Shadowrun 5e: opening salvo

•November 26, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I’m looking at GMing some Shadowrun games in the future.

Now, it’s been several years since I played 3d or 4th edition either one. So I decided I’d jump to 5th. I’m aware there are people who love and people who despise it, but since I saw the same thing with 3 & 4 I’ll just ignore that for now. In other words if you’re going to comment and say I should go to one of those because 5e sucks, I’ll just ignore you.

So anyway, I’ve got a concept in place, and I’m learning the rules in preparation.

The concept is simple. I’ve got some players who only want to play it once in a while because we’ve got a great GM in another game. And some of those players aren’t sure they will like it, and certainly balk at the thick and potentially complex rules. So… I’m setting up a set of one shots, and I’m building a stable.

Think of it as setting up a set of demos that tolerate and even reward repeat players and you’ve got the idea. These will form the basis of some later posts. This one is, however, devoted to the introduction.

While learning the ins and outs of the rules before we play well enough I’m not stumbling as a GM is a trick, I at least have the advantage of the world and concept. Which means I’ve already decided on a couple of house rules.

House rule one: Everyone’s a sinner. The book mentions several times that every nation, every corporation, pretty much every collective organization identifies its members, with the former two being from birth. So in my world you have to pay to be sinless. It’s “only” 5 karma, but it’s what you have to spend to have either lucked out or made an effort to never get tied into someone’s tax base and ID system. AT THE SAME TIME, it is possible to have more than one sin, or for your sin to be a greater sin. For negative quality purposes in character generation you cannot have more than one of any type, but you can have one of each type at the listed cost (with a second ‘national’ being the allowed exception). Of course, the more you have the better chance of being ID’d after a job. And every SIN carries a tax burden — and nobody gives you a break on that.

House rule two is more perceptual. The world’s stories as written are written by a particular group of people, and the tone and focus reflect their viewpoint. Think if the history books we read today were all written by, oh, pick group distasteful to you. But in this case the group is anti-social and paranoid, and in quite a few cases amoral at best. It is my opinion that the world isn’t quite as dystopic as painted. This isn’t to say it’s all flowers and lollipops, but rather the aim of pretty much everyone is to make things better for more than just themselves. For some the ‘others’ are just them and theirs, but there are plenty who think the whole world can be made a better place.

Exhibit a on that is the corporations. Without nations and laws and cooperation, the whole concept of how corporations work falls down in chaos. Frankly, it’s worth recalling that the AAAs only own and employ a (large) fraction of the world. Some of the larger nations could finish off a single corporation as an entity; though it would cost, it is doable.

With this in mind, a personal element. I know that shadow runners are, by definition, criminals. And I’m aware that this, along with the stories told, tends to encourage some shadowrun players to make amoral – no, immoral psychopathic sociopaths. Torture and murder ‘just because’. I find this attitude distasteful. House rule two means that the further down that road you go the more likely you are to appear on a wanted poster and the target of a bounty team. And when you get down to it, Johnson is hiring a disposable asset, not a wild card. All together this means I will enforce notoriety.

So, a world where law and order and social structure are given more than a wink and a nod, if for no other reason that the benefit to the bottom line. There are still shadows, it is an awakened world. It’s just not quite the near-lawless dystopia the rule book presents. And in this world, players will engage in a set of apparently unrelated adventures, choosing their character of the event from a stable mostly created by me.

mostly. apparently. Don’t you love sneaky qualifiers? You’d think I was Mr. Johnson. Or worse, the GM.

have fun.

No Eve

•June 29, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Nope, just can’t cross the threshold. Though I finally figured out why I can’t push the go button.

Bottom line, I don’t have time. The problem with a pure sandbox is that it’s really a life of its own, and you only get out of it what you put into it. I’m just not going to get enough fun per hour from the limited number of hours I have to put in to justify the payment – low as it is.

Which come to think of it is a decent test for most MMOs. By their nature they should be encouraging at least some interaction, some sense of community. If I’m going to be irregular, often only managing an hour or two a couple of nights a week, they’re probably not my thing. (Except for the much-disparaged theme park style, and even then the grouping requirements may make them fail for my use. I no longer have the time I did when I played WoW.)

I want it

•May 31, 2014 • Leave a Comment

OK, I’ve been posting a lot of ‘response to Jester’ posts but one more anyway. Jester just listed some things he liked and didn’t like in the current not-a-release patch notes for Kronos not-an-expansion.

One thing he didn’t like was that micro jump drives (MJD) are no longer just for capital ships. Instead mediums are out. Well, sort of. They only work on a limited number of ‘medium’ ships: combat battlecruisers, command ships, and deep space transports.

What’s the MJD do (for the non-eve player)? If you trigger it your ship “jumps” a certain distance directly in line with your current movement.

Now despite my comment on his post, there’s no need for a special jammer. The warp scrambler interrupts the jump as well. Still, I’d rather see a special type of jammer. That’s because unlike him and as I stated in my comment, I’d like to eventually see the device available to just about every ship out there. Some would use it better than others, mind, but I’d like to see it.

See, I’ve read a lot of science fiction. And once you’ve got any ships jumping, the idea of jumping ships as part of tactics is just, well, full of fascinating opportunities and effects. Right now it’s ‘great’ for sniping ships because it lets them jump out of close range just at the last second. But picture, if you will, brawlers using them to suddenly be up close and personal. Likewise tacklers – who suddenly appear in front instead of behind. Picture cloaked bombers using them to get away on release. Defensively it’s warp to 100 km from the gate, directional scan for problems, then use this to either warp to zero or run away as the situation requires.

For what it’s worth, I think teleporting ships without external gates already put a massive monkey wrench in eve. In one jump a dozen or more chokepoints go away, if you’re big enough. Since choke points are how small groups can bottle and defeat large groups this gives the large group the big benefit. While giving everybody an in-system teleport doesn’t counter it, it does add a lot of confusion and potential to the mix.

