Category Archives: Experimental Mechanics

4th Edition Range Classes

I’m thinking of going in one of two directions for ranges in 4th edition. One is just fixing some abnormalities in the Range Classes but the other completely re-works things.

The first option has to do with adjusting Range Classes A and D. Normally the Range Classes are three times the extreme distance of the class before them. A and D don’t follow this convention. To fix that, A would be adjusted so that it’s extreme range bracket would be 100m instead of 30m. D would be cut in a third and go from 10 Km to 3 Km. E would then take the place of D and so on up the letter chain.

The other option throws out Range Classes entirely. Currently there are 8 discrete bits of information for a player to remember for a ranged weapon (PB, Short, Med, Long, Ex, Range Class, Range bracket distance and bracket Impairment). I’d like to cut that down to 2 and keep most of the flavor.

The way to do that is to give the ranged weapon or device a range that roughly corresponds to it’s Medium range bracket. For each success used, the base range is added onto the effective range. In other words a weapon with a range of 600 meters hits out to that range with a single success, but can hit out to 1200 m with two. With a very good roll and some Advantages (5 success), it could hit out to 3km. Which is around the current world record shots.

This handles range and difficulty, but a big part of the range classes are the damage gradients that gives a lot of tactical flavor to the game currently. This is where the second bit of information comes into play. Each weapon would have it’s own Damage Drop value.

For something like the Projectile Rifle the Damage Drop would likely be a -2 with a Range around 250 meters. This means between 251-500 meters the damage would drop by 2 points, from 501-750 it’s damage drops by another 2 points.

For a Scimrahn Plasma Gun, the Damage drop would be a -5 with a range of 30 meters. At 31-60 meters the damage drops by 5 and so on.

The Laser Gun would have a Damage Drop of -3 and a range of 2500 meters. This is a lot flatter of a curve than it had before but we can’t have everything.

I’m not sure how to handle explosives like grenades and missiles yet.

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4th Edition Rule Changes

I’m working on further changes for a fourth edition. The biggest structural changes is in the numbers used.

Numbers

I love the granularity of the percentile system. What I don’t love is the two digit math that it requires. It’s not a huge deal for any individual roll but it becomes tiresome over the length of a game. This is to make the math in the game simpler. Unfortunately there is a reason I used a percentile system in the first place and this change is going to remove some structures I love.

Did I mention no more d10s bouncing off each other and flying across the room? Yeah, I won’t miss that.

Instead of a percentile system, The Artifact is moving to a d10 range. This will mean a lot of changes. For the most part, this means that Fraction columns will no longer be universal. You’ll always have the full value of the column but an attribute of 1 (the current value of 10) will not have a 1/2 column. Attributes lower than 4 will not have a 1/4 column result and lower than 8 will not have a 1/8th column.

 Full   1/2   1/4   1/8 
Con 3 1
Str 2 1
Ref 5 2 1
Agi 6 3 1
Dex 4 2 1
Cha 8 4 2 1
Int 1
IQ 3 1
Psy 4 2 1

Skills

The skill list is being cut down by half, so that will simplify things a lot. However because of the changes to the attributes, skills are going to have to do some more heavy lifting. I’ve wanted skills to more fully integrate with the fraction columns since I started. Reducing the skill list is going to make that possible.

To fill in the lack of fraction columns, skills will have four values. 

Pilot Automobile +3 +2 +1 +1

Most NPCs will have a main skill that corresponds with what they need to do a job.

Successes

Fractional Successes have been a part of The Artifact for a long time. They’re going away though. 

The thing is, the “fractional” part is a bit superfluous. It is descriptive but the point is that they give you a number of successes. 

The stat block will look more like this now. These are Success Columns.

  1     2     3     4  
Con  3  1
Str  2  1
Ref  5  2  1
Agi  6  3  1
Dex  4  2  1
Cha  8  4  2  1
Int  1
IQ  3  1
Psy  4  2  1

I didn’t like how the names of the fraction columns had to be translated into a number of successes. Although most players had no problem with it, some struggled.

Social Exchanges

Social rules are changing, a set of conditions will be used to structure interactions. This is something I’ve been trying to figure out for a long time. I always wanted some kind of moves or tactics for social interaction. Hopefully these will provide them.

To initiate a Social Exchange the character rolls for a Charisma or IQ, adding in applicable skills. The attribute used changes the possible effects of the exchange. If the check is passed, they select a condition that they will present. The condition lasts for one turn per success.

The defender rolls against Psyche or IQ. Any successes reduce the length of the effect.

