Saturday, April 26, 2014

The SUE Files: Something with Numbers, I Don't Know

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 things.”
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 simplifies bookkeeping.

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 follows:

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.


  1. Hi,

    I've been making a similar setting/ruleset about Multiverse and Mary Sue fighting. I'd like it if you can help me proofread and provide feedback so I can make the setting airtight. I wonder where I can contact you for assistance, if possible?

    1. If you want you can email it to the blog email.

    2. is the blog email; that's probably the most efficient way to reach everyone involved with the blog.

      Incidentally, I'd love to help, but it might take me a while; I'm traveling the next few days.

  2. Is this blog dead now?

    If so I'm upset.

  3. Sadly, I think many of us were here to cathartically resent Marty.

  4. *pokes*
    Are you working on this system, still? Anything at all?

  5. RIP ZeRoller
    XXXX - 2015

  6. I must say I have very much enjoyed the whole Marty|DM story. It is a masterpiece. It is absolutely incredible. It is glorious in its own crazy way.

    This is a classic. This is a candidate for winning the internets, somewhere along Old Man Handerson or The Really Big Button That doesn't Do Anything.

    And darn. I used to regret some flaws of my early years as a DM (15-20 years ago). I realized my worlds lacked of diversity of cultures, cities or organizations had simplistic power structures and interactions, NPCs lacked a wider range of personalities, adventures were missing that depth that emerges naturally from any rich and complex universe... (So, obviously I identified these flaws and worked to improve them).

    Now, the flaws of Marty as a DM are so far beyond anything I could have imagined. I have laughed and cried all the way though, from the electrodes made of katanas (because anything else would ablate), to the all powerful intergalactic emperor-god-vampire attention-deprived DMPC who the story was all about (and darn the players always trying to change things!).

    Congratulations. Thank you for sharing this. Please preserve this blog for all eternity.

  7. I recently discovered this blog, and I have to say it is incredible. Personally I think you may have the basis of an epic player vs GM rule set here, perhaps where you have a team, a "Marty" to fight against and an actual GM to regulate.

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