doyce adds: Give Invictus influence over you.]

(I also add Invictus influence as a possible 7-9 consequence, but only if the “unexpected complication or danger” side effect is ignored by the players and allowed to run its course. Not to be too cold-blooded about it, but from a manufacturer’s point of view, a drug isn’t any use if it isn’t addictive.)

Anyway, a couple of the NPCs and one PC were exposed to the drug. One of the NPCs (a powerless ‘beacon’ character who’s dating the Outsider) got powers that seemed to ‘stick’, permanently.

A couple sessions later, the players discovered that it wasn’t that the powers had become permanent; Colin was still using the drug.

So. That’s now a big plot for the team – getting Colin away from the drug, and tracking down the supplier/source.

Since the PCs are working to get Colin out from under Invictus’s influence, I worked up a more in-depth look at long-term use of the drug.

(Some of this isn’t relevant, since Colin is an NPC, but I’m messing around with the move, just so I have some idea of what’s going on.)

When you’re addicted to Invictus, either physically, psychologically, or both, Invictus has Influence over you.

  • It can use its Influence to shift your labels by making you believe you know how the world works.
  • It can and will use its Influence to Provoke you to rash action.
  • The roll to reject Influence against Invictus is always -Conditions.
  • Per the original Invictus rules, you may have super powers while Invictus has influence over you.
  • To retain those powers, Invictus must be given influence over you at the end of every session, instead of giving influence to someone on your team. If you do so, keep your powers. If Invictus already had influence over you when you do this, Invictus shifts your labels (always Freak up, Mundane down, even and especially if this would give you a condition for shifting something that can’t shift).
  • You never keep your powers if Invictus does not have Influence over you. The rumor that you can is a lie told by Invictus dealers – the powers never ‘stick’. Ever.

You can choose to remove Invictus’s Influence as the result of successfully rejecting its influence, but that influence can (and probably will) come back as the result certain 6- rolls (or even a 7-9, if you ignore the impending threat). The only (mechanical) way to permanently remove the threat of Invictus Influence is using a “permanently remove someone’s influence” playbook advance – assuming that advance is also reflected within the fiction.

Somebody can help you remove Invictus’s influence (again, not permanently – only you can do that), if you are currently free of Conditions. The roll will probably be either +Freak or +Mundane, depending on the fiction, rolling against Unleash Your Powers results. If they successfully help you remove Invictus’s influence, they mark potential, and you gain Influence with them.

  • You can always give Invictus influence over you for a +2 on any roll, including a roll you have just made. If Invictus already has influence over you, it will shift your labels instead (1 up, 1 down), and then give you a condition.
  • You can give Invictus influence to use any other playbook’s move you don’t have, “just this once.” Take a condition.

Certain special moves (Alien tech, Moment of Truth for appropriate powers or if used personally) can also permanently cure Invictus addiction in a target, if curing the addiction was the specific point of using the move.


There were also two other parts of the move that I removed for now:

  • If someone Comforts and Supports you while Invictus has influence over you, on a 6-, Invictus may now have influence over them. (You can roll to Defend them from this.)
  • If someone get s 6- while using their powers/influence to remove Invictus’s influence, the consequences might extend Invictus’s influence to them.)

I tabled these two parts of the move for now, because they’re deprotagonizing and maybe problematic. I think we’ll talk about this and if the Invictus plot gets “big”, we can talk about the drug mutating and these two threats evolving into the move. I’m not doing it if everyone isn’t on board with that threat.


And that’s where we are right now. Palacine is about to dive into the challenge of getting Colin clear of Invictus.

Categories
Actual Play Game Design Links & Resources Table Top

The Smartwood Children (a Lasers and Feelings hack for my kids)

This weekend has been chock-a-block with face to face gaming goodness with cool kids.

Friday was the 14th session of Masks: Phoenix Academy game with Kaylee and the Jamies and, I think, possibly one of the best sessions so far. (Which is good, because we’re not going to be able to play again until something like mid-August. :sadface: )

Sunday morning had a return to the The Hollow-inspired game for Sean and Zoe and Kaylee (Ryu and Grace and Angel). Things are starting to come apart, and Mr. Weirdo came to them to ask for help(?!?)

And Sunday evening, we tried something new: a Hilda-inspired weird-little-town, with Sean and Zoe and Kaylee playing siblings who are all part of the family who traditionally deal with ‘weird stuff’ in the world. Mom and Dad handle the BIG weird stuff out in the world, because “the town kind of takes care of itself” – without realizing that it’s actually their KIDS who take care of the town.

Back in the old country, their family were the Swartwoods. Grandpa changed his name when he came here, though, so say hello the Smartwoods: Mar (Marzipan), Ken (Kennelworth), and Zo (Zoology) Smartwood.

It’s basically a little bit Hilda (netflix), a little bit Courtney Crumrin, a little bit Goonies, set in the sort of town where this sort of thing happens and everyone sort of knows it, played with a Lasers and Feelings hack I made up called Bikes and Books.

The characters and game came together well and, after supper, we got ready for bed and played some more in lieu of bedtime stories. The Smartwood kids ran into a little trouble with the town deputies when Ken broke into the new Assistant Principle’s house to poke around, and they haven’t figured out why the town history seems to be … changing … but things are moving RIGHT along.

Good, good stuff.

Categories
Game Design Links & Resources Musing

Girl Underground meets the TARDIS?

There’s a game in development called Girl Underground, which focuses on a central Girl (in the vein of Alice in Wonderland, Labyrinth, Mirrormask, Spirited Away, etc) having an adventure in a weird secret world, with her companions.

Only The Girl has stats. No one plays the girl. Everyone plays wondrous companions. You roll with The Girl’s stats.

There’s a write up of a playtest AP over here.

I can’t help but think there’s marvelous Doctor Who reskin potential for this.

Categories
Game Design Links & Resources

Jonesing to play Zombie World

Enough that I made up a new Enclave option… one I’m surprised doesn’t exist.

Categories
Game Design Links & Resources

The Hollow, by way of World of Dungeon: Turbo

I’m running a game for my kids, inspired by The Hollow series on Netflix, and for said game I’m basically using a loosey-goosey version of World of Dungeons: Turbo.

However, the setup for the game doesn’t closely match the original World of Dungeons: Turbo premise, so I’ve already spent a fair amount of time scribbling in different abilities and such.

As a result, I figured it would be worth my time to build a character sheet I could tweak as the game went on. So I did that, and I wanted to share it not because anyone would want to run a similar game, but because I figured someone might want a sheet they could customize for their own WoDu variations.

PLEASE NOTE: I am verifiably shit at design of any kind, so this thing is pretty hacktackular, but whatever. It works.

The PDF basically looks like I intended.

The word .docx will likely shatter if you look at it sideways, but g’head and do with it what you will.

If you make a better version that’s still editable/changeable, please do let me know.

Categories
D20 Game Design Links & Resources

Fire Goose

Created at the behest of Mark Hunt, for a silly little project on MeWe.

Fire Goose

Small beast, probably evil
Armor Class 16 Natural Armor
Hit Points 30 (5d10 + 5)
Speed 25 ft., fly 80 ft., swim 35 ft.
STR 12
DEX 14
CON 14
INT 5
WIS 9
CHA 3 (because geese)

Immune to Fear (as near as we can tell)

The Fire Goose is basically just a goose, from a fiery pocket dimension. We assume. No one wants to go to whatever beknighted hellhole spawned something as terrible as a goose (which is already terrible) but also on fire. We wouldn’t even know the damned things existed – and might then sleep slightly better – except some idiot in a robe summoned one and the sodding things keep pulling more of their feathered, furious kin over. Seriously, it’s terrible. We may be doomed. Did you learning nothing from the Vrock Debacle that leveled the city of Yll, Kevin ?!?

Not noticeably larger than a typical goose, a fire goose is often mistook as its local cousins, if you approach in bright sunlight (which makes the fiery crown nearly invisible). However, once you get close enough (why would you get closer?!? – even if you didn’t realize it’s on fire, it’s still a goose, and thus nothing but pure evil and spite), it will stretch out its wings and wreathe itself in flames; either as a power display or – and gods above and below help you if this turns out to be the case – a mating stance.

The fire goose is not afraid to attack an intruder, but is also MORE than willing to summon aid and kill anything not goose-shaped with the support of its hellish kin. It is not unusual to see two or three fire geese turn into a large flock of twenty in less than a minute.

Also, they’re apparently mating with local geese as well, now? And get viable progeny? Gods’ tears, Kevin, what did you do? This is the darkest timeline.

Squawking Lava Charge. If the fire goose moves at least 20 feet straight toward a target and then hits it with a beak attack on the same turn, the target takes an extra 7 (2d6) fire damage. The target must also succeed on a Wisdom Save or become Frightened. This is not a supernatural effect: geese are just effing terrifying, man, and this one is on fire.

The Great Honk. When the Fire Goose feels threatened, wants to BE threatened, or – as near as we can tell – just bloody feels like it, it may attempt to summon more Fire Geese to its aid. The Fire Goose must attempt a CON save; on a success, its call was loud enough to be heard beyond the filmy veil between worlds, and another Fire Goose appears within 30 feet, already angry and ready to get stuck in.

Fearsome Hiss. At The start of the Fire Goose’s turn, it wreathes itself in flames and emits a hiss that affects all creatures in a 15-foot cone in front of the dire goose. Each creature in the area must succeed a Wisdom Saving or have disadvantage on its attack rolls until the end of its next turn.

Fire Beak. Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 1d6 + 4) burning damage.

Wreathed in Fire Wing Attack. Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 10 ft., one horrified target. Hit: 10 (2d6 + 4) fire damage. CON save or become prone.

Categories
Game Design

Masks Prep: Brainstorming + Random Situation Tables

MOST IMPORTANT BIT
– Problems, difficulties, goals, and victims should all have a FACE (or faces): people that the heroes interact with
– (Masks moves are about interacting with people – if a situation doesn’t provide that, character will struggle to engage.)


PICK A LOCATION
– Pick a location one or more of the team are from or have history with (default)
– Pick a location that looks juicy and interesting
– Pick an additional location (second pass only)

WHAT HAPPENED HERE (1d6 – count down that many entries, skipping any previously marked/used)
– Adult Heroes messed something up there
– Locals messed something up there
– Hyper-phenomena of some kind messed something up there
– AEGIS messed something up there
– Mundane Governments messed something up there
– Villains messed something up there
– Adult Heroes responded poorly to ongoing problem (pick one or roll 1d6)
– Locals responded poorly to ongoing problem (pick one or roll 1d6)
– AEGIS responded poorly to ongoing problem (pick one or roll 1d6)

IN THE PRESENT (1d6 – count down that many entries, skipping any previously marked/used)
– [MacGuffin] must be delivered to the location
– Important People/Supplies must be accompanied to the location
– Locals/Local Government are creating further difficulties for the location
– Hyper-phenomena are creating further difficulties for the location
– AEGIS and/or Outside Government is creating further difficulties for the location
– Villains are creating further difficulties for the location
– Pick a second element and interweave the two
– The Adults (take your pick) have no clue what’s really going on. Good luck.
– The Adults have no clue what’s really going on, but think they do (pick a previously-used element above, but it’s wrong)

IN THE FUTURE… IF NOTHING IS DONE RIGHT AWAY (d6)
– Locals/Local Government will attempt to handle the current difficulties on their own (and do so poorly)
– Locals/Local Government will blame the heroes (and superheroes in general) for current difficulties
– AEGIS will take drastic action to preserve the situation and push the heroes towards the difficulties
– The difficulties will get worse
– The difficulties will experience an unexpected twist
– The difficulties will target the heroes directly

Categories
Game Design

How to Train Your Dragon with Risus hacks

I’ve been playing an RPG with my kids set in the Archipelago of How to Train Your Dragon. As a prelude to writing about the play itself, here are the rules I’m using.


Dragons: Wanderers of the Archipelago

A Risus variation for How to Train Your Dragon Adventures

(Based mostly on Risus Guard, a Mouse Guard hack I cobbled together, which in turn is based on on Evens Up, by D. Stahler, Simpler Risus from Risusiverse, and Mouse World, by Dan Cetorelli)

And of course Risus, by S. John Ross.

The Basic Rule

When dice are rolled, rather than adding up the results, each 4, 5, or 6 (4+) is counted as a “Success.”

Discard rolls of 3 or lower. In addition, sixes always “ace:” each six not only counts as a success, it is immediately re-rolled, with a 4+ result added to the success total (and continuing to ace as long as a six is rolled; the beloved “exploding dice effect.”)

Swap the “Inappropriate Cliché” rule for “Imaginative Use”: If you can explain how you use your cliché, you can try it. In combat, Imaginative Use of a cliché deals +1 damage.

“Round peg in a square hole”: If you’re using an inappropriate cliché in a test simply because you have no better option, and can’t (or choose not to) come up with an Imaginative Use, your opponent rolls two additional dice, or the number of successes needed increases by 2.

How It Works

Simple Skill Check

Instead of rolling against a target number, a certain number of successes are required to achieve a desired result, generally adhering to the following difficulty scale:

Easy: 1 / Tricky: 2 / Hard: 3 / Heroic: 4 / Legendary: 5 / All But Impossible: 6+

The process used to determine the difficulty rating in Risus — by figuring out how hard the task is in the context of the cliché’s relevance — is used the same way here, as is the idea that the degree of success or failure may affect the overall result.

As a general rule (because I like PBTA games) – getting some successes but not enough successes is a good time for a mixed result: you get some of what you want, but at a cost, or with complications.

Single-Action Contests

Both sides roll the appropriate number of dice for their respective clichés. The side with the most number of successes wins. Ties can either be rerolled or go to the side who rolled the fewest dice (Goliath rule) or most (respect the skillz), depending on the group’s preference.

Multiple-round Contests (Combat)

Each round, both sides roll the appropriate number of dice for their respective clichés. The side with the most successes wins, resulting in the loss of one cliché dice (or more, depending on the situation) for the loser. Ties can be handled as above.

Note: In combat, the ‘success counting’ die mechanic means differences in cliché levels aren’t as huge a deal.

Team Ups During Contests

In team-ups, a leader is chosen for each team (leader role can change between rounds, if it makes sense). The leader gets to count all the successes from their rolled cliché. Everyone else on the team rolls their clichés as normal, but only count sixes as successes toward the team’s goal. (Sixes from helping characters can still Ace, with the Ace rolls counting as success on 4+, as normal.)

When a team loses a round, the leader takes cliché damage.

If a team member is taken out of a conflict due to sustaining injury or being unable to roll any dice in a round due to accumulated penalties, the character’s status will be determined after the conflict by the winning side.

(Players should remember that in single-action contests and combat, opponent’s dice can ace, as well.)

Too Many Dice

Sometimes characters, teams, or (most often) their opponents will have access to clichés of greater than six dice. Don’t roll more six dice; if a cliché is higher than six, every two dice over six simply adds a success (round down). So a Unstoppable Red Death (20) would roll six dice and add seven successes.

Funky Dice?

Funky dice can still be used in this system, if you want (not sure I do, but…) If you want to use them, have ALL results of Six or higher ace. Obviously, the odds of acing on a 10 or 12-sided die-roll are pretty good.

Character Creation Options

Allocate ten dice to your clichés, as normal for any Risus character. Humans are the baseline in this setting.

Lucky Shots can be purchased as normal in the Risus rules, if you like.

Sidekicks and Shieldmates from the Companion rules can also be purchased, and should be; they work perfectly for dragon companions, as well as particularly useful, rare, or high-quality gear that is better than what you would already have as tools of the trade for your clichés.

Generally, build your dragon companion by taking away 1 die from your cliché pool to make a 3-dice cliché for your dragon. Strike Class dragons (being more rare, intelligent, and powerful) can be built with 6 cliché dice (at the cost of two character dice), but still shouldn’t have any clichés higher than the character’s highest.

Dragons can usually team up with their rider during contests, can act on their own (or at the command of their rider), and can act entirely on their own with their rider rolling to help them, if it makes sense.

Example One: Brega’s dragon companion is Moonshade, an indigo-scaled Deadly Nadder. She invests 1 die into her dragon as a Sidekick/Companion, and buys “Moonshade: Over-protective Nadder (3)” as a cliché for the dragon.

Example Two: Most dragon riders do not wear much in the way of armor (or at least the basic armor they do wear (shoulder guards and the like) rarely seem to matter for most viking clichés). Hiccup, on the other hand, as a pretty cool shield, and decides to buy it using the Sidekick/Companion rules, which allows it to help (sixes count as additional successes) on any rolls where such a crazy shield would help (though it might also work against you in some cases…)

Gronkle-iron-reinforced “Utility Shield” (3)

(Once you start tallying up Toothless, Hiccup’s Shield, Wingsuit, and other crazy gear, you start to suspect his actual clichés might be… kinda crap.)

Optional: Skills within Clichés is probably fine, though maybe let that come out during play of the character.


Scale (super-optional)

Humans are definitely not the biggest things in the world. The progression of size scale goes something like:

  • Terrible Terrors
  • Humans, wolves, speed stingers
  • Smaller dragons (gronkle, et cetera)
  • Most dragons
  • Larger Dragons (Screaming Death, Catastrophic Quaken)
  • Very large Dragons (Typhoomerang, Eruptodon)
  • ???
  • Red Death

Or, Simplified:

  • Little dragons
  • People
  • Most dragons
  • Really Big Dragons
  • Insanely Big Dragons

There are a number of different ways to handle difference in scale. Off the top of my head:

  1. Larger creatures in a physical conflict get 1 ‘free’ success for each level of scale they have above their smaller opponent(s).
  2. Funky Dice. In physical conflicts, the two scale spots directly above people use d8s; the two above them use d10s, the two above them use d12s, and the really epic dragons either use d20s, or allocate (still terribly imposing) cliché values to different parts of their body.
  3. Beyond the scope of dice: most creatures have cliché ratings, but for the truly imposing, they might perhaps be better handled as natural phenomena, rather than mere animals. The same might be said of large groups of lesser animals (a flight of dragons, for example, or a huge pack of speed stingers).
  4. All of this largely pertains to physical confrontations – social/mental conflicts would hit different clichés which would only rarely use funky dice.
Categories
Game Design

PbtA with Little Kids

(I found this in a text snippet, as though I meant to post it, but as near as I can tell, I never did, so here it is.)


The Rules

Say what you are: a crystal lady, an adventurer, a princess with a big cat.

When you face trouble, roll your two dice. If what you are helps, add 2 to the result.

  • On a ten or higher, you do it amazingly.
  • On a seven to nine, you do okay, but something else happens.
  • On a six or less, you might do it, but you’re definitely in trouble!
Track ‘damage’ on your “courage” bar.

Courage: O O O | O O O


And… thats it.

Categories
Game Design Musing Table Top

Pondering FAE Tweaks for Star Wars: Rebel Ops

A few days ago, I publicly mulled over how the game is going. That post attracted quite a bit of conversation, much of it extremely helpful in terms of focusing down on the stuff I didn’t think was working that I think is worth trying to address, going forward.

On the whole, I’m pretty happy with Fate mechanics, the characters, the setting, the potential story, and so forth.

What I’m not thrilled with are Approaches.

Now, on paper, I love Approaches – I just genuinely like the idea of actions sorted out terms of whether they’re Flashy, Sneaky, Clever, or whatever.

In practice, there are two problems I’ve encountered.

  1. A character’s action very rarely maps to a single approach, and almost never maps cleanly. You tend to get a lot of conversations like this:

    “Hmm, do you think the action you’re taking is Quick or Clever? I mean it’s Clever, but you’re doing it Quickly…”
    “Actually, I’m trying to surprise them with this, so I was hoping for Sneaky…”

    And so on. It ends up putting the Meta game-system stuff right in my face with a frequency I find annoying, and I have a high tolerance for that kind of thing.

  2. You define your character with Aspects, but you stat them out – in terms of hard numbers – with Approaches. This has the effect of giving your character two sets of important ‘stats’ that don’t necessarily have anything to do with one another, and mechanically it leads to a weird disconnect. Now, anyone who plays Fate at all will tell you that Aspects are the core of the system – it’s the thing that, if you take it out, makes it no longer Fate, in my opinion – buuuuuuuut in FAE, Approaches get numeric ratings, and it’s those numbers that affect every single die roll first, before any Aspects get involved, and since they directly address about how you like to do things, rather than simply what you can do (like skills), they tend to affect the broad interpretation of the character much more.

What are you Yammering About, Man?

