Friday, November 20, 2015

Firearms, cover and damage in Weapons Free

As a modern warfare game you can imagine firearms and damage take a center roll. Yet surprisingly damage is something that's rolled less often than you might expect. You and your opponents will take a lot of precaution in not getting hit. Actually achieving a hit should be an uncommon event. Suppression and rolling for damage on armor and cover, well that's quite another thing. Suppression plays an important roll in the game and is something you need to learn how to leverage as a player and use it to move around the battlefield and obtain a better position against your enemy. As a GM you should see few deaths and should remember that your NPCs don't want to die. They will seek to retreat if they can and surrender if they can't do anything against an advancing force. Of course history is full of cases in which troops fought to the end, but aside from a one shot session it is highly discouraged that you engage in these types of style of play. NPCs should not stand up fearlessly to take that shot that would kill the characters. Play it out as if you want to live through the campaign and get back home or at least live to fight another day. Now without further delay let me jump into the actual example.

First of all the thing to remember is that combat and attacks is just a more specialized version of a skill check. As such it is resolved by two die rolls just like skill checks, one for the attacking party (skill roll) and one for the defender (task roll). The outcome is determined by the difference between the rolls. The character's skill determines the skill roll and the distance to the target determines the difficulty of the attack and thus the task roll. The possible outcomes are: critical miss, miss, suppression, hit cover, hit, or critical hit.

Unlike normal skill checks with just four outcomes: critical failure, failure, success and critical success; combat has two more outcomes and a deeper interpretation of each. Suppression is the outcome of an attack that misses the target but comes close enough to scare or hits the target's cover without actually penetrating through. Thus a hit to cover also produces suppression as we'll see below. The second additional outcome is hit cover. This is when the attack would actually hit the target but something stands in between, be this an obstacle or body armor.

Simple attack

Lets take for example an attacker who rolls 3d8 and a target that rolls 3d8.

For this simple attack example if the result of subtracting the target roll (difficulty) from the attacker roll (skill) is less than -4 the attack totally misses(cyan area). If the roll falls between -4 and -1 (yellow) it generates suppression. If the roll falls between 0 and 5 it hits cover (green) and also generates suppression. Depending on type of cover and damage it may penetrate and hit the target. If the roll is 6 or better (orange) it hits the exposed parts of the target. If it rolls 10 or above additional effects will be experienced due to a critical hit and if the roll is -10 or worse the inverse happens due to a critical miss.

The image visually represents the example mentioned above.

The values for cover and suppression depend on the degree of cover (obviously) and the weapon being used. Higher rate of fire will lead to better suppression. Thus heavy machineguns and Gatling guns can generate suppression on a -6 or better.

Complex Attack

Now let me analyze a more complex real life situation as shown in this diorama. A group of GIs are protecting a point from an Axis advance. We've got men in the open, prone, behind sandbags and in the trees. This presents varying degrees of cover and targets with different cross sections to the advancing Axis soldiers. Needless to say the smaller the cross-section the harder it is to hit the target.

Let's take a look at what the German soldiers see from their point of view (POV).

As you can see from this photo the same targets that were easily visible from the eagle eye view shown before are now very hard to distinguish. Cover, cross-section and camouflage make them hard to spot and even harder to hit, and I'm not even adding movement to the equation.

In the following image I'm overlapping the eagle eye view and the Axis POV and labeling targets so I can work out the mechanics for each in this and upcoming posts.

A is the rifleman kneeling behind a tree. His cover is so good it hard to distinguish from the German POV. Instead, from the German point of view you see the GI throwing the grenade from behind.

B is the rifleman prone by the tree. This target isn't even visible from the German POV.

C is the bazooka kneeling in the middle of the road getting ready to zap the tank.

D is a rifleman prone in front of the sandbags.

E is the rifleman standing behind the sandbags.

F is the MG crew kneeling behind the sandbags.

G is the rifleman running toward the Germans.

The Germans are in turn armed with MG-42 by the looks of it, some rifles, submachine guns and of course a StuG IV, a formidable armored vehicle with a 7,5cm (StuK 40 L/48) cannon and a MG-34. With this the Germans can attack point targets, attack an area or shell a target.

The German riflemen and the MG in the ruins have a clear view of the treeline and the man with the bazooka, but the tank blocks the view of the Allied MG and most of the men behind the sandbags. The Germans at the other side of the tank have a clear view of both, but their weapons have shorter range and the Allied treeline is much further away. You're the attacking German force, what do you do?

