Okay; the first go-round on this was rather more confusing than I thought it would be, so I'm going to try to lay everything out a bit more logically.
In most games, combat works by blocking off a length of time as a
turn, then having some system for letting everyone do (generally) an
equivalent amount of stuff within that turn in some stat-dependent
order. D20, for example, has its various types of actions. Other
systems have a number of action points per turn, perhaps varying by a
statistic representing speed. The point, though, is that they're
grounded in relatively inflexible assumptions of how long a given
action is going take.
I can't help but feel like we'd run into problems trying to limit
our characters by time when they can just go faster; after all, they
only obey physics as long as they want to. I'd rather limit
actions per turn based on cognitive load and track our characters'
efforts more directly. It feels more logical to me that way: if
you're out of action points, it means you're too busy to do anything
else that turn. That's why I called the action points Focus. It
represents how hard a character is focusing on something.
So every turn, a character has an allotment of Focus points, which
are then spent on particular actions. The cost of an action is
ideally reflective of how much one has to concentrate to get it
right; relatively simple actions, like jumping, might only take one
or two focus points, while more convoluted maneuvers like, say,
riverdancing might take considerably more. Maybe six or so. I haven't
figured out a scenario in which combat riverdancing is likely to come
up, but I'm fairly sure we'll find one somewhere. The point is, any
combination of actions a character can fit under their Focus
allotment is fair game.
Since Focus is effort, it makes sense that allocating more than
the minimum Focus to a task might have better results. For
simplicity's sake, let's say that dodging blows in melee combat takes
3 Focus and lets you roll 2 dice to dodge. Allocating 6 Focus to it
would increase that to 4 dice, 9 would get you 6 dice, and so on. It
doesn't necessarily mean you're moving faster (although it could);
it's more a case of more carefully considering where to move.
Similarly, allocating more Focus to driving a car isn't going to make
the car go faster – but, since you have more dice to roll driving
checks with, it does increase the speed at which the vehicle may be
“safely” operated. (As an
aside, we will have mechanics for bullet time at some point. I just
wanted to clarify that running in bullet time is not required to
accommodate extraordinary amounts of Focus expenditure.) This is also
going to be where skills come into play; they're just dice added to
the rolls for groups of actions as characters learn how to more efficiently do things.
The different kinds of Focus are intended as an aid to character
diversification, so that people aren't just “good at doing lots of
Physical Focus represents a combination of muscle memory and
coordination. It's used for things like combat and acrobatics, where
coordinated movement is required.
Mental Focus, on the other hand, is closer to concentration, or
perhaps clearheadedness; it is intended to represent how well a
character can think critically or abstractly.
Social Focus is a bit fuzzier, but it's loosely a combination of
confidence and empathy, how well a character can appear as they wish
to others, influence others' emotions, and so on. Strictly speaking
this probably shouldn't be internal to a given character, but it
In this way, it is possible to build characters who are suave or
clever or graceful without necessarily implying they're all three.
Originally, I had intended for the three kinds of Focus to
represent the maximum allocation of Focus to each type of action.
This is overly complicated, though, and makes for a lot of needless
bookkeeping. Instead, characters have three completely separate Focus
pools to allocate, although odds are they'll only use one or two at
the same time. Just to be simple, let's set a character's Foci equal to certain of their stats as
Physical Focus = Finesse
Mental Focus= Genius
Social Focus= Charm
Immersion = Drive
If we keep “normal” stats generally in a range of five to
twenty, we also keep Focus in a very manageable number range. I don't
think it's too much bookkeeping to make sure the sum of a small set
of integers is less than, say, eighteen – but if it is, we can
probably simplify it a bit further later.
Now we have a way for our characters to take turns doing things.
Every turn, every character takes actions of total cost less than or
equal to their Focus allocations. We need a way to tell in what order
they do them, an analogue to Initiative. I like the idea of going
down a list of some measure of quickness in descending order, like
Initiative, but I would rather it not be one roll and done. Instead,
let's start everyone at the sum of their Mental and Physical focus;
for familiarity, let's call it Initiative too. Instead of rolling
stats, characters can spend either one Mental or one Physical focus
to increase their Initiative by one for the duration of that fight,
starting in the turn after they spend it.