So it’s like this: You have your core concept, expressed as Aspects, and then you have these Approaches, who’s ratings also say something about your character, and because of their non-granularity, they tend to say those things with very sweeping generalizations, often (in my personal experience) pulling the character away from their core concept in either small or large ways.

2016-04-09 08-40-56 PM

I’ll give a short example, using Dave’s character from our game, with Aspects tweaked slightly for the purposes of this example:

Aral Tholemain
Patriotic Noble of Naboo
Revolutionary with a Bounty on my Head
The Empire took my family from me.
An officer and sometimes bloodthirsty gentleman
E’lir would be my daughter’s age…

I could give you a couple paragraphs of backstory, but really, I think these five Aspects capture the gist of what’s going on, and I think it’s fair to say this is a pretty grim character, right?

Here are his Approaches:

Careful: 1
Clever: 1
Flashy: 3
Forceful: 2
Quick: 0
Sneaky: 2

You know what I see when I look at those approaches?

A swashbuckler, maybe. Perhaps a con man. If you told me “noble”, I’d nod and say “oh yeah, I can totally see that,” but what I wouldn’t see is the kind of noble Aral is.

Look at those Aspects up above? Is there anything there that says “Flashy?” I guess it depends on how you look at someone who’s a dedicated firebrand, but… well.

Yes, you can make it work.

But there’s the thing – Flashy is Aral’s big Approach, so of course Dave’s going to want to do things flashily when he can, especially when things Really Matter.

… so this Bloodthirsty Gentleman who’s lost his family is doing big attention-grabbing attacks while loudly shouting “You Dastard!”, striking a memorable pose, et cetera.

Is that the guy we see in the Aspects? I’m hardly sure, but I don’t think so.


And yes, I know you can just have a different Approach be the top one, but for a significant subset of actions important to the character, a high Flashy makes the most sense – it just gets weird when applied in other activities.

“Well, if it doesn’t make sense, then don’t be Flashy and deal with a lower rating.”

Nice idea, and it happens some of the time, but when your pulse is hammering and your blood is high, you go for the most thematically appropriate narration that’s going to give you a shitty stat to roll. Gamers will game; playing to your strengths is part of that, and is hardly the problem I’m talking about, or even a problem in the first place. Moving on…


Where were we?

Right: so I’m leaning toward dumping Approaches entirely and rating the Aspects instead – at least as a trial run, to see how it feels in play.

Doing that, Aral might look like this:

Patriotic Noble of Naboo [+3]
Revolutionary with a Bounty on my Head [+1]
The Empire took my family from me [+2]
An officer and sometimes bloodthirsty gentleman [+2]
E’lir would be my daughter’s age… [+1]

So the Aspects continue to function as Aspects, but also function as… almost miniature character classes, or gestalt skill/experience “sets,” where you pick the one most applicable to the action taken (or the lowest rated one that applies, if there are many, because I’m mean), and add that value to the roll.

Yes, you’d probably have one aspect you ‘always’ roll when shooting someone, but… okay. How is that different than a character with a “Shoot” skill? Aral’s experiences as an officer and bloodthirsty gentlemen is where he learned to shoot. Makes sense. Done.

And hey, if you throw a fate point down and activate that same Aspect for a bonus on the roll you just made with that Aspect? Then this action is SUPER important and relevant to that facet of the character, which I choose to see as a big feature, not a bug.

But the main thing – as my daughter pointed out while we were talking about this today – is that everything you’re doing, related to that roll, is only pulling you in toward that core character concept; there’s no weird double influence of “I’m being bloodthirsty, but FLASHILY.” (Which sounds a little psychotic, anyway. 🙂

I don’t mean to pick on Dave at all; I think this is relevant to several characters – probably all of them, to different degrees – it’s just that he’s the easiest example of what I’m thinking, and I got thinking about it when he mentioned Aral as he exists now is different than how he envisioned him. Some variance is obviously going to happen – it always does – but given the ability we have to define characters with Aspects, it really shouldn’t go that far afield.

Anyway, thoughts?

Categories
Game Design

200-word RPG Challenge submission: Freaks

So this thing is happening:

The 200 Word RPG Challenge puts your writing and editing skills to the test!
What can you do with only 200 words?

I’m studiously ignoring the line: “the game doesn’t necessarily have to be fun”, for reasons that should be obvious, and decided to submit a thing.

Here is that thing.


freaks

doom patrol mignolaWe’re playing heroes mighty, but maligned; devoted, but shunned. Feared by the same people they protect…

Freaks.

Start

Think up a character. Golem. Vampire. Angel. Vampire angel? Go nuts.

Pick a Specialty:

  • Sneak
  • Fight
  • Manipulate
  • Use Powers
  • Investigate

Define Your Power

  • List Blessings. Think “thematically related; but incomplete.”
  • List Banes. Why are you a freak?

These can color scenes. If they’d affect a Conflict, say how.

Play

Establish character(s), setting, situation.

Each scene, everyone wants stuff. Play your guy and push for it; you’ll hit a Conflict.

Grab one FUDGE die for your GOAL and one for the RISK. (No risk? No roll.)

ADD A DIE IF…
… there’s another Risk.
… Banes have effect (stop here).
… Blessings have effect.
… your Specialty matters.
… you’re prepared.

Roll.

  1. If Banes apply, discard the best die.
  2. If Blessings/Specialty/Preparation apply, discard a bad die for each.
  3. Assign dice to Goal and Risks.

Goal Die:
+ Goal achieved.
0 Mixed success.
– Opportunity lost (for now).

Risk Die:
+ Risk defeated
0 Danger Remains
– Injury, Loss, Goal interference

If Danger/Injury Remains, it becomes an Added Risk whenever, until you fix it.

Thanks: Otherkind, Ghost/Echo, Trollbabe

Categories
Actual Play Game Design Musing Online Table Top

Thinking about Spaceships and Star Wars because… well, OBVIOUSLY

First, before getting into the “thinking” part, I’ll just embed this silly song with clips from a bunch of spaceship shows. Pop on some headphones and enjoy yourself.

Now then…

2016-02-26_9-05-59
Yesterday, the Evil Hat guys released a new “World of Adventure”; I’m a patron of the project, and thus far I have not in any way regretted my four bucks a month. While only a few of the books have been one hundred percent, out of the park grand slams for me, personally (Nest and Save Game spring to mind), I’ve found enjoyable and useful ideas and content in most everything.

The newest release, Deep Dark Blue, might be that rare bird – both something I’d want to run straight out of the box (remarkable, since I generally hate underwater scenarios), which also contains bits I’d happily lift and use in some other game.

The “liftable” thing in this case are the rules surrounding the submarine the players will crew, and the way in which the crew interacts with their vessel. The designers did a really nice job setting up what I think of as “shipboard drama” mechanics, in which the cohesiveness of the crew mechanically affects the ship’s general effectiveness. (For example: the captain’s ability to lead affects the ship’s stress track, and the collective “team stress track” (which can be harmed by manipulation and discord) can be used to soak damage that would otherwise harm the ship.)

As I said, it’s a compelling idea – one that plugs right in to how I see stories like Firefly and Farscape and BSG – and since I’m currently running a Star Wars game, one of the first things I thought upon reading it was “should I port this over?”

The answer, surprisingly, was “no.”

As I said in comments on Deep Dark Blue, yesterday:

I’ve come to realize that Star Wars, in default mode, isn’t really this kind of “spaceship scifi.” (One of the reasons I didn’t set up a big complicated ship-designing sub-system for the current game.)

It feels weird to say, given how big a deal and how iconic an x-wing or the Falcon is, but in terms of it being a ship-based drama, in which the dynamic of crew and their vessel is central, it’s just not that kind of thing, by default: the ships, while sometimes important to and emblematic of certain characters, generally just get you around and let you shoot guys.

And, later in the conversation:

Or, to say it much, MUCH more succinctly, in Star Wars, the ships matter, but crew dynamics do not, and mechanics aimed at crew dynamics (ship stress built from crew unity, for example) aren’t really scratching an itch Star Wars has.

I can’t decide if this realization is more surprising, or the fact that I took this long to notice.

Consider a situation where you’re starting up a new Star Wars game with these kinds of mechanics. People make up their heroes and at all times during the process, we try to focus on the fiction the game’s supposed to emulate. We get a retired clone trooper, a semi-legit transport pilot with a crappy ship she’d be happy to replace, a Naboo noble on the run from the Empire, and so forth.

Then we try to shoehorn this entirely legitimate and tonally accurate Star Wars group into the Deep Dark Blue ship mechanics.

“Okay, so who’s the captain?”

“Umm… well, Akana’s the pilot and owns the ship we’re on.”

“Great. What’s her Diplomacy?”

laughs Yeah. That’s not really her thing. Why do I need that?”

“Well, you don’t need it, but it helps your crew work together and increases certain –”

“Crew? I fly the ship pretty much on my own.”

“Hey, I fix things…”

“Right. Kelvin fixes things, but everyone else is pretty much just… passengers. Like on the Falcon.”

“Yeah… good point. Hmm.”

And Akana’s player is totally right – that’s how Star Wars works. Firefly-style crew-as-dysfunctional-family? That’s not a thing. BSG-style master-and-commander life aboard a naval vessel? Also not a thing. Ships are cool and important, but that’s just not a dynamic basic Star Wars cares about.

(Note: You absolutely could do something like this in Star Wars; the WEG-era Darkstryder Campaign did it, and I’d be happy if Disney did something in that style with a spin-off movie, in the style of Rogue One – but if your aim is a ‘classic’ Star Wars game, then this isn’t part of that.)

And again, I’m a little surprised it took me this long to realize it: it’s been there, right in front of us, all along.

There’s no place to sleep on the Millenium Falcon.

I mean… yeah, sure, there probably is, but we have literally never seen that space in anything but “schematics of Star Wars” and RPG books. Hell, there’s only one flat surface where you can sit a plate down and eat something, and it’s the size of a hotel nightstand. All the stuff that has to do with people living – the kitchen, the head, the bunks – it’s not there, or (more accurately) it’s not important enough to show. The Falcon is a ship for getting from one place to the next, and sometimes shooting guys in between.

Hell, for all it’s supposed to be a tramp freighter, it doesn’t really have any cargo space. Dig around the deck plans for Star Wars ‘transport’ ships as long as you like, and you won’t find more than 2% that actually look like they could do the job they were meant to do, because the maps have to match the exterior, and the exterior of Star Wars ships follow an aesthetic of cool pulp action that has very little to do with day-to-day livability.

It’s one of the reasons, I think, that the biggest Star Wars ‘tv series’ (Clone Wars) focuses more Band of Brothers-type stuff – the only time we see ships, they’re shooting at each other, taking off, or landing. No one lives in the things. Rebels tries, at times, to push things in that direction, but it doesn’t work at least in part because you can’t portray and build a crew-as-family dynamic (even with Hera, the best space-mom ever) when you have no place on the ship with enough room for everyone to sit down at the same time.

(Contrast Serenity: Can you picture the cargo bay? Does it feel like a real cargo bay, on a ship meant to haul cargo from place to place? Where does everyone sleep? Do we ever see those spaces? Do you know how the toilets work, and where they are? How about the kitchen?)

I’m not in any way saying that one type of “spaceship story” is better or worse than another – I like em all (even Star Trek, a little), but it’s really important to be aware of the kind of stories the setting (and design aesthetic) assume, and work out mechanics that match those expectations.

Categories
Game Design Table Top

Converting Starship Stats from WEG to Fate

Contrary to the evidence from this and previous posts, I am definitely not running thinking about running a Fate-based Star Wars game. I’m not. Shut up.

sos

Basic Guidelines:

  • If you’re in a personal ship (where you’re in some way the ‘crew’ – usually indicated by an Aspect), use your skill rating instead of the ship’s skill, with the ship giving a flat +1 to the roll if its related skill is 2 or higher.
  • If you just hopped into a ship and started doing stuff (see: Rey and Finn in the Falcon), use the ship’s skill for any related action, with your skill providing a +1 ‘assist’.

Conversion:

  • In general: 1D in WEG = +1 in Fate. Ignore all ‘pips’ on WEG stats.

  • Maneuverability/Shields: add Maneuverability to Shield rating (if any) and convert the total 1:1 for “Defense” roll bonus (2D + 1D = +3 Defense in Fate.)

  • Space: Divide by 4 and round down for situational bonus to Overcome rolls for moving between zones. Use the same number for Atmospheric fights.
  • Hull: Each full D of hull gives the ship one stress box.
  • Sensors: Straight 1:1 conversion for related contests.
  • Weapons:
  • Convert Fire Control 1:1 for ship’s “Shoot” skill.
  • Divide Damage dice by 3 (round down) and give the ship that much Harm rating. (6D = 2 Harm, 5D = 1 harm, et cetera).
  • Ion weapon damage cannot be mitigated with Stress, only Consequences.

  • Differences in vehicle Scale converts 1:1 for bonuses and penalties, as appropriate. (A 2-shift difference in scale in WEG gives the larger ship -2 to defense, -2 to attacks, 2 levels of Protection (shift damage down by 2), and +2 to damage. Conversely, the smaller ship gets +2 to defense and attack, shifts damage taken up by 2, and does -2 damage.

  • It may feel more accurate to the source material to give BOTH the smaller and larger ships a bonus to Defend rolls – the smaller ships are harder to hit, while the bigger ships’ shields are harder to get through.
  • Create Advantage rolls can do wonders here by giving opponents the ability to take out gun emplacements, shield generators, propulsion, et cetera. (Example: Darth Vader in Star Wars Rebel’s Siege of Lothal destroys a rebel cruiser with a single TIE fighter by stacking a pile of Create Advantage rolls and then one-shotting the target.)

Finally: Eyeball the resulting conversion, tweak anything that seems wrong, and slap a couple aspects or a stunt on it, as needed.

Categories
Game Design Musing

Mulling over a Star Wars game

mos eisley

Like (I imagine) a lot of folks, I’ve been thinking about how I’d run a Star Wars game, if I were going to run a Star Wars game.

Main problem? Too many viable answers.

  1. I loved playing WEG’s d6 game when I was in college. The system doesn’t scale particularly well, but I’m enough of a realist to acknowledge that I’m probably not going to run a campaign long enough for that to be a problem. It’s a fun system.

  2. If I was going to run a game OMG RIGHT NOW, there’s about a 70% chance I’d just grab FAE and go, with no tweaks.

    • If I expected the game to go more than a few sessions and still wanted to use something like FAE, I’d tweak Jadepunk, renaming Aristocrat to something like “Leader”, maybe, and ditching the Jade-related stuff. The character aspect structure is good, and the Assets system has a good amount of depth for codifying gear like ships and lightsabers and cool battle armor. (There’s just enough gear porn in Star Wars gaming to make this attractive.)
  3. Use the PtbA-simplified Streets of Mos Eisley playset (basically a World of Dungeons hack1). Then bolt on a few other bits, namely:
    • Renaming the stats to the same Jadepunkish approaches (Leader, Engineer, Explorer, Fighter, Scholar, Scoundrel). I like this for several reasons, mostly related to having nice variation between people playing the ‘same’ class. There’s some really cool synergy between the SoME classes and stats that aren’t so much stats as FAE-like approaches. Jedi with high Scholar and Leader is a very different character than a Jedi with High Fighter and Scoundrel. You can do general NPCs easily just by not giving them a class.

    • Add Bonds (renamed Connections) as they are used in Worlds in Peril, allowing them to be ‘burned’ (lowered) for roll bonuses, and requiring a Connection to the Force for force-users or potential force-users (which value moves toward the Darkside when you Burn it, natch).

Note: Doubt I’m actually running a star wars game, but it’s what my brain is stuck on right now.


  1. Where World of Dungeons is basically a Dungeon World hack that asks “What if everything was a Defy Danger roll?”, and then demonstrates it would be pretty awesome.] 
Categories
Actual Play Game Design Links & Resources Table Top

Playing Hero Kids with my Hero Kids

Last night, in lieu of normal bedtime activities (reading Winnie-the-Pooh, Justice League I-Can-Read books, or our new favorite, Bone), Kaylee and Sean and I played some Hero Kids.

Hero Kids

For those of you unfamiliar, this is an RPG specifically designed for “kids from ages 4 to 10” – says so right on the tin cover. It’s been on my radar for some time, but I hadn’t done anything with it (including read it), partly because Kaylee and I have been entirely happy playing Fate [^And, in fact, I need to write up our most recent game using that system], and partly because I (incorrectly) thought it was some sort of “Pathfinder Lite” set of rules, which I had absolutely no interest in.

Luckily, after running across a few good actual play reports, I gave it a proper read-through, and decided it might be just the thing for getting Sean involved in our games.

This isn’t to say we’ve never done RPG-like stuff with Sean before – we’ve had quite a bit of fun with his Imaginex DC Heroes figures and a superhero hack of a game Cory Doctorow made up for his daughter. The trick of color coding the dice (so that a d12 is “the purple one” not “the d12”) and simply rolling and reporting the number worked out pretty well.

2014-11-15

Epic battle in a makeshift downtown.

But that option didn’t provide much story – it was really just a way for Dad to muck up otherwise frictionless superhero make-believe. I wanted something with a little – just a little – more oomph, but at the same time it had to pass the four-year-old test.

The Four-Year-Old Test

Some recognizable names in tabletop game design have been debating “the most intuitive dice mechanics” for the last several weeks. I haven’t paid much attention to these discussions, so I don’t know if I agree or disagree with any particular person. This is my take on it:

Intuitive directly correlates to A Four Year Old Can Manage It, Without Help.

By this guideline, Hero Kids is the most intuitive dice mechanic in any RPG I’m aware of. You roll a few six sided dice and find the biggest single result. Done.

  • No adding numbers together (he can do it, but finds it incredibly amusing to shout the wrong answer at the top of his lungs)
  • No counting successes Shadowrun/Vampire/Mouseguard style (which, while not beyond him, is marginally more complicated than “find the biggest number you rolled on a single die”).

Roll. Find biggest. Done.

It’s excellent, and combined with the utterly charming artwork provided for each of the (massive pile) of pregens provided, allows a kid to sit down, pick out someone who looks cool, and play. (And the fact that all the maps and paper minis in each module can be printed and prepped in a few minutes makes GM play setup a breeze.)

Example Character

The level of complexity a player deals with increases in direct proportion to how much of the character sheet they understand.
If they can’t read yet, they just focus on the icons and art, and the rest falls away.

And, not for nothing, the rules can easily be reskinned into a light version of damn near anything. Kaylee put together a very passable Hulk-like character for “super hero kids” in about four minutes.

MG-knight

Another example…

So, About the Actual Game…

The premise for the Hero Kids setting is wonderfully simple: all the Hero Kids live in a small town that would be idyllic, if you ignore the fact the place is constantly threatened by calamities both great and small. The kid’s parents are (in general) adventurers of the first water, and often called away for big problems, elsewhere, so it falls to the kids (who’ve been getting adventurer training since they were out of diapers) to deal with any troubles at home.

Anyone who thinks this setup is too silly or contrived to be engaging hasn’t been following current popular animated show and book trends, like Ever After High – my kids loved this simple premise for putting them in the hero-seat. [^You also needn’t worry about clichés or over-used tropes, because they aren’t jaded forty-year-old gamers; it’s games like these that introduce them to the tropes other modern games and books are playing for meta-irony that goes right over a kid’s head.]

As the game started, the two player characters (Swerver and Ashlee, a water/ice wizard and healer, respectively) are enjoying their weekly family dinner at the town’s tavern (the kid’s decided their characters were sisters).

There’s a crash in the kitchen, and the owner of the inn runs out, shouting that some HUGE rats just abducted her son Roger from right out of the kitchen.

The girls look at their parents, who cluck their tongues disapprovingly and murmur something like “Mmm. That’s too bad,” and return to their creamed corn.

“Aren’t you going to rescue Roger?”

“Oh… I suppose someone should, but not us.”

“Goodness no. It’s our one day off.”

“Why don’t you girls handle it?”

“Us?!?”

“Why not? You’ve certainly been training long enough.”

The kids look at their parents, each other, then exchange the very highest of high fives and race each other to the kitchen.

Kill Ten Rats

What followed was a (predictable, if you’re a jaded old gamer, but amazing if you’re them) descent into the inn’s basement, thence into a warren of tunnels beneath the inn, fighting a series of skirmishes with giant rats until finally facing off with the King Rat.

2015-03-10 - playing hero kids

I’m not going to describe the whole thing, but I am going to hit some of the highlights.