As the Germans in the ruins you have two clear targets the bazooka GI and the grenade GI. Initiative aside, which I'll cover in another article, lets say the MG goes for the bazooka and the rifleman for the grenade GI. 

Basic Example Rifleman vs Grenade GI

The basic rules are simple:
  • Get a result of 0 or better and you hit.
  • Skill determines attack roll and distance determines difficulty roll.
  • Skill and difficulty determine the value on which your d8 dice get to explode. The least skilled and easy tasks explode no dice at all, novice characters explode on 1, experienced characters explode on 1 and 2 and so forth up to legendary, and the same for difficulties.
Lets say for the sake of this example that the targets are at short range for the weapons at hand. This means the difficulty roll is easy 3d8(1) (the value in parenthesis indicates up to what value to explode on). The German soldiers are experienced and roll with 3d8(2) and thus explode 1s and 2s.

Rolling for the difficulty I get 18 (6, 4 & 8) and rolling for the grenade soldier I get 18 (7, 1, 2, 4, 1, 3). Since I got ones and twos I added that value and rolled the dice again until I stopped getting 1s and 2s.

Now this gives a result of 0 (18-18) which hits the target and damage should be dealt with now.The rifle's ammunition does 2d8 points of damage and I get 5 & 7. It is important to keep the values separate for now as damage depends on the point of the body hit. Since I just barely achieved success (got a 0), the success is marginal and the GM dictates its a hit to the arm or lower leg. This provides a -2 modifier to the damage (we'll get back to damage by body area later) and the result is 3 and 5 points (5-2 & 7-2) for a total of 8 points. The hit soldier has a pain threshold of 3 which acts as a buffer and subtracts from the damage leaving only 5 points to be dealt with to hit points. This is one third of the total hit points and the character suffers a serious wound and drops to the ground. It was nonetheless a good shot. Had it been a better roll, say for example a 22 vs 18 the GM could have dictated a hit to the torso with no -2 modifier. This would have produced a total of 10 points of damage and left the GI in a very delicate situation.

Revisiting Range and Modifiers

In the previous example I skipped a lot of modifiers to get the example through and through covering damage as well. In a real life situation the target isn't static and movement adds to the difficulty of the attack. There is also the element of visual range. The same rifle is more effective if optics are added. The quality doesn't change, just the ability to spot the target better. An iron sight is not as good as a scope and although the rifle is good at such short range the soldiers visual precision is not.

So at such a range the attacker suffers a -2 due to movement and a -2 due to visual range which  turns the 18 into a 14. This in turn produces a -4 outcome (14 - 18) which is not good enough to hit the target, but good enough to have the character suppresses and looking for cover. The GM can dictate that characters close to this GI can also come under the effect of suppression even if they're not the target of the attack roll.

Counter Attack

The GI prone on the ground sees the German firing and shoots back. For simplicity's sake let's say the M1 has the same performance as the K98. The difficulty roll is 3d8(1) and the skill roll is 3d8(3), the GI has been on since Normandy and is quite an expert by now. His rolls explode up to a 3.

I roll for the task (7, 3, 1, 8) getting 19, and then for the GI (5, 5, 2, 3, 5) getting a 20. Notice how I rerolled the 2 and 3 for the GI but only the 1 for the task.

The result is a 1 (20 - 19), certainly a hit, but the German is behind cover 50% this gives a 4 cover modifier which means I need a 4 or better to hit the German directly. The shot hits the wall and stops there but it generates suppression which will have the German running for cover unless it can be overcome it through a mettle attribute check.

Now, lets imagine for a moment that the wall is some material the bullet could get through, like wood or thin metal. I'll roll damage and apply the stopping power of armor. 

The damage is once again 2d8 and I get 3 and 7. The wood has an armor 2d4 and I roll getting 4 and 3. The dice are compared linearly against the damage from highest to lowest. The 7 vs the 4 and the 3 vs the 3. Since 7 beats the 4 it goes through leaving 3 points of damage (7-4) and the other 3 totally stops the bullet's 3. A total of 3 points make it through to the target and since the shot was marginally successful (only a 1) the GM dictates once again that it hit a non vital body part like the lower leg. The body part modifier of -2 is adding dropping the damage down to 1. With a pain threshold of 3 the German absorbs it all with no damage going to hit points. It's just a simple scratch not even worth calling a flesh wound.  Notice that if the shot had hit the torso which has no -2 modifier the full 3 points would be delivered to the character. Nonetheless this is still not a wound as it is easily absorbed by the character's paint threshold and stamina.

