Focus Rounds

This is one of those rules that is going to get shuffled into the “advanced” rule pile. It adds an interesting option for certain situations and characters but could be ignored most of the time.

Right now the Reflex attribute is vitally important for a lot of conflict because it not only ranks you in who goes first in the initiative order, but also determines how much you can accomplish in a round.

However sometimes you only want to accomplish one vital thing in a round. Working on generating Boosts by spending actions is cool but it might not be the only way to do things. Yes I want the players to be able to spend an action to generate boosts that the group can share and that will be the default but from the beginning I was thinking of generating larger Boosts just for your character.

How currently I think that should work is to opt out of the regular Reflex initiative and take a Focus Round. What that would mean is rolling against Psyche instead and taking one powerful action that turn. Instead of getting a number of actions in that turn, the character would get one action but with a Boost of 3 per success. If the Psyche roll yielded four successes the character would get a Boost of 9 (an automatic success if there are no Drains) and a Boost of 3 to the action roll. These Boosts only last for that turn but could be very powerful.

To see why that’s significant, let’s talk about generating Boosts in a normal Reflex round.

Generating a Boost by spending an action is a weaker effect but potentially longer lasting. If you spend an action you’d get a Boost of 1 to start but by default it only lasts a turn. If you succeed in your roll, you can spend successes on several things. Spending a success can make the Boost 1 higher. Spending a success can make the boost persistent (until removed or it expires). Spending a success can also be used to share the boost with another character.

That’s a lot of effects. I think in playtests, it will result in a lot of persistent Boost 1s which might need some kind of management, we’ll have to test.

The best part is these effects can be use together without issue. Another character could create a low level boost for your character to use and then you could enter a focus round.

So when would a character taking a focus round fall in the initiative order? Simply put, they will place according to their successes just like they had rolled for Reflex. The justification for this is their extreme focus helps them to act quickly as they notice an opportunity.

As if The Artifact needed more options… but there you are. One more option for your character’s in 4th Edition.

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Vehicle Actions

When The Artifact was first being written, the idea for vehicles was to have a system for tracking their power for things like shield generators and movement. That proved too cumbersome in early playtests and it had to be abandoned.

Now in 4th Edition that concept is making a come back but in a much more manageable way. We were calling these Vehicle Actions for a while but we think Performance Rating is a bit more descriptive of what’s being modeled here.

Vehicles like the TF and Delta are getting a Performance Rating of 4. Something like the Rall 4 could (terrifyingly) get a Performance Rating of 8. Large vehicles like the Chezbah Cruiser would have dozens of points to spend.

Here’s the current text for describing this concept.

What is Performance Rating?

To take actions, vehicles need their pilot to spend successes from rolls or spend a Performance Rating (PR). The PR of a vehicle is a measure of how easy it is to manage the vehicle’s systems. This can be from the vehicle having plenty of power available for it’s systems, it can come from having extra pilots to help manage systems or from sophisticated software controls. The difference to the player is not important but looking at the stats of the vehicle can give some clues.

If the vehicle has multiple crew, it will often get a PR from each additional crew as long as the vehicle isn’t especially large or difficult to control.

When a power guzzling system like a shield generator or laser is fully powered by the vehicle, it will often get a PR for it’s operation.

Some vehicles like E-Suits and Anti-Gravs are inherently difficult to control and require extensive computer guidance. When the computers are powerful enough and their software is well designed, they may gain PR from them.

Performance Rating can be used move without having to roll for piloting, to keep shields up each turn, keep a sensor lock going, Add a Boost 2 to the performance of a system or link the fire of several weapons together on the same target.

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Vehicle Critical Hits

Something that’s been stumping me for a while is how to get away from looking up critical hit charts for 4e. The thing is, I love the critical hits in The Artifact, they add a lot of flavor to larger scale combat and I don’t want to lose that.

At the same time, critical hits can really slow down a game. I want this to be fast and easy.

Critical hits for people got hung up by having to roll for a hit location. That’s changing to a negotiation. The attacker says what part of the body they were aiming at and the defender gets to move that attack one position if they want. That only works because all humans have the same body layout.

Vehicles are all over the place though. If you hit a TF in the leg, what did it damage? It could slow the vehicle or it could make it harder to pilot. Without the critical hit charts you wouldn’t know that.

Here’s the idea, there are six basic types of critical hits. They are Control, Drive, Protection, Sensors, Weapons and Cargo. They’re going to be presented in a 3×3 grid that looks like this.