  • Sean picking out a girl character, all like “Whatever man, I’m a girl; get over it.”
  • Kaylee both picking a healer and maneuvering her character to take more of the damage to ‘cover’ her little brother. Best big sister ever.
  • Sean dealing with a ten foot high barrier in their way by instantly coming up with “I’m going to make a big water stair and then freeze it.” So awesome. [^We really need to watch Avatar: the Last Airbender and Legend of Korra with him, now that he’s old enough to remember it.]
  • Kaylee leading them into a ‘side cavern’ away from the main plot, and using her “searing light” as a way to see into series of stalagmites in which she could dimly make out… something. Turned out that “something” was four lost villagers, which she and her sister then freed and sent back out of the caves. Awesome.
  • The one rat who escaped every fight and kept retreating until he was finally beaten during the boss fight.
  • Sean spotting the King Rat paper miniature sitting by my notes and trying to convince me to bring him in during every. single. fight. we did.

“What are you going to do, Sean?”

“Well… I think the King Rat shows up now.”

  • The look on their faces when the rats in the last room used rat-sized tunnels to basically teleport around the edge of the room and sneak up on them.
  • The high-fives when King Rat went down.
  • Sean taking the King Rat paper mini with him, to bed.

This morning, seconds after he woke up, Sean came into the kitchen.

“Daddy, do you remember the game we played last night?”

“I sure do, bud.”

“With King Rat?”

“Yup.”

“I think… we should play that again.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah. We should play that again. Maybe… we should play it now?”

So… yeah. It was a pretty good game.

2015-03-10 - hero kids

Categories
Game Design Musing Online Table Top Table Top

Mulling Over *Mountain Witch* mashups

For the last few weeks, I’ve been working on stuff related to the Mountain Witch, specifically:

  1. Prepping for a traditional “ronin samurai” play-through of the game, hopefully on Hangouts, hopefully soonish.
  2. Pondering various settings hacks for the game, including Dwarves/Dragon, Adventurers/Castle Ravenloft, Spark Prisoners/Escaping Castle Heterodyne, and so forth.

The basic criteria with these settings/setups are:

  • Protagonists have been, until the start of this game, pretty much on their own.
  • Everyone is generally pretty good at what they do, and what they do isn’t usually very nice.
  • Any ‘special abilities’ they have don’t really make them better than they already are, they expand the scope with which they can apply their skill (for instance, having a bow lets you be a combat threat a much longer range than with the default daisho).
  • Trust – who you trust, how much you trust them, how that changes as the story progresses, and how that trust is used for or against you – is a huge deal.
    • Related to that: there is a ‘matrix’ of default relationships sort of built into the characters, so that the trust everyone has for each other is a bit uneven, right from the outset. (In the baseline game, it’s based on the zodiac of your birth, in the dwarf version it’s based on your birth stone, with Adventurers it’s… I dunno. Something something handwave figure it out before we play.)

A new setting hack occurred to me today, though, that’s really pretty interesting – the basic idea is using Mountain Witch to run The Hunger Games.

  • Protagonists are or have been pretty much on their own.
  • Everyone is generally pretty good at what they do.
  • Any ‘special abilities’ they have don’t really make them better than they already are, they expand the scope with which they can apply their skills (which is why everyone’s scrambling for special supplies at the outset of a Game).
  • Trust and how it’s used is a huge deal.
    • There is a ‘matrix’ of default relationships sort of built into the characters; in this case replace the Zodiac with the Districts, with a similar network of “you start off trusting these guys, and not these guys” for everyone, plus a bonus “and you really trust (or really don’t trust the other person from your own District).

At this point, all I’d need to do is map the basic outline to the four acts that Mountain Witch defaults to, with bonus points if the game actually starts well before the beginning of the Game itself (in the Capitol or something).

Well, that and change the two default questions players answer during character generation.

Double-bonus points if it’s not literally Hunger Games, but something in that general ‘survival YA’ vein.

Categories
Game Design Musing Table Top

Fate of the Four Nations (playing FAE in the world of Korra and Aang)

My family’s getting caught up on Avatar: Legend of Korra, which has unsurprisingly led to my daughter broaching the possibility of a Fate “Avatar” game.

Normally, I don’t do these sorts of conversions, but…

bolin begs
Ugh, if you’re gonna beg…

Anyway, here’s some random stuff I’ve come up with so far.

I’m seeing, ultimately, a mix of basic FAE stunts and the Assets from Ryan Dank’s Jadepunk, but for right now I’m just focusing on basic stunts, and (of course) figuring out bending in a way that doesn’t break everything when someone who isn’t a bender comes along.

So:

  • Benders need a Bending aspect. Doesn’t matter which one, really, though High Concept would be the obvious one, and Trouble aspects would be… very fun.
  • I’m a strong proponent of ‘always on’ Aspects, in terms of narration and whatnot, so…
  • In other words, you don’t need Stunts to bend, you just need them to reflect the stuff you’re notably good at or where you break the rules a bit.

What’s a basic Bender look like, then?

For that, I worked out ‘default training’ for your typical benders in the four disciplines, based on the martial arts styles that the elements are each based on. It worked out like this:

  • Earth Benders are initially trained to favor Careful attacks (listen, then act) and Forceful defense.
  • Water Benders are initially trained to favor Sneaky attacks and Careful defense.
  • Air Benders favor Clever attacks and Quick defense.
  • Fire Benders favor Flashy attacks and defend with… well, more Flashy attacks. It’s not a very defensive style.

Once that was sort of mapped out, I started coming up with… I guess “the first Stunts a bender-in-training would learn.” So:

Earth

  • Because I was trained to Listen, then Act, when I Carefully Attack during a Duel or Fight, any aspect that I created or discovered via Create Advantage can be tagged for +3, rather than +2.
  • Because I am trained in traditional Earth Bending, I get a +2 to Forcefully Defend vs. Flashy, Careful, or Forceful attacks.

Water

  • Because Water is a Subtle Style, I get a +2 when I Sneakily Create Advantage with my bending, during a Duel or Fight.
  • Because I am trained in traditional Water Bending, I get a +2 to Carefully Defend vs. Careful, Sneaky, or Clever attacks.

Air

  • Because Air Means Freedom, I get a +2 when I Cleverly Overcome obstacles with my bending.
  • Because I am trained in traditional Air Bending, I get a +2 to Quickly Defend vs. Flashy, Quick, or Clever attacks.

Fire

  • Because Fire is the Art of Power, I do +2 Harm when I successfully use my Bending to Flashily attack.
  • Because Fire is Hard to Control, I get a +2 to Flashily Overcome obstacles or aspects created by other benders.

The idea here is that a trained-but-not-yet-masterful bender is predictable – which can’t be said for either the completely untrained or the real masters.

You never know what an untrained bender will do.
You never know what an untrained bender will do.

What that means is, with a bit of study and knowledge, a skilled combatant (even or especially a non-bender) can find the holes in a typical bender’s style and take them to pieces (Ty Lee in A:TLA, or The Lieutenant in the first season of Legend of Korra). It also means that more advanced benders (thinking of Toph and Iroh as prime examples, but there are many others) are much more dangerous, because their personal styles have expanded past traditional bounds. (More stunts that essentially plug their defensive holes and give them bonuses to different kinds of actions.)

That’s the basics. That’s about where I’d start.

Beyond this, I’d probably start getting into Jadepunk-style Assets for animal companions (naturally), as well as weird stuff like Ty Lee’s nerve strikes (which basically bypass Stress and go straight to Consequences).

Thoughts?
Thoughts?
Categories
Game Design MMO & Computers Musing Online Table Top Table Top

Wildstar Tabletop Gaming, by way of FAE/Jadepunk

“You should do a Wildstar game,” opined my daughter.

“Sorry?” Her comment confused me, both because Wildstar is an MMO and because I was distracted at the moment due to the fact that we were both playing Wildstar at that moment.

“Like you did with DC Universe,” she explained. “A Fate version of Wildstar. That would be cool.”


I’d actually already had the idea, and had muttered incoherently about it to Ryan M. Danks while we jawed about his new FAE game Jadepunk over on the Googles. Ryan’s played a bit of Wildstar, and easily spotted the parallels between the MMO and his game.

SO, prompted for a write-up by a now-overwhelming list of two whole people, here’s a quick-and dirty hack of Jadepunk for running a Fate version of Wildstar… probably the … well, one of the most edge-case, limited-audience thing I’ve ever written a blog post on, and the competition in that arena is stiff.


Disclaimer: I’m really not much of a game hacker/designer. It’s not that I don’t have any inclinations in that direction, but for me it’s more rewarding to take a game as-written and make it work for a particular setting than it is to change a game around until it’s a perfect fit. For example, most “using Fate to run a supers game” hacks leave me cold, as it always feels like a lot of extra fiddling for something you can do with the game-as-written.

So… there won’t be many changes to baseline Jadepunk, here; this is more a mental exercise in using what’s already there to do the thing you want to do.

What We’re Starting With

At some point, I’m going to actually write about Jadepunk itself, why I like it, and why I didn’t think I would, but for now let’s just focus on what it is:

Jadepunk is a sort of elemental wuxia/gunslinger/steam- clock-work/Legend of Korra mashup built on the lovely, powerful-yet-lightweight Fate Accelerated system. My impression (which may differ from others) is that the primary differences between it and vanilla-FAE are:

  • A slightly different focus for the five main character aspects.
  • A reskinning of the six character Approaches, adding flavor and intent that matches the setting.
  • A more structured, “ads/disads/point buy” system for building “Assets” (née Stunts/Extras) for your characters.
  • A lot of world flavor that informs/constrains the ways in which Fate’s (intentionally) loosey-goosey Stunts/Extras/Aspects are implemented in this iteration of the rules.

If you love the loosey-goosey build style (I do), then the Assets system may be a bit of a culture-shock, but luckily I also love fiddly “build-it-yourself” power systems, so it didn’t take me long to both grok and enjoy playing with that system.

The titular jade is one of the main rules-constraining setting elements: it (via the five basically elemental-themed colors) functions as both magical power source for strange effects and technology-analogues (see: white-jade-powered wireless telegraphs, or red-jade shell casings) and conflict driver.

Finally, you’ve got the default setting of Kausao City, home to the rarest kind of Jade (black, a sort of magic omnigel) and a kind of Shanghai-meets-Babylon-5, ripe with the sort of corruption that sees the wealthy strangle the middle- and abuse the working-class. The PCs are (by default) assumed to be those who’ve decided to fight against those wrongs in a very “you have failed this city” kind of way.

Note: I don’t in any way need to reskin this game to Wildstar to make it worth playing – the rules, setting, and setup all make me quite happy – it’s good stuff.

Where We’re Trying to Get

Wildstar, by contrast, is a far-future sci-fi setting. The basic idea is a bunch of sentient races that have all been (to greater or lesser degrees) messed with by a elder, hyper-advanced race (referred to as “The Eldan” to make it easy to remember), now loosely divided into two “Alliance vs. Browncoat” factions.  The Eldan have long since vanished, and both of the sides in this conflict have recently discovered the planet Nexus, initially thought to be the Eldan homeworld but, in reality, more likely the site of the Eldan’s great (and apparently “successful”) multi-pronged attempt to achieve a technological singularity that (if nothing else) shuffled them off the perceivable wavelengths of our mortal coil.

Having found this place, both sides of this perpetual war are now poking around the remains of these massive Eldan experiments, trying to recreate the whole bloody mess, while shooting at each other, because what could possibly go wrong with that?

Similarities to Jadepunk include:

  • Similar “approaches” (professions)
  • Similar wild west, cobbled-together-tech feel
  • Similar elementally-themed power sources for said technology
  • The kind of setting that lends itself to the Assets system that Jadepunk uses.

Differences:

  • Class- and level-based character progression.
  • “Magic”
  • Different story focus: Jadepunk is a game about doing the right thing; Wildstar is a game about unlocking mysteries perhaps best left buried.

So Here’s the Hack

Differences aside, let’s say I want to run a quick and dirty Wildstar game. What do I do?

1. Throw out the idea of Wildstar classes, profession, and trade skills.

We’ll get there, but we’re going to come at things sideways. Read on.

2. Leave Character Aspects (p. 31) as is.

You’ll either need to fill in a lot of history for the players, or they’ll need to be familiar with the Wildstar setting, but once that’s done, it’s really no problem coming up with Portrayal, Background, Inciting Incident, Belief, and Trouble aspects that work.

3. Reskin a few of the Professions (Approaches)

  • Engineer, Explorer, Fighter, and Scoundrel are fine.
  • Professions aren’t Classes. Treat the Professions like sliders that indicate what your character is focused on. A warrior will probably lead with Fighter, sure, but so might a combat-focused Engineer (who ranks Engineer and Explorer at 2) while another “similar” gear-head goes Engineer 3, Scientist 2, Scoundrel 2… and is all about raiding old Eldan laboratories. You could have a whole party of “Stalkers” who play very differently…
  • Rename Scholar to Scientist, make a note that it’s a go-to profession for using Create Advantage to identify/create Environmental aspects during a conflict (“Hey, if we bombard these big flowers with gamma radiation, they create a remarkable low-gravity field…”), and carry on.
  • Replace Aristocrat with Settler. Settler has all (or most) of the same social applications, and is also used for building stuff that isn’t some sort of new invention (Engineer) or discovery (Scientist), all of which overlap or enhance one another in various ways.

The Settler creates social networks (villages, townships, even outposts), often by building the infrastructure that supports them. Despite their life on the “lonely frontier,” a Settler is a social creature, willing to speak up at a town meeting, step out on the dance floor at the next hoe down, negotiate trade agreements and land rights, and stand up for a new settlement in the face of a Red Sun Mercenary gang looking to shake down some farmers.

Overcome: Settler is used to influence others to do work together (or for you), either through charm or coercion, and to establish connections with others. Storytellers charm their audience, deputies interrogate suspects for information, and store owners barter their goods or services.

Create Advantages: Use Settler to create advantages representing infrastructure improvements (barricades, town walls, armament emplacements, hardened power grids) or populace-wide emotional states (Enraged, Emboldened, Shocked, Hesitant, Joyful, or Excited). You could give a speech to Inspire, stir a crowd into a Crazed Mob, find someone Talkative or Helpful, or get everyone working together to get the Jury-Rigged Missile Defense System operational before the Dominion air support shows up…

Attack: Settler only performs attacks as part of social duels.

Defend: Settler defends against any attempt to damage your reputation, change a mood you’ve created, tear down the infrastructure improvements you’ve built, or make you look bad in front of other people.

4. Do pretty much everyone else you want to do with Assets

Want your Granok to have extra tough skin? Want your Aurin to be especially good sneaking around in natural surroundings? Want to specifically emulate one of the skills from the MMO? Do all that with Assets.

  • Scanbot: Ally (Professional: Scientist 2 , Explorer 1, Sturdy 1, Resilient 1, Independent, Troubling: Easily Noticed) – basically a scientist teamwork-bonus following you around
  • Taunting Blow: Technique (Exceptional: Reduce damage shifts by 2 to apply “Taunted” aspect to target that can be used either to compel target or as a defensive boost to anyone the target attacks, other than the character.; Situational: Only on Success with Style; Situational: Only with Melee weapon/or/Only with arm-mounted Plasma Blaster)
  • Bruiserbot: Ally (Professional: Fighter 2, Explorer 1, Sturdy 2, Resilient 2, Independent, Troubling: Random Aggro)
  • Spellslinger’s Gate: Technique Focus: +2 to Explorer: Create Advantage – Stunned on Target(s) you either appear next to or which you were next to before you gated away.; Flexible (sort of) Create Advantage roll (less the +2 bonus) also counts as Overcome for character moving to adjacent zone (line of site required); Limited: Once per scene)

And the Assets system doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) be limited to combat. Assets are a great way to address some of the bonus skills provided by professions, or Wildstar’s trade skills… though some of those might be easier to do with a basic FAE stunt, with no Flaw. (“Because I am a Relic Hunter, I get a +2 to Overcome with Explorer (or: Scientist) when extracting useful resources from otherwise useless/broken Eldan artifacts.”)

A Word about Healing

Several of Wildstar’s “healing” classes focus on creating (or restoring) temporary shields around the targeted character, and I’d focus entirely on that for the Fate version: make Create Advantage rolls to create “Refreshed shields” effects that your ally can invoke for free on their next defense roll, for example. Assets along these lines might allow for a Create Advantage on an ally when you Succeed With Style (and take -2 shifts) on an attack on an adjacent enemy (or vice versa, for the defensive-minded)… or even create a temporary “device” asset on your ally with Sturdy: 2.

One of my favorite Medic abilities (the healing probes) would be something like “Exceptional: affects all friendlies in zone; Sturdy: 2; Limited: Requires Resonators; Situational: Success with Style; Troubling: Angers any enemies in zone (aggro).”

And that’s it

No, seriously, that’s about it. Most of tweaks are in character generation – once you’re playing, it’s pretty much just Fate as-written, and focusing on “tell me what you want to do, and we’ll figure out what to roll later.”

Categories
Game Design Musing Table Top

FATE: The Goddamn Batman

So there are ways to stat out Batman as a starting character. But (a) someone already did that and (b) I need an NPC version of Bats for a game where he’s one of the Big Three and the PCs are playing newly minted players on the super-powered stage.

So basically I started with the idea that Batman is a ‘skills’ character, and his best skills are going to be about 2 better than the best a ‘normal’ super can bring to the table, solo. That gave me a skills pyramid that peaks at “Fantastic” and literally includes every skill in the setting, even “Lore” (used for magic), which Bats understands the theory behind, even though he doesn’t have the requisite mojo (aspects) to cast spells.

My personal favorite bit is using the Cover Identity stunt from the new Fate System Toolkit to make Bruce Wayne, and then give Bruce, not Bats, the high Resource skill — Bruce is where the money is, after all.

As for the rest, I basically went with Batman as he’s portrayed in stuff like New World Order and Tower of Babel.

BatmanBatman_0683

Aspects

High Concept: World’s Greatest Detective
Trouble: Bruce Wayne is my mask
Dark Knight
All Those Wonderful Toys
Bats are great survivors

Skills
Fantastic (+6) Investigation
Superb (+5) Stealth, Provoke
Great (+4) Fight, Knowledge, Notice
Good (+3) Athletics, Will, Craft, Shoot
Fair (+2) Physique, Piloting, Drive, Contacts, Survival
Average (+1) Empathy, Burglary, Deceive, Lore, Rapport, Resources

Stunts
Elementary. You can pick apart a lie by analyzing the details. Use Investigate to defend vs. Deceive.
Utility Belt. An array of useful little things. Whenever you need something, you have it, provided it’s not something too unusual (for you) or too large to fit in a pocket, belt pouch, or backpack. When you say you have something, the GM should be likely to agree.
Batcave. Get a +2 to Craft or Knowledge for creating advantages or overcoming obstacles, provided you can access the cave.
Where did he go? You can roll for concealment even when being directly observed, provided any sort of “distraction”-type aspect can be invoked.
Secret Identity (see Cover Identity, FST): Bruce Wayne. [Aspect: Billionaire Playboy. Apex Skill: Resources (plus Deceive, when defending the identity.)]

Categories
Game Design Musing Table Top

Fate Core and Fate Accelerated Pseudo-review

So, a few days ago, a conversation I was having on g+ crossposted to this blog. That wasn’t intentional, but I let it stand, because it brought a few more people into the conversation and (also important) let me check out how well the google+blog integration for wordpress was actually working.

Anyway, the conversation/question was about how to handle Mind Control in FATE, and one of the comments here on the blog was kind of important:

“What is this ‘FATE’ of which you speak?”

I Have Been Remiss

What with one thing and another, I haven’t been able to play a lot of tabletop RPGs for the last… umm… lifetime of my youngest child. That doesn’t mean I’m not paying attention to (or kickingstarting) new games coming out, but I haven’t really been talking about them much, because I’m not playing them, and I feel playing a game is sort of important when determining if it’s worth recommending. “Dungeon World is an interesting game to read” isn’t exactly a value-add for the global conversation.

But FATE is different. I’ve been playing FATE (a little) and more to the point I’ve been playing with FATE (a lot) in terms of really digging into the rules and seeing what I can do with them. I thought I’d share what I’ve found so far.

FATE?

Once upon a time, there was a game called FUDGE, which was really more of a free toolkit of basic rules mechanics, a guideline on how to add color and setting flavor to those rules, and a very energetic group of folks on a mailing and IRC list, playing with the tools in the box.

Much later, Fred Hicks and Rob Donoghue (both guys I knew through the online Amber DRPG community) came up with FATE, which was basically the first publicly distributed version of of a FUDGE hack they’d been working on and running games with for a long while — I think of this public, Open Gaming License version of the game as Fate 2.0 (with Fate 1.0 being the private version), though I don’t know if that’s accurate. I did a lot of gaming stuff with that version of FATE, as did Dave Hill (specifically with the espionage game he was running at the time). I enjoyed it a lot, though it certainly had it’s rough edges.

