Saturday, November 2, 2013

Avatar World: Version 1.1's Changes

This is a rad song. I'm not into all of Nero's stuff, but I've been enjoying their album these past several days.

So I did this game design workshop thing about a week ago, and Ross and Orion and Robert had some great ideas about how to solve the bits that I feel weird about in Avatar World's design. It got me thinking about what the reasons behind the game's systems were in a player behavior context, rather than just on the mechanical balance of having those systems. The principle issue I'd come in with was that Chi, Tags, Chakra, and the relationships between them kinda fell flat. They basically fed mechanics-into-mechanics, without significantly consulting the fiction in between, and even then the mechanics aren't all that interesting.
I did notice something during playtests that ran against the sense I'd imagined while writing the game: Chi moves a little slower. I wasn't entirely sure just how much would be bouncing around, but it's definitely less than I expected. It also gets used less, but that's also a result of the usage being kinda uninteresting. Here's my proposed changes:

An important thing is you don't deal Harm to targets. I am abolishing Harm as a thing PCs do. Doing attacks to things applies Tags to them, which means that the difference between Commit Open Violence and Move With Intention is the sort of Tags that can be applied, since placing Tags relies on the fiction. So Tags are basically descriptors of the harm you're doing rather than a numerical value. While this provides no hard ruling of when a target is actually "defeated", this is a fiction-first game, and with the MC Principle of not treating NPCs with kid gloves, Tags alone should be sufficient to beat an enemy.
That's not to say that Tags have no mechanical use, which ties into spending Chi. But first, let's talk about how I've dismantled Chi.
Oh, and player Tags are just gone, they're simply irrelevant. I'm choosing that route instead of abolishing player Harm, mostly on intuition and also ease of integrating it. I think it's a good bit of crunch that gets out of the way very quickly.

Chi, as it flows slower than I expected, has been changed to be more significant when used. There's three components to the new Chi system: How it's generated, Spending it, and what it does for the MC.
Generating it: Whenever your chakras bring you into conflict with the other PCs or get you in trouble, gain a point of Chi.
When you fail a roll, gain a point of Chi.
I should note that Chakras are currently remaining unchanged in form, though I may go about augmenting the specific lists. This is the driver of creating some intra-party conflict, something very common in the show, though it rarely comes to out-and-out combat or the like. They get over it pretty quick. As for failing, well, that should look familiar if you know Dungeon World. That'll probably generate more than the first clause, but the first is certainly preferable to having to endure a hard move. But let's check the next part...
Spending it: When you make a Move and take advantage of a foe's Tags (or an Environment Tag), before rolling you can spend a point of Chi to automatically succeed as if you had rolled a 7-9. Then give that point of Chi to the MC.
At any point, you can spend 5 Chi to gain an improvement.
I'm a big fan of auto 7-9. It's still good enough to be desirable, as it doesn't require a roll (and thus doesn't threaten a hard move) and you still succeed at what you were doing, but there's definitely complications and drama that arise from it. Keep in mind that MC Chi is not what it used to be as well. But imminently, this is a good thing for you. Also, the Tag requirement is now much easier to hit (as any harm adds a Tag) but the opening salvo in a conflict is going to still have to roll since they come in with no Tags.
Also, Chi is now also XP. So your chakras bringing you into conflict generates XP, which is a pretty good motivator. This also has the excellent effect of handling my very "ehhh" outlook on using highlighted stats for gaining XP.
I should remind that there are several playbook moves that one can also spend Chi to use, and those will be recalibrated for the new system, but there's also that use of Chi.
Let's look at the final component...
MC use of Chi: MCs don't spend Chi to alter the current state of the game. Instead, I'm resolving to have a version of the ApW Fronts, which I've been calling Plots in my notes, with the important note that I'm effectively keeping countdown clocks (though likely not in that shape). MC Chi can be used to advance Plots forward, which furthers the drama. The effect is likely NOT immediate! And since there will probably be a couple Plots running (say, "Zuko Pursues The Avatar," "Zhou Pursues The Avatar" which is similar in form, very different in function from Zuko's pursuit,  and "The Fire Nation Invades The Earth Kingdom" as the Plots in the first season of the show), that Chi is likely going to be divided up. I haven't decided on the complete specifics regarding Plots, but I think this is a good use.
The only way MCs get Chi is when players spend it to auto-succeed. So when players are spending, what they're really doing is avoiding risk in the present to cause greater trouble in the future. The MC can advance their Plots with Hard Moves and a sensible, but to be frank that won't happen all that often because they'll be using those Hard Moves to punish characters in the present.