Drive Weapon Protection
Protection Control Drive
Sensors Drive Cargo

It used to be that you’d roll to see if you got a critical but you could guarantee it with a success. Now you have to spend a success to get a critical. This collapses the randomness into the initial roll and speeds things up.

If attacked from the front the defender selects one vertical column. If attacked from the side they select a horizontal row. If this is a medium or heavy vehicle (with 8 fire arcs) and are attacked from a corner, the defender selects one of the closest horizontal row, vertical column or the diagonal across the chart.

Now one of the three hit locations is picked by the attacker. All the stats eligible for a critical hit will be listed under these headings but they should already be partly self evident. The attacker can either cut a stat in half or introduce a Drain to use a system like a weapon, shield or move the vehicle.

If the attacker spends a number of additional successes they get a catastrophic critical and can reduce a stat to zero. The number depends on the armor and size of the vehicle. One for most vehicles but Rall4s and things like Tanks would cost two. Something like a Kelrath Freighter might be four successes to get a catastrophic critical.

There are some fiddly rules to add. For example, what happens if you reduce the crew of a vehicle by half? In that case the crew takes half the damage the vehicle did. If you hit the cargo of a vehicle, it takes half the damage that the vehicle took.

Time to playtest. I think this will be simpler, I hope it will be easily picked up by players, time will tell.

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Boosts and Drains

We’ve play tested this and it works really well. Now I have to figure out how to explain it. If you’ve been reading along I’ve covered some of these concepts in the past but there’s been some significant refinements.

As the last post outlined there were some issues on how boosts and drains cancel each other out. We have a way of resolving that now.

4e uses a d20 scale instead of a D100 so the main attribute is rolled d20. All skills, modifiers or anything else that would modify a roll is either a Boost or a Drain are given a rating from 1-9 rolled on d10s. I don’t want to have big piles of dice being rolled so here’s the trick. Boosts and Drains are rolled using the same dice. Here’s how that works.

If you have a Boost, like a skill for instance and no drains, you roll for your attribute on a d20 and for the Boost on a d10. If you roll equal or under the Boost’s rating, you get a success. If you have multiple Boosts, you add more d10s and apply them to your Boosts in the order you like.

If you have a Drain, like a the difficulty of piloting a damaged vehicle, you roll for your attribute on a d20 and the Drain on a d10. If you roll equal or under the Drain’s rating, you lose a success from any you may have gotten from the d20. If you have multiple Drains, you add d10 for each and apply them to your Drains in the order you like.

But what happens if you have a Boost and Drain? What if you have two Boosts and three Drains? Instead of adding a d10 for every Boost and Drain, pair the highest Boosts with the highest Drains. If the Drain is equal or higher than the Boost, eliminate the die from the roll. If the Boost is higher, roll 1d10 for both the Boost and the Drain. If you roll equal or lower than the Boost, add a success. If you also roll equal or under the Drain, negate the success.

You still get to arrange the dice with whatever Boost and Drain you want, but the window for getting a success gets smaller when they are paired.

For example a character has a skill of 3 and a Drain due to fog of 2. If these are paired together, and the player rolls a 1, there is no success gained by the roll. In that case, only a 3 would give a success.

Hopefully that makes sense. We made a character using the 4e rules and tested all that out. It handled multiple modifiers both positive and negative with very little effort. It was suggested that players could use playing cards to arrange and track their Boosts and Drains and pair them up. That might be more of a hassle than it’s worth in some situations but I’m willing to give it a try.

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4th Edition Writing Underway

I’ve started a Google Docs document for writing the next version of The Artifact. I’m trying for now to only occasionally reference 3rd edition. My writing is more casual now and I hope that makes it better to read. I don’t want the old text to change my current expression of ideas.

A lot has fallen into place but I still have unresolved questions in some basic procedures. In 3rd, Advantages and Impairments got rid of some roll modifiers. In 4th theres very little addition and subtraction going on because Boosts and Drains are taking center stage.

The question I have is, if a character has a Boost and a Drain, how do they interact? My intention at the moment is one Drain cancels out a Boost. Only if you have more Drains than Boosts do you roll for Drains.

For some people that’s going to seem a little unfair. You could have a Skill of 9 (the highest possible) and a Drain of 1 (the lowest possible) and they’d cancel each other out.

This kind of thing is going to take some new thinking on the players part because a character can create Boost with an action. Because you can have multiple Boosts in each roll, creating a low level Boost will negate that low level Drain and you get your skill back.