The game continued to develop, and while a “Fate 3.0” never really saw the light of day officially, more advanced versions of FATE continued to be released as parts of new ‘branded’ games. This ‘era’ saw the release of Spirit of the Century, which focused on pulp-era heroics and was a big one that I played and ran a lot. Thanks to the way Fred and Rob (and now Lenny Balsera) distributed and supported the rules, lots of other game designers got in on the fun and wrote their own games with the FATE rules. Diaspora — ‘hard’ science sci-fi — was one that I also played and enjoyed. The big score for FATE during this period was probably the massive Dresden Files RPG, which showed some real growth and evolution in the way the game’s developers were using the game.

Things went a bit quiet for a bit, which is usually a sign that there’s something going on behind the scenes. The result of that period of relative silence was FATE Core, and the FATE Core Kickstarter.

Simply put, Fate Core is the best version of Fate we can possibly make, built upon over a decade of play and design experience by Evil Hat, and with the Fate player community at large, taking the best lessons from all of gaming and distilling them into a cohesive, compelling whole.

The FATE Core kickstarter started out with a modest goal of $3000 to release a PDF of the new game version. Instead, the project attracted over ten thousand backers and over 425 thousand dollars, and the stretch goals took the project from a single new PDF of the rule book out to Hardback rulebooks, new games, a ‘ultra-lean’ Fate Accelerated Edition that takes Fate Core and boils it down to 42 pages, more new games, dozens of settings and worlds worked out for the rules system, a young adult novel written by Carrie Harris… it’s crazy. Just crazy.

But What’s the Game Like?

The PDFs for FATE Core and Fate Accelerated are both out now for a “pay what you like” download. I’ve had a chance to mess with them for months as well, so let me see if I can sum it up.

This is a game that is intended to let the narrative drive the rules and not the other way around. This is a fancy way to say “figure out what you want to do, say what you want to do, and how to do that in rules will be obvious — don’t start with the rules, start with the story.” It demands characters that are proactive, and assumes those characters are competent.

The game uses classic Fate dice, specifically four. These are standard six-siders, with two sides are marked with a +, two sides with a -, and two sides blank. They are read by adding up the results, so ++[blank] – = +1, which is then added to your rating in a relevant skill, which are rated from 0 to 4 by default (though this range can be extended).

Most importantly, the game uses descriptive Aspects to represent important… umm… aspects of everything in the game, from characters, to scenes, to entire campaign settings. These Aspects are used to justify influencing the story or dice results; for instance, by providing bonuses to die rolls, allowing reroll of bad rolls, creating (or simply permitting) special effects, or being used as a justification for an action. Aspects are double-sided things, and can be used for or against anyone, regardless of where they originated.

In FATE, you can treat anything in the game like it’s a Character.

What’s that mean? Let’s say you’re playing a Game of Thrones-inspired game. Here’s your setting:

The Seven Kingdoms

Aspects (as of A Feast for Crows)

  • Under the Thumb of the Bitch Queen
  • Sparrows are Everywhere
  • Winter is Coming

Maybe you’re up near the Twins in the Riverlands, which is currently in turmoil for a number of different reasons. In Addition to the aspects on the whole of Westeros, this area also has:

The Riverlands

  • Guest Rights don’t mean as much as they used to
  • The Night is Dark, and Full of Terrors

All of these aspect are those the players can use to boost their actions or justify pretty much anything, and that’s ignoring the Aspects the characters themselves have. When you’re playing someone trying to negotiate the peaceful surrender of a castle under siege, both sides of the conflict might consider calling up bonuses from any of these before they ever mention their own traits (like “Kingslayer” or “Too Old to Care About Anything But a Good Death”).

More importantly, since everything in the game can be treated like a character, and Aspects on characters can be changed, you have legitimate (if not at all easy) ways to get rid of the Queen — hopefully the replacement will be better.

Mechanics

For those who have played other version of FATE in the past, I’ll simply say that the mechanics for conflicts are more streamlined than ever before. Forget about complicated ‘zone maps’ with ‘borders and barriers’ and all of that stuff. Forget about Block actions. The authors have taken a hard, hard look at the rules and realized that in many cases they were just using different names and applying minute edge-case rules to a bunch of stuff that was really all the same thing. Conflict, for example, has been boiled down to four clear, straightforward actions without costing you anything in the way of flexibility or options – you’re less restricted than you may have been in older versions of the game, because you don’t have to remember all the different options: it’s so much simpler now — figure out what you want to do first, in the story, and the rules will follow. Fate Core is excellent.

And, if anything, Fate Accelerated is even better.

FAE?

As good as Fate Core is, it’s still a 300 page rule book. Fate Accelerated is 42 pages, and manages to be both satisfying in terms of the character depth is provides (sacrificing none of the nuances of Aspects in the pared-down rules), and quite possibly the best set of pick-up-and-play rules around, which is awesome for someone with limited time.

The big difference between FAE and Fate Core is the skill list: FAE doesn’t have one. Instead, characters rate Approaches (reminds me a bit of In a Wicked Age, which would be a great FAE Hack). Once Kaylee gets back from Grandparent Camp, she and I (and maybe Katherine, if Kaylee can convince her) are going to take this out for a spin.

So far, I’ve worked out characters in FAE ranging from Marvel superheroes to Doctor Who companions, and read some wonderful examples of characters ranging from Star Wars to Warhammer40k Space Marines — maybe the only version of WH40k I’ve read that I’ve wanted to play since Space Hulk.

Bottom lines

There’s too much for me to write about in this game. From the fact that you do campaign creation during character creation, to the chapters of GM advice that make the PDF worth paying for by themselves, I feel there’s something for everyone, and I’m sure I’ll be writing about it some more (if nothing else than just to share the Doctor Who write-ups I’ve done). If you want a comprehensive review, try this one or, for FAE, this one. I think it’s a great game, and for a couple bucks (or even free, if you’re particular cynical/suspicious/doubtful) you can’t beat the cost of checking it out for yourself.

Categories
Game Design MMO & Computers Musing

Life in Eve: You Play How You Practice – Putting the Play into Practice (4/4)

Whew.

Okay, let’s see if we can pull all this musing into some kind of coherent plan for missions. There’s a lot here, so let’s boil it down.

Here are the parts of the topic already covered:

  • Part 1 and Part 2 talked about the fundamentals of PvP in Eve (as broken down by Ripard Teg), and how those could be applied to new missions.
  • Part 2.5 answered some questions that parts 1 and 2 generated.
  • Part 3 talked about the ways Ripard’s “stages of PvP” could map to “stages of a mission.”

From that, I want to boil down some of the rules and guidelines for making new missions based on the precepts of Eve PvP.

  1. Current PvE missions are kind of terrible. Outside of the UI, it is in PvE mission content that Eve truly shows its age: dated, primitive, simplistic, and boring.
  2. Aside from being boring, all but a few of the missions teach piloting behavior at direct odds to every other part of the game. Yes, running missions will teach you how to interact with Eve’s UI, but in all other respects missions actively train that player in ways that makes them demonstrably and steadily worse at every other kind of play in the game, including:
    • Poor ship selection. (Bigger is better! Battleships beat everything! Gear determines success!)
    • Poor ship fitting choices. (Cap rechargers! Propulsion modules are pointless! What’s a Warp Scrambler?)
    • Poor target selection/situational awareness. (Shoot the battleship first: it’s got the biggest bounty. What do these icons over my HUD mean? Nevermind, don’t care!)
    • Poor threat assessment. (There’s only fifty of them and one of me. No problem!)
    • Poor or non-existent manual piloting skills, let alone an understanding of transveral and/or signature/speed tanking. (I’ll just approach the next acceleration gate and slowboat that way as I kill everything.)
  3. I’m not talking about missions getting harder, unless by “harder” you mean “requiring some preparation and thought.”
  4. I’m not talking about replacing all the old missions, because the old missions form a backbone of salvage that the market needs. That said, those missions where you’re fighting 50 on 1 should CLEARLY MENTION that you’re not fighting a credible threat like capsuleers, and mention this OFTEN.
    • Corollary to this: mission agents should be dismissive of the threat of normal fleets to a capsuleer, and if anything overreact to the possible threat from even a small group of ‘capsuleer’ NPCs in a mission.
  5. Higher level missions do not automatically (or even often) equate to ‘you need a bigger ship’.
  6. The level of the mission should determine how much “ship fitting” hand-holding the player gets beforehand.
    • Level 1 and any Training missions: “Okay, this is the situation, in Detail. Because of those Details, that means you need a ship that can do X, Y, and Z. So: get a ship of [this class] and [this role], which includes ships like the [names here], and make sure that it has [this module], [this module], and [this module]. If you don’t have that stuff, you’re going to have a bad time.”
    • Level 2 missions: ”This is the situation, in Detail. You will need to do [These Things], which probably means [this general ship class] with appropriate modules to perform [X, Y, Z]. I leave it up to you to make sure you can perform as needed.
    • Level 3 missions: “This is the situation, pretty much. This is what you have to be able to do. Handle it.”
    • Level 4 missions: ”This is what little intel we have. Further instructions once you arrive and can give us eyes on the site. Good luck. We trust you.”

Important:  This is about bringing the skillset of the PvE pilot closer to skillset of the PvP pilot, so that acclimation from one mode of play to another is easier and, thus, more likely to see crossover.

This is not about moving higher level missions to low- or null-sec. Doing that won’t ‘force’ anyone in the game anywhere, except “out of the game.” It’s a GAME, people will play how they want, and if you try to force them, you’re just hurting the game.

Now, with all that TL;DR summary in place, let’s talk some specifics.

1. It’s Not the Size of the Ship…

Different ships fit different roles. Each class of ship has areas were they excel, and others where they are weaker. Bring only one type of ship to a fight, and you are that much more likely to encounter a “hard counter” that will annihilate you.

Missions should drive home an understanding of the strengths of various ship classes.

FF (Frigates): Excellent Tackle. Excellent Scout. Decent bait, provided support is nearby. Moderate to Good EWAR platform. Not-bad support option, in some situations. Reasonably good damage mitigation versus larger ships, thanks to high speed, but otherwise comparatively fragile. Comparatively poor damage.

DD (Destroyers): Serviceable tackle, if nothing else if available. Serviceable Scout, if nothing better is available. Decent bait, provided support is nearby.Generally poor EWAR platform. All but non-existent support capability. Moderate to poor damage mitigation (tank can be matched by some frigates, too slow to speed tank very well.) Comparatively OUTSTANDING damage: Excellent versus frigates or other destroyers. Excellent cost-to-damage option versus larger targets.

CC (Cruisers): Generally poor tackle versus smaller targets, good “heavy” tackle versus bigger targets. Not recommended for scouting, but often decent bait. Potentially excellent EWAR platform. Potentially excellent support capability. Good to great damage mitigation. Good to great damage (though you probably won’t get that AND good mitigation). Great all-around ship versus moderate resistance, and can tweak fittings to deal with many different types of ships. Best versatility for cost.

BC (Battlecruisers): Generally as a cruiser, but more so. Exceptions: poor EWAR or support except in gimmick small-gang fits. Even more flexible options in terms of modules makes it potentially more versatile than a Cruiser (giving up less to get what it needs) at higher cost that may or may not be worth it.

BB (Battleships): Poor tackle. Terrible scout. Obvious bait. Rarely used as ewar, except on dedicated ships. Support options are often somewhat gimmick fits. Great damage mitigation. Great damage (and can easily do both at once, by comparison to smaller ships), though applying damage to any smaller targets may require specific modules (webs, scramblers, target painters, et cetera).

One of the main reasons to make sure missions continue to ask for all classes of ship, regardless of mission level: it helps players understand that no class of ship ever becomes ‘useless’, regardless of the level of play you reach.

2. Your Role in this Mission, Should You Accept It…

Damage: We have a lot of missions like this already, and if any more are added, they should be against “capsuleer”- grade opponents, to teach pilots to access threats in way that more closely represents every other part of the game: one-tenth the number of ships for the same amount of overall threat.

1v1: Get capsuleers challenged to 1v1 “duels” versus NPC capsuleer opponents (or arrange for them to “challenge” an NPC via the agent). This can be balanced by level of mission, with ship restrictions to ensure the player doesn’t steamroll. Even better: don’t worry about the ship restrictions, and just have the NPC warp out if you show up in an inappropriate level of ship or bring backup. Have this sort of thing cause the failure of the mission, since the point is to get the guy to fight, pin him down, and kill him, whereas scaring him off will “set our pursuit back by months, if not years.” HOWEVER: if you can get a scram on the guy and THEN bring in backup, that should work. It does in the rest of the game. Honor-shmonor.

I’m not going to do more of these, because most of them show up in some other area: Damage dealing is requisite.

Wait, one more consideration: Range. Some missions should specifically call for sniper fits, mid-range fits, or brawler fits, and what the means should be different for different classes of ships.

Long range artillery: Awesome, though maybe not THIS awesome.

Tackle: Oh what fun we can have here.

First guy through the accel gate. Sort of like ‘cheating’ at the 1v1 above. The idea is to go in on an otherwise superior opponent and get a tackle, holding it until your (NPC) backup arrives. Higher level missions provide the NPC target with webs, neuts, scrams, smartbombs, backup of his own, and may mean the backup takes longer to arrive.

“I was there.”

Speaking of giving your NPC forces a chance to warp in, why the hell don’t we have a mission like this?

That would be cool.

“There are pilots camping our station in snipe battlecruisers.” – I’d love to see a way to do this right in high-sec, right on the station where the Agent is at. “Enemy” NPCs show up outside the station. You need to get tackle on them so NPC support can come in and finish them off. Instant-undocks can make getting away from the fire of the ship much easier (maybe an earlier mission walks the player through making one for a ‘scouting/lookout’ mission). Get tackle and let the NPCs mop up. All NPCs involved would be impossible for others to shoot without being CONCORDed, to prevent mission griefing.

In-mission variation: The mission is in a non-gated deadspace pocket, and the pilot is encouraged to warp in at range to land on top of the offending ship. Those that don’t do that get a quick lesson in how to spiral approach. 🙂

In fact, seeing the way in which the UI can be affected by the new scanner overlay coming out soon, I have NO DOUBT that a ‘how to spiral approach’ tutorial missions could be built, with blinky box overlays on the HUD to show where to manually pilot in order to keep from getting splatted by a distant sniper.

Catch that guy before he gets out of range! Basically, get scram/web tackle before the NPC leaves. The best idea here is if you have a mission where the enemy have set up a Stargate (See: “Halt the Invasion”) and the enemy ships appear through the stargate and land in your trap. If you get both scram/web, the target dies. If you get only one, he might make it out. If you get neither, he’s gone, and you fail.

EWAR/Support: Sometimes damage isn’t the point. In this situation, you’re asked to come in as support for an NPC gang or even a solo pilot. Specific types of EWAR will probably be called for, and the reasons for the need given:

  • “We need target painters to get a bead on those little bastards.”
  • “We need tracking disruptors so we can get under the guns of those big bastards.”
  • “We need energy neutralizers to break the enemy’s self-repair capability.”
  • “We need ECM so the enemy rages in local and leaves.”
Support modules (repairs, etc) are called for in something like one training mission to sort of ‘resurrect’ a damaged ship. It’s terrible. Missions for logi/support pilots should exist, and thanks to the new support frigates and tech1 cruisers, can start right away. The job is simple: wait for the NPC to shout for help, get in there and keep him standing. Alternately, warp into an ongoing battle and try to turn the tide of the fight with your amazing rep skills.
Medic!
Scouting/Bait

Setting up the conditions of the fight to be favorable to your side — a great player skill to train. This is an excellent opportunity to build missions around flying around a system “Looking like bait.”  Try to get the NPC enemies to engage you by looking helpless and alone, then tackle them when they show up and your backup jumps in. Level 1 versions of this mission might lead you by the nose, so you get an idea of what’s needed (“Warp to Planet 1 at 100. Now Align to the Sun. Warp to the Sun at 0. Now warp to the Asteroid belt on Planet 1 at 50. Now the Acceleration gate and jump through. Hold there. Here they come!”), while higher level missions merely tell you “Get their attention and lure them into the complex before you call us in.”

"Clearly, I am a harmless loon. Come fight me!"

Non-bait scouting might be more of a tutorial, and teach the player to use d-scan on 360 max range, narrow beam long range. 360 short, and so on.

Does anyone have a cyno ship handy?”

Combine any of the tackle/bait ideas with a “prototype (nee: civilian) cynosural field generator” and have the player call in their backup with a full-blown cyno. (No beacon in local, and ‘works’ in high-sec — hence “prototype”.)  This is a mission — one of the few — that should send the player to nearby space held by the enemy faction. Some missions might be a “bait, get them to attack, then light the fire and hope you live” situation, while others would be more of a ‘sneak our forces in behind enemy lines” scenario which, if done correctly, would result in no combat all. “Tiptoe in, tiptoe out. Like a cat, one might say.” Obviously, as with the rest of the game, any size ship might be appropriate for a cyno job, depending on the type of mission.

There is, not for nothing, an excellent opportunity here to tie this kind of mission into the lore of everything that’s happening in New Eden right now. Tensions between the empires are rising, and these sorts of behind the scenes sneak attacks would be great to get into the game.

Would it be cool to be able to call Hot Drop O’clock on an enemy force you tricked into engaging? Sure.

You know what else would be cool?

What if you take a mission from the Minmatar, and they want you to sneaky-cyno a fleet of their ships into Gallente space? No combat, of course — it’s all just ‘training maneuvers’ — completely legitimate. Still, probably better not to ask any questions, though you might be able to guess their reasons.

So…

All classes of ships used, in all levels of missions.

Jobs to perform that mirror the roles you play in PvP, and the play priorities.

Sometimes, the need to run after you win. Sometimes that means having missions where you kill a specific target and get out, and sometimes it means MANY missions should have stupidly overwhelming backup arrive on the field about a few minutes after the last NPC dies. Angry backup.

No real changes to the current missions. (Except making sure players understand that non-capsuleers are NOT in the same classes as the pilots “like you”… and making low-sec mission rewards actually provide rewards comparable to the risk/cost of living in lowsec, so they’re worth it.)

Fitting priorities and expectations more in line with every other part of the game. Basically, short and brutal fights where mobility, buffer, and burst tanks far outweigh the importance of cap stability, and tackle modules actually AFFECT THE NPCS. (I’m looking at you, Faction Warfare destroyers that fly 5500 meters/second while scrammed. So stupid.)

What do you guys think?

Categories
Game Design MMO & Computers Musing

Life in Eve: You Play How You Practice (3/4): Stages of a Mission

So let’s continue this conversation about how to create new PvE missions in Eve that are more engaging, interesting, and just generally “better” by applying the fundamental rules of PvP as explained by Ripard Teg over here. This is the last the of “mapping” posts; the final post will give examples of the kinds of missions we could get out of this method.

Stages of a Mission

From Ripard:

All PvP in EVE comes down to five basic stages:

  • Preparation
  • Travel
  • Engagement
  • Combat
  • Disengagement

Make no mistake: all PvP in EVE operates within these five stages in one way or another. If you’re not the one following these steps, your enemy is.

Preparation

This is where you decide what ship you’re going to bring for the job at hand, and a place where Eve Missions truly fail to reflect every other area of the game. Missions as they stand right now are simple: bring the biggest fucking thing you can squeeze through the acceleration gate. I if doing level 4 missions, just make sure you ship can put out some combination of sustained tanking + sustained damage that equals about 1000 dps. The end.

This teaches terrible lessons to a new player to the game in terms of making good ship selection for the task at hand.

“There are war-dec pilots camping our station in snipe battlecruisers.”
“I’ll get my battleship.”

“We have hostiles on our static wormhole in cloaky tech 3 cruisers.”
“I’ll get my battleship.”

“The FC is doing a frigate roam.”
“I’ll get my battleship.”

“There’s an enemy destroyer in the Medium Complex in system.”
“I’ll get my battleship.”

“Does anyone have a cyno ship handy?”
“I’ll get my battleship.”

“I need someone to scout ahead of the fleet.”
“I’ll get my battleship.”

It also leads to frustration on the part of anyone dealing with such a pilot, because they say things like:

“Man, I feel so cheap and ghetto in this frigate.”

