student 20 Productions

Random Thoughts of a Game Developer

Combaty Goodness and Sanity Saving Side Projects

I know it’s been a long time since my last post – way to long to be really forgivable. It seems that this blog is slipping into the same territory as all my blogs of the past, which is upsetting. I need to get back into a schedule. My older brother posts at his blog on an almost daily basis – maybe I should try that. It’s harder to get into a weekly habit than it is a daily one, I guess. In any case, I suppose I should get on with it, rather than bemoaning my lack of posts. Self pity isn’t the most healthy thing in the world to indulge in.

Today, we’re going to cover two things – the basics of combat in Elements, and a side-project I started recently to help deal with the headaches that Elements causes me. I guess that creating a second tabletop RPG system might sound like a psychotic way to relieve stress cause by creating a tabletop RPG system, but this side project – 16 Bit Heroes by name – is lighter, simpler, and it lets me look at Element’s more complicated rules in a different light.

I’m going to try dividing this post into multiple pages. You know, with this part here and Combaty Goodness as one page, and the Sanity Saving Side Project as the next page. I’ve never done this before for any blog I’ve ever written, but I’ve noticed that my posts are absurdly long, and I thought this might help make them look more readable. Let’s see if it works…

Combaty Goodness

All Role Playing Games need some way to resolve physical conflict. It’s crazy not to. I don’t care if the game is about high level court intrigue, or about the goings on at a monastery, there’s a high probability that, at some point, someone is going to hit someone, and battle will ensue. In role playing games, combat of one form or another happens; it is only the frequency with which it occurs that changes from game to game, and let’s be honest – it changes more from one game group to another more than from one game to another. Some game groups like combat, and want a battle or two every session. Other groups prefer combat to be rare or completely non-existent. Most groups fall somewhere in between the extremes, and that’s as it should be.

There are a lot of theories running around out there concerning how various games treat combat in their rules. A lot of people take the view that if a system spends a lot of time with combat, creating a complicated method for beating folks up, that means that the game should appeal more to people who like combat in games, and less to people who don’t. That’s a pretty good point as far as it goes, but I personally don’t think it’s entirely true.

I think that combat systems should be present and well made, with making combat fun and tactical in mind. To me, a combat system is like a pipe wrench: no matter how often you use it, it’s a really useful thing to keep in your toolbox. Games with poor or ill-defined combat systems seem just lazy to me; whether they’re going to get a lot of use or not, they should be done and done well. Rules for tactical movement, taking advantage of opponent inattention, and doing really cool stuff should all be there. A group can use the complexities of combat or not – if there’s a skill system of some kind, you can always simplify combat to just a few skill checks if you don’t like the more tactical stuff, but the more in-depth version should be available. Having a tabletop RPG without a decent combat system is like having a toolbox without a pipe wrench.

With that having been said, I enjoy combat in RPGs, whether a tactical map and minis are used or not. The Elements combat system is designed with both combat map use and not in mind, with plenty of opportunity for tactical strategy and doing "cool stuff" along the way. Like most of the system, combat is customizable; there is a system (untested as yet) for making up new Maneuvers (see below) that is being used to design the Maneuvers for the book.

Combat in Elements is a step-by-step process, just as it is in most games. As combat begins, an initiative order is determined by making an Initiative Effort – by default, you roll a Steadiness effort, although there are Qualities that allow you to substitute other Conditions, and there are ways to add Bonus Dice to your Initiative Effort. Initiative Effort Checks aren’t bound by the 50 result limit of other checks, so Bounce Dice are even more useful than usual here. Highest result goes first, second highest goes second and so on. NPCs have a set Initiative Value (there’s not much dice rolling for GMs in Elements; this is intended to prevent accidental TPK because the GM has a string of good luck rolls) that replaces their Initiative roll. Anyone who has a Initiative Effort more than twenty more than the lowest Initiative gets to participate in a Surprise Round. After that, combat proceeds as follows:

