Saturday, November 29, 2014

House Rules & RIFTS: Managing the Game - Verisimlitude, Pt. 1

Verisimlitude is the quality of seeming to conform to the norms of reality. Put simply, it is the quality where a fictional context nonetheless is--barring explicit callouts, such as supernatural power or hypothetical technology--things that happen in that context conform (more or less) to the way they do in the real world. Gravity works as expected, injury and recovery works as expected, computers work as expected, societies work as one expects and so on.

With regards to role-playing games, this is a tricky thing. The first problem is that there is, alas, a wide variation in the knowledge base of the gamer population. Ignorance of basic facts in computer science, ballistics, metallurgy, psychology, and many other arts and sciences with direct and immediate application to the common scenarios and experiences found in RIFTS make expectations of outcomes and consequences differ a lot and as a result what an individual believes is a norm of reality is not necessary what is a norm. While this nescience and ignorance can be remedied--and I urge you to do so--what this means for your table is that maintaining verisimlitude means dealing with a moving target.

The remedy is to fix the target. You fix the target by laying out, in clear and explicit terms, what a player can expect at your table. While that may seem silly in the context of RIFTS, it is not; by establishing a clear and explicit set of expectations you also establish a basis for all of the house rules that you issue which address concerns of verisimlitude, which makes it far more likely that players will accept your rules with no complaints. By showing your logic, you make buy-in easier and therefore avoid needless drama.

So, let's talk about a common issue in verisimlitude: getting hurt.

The game, as most tabletop RPGs do, presumes that a character is Human or something close enough for Human norms to apply. This means that the game assumes that Human norms of physiology and psychology also apply by default, which means that it assumes that what is normal for Humans when they get thrown off cliffs, shot, stabbed, etc. applies to near-Humans as well (with some variances).

First, now that YouTube is a thing, I recommend that you go there and watch as many videos as you can regarding the testing of ballistic armor and contemporary ammunition as you can find- especially those that take the time to explain terminology or link to definitions, as you're likely to be new to the topic and thus not up on the lingo. Then do the same for pre-modern arms and armor testing, videos on injury and recovery, etc. You will benefit in your everyday life, as well as at the table, by acquiring basic familiarity with how the body reacts to injurious force and how it recovers from it. (Yes, you're likely to hear a lot of opinions you may not like; that's the price of your self-education.) This has a point: to inform you as to what the norms of the real world are about the subject, which gives you a foundation for sound rulings thereafter.

Second, take a little time to look over how the Palladium ruleset operates. Think of it as a machine or a program, and you're inspecting how the parts or the code interacts with itself as it operates. You want to create a ruling that doesn't unduly complicate or monkeywrench the machine, so some active engagement with the mathematics (such as it is) of Palladium's game engine goes a long way towards creating a ruling that not only will players not find objectionable but stands up to the rigors of actual play.

Finally, do two series of tests. The first is your "white room" testing that you see often online in gaming forum discussions. These focus on the mathematics and ensure that the mechanics work as intended. The second is actual play testing, which ensures that the rules function in the field (as it were) as intended. Repeat until you achieve the desired results.

So, let's talk injury and recovery.

The basic paradigm is sound. Some injuries merely bruise, and while painful they are not necessarily serious and recovery from them goes quickly compared to those that draw blood or damage bone. This is what S.D.C. is intended to handle, and so long as that premise is kept in mind it will work. Serious injuries are what Hit Points represent. (Compare with Stun and Hits in HERO, or Bashing and Lethal in Exalted.) Massive damage of a nature inherently beyond what the body can handle is a matter of scale, which is where Mega-Damage works as intended. It is only execution that is lacking.

So, let's try a rule: "All kinetic damage stopped by personal armor also inflicts equal damage to the target's S.D.C. score." The intention is for damage sources relying upon kinetic force for its damage--firearms, primarily, in a RIFTS context, and similar weapons such as railguns and explosives relying on concussive force or shrapnel--to be able to injure a target even if it is suitably armored. It produces play results suitably similiar to real life: someone wearing personal armor who gets shot is still likely to be hurt, and even taken out of the fight, but will not only survive the hit but be back in action in days if not hours.

The cost here is that you need to define what weapons or powers are subject to this rule, and then to what degree. You need not do this up front; you can--and if you are in a reasonable group of people, you should--make this decision on the spot as required. Take your knowledge and apply it as you go. The tabletop role-playing game medium cannot work as intended any other way.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

House Rules & RIFTS: Managing the Game - Content Curation Pt. 2

The reason for the House Rule in last week's post will become increasingly clear as I go on about the curation process.

This week, we're going to look at what curation in RIFTS means. RIFTS is a game with a lot of sub-settings, much like HERO has its various genre books that sub-divide into major variations of those genres and then go on to address specific iterations and how the tropes and themes work. RIFTS deals with the same concept by marking out space in a given section of the setting and reserving it for that sort of genre or sub-genre. (E.g. "Cosmic Heroes" and "Space Opera" are the realm of the Three Galaxies sub-setting.)

Curation, therefore, must be done first to answer what sort of campaign you want to run. Take all that you own, and cut away every last bit that does not fit what you want. A campaign built around being Coalition Grunts slogging through yet another military campaign has no place for options and content that said Grunts will not encounter. Players should not access anything that doesn't fit that campaign's intention- not species or races, not Occupations, not gear, not powers, nothing at all.