If the initiator is successful, they present their chosen condition. The defender may accept it or reject it and pick another condition from the list and take a penalty. The penalty is one mental stress per success left over from the roles.

The conditions and their effects are as follows.

Attachment (Cha)

The effected feels some kind of attachment, whether amusement, affection or camaraderie with the initiator. The effected gets a 40% Impairment to any hostile action against the initiator while this condition is in effect.

Aggression (IQ or Cha)

The effected feels hate, anger, loathing, or indignation toward the initiator. They must focus hostile actions on the initiator and have a 20% Impairment to IQ and Intuition based tests while this is in effect.

Passive (IQ or Cha)

The effected is either soothed, perplexed, lost or troubled. They lose two actions each turn the condition is in effect.

Coercion (IQ or Cha)

The effected is intimidated by fear of loss or enticed by some kind of situationally significant bribe. Large bribes may give an Advantage to the initiator’s roll. The effected loses 1 action if they do not use it to carry out a task specified by the initiator as long as the condition is in effect.

Conformity (Cha)

The effected is under peer pressure to act as others in their social group or class is behaving. They must follow a behavior that at least appears to be what the majority is doing as long as the condition is in effect.

The initiator can only present a condition if they rolled under an appropriate stat. The effected may choose any of the conditions they desire, including conformity but they conform to their own group. If they are not allied with the initiator they will do what they feel is expected of them by their allies.

If the initiator can get the same effect on a character three times, they form a relationship based on it and get a bonus to initiate that condition again. Mark down the relationship and the condition it gives a 20% Advantage to initiate an exchange presenting that condition on the initiator’s character sheet. Each subsequent three rolls on the relationship increases the Advantage by 10% to a maximum of 60%. They may track up to five of these relationships at any time.

Attack Conditions (WIP)

The following conditions are replacements for hit location tables for people and vehicles and critical hit effects for individuals. This removes a required roll. These need polish but their intent is mostly there.

Target hit

The target has been hit by the attack. The first success must be spent on this condition. For multi-round bursts one in five attacks hit their target per success spent. Weapons with a rate of fire higher than one can spend an additional success to hit another target with one in five of the rounds fired hitting that target. If the target takes damage from this attack they also take 10 physical stress.

Avoid Armor

Cut Armor Rating of a target in half. Selecting a second time cuts the AR in half again.

Avoid Shields

Avoid half the hit points of a target’s shields.  Selecting again avoids shields entirely.

Damage Gear

Damage something worn, carried or handled by the target. Half damage goes to the gear. If this option is selected again, all damage goes to the selected gear.

Wear Down

Cause stress or ensure a critical hit. Induce 10 Stress of choice or ensure a critical on a vehicle. (can this be selected if the attack did no damage due to armor? For people that makes some sense, for vehicles, not so much.)

Extra Damage

Subtract target’s shield HP, Armor Rating and armor HP then multiply remaining damage by 1.5 for one target. If selected again, the remaining damage is doubled for that target. Attacker picks hit location.

Lower Damage 

This condition can be freely selected as long as the target was hit, this condition does not cost a success to take. Reduce damage done by half but gets another condition. If selected again, damage is reduced to one quarter. Beam weapons can use this condition to do half damage to two targets and if selected again, do quarter damage to three targets. Defender picks hit location.

Vehicles and Shields

In very early versions of The Artifact, shields were supposed to be resource hogs. Early attempts at making that a thing in game were very complicated. Recently I thought of putting the Action economy to use to accomplish this goal.

Vehicles will add actions to the pilot’s actions per turn according to how many shield generators they currently have. 

Vehicles must use actions if they want to raise a fire arc’s shield each turn. This includes the possibility of raising double shields on a fire arc, costing two actions.

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A useful tool gets a reboot

The Artifact random encounter tables have been updated to 3e rules and got a big addition. These tables have been really useful in our games and now they’ll be even more indispensable.

The Artifact Random Generation Tables

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ASO Vanguard Pilot

A Vanguard Pilot is a character occupation that I’ve repeatedly thought about putting into a book somewhere but never found a place for. The Vanguard is an attack helicopter that is stated out in the main book, but no PCs get access to it. I imagine that putting the pilot CO out on the website would at least make it available until I could find a proper place to put it.

The Vanguard pilot is the calvary that is called in when everything has gone wrong. They rely on their unparalleled firepower to repel enemy forces as they have very little in the way of defensive capabilities.