  1. Surprise Actions: If there is a Surprise Round, all participants in that round act in order of Initiative, receiving 3 Action Points (AP – see below) to act with when their turn comes up. During the Surprise round, no one can take Off Turn Actions (OTAs; see below). Once the Surprise Round is over, the rest of the battle proceeds with all combatants participating; see below.
  2. Getting AP: Once the battle begins, each PC receives 5 Action Points (AP) at the start of his or her turn. AP are used to pay for actions the character takes, most often in the form of Maneuvers. Maneuvers typically cost from 0 to 5 AP , and all have a specific defined effect. Most also require an Effort check, either against a static Challenge number or against a Challenge established by the target. Characters can choose to spend some, none, or all of their AP during their turn. Any AP not spent are held in reserve.
  3. Using Maneuvers: During a PC’s turn, they can use any Maneuver they know, following the rules of that Maneuver to create the desired result – this may be inflicting damage, leveling a State on a target, or moving around the battlefield. PCs all receive certain default Maneuvers allowing for quick movement, tactical movement, basic dodging, and punching someone in the face. Other maneuvers are gained during character generation, through experience, or by using Tools (weapons, magic wand, what have you). For instance, daggers have a "Stabbity" maneuver that anyone with a dagger can use, whether they’re trained in its use or not.
  4. Extended Actions: When you’re done spending off your AP, you declare the end of your turn. If you wanted to start doing something, but didn’t have the AP to finish, you can start an Extended Action; this leaves you with no AP until the start of your turn, but makes it so that you only have to spend the difference between the AP spent on your last turn and the cost of the Maneuver to take that action on your next turn (so, if you have a 4 AP Maneuver, and you spend 2 AP on it at the end of your turn, you can perform that Maneuver on your next turn by spending the 2 leftover AP, instead of its total 4 AP cost). All AP for an Extended Action must be spent in a row, so you must spend the rest of your AP on your turn starting it, and then the AP to finish the action at the start of your next turn. If you do anything else in between (such as spending AP on something else at the start of your next turn), any AP spent on the Extended Action are lost, and so is the Extended Action.
  5. Off Turn Actions: If you have at least 1 AP left at the end of your turn, you can take Off Turn Actions (OTA) if they are available. AN OTA has an AP cost, just like any other Maneuver, and if you don’t have enough AP, you can’t take the OTA. Even if a Maneuver has an AP cost of 0, you must have at least 1 AP to use it; it just doesn’t spend that 1 AP. OTAs come in two basic types – Counters and Reactions. Counters are triggered by another character’s actions, and take place before that action is resolved. Reactions can be done after just about anything, or at any time you like, but take place after the last action taken by anyone else is resolved. Either way, OTAs require that the Maneuver you’re using be a Counter or Reaction Maneuver… You can’t use just any Maneuver!
  6. NPC Turns: NPCs use slightly different rules; NPCs have a list of available Maneuvers, and are typically allowed to choose any two on their turn. NPCs can only take Extended Actions if their Maneuver is specifically described as being an Extended Action. NPCs also do not have AP – they have their specific number of Maneuvers per round, and that’s it. If an NPC has an OTA, it is always available to them, but not all NPCs will have this option. NPCs also do not make attack Effort checks – instead, they have an Attack Value for each Maneuver that sets the Challenge for the targeted PC’s Defense Effort. For folks that prefer a little more random in their battles, drop the Attack Value by 5, and roll 1d10, adding the result to determine the Challenge.
  7. Extra Turns: Once all the characters have had their actions, a new round begins at the top of the Initiative Order. Characters who had a Surprise Round action can, at the end of any round, voluntarily lower their Initiative by 20 to gain an Extra Turn. During an Extra Turn, the character gains 2 additional AP to spend, and do not loose any AP they had left over from their earlier turn (see below); an Extra Turn otherwise functions like any other turn.
  8. The New Round: Once all Extra Turns are resolved, the new Round begins, at the top of the Initiative Order (which may have changed if characters have taken Extra Turns). When a character’s next turn comes up, they loose any AP they have not yet spent and gain 5 fresh, new AP to spend. Any Extended Actions left from their last turn are take care of right away. This procedure moves from round to round until one side or the other of the battle wins.

And that’s about that. There are a lot of other things that modify the ebb and flow of Combat – being Open to Attack, States, and so on, but those are best left as the subject of another post. The Elements System, by default, utilizes miniatures on a 1” square combat grid, but I plan on including modified rules for mapless combat and hexgrid combat, for folks that prefer that sort of thing.

For the record, for my next post, I plan to talk about States and the Overcome Efforts used to get rid of them. States are things like paralysis, fear, blood loss, and so on that have an adverse effect on a character. There are also positive States, like being Energized or Regeneration… so it should be an interesting post.

In the mean time, click on the little “more…” at the bottom there to read about 16 Bit Heroes, my side project RPG that I’m designing as a pressure-valve to keep Elements from burning me out or driving me insane. (not that driving me insane is all that long of a trip. It’s more of a short walk than a cross-country excursion, if you know what I mean).

16 Bit Heroes

Cover Shot - in Pencil

I put the above together using Paint.Net and a fun little online tool called the Charas-Project. Anyone interested in making their own RPG video games should check out both…

SO, there I was, facing the prospect of defining an ever-growing list of Elements, and finally coming to grips with what I was doing. Elements isn’t a small project. The Elements themselves are a massive undertaking, even without all the other rules and such. I mean, we’re not talking about a list of skills here; these things are meant to cover a lot more than what a character knows how to do. Worse, they all need Maneuvers, Processes, and Qualities to go with them. It’s a bit mind-numbing, make no mistake.

