Features and Philosophy, Part Two

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Last Blog entry we talked about the Gamer Vs Roleplayer divide. It can be found here if you want to take a look at it. This time we are going to expand into the realm of equipment. How many of you have played with the guy who took all the right abilities just so he could dual wield the most powerful weapon in the game? Who else has played a game where there is one weapon which just seems to be the obvious choice for damage? Who else has fallen into the trap of always picking that weapon or gear because anything less would make you weaker than your team mate? I know I have been there, done that, and I feel sick about it. When I make a character, I have a picture in my mind of how they are going to be; I don’t like it when game mechanics get in the way of that picture. Unchained Heroes was designed with this philosophy in mind. I wanted to make sure that if I desired to make a whip-using Inquisitor, he would be every bit as effective as the guy using the two-handed sword. I felt there needed to be a feature of the game that would be the equalizer for these things. For all equipment — offensive gear and protection gear — there needed to be a trade off somewhere. Unchained Heroes philosophy is that you choose your equipment based on flavor first and function second, not the other way around. To do this, on the damage side of things, we had a few choices of features to implement. We could use turns and make all the damage the same, we could have quick “minor” and slower “major” actions and give the faster weapons more attacks, or we could make an entirely new system that uses a Damage per Time Interval type of mechanic. On the protective equipment side of things, I needed to make gear that was as effective and desirable for each Hero Class as much as another, while enforcing trade offs through game mechanics.

Game Mechanics favored Certain Equipment

The Philosophy of Unchained Heroes is that equipment should be chosen based on roleplaying flavor before function, but we don’t neglect function; function just becomes a little more nuanced. When I was designing Unchained Heroes I felt that when you picked your gear it should be based on your character concept, but I was familiar with dice mechanics that had varying dice sizes and pools for weapons. Mechanically, it didn’t make sense to use a dagger with a d4 over a long sword with a d8 when you only had one action per turn. You needed to pack the biggest punch you could in the time you had, so a longsword was better. I didn’t like that. If I wanted to use a dagger over a longsword, I should be able to. I shouldn’t have to sacrifice an average of 2 damage per attack for my role-playing. The game mechanics simply favored the use of a longsword over the dagger. The question then became, how could I fix that?

My Options for Weapons

I needed to equalize equipment and I needed to figure out what feature would follow that philosophy. I came up with three main options. First option was to make all weapons have the same damage dice no matter what they were. That was not something I wanted to do because I still wanted your choice of weapon to have meaning for the mechanics of the game. I didn’t follow this method for obvious reasons.

The second option was to divide up turns into sections by using minor, major, and move actions.  This would allow me to change the frequency of attacks so that weapons that were smaller and faster would hit more often, but cause the same damage over time as a big weapon that hit less often but for more damage. To make this happen, you would have 2 minor actions and 1 move or 1 major action and 1 move per turn. This would allow me to differentiate between the different weapons and give them an attack speed. Daggers might do 1d6 damage and have a minor action time to attack. A two-handed sword might have a dice pool of 2d6 for damage and have a major action time for attacks. In the end, damage would be normalized. I liked this at first, so I began expanding it. Weapons could be divided into those used with one hand, others with two hands, and still others will be dual wielded. This train of thought led me to the idea that all One handed weapons would do 1d6 damage and be minor actions to use them and all Two Handed weapons would use major actions and do 2d6 damage. You could reskin them into anything you wanted, but the result would be the same. I ran into snags when I started thinking about fighting styles such as Dual Wielding and Two-handed. If you had 2 One-handed weapons you would do 2d6 damage per minor action? That would be a total of 4d6 damage compared to if you had 1 Two-handed Weapon which did 2d6 damage. Dual Wielding and Two-handed Weapons would just multiply damage modifiers then. Problem solved. Are you wondering about the guy that wanted to use 1 One-handed Weapon? If they used a shield, they would get the benefits of higher defensive capabilities at the cost of offensive ones. If they wanted to use 1 Weapon and nothing else, the game mechanics wouldn’t cover it, but as a character concept point, that would be a GM and player decision.

