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Ian Cooper

Feedback on new improvement proposals sought

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Hi all,

It is time to get your feedback on new mechanisms for handling improvement. There are two aspects to the changes: (1) when the base resistance increases (2) how you improve abilities.

Just as note, we have made benefits and consequences more symmetrical, but that is not the object of debate in this thread. I am interested in your feedback on the Experience Points and Story Progression options.

This is a current draft of my thoughts, but I would love to hear what you think.

 Resistance Progression

Your GM may decide that resistance to your actions gets harder, as the campaign progresses. This reflects the trope of the type of challenges you face getting tougher as you improve.

Session Progression

In this case, after four sessions of play, your GM will increase base resistance by 1. After every subsequent two-session interval, it increases by another point.

Story Progression

Your GM may also prefer a strategy that mimics a TV show more where the resistance does not increase during a season of the show, allowing our protagonists to get more competent as the show progresses towards its climax. In the next season though the resistance usually goes up, and the writers reflect this with more challenging opposition in the new season of the show.

In that case your GM should bump the resistance by +3, +6 or +9 for the next campaign you play with the same characters. The size of the change should reflect the increase in your previous abilities in the last campaign. For example, if in the last season you increased your occupation keyword by +6, your GM may decide to increase the resistance by +3 or +6 to reflect the more challenging opposition in the new campaign.

No Progression

Your GM may also decide that the resistances do not get harder as the campaign progresses, reflecting the PCs ability to disregard minor challenges, and simply choose harder resistances to challenge the players

---------------------------------------------------

Improving Your Character

We present two approaches to improvement, your GM will choose one. Improvements happen at the end of a session.

Hero Points

You may improve any ability by 1 point per session, at a cost of 1 HP.

It costs 1 HP to raise a single breakout ability under the keyword, or 2 HPs to raise the entire keyword or runic affinity by a point.

You can add a new ability by spending 1 HP; it begins with a rating of 13.

You can add a new breakout ability by spending 1 HP; it begins with a rating of +1 to the keyword it modifies

Experience Points

Experience Points (XP) require more bookkeeping but improvements are driven by events in the story.

Instead of receiving 3 HPs at the beginning of a session you receive 1 HP and 2 XPs. Unused HPs still expire at the end of the session, but XPs can accumulate across sessions.

You can use XPs to either cement a Benefit of Victory or add a new ability with a rating of 13. You must spend XPs at the end of a session. HPs cannot be used for improvement.

The cost to cement a Benefit of Victory is 1 XP for +3, 2 XPs for +6, and 3 XPs for +9. If you want to cement the benefit against a keyword, rather than a stand alone ability, then it costs 2 XPs for +3, 4 XPs for +6, and 6 XPs for +9. You cannot cement a +W. Once the bonus is cemented the ability is permanently raised by the given amount. You can only spend points to cement the whole Benefit not a part of it. For example, if your PC has is +3 on their Avenge my Father ability of 3M, you can spend 2 XPs to cement the benefit and make your ability 9M, but you cannot spend 1 XP to increase your ability as though it were +3 to 6M.

Once your GM rules that a Benefit has expired, you may no longer cement it.

You must provide a story-reason why the experience has led to you learning something that improves your ability. The main reason for this is to prevent you seeking out weak resistances just to improve your PC. Your GM must genuinely feel that this was a moment where we see your hero grow as a result of their experience.

Your GM may decide that the Consequences of Defeat are sufficiently dire that time itself will not erase the penalty. For example, in a sword-fight you might have suffered a permanent injury such as loss of a limb, a relationship may be permanently damaged, your actions might be forgiven but will never be forgotten. To cement a Consequence your GM must give you 1 XP for a Hurt, 2 XP for Impaired, 3 XP for Injured. The penalty should be applied to an ability. Your GM will double the XP reward for penalizing a keyword, 2 XP for a Hurt, 4 XP for Impaired, 6 XP for Injured. For obvious reasons, your GM cannot cement a Dying consequence. In addition, you cannot simply spend the XP to restore the ability that was just damage; there must be a story reason as to why you can now spend XP to improve that ability. For example, you may seek out magical or super-science healing to restore a damaged limb. Alternatively, you may choose to immediately use the XP to cement existing benefits on other abilities that can be justified by the story, trusting to be able to improve the damaged abilities later, or never.