Something I’m having the hardest time conveying is the idea that the players choose how to apply these negations and the rolls of their dice to match their Boosts. I don’t know if this is a natural concept or a difficult one. I also don’t know if some people would pick up on it and others wouldn’t.

When I started brainstorming this version, I had a lot of ideas for special conditions and their mechanical effects but I recently realized that they could be Boosts. Since I had the idea for players creating Boosts then these effects might as well fall under that concept. The challenge now is to lay out those conditions as created Boosts without making it seem like those are the only options. The tool is multipurpose but it’s also vauge so I want the examples to spur creativity but not limit it.

I’m going to the Queen City Conquest this weekend and running a game of The Artifact. The hard part for me is going to be playing 3rd Edition and not slipping into new tools that we’ve been testing.

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Stick With the Familiar?

As I approach putting together a new version of The Artifact, I’m continually asking what needs to change. One of those things that probably should change is the software being used to lay out the book.

In the past I’ve used Apples Pages 4.0 to put together the books. If you were unaware, the current version of Pages is 7. The reason I use an old version is because Apple significantly nerfed the product at version 5 and you just don’t have the level of control there was in 4.

I’ve worried that an update in the OS would make Pages 4 stop working someday. That hasn’t happened yet thankfully.

The last game I put together was with the free beta for Affinity Publisher. It seems very capable, although The Artifact is by far bigger than that project.

Something that gives me pause using Affinity Publisher is that it’s not easy to import tables and The Artifact has a lot of tables. That would end up a hard slog. It would give me a chance to catch errors but would also introduce the chance of me introducing errors.

What AP (Affinity Publisher) does afford is better control over layout and the opportunity to go to introduce a new style for 4th edition. I don’t know what that style should be, though.

I could try bringing the book into a 6×9 format. That would ballon the page count and would require a lot more art assuming 1 piece of art per 4 pages as I tried to get for 3e. There are a number of people that strongly prefer 6×9 but I’m not sure it would suit The Artifact. For one, the maps would have to be reduced in size and that would make details less noticeable.

I could bring in a new set of fonts but I hate picking fonts. Georgia, while nothing exciting is a solid and respectable font.

The other big concern is that AP is an unproven solution. Sure it works and is stable, but will it last as a platform? I think the answer is yes. The Affinity suite is taking on Adobe’s unattainable prices and I think that’s going to win them a lot of small publishers. Still, the original versions of The Artifact were layed out on a program called MacPublisher that went belly up. While that gives me pause, I know my current solution is also going away.

Looking at the big picture, moving to AP is going to be a slog and it raises a lot of questions but I know I should probably do it.

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AI E-Suits and Hacking

Yup, I’m thinking about computers and hacking again. I’ve been wrestling with some technology trends that are on the horizon. One is AI. Another is quantum cryptography. I have tried to avoid these technologies or explain them away as “like what we have but amplified” but I think I’m going to change tactics for fourth edition.

When asked about why there are no fully autonomous robots on The Artifact, my answer has been that autonomous systems are dangerous because they could be turned against you by the Chezbah. I think that’s still the right answer but I’m thinking of making some changes.

For one, it’s important to recognize that E-Suits are semi-autonomous AI. I haven’t delved into that much in the past but I’ve had some thoughts that might make that come front and center and make hacking a more comprehensible process.

I’m thinking that Artifact computers operate under a different security paradigm than ones developed on Earth. Since these are advanced computers, their software might appear intelligent to us. Not a human level general intelligence but something on par with a dog, horse or cat, sculpted to a purpose. They recognize their owners for access control and can carry out some tasks on their own.

These AI only respond to other AIs they recognize for security. They can be tricked however. I’m thinking that Comm Officers might have an AI that can make itself appear like a recognized AI, an AI doppelgänger if you will.

From there a hacker can deploy viruses, but the AIs all have their own immune system. They can overcome the effect of a virus in time (possibly in a few turns for example) and then become immune to it. This fixes the problem I was having with a virus taking over all the Rall4s in the fight. It enables limited use hacks in a short amounts of time (combat turns) but makes them temporary effects.

Another change I think I want to make is making hex mainframes and Hosent follow this kind of logic also and that you’d have to convince them to work for you. The other thing hex mainframes have to do is to have a sense of what is going on inside their hex. There’s a technology called conduction mapping in the players handbook that would fit this bill nicely. This would make talking to a hex mainframe very useful and also might make destroying the mainframes very important when you want to hide.