So, I took a break from that to play some old-school console Role Playing Games. The old Dragon Quest© stuff that was released here in America as Dragon Warrior©, for instance. I kicked back and relaxed to them, and started to think “Man, if only Elements was this simple and direct.” I didn’t want to change Elements – I love what I’m doing with it… but I did want a way to take a break from it upon occasion. Something that would still exercise my game-design brain cells, but would be on a different (and much simpler) tact.

And that’s when the idea struck: a tabletop RPG based on those classic RPGs of yore. A game that paid homage to classics like Final Fantasy© and Breath of Fire©. A nice, simple, direct game designed for fantasy role playing. I’ve seen attempts at such systems floating around the internet, but I have never tried to make one myself. So, I grabbed the instruction manual for the Gameboy Color version of Dragon Quest/Warrior© 3 and started a little research. This was about two months ago. I never expected to do more than tinker around with it when I got stuck on Elements, and while that’s more or less exactly what happened, I managed to make a lot more progress than I thought I would.

And so, 16 Bit Heroes was born. Now, before anyone gets the idea that this is a big distraction from my main project, keep in mind that I have over 84 thousand words dedicated to Elements so far, and only about 700 to 16 Bit Heroes… It’s a side project, and I’m treating it as such. The thing is, though, that 16 Bit is a lot easier to work with, and requires a lot less effort than Elements.

The idea of 16 Bit Heroes is that you start up a character, selecting the character’s Class (or making one yourself – the process is so simple it hurts…) and race (or making one up yourself… like I said, it’s all pretty simple and direct), and then you and your group go out a-questin’. The depth of the storyline is up to you, but it’s designed for and best suited to the sort of thing you see in those old 8 and 16 bit RPGs… Start a quest to defeat the Demon Lord. Fight off the Evil Empire. You get the idea.

The game is combat heavy, just like those old games, but the combat system is quick and light, so that those battles don’t drive you buggy or take up all your time. As I said before, though – there’s plenty of room for tactics and fun, so it’s not like I’m leaving the pipe wrench out of the toolkit, here… but compared to Elements, combat is positively simplistic.

Characters develop from level 1 (yes, it’s a level based system – what did you expect) weaklings to epically powered demi-gods. There are simple Stats that go up as you level; there’s stat gain and such literally every level, so you never feel like a level gain was worthless. In short, it’s simple, kind of silly, and fun to play with, and that’s exactly why I occasionally dedicate some time to it. 16 Bit Heroes might not have the depth or versatility of Elements, but with that simplicity comes a lack of design frustration. It’s nice.

Anyway, if folks are interested, I’ll start making some posts about 16 Bit Heroes as I go. That might help me do the post-a-day thing, too, since some days I’m so intellectually constipated concerning Elements that I would rather scream than talk about it… If I do, I’ll make a separate page on the blog for it so that folks that only want to read about one or the other can read just about the system they’re interested in.

In any case, I guess that’s just about all I have to say on the subject today. I’m doing 16 Bit Heroes work today, since I’m still tinkering with the Elements list for Elements and that’s really starting to make me batty.

So, like I said – next post should be about States, and maybe I’ll work on another for 16 Bit Heroes, too. What the hell? I’ll throw a few more irons in the fire. What can it hurt? Brother Cullen manages, like, twelve fantasy settings for his writing. Surely I can manage working on and posting about two very different role playing systems… that’s not, like, completely insane… right?

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3 thoughts on “Combaty Goodness and Sanity Saving Side Projects

  1. Actually, 16-Bit Heroes sounds like a winner. Something gamers might want to throw together between bouts of Element (or HEAVY DUTY RPG of your choice.)

    As for me posting daily… ha ha no. June and July were just good months (and some of July was posting things I found on YouTube,) You check out March and April. Fallow city.

    I go through cycles of posting. Sort of matching how depresses I am at the time. But not always.

    As for you posting weekly, well, if you broadened the scope of the site, maybe you’d have fewer problems. Hearing about how the game is (now games are) going is great, but other things would be nice too. RPGs you’ve played, Anime, movies, whatever you want.

    Remember, “A Tabletop RPG Dev Blog… sorta” is the description of your site only as long as you allow it to be. You can easily change it to “Dev Blog, Review Site, and More!” or something more Eric appropriate.

    Student 20 Productions is whatever you produce.

  2. Here. Got it for you:

    Student 20 Productions: The Random Thoughts of a Game Developer as He Works on His Games

    or to lift from myself:

    Studio 20 Productions: The Development Blog (and So Much More!) of Student 20

    or even:

    Studio 20 Productions: Not Nearly As Good as Welltun Cares Presents. Sorry ‘Bout That.

    All three of these (well, maybe not the third one) state what the main thrust of the blog is, while giving you enough wiggle room so that you don’t have to post OFF TOPIC on “off topic” posts.

    See? I am a genius after all. And who would have thunk it after the Noodle Incident?

  3. Pingback: Change the Tagline, Save the World… or not… « student 20 Productions

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