The last option is the option I decided to use in Unchained Heroes, it was a new system where actions had times associated with them instead of turns. Some have called this a Tick System. I call it the Real Time Combat Engine. This would allow for more nuanced choices for the players with their choice of equipment, while equalizing damage across the board. The time to perform an action from declaration to activation would be called Action Time. How the Action Time aspect of Unchained Heroes works is covered here, so we will only loosely cover it in this post. The Action Time of an attack was considered the swing time, preparation time, and spell-casting time it took to perform it. It is a concept that is in place in most video games. Small One-handed weapons were given an Action Time of 7TI (Time Intervals) instead of taking up a minor action or your entire turn. Large Two-handed weapons were given an Action Time of 13 Time Intervals instead of taking a major action, a full-round action, or a turn. Bigger weapons had a d12 for damage dice and the smaller weapon a d6 for damage dice. Damage was normalized at 1.0 Damage per Time Interval if using a Two-handed Weapon or Dual Wielding. When I dug deeper, the Weapon Speeds or Action Times expanded into AT9 and 11 as well.

This gave me a whole host of interesting options for players to explore. They would be able to do the same amount of damage no matter what weapon they used, but they would be able to change the frequency of their actions and choose a play-style that fit them. Did they want to do damage frequently but in small bursts or less frequently, but in huge chunks? Did they prefer for more actions to trigger certain effects, or less actions, but be able to smash through a foe’s defenses? The choice was now theirs to make and the system would encourage them to choose based on flavor, then function.

What about Armor?

The rest of the combat gear for a character was approached more traditionally. I identified a few things that I wanted to implement: armor would be usable by anyone, traditional encumbrance rules would be removed, and there needed to be armor against magic as well.

I like balance in my games. I have Martial and Supernatural Actions that players can use. I didn’t want one to be the equipment favorite. Often times the Sorcerer sat back in the corner while the rest of the team picked through the armor and weapons in the treasure hoard. I wanted to change that.

For Armor to be usable by anyone, I had to remove the idea that you needed to be proficient in them to wear them. I still wanted to have it make sense for a strong warrior to be wearing Full Plate over a wizard, though. I didn’t want to make requirements and I didn’t want there to be an encumbrance statistic, so I decided to make a Fatigue System. In this case it would be Equipment Fatigue, a stat that lowers your total Energy Pool based on the weight of your equipment. It would then be able to be modified by a Strength Attribute, this would make it so the Warrior would gravitate towards Full Plate protection because the Fatigue would be reduced by their great strength. The Mage could still wear it, but at the cost of a spell or two in their Energy Pool.

Protective Gear was designed to be a Passive protection. No matter how frequently a person used an action against you, it would always be able to provide the same amount of protection. At first I had damage reduction, but this was a penalty for faster weapons, so I removed that. With the concepts of Defense as a physical protection and Will as a magical protection, I needed to make multiple types of protective gear and ended up with Armor and Talismans. Armor would add to your physical defenses while Talismans would add to your magical defenses.

With that firmly in place, I needed to start making decisions on how to differentiate between the different types of Armor and Talismans within each equipment group. I didn’t want to make it completely obvious to go for Full Plate armor every time or the have a similar gold standard Talisman either. I wanted there to be a game system choice behind each selection. For Armor, on the one end of the scale, it would be lightweight protection with a small Fatigue penalty and the other end, high quality protection with a large Fatigue penalty. With the Fatigue system, the heavier the armor would provide more protection, but it would reduce the number of Energy based actions you could perform. For the Talismans, I wasn’t going to do exactly the same concept, so I decided to have Talismans grant magical protection, increase your Health, and increase your Energy, so I had to balance them around the bonuses that they would provide. They all would provide magical protection, but to smaller degrees. Those that were low on the magical protection scale granted a lot of extra Health and only a small amount of Energy. Those that were high on the magical protection scale granted very little health, but a lot of Energy.

Balanced Mechanics make worthwhile Choices

In the end, Unchained Heroes has always been geared towards making your character concept choices the primary driving factor in Hero Creation. I think we did that here by matching that philosophy to the features we desired. You can now think of being a Spear wielding, Chain Mail wearing, Human Warrior and not feel you were cheated because you didn’t decide to go as the Dual No-dachi Two Weapon Fighting Style flavor-of-the-month build. Every equipment choice you make should give you a relatively balanced Hero and still have them true to your character vision. They all have their strengths and weaknesses and there still will be optimal builds, but the differences should be minor rather than major. The philosophy Unchained Heroes has been built upon is that balanced mechanics make every choice worthwhile. In the end, how you play with those mechanics is going to set you apart from the person sitting next to you. Player ingenuity makes you unique, not your choices of equipment.

 

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