 

 

 

 

Edited by Ian Cooper

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it is worth noting that these approaches are not intended to produce the same result i.e. the hero points and experience points approaches are not intended to produce the same average improvement over x many sessions

Edited by Ian Cooper

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1 - I would prefer story progression but I think that all the option can be used. The final resistance is not set only by the base value so the importance of base value is not so relevant.

2 - Experience point is an interesting option but in my opinions the Xp cost must be the same of cemented benefits. I.E. the cemented benefits is 1/3 of the lingering one. The proposed exchange rate could bring a very fast increase of a single or few abilities. Anyway I will prefers HP solution.

3 - For both HP or XP I think that doubling the cost for Keywords is too low and lead to players that break off some abilities form the keyword and then increase only keywords. Depending on how broad is the keyword I suggest 3x or 4x cost.

 

 

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Personally I think that simply having an inflation of basic resistance is sloppy and lazy on the part of the narrator. While there should be opponents that become harder to overcome in combat, there is no reason that every combat resistance has to rise. If ability advancement barely keeps up with inflation, your characters will be come less proficient as the game proceeds. Not the desired outcome, is it?

It is fairly easy to make life harder for experts by putting their normal skills at a disadvantage by making them less relevant to the task, or even making them a stretch in a test to overcome a specific hurdle. Just like TV shows allow their protagonist to mature somewhat and to acquire new facets, player heroes should have the same opportunity.

 

I originally switched to RQ to escape the concept of experience points. If you have both XP and Hero points, you start exactly the kind of book-keeping that distracts me from narrating a story. I can live with a single currency, although I find the use of it already a bit troublesome. Easier than the meta-gaming "call a disadvantage for a benefit" in FATE, but almost as clunky.

If your main opponent progresses just exactly like you do, why progress at all? All the effort you put into developing your hero is about as fruitful as all the effort Indiana Jones spent in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Lazy and sloppy narrating...

 

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I'm interested why to introduce the concept of XP? I like the idea of cementing Benefits and Consequences (character arcs) but why not do it eith the same HPs? Can you open up the reasoning a little?

The cementing is also better in one-shots where no-one will spend HP to increase ability by one. But cementing a benefit in the beginning is a lucrative possibility.

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Some great feedback  guys thanks.

I am currently playtesting story progression and using the experience points points based buy, but with hero points. However, it hits a little problem in that all the improvements tended to be essentially breakouts like +3 to your relationship with Broddi under Red Cow community. There needed to be a way to improve the keyword, not just a breakout from it IMO. So we had two options (1) Increase the keyword by +1, +2 or +3 instead, trading it for the +3, +6, +9 (2) have double point cost for keywords (the approach we use elsewhere).

I decided I prefer (2).

But we have a problem, we don't want HP to accumulate. We saw a lot negative results in play with people saving them up to blitz a result. So, we decided to make HP a 'use 'em or lose em' deal. But this means, you would never accumulate enough HP to do more than permanently increase a keyword by +3. We don't allow part by, so that makes opportunities slim. But if we change to XP and allow those to accumulate....

One alternative here would be to translate unspent hero points into XP at the end of a session. They could then be accumulated, but not only used for improvements. That would keep the existing 3HP rule across the board, but remove the accumulation issue, without penalty.

Would that address any concerns?

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I would just allow a Keyword to be increased with 1 HP and make everything Keywords. 

  • You may improve any ability, keyword or runic affinity by 1 point per session, at a cost of 1 HP.
  • It costs 1 HP to raise a single breakout ability under the keyword
  • You can add a new ability, keyword or runic affinity by spending 1 HP; it begins with a rating of 13.
  • You can add a new breakout ability by spending 1 HP; it begins with a rating of +1 to the keyword it modifies

 

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Effectively what I've ended up with is this:

  • You get 3 HP's to start play which can be used at any point including establishing/cementing relationships 
  • At the end of the session you have 3 points of experience
  • If you have HP's still available, you can apply those for any type of increase as part of experience (i.e. new abilities, new breakouts, increases in existing abilities or keywords, cementing relationships, etc.)
  • If you don't have HP's available, your experience points are restricted to those skills where you either:  1) applied an HP during play; 2) achieved at least a major victory; or 3) rolled a critical success

 

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While I don't like the term 'XP', accumulation seems like a reasonable enough concept for some uses, like extra costly purchases.