Consider: the guys you’re flying with might spend 90% of their time in those ghetto frigates you’re talking about, successfully killing idiots in Battleships that think they can beat every other sub-capital ship in the game. You are not endearing yourself. Some of the best solo and small-gang groups in the game fly frigates ninety percent of the time, not despite the fact that frigates are twitchy, hyper-responsive, relatively fragile, and the ship class most unforgiving of mistakes, but because of that.

We can address this issue in new missions in a number of ways, but the main one is this: Disconnect the size of the ship from the level of the mission.

Instead, the level of the mission should determine how much personal research the player needs to do to figure out what sort of ship they need to bring to the mission.
  • Level 1 and any Training missions: “Okay, this is the situation, in Detail. Because of those Details, that means you need a ship that can do X, Y, and Z. So: get a ship of [this class] and [this role], which includes ships like the [names here], and make sure that it has [this module], [this module], and [this module]. If you don’t have that stuff, you’re going to have a rough time.”
  • Level 2 missions: “This is the situation, in Detail. You will need to do [These Things], which probably means [this general ship class] with appropriate modules to do [X, Y, Z]. I leave it up to you to make sure you can perform as needed.
  • Level 3 missions: “This is the situation, pretty much. This is what you have to be able to do. Handle it.”
  • Level 4 missions: “This is what little intel we have. Further instructions once you arrive and can give use eyes on the site. Good luck. We trust you.”

To quote:

Your first job is to understand what kinds of ships the FC wants and to comply with that. If the FC is asking for cruisers and below, respect that. Do not bring your battleship.

Some of the requirements of the missions may hinge on:

  • Flying style — “Hit approach and F1” should not be the only tactic people need to know.
  • Range of the engagement (brawling, point range, skirmish range, sniper range).
  • The job you’re supposed to actually perform.

Travel

Holy crap do some high-sec people bitch about having to travel a couple jumps. They’re like the New Englanders of Eve. Sometimes trouble will come right to you and you’ll fight in your home system. But sometimes you need to travel.

Why the HELL are the missions always defensive? If, in Gallente missions, I’m fighting Amarr anyway, why the hell am I not being sent on away missions to Amarr space sometimes? Genesis is, like, five jumps away! Take the fight to them once in awhile. Sheesh.

The way missions work right now sets up bad expectations in pilots encountering PvP for the first time.

“Where are we going?”
“Roam’s forming in Rens. We’ll check out twenty or thirty systems in Great Wildlands, then up into Curse and maybe Scalding Pass, then we’ll see how it’s looking by then.”
“I… think I’ll sit this one out.”

I’m not saying every mission should be 15 jumps away, but cut the fucking apron strings sometimes: take some cues from the Gurista and Sisters of Eve epic story arcs. Travel is a part of (say it with me) every other part of the game.

If you really want to do something unspeakably cool: set up a mission where the pilot gets to take a Titan bridge. That would be excellent. Bonus points if the mission agent chews you out for bumping the titan out of position.

And how about gate-to-gate-to-gate escort missions, designed on the lines of basic fleet scouting? Yes, some mission griefing is possible in that situation, but it could be mitigated by making sure Players shooting the escort NPC was a Concord-able offense.

Engagement

Setting up the conditions of the fight to be favorable to your side.

This is an excellent opportunity to build a mission around flying around a system “Looking like bait.”  Try to get the NPC enemies to engage you by looking helpless and alone, then tackle them when they show up and your backup jumps in. Level 1 versions of this mission might lead you by the nose (“Warp to Planet 1 at 100. Now Align to the Sun. Warp to the Sun at 0. Now warp to the Acceleration gate and jump through. Hold there. Here they come!”), while higher level missions merely tell you “Get their attention and lure them into the complex before you call us in.”

Try to look helpless.

Combat

We already have LOTS of fights where you have to kill everybody and their pet dog. Far more interesting and useful are situations where you’re getting messages from your Mission Agent about different targets. Level 1 missions start out with one guy you need to kill and can then leave, while Level 4s might get to the point where you need to tackle two different guys and put damage on a third to keep him interested until your NPC backup arrives, followed by methodically working through a randomized list of named targets.

EXPLAIN, IN THE MISSIONS, WHAT THE HELL “Yellow boxed” and “Red boxed” are, and what they indicate. Have Aura do a damned tutorial, with proper animations.

(Unrelated: for your colorblind players, the UI really needs to be updated so players can change the colors for “yellow” and “red” boxes… and damn near anything else.)

For Bonus Points:

Have fights where your job is logistics, with NPCs calling for reps. Start with Logi frigates and one guy you need to protect, to level 4 missions with Logi Cruisers, 30 friendlies on the field, and randomized broadcasts for repair (this would need some kind of UI additions, probably, but it would still be extremely valuable and pretty damn fun).

For MORE bonus points:

Have missions where you don’t get support from NPC repair ships without using your fleet “Broadcast” buttons and/or hotkeys.

Disengagement

Sometimes, winning means knowing when to get out. That means (a) having missions where you kill a specific target and GTFO, but it also means that many, MANY missions should have stupidly overwhelming backup arrive on the field about [rand(7-15)] minutes after the last NPC dies. Angry backup.

The enemy now knows exactly where you are, exactly what your composition is, exactly how many of your ships they have destroyed, and they are probably watching you. You are extraordinarily vulnerable at this moment.

Mission Agents will direct you to recall drones, “scoop loot”, and will be advised to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. If an allied NPC fleet of ships is on the field, they may advise you to stay fairly close to them until they’re “ready to leave.”

These new missions, the way they are structured, will not substantively add to the overall “NPC Loot” intake in the overall game: we have missions for that, so these missions are about ISK, Loyalty Points, and a few nice drops off a few key ships. These are not missions where it’s a good idea to reship into a Noctis.

Almost Done!

Did any of this give you cool ideas for new missions? Share them in comments, and I’ll add them to the fourth-and-final post.

Categories
Game Design MMO & Computers Musing

Life in Eve: You Play How You Practice (2.5/4) — Answering Questions and Comments

The last couple posts have attracted some good questions and feedback, and raise some points I want to address before I move forward.

The questions came in from all over, however, so apologies if I don’t attribute the questions to the right speaker in all cases.

Narol Decyg:

I would personally LOVE for missions to get harder.

That’s… fine, but it’s really not what I’m talking about. When I said the mission NPCs should get about 10 times harder, I also said there should be about one-tenth as many of them. That isn’t about difficulty, but about teaching players in missions that five ships can be a credible and dangerous threat, so that when they see five players coming at them, they don’t think “oh, I can tank 50 NPCs — I’ve got this in the bag.”

More about his further into the post, actually.

Druur Monakh

One core aspect of PvP is evaluating and taking a risk against ultimately unknown odds – namely your human, unpredictable opponent. No AI will ever be able to emulate that, no matter how PvP-like the mechanics are. PvE would have to simulate the inventiveness of real players to clear this hurdle, and I don’t see it happening in any game.

Absolutely. There’s really no way the AI is going to get as good or as hard as playing against another good player (it can easily simulate fighting a bad player, though) — you can rebalance the NPCs to be generally harder to defeat, however, and use fewer OF them, to teach players better threat recognition.

Also, far more of what I’m talking about for these missions is about what the player’s are called on to do, not what they’re going to fight. Missions right now are stupidly, stupidly simple: go in, kill everything, and (sometimes) grab A Thing and bring it back or (rarely) deliver a thing to a box. It’s fucking terrible.

More on that further down.

Niamh Aideron

… or move more missions to low sec but increase the rewards to reflect the increased risk from PvP ambush.

Two thoughts on this:

1.

I don’t personally believe that moving currently-highsec missions to lowsec will do any good — ultimately, I think it will harm the game, to be honest, because there are people playing the game who, if forced to travel to Low or Null sec to continue doing what they enjoy doing (missions), will simply quit playing. Most of us know we don’t want that, and the people that say they do are idiots. Multiplayer games only work with multiple players.

With that said, I do think missions in low-sec should have higher payouts than they do currently. Missions given in highsec but going to lowsec should pay better than highsec going to highsec, and lowsec-located agents sending you to lowsec should pay very well indeed — in Loyalty Points, especially.

I don’t believe in forcing players a certain direction, but I do believe in luring them. 🙂

2.

What I’m advocating in this series of posts are mission changes that call for techniques and ship fitting philosophies that have use and merit valuable in areas of the game OTHER than PvE.

I don’t care where people live. At all. I definitely don’t see the ‘natural flow’ of the game to be High -> Low -> Null. That’s just group-think from a (very) organized minority in the game.

What I do care about is whether or not players feel as though they are suitably equipped to take a weekend roam into low-sec, or spend a month ‘deployed’ to the constellation controlled by Mordu’s Legion. Missions don’t do that right now, they could, and really they should.

MBP

I don’t agree that you can improve EVE PVE content by making it more like PVP. PVE players and PVP players want different things and trying to turn one into the other will just annoy both.

There is already one type of mission in the game which meets most of your criteria: the universally reviled low sec courier mission.

Forcing some hi-sec distribution-mission-running hauler to go into low-sec for a mission isn’t “making the missions more like PvP” — that’s just taking someone and throwing them into an environment where they don’t know what to do. That’s not what I’m after at all.

As I said, I have no interest in trying to force all high level missions into more dangerous space. That is often the solution that people talking about this come up with, especially if they just happen to be from nullsec. I think, personally, it’s a bad solution.

What I’m talking about is changing the design of PvE missions so that they can be completed following the same basic approach and fitting philosophy as PvP. For instance:

  • Mission runners should know the difference between a Warp Disruptor and Warp Scrambler, why you’d want one over the other in different situations, and how it interacts and/or complements a Stasis Web… or a tracking disruptor… or whatever. More, there should be missions that call on players to use one or the other (or, for a real challenge, both at the same time on two different targets).
  • One of the primary design differences between PvP and PvE fittings is Cap Stability, or how long you can run everything on the ship before you run out of juice. Standard Mission Fits go for 100% cap stability forever, because slow and steady wins the day. In the process, however, you sacrifice so much on your ship fitting that your ship is laughably easy to destroy in PvP. PvP ships, conversely, aim for about 2 minutes of functionality in a solo or small-gang situation, and if they get more that’s either a specialty-fit ship or a happy accident. Active Capacitor Booster modules are a mystery to Mission Runners, because why would you use something that only keeps you Cap Stable until the charges ran out… and fill up your hold with the Charges in the meantime? THAT’S WHERE MISSION LOOT GOES.  Conversely, passive Cap Rechargers are horrible, horrible things to see on a ship that’s intended to be used against other players, and I see them on people’s ships ALL THE TIME. I think Sleeper-killing PvE ships are quite close to a happy medium between the two — closer to the sweet spot for PvP-teaching PvE content than anything else out there right now: my alt’s Drake can run everything on the ship for about eight minutes, which is just about enough to clear a Class Two sleeper site, solo. If I’m not solo, it’s even easier, because I can flip off some of my tank in between, and more to the point, I’m fit in such a way as to be a semi-credible threat if I happen to get attacked while running sites.

Those are a couple examples. I’ll have more in part four of the series.

The point of all that is this: when a pilot decides to join some friends for pvp roam, and the FC says “Just bring something fast with short range guns, MWD, scram/web, and a buffer armor tank”, the pilot in question can say something besides “Whut?”

Gor

Your posts got me thinking about one of the things I’ve always disliked about Eve.

5 low investment, low cost ships can and will demolish far more massive and expensive ships.

To this day I think that the cost of ships is out of balance in Eve. If a ships material cost is going to be 10x more than another ship, it needs to bring the firepower, armor and abilities at 10x the magnitude. Eve doesn’t do this, except in PvE.

I don’t know if you agree or disagree, but I’d love to hear you address the ship size/cost imbalance in PvP.

Man, there is so much to talk about here that it could easily be its own post, but I’m going to stick to my guns and get all these comments addressed.

So let me just break this into tiny parts and talk about each one.

5 low investment, low cost ships can and will demolish far more massive and expensive ships.

First, I will challenge the term “low investment.” If you’re talking about skill points, Frigates use EXACTLY the same gunnery, missile, and tanking support skills as battleships. Especially when it comes to tanking skills, a well-skilled Frigate pilot and well-skilled Battleship pilot are IDENTICAL.

Further, with the skill tree changes, there is very little training time ‘distance’ between a well-skilled frigate pilot and a well-skilled battleship pilot in terms of just flying the ships around. The Navigation skills for a good pilot of either are identical, and training distance from level 4 Racial Frigate to Level 4 Racial battleship is ~12 days.

So the only truly significant difference in training time is the guns, because right now, if you want to shoot tech 2 large guns, you need to train both tech 2 small guns and tech 2 medium guns. I think it’s important to mention that because once the new expansion drops, guns will be only thing in the game that works that way. Missile systems and Drones have never worked that way, and all the Ship skill trees that work that way today (you need tech2 Assault Frigates to fly tech 2 Heavy Assault Cruisers) are being changed in a month or so. I think it won’t be long before the Gunnery skill tree changes as well — it sure as hell should change, because it’s stupid to have it work differently than everything else in the game.

Anyway, ignoring guns (which I am), you’re talking about less than two weeks of training time between a well-skilled frigate-only pilot and well-skilled battleship pilot, so I’m dismissing the idea of “low investment” in terms of skills, because in the “five frigates versus one battleship” example you give, the amount of training represented by either side is — all other things being equal — vastly in favor of the five frigate pilots.

What about cost?

There’s a tendency, when comparing ships, to just look at hull costs, and that’s terribly misleading, because ships have fittings, and those fittings narrow the cost gap between ships immensely, even if you fight on a budget.

For example, almost every one of the frigates I fly — all of whose naked hulls cost about half a million isk, give or take — will be worth about 12 to 13 million isk once they are fully fitted and supplied with appropriate amounts of ammunition for PvP (read: enough for two reloads, most of which will never be used before the ship explodes). If I’m flying a Fed Navy Comet (which I can acquire for rougly 1.5 million isk via Faction Warfare, but which retails on the open market for roughly 13 to 14 million for just the hull), the value of the ship goes up to about 22 million, all told — roughly the same value as the Destroyers I fly.

(Yes, you can fly them cheaper. You can also fit them more expensively. I’m using my fitting standards as the baseline, because it’s what I know.)

By comparison to my average Comet, this Vexor we killed is actually the cheap ship — the hull plus fittings were only 15 million. I’m pretty sure I’ve lost Tormentors  more expensive than that, and I don’t really even like Tormentors.

“But,” you protest, “that’s a bargain basement fit for a cruiser. That’s hardly a fair comparison to your frigate, which is fit with mostly tech 2 modules.”

Sure. This Thorax is closer to 40 million — about the cost of three of my frigates or two of my destroyers, and as a general rule I would think it fair to expect it to BEAT or drive away three of my frigates or two of my destroyers in an otherwise-even fight.

But if three frigates brought exactly what they need to fight a thorax (read: a lot of tracking disruptors and enough webs to keep me from jumping a gate), I might die without killing any of them. That’s just preparation on their part and poor target-selection on mine: that particular thorax is a terrible choice for fighting frigates, and in any case that’s not what I built it for. (I didn’t build it to fight two battlecruisers and two tech 3 cruisers either, unfortunately, even though that’s what I ended up facing.)

On the flipside, I might take a Vexor (which is now entirely comparable to and a better brawler than the thorax) against worse odds — three destroyers, for example — and hope to kill one and escape the other two. These things happen.

Let’s get to bigger ships, though. How about this Myrmidon? Aside from some changes I’d made to the tackle modules, there’s really nothing wrong with that fit as far as PvP goes — it’s a fairly traditional triple-rep Myrm, and comes in at right around 105 to 110 million isk. (I’m adding a bit, because of the drones he was attacking with that don’t show up on the kill.) Based on the value of the ship, that should be the match of 8 to 10 of my 12-13 million isk frigates, right?

Maybe. Or maybe it really isn’t that hard to find a single frigate that’s worth just as much. Are those two ships comparable? Could one kill the other?

Is the Isk value any kind of indicator of the correct answer?

Of course not.  That’s no more relevant than the fact that Guardians in LotRO have really expensive gear and Loremaster’s armor is relatively inexpensive by comparison. Remember one of the Principles from yesterday: You are not your ship.

To this day I think that the cost of ships is out of balance in Eve.

Bottom line: don’t try to tell me that the Isk value of the ship’s naked hull is any relevant indicator of its threat level. If you point me at a Battleship, I’ll point you at a frigate that cost more, and I won’t even have to look that hard — that fight was last night, and frankly I’d rather try to solo the Armageddon than the Hawk.

If a ship’s material cost is going to be 10x more than another ship, it needs to bring the firepower, armor and abilities at 10x the magnitude.

The fittings on the ships level out actual difference in ship values in many cases, and even if they didn’t, ISK value is no indication of actual worth, any more than Plate Mail should mean that you always beat the guy wearing the robe. It helps, but it doesn’t determine the winner.

Second, when it comes to little ships killing bigger ships, I have two words for you: Star Wars. Here’s another two: Battlestar Galactica. How about…

Actually, no: it’s easier to say that the idea of smaller ships being able to hurt larger ships if they can get in close enough to get “under” their larger, slower guns is one well-established in the genre, and leave it at that. Big ships expecting to fight smaller ships either need support from smaller ships, or need to fit themselves in such a way as to be able to deal with little ships.

Which brings me to…

Third, when you’re talking about battleships getting demolished by five frigates, your usually not talking about a PvP-fit battleship — you’re talking about a PvE fit battleships who think they are badass and are actually incredibly poorly fit for PvP.

The video’s sadly been taken off Youtube because of the background music used (which is stupid: that background music encouraged me to buy three of that band’s albums), but I’ve seen a solo Dominix pilot fight a gang consisting of a Brutix, Hurricane, three Rupture cruisers, and a Stiletto interceptor, kill all but two of the ships, and leave the field intact.

Would I do as well in such a ship? No, obviously, but that’s on me, not the ship — I’m bad at Eve. With the introduction of the Micro Jump Drive, battleships really have a new lease on life in solo and small-gang PvP, because they can force engagements into their best effective range (where things like Heavy Neuts can be applied to pesky small ships) or, if their opponent won’t come in and hold them down, they simply leave the field with the MJD. And all of that really ignores the updates coming to the Battleships with the summer expansion.

Battleships are better than frigates. Frigates cannot be fit in a such a way as to deal with every eventuality, from fighting a battleship to fighting frigates. Battleships can be – making them quite literally a bristling island of threat versus whatever they might face.

Can they deal with 50 opponents at a time, like they can in PvE?  Of course not, because PvE missions are incredibly misleading.

If a ship’s material cost is going to be 10x more than another ship, it needs to bring the firepower, armor and abilities at 10x the magnitude. Eve doesn’t do this, except in PvE.

This is where a tremendous amount of the disconnect comes between PvE missions and PvP. Missions set a terrible expectation for new Eve pilots, and the first time a PvPer shows them the reality of the situation, it is a cold slap in the face.

The problem is, I know exactly why the missions are set up the way they are and (worse) given the reason for it, I can even understand and conceptually agree with it.

The thing you ABSOLUTELY MUST remember about current mission NPC is this:

You Are Not Fighting Capsuleers

Now, as soon as I say this, everyone who knows anything about the lore of the game will nod their heads and say “right, right…” but how often do you really think about that in the game? Almost never.

But the fact of the matter is, YOU are playing someone who, with little or no crew (depending on the size of the ship) is controlling a space craft the way you would control your own body. It is your body, for all intents and purposes, and when you face mundane ships crewed with mundane humans, who all have to do everything so incredibly slowly, you fucking destroy them, because you are quite literally a god among mortals — an adult challenging first graders.

This is you.

Yes, you are the match for fifty or sixty or even more of these insects. Good for you.

The problem is, you kick the shit out of grade-schoolers for months on end, and you start to think this is normal — that this is how the whole universe matches up to you — 50:1, with the advantage to the 1.

Suddenly you run into someone else like you.

They aren’t slow. They aren’t weak.

And they haven’t been spending their time fighting seven-year-olds at recess. They’ve been fighting with other grown-ups.

I call this the Amberite Issue — a tribute to the Amber series by Roger Zelazny — also known as “What do you mean there are other gods?” In short, you are immortal and impossibly powerful to nearly anyone you’ll meet in whole universe… except for the other people like you. To them, you’re just another young punk who needs to get his ass whupped a couple times to learn some respect and actually become marginally useful.

NOW this is you.

I know why CCP does this: you are a god, and you should get a chance to feel like one. I get that. Some of those ridiculous “50 vs. 1” missions need to stay, if only for flavor.

But when they come, they should REALLY be pointed out by the mission agent.