Damage and Pain

Before closing this post I'd like to comment on the damage mechanism. Characters have two pools of points: stamina and hit points. Stamina is a buffer that represents lesser damage and can be replenished quicker than hit points (in a matter of hours). Hit points is serious physical damage that can take days, weeks or even months to heal. The amount of damage that can be absorbed by stamina at any one point is determined by the pain threshold. This is a window below which all damage goes to stamina and above it goes to hit points. This article covers the mechanics in full detail.

In the next post I'll go over the scenario in which the MG is used against the tree line and the rifle is used against the bazooka.

Diorama source

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Metal is so, uh, un-cyber-punkish

Plastics, polymers, and ceramics. These are all the future materials. What are all these metal borgs, androids and air-filter-for-eye-wear things on my sci-fi episodes?

Ridley Scott nailed it. Ash has no metal parts showing. The future is plastic. Metals are out and organics are in.

Terminator? Blhahhh!

Skynet? Double blhahahhaahh!

When the shit really hits the fan with DNA manipulation, oh you're going to be in for a great surprise!

Just take a moment to think how much we've moved forward in 3D printing when it comes to roleplaying stuff: figures, tabletop items such as dungeon passage, etc.

Just imagine 3D printing on a molecular level?

What will the conventional weapons race look like in the near future as complex armor counteracts weapon systems?

A metal robot requires a factory and facilities to repair itself. A molecular printable cyborg only needs to touch a tree big enough to supply enough organic material to repair all battle damage.

The challenge in creating a cyberpunk setting is making today's fears inconsequential and tomorrow's horrors very, very real.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Storyline distances

Game storylines are quite complex things. You start at some point in the story and begin to move forward. One action takes you to the next and options seem to unfold in front of you. You take one path and then the next and the next. The result is something like the image to the right. A very complex and possibly n dimensional figure of interwoven paths moving away and towards each other.

Lets look at the following image. Imagine your main storyline going from the top center downward and slightly to the left. Each action you and your fellow players take moves the story a bit forward. This movement process is not automatic, it requires an effort and not all moves are possible. The white space around the path is space your story can't occupy. There are, so to speak, no "viable scenes" there. Let me make a parenthesis here to clarify that this is not railroading, I will get to that in another post, this is just marking a path through a set of options which are not all equally probable or 100% probable.

As you can see there are other clusters to the right, these are alternate storylines with interconnected moves. These storylines are separated from the main storyline by white space. A story can't simply move from the main story to these alternate storylines without the action being disruptive (that is tunneling from one storyline to the other).

Now how do I envision the concept of "rolling for impact" that +Brent Newhall brought up. Well that downward storyline I'm talking to you about could be a success or failure streak. In Brent's comment he mentioned failure being certain and we'd only be concerned with the degree of impact, but this could very well be turned around to success. Not all failure is automatic and equally impacting and not all success is automatic and equally impacting.

Lets revisit the diagram and start from the bottom center on our way up and work around degrees of success. I find that going upwards and talking about success is more inspiring that downward and failure, but the example can be very well examined in the opposite direction by yourself. That being said let me move ahead. If we assume we will succeed and the only important thing to determine is the degree of success we are then placing a mechanism at work to determine this. This mechanism is die based since we are after all "rolling for impact". Each roll adds a bit of information that is quite different from other rolls. That means we can NOT have binary outcomes. As you can see the path upwards is composed of small and large steps, and there is always a step. Some steps move you sideways and hardly forward and some steps are pure forward moves.

This is what I call the impact of the highly expected. We know we will succeed (or fail), success is expected, what is important now for the story is its degree. It is very hard to obtain a degree of success out of a binary die roll mechanism that signals success (1) - failure (0) as possible outcomes. Unless of course we keep rolling more dice to subdivide the success space into smaller "partial success" spaces, but this is tedious and time consuming.

A storyline with binary mechanics might look like this:

A storline space with very short and fragmented story segments. You either succeed and move on or fail and get stuck. Every so often you might end up with outstanding success or failure which jumps you to another fragmented storyline. It becomes easier to visualize player uncertainty and loss of narrative control. All those places you want to go as a player are now white space, unreachable, and that which is reachable seems so far out of reach.