You could also reverse your approach and put a limit on how many HP are available during a session, and/or limit how many HP can be saved up, and/or require saved HP to be spent during the Winter Phase (if you have one) or some other regular occurrence.

Another approach is that you could require spending HP on partial purchases for the costly stuff and not allow savings at all. That locks in the characters rather than allowing them to change their minds with a generic savings pool. 

 

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I prefer experience to be separated from Hero Points so I will only comment the Resistance Progression part of the original post.

I really like to have different options and I can see myself choosing one or the other according to the setting or the campaign structure. They are nice.

I find the terms Resistance Progression confusing though, I think that Difficulty Progression is more intuitive and thus easier to remember when you are browsing an index or a table of contents.

Edited by Corvantir
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On 10/7/2018 at 5:12 AM, soltakss said:

I would just allow a Keyword to be increased with 1 HP and make everything Keywords. 

  • You may improve any ability, keyword or runic affinity by 1 point per session, at a cost of 1 HP.
  • It costs 1 HP to raise a single breakout ability under the keyword
  • You can add a new ability, keyword or runic affinity by spending 1 HP; it begins with a rating of 13.
  • You can add a new breakout ability by spending 1 HP; it begins with a rating of +1 to the keyword it modifies

 

This suggestion touches on some unexamined assumptions relating to how advancement works that I think we could stand to explore a bit. 

Costing raises for Keywords vs regular abilities is a very different proposition depending on whether:

  • You're using package-style keywords that have a bunch of sub-abilities and if some of those abilities might be exclusive to that keyword -  functionally much like character-classes in other games.
  • You're using keywords that also gatekeep certain capabilities or in-fiction status - like Rune Affinities do in HQG.
  • You are using umbrella-style keywords, but you only get two of them.
  • You are letting any ability become an umbrella-style keyword if someone decides to hang a breakout from it.
  • Some combination of the above.

Any point-ish advancement scheme needs to be able to coherently take into account those variables, or at least recommend for which approaches they'd be well suited. 

 

For myself, I let any ability become a keyword the moment it gets a breakout. When balancing keyword vs stand alone ability costs, I've done it a few different ways.

During character creation,  I sometimes give players the following:

Name

species/culture/background: 15

  • breakout +1
  • breakout +2

training/profession/experience: 17

  • breakout +1
  • breakout +2
  • breakout +3

other ability: 15

other ability: 13

other ability: 13

Flaws:

  • Flaw #1 - Some Flaw - Highest Ability Rating


Add More Stuff Worksheet:

 
Either
distinguishing characteristic:17 
or
 - distinguishing characteristic +4

Choose ten from below.
"Raise a stand-alone..." ability cannot be used on the same ability as "Add a new +1 breakout.." or "Raise a keyword..."
Option Chosen Ability to which applied
Raise a stand-alone ability by 1 -
Raise a stand-alone ability by 1 -
Raise a stand-alone ability by 1 -
Raise a stand-alone ability by 1 -
Raise a stand-alone ability by 1 -
Raise a breakout ability bonus by 1 -
Raise a breakout ability bonus by 1 -
Raise a breakout ability bonus by 1 -
Raise a breakout ability bonus by 1 -
Raise a breakout ability bonus by 1 -
Add a new stand-alone ability rated at 13 -
Add a new stand-alone ability rated at 13 -
Add a new stand-alone ability rated at 13 -
Add a new stand-alone ability rated at 13 -
Add a new +1 breakout to an existing ability -
Add a new +1 breakout to an existing ability -
Add a new +1 breakout to an existing ability -
Add a new +1 breakout to an existing ability -
Raise a keyword (ability that has breakouts) by 1 -
Raise a keyword (ability that has breakouts) by 1 -

Raise a keyword (ability that has breakouts) by 1

-

Note in particular the checklist above here. This is in lieu of "Now spend 10 points on improvements." or similar. It uses scarcity of "Raise a Keyword" among finite options to balance it rather than higher cost. The list also is tuned to allow people to specialize around a core keyword if they want to, but without making a "Well, it costs 2 points to raise a keyword, and one to raise a breakout or regular ability so the clearly optimal path is to have a keyword with several +1 breakouts, only ever spend points to raise the keyword, and let catch-ups handle the rest." situation.