Equipment

Standard Issue: 9mm Pistol, 9mm Ammunition (5 clips of 10), Knife, Five (5) ASO Uniforms, ASO P.R.T.R.S.D. (Personal Radio Transmitter/Receiver Scrambler/Descrambler), ASO Light Armor, Binoculars, Night vision goggles, Vac-suit.

Clearance Upon Assignment: P.E.T., ASO Vanguard attack helicopter, Grenades (5 standard but more if allowed)

Standard Skills: Read/Write (1 Language) +50, Mathematics +30, Pilot Automobile +40, Radio +10, First Aid +10, Computer Operation +10

Skills: Artillery Operation +20, ECM +15, ECCM +5, HTH Combat +5, Melee Combat +5, Navigation Land +10, Pilot Helicopter +30, Sensors +15, Weapon Repair +5, WS Grenade +15, WS Gun +10, WS Pistol +15, plus 10 skills at +10

Attribute Bonuses

Str +5

Con +5

Dex +5

Starting Rank: Private

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First Strategies

I was reading something I wrote a few years back and pulled a thought out. I’ve been thinking about reducing the kinds of actions a player character starts out with to make games less complicated for beginning players. That turns out to be a complicated thing to accomplish. I realized while reading, that maybe it’s not the specific actions that need to be narrowed down, maybe it’s the goals.

My thought is that a character in this hypothetical game would have to go through a right of passage that is their first goal. Once the character has accomplished this goal, they are more free to move in a direction they make up for themselves.

In simple terms, lets imagine that this right of passage is hunting your first bull elk. Imagine a society that requires you to take down the elk to make their weapons from, to pay back their family in food and hide. Now the child is no longer bound to their parents and can go out on their own.

I don’t have much interest in making that game, but it serves as an example of what the first goal could look like.

Why do I feel this is important? I am frequently asked “How do you win?” A question I usually make up some long and complicated answer to. If the answer was the first right of passage of a society, then the game becomes more concrete.

Now imagine a string of societal goals that a character can go after, each which give a character specific rights in the society. The goals of the players are defined and the reasons they go after them have to be clear too.

I have heard of a game that does this explicitly. The players have to first gain a title that allows them to move up in society. I don’t think it helped in the game’s adoption, but that may just be an anomaly. Maybe it means that the thought is garbage.

It could be said that in a lot of games, the first goal is to amass wealth to become a formidable opponent. The point where the PC has reached this point is fuzzy though and makes it hard for an early player to know when they’ve arrived at their goal.

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Tech Challenges – Simplification

I really like tech challenges. I’ve had a lot of interesting things happen in games because of them. That’s mainly because I read the “tech” not as “technology”, but as “technical.” The difference is significant.

That’s the first change, they should be Technical Challenges, so their use is better understood. What does this do? For example, I’ve used Technical Challenges when a character was picking a lock. A player decided to try and help by using their vehicle’s enhanced sensor system to scan the lock and understand how it worked. The result was an interesting story, that the players still tell. I’ve also used Technical Challenges in a diplomatic negotiation, where the characters needed to use cultural information to decipher a person’s responses.

The official process in the book is too complicated though and the “transforms” (hereafter called consequences) don’t feel right. The rules call for new skills that players want to use, be tested via a three step process. It’s too cumbersome, but it does allow for novel solutions that the GM might not have otherwise allowed.

I see rules as an arbiter between the players and the GM, something like laws that apply to police. The rules give the players power to do things they may not have felt like they were allowed to do. The problem with this strategy is if the player never digs deep into the rules, they don’t know they have this structure available. They want to get to the point and start knocking down the problem. That makes the whole structure pointless, the GM can try to enforce it but at that point the rules are just in the way.

One solution would be for the GM to pick a set of skills that could be used to attack a technical challenge and to be open to reasonable suggestions by players, especially if they have a way the skill could apply to the challenge. I do want some mechanism for players to challenge a GM veto, because I feel that there are often unusual solutions to problems that people feel could never work, just because they’ve never seen it.

Usually at the table the situation goes like this. I’ll state a suggested skill that will be effective in taking down the challenge. One of the players will look at their sheet and not have that skill. They may allow the characters with the skill to start rolling, but either if the others are failing rolls or if they just feel bored, they’ll ask if they can use one of their skills to help. In most cases, the angle they’re trying to use the skill in is unusual but often interesting.

