Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Importance of "Getting It"

I'm prepared to admit that I'm not a very creative guy. My previous project was an RPG based on the Oz stories of L. Frank Baum. Derivative works just ooze from my pores.

If there's one thing that separates me from any other schmuck out there is that I get it. Or at least, I try very hard to. Some people, when you mention the idea of "Better Than Rifts", they will say, "Sure, there are lots of games that are better than Rifts." So my job isn't that hard, right?

Wrong. Project BTR isn't about making a game that's better than Rifts. It's about making a game that does everything that Rifts does and does it better than Rifts.

There are a lot of licensed games out there that fall short of the mark. One that stands out is the Red Dwarf RPG. Yes, there was a RPG based on a British sci-fi sitcom. And it was a very traditional RPG, with combat rules and gear lists (derived from the show, at least) but no real support for comedy gaming. No wonder I picked it up in the bargain bin. The guys who wrote it may have loved the show, but they didn't get it and they weren't able to convey it to their readers.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Mega-Damage is Broken!

Thank you for tuning in to the first post on the Project BTR blog. In case you haven't figured it out, BTR stands for Better Than Rifts. If you don't know what Rifts is, you suck. If you do know what Rifts is, you know how much of an overhaul the system needs. This blog will detail my thoughts and progress toward designing an upgraded system.

To avoid legal snafus, note that Better Than Rifts is a preliminary name that serves as a convenient descriptor of my design goals. The final product will have a different name, though finding a way to keep the BTR acronym would be fun.

The easiest thing to point out as broken in the current iteration of the Rifts RPG is the concept of Mega-Damage. Each point of Mega-Damage represents 100 points of regular (SDC) damage. When this was introduced in Palladium's Robotech RPG, it made a degree of sense. It was a clean way to delineate personal combat from mecha-scale combat. When a mecha-scale attack came at little ol' you, you're toast and a human-scale attack had to be huge in order to even dent one of the giant robots.

Rifts didn't really keep with that split (and some say it didn't work too well even in Robotech). Personal weapons and armor appeared that interacted on the Mega-scale. Meaning that anyone had the ability to wield a weapon of mass destruction and survive attacks from same.

While this does the job of separating heroes and villains (with MDC weapons and armor) from the average joe (who operates solely on the SDC scale), the break between the two scales is too extreme to hold up believably for any extended period. If everything worthwhile is MDC, why waste skill selections to max out your SDC potential? Why does the SDC scale even exist?

One solution used by some Rifts gamers is to reduce the MDC scale to 10xSDC rather than 100xSDC. This still allows for MDC characters to be a cut above, but not to the point that it's ridiculous. It makes SDC much more viable, as a normal PC will often have 20-30 total hit points (counting innate SDC) along with whatever is provided by SDC-scale armor. This translates to 2-3 MDC hit points. Better than 1, certainly.

My proposed solution: Armor Divisors. This does mean stepping away from the traditional Palladium conceit of "armor takes damage for you" and into the idea of "armor stops damage" that is prevalent in many other RPGs. While it might be fun to incorporate an armor damage mechanic, it would have to require minimal bookkeeping (and be another post, anyway).

The idea is that super-powered weapons are more likely to penetrate armor rather than simply render the wearer into chunky salsa. It also helps control the "buckets o' dice" that tend to come out with very large damages. Here's how it works: Say you have some armor that stops 10 damage. Now we take a pistol that does 1d10 damage. That's not scary at all, is it. The armor is going to stop that attack every time. Now let's take that 1d10 pistol and give it an armor divisor of 2, so that any armor it goes up against is divided in half. Now your 10 armor points will only stop 5 points of damage. Gets a little scarier, doesn't it? If we upgrade the armor divisor to 10, that armor is only going to stop 1 point of damage from that pistol. See how it works? And we're not radically increasing the amount of damage done, but we are affecting how the hypothetical player would respond to the attack.

Another component of the problem is that weapon damages (especially Mega-damages) are assigned by pure whim. While this works from a given perspective (the designer says "I need a weapon that's about this scary"), each designer winds up using their own contradictory formulas or notions, making the whole thing even less logical. Any attempt to create consistency from all of this just muddies the waters even more, as exception after exception pile up.

My proposed solution: Guns Guns Guns! A publication of BTRC, it is designed as a generic weapon creation system, with a focus on detail and realism. While a setting like Rifts has all kinds of wacky technologies, having a solid, consistent base to draw from can make the wackiness that much more believable.

See you next month for more fun taking Rifts apart and making it truly awesome!