 

This approach was inspired by the advancement scheme in Monster of the Week and some other PbtA games where you have a list of several improvements you can choose when you level up, possibly including some duplicate entries, but you can't pick the same choice more than once.

The other way I've sought to avoid encouraging the Keyword-with-lots-of-plus-one-breakouts optimization is to cost keywords based on the number of breakouts they have, along the lines of #of-breakouts-2, minimum 2. That still gives a discount for keywords, but makes boringly loading down a single one with lots of +1s less attractive.

 

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More broadly WRT advancement, I've increasingly come to favor something inspired by RQ/Pendragon checks, the Organic Improvement option presented in Nameless Streets, and some aspects of how Rolemaster awards XP.

If in the course of play, you use an ability in a contest and achieve a Victory or Defeat result that is not Marginal, check it. At the end of the session, roll the ability in a contest against itself to determine advancement (per Nameless Streets) or forgo that option and select a new ability, whether stand-alone or breakout.

This indirectly still turns HP into advancement, as spending them will often mean boosting Victory-grade above Marginal. It also kills the optimal keyword advancement strategy cold. Further, I really like giving out the checks for significant Defeats, as that very much mirrors how things work in both fiction and real life. If anything, you learn more from your failures.

If one wanted to tune this concept for slower advancement, only give out checks for Major & Complete results (much like Pendragon only gives checks on criticals).

In keeping with the cementing-benefits proposal, cementing a benefit could also be an option in-lieu of an advancement check.

Edited by JonL
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1 hour ago, JonL said:

If in the course of play, you use an ability in a contest and achieve a Victory or Defeat result that is not Marginal, check it. At the end of the session, roll the ability in a contest against itself to determine advancement (per Nameless Streets) or forgo that option and select a new ability, whether stand-alone or breakout.

I like this idea a lot.  I'd probably make it a result that is Major or Complete (since that is effectively what I've focused on), but like the idea of including both Victory and Defeat.  Rolling against itself makes sense.  

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21 hours ago, Corvantir said:

I find the terms Resistance Progression confusing though, I think that Difficulty Progression is more intuitive and thus easier to remember when you are browsing an index or a table of contents.

Thanks, I like that.

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2 hours ago, JonL said:

If in the course of play, you use an ability in a contest and achieve a Victory or Defeat result that is not Marginal, check it. At the end of the session, roll the ability in a contest against itself to determine advancement (per Nameless Streets) or forgo that option and select a new ability, whether stand-alone or breakout.

Yeah, I would like to include some of the Nameless Streets options. TBH though, if you have to track checks, that is more than tracking benefits of victory, which you already have to to check. It also doesn't really speak to keywords vs. breakouts.

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Not having played yet, but what does the ability bloat start to look like? One of the reasons I dont like the d20 style of game. The players post encounter groan that they had some ability that would have made life easier but it was buried.

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I dislike the games where the resources to boost effects and to buy improvements are the same.  It can mean that the guy who stands back and does not commit to group efforts can grow faster as he does not spend his hero points.

I played a home brew (who might have stolen this from elsewhere) in which you checked those abilities in which you successfully boosted a result with hero points.  Those abilities could be raised at the end of the session.  That seemed to make more sense to me.  I do think that there needs to be a way of sweeping up the little used colour skills as well.  When I was running Hero Wars Imgave out runes (rather than Hero Points) and allowed those Hero Points to passively increase any skill that was a mastery less than the fifth best skill on the character sheet (or under 17) where the runes were related to the task in hand.  The runes I gave out were based on the adventure or reasons that I decided to award them.

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17 hours ago, StephenMcG said:

  I do think that there needs to be a way of sweeping up the little used colour skills as well. 