Let’s split the difference. Since these unusual skill applications shouldn’t solve the problem all by themselves, for example, using sensors to pick a lock, the characters can use an unusual skill only after one of the primary skills has been successful. Each time an unusual skill is used, another successful primary skill roll is needed before they can try again. Primary skills can be used repeatedly. If the GM feels the skill is unsuitable, they should allow the roll, but the consequences should be greater (possibly double or more) than a primary skill roll. This deincentivizes the use of random skills, but wouldn’t leave the characters in the lurch if for some reason no one was able to use the primary skills.

On to the issue of Consequences. Technical Challenges are set up so that the challenge responds to the character’s efforts to solve the problem. If every combat was solved by “I hit it with my sword” then combat would be quite boring. Consequences are there to keep the problem changing and keep it interesting. The problem is, I don’t think that many changes are needed. In play, I rarely impose as many consequences as are called for mainly because they slow down play. Even with failures, I don’t always use a consequence, because it doesn’t always make sense to.

Consequences are important though, because the challenge is the opposition. If it just sits there and doesn’t change, it’s boring. So let’s make this simple. The main consequence of a failed roll is that the character takes a stress point. But each turn, the GM can roll for or impose a consequence that makes sense. Here, the challenge is behaving more like a monster does, that it gets a way to fight back but on it’s own turn so to speak. This way the players can all work on the problem quickly and then the GM can apply the consequence.

I think those changes would streamline the system significantly.

I would have to figure out how to work the technical challenges in the Players Handbook for crafting equipment though. In each of those cases, the rolls are much more concrete because the consequences are very specific to the tasks. The new way of running the challenge would make designing equipment far easier in a group. That makes sense, but a large group would be overly effective. I’d have to restructure the number of challenge points. It would  remove the need for two consequence tables, making the results more standard. It would be difficult to model a whole nation (like the Scimrahn) designing a vehicle. In short, I can’t recommend using this simplified system for that yet.

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Group Survival

Last post I wrote about trying to simplify the Survival Challenge system for groups. To expand on that thought, I feel like the system works just fine for one character and conceptually it works for a group, but tracking challenge points individually for each character is a pain. The other issue I have with the system is, while there is a way for characters to help each other, it’s not simple.

The easiest way to simplify the process is to handle the challenge points as a group. The problem is, to a simulationist (me) that doesn’t make sense. It could make some sense, since lowering the challenge as a group could signify the characters helping each other through the difficulty. The problem is, that in some situations like surviving a dessert trek, more people make the challenge harder.

The solution could lie in scaling certain challenges, like climbing a cliff, according to how many characters are going to take on the challenge. Even that solution is messy however. For one, the group could decide that only the good climbers in the group are going to attempt the climb and the rest will stay behind.

There is one other issue with the system. That is, tracking when certain events happen in the challenge

Now, midstream, the GM has to change the number of challenge points to match. That’s just annoying. The other problem is that the character’s strategy may be to have one character run through the challenge quickly while the others work through the challenge more slowly. Then the one pool system really doesn’t work.

The solution could lie in flipping the math. It’s mentally easier and possibly more enjoyable to have the players build up to the total number of challenge points. The players track their own progress, and because it’s a build up, the process is more interesting. It would also make sharing progress easier. If each player has a number of points built up, it’s easier to redistribute points among the player characters.

It would also make sense to track this kind of progress with a spin down d20, or in this case, a spin up d20. This would make the progress evident for each character. The players can distribute their points among themselves as they see fit.

The other advantage to this is, it’s easier to know when each character gets to each stage of a challenge. The GM can mark down at what stage each stage occurs.

One more thing

It came to my attention that at each stage of a challenge, the player should get a choice of two different “attacks” the environment can make. I think that would introduce more player agency and introduce choice.

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Survival and Tech Challenges – What to do?

Survival challenges are reasonably concrete in how they work. The part that is a little fuzzy is tracking the challenge with multiple players. It just feels like the group should all fight the challenge together instead of individually. It would make Challenge Point tracking simpler but would loose a bit of it’s realism. For instance, if I’m a really good climber and cut through the challenge points easily, another character who’s physically incapable of climbing also overcomes the challenge. That is, unless I can come up with justifying everyone decreasing the same pool of points. I think that’s the big change I’d like to figure out.

Tech Challenges are a different story. They’re completely not concrete and that makes them difficult to handle. A GM has to go through multiple steps just to have the player’s roll once. There’s  a whole series of steps that determine if a skill can be used.

I’ve come to use the tech challenges in a bit more cut and dry way. I set a number of points and judge if a skill is usable, usually if a plausible explanation is given for how it’s used. I don’t use a lot of transforms either but that’s kind of guts the system’s consequences.