“Listen, they have an entire fleet defending this base — support craft, battleships, missile batteries, everything — but they don’t have any capsuleers, so really this is going to be a walk in the park.”

(I mean, that’s why Sleepers are so nasty — they’re almost capsuleers.)

Then do a mission where the whole defense force is, say, “a small squad of five novice capsuleers” and have it be just as hard as the full fleet of normal pilots.

When that’s done, make sure the mission agent mentions that while that was hard, at least they weren’t actual full-fledged capusleers like yourself.

Make sure they say that, and make sure they say it a lot.

That, plus getting the pilots some experience with tactics and modules, might help with the shock of trying PvP.

That’s it.

More soon!

Categories
Game Design MMO & Computers Musing

Life in Eve: You Play How You Practice (2/?)

So here’s the premise:

  1. PvE mission content in Eve comprises some of the weakest PvE content in any MMO, and is inarguably one of the weakest, least-fun parts of Eve itself.
  2. PvP in Eve is pulse-pounding, adrenaline-dumping, heart-beating-like-sneakers-in-a-clothes-dryer stuff.
  3. We can improve the PvE in Eve by adopting some of the fundamental guidelines of PvP, and in the process make it much less of a shock for a PvE-experienced player to PvP.

In the last post, I talked about how a couple of the fundamentals mentioned by Jester can apply to missions, specifically:

Don’t fly what you can’t afford to lose 

Bigger is not always better. In Eve, going Bigger can be a wildly inappropriate and/or stupid choice. Missions should call for lots of different sized ships, depending on the mission and irrespective of the LEVEL of the mission: there is no reason we can’t have Level 4 missions where a tech 1 Atron frigate is a viable option — maybe the best option — and many good reasons why we should have them.

Assume what you’re flying is lost the moment you undock

Variations in mission content should surprise pilots routinely and cost pilots resources beyond ammo. Sometimes ships blow up. Some missions (like the one in “Advanced Combat” Tutorials) should require a ship be sacrificed for the greater good.Truly demanding missions where death is likely should have commensurate rewards if you can pull it off without losing the ship.

In fact, why not get rid of the idiocy of Ship Insurance and just have missions with a high chance of ship loss pay out at least as well as Platinum Insurance on the most appropriate class of ship for the mission? That way, you’re compensated if you lose the ship, and dancing a jig if you don’t.

“But what if the pilot brings friends?”

YES. WE SHOULD PROBABLY TEACH PLAYERS THAT BRINGING FRIENDS TO HELP WITH TOUGH FIGHTS IS A GOOD IDEA.

90% of PvP in EVE is preparation

PvE players learn no sense of PvP threat scale from doing PvE: they tank 15 battleships, 20 cruisers, and 10 frigates in a mission and can’t figure out why five condors flown by regular players can kill them in about three minutes. Back-of-napkin calculations suggest PvE mission opponents should be ten times more dangerous and one tenth as numerous, ballpark.

But that’s just the last post. What about Jester’s other fundamentals?

Don’t blame others for what happens in PvP

I’m not really sure what you can do with this in PvE, except shutting down appeals for losing a ship to a mission you had no business taking. HTFU, people.

I know someone who lost a cruiser when they charged into their first Level 3 mission. They appealed it, and the GM replaced the ship.

I was, in a word, appalled. I’m plenty new-player-friendly, but come on. The player fucked up, they should deal with the consequences. Obviously. If they don’t want to lose ships, they should stay docked.

If you are flying with an FC, the FC’s word is law 

This isn’t even that complicated: LOTS of MMOs have complex instructions for their missions; by comparison, the missions in Eve are insultingly simple and boring. Give the players complex instructions for missions and either penalize the HELL out of their rewards if they screw it up or (just as acceptable) provide large bonuses if they get them all right — think of it as Hard Mode for a mission, with rewards for better performance, and the stuff the agent asks for is the same stuff that is routinely required in (say it with me) every other part of the game:

“Shoot only Target X. Leave everyone else standing. Yes, even the annoying bastards webbing you. Focus. Fucking. Fire.”

Sneak into the complex. Stay cloaked. Get within 10 km of Your Target, decloak, and Activate your [Mission Cyno]. Try not to die until the Module stops running, then warp out, but even if you get blown up, mission accomplished.  Forgot to stay cloaked, or just tried to kill everyone yourself? Everyone warps away, and you fail.

“Shoot Target X. STOP! Shoot Target Y! STOP! Shoot Target X again! X! X X X! Now Z, but keep a web on X! WEB ON X! STOP SHOOTING Z AND KILL X! KILL! X! GOOD! X is down! NOW RUUUUUUUUUUN!”

Movement is life

This goes back to ideas for several of the other principles. Small, fast ships should sometimes be the perfect solution for high-level missions. Also, with mission NPCs should be tougher, harder hitting, and less numerous, making movement more effective as a defensive measure.

PvE mission runners should understand that sometimes just getting to Point B as fast as possible is “Winning”, and they should learn that even when you bring a big ship, slow = dead. Afterburners are just as much a damage mitigation module as they are movement boosting.

Related to this, get rid of the 40-minute slugfests. Any “real” fight in Eve that a solo pilot or small gang has the slightest chance of winning  is going to be Nasty, Brutish, and Short. PvE pilots should have the same expectations in this regard as PvP pilots: if a fight goes past 5 minutes, it’s probably because something is going wrong, and they should consider getting out before reinforcements arrive.

(Yes, I know big fleets are sometimes different, but solo PvE teaches solo PvP in this case, right?)

Maintain situational awareness

Since we’ve got fewer NPCs on the field, we can make them meaner. More Neutralizers. More Webs. More Scrams. More Ewar. (Fewer ships on field mean that even the much-hated ECM NPCs can be dealt with with some Eletronic Counter Countermeasures ‘tank’ and target prioritization.)  Teach the pilots to pay attention to everything that’s happening and react to the problems in order of threat level, not just “shoot the biggest guys first.”

You are not your ship. You are not your pod

This just goes back to not flying what you can’t afford to lose. Ships are disposable, when it comes right down to it, and while losing them always sucks, quite often the win you pull off by sacrificing your ship makes the loss MORE than worth it. Big rewards for ‘sacrifice’ missions will take the sting out of it, I suspect: people are running missions to make isk, after all.

Learn from your defeats. Learn from your victories

Mission-writers can do some heavy lifting here. If the pilot takes a mission where ship-loss is highly likely, but saving the ship is possible, and the pilot fails to save the ship, have the mission-agent offer some tips and advice on how NOT to lose their ship the next time – yes, this is an opportunity to talk about transversal, spiral approaches, gun tracking, optimal ranges, and other such advanced stuff.

But That’s Not All…

I suspect this series will be in four parts. Part Three will cover the five Stages of a Mission, and I’ll wrap up in Part Four with suggestions for new missions, stolen directly from common solo and small-gang PvP scenarios. See you then.

Categories
Game Design MMO & Computers Musing

Life in Eve: You Play How You Practice (1/?)

When I first started playing Eve in earnest (which does not count the attempt some seven years ago) I went through all tutorials (this was only a few years ago, right after the new avatars, but before Incarna, so the tutorials weren’t as utterly terrible as they had once been), then did the Sister’s Epic Arc, and then started running missions.

I mean, that’s what you do in MMOs, right? Tutorial, then the mission chain the tutorials send you to, then take missions from whoever seems interested.

Mostly, I did those missions on my own, but I was sometimes joined (and often advised) by Gor, who was a veteran of High-sec PvE and any-sec industry. I remember the first time he actually rendezvoused with me in a system (Nine jumps away! The vast distance! Travel takes so long!), stoically floating next to my trusty Vexor cruiser in his slowly pulsating Megathron Navy Issue battleship. Many times, he would lead the way into a mission, knowing the massive bulk of his ship could handle virtually anything the NPCs could throw at him, and that I could safely proceed to pick off the small stuff without fear of reprisal.

Time passed, and I became interested in Exploration and eventually Wormholes. Once I’d gotten to what was probably the absolute BARE minimum level of skill for handling the most basic of Wormhole anomalies, I went hunting for them, and convinced Gor and CB to come along on a little daytrip into the first uninhabited system I found.

Gor brought one of his mission-running battleships.

It wasn’t pretty.

Gone was the idea that anyone was ‘safe’ in the site. Anyone on the field was a valid target, because the Sleepers switched primaries randomly, and even if they hadn’t, none of us could really handle the incoming damage: if you had a hole in your defenses – ANY kind of hole – the sleepers found it, bored in, and tore you to pieces from the inside.

After a dozen attempts at the site, we finally prevailed, looted the field, and limped back to known space. I’m fairly sure most of us were on fire.

Gor was, to put it mildly, peeved. Insulted, really. The way the sleepers had manhandled one of his best mission-running ships was just… well, it was clearly broken, is what it was — it was just ridiculous — he hadn’t been that close to losing a ship against an NPC in years.

Eventually (it didn’t even really take that long) we figured out how to fit ships that could handle sleepers, and we adapted our play to their little foibles as well. There were some painful losses along the way (and not all or even most to Sleepers), but we managed. Eventually, it all became routine — even the most challenging of PvE in Eve is pretty predictable, manageable stuff.

Later, I dropped into a random site in known space and was struck (shocked, really) by how EASY it was — compared to Sleepers, these known-space NPCs were a walk in the park. I even ran a couple missions — easily destroying objectives in an Ishkur frigate that I had once struggled to complete in a Myrmidon battlecruiser. Some of that was my increased training, yes, but far more was the simple fact that I’d been forced to up my game.

“I understand your frustration now,” I said to Gor. “These guys don’t prepare you for Sleepers in the least.”

“I know,” he said, sounding disgusted. “I almost didn’t come back to wormholes when you wanted to try again.”

Now imagine how much worse the shock is if, as someone new to PvP, you jump into a fight thinking that missions have prepared you for what’s to come.

You expect this.
You get this.

What’s that going to be like for the new PvPer?

Well, they’d be insulted. The way the other player(s) manhandled their ship was just… well, it’s clearly broken, is what it is — just ridiculous.

And that impression is not the fault of the PvP — it’s the way in which missions (and really any of the currently designed PvE) completely fails to prepare you for everything else in the game.

So how can you fix that in such a way as to make the PvE suck less (it is, honestly, quite poor — ironically the worst 10% of the game, yet all that 90% of new players ever experience) while preparing players for the sorts of the gameplay you’ll regularly encounter in PvP?

You Play the Way You Practice

Recently, Jester started up a PvP 101 series that I’m going to use as a sort of brainstorming blueprint for improving PvE in Eve. Jester’s guide is very good, and the things he mentions a player needs to consider are important regardless of what you’re doing in the game, so why not use the missions to teach those lessons, since that is where players coming in from other MMOs will start anyway?

The goal is three-fold, and the results are all beneficial: reduce or eliminate the profound culture shock that players experience when moving from missions to PvP, actually familiarize them with the skills and techniques they’ll use in that environment (beyond just “this is what a web is”), and improve the missions themselves by making them more interesting and engaging.

But… why?

Jester said this best, so let’s just let him explain it:

Player-versus-player combat in EVE is a rush that is very difficult or impossible to duplicate in other games. Your first few times in PvP battle, your heart rate will go up, your hands will shake, and you will have a visceral emotional reaction to what’s going on. Even after months or years, from time to time you will still have this reaction. When you are killed, you will feel compelled to obsess about why it happened and when you succeed, it is something that will cause you to smile for hours or days afterward.

Compare this to Eve’s PvE experience, which involves missions so boring that players routinely fall asleep if they run them for too long, and win anyway.

General Principles

Don’t fly what you can’t afford to lose.

One of the first and most profound differences between PvP and PvE in Eve is that, with PvE, Bigger is Always Better. This calls back to most traditional MMO designs in which the bigger and badder a mission is, the bigger and badder you need to be to defeat it. Think of any MMO where someone figures out how to beat a high-level mission on a low-level toon, and that method will quickly be labeled an exploit, a patch will be applied, and the innovative player in question should count themselves lucky they weren’t banned.

That’s… not how Eve works.

First of all, innovation in play is sort of the point.

But more importantly, this idiotic ship progression requirement in missions is teaching players the best ship for any given situation is the biggest fucking thing they can undock, and that is simply not the case in any other part of the game. Sometimes, you need something small and fast. Sometimes, you need something tough, and damage doesn’t matter. Often, you need something that’s got a bit of a bonus for a particular role.

Some faction warfare missions kind of work this way: in almost all of the highest-level faction warfare missions, the best ship for the task is the incredibly fragile stealth bomber frigate. That’s a fine start, but it’s ultimately a bad example, because it’s still just one ship type that must be used.

There’s a mission, for example, called The Reprisal, where you have to kill a commander flying a battleship. It’s one of several missions of this type in Faction Warfare, but in this case the target you need to kill flies quite fast (reducing the damage sustained from the bomber’s torpedoes) and actively repairs damage (eliminating what little damage he does take).

The solution to this problem in every other part of the game would be to get a fast interceptor or attack frigate to haul ass after the target, get a web and a warp scrambler on the guy, and pin him down while the bombers do their work.

Doesn’t work. NPCs don’t work like real ships, and can just go as fast as they like for as long as they like. Scramblers don’t work to shut down the high speed of the target, and without that a web doesn’t work nearly well enough.

So: the mission fails to teach players anything about how every other part of the game works.

How do the players deal with it?

They just decline the mission, because it’s terrible. Not worth the effort, and introduces no interesting game play.

Solution: change around the missions to let pvp modules (and pvp-style fittings) have significant impact. Have agents offer hints and suggestions to that effect. Level 1 missions might be as simple as flying a tackle frig in and holding down a target until the NPC battleship can land and take him down… but the exact same mission can be offered at level 4, except now the target in question has a web he uses on you, a heavy neutralizer he uses to cap you out, and let’s say five aggressive frigates flying escort that you need to deal with WHILE keeping the target pinned down.

That would be interesting. More, it would mean that the best solution for a level 4 mission isn’t whatever damned battleship you have in the hangar. Sometimes you need an Ares interceptor.

Assume what you’re flying is lost the moment you undock.

And sometimes, you need something cheap and very, very disposable, because you know you’re going to lose it.

THAT is the thing that all but one mission in the whole game fails to teach:

Ships blow up. Pods blow up. They aren’t you and it isn’t the end of the world. You are immortal, so act like: reship and get back in the goddamn fight.

Frigates are just like any other consumable, and roughly as durable as these soda cans.

Missions should have unexpected twists and unknown triggers that may result in ship loss. To be somewhat balanced, those unexpected twists should happen more often when (a) the best ship for the mission is cheap and/or (b) the mission level is higher, or where the threat is clear and obvious in the mission text.

Adjust rewards to compensate, if you like, but ship loss should happen, and it should be no big deal.

90% of PvP in EVE is preparation.

Thanks to the eve-surivival website, you can prepare up to your eyeballs for missions, but the preparation you do is completely unrelated to the preparation you do for any other part of the game.

Missions set up some of the most unrealistic expectations in terms of your ship survivability.  How many level 4 missions in the game involve warping into a site and seeing a kitchen sink collection of fifty ships on your overview, from frigates to battleships?

You know what mission runners do in that situation?

Target the closest guy and start firing. They already know they aren’t going to lose the ship.

You know how that same fight goes in a PvP situation?

Without support, your ship will be scrap before you lock your first target.

Imagine the culture shock when some experienced mission runner jumps through a gate, sees five pirates on his overview, and those five ships — one tenth the number of NPCs he just destroyed in his last mission — wipe him out before he can even get back to the gate.

“Unfair. Broken. Unfun. Impossible. Never going to do PvP.”

Solution: First, change up missions (again) so you aren’t always bringing your biggest, most expensive ships. Second, use the missions to set realistic expectations. That means cut the number of opponents in missions by a factor of ten, but increase the relative difficulty of “pure combat” missions by 10%, overall. A player familiar with missions should have learned how to assess threat levels in every other part of the game by participating in missions — it should be fun, but it should also bestow relevant experience.

There’s a mission — I think it’s the second to last mission in the Sisters of Eve epic arc — that kills a lot of ships. It’s a tough fight, especially for one player in a tech1 frigate.

And it’s just one guy.

Just one.

“One guy,” this mission says, “can be a credible threat.”

It’s a good mission. It has value.

… and then you get done with the arc, and you go to normal missions, and get something called The Barricade and learn you can ignore all that “single ship is credible threat” bullshit.

But Wait, There’s More

This post is going on a lot longer than I’d expected, so lets break it up into multiple posts and see where we end up.

More soon.

In the meantime, grab a frigate, look up a friend in game who does that scary PvP stuff, and see if you can tag along.

Believe me, it’s not that bad.

Categories
Game Design MMO & Computers Musing

Life in Eve: Heavy Hangs the Head

This bit of reflection came out of a (sadly) half-finished conversation with Dave and Margie, where we were talking about my time with Faction Warfare in Eve, and their time playing Ingress.

The Minmatar/Amarr faction war zone has been a little crazy the last few months. Amarr units have been on an organized tear, capturing a sizable chunk of territory — more than I’d ever seen them take over, actually — enough to have a clear advantage in terms of system control. More, they’ve held onto it for quite some time.

Disconcerting, but also (weirdly) a bit of a relief. The last few months prior to that push, our group had been involved in occupying and defending a constellation of systems that, to be honest, we just didn’t have quite enough people to manage, especially in the face of the previously mentioned Amarr offensive. We held on fairly well, and even managed to push our side’s war zone control back up to tier 4 (out of five) for awhile, but it was exhausting, and eventually we just wore out and retreated to an area where we had more allies and fewer systems to worry about.

Now, with the pressure to hold ground gone, we’re left fighting roving battles across a landscape that, thanks to Amarr taking a bunch of systems, suddenly presents many more targets of opportunity. This, like the rest, is a new experience for me. I came into the war at a time of Minmatar dominance (selecting Minmatar over Gallente primarily because I wanted to shoot slavers more than I wanted to shoot corpo-fascists), and often had to wander over to the Gallente/Caldari war zone and fight with my allies, because with the Amarr holed up in fewer than five systems (out of ~70), there just wasn’t much to do. Things have changed: with half the war zone in Amarr hands, the question isn’t what to do, but what to do first.

The current situation has given us many opportunities for spirited autocannon debate.

And in some cases, “what to do” ends up being “recapture lost systems.” This opportunity arises because (as we’ve learned and the Amarr presumably are now discovering) holding big chunks of territory is kind of… wearying, and that seems to be by design.

See, a lot of the ‘draw’ of being on the winning side in a conflict is the idea that you’ll reap nice benefits. This is true in faction warfare… to a point. It turns out dominating the whole war zone isn’t really a good use of anyone’s time. As you approach high levels of war zone control, it becomes far more difficult to hold it and/or capitalize on advantage. The costs of system upgrades increase exponentially, until you get to a point where holding the highest tiers of control cost more than you’re making — you’re better off dropping down to a less resource-intensive, easier-to-maintain, albeit slightly less profitable level.

In short, achieving total dominance is a hollow victory: it’s costly to keep up, the rewards gleaned at the highest levels don’t justify the effort, and if you’re just logging in for some quick and easy fun, the fact you pretty much own everything means (thanks to little enemy territory and a demoralized foe) you have no options for entertainment… which is rather the point of a game.

Conversely, now that the Minmatar are behind the Amarr in terms of war zone control, we have lots to do, but still have a good resource base to work with. It doesn’t hurt that many of the main Amarr groups don’t seem to have much patience for the slog of territory ownership — the lure of a good fight usually prevails, and it feels to me as though they’re getting bored with the drudgery of being on top.

That’s okay: we’ll seesaw our way to the top, if they’re sick of it, then they can take it back, and on and on in perpetual, bloody, entertaining motion. I’ve seen far worse designs.

CCP has struggled to achieve this balance for a long time in Faction Warfare — as my friend Dave has observed, it’s not a problem unique to Eve — and they’ve made more than a few slips and trips on the way, but it seems to me as though they’ve finally hit very near a sweet-spot that reminds a bit of Conan:  Lots of fun and rewards in the midst of struggle, but heavy hangs the head that wears the crown, and how willing the king becomes to throw down scepter and rejoin the fray.

I can’t imagine CCP could wish for much more.

Categories
Game Design Musing

Life in Eve: How I Learned to Love Hating “Safe Zones” in New Eden

I didn’t intend to write any more stuff about CCP and the development direction of Eve; it’s not really what I do.