So let's review:
PC Chi is generated by Chakra-driven conflict or failing rolls.
Successful rolls can place Tags where they used to cause Harm.
That Chi can be given to the MC to make rolls with Tag support an automatic 7-9, or spent to improve the PC.
The MC can use that 7-9 to cause drama, and spend the Chi to advance Plots for future drama.
Drama and trouble leads to Chakra-driven conflict or roll failure. (and the web loops back to the top).
So the end results are: Mitigated roll failure, intra-party conflict, defeating foes using the fiction rather than numbers, character improvement, automatic partially-successful (aka drama-causing) rolls leading from the fiction, using playbooks' unique awesomness (if you have an appropriate move), and future trouble for the PCs. I'm a big fan of all those results, and there doesn't seem to be any major slowing down of the system that I can see. There's also no major mechanic-to-mechanic links without returning to the fiction. Maybe player-spends-Chi to MC-advances-Plot, but that's not a visible mechanic to the group, just what the MC is handling behind the scenes.
XP was deemed unnecessary, Harm was deemed unnecessary, fictional-referencing increased by a lot, and the mechanics get out of the way faster.
All-in-all, some good stuff I think. But that's not for me to say I guess, that's up to you all and the playtesting feedback. I will say that this was the stuff I wasn't completely comfortable with in the first place and had kinda settled on out of indecisio, while this I'm much more comfortable with. This is a big change though, and I'm sure I won't catch ALL the moves that this affects, so if you see something that still runs on the old system in my next version, tell me cuz it's probably just been overlooked.

So here's some changes that I've made based on this subsystem.
Speak Honorably: The bribe option now gives Chi, not XP.
Commit Open Violence: The player Tag was removed, though the fictional portion of the option was left alone. I'm leaving the other "harm" options, but rather than mechanically altering the harm, it's just fictional. Unrelated to the subsytem, the "they deal harm in return" was removed because it's the same damn thing as "you're left open to their counterattack" and I didn't notice before.
Move With Intention: The +1 Harm forward option was just removed, since you can just Tag them right now instead.
Armor: Heavy Armor needed a change, as Player Tags are not a thing. I don't even remember why the hell I needed that anyway, it's just 2-armor.

Playbook Moves Altered:
Henchmen (Aristocrat): It added a Tag to your Commit Open Violence, which that now does by default. Maybe this is just fluffy?
Firebending (Firebender): The larger/more taxing option had "deal +1 Harm" which is inappropriate. The momentarily-expended option created a player Tag, which don't exist any more.
Lightningbender (Firebender): Lots about harm in this one, so it needed some changing.
Hot-Headed (Firebender): XP changed to Chi.
Monk Special (Monk): XP changed to Chi.
Calm Stability (Monk): "Resolve is broken" option was a player Tag.
Clarity of Senses (Monk): No player Tags exist, so a complete rewrite was necessary.
Guru (Monk): Highlighting stats doesn't happen, move needed complete changing.
Rivers of Energy (Monk): Requires permission to redistribute Chi.
Warrior Special (Warrior): Now just auto-Tags on entry instead of a whole complicated thing to remember.
Environment Master (Warrior): Old function was obsolete.
Unconventional Weaponry (Warrior): Amount of harm a weapon does doesn't matter any more, so this may be completely replaced, with a mention added into Environment Master.
Waterbending (Waterbender): Just dropping the 1 harm option, as it's an overlap with Impose A Tag now. The big long afternote is completely unnecessary now!
Icebending (Waterbender): This needed a new mechanic. For right now, it's just fictional and the Keen thing, but its supposed to be more in the next version.
Streaming (Waterbender): Just added Harm, so needed total rewriting.

Things I'm thinking about but not putting in yet:
Observe Carefully: Changing the +1 Forward to gain 1 Chi, but those two aren't quite equal in weight. Lubricating the flow of Chi is totally something I want to do though, and is way more interesting than +1 Forward.
Succubus (Aristocrat): I like the option when you go off-Avatar, but I'm not so sure I actually want it here. In the (still ethereal) Geisha sub-playbook it would belong very naturally, but I may replace it in the core. I mean, I don't have a lack of moves I could put on the Aristocrat. Not jumping into action on that yet though.
Earthbending: This move continues to push my buttons. I've seen it in play, and I like it, but I can't shake the idea that it's just too broad. I'm starting to consider making Earthbending just a thing you do, and taking the Stored Energy sub-system created by the Master move and making it a core thing, as I feel kinda good about that system (or at least it's trigger - being a +1 is dull, though fast and easy), plus it's more about conflicts than tasks. That would have some other ripples that affect other moves, but almost all in good ways that I think benefit the playbook, so I'll probably try that out next time.
Conductive (Firebender): The more I look at it, the more I'm convinced it just needs replacing and that it's not that interesting in the first place. I don't know what to add though.
Rivers of Energy (Monk): I have no idea how this move impacts the new system. I can't see any reason it's problematic now. But with the power level, I'm always touchy around here.
Spiritual (Monk): this still okay? I mean, you can spend Chi for the roll if you want to take a shot at a 10+, or now spend 1 for an auto-7-9 (or you could spend 1 and roll if you don't want to advance the Plots). Maybe make the 7-9 less awesome, like only getting one of the three options as true. Or maybe just two is already pretty nasty. I did actually expect to have to reconsider basically all of the Monk moves, as it was the most Chi-linked playbook.
Dim Mak (Warrior): While I hesitate about this, I think it's actually MORE balanced now than it was before!
Ambush (Warrior): Yeah, that old Ninja move that was ridiculously powerful is actually now very in-line! Might be the replacement for something.
Icebending (Waterbender): Does it even need more? I don't know. do I have any spare Waterbender moves to throw in and just fold Icebending into Waterbending?

WELL, I was planning to have the layout of the next version ready to post with this, but I didn't build the layout of the document with rearranging the elements on the playbook in mind, so that's taking longer, so let's just show this off now. I vow that within the week I will have the new documents, but for now, here's what will be in it!

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