We still use catch up when something breaks the mastery barrier

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17 hours ago, StephenMcG said:

I dislike the games where the resources to boost effects and to buy improvements are the same.  It can mean that the guy who stands back and does not commit to group efforts can grow faster as he does not spend his hero points.

One alternative would be to give XP for something else. HQ is not BRP though, so I am unsure that simply using a skill, or failing to use a skill is right. ideas like The Shadow of Yesterday/Solar System (itself inspired Hero Wars) of player setting two or three goals, and then gaining XP when they work towards those might also work.

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On 10/8/2018 at 10:57 AM, jajagappa said:

I like this idea a lot.  I'd probably make it a result that is Major or Complete (since that is effectively what I've focused on), but like the idea of including both Victory and Defeat.  Rolling against itself makes sense.  

For a longer campaign, Major+ makes the most sense. 

18 hours ago, StephenMcG said:

I dislike the games where the resources to boost effects and to buy improvements are the same.  It can mean that the guy who stands back and does not commit to group efforts can grow faster as he does not spend his hero points.

As a player, I have always disliked the tension created by using the same resource for both Doing Something Awesome and general advancement. It can lead to non-obvious emergent imbalances in the long term as well.

47 minutes ago, Ian Cooper said:

One alternative would be to give XP for something else. 

Another thing I have done at times is simply give players some choices at the and of a "Chapter" - every 2-3 sessions, but maybe after a single rather significant session. Something like...

Choose three of the following, with the underlined options counting as two picks:

  • Raise a Keyword by 1
  • Raise a stand-alone Ability by 2
  • Raise a breakout Ability under a Keyword by 1
  • Add a new stand-alone Ability
  • Add a new +1 breakout to a Keyword.
  • Add a +1 breakout to a previously stand-alone ability, making it a Keyword.

(The last one should not be used on the same ability as the second during the same advancement sequence.)

Things like new grimoires or spells can be put on that list as well.

47 minutes ago, Ian Cooper said:

HQ is not BRP though, so I am unsure that simply using a skill, or failing to use a skill is right.

That's part of the idea behind excluding Marginal or even Minor results. It's not just that you're using it, it's that it's been used in a conflict with a particularly impactful outcome. Improving after a significant defeat is an especially common fictional dynamic.

47 minutes ago, Ian Cooper said:

ideas like The Shadow of Yesterday/Solar System (itself inspired Hero Wars) of player setting two or three goals, and then gaining XP when they work towards those might also work.

Milestones in Marvel Heroic Roleplaying are another interesting point of reference. Here are a few I came up with for my (Inuyasha-inspired) Sengoku Yokai Road  Cortex+ hack:

The Devil's Road
You were once a respected Samurai before everything went wrong. Sepuku would have been the honorable way out, but you just couldn't let go. Instead, you walk the Road, looking for redemption, vengance, or both.
1xp when you lament your tragic fate
3xp whenever your true identity is discovered
10xp when you either avenge the injustice that ended your old life, or find inner peace in spite of it.

Childhood's End
This isn't the life someone your age should be leading, and yet here you are. With no home to go back to the Road and your friends are all that you have now. 
1xp when you try to prove that you can handle adult challenges.
3xp when you try to interact with other youths, but have difficulty relating after everything you've been through.
10xp when you either come of age, or find a safe place to finish growing up in.

Dead Man Walking
What happened to you was not survivable, and yet you are still here, walking the Road. Something is keeping you from passing on to the next life, whether a magic talisman, a curse, or a powerful incomplete destiny. Whatever the case even you are uncertain as to whether you should be alive.
1xp when you are reminded of how you "died."
3xp when whatever is keeping you "alive" causes you a problem.
10xp when you either are fully resurrected, or are able to finally pass on. (Presumably using those 10xp to unlock a new character, in the latter case.)

Star-crossed Lovers
You come from different worlds, perhaps literally.
1xp whenever the complications of life on the Road get in the way of your budding romance.
3xp when you manage to find a brief tender moment in spite of everything.
10xp when you finally declare your love for one another, or fail to make it work and let go of the fantasy.

 

The above are also examples of how Flaws can be HP/XP generators, another approach from Nameless Streets worth salvaging, IMO.

Edited by JonL
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