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Simplicity

The Artifact has always been a heavy game there’s no reason to shy away from that. Because of that though, I have to be careful to not let it get worse.

For 4th edition, I’m trying to tie a lot of individual rules into a single set of rules called stunts. They tie the results of successes into sets. That allows me to put them on the character sheets for players to easily reference.

I’m contemplating a slightly different system though. My thought is that each success can cut a number in half. Any number the player wants. That simple rule would handle most of the things stunts do. The down side is that it could lead to some analysis paralysis. It’s so open that a player might not be sure what option to pick, especially if they’re not familiar with how the mechanics of the game works.

There might be another effect or two that I need to include to do everything that stunts do so it might not be exactly that simple in the end.

It’s an interesting choice. What’s easier to handle? A list of specific mechanical options? Or a few flexible rules that don’t by themselves offer any guidance.


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Communications

The Artifact is a very cyberpunk inspired game. As such, there are hackers that can be played in the guise of Comm Officers. Opposing them is the Chezbah Priest with their ability to connect to any computer they want to.

Sadly, I followed a model of hackers that is realistic but a failed model for RPG play. In my defense, many games followed the model of the hacker acting at a different time than the rest of the players.

So that needs to change. The question is how? I have several ideas but I want a clear concept of what the actual mechanics of the computer infiltration is and how the game mechanics support the action. Some of them might work together.

The first method is a stored virus method. The Comm Officer equips themselves with software tools that only work on a specific system. For example, a Rall 4 and Hunter E-suits would be good bets. I could even justify the fact that the character has the viruses with the idea that they’re part of their standard kit, supplied by the military. The question is, if the characters have this kind of software, why not just infect all the vehicles they run into? It would come down to the ability to deliver the virus.

In that situation each virus has it’s own pre-defined target and action. Something like “Rall 4 target change” would work. It would require a lot of writing out what each virus does.

Another option is to allow the character to steal actions from a vehicle. It’s an interesting option but it doesn’t say how the character is performing the hack. I’m sure that a lot of players wouldn’t really care how this happens but it’s something I want to know because it can change how the players use the ability.

Then there’s the idea of giving them an even more powerful tool than they currently have. The idea being the long range communicators have some kind of data teleporter in them. They would have an ability similar to the Chezbah Priest’s. Maybe there would be a kind of targeting skill check to start with to make things interesting.

It might be a good approach to switch from a denial of access model to simply gaining access. I mention this in the Comm Officer’s Guide but it hasn’t collected any attention. Moving it front and center might be the better model with denial of access being the coup de gras.

I would be okay with the Comm Officer being able to disrupt the function of one or two combat vehicles. What I don’t want is for all the vehicles to be disrupted because of a few good rolls.

It comes down to the idea that hacking has to happen in combat turns. I’m a little uncomfortable with that because it’s not usually how hacking really happens. Realism is not on the player’s minds though. They want to all jump into action and pull off a plan. Making hacking follow a longer time frame requires planning and forethought which most players aren’t super excited about.

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Home

When playing The Artifact, there is a overriding need to find a place to live. This is the perpetual question that natives like the Scimrahn face. Although that is really important to the game, maybe for the 4th edition, players should think about home a little differently.

In the past I’ve thought about adding background details to characters, like what conditions they lived in and what kind of family they have back on Earth. For the most part I resisted that because it was largely irrelevant to the play of the game. There were hints in some of the optional tables, but they didn’t consistently or completely fill in a character’s backstory.

The process of making a campaign is becoming more formalized and it’s centering on the concept of finding a place for the characters to live in. But is the place they find home.

I’m thinking of that a little differently now. Instead of wondering what the physical place should be, maybe the better question is what home means to the character.

For one character, home might mean children playing. For another it could be the solitude of a book. Another could think of home as a safe place where there’s warmth. Esoteric things might include the sound of your grandmother’s voice or a place where you’re in charge. I’m aiming for simple concepts that could inform a player as to what their character ultimately wants.

This might change what a character ends up doing and probably why they act.

The Artifact is a game about leaving a home that’s falling apart to find a place that will last. Ultimately where the characters find it could be in very different places.

Very simply, this is going to be a random table just like the personality tables. This might be a good way to introduce principals and priorities in character generation. Those formal rules might not get used often, but they would easily inform role play.

With that addition, I think mentioning a character’s previous life experience would help new players to imagine where the characters are coming from but would also play off their concept of home. Are they leaving what they though of as home to recreate something or did they never have what they wanted and are looking to find it?

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