Now let me talk a bit about move-roll and roll-move mechanics. In move-roll you call your move and then roll to see what happens. In roll-move you roll and then do what's best with that roll. Graphically this looks something like the following:

In move-roll I'm in Pi and say I want to move to Ps. If I make the roll I get to Ps if not I don't get to Ps. The green area is called the inclusion zone. It's where I can move to if the roll succeeds and the red area is the exclusion zone, places I can't reach. In move-roll my statements are defining the inclusion zone and then I roll to see if I can reach it. All the other P points on the diagram are outcomes that I didn't choose to reach. I will address them later.

In roll-move I'm in Pi and I roll, this in turn opens up an inclusion zone from which I can choose a set of possible Ps (portrayed in the image as {Ps1, Ps2, Ps3}). There are still exclusion zones to the left and right they're just defined "a priori" by the dice. I have deliberately selected the roll-move roll to be lower than the move-roll. This to portray the fact that the player is still bound by the die roll. None of the Ps outcomes in roll-move is better than the Ps  outcomes in the move-roll, they're just a lot more and the player has the impression of more outcomes to choose from.

This takes us to the very important question. If I "fail" in the move-roll shouldn't I be entitled to one of the multiple Ps in roll-move? That is, I strive for Ps and roll low, but still within the green inclusion zone of the roll-move diagram. Why do I get nothing instead of a choice between Ps1, Ps2 or Ps3? More so, if I get a way better roll than required to attain Ps, why am I stuck with Ps? Shouldn't I be entitled to P4 or P5?

Lets revisit move-roll from a roll for impact perspective. In this case all outcomes are within the inclusion zone. The player calls Ps as the goal outcome and then rolls. The roll will determine if Ps itself comes up or if any of the alternate {Ps1 to Ps6} outcomes occur. Some are less favorable than Ps and some are more favorable. 

We can now put these little steps together to build the original image and see how these small and sometimes larger steps move the story up the diagram. Sometimes we get a good roll and move upwards a lot, sometimes not so much and we seem to move sideways rather than forward, but we always move, and we do so coherently. No awkward moment when something that should be obviously possible does not happen. No wasting minutes coming up with an action that does not materialize itself due to a bad roll. 

That to me is rolling for impact.


Saturday, November 14, 2015

Huitzi 3021

Christopher Columbus never made it across the Atlantic. He drowned at sea or fell prey to mutiny which in turn led his ships astray. Whatever his fate, he never made it back to Spain. Europe never found a short route to the Indies and without the gold that would bring and riddled with towns infested with plague it would fall into another thousand years of darkness.

Fifteen hundred years into the future the world is a very different place. Mesoamerica has risen as technological and spiritual superpower. Fueled by advanced technology and ancient magic it has forged a world of warring states. The gods were real all along and they are creatures who came here from distant planets. A mixture of humans and extraterrestrial beings has emerged as extraterrestrial technology and human magic intermingle.

Earth is a very violent and dangerous place. The ancient gods have revealed themselves as powerful beings from other worlds and xenomorphs live among us demanding tribute in blood. This allows for a fragile balance between life and utter destruction. Magic and supernatural powers tops it all, adding to the powerful mix of science and technology.

Huitzi (hummingbird) 3021 is a game set in Earth's distant future. It takes place fifteen hundred years after what would have been the fall of Tenochtitlan which never really was. Magic and ritual has forged a path to technological revelation which has opened the eyes of mankind to the creatures that walk among them. These extraterrestrial beings have in turn shared their technology with us and fused sorcery with technology. The terrible creatures from Aztec folklore exist. Such creatures as the Tzitzimime are real. They walk among us and are horrible monsters from other worlds who have imposed rituals of blood and sacrifice that have shaped the very essence of the world's culture.

The world is divided into various warring city states ruled by powerful kings under the oversight of powerful patron godlike beings. Society is highly stratified and many still see these beings as great gods with unstoppable power. Ancient shaman magic has intermingled with technology to produce powerful forces that war against each other in an attempt to achieve world domination.

On which side do you stand?