An example may help. Consider three characters totally not named
after variables: Alpha, with PF 5 and MF 5, Beta, with PF 6 and MF 2,
and Gamma, with PF 2 and MF 4. On turn one, Alpha has an Init of 10,
Beta 8, and Gamma 6, so Alpha goes, followed by Beta and then Gamma
last. Both Alpha and Beta allocate all their Mental and Physical
Focus to actual actions; Gamma allocates all of xis to increasing xir
initiative, which is increased by 6 (2 Physical, 4 Mental) to 12. On
the next turn, Gamma will go first with 12, followed by Alpha (10)
and Beta (8). This order will persist indefinitely until one of the
three spends Focus to change it.
So now we've got a way for people to do things at each other, and
a way to decide in what order they do it. We need a way to track
damage, and that can go back to Focus too. In a way, this employs one
interpretation of hit points: they aren't literal health, but rather
a representation of one's capacity to continue fighting. So, if we
express damage in terms of Focus, we can run a lot of things through
the combat system. Fists and bullets do Physical damage, depressants
and arguments do Mental damage, and “drama” does Social damage.
Rather than make every point of damage reduce the relevant Focus
by one, I would rather dilute damage down by some factor so we can
have a wide range of integer damage values. Let's use the other four
stats and say that every [Vigor] damage ties up one Physical focus,
every [Acumen] damage one Mental focus, every [Nunchi] damage one
Social focus and every [Stubbornness] damage one Immersion. That way we can
track damage on a grid, like in Shadowrun, and use that as a simple
way to tell how much allocatable Focus of each type we've got left –
just mark off the right size grid on graph paper, fill it in
left-to-right top-to-bottom, and the number of rows remaining is how
much Focus is left.
And now that we have a mechanism for damage, the question of death
naturally comes up. Zero Focus should not be death, but rather
unconsciousness or equivalent; the character cannot take any actions
relying on the relevant Focus, but is capable of eventually returning
to some level of activity with minimal intervention. Permanent
incapacitation of whatever type ought to happen at, say, [max
Focus*-1]; in other words, a character has to take damage equal to
twice the product of their Physical, Mental, or Social stats to die,
or twice the product of their Immersive stats to break. Death itself
is going to be rather varied, albeit scripted in the case of natives
according to their home cosmology. Dreamjackers just fall apart;
“death” is simply the absorption of so much damage that their
mind loses the cohesion necessary to counteract the gradual erosion
by the world and they cease. In effect, they doubt themselves to
death. This does have interesting implications for recompiling and
reloading them once we get to the meta-magic system, though.
Now, Cathexes were in the last post, and looking at them now they
feel a lot like level adjustment. So forget them as written. I think
they still have a place, though; there needs to be a reason not to
just nuke all the chessmasters out there, or at least a way for
defeating them on their terms to be viable. Purely speculative: they
might end up working something like aspects from Fate crossed with
gambling, something long-term but not involved in the XP mechanic at
all. I'd like them to be player-defined things that a character
considers integral parts of their identity, where they'd give bonuses
to rolls but do Focus damage on failure. Say you have a burglar who's
really proud of their ability to pick locks; they might get a +4
bonus to all lockpicking attempts, but take 4 Mental damage if they
fail. Maybe a brilliant tactician gets a leadership bonus but takes
damage when a subordinate dies. That way really forceful
personalities might have very high Cathexes and be a more do-or-die.
Let's say characters can have up to 10 points of Cathexis, divided
however they like between skills. Incidentally, they're probably
dreamjacker-only. They make things happen by wishing; this is a way
of representing almost unconscious wishing. The idea that you can't
stop reality bending to your whim is a bit scary, especially when
suddenly it doesn't work.
So what doesn't make sense so far? Again, actions that cost
Immersion will be added later, although it's probably somewhat
apparent where they'll go.
And before I forget, the stats as follows:
Physical: Finesse, Vigor
Mental: Genius, Acumen
Social: Charm, Nunchi
Immersive: Drive, Stubbornness.
The first set of every pair defines Focus, the next helps define damage grid width. What the stats mean is still vague, beyond the name.