So, the rule: "Players may not access options or content contrary to the campaign's premise."

This is, again, about pairing down all of the massive amount of stuff out there into something that you can easily and readily manage at the table; if you're playing the command crew of a specific starship, then you don't need to allow options to be or use anything else.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

House Rules & RIFTS: Managing the Game - Content Curation Pt. 1

Look, RIFTS is huge. Rifts Earth alone has, what, a dozen sub-settings spread throughout the post-apocalyptic globe? The Lunar Sphere (i.e. Orbit) and the Solar System add a few more, then there's the other dimensions and the cosmic sub-settings. Of all Palladium's games, this one truly is a kitchen-sink play-anything product line. That's a lot of stuff, and without care taken you can end up with an undesireable mess that's no fun.

You need to curate. That means sorting through the stuff and choosing what to allow and what to cut out, with the result of forming a collection of stuff that adheres to a theme or motif which binds the collection together into a greater whole.

In terms of house rules, it's this simple: "Players may not access any content that the Game Master does not own."

No races, no Occupations, no gear, no locations, no powers- not one damned thing can be had unless the Game Master owns the stuff that such a thing comes from. Loaned books and free PDFs do not count; only physical copies count. This makes the curation process easier; the GM only has to work with what he actually has on-hand, and not deal with requests from players to be whatever.

Friday, November 7, 2014

House Rules and RIFTS: The Fundamental Rolls - Damage

As with rolling Attributes, rolling for Damage is something that can seriously bog down a game. I recommend doing the same sort of short-cut creation here as you would there; figure out what the averages, and just use that instead of rolling when dealing with insignificant NPCs. Save the rolling of the dice for when it's someone that matters dealing with someone else that matters; "mook rules" are popular for a reason.

The scheme is the same: figure the average of a given roll of the dice, use that as a static number instead, and adjust it if you see a need to show what someone more or less proficient than average would do. The catch here is that you can play with some dice schemes (like 3d4x10) to get a better sense of what the average would be. (e.g. 3d4x10 is better averaged as 6d4x5; 2d4 averages to 5, multipled by 3 is 15, and then by 5 is 75)

If you go so far as to make static numbers of insignificant NPCs' Attack and Defense rolls (which you do by adding 10 to their relevant bonuses, noting the auto-fail for a natural 1 and auto-hit for a natural 20) so that the players do all of the dice-rolling, then you've automated NPCs to the point where you can focus on just the rolls of significant characters (the PCs and those NPCs important enough to merit individual attention) and thereby devote your attention accordingly.

Mull it over. This won't work for all of you, but for some of you this will be a great house rule to adopt. I shift depending on what I want out of the gameplay experience, and so--I advise--should you.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

House Rules and RIFTS: The Fundamental Rolls - Attributes

RIFTS is still rooted in the traditional tabletop RPG paradigm of yesteryear, and nothing shows this more obvious in the procedure used to generate new characters. Playable races/species, monsters, and so on are often given ranges of possible attribute scores given in the number of six-sided dice (d6) you're expected to roll. This isn't always to the liking of a given user, and it isn't always practical either to roll, so I'll talk about a very common house rule meant to speed this step up.

The idea is to skip rolling. The way to do this is to comprehend some basics about probability. The average roll of two six-sided dice (2d6) is 7; this is also expressed as "7:2", meaning "seven Foo for ever two Bar", and how it works is that the first part give you 4 and the second 3 due to the fact that half of 7 is 3.5 and you round up when you hit X.5.

For Humans (and those statistically indistinguishable from Humans in a given attribute), you roll 3d6; the average is 10.5. As there are eight such attributes in Palladium's games, a wholly average Human will have four attributes at 11 and four at 10. At 2d6, it's 7 across the board; at 4d6 it's 14 across the board; at 5d6 it's half at 18 and half at 17. The pattern extends down (though, in practice, you stop at 1d6) and up (though, for practicality reasons, you rarely pass 6d6) accordingly.

The end result is that you can use these averages as shorthand and create templates. The templates can then be used as-is for NPCs not important enough to merit individual attention, and they can also be used as the base model from which individuation can be applied as needed (and to the degree needed) when you require something notably better or worse than the baseline of a thing. However, there is one more step that some of you should consider: simplifying PC generation through making the process template-driven entirely, cutting out dice roles and other clutter.

This is not out of line. Specific Occupations have requirements, and those requirements favor certain traits; those that don't measure up don't go into that Occupation, or stay in it long if they slip under them. You can simplify the generations of Player-Characters by creating average score templates, merging them with Occupational templates (which is what those published are, really), and then tweaking to suite your taste. (In fact, this is how World of Warcraft does it; the baseline scores are generated by race, modified by class, and then modified further by level and gear- but is it one's race that provides the foundation upon which the rest build upon.)

You can eliminate all chances of a non-viable character by doing this, so I recommend that you consider it for your own usage in your games. I find that what gets people to actually playing the game faster tends to find favor with them, especially new players, so I would not dismiss it out of hand; you can also alter what templates are allowed to suit the specific wants and needs at your table, so this is a very customizable tool. Enjoy.