Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Social Actions (Warhammer Cards I Forgot to Blog, Part 1)

I made these cards for my Warhammer Campaign (that wrapped up two months ago). I apparently forgot to post them to the web at all. Oops.

I thought about them today because of a thread over in the Fantasy Flight Forums about how to encourage players to actually invest in Social Actions.

So, here's a number of new Social Actions for Warhammer 3rd Edition. Feel free to use these in your game. None of them have been tested much at all, because these were made available very late in the campaign, at a point where the PCs had become very accustomed to solving things violently. I think I'll just post them here alphabetically:

"A Second Of Doubt" is a Social Action in name only. Really, it's just a way to penalize one NPC's initiative roll, and/or buy your whole party a moment to get into position. There's nothing here that stops you from using it in physical combat, though green side is just a little better in Social encounters than either side is in an actual fight.

"Evil Eye" lies somewhere between Social Action and Hedge Magic. It's a quick way to bury someone in Stress and Shame. It inflicts the Ill-Fortune Condition, which if memory serves correctly can be very potent should the social conflict later devolve into actual physical battle. The double-chaos-star line is rather disastrous, so you need to be very pick about choosing targets with a low Willpower. The action itself uses Willpower, so it may be appealing to characters other than those typically making the social checks in your group.

"Hidden Mean Streak" relies on a variety of Condition cards to do its dirty work. It's for characters that are normally very Charming and noble, but who can unleash unexpected temper when pushed too far. The Reckless and Conservative sides of the card play very differently.

"Holier Than Thou", like "Evil Eye", lets you influence the target with your Willpower, and the Thunderstruck condition softens them up should the situation later devolve into combat. It doesn't deliver quite the beating that "Evil Eye" does, but the downsides of a bad roll aren't nearly as dangerous, either.

"Muse" is unlikely to see much use by PCs, but it was kind of a fun idea to try to model in-game. You'd need a pretty unusual campaign for it to be worth the XP. It's stronger when being used on an NPC, since rarely do you want to Influence a fellow PC. The bonus dice are fairly low, but most of the time you'll also be able to add 1 or 2 Fortune dice for the "Assist" manoeuvre, and they'd certainly stack with this.

"Shift The Blame" lets you redirect trouble so that your rivals go down in your sinking ship. It's actually pretty potent, but requires just the right situation to use. If the social encounter has some mook support for the villain, this is a good way to break them up. And since it's a reaction, it doesn't stop you from engaging in more shenanigans in your own turn as well.

"This Could Get Ugly" is a Strength-based Intimidation check that drains A/C/E from NPCs and breaks up Henchman groups on a good roll. I made it specifically to address the way that the existing Intimidation actions (like "Fear Me") were unlikely to actually reduce the effectiveness of packs of mooks. The majority of the power lies in the comet effects, to make it worth spending your XP on yellow dice in Intimidate.

"Unwanted Attention" is an aggressive use of Charm to "out" someone that's up to no good. It's meant to be a way to apply pressure to suspected villains. It's a contested check against their Skullduggery, so experienced criminals will resist it better than common street thugs or misbehaving noblemen.

The Reaction cards above are just guesses at an appropriate power level, because there's few Social reactions to use as a template or guide.

The normal Social Actions in the above are pretty well balanced against existing Social actions like "Flirt" (not "Inspiring Words" which is arguably over-powered with it's area-effects and low difficulty).  I did this big number crunching about the relative value of various effects at a variety of different triggering (1 boon, 2 boons, 1 comet, etc) levels. I wanted cards that were good, but not out of line with most of the official Social actions.

The red sides of the cards are (more often than not) a little "better on paper" than the green sides to compensate for the green dice generating better boon/bane results than the red dice do.

I had a few more Social Action ideas I'd sketched out but didn't make cards for. I just glanced over the text file where I did all the math on trying to balance them, but I don't feel the others were close enough to done to be worth sharing here.  At the time I'd planned to come back to them later, but today my math notes like daunting and I'm not even GMing the game any more. So, "don't hold your breath" is what I'm saying.

But this did remind me of a whole lot more cards I made (not just for Social Encounters, but mostly NPC-only cards), that I've never posted here. If I find time in the near future, I'll stick them up on the blog.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Better Bunker Bureau

Cortex Command is a computer game I've enjoyed in spurts off and on over the past 5 or 6 years. It's been in beta that entire time, and is far from complete or bug free, but it's pretty amusing. Link to publisher.

In a nutshell, in Cortex Command you control a brain in a jar (or sometimes in a robot body) that in turn controls mobs of stupid little soldiers. You build bases and blow people up. The terrain is very destructible, with huge fortresses being demolished appallingly quickly, as every gunshot knocks stray pistols off of the landscape. There's a short campaign game, that can be pretty arbitrary and punishing, and it also comes packaged with a number of little one-shot scenarios. Delightful mayhem in a cartoony 8-bit retro aesthetic. It is stupid fun. 

However, I feel like the base-building part of the core game is poorly balanced. It's a huge part of the metagame, and completely out of whack. Tiny little blocks of concrete cost as much as large pre-fabricated bunkers of concrete and steel. Whenever I play it, I feel compelled to spend time designing unique bases, but doing so involves a lot of frustration over the in-game economics. There have been a few mods that addressed it (and I took a stab at it myself back in 2009), but they were all for previous versions of the game, back when it was a pain in the butt to install mods. Nowadays, the game is available via Steam, and mods published via Steam Workshop are easy to install.

As much fun as it is to complain about things on the internet, sometimes I actually feel compelled to do a little work to improve the things that bother me. So, this week I uploaded a mod, the "Better Bunker Bureau", to Steam. Download Link

It's pretty straight-forward. For starters, I took the existing elements from the base game, and re-organized them so they'd be easier to find the things you wanted during the campaign (stairs and ladders together, tunnels organized by size and shape, etc). I adjusted the in-game prices on all the terrain pieces, so if one wall was clearly superior to another their prices would reflect it. (Though this does break down a little amongst the cheapest items.) I also tweaked the materials files so the pre-fab bunker sections now have rubberized floors that better survive the normal wear and tear of heavy robots tromping around (and falling from the rooftops) all day.

While I was at it, I added a few new terrain elements and pre-fabricated construction modules for base building. Some of these were obvious holes the game was lacking, such as making mirrored and rotated versions of existing bits so you didn't have to orient your fortress in a particular direction. Other new bits were a little goofier, like wooden walls and platforms, and piles of old tires, mostly included to provide a bit of set dressing and variety. (Seriously, if concrete and metal get nibbled away with every bullet, wood walls vanish in the blink of an eye.) If it's not obvious by now, my goal was to make the game more playable, not necessarily more winnable.

Most of the work was stuff I did back in 2009, with a bit more in 2012, and some finishing touches this week (2015). Just like playing Cortex Command, this mod is something I've toyed with from time to time over past several years.