However, I was having a good discussion on Reddit about yesterday’s post (someone put it up there and I dropped in to say hello), and one of the threads of conversation gave me what I think is kind of a cool idea. It started like this. Someone asked:

But don’t you worry that it [restriction on non-consensual PvP] could compromise the unique identity that EVE has built for itself?

I think it’s clear from yesterday’s post that the personal answer I came to in regards to that question is ‘no’. I said:

I love the scams, the free for alls, the Asakai’s, the alliances disbanded from within, the wormhole ambushes, bomber’s bars, freighter ganks on the way to Jita, and the 70-minute logi-assisted lowsec complex brawls. I love it all. But looking at it from CCP’s point of view, I believe they’ve got to be asking hard questions about whether or not they can introduce a few [safe] systems in New Eden… like… hell, I dunno, the 1.0 and 0.9 systems and training systems, or something. That might be all it takes to reduce the number of “tried it, hated it, everyone’s fucking evil on that game” guys who leave four hours into the trial period. If I’m CCP, and I have any faith in the game at all, I have to believe that if I can keep that trial guy around even a little longer, I’ll secure another player.

Except I didn’t say [safe] systems — I said “Mandatory Safeties Green” systems.

Because that’s all it would take, isn’t it? Certain systems where everyone’s safeties get flipped green and locked there until you leave the system. Easy, easy code.

More importantly, it gave me what I think is kind of a cool idea for building a storyline around this. Stay with me.

1. We have pirate rookie ships on the test servers right now.

Pretty cool, no?

2. Based on the existence of pirate rookie ships, we can assume (for a moment) that CCP is seriously considering a way for players to switch their allegiance to a pirate faction.

Y’see,  there’s no way to get rookie ships of a particular faction in the game unless someone in the game is a member of that faction. So it follows that if these rookie ships exist, there’s going to be some way for players to join those factions, sort of faction warfare style.

3. If that happens, imagine a significant number of pilots will do that, and damn the consequences.
I really don't think this is a very difficult thing to imagine, knowing our playerbase.

4. Let’s further assume that being in a pirate faction is more than just vapid window dressing.

If the certain mechanics in the game are slightly different for pirate faction players (such as the stuff Jester suggested a few months ago), you see a sudden and serious upswing in player-on-player violence. I’m thinking specifically of the idea of pirate faction players getting paid bounties by their pirate faction not for killing NPC rats, but for killing empire players — kind of like how faction warfare rewards you with loyalty points when you kill war targets — and paying out especially well against those players with high sec status.

High sec status: that’s important. It means that a veteran carebear who should know how to protect his shit is a far more attractive target than a two-day-old newb in his first catalyst.

5. In response to this upswing in “terrorism” (which, ironically, CCP engineered), CONCORD implements highly intrusive, insulting levels of “security” in certain high-profile areas of New Eden.

CONCORD reveals the ability to remotely lock a pilot’s ship system’s safeties to Green, something they’ve perhaps always been able to do and haven’t had a good excuse to try.

It’s security theatre, and offers no demonstrable levels of increased safety for anyone, but they do it anyway.

As an American who flies frequently, I'm sure I have NO IDEA what that's like.

6. People hate this new restriction, but (at least for the most part), they hate CONCORD for it, not CCP.

This effect can be ensured if CCP drops hints that it’s just a “storyline” restriction — a yoke we will be able to throw off later, if resistance in-game is high enough. In addition to player resistance, you can have some empire factions that rage against it (Gallente, Minmatar), some that seethe quietly (Amarr), and those that openly embrace it as a natural fit (Caldari).

The Amarr: great seethers.

7. The story concludes in summer of 2014 with some kind of in-game event.

In this event, capsuleers band together to say “This is not how New Eden works!” and shuts this CONCORD restriction off.

Seems to me this would:

  1. Be a pretty neat story arc.
  2. Combined with the pirate faction stuff that offers ‘bounties’ for high sec status kills, simultaneously add ‘safe zones’ and make New Eden more violent.
  3. Sort of ‘build the brand’ of Eve – what a great story that would be for the news outlets, when all of New Eden rises up to state, as part of an in-game event: “Nowhere is safe, and we like it that way.” What a neat way to get players to band together: sort of an in-character Summer of Rage, with beneficial effects (press) for the company and the game.
  4. Give CCP a year-long window in which to cushion new players a bit.

I dunno. Seems kind of cool to me. Thoughts?

Categories
Game Design Musing

Life in Eve: Life on the Playground

My kids go to a charter school. This may not mean much to anyone reading this, so I’ll sum up what it means to me by saying that charter schools are basically public schools with limited enrollment, where the parents are encouraged if not in fact required to be more involved. There’s an after school program my daughter’s in that literally would not be running at all if her mom didn’t volunteer every week to come in and help the teacher with it, which she does because she feels it’s worth the time commitment.

And in any case, we have to volunteer: every kid’s family must log at least 40 hours at the school every year.

I do most of my volunteer time as a playground monitor for recess. I like it: I get to see my kids, meet their friends, play the gruff but affable grownup. Whatever.

And I get to watch the kids play, which is always… enlightening. The first time I ever did a session as a monitor, I found out that when my daughter isn’t doing kinematic dismounts off the jungle gym, she plays soccer. Impromptu, full-tilt, free-for-all soccer. On the concrete basketball court. And is – literally – the only girl out there, among a surging riptide of boys who clearly aren’t planning to cut her any slack. She makes her own choices. Good thing to know what they are.

During one recess, I spotted a kid making a different choice. Something of a reverse of Kaylee, he was one of the few boys not playing soccer. Instead, he’d found a railing to perch on, mostly turned away from the rest of the playground, and was eyeballs deep in a story, the hardback book about as thick as The Stand, though probably a bit less apocalyptic.

Oh man, I thought, I’ve so been that kid. And I had. Not always, but if I was in the middle of a really good story and recess rolled around? Kickball could fucking wait, you know?

Then, while I watched, a couple other kids crept over and dumped a backpack full of woodchips over the kid’s head, which kicked my level of empathy up a notch. I’d been there too, once or twice.

What did I, parental playground monitor, do? Nothing. To my mind, as much as it sucks, it’s not so very different from the challenging academic curriculum at the school — it’s the same reason I don’t make the soccer players stop when one of them comes over with basketball court road rash all up his (or her) arm. Choices. Consequences. Good stuff. In any case, the woodchip backpack dumpers didn’t repeat the assault, and the book reader just brushed off the pages and kept reading. If he wasn’t going to reward them with a reaction, I certainly wasn’t going to. A minute or so later, two of his friends (good friends, I think, one boy and one girl) came over and cleaned the wood chips off his head and uniform — he hadn’t bothered, not while anyone was watching — then sat down with him and kept an eye on his six while he read them parts he liked.

(Okay, maybe I wandered over and stood in more direct line-of-sight of the kid’s perch. But that’s it.)

Would I have got involved if the kids had come back with another backpack full? Probably. If the backpack had been full of rocks? Obviously. If the kid had come to me for help? Sure, if only to offer advice. Otherwise? No.

But let’s change the situation a little bit.

What if, instead of recess, this was some kind of independent after-school program: A massive playground, offering virtually every kind of activity any kid could want to do, but at a cost.

Further, I’m not a volunteer in this scenario, but an employee, and there are a bunch of other, competing, similar-but-different programs like this out there.

Does that maybe change the way I approach that situation? Of course it does. It’s not about letting the kids have a ‘tough love’ experience that will hopefully make them a more self-reliant person. It’s not, in fact, about education of any kind — it’s about making money by providing entertainment. It’s about retaining customers, which in turn is about making those customers — all of those customers — happy.

With me so far?

Okay, let’s talk about Eve Online.


The Eve Playground is a product — it exists to make money for those running it, and while as a product it might satisfy many other needs among its playerbase (most of them social), when you get down to brass tacks, the company that maintains it serves no other purpose higher than “Be a profitable business.”

And let’s be fair: Eve is a pretty good product. Eve players like to joke about “this terrible game” (and it’s true that at the end of a decade, parts are showing their age), but as far as full-featured playgrounds go, it’s got a lot to offer: pretty much everything to offer, really, when it comes to playgrounds, whether you want play in a prefab treehouse, build your own treehouse, conduct mock battles between tree house kingdoms, explore the vast woods out back, play dodgeball, crawl around on jungle gyms, play in the big playhouse with surprisingly accurate hardware and fully functioning Easy Bake Oven, or even sit off on the side, your back to almost everyone, and read.

“You can do any of that,” the pamphlet assures the prospective parent, and it’s technically true.

But there are problems.

2012 was about spending time dealing with the things which build up in a game that has been running for nearly 10 years.

That’s CCP Unifex, Executive Producer at CCP. To figure out what Unifex is talking about, look at what the company did with the game in 2012. I think a fair summary would be “make the game more accessible for new players, and give those same new players something close to a fighting chance against the kids who’ve been on the playground a lot longer.” Yes, some of the changes did other things as well, but ALL of them affected new players. All the ship classes immediately available to new players: buffed up across the board. Major “late game” mechanics like logistics, brought down to entry-level gameplay. Improved (if still not great) tutorials. Ever-so-slightly simplified systems. A UI more like the UI of modern software systems. A vastly improved Faction Warfare model (already one of the better new-player-accessible, NPC-‘controlled’ systems in the game).

It’s easy to see why to make the game more new-player accessible, but a lot of the effort with ships and so forth isn’t so much about immediate accessibility as it is leveling the playing field. Why is that a big deal?

Well, this playground is pretty fucking rough on newcomers when you get right down to it.

CCP has always adopted a very hands-off approach to their playground: technically, you have the right to sit off in the corner and read, but at the same time, that other group of kids “have the right” to play dodgeball, and on this particular playground, that “right” extends to the fact that some of those kids will include anyone they feel like in their dodgeball game, even if the kid in question is doing something else and doesn’t have the least interest in dodgeball.

Yes, if they come over and smash the book reader (or the jungle gym crawlers, or the kids playing cops and robbers) in the face with the ball, they’ll get a minor time out, but no one’s going to call their parents, and they will never lose their access to either the ball or the playground. Doing so would deny them the activity they want to engage in on playground, right?

Except their activity, the way they’ve chosen to play it, makes it impossible for those other face-smashed kids to use the playground their way.

To which the free-for-all Dodgeballer says “Fuck those kids. They’re fucking lame anyway.”

Fine.

Except those kids pay to use the playground, too.

In fact, there are a LOT MORE of those kids than Dodgeball kids, ESPECIALLY if you only count the dodgeball kids who forcibly include everyone on the playground in their game. That numeric discrepancy is a real problem if you’re the guys running the playground, because (a) some of those non-dodgeball kids will leave —

(“Fuck em” mutter the dodgeballers.)

— and more importantly, a bunch of potential kids who have never tried out this playground never will, because people talk, and what they say isn’t always good. “Come get a fat lip from a dodgeball while you’re innocently playing house,” isn’t a marketable ad campaign.

Welcome to Eve. Here's a free wrench.

(“Fuck em” mutter the dodgeballers.)

See, the kids on the playground are, collectively, pretty much shit at fixing this problem, because kids don’t want to stop doing whatever it is that is most fun for them. Even the most approachable dodgeball players can only go so far as to offer sarcastic advice about how to change the way everyone else plays, or point out how the book-reader’s habits made the face-smashing too much for a dodgeballer to resist.

“It’s really their fault, you see,” they explain. “If they were more like us, there wouldn’t be a problem.”

And they’re wrong, of course. There still would be a problem. If you’re the guys running a playground that says “Here is a place where you can play however you like, but you’ll have to respect this playstyle more than any others”, you will reach a point where everyone who’s likely to find that playground fun is already there.

That’s fine, if you’re playing dodgeball: you have enough people to play your game.

That’s not fine if you’re running the business, because businesses need to grow.

And it could be Eve has already reached that point of saturation. Forget dodgeball: heaven help you if you’re some kid who wants to build their own tree house (and really who hasn’t wanted that at some point in their lives?): all the tree houses are controlled by four or five major tween gangs, and they will gleefully curb stomp anyone who tries to join in without an invitation and/or humiliating servitude. Dodgeballers are a Hello Kitty birthday party by comparison.

This is, if you ask the treehouse guys, not really a problem at all.

So what’s CCP going to do?

Not what they ‘should’ do; I’m not arrogant or blinkered enough to pretend to know better than a company that’s managed ten years of success — I’ll leave that to other bloggers.

No: what are they obviously going to (or must) do?

EVE is a universe where you can do all sorts of things, and we will continue […] expanding on what’s available to do. We’ll do this with releases that are themed around some aspect of the New Eden universe.

This means […] we will find a theme that can connect features and changes that touch multiple play styles in EVE across a spectrum of activities like exploration, industry, resource gathering and conflict.

– CCP Seagull, Senior Producer, EVE Online Development

So: any expansions they work on, going forward, will (ideally) expand play options for everyone from the book reader to the dodgeballer to the treehouse warlord to the woodland explorer. Smart.

There are some people who […] enable others to have fun in EVE. […] We believe that helping these […] archetypes achieve their own goals is the best way to have the sandbox of EVE thrive. […] We want to make EVE more accessible […] as a way to find new features to develop for play styles or time requirements where we have gaps today.

– CCP Seagull, Senior Producer, EVE Online Development

Eve is a playground, yes. Play how you like, yes.

But Eve is also a product, and CCP needs that product to reach more people. In order to do that, they need to level the playing field not just between new and old characters, but between play styles.

And that means that at some point, it’s not the kid reading the book in the corner that’s going to need to adjust the way they play, for the continued growth of the playground.

Maybe – just maybe – that means dodgeballers find out that it’s a lot harder to involve unwilling participants in their game. Which, as a dodgeballer myself, I think is fine, because we hardly lack for willing players.

Maybe – just maybe – it will mean that it will become a lot harder to hold on to multiple treehouses, and a lot easier to hold on to just one. Again, I think that’s good, because war games are more interesting with more people involved.

Do I think there’s some place in Eve for a safe zone? I don’t know, and guess what: I’m not being paid by CCP to come up with a definitive yes or no answer. I do think it’s a question worth asking periodically: is non-consensual PvP really that big a part of what defines Eve and makes it a great game?

Food for thought: There were two big events in Eve last week, related to PvP — events that verifiably brought in new players when they got out into the larger news: a single-misclick that turned into one of the most massive super-capital fights that low security space has ever seen, and 28,000 destroyed ships in a pre-planned free for all in null-security space.

You know what those two events had in common? They were consensual PvP. Yes, one started because of a misclick, but it was a misclick that — even if it had been executed properly — was meant to start a fight. In fact, any of the really big stories that have come out of Eve in the last 10 years — the scams, the fights, the alliance-killing betrayals — all consensual PvP of one kind or another, as defined by where it happened, or the people and groups involved.

High-sec mining barge ganks don’t make the news; they don’t bring in new players.

What to nail me down on something? I do think consensual PvP is better. More interesting. More compelling. More sustainably fun in the long run, for the largest number of people. I’ve done both kinds, and when it all comes down to it, I’d rather play dodgeball with the other kids who came to play dodgeball.

I didn’t start out playing dodgeball, you know. I was playing cops and robbers in the ‘safe’ part of the playground, and played for long enough without getting face-smashed (much) that I got interested in everything else going on.

But I was lucky.

CCP really can’t rely on “lucky” anymore. They’re going to need a few more monitors stepping in if they want more kids paying the bills.

Categories
Actual Play Game Design MMO & Computers

Life in EvE: “I’m not a Pirate.”

A few nights ago, members of the militia had banded together to work on retaking an Amarr-held system in the warzone. This was a pretty big undertaking, and to pull it off in a relatively short timeframe required round the clock participation; it wouldn’t be enough for our US-timezone-heavy alliance to do it, because any Amarr active in EU and Aussie areas would just undo our work.

So the fleet is a mix of lots of different corps and alliances, with lots of different countries represented. It’s fair to say we all have a slightly different way of looking at how life in the warzone works.

This eventually led to an enlightening conversation.

As we’re capturing yet another complex in the enemy system, recon reported a fairly good-sized fleet coming in, but they aren’t Amarr — it’s a gang of pilots under the Ivy League banner — graduates of Eve University who like to slum out in low- and null-sec space from time to time.

Sure enough, they headed for the complex, jumped in, and started shooting. I’m left with a bit of a problem.

None of them were viable targets for me.

They weren’t outlaws, they weren’t in faction warfare, we don’t have a secondary war declared with them, and they haven’t suddenly been flagged as criminals or “suspects” for engaging our fleet, because they’re only shooting those pilots on the field who are outlaws and, thus, legal targets for the technically law-abiding Ivy Leaguers.

Luckily, two things happened: first, the support ships in the Ivy League fleet started repairing their fleet mates, which flagged them as part of a legal ‘limited engagement’ that I’m somehow part of and, second, our fleet commander called those same pilots our primary targets. It’s like two great tastes that explode when put together.

Long story short, we stomp the other fleet pretty handily. Go us.

Later, I commented that for those of us in the fleet who actually care about our security status, it’s handy — if a bit silly — that the guys supporting the enemy fleet became viable targets for repairing the combatants, even if the combatants themselves never did.

“Just shoot everyone,” says the FC. “If you’re living in Low-sec space and you aren’t an outlaw, you’re doing it wrong.”

“I’m fighting a war,” I replied. “I’m not a fucking pirate.”


So… What Can You Shoot, You Pansy?

One of the things that was added in the most recent expansion was the idea of a “Safety” that, like a gun safety, generally keeps you from doing anything that’s too terribly stupid without a bit of forethought. The basic settings for the safety are:

  • Green: The game won’t let you do anything that would cause you to be flagged Suspect, which in turn lets anyone at all in the game legally shoot at you until the flag wears off in 15 minutes. Not coincidentally, this safety setting also prevents many of the actions that lower your overall security standing.
  • Yellow: The game will let you do things that will flag you Suspect, but won’t let you do anything that would flag you Criminal. This means you can do stuff that will allow player retaliation, but you won’t pick up that flag that will cause CONCORD to instantly destroy you if you wander into High Security space with the flag active.
  • Red: You can do anything, anywhere, and damn the consequences.

It may surprise you to learn that you can (if you want) take part in Faction Warfare full-bore without ever switching your Safety off of green.1 That’s how I’ve chosen to roll, most of the time.2 Here are a list of my viable targets:

War Targets (Faction War) – This one is kind of obvious. If the target is part of the opposing forces in the war, you can do whatever you like to each other. If it’s gold and shiny, you are hereby encouraged to shoot it.
War Targets (Declared War) – This is more of a specialized thing, as it shows up for any member of a group for which your corp or alliance have a privately declared, CONCORD-approved war active. Otherwise, it’s exactly the same as a faction warfare target.
Outlaws – This has nothing to do with wars of any kind — the target simply has such a bad security rating that any and all pilots in New Eden are encouraged to make them explode, and may do so wherever they like.
Criminals – This may seem a bit redundant with Outlaw, but the distinction is important: An Outlaw’s standing makes them a perpetual target, while someone with a Criminal flag has earned it due to a specific action, and the flag will drop off in 15 minutes or less. Pretty much the only thing in low-sec that will give you a Criminal flag is destroying the pod of a non-wartarget.
Suspects – Like the Criminal flag, a Suspect flag has earned it due to a specific action, and the flag will drop off in 15 minutes or less. Unlike the Criminal flag, there are quite a lot of actions in Low-sec that will give you this flag — the short list includes attacking non-wartarget ships (not pods) and looting containers or wrecks owned by someone else. This is useful to law-abiding Faction Warfare guys if some non-Outlaw neutral attacks some non-Outlaw militia member – you’ll see the stranger pick up a Suspect flag, and know that he’s become a viable target for retaliation.
Limited Engagement Participant – Of all the flags, this one is the most opaque to me, with the most obscure and possibly goofy mechanics. The basic idea is that it’s supposed to allow you to shoot back when someone you wouldn’t normally be able to attack starts shooting at you. It’s also been set up to flag anyone who helps someone you’re engaged with, such as someone repairing your opponent. If that were all that happened, it would be pretty simple, but what I’m seeing in practice is where the weirdness creeps in.

For instance: I’m in a fleet with Pilot A. Pilot Z (who normally isn’t a legal target) shoots Pilot A. Pilot A is now in a limited engagement with Pilot Z, but I am not — I still have no legal targets. Pilot Y starts repping Pilot Z, joins the limited engagement with Pilot A, and is also flagged as being in a limited engagement with me, even though I still can’t legally shoot Pilot Z, and haven’t done anything to help Pilot A.

I mean, I’m not complaining, because it gives me a legal target, but… what?