I think a simpler system needs to be in place. The GM should pick from a small set (2-3) of skills that are approved to overcome the challenge and select a few transforms (transforms are the consequences of the character’s rolls) from a list. They can either roll or choose the transforms.

Come to think of it, transforms should just be called “Consequences” to make the process more concrete.

I’m not sure how the consequences should happen though, at the moment, they are a reaction to the roll the player makes. That doesn’t seem organic to play though. It should be that the GM gets to make an “attack” that alters the challenge. The problem with that is, the attacks are going to feel directed by the GM instead of a natural process of the character learning about a problem.

I think the key there is to structure the consequence as character learning instead of a series of random events determined by dice. I’ll try and write that up later.

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Sensors in Combat

From the very start, I wanted sensors to play a big role in vehicle combat on The Artifact. For the most part, that hasn’t worked out. With the third edition I tried to introduce “sensor locks” into the game. This required sensor rolls in order to start using vehicle based weapons. This is plainly the wrong approach.

I was juggling a lot of elements when putting out the third edition, but this plainly breaks many game design criteria that I set for other systems in the game. Primarily that any additional rolls should reward a player when they succeed, not penalize them when they fail. If a character can’t start firing until they pass a sensor roll, that’s plainly penalizing them.

Try Different

The sensor systems of a vehicle should make them more capable than a person handling a weapon manually, not be an impediment. My thought is, how does a “sensor lock” work in movies? It means that the sensors make for an automatic hit unless a heroic effort is made to evade.

That means that getting a sensor lock guarantees a basic hit. That’s simple for the Fraction Column system, a sensor lock gives a single success each turn the lock stays in place. This means the vehicle will at least hit it’s target as long as the target doesn’t dodge, or use their ECMs to break the sensor lock.

A pilot can still roll to hit with their Artillery Operation skill and improve the number of successes the attack has. This means that doing things like avoiding shields or armor is easier. Burst weapons are more effective and having multiple weapons firing all at once suddenly is very very effective. Rall 4s weapon lay out becomes staggeringly effective.

There is one little peculiarity to this concept though. What if the character rolls under their 8th for their sensor roll? Do they get 4 fractional successes to hit? My instinct is no. That would be far too effective and probably break the game. So what does rolling well under sensors do for you?

The main advantage of a good sensor roll would be that the lock is harder to break. The defender has to make an ECM roll that matches or exceeds the roll for the sensor lock. That makes a good lock roll a devastating development to a pilot.

I think that should do it, it makes sense and it follows the basic concept that people would expect. It rewards the player for using an action, so that’s better too.

Any objections to this system?

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Fourth Edition?

I’ve casually kicked around the idea of a fourth edition for The Artifact. My first instinct is to convert the whole game over to my Energy System (ES) that’s been getting more and more capable of handling the game world. I’m currently veering away from that though, not because I wouldn’t like the result, but more because of the history the game has. Converting to ES  would massively streamline the rules since it does all the things that the current Fraction Column system does, but with fewer moving parts. The downside is that it would make all the system knowledge that players have built up over decades invalid.

So if I’m not looking at moving to ES, what would a fourth edition do that would make it worth the effort? Let’s look at the things I would like in a new edition.

I would like to clarify and possibly simplify the tech  and survival challenge system.

I’d like to make the infantry system more organic to the system. It’s functional but still requires the player to absorb a very different mindset to employ.

I want to change the role of sensors in vehicle combat. Currently NPCs have a really hard time properly locking on targets and using ECMs. They can take stress to make sure they get the sensor lock but that severely limits them later. We’ve hammered out something of what the new sensor rules should look like and I’ll do a post later on what they’d look like in case anyone wants to use them. As it is, the role of sensors is a little murky in the current rules.

A big maybe

There are a huge number of moving parts in the current game. I know some players really like that, but no one uses everything that’s built into the game. That means there’s a lot that can be trimmed. I’m thinking that some of the in play complications could be helped by reducing the number of attributes, something along the lines of the Physical, Functional, Mental categories becoming the actual attributes. That would be sacrilege to many players though. Maybe characters could specialize in one of those categories and they’d get the attributes in that category broken out for them? That would require a lot of other moving parts to implement, but in play it might make things more streamlined, or it could just swap one level of complexity with another.

Is that enough?

Looking at the list, I’d say no, the third edition is standing up pretty well. That’s never stopped me before though. I think I should approach this the same way I’ve always handled things. I’ll post ideas here on what might work and when I feel like I’ve built up enough changes, I’ll want to rebuild the whole thing into a fourth edition.

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