Huitzi logo source

Huitzilopochtli 3021 AD

Huitzilopochtli, patron god of war to the Aztecs (Mexicas), was born fully armored and armed from the womb of Coatlicue, herself the goddess of fertility, rebirth and goddess of life and death. As with so many things in mesoamerican mythology she's a symbol of duality. A goddess who's head is a pair of snakes, who's skirt is made of interwoven snakes and even her arms are snake heads! A fearsome creature portrayed in the image bellow in which you see all the features aforementioned as well as the necklace of skulls and amputated hands that encircles her neck. Makes you wonder what the goddess of the underworld looks like.

Legend says she became pregnant with Huitzilopochtli when a beautiful feathered crest fell from the sky while she was sweeping the temple at Tollan. At that time she was doing penance on the hill of Coatepec and her duty was to tend to the cleaning of the temple. Seeing such a beautiful crest she picked it up and admired it, bringing it close to her and contemplating it for a long time. It was when she was laying the crest down to return to her chores that she noticed a feather missing. No matter how much she cleaned and looked for it in the temple she could not find it. This feather was already on its way to become Huitzilopochtli.

Upon hearing the news of her mothers's mysterious pregnancy her 400 sons, the Centzon Huitznáhuac (gods of the stars), became deeply offended and enraged. Instigated by their sister Coyolxauhqui they decided to turn against their dishonored mother and kill her. It is at this time when confronting their mother with the intent of killing her that Huitzilopochtli is born fully armed and armored. He confronts and defeats his sisters and brothers and dismembers Coyolxauhqui throwing her head to the heavens to become the Moon.

This is all nice and well. Goes along the lines of one of the most popular legends around the birth of Huitzilopochtli. He is also known as the blue Tezcatlipoca and is one of the four Tezcatlipoca alongside Quetzalcoatl (the white Tezcatlipoca), Xipetótec (the red Tezcatlipoca) and the black Tezcatlipoca known simply as "Tezcatlipoca". The Tezcatlipoca are sons of  Ometecuhtli y Omecíhuatl, the creating couple whose offspring also include figures such as Tlaloc (god or rain), Mictlantecuhtli (god of the underworld) and Xiuhtecuhtli (god of fire). As you can see family ties ran deep!

Now I want to revisit the legend from a more futuristic cyberpunk-futuristic-mecha setting inspired from last nights artwork.

Who are these gods? Who is this Coatlicue? A goddess who can give birth to a fully armed and armored son who defeats 400 fully armed gods of the stars, dismembers his sister and turns her head into the moon. Aside from the physical impossibility of giving birth to an adult, there's the added complexity (not to mention pain) of the armor and weapons!

An impossibility easy to overcome if Coatlicue is a mother ship and her son Huitzilopochtli is a fully armed mech descending to defeat the armies of opposing stellar forces (Centzon Huitznáhuac, gods of the stars). The dismembered Coyolxauhqui? Some remains of mech technology on the Moon?

I want to spin this off into an interesting setting that adds bits and pieces of mesoamerican mythology into a futuristic technology and magic mix. Who are these Atlanteans in Tula?

Lets bring these stone monoliths back to life with technology and magic mixed together. Letting the long lost mesoamerican culture jump 1500 years into the future and create an interesting futuristic setting with strange and at times very deadly rituals and values from the past.

A time when this to the left becomes that to the right. A hyper technologically advanced society ruled by fearsome gods of war, life, death and the underworld.

Let me introduce to you a goddess known as Itzpapalotl. She is the obsidian butterfly, the goddess of war and sacrifice, and of course death. She rules over the paradise of Tamoanchan, a place said to be the origin of man who was created out of sacrificial blood and ground up bones stolen from the underworld of Mictlan. If Tamoanchan is heaven just imagine what Mictlan (the underworld) looks like!

What is really frightening about Itzpapalotl is her description. She is described as a black skeletal figure with obsidian claws. She's said to be butterfly like with large skeletal wings tipped in sharp blades as well. Also notice the crest on her head! On top of this her neck is said to be surrounded by a necklace of hearts and hands taken from her victims. The image to the right shows a figure of her on top of a temple taking on human sacrifice. It is said she'd also incite men into cannibalism to give tribute to her and gain her favor or pardon.

Reminds me of a terrible creature that lives in the deepest, darkest, most feared corner of our mind. The dreaded alien queen.

If this is the goddess what is Tamoanchan? Where is this paradise she rules over? And most important of all who or what inhabits it?

Ahh! Overall a great deal of inspiration to bring together prehispanic mythology and folklore with future technology and beings from other worlds. What role would you play?