Kill Right Available – This is another slightly odd one. The pilot with this tag has, at some point in the past, done something that has given another pilot “kill rights” on that pilot. Typically, this means they either blew up a ship or pod in high-sec, or killed a pilot’s pod in low-sec. Kill rights mean that if you get on the same combat grid as that pilot, you can ‘activate’ the the kill right, which makes that pilot a legal target for anyone for the next fifteen minutes — kill rights now basically deputize the victim pilot for the purpose of dishing out single-serve retribution. In turn, the “kill right available” flag shows up because the pilot who ‘owns’ kill rights has made them publicly available — meaning anyone can activate them. SO: the pilot with this tag isn’t a legal target, but he can be made one.

So: that’s the stuff you can shoot legally, and thus preserve your law-abiding security status.

I’m not a pirate, so this matters to me. Maybe it will to you, too.


1 – Granted, this isn’t saying much; you can leave it green in null-sec or wormhole space too; it doesn’t affect those areas in the least.

2 – When we were ousted from Faction Warfare for a couple days, I fought in one battle against the Amarr in which I had to “go yellow” to engage called targets, and I did, because it was necessary for the war. In all the other fights, the Amarr conveniently engaged me first or were Outlaw enough I could shoot them regardless.

Categories
Game Design MMO & Computers

Life in Eve: Retribution is Coming #eveonline

So last night, I actually found myself online at the same time as Em, and we had time to talk about the changes coming up with “Retribution” — the winter expansion. The upshot of that conversation was that a lot of the stuff that I’d categorized as “everybody know this is coming” was stuff that Em hadn’t heard about yet.

So I figured I’d list out pretty much everything I’m aware of that’s coming with Retribution. A few caveats:

  • I’m not going to talk about Crime Watch and the new Bounty system, because not much has been posted about it yet.
  • I’m going to be briefly summarize the changes, but this is still going to be a monster of a post. Can’t be helped: there’s a TON of stuff coming in this expansion.

Now then, let’s get started:


Faction Warfare

  • WAR ZONE CONTROL – War zone control does not currently encourage players to hold space, only to upgrade Infrastructure-hubs when they need to buy stuff from the LP store (upgraded warzone control gives truly massive store discounts for the limited time the upgrade is in place). The upcoming change removes the  discounts, and modifies the amount of loyalty points you earn doing FW stuff instead.They’re also going to make it harder to upgrade and downgrade the control in individual systems within the war zone, which should make whatever tier you’re at more ‘sticky’.There are a number of things they’re putting in to make this happen, but basically offensively taking out offensive complexes won’t ‘bleed’ the stability of a system’s upgrades quite as hard (though it will still pay as well), defensively plexing in a contested system will actually reward you something other than standing, and guys can’t just farm some system that’s been stripped down to a totally vulnerable state for days on end — vulnerable systems will give offensive plex-runners no payout at all.Opinion: Greed is a good motivator. This should encourage factions to actually keep and maintain desirable levels of zone control for the  LP bonus rather than just push to the max level for 40 minutes every couple weeks to ‘cash out’. More zone control effort = more fights. The changes to the loyalty point payouts for offensive, defensive, and vulnerable-system plexing are very good — see the other FW Complex Changes, below.
  • NEW SYSTEM UPGRADES – Current benefits from upgrading a system are a bit lame, especially in systems with no stations. The new iteration will, per level of upgrade in a system, add:
    • More manufacturing, copy, research, and invention slots in stations
    • Reduction in ship repair costs
    • Reduction in market taxes
    • Reduction in manufacturing times (this one is a pretty huge deal)
    • Reduction to starbase fuel cost (only happens twice, at tiers 3 and 5)
    • Able to anchor Cyno Jammer (only at tier 5 control of the system) to prevent getting an enemy capital ship fleet dropped on you. This is a special item and basically takes about 5 or 10 minutes to spool up, and lasts an hour.
  • FW COMPLEX CHANGES – there’s a whole lot of changes to make it harder or outright impossible to ignore PvP in plexes. CCP wants these locations to be a good hot point for fights (anything to change things so every single fight isn’t on a gate or a station is a good thing, in my opinion), and they’re doing a lot of good stuff to make that happen.
    • The ‘capture’ beacon will be moved a lot closer to the entrance to the complex, so attackers don’t have to first traverse 60 to 100 kilometers of empty space to get within range of their target.
    • All beacon capture ranges will be normalized to 30km.
    • Any hostile pilots or hostile NPCs inside the complex will prevent the capture timer from counting down, so if an enemy shows up, you need to kill ’em or drive them off.
    • They’re adding a frigate-only complex, and reorganizing which ships can get into each of the four types of complexes, focusing on restrictions based strictly on size, not tech level of the ships.
    • Since complexes can’t be captured if there are enemy NPCs active in the complex, you need to be able to kill them, though there will be fewer (only one active a time), so you can legitimately do this technically PvE activity with PvP-fit ships. (Also, they don’t spawn if there’s any PvP happening.) Also, the NPCs will be active-tanked to a level appropriate to their ships size, which means that there shouldn’t be any more situations where a frigate is soloing a battlecruiser-class complex.Opinion: All in all, good changes; a hard counter to the no-gun, warp-away, risk-adverse, plex-farming bullshit going on right now.

Mission NPCs (including Faction Warfare NPCs)

All mission NPCs will get upgraded to the “sleeper AI”, modified somewhat. That means that NPCs in all missions will switch targets based on threat (instead of just aggroing the first guy who warps into the site and sticking to him until killed). They will target drones less than Sleepers do and will, if possible, target ships of roughly the same class as themselves, provided such targets exist.

Opinion: The fact that supposedly hardcore EvE players are whining about NPCs finally obeying “threat” code that’s been standard in MMOs for ten years makes me laugh. Harden the fuck up.


Many Ship Changes are Coming

Well over 40 ships are either being revamped, tweaked, or simply created from scratch. Starting from the smallest and working our way up…

Tech1 Exploration Frigates

These ships are, today, basically used as disposable ships for lighting Cynos, and that’s about it. CCP wants to see them in their intended role: solo running of high-sec exploration sites throughout New Eden — a great occupation for newer players — or to support more advanced ships in low-sec, null-sec, or wormhole space. They’re all getting bonuses to hacking, archaeology, and salvaging so you can use them to both probe and run the “mini-profession” sites. Their combat ability has been directed at drones (3 or 4 unbonused light drones) instead of weak weapon bonuses — enough to kill the rats in high-sec sites (although a combat frig will clear them faster) — fit a light active tank, drop drones, and kite.

Opinion: The only downside to these changes is that it makes all four the ships feel sort of… the same. That said, they should be good at what they’re intended to do, and a good way for a new pilot to practice scanning and make some money. Now, if they’d just change the hull for the Imicus — god that’s a stupid-looking ship…


Tech1 EWar Frigates

Since these were formerly “low-tier” frigates, they’re getting pretty significant buffs to make them ‘as good as other frigates’, while focusing on their given role. CCP’s goal is to see these ships become commonly used by newer players to take useful roles in fleets of many different sizes. CCP has also said they expect to release them alongside some tweaks to certain ewar mechanics themselves (for instance, the Griffin getting another mid-slot for yet more ECM, but apparently ECM’s getting tweaked so that it’s going to balance out).

The Crucifier (Amarr) and Vigil (Minmatar) are being bonused towards longer-range disruption, while the Griffin (Caldari) and Maulus (Gallente) are more medium range oriented.  CCP has also said that some EWar was over-nerfed in the past (hello, Gallente) and will be looked at.


Tech1 Support Frigates — Your first “healer” ship

One of the coolest things CCP is doing with this expansion is establish better ‘training’ paths for certain classes of ships — you want to be the support/repair/buff guy? Well, you don’t have to wait two months to finally fly a viable ship! You can start with Support Frigates, move to Support Cruisers, and then to the tech2 Logistics Cruisers that we all know.

Each race will be getting a tech one support frigate, bonused in remote repairing. (10% bonus to repair amount per level, 10% reduction in capacitor draw for reppers per level, and a flat 500% bonus to remote repair module ranges). They’re also giving them more scan resolution across the board, cutting the cycle time of small remote armor and shield reps in half so that these ships can respond more quickly to the fast pace of frigate combat, and reducing the fitting requirements of these modules. These ships have a max rep range of 28.8km with Tech2 rep modules and are generally among the slowest of the tech one frigates.

The Support Frigates are generally created from the ‘mining’ frigates that no one ever uses for anything, ever. This is perhaps the trickiest part of the winter frigate rebalance, since CCP is creating an entirely new role for frigates in a fleet, and hopefully shaking up frigate and other small-gang combat quite a bit.

These ships are, by design, weaker for their size than Tech2 Logistics Ships. This reflects both the lower cost and Skill investment and the design goal that they add to current frigate warfare without eclipsing all the other ships in the lineup.


More Tech1 Combat Frigates

We’ve already seen the changes to the Merlin, Incursus, Rifter (not much change), Punisher, and Tormentor (the mini-Armageddon — a design philosophy in which CCP acknowledges that the Amarr battleships are the best the Amarr has for PvP, so let’s copy those designs in miniature). These last three round out the Combat Frigate lines to 8 ships, two for each race. All three tend to favor long-range combat.

The Kestrel, in contrast to the heavier-tanked, gun-toting Merlin, is the start of the Caldari training path for pure missile damage. It’s going to do good damage with any type of missiles you can fit on it, with great range. It’s also going to be quite a bit more fragile than the new Merlin, though tougher than the older version of itself. It’s also getting a bit faster.

The Tristan is moving away from being a mix of missiles and guns, to being a mix of guns and drones. It will be able to field a full flight of light drones, with almost a full second flight of replacements or utility. It’s guns are bonused for tracking, to deal with the fact that it will probably fit railguns over blasters (it has a nice bonus to targeting range). It’s about as slow and tough as you remember. It’s going to be a hell of a fun ship to bring on frigate roams.

Finally, the Breacher is another missile-boat. It gets an agnostic missile damage bonus, like the Kestrel, but (and I like this) it’s second bonus is to shield repair amounts, making it a tiny, missile-tossing Cyclone. I approve.


New ORE Mining Frigate (Please name it the Chribba.)

Designed as an entry-level mining ship, this will replace the old mining frigates in the Industry Career Path tutorials. It has an outstanding mining output, capacitor, and mobility, with an astounding (for a frigate) ore hold of 5000 cubic meters. Its purpose is to be a fast hull capable of mining in hostile space (even if the current value of high-sec ore defeats this goal quite a bit). It also serves as an AMAZING gas harvester. With its inherent +2 warp core strength bonus, it should stand a fair chance of doing its job without being instantly tackled and killed.

With it’s bonuses, the ship can do with two mining lasers what it would take any other ship five lasers to accomplish. This means that when gas harvesting, it’s output as good as any gas-harvesting battlecruiser you care you name, with almost twice as much ‘ore’ cargo capacity for that gas.  Even without a propulsion mod, it can be built to be practically unscannable, cruise around at close to 500 meters per second, and align-to-warp in 2.5 seconds.

Oh, and it gets a flight of three light drones.

I will buy these things by the six-pack.


Existing Destroyers Rebalanced

CCP sees destroyers trading resilience and mobility for firepower. Existing destroyers are mostly fine as they are right now, but they are getting a few tweaks, notably the Coercer, which is in sad shape.

The Coercer is getting a second medium slot (finally!), losing a low in the process. It also got more CPU and Powergrid, so it can squeeze on the largest small lasers (once those weapon’s fitting requirements are changed, see below).

The Cormorant swaps one medium out for a new low slot. Capacitor, agility, and signature radius were inconsistent with other Caldari ships and were adjusted.

The Thrasher and Catalyst were barely touched.


Four New Destroyers

The new destroyers keep the same role as existing hulls – anti-frigate platforms. However they use alternate weapon systems to reach that goal, which means drones and missiles. Next to the existing destroyers, they have slightly less mobility, more signature radius, less capacitor, but are a bit tougher, with better damage projection due to the weapon types they use. Price will be roughly the same as existing destroyers.

Amarr: The Amarr destroyer is designed to take down opposition through indirect means. It gets bonuses to drone damage and hit points, and 20% range bonus to energy vampire and neutralizer modules (which will take up some or all of its six turrets with small neuts that reach out to about 13 kilometers). It’s basically sort of a mini-Curse. The damage is nothing special, but energy disruption ability plus drone control makes it, potentially, a real game changer in smaller fights. Like the Arbitrator, it has large bay of drones (able to field flights of five light drones at a time), giving it many options and utility choices.

Caldari: Missiles, missiles, missiles, missiles, that’s what this hull is all about. It spams missiles from eight launchers at quite a long range, and boasts improved explosion velocity to catch those pesky annoying little orbiting frigates.

GallenteCombines both turret and drone damage. Will probably have five turrets bonused for tracking (railguns), with a single utility high slot. Damage is lower than a Catalyst, but much better damage projection (two full flights of lights in its drone bay) — especially with drone damage amplifier changes.

Minmatar: This ship is unique among all Destroyers as it has a bonus that improves survivability – it is designed to zip around in the battlefield at high velocities (it gets a bonus that reduces its signature size when using a Microwarpdrive) while spewing missiles from its seven launchers. As a downside, it’s less efficient at hitting fast moving targets at greater ranges, like the Caldari hull.


Weapon and Module Changes

There have been a bunch, and I’m going to summarize a lot, and probably forget many things. This is the stuff that seems to be attracting the most attention.

Missiles

Light missiles and rockets got buffed. All larger short-range missile systems got buffed either directly, indirectly, or both. Heavy Missile Launchers got ‘nerfed’ so that they perform more in line with long-range weapon system — compared to those weapon systems, they’ll be second highest in DPS and volley damage once the changes go in. Several types of missile launchers got easier to fit. Tech2 missiles generally got buffed, though a few became less useful.

Lasers

Smalls and medium lasers got easier to fit, and several got renamed to be less stupid. (No more small lasers named “medium” something.)

Projectiles

Medium artillery cannons got easier to fit, and some ships (Hurricane) got their powergrid adjusted down to compensate. (As I mentioned yesterday, this ‘hurricane nerf’ isn’t much of one, though there may still be more changes coming.)

Drone Damage Amplifiers got easier to fit.

Ancillary Shield Boosters got nerfed down a bit, because they needed it. Basically, they have the same repair capacity, but they can’t keep it going for nearly as long before they have to reload (and then die).


Ewar Cruisers

These are the Disruption cruisers, inexpensive ewar platforms. CCP is revamping the tech1 Ewar cruisers with similar goals to the Tech1 ewar frigates. Two are focused on pure ewar with range bonuses (Blackbird and Celestis) and two are more hybrid ewar/brawlers for small gangs (Arbitrator and Bellicose).

Arbitrator: Bonus to tracking disruptors and drone damage/hit points. Not many changes, as CCP sees this as a really good ship already. In general it got a bit tougher and the capacitor got buffed. It’s got better weapon options now as well — rather than trying to squeeze on unbonused energy neutralizers in an effort to be a poor-man’s Pilgrim, the Arb pilot can run with two lasers and two missile launchers in its highs, if he wants to.

Blackbird: Bonus to ECM jam strength, optimal range, and falloff. Slightly better tank and capacitor. Now has a small drone bay. Ridiculous base targeting range (85km).

Celestis: Bonus to Sensor Damp effectiveness and optimal range. Big drone bay (two full flights of lights, or a flight of mediums) with the bandwidth to match. With the added drones and two(!) more low slots, it’s even better at ignoring its intended role to triple-web-kill frigates.

Bellicose: Bonus to Target Painter effectiveness and Missile Launcher rate of fire (with four launchers). Complimentary bonuses! Amazing! Way more CPU for fitting. Better shields. Faster. I’ll be having these.


Tech1 Support Cruisers

These are the tech1 remote repair ships designed to operate alongside or instead of Tech2 Logistics ships.
These ships continue the ‘upgrade path’ started with Support Frigates, which new players can follow all the way into T2 Logistics ships (or even carriers). These ships are weaker (both in reps and tank) than Tech2 versions, but they are designed to be capable in a mixed Tech1/Tech2 fleet, when what counts most is participation.

CCP Fozzie:
“If we’ve done our job right, then when a newer player shows up to your Armor fleet saying “I’ve got an Augoror, how can I help?” the FC will respond with “Join our logistics channel, the guys in there will get you set up with the cap chain and anchor“, rather than “LOLN00B come back with a real ship.

These ships are very close to their Tech2 counterparts in range, speed, agility, cap chain ability, and cap stability. They should be able to hang out with a Logistics crew and do their thing, albeit at reduced effectiveness. They also rely more strongly on role bonuses than skill bonuses, so that they will continue to be viable even when your pilot doesn’t have Cruiser 5. (Their repair range and cap chain ability remains basically the same no matter who’s flying the ship.)

Also, as with the the Logi frigate balance pass, CCP adjusted the repair modules at the same time, reducing some fitting requirements significantly.

The downside for their cheapness and low skill requirements will mainly be rep amount (at best, two-thirds of a Tech2 Logistics ship), signature radius, sensor strength, and tank.
Basically, all four ships got:
  • A 15% bonus to either either Remote Armor Repair amount or Remote Shield boost, per level.
  • A 5% reduction in the capacitor use of the appropriate module (remote shield or armor reppers), per level.
  • A flat 1000% bonus to the range of the appropriate module (and to Energy Transfers, for the Augoror and Osprey).

In addition, the Osprey and Augoror get a flat 200% bonus to Energy Transfer Array transfer amount (welcome to the cap chain), while the Exequror and Scythe get a bonus to the repair amount of Logistics drones.

They all get a few more fitting slots, improved power grid or CPU (or both), buffed tank, buffed capacitor, and increased drone capacity. (The Exequror tops the charts on this, as it can field a full flight of bonused medium logi drones, while the Scythe has the weird bandwidth and drone bay values that Scimitar pilots should find familiar.)


Attack Cruisers

Somewhat more anticipated cruisers than Ewar and Support Cruisers. “Attack” cruisers are the faster and lighter of the fighting cruisers.

The gap between Attack and Combat cruisers mirror the gap in the frigate lines, although for cruisers the divide isn’t as sharp. These ships do have less EHP than the Combat cruisers, but can still be tanked pretty well if you sacrifice some of your firepower.

These ships (the Omen, Caracal, Thorax, and Stabber) saw quite a bit of adjustment, though the really lame ones got more love.

Omen: Speaking of lame, boy did this guy get some love. Double-bonuses laser turrets. Another low slot. Improved powergrid and CPU. Roughly a 20% increase in mobility. Much better drone capacity.

Caracal: Excellent missile platform. Improved tank. Two more low slots. Much better powergrid and CPU. A nice fat boost to base speed.

Thorax: Probably adjusted the least of the group. Slight weaker tank, but a big boost to base speed, leaving it second only to the Stabber. A bit more CPU for fitting, another medium fitting slot, and that’s about it.

Stabber: Poor stabber, how you’ve been mistreated all these years. How can we make it up to you? How about being the fastest attack cruiser by almost 20%? Bonused turrets with a falloff buff for better kiting? Another low and mid slot? Better tank?

Can’t decide? Then you can have all of the above!

You still only get that one little light drone, though. No luck there. Sorry.


Combat Cruisers

Last but not least, the Combat Cruisers are designed as front line warships with both solid damage and good staying power. These ships got less dramatic changes than the others. The average tank of the set is only 2% higher than the average tank of the old “Tier 3” cruisers. Their main advantages over the other t1 cruisers are in tanking and a more robust capacitor.

Maller: No longer the useless, over-tanked, under-gunned bait ship! The maller gets a bonus to damage on its five laser turrets and a bonus to armor resists (rather than raw hit points, like the old version) (oops: got this confused with the Navy Augoror). A nice fat boost to powergrid should make fitting the medium turrets a lot easier, too. It picked up a chuck of base armor hit points, and also got about 25% faster.

Moa: Basically the shield version of the Maller, with a bonus to hybrid turrets and shield resistances. Doesn’t look like much else changed on this ship, but I never got the sense that it was that weak — just unspeakably ugly.

Vexor: If it ain’t broke, dont’ fix it. The vexor gets a bonus to both medium hybrid turret damage and drone hitpoints and damage. It loses the utility high slot, but gains both a mid-slot and low-slot, making it very versatile. The extra powergrid may even mean it can fit right-sized guns! Very solid tank (tons of structure hit points, because Gallente) and improved speed.

Rupture: If anything the Rupture was tweaked even less than the Vexor. One less high slot (why even bother making launchers an option), one more mid-slot (yay flexibility!). As with all minmatar, it’s faster than the other ships in its class, and remains a great option.


… and I’m spent.