So yes, I think I want to see it. I want to see something that mostly allows people to escape the big griefing opportunities. But which, with planning and care and practice, can make combat even more devastating.

Improving Eve?

•May 30, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Over on Jester’s Trek there’s a post getting a lot of comments. A few things that have come out inspire this post.

To quickly sum, Jester/Ripard Teg referenced and discussed a Steam review of Eve that says, in simple, the goal of a player in EO is making money and griefing other players. If that’s cool with you, great. If not, find another game.

I’m not completely sure I agree with the goals – there are other things to do, things to gain. However, I do think the ‘griefing others’ remark is dead on. And if you read the comments there’s that, too. The most interesting thing is not whether players agree or disagree that Eve Online encourages griefing. No, there’s pretty much universal agreement there. No, the big disagreement is whether that’s a good or bad thing.

I’m going to say that from the point of view of the owning company it’s a bad thing. What the game needs in increasing new subscriptions and sustained players. What appears to be happening, based on careful comments from presenters like CCP Rise, is the opposite. At best they’re flat. At worst they’re declining.

And ‘old’ players are not good for the bottom line due to an internal peculiarity. Eve Online has a means of being nominally F2P. You earn enough in-game coinage (ISK) and you can use that to purchase another month of play (PLEX). Yes, you can purchase a PLEX with real money and sell it ingame, too. It creates interesting economics and is a specific point of observation for the anti-bot teams. But I’ve digressed again. The point is that the longer you play the easier it is to earn a PLEX in game and so the more likely it happens. Senior players are harder on the CCP’s bottom line.

From the comments comes an idea, or perhaps it’s a concept, that I think needs emphasized. Notionally, when Eve was created it was expected that both good and bad guys would develop but that hasn’t happened. It seems Eve is designed to let the bad guys not only be bad guys but be rewarded for being bad guys, while the reverse is not so. Good guys can be good guys but there is no reward.

While I have – and have posted – what amount to theme park suggestions for solo players, I think this is really a much better thing. It reinforces the whole multiplayer interaction ideal. The thing is, I’m not certain how to do it. I just think it’s significant enough to note.

It might be enough, for CCP to admit they’ve a game full of player villains, and give incentive for ‘good guys’ to come and “clean up this town.” Actually, I think figuring out the incentive might be enough. If, that is, it’s possible.

Thing is, if it doesn’t happen then I agree with Jester that EVE continue shrinking its player base, eventually reaching the point of implosion (non-profitability).

Eve’s complex and developed enough I’d /like/ to be involved. It’s not particularly rewarding to the solitary player and does all right for the solo who interacts with others. But the overwhelming attitude of, well, griefing being what everyone does is just more than I care to continue with.

Is grouping necessary?

•May 27, 2014 • Leave a Comment

The weakness of picking on any problem in a game like Eve Online is the fact it’s large and complex. What’s good for one tis inevitably bad for another, and in the end either balance or an acceptance of losing the other is needed.

Let’s take as an example my previous post. It started with some assumptions based on things put out by Eve developers. Specifically, 50% of the people who try Eve leave within the first month. Of the ones who stay 20% (10% of the whole) participate in groups and 80% fly solo. When you get to mid-term retention (say, the six month or one year point) those same devs imply that almost all the group players stay but many if not most of the solo players leave.

I want to point out a number of the assumptions here that need a bit of buttressing. The very first is asking how CCP determined the players were group (instead of solo) players. My guess: membership in a corporation. The alternate method – looking at combat ‘killmail’ – fails to catch the station groups and the non-combat support (logistics/healing ships, for example).

There’s the question in my mind, which could actually increase the ‘need to group’ argument, of how many of the so-called solo players are alternate accounts of people in groups? Anecdotally the majority of players with more than a year of experience have at least one other account.

On the flip side of the issue is the question of what portion of the 50% who quit joined a corporation – a group? It is possible that the need to group is overstated.

One more thing to ask – how many of the solo players really leave after six months to a year? If 40% are solo players and half leave before a year is out, the solo players STILL outnumber the group players 2:1.

I’m not convinced forcing or even highly encouraging grouping is really the key to player retention for Eve Online. I suspect, just based on what’s known at this time, that it’s another case of people focusing on what they think is good without actually considering the whole, or at least the majority.

Eve’s Problem

•May 26, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I’m almost done with the trial, and came within a hair’s breadth of quitting again. In fact with a couple days left it’s still a possibility. This time, however, a serendipitous occurrence brought light to what I think is Eve’s problem – the reason I keep quitting. And ironically, the reason I may finally scrounge up the coins to pay for membership.

Let me start with the problem. Eve is a good sandbox MMO. A really, really good sandbox MMO. The vast majority of ‘things that happen’ are player driven. The fights, the events, the economy, pretty much everything is the result of player actions.

The thing is, making these player actions happen require involvement. If you’re not involved everything just sort of passes you by.

If you’re going to play Eve you sort of have to immerse yourself. It’s necessary to spend hours moving and fighting, even if you do not follow the recommendation of joining a corporation (guild for the non-eve players. A group of other players who more-or-less help you and do things with you.)

You cannot be a casual EVE player – a player who just logs in a couple of hours a week. Or at least it’s very, very difficult. And that’s the problem, I think, that Eve has with retaining new players.

On the other hand it’s extremely immersive IF you give it the time and effort. Even if you’re the other type of casual player – the player who doesn’t really have major objectives, who just wants to play some shoot-em-up in space and maybe visit with a few friends, but who does this a couple of hours a night every couple of days, or spends most of one day out of the weekend, or some other version that winds up doing eight or more hours a week.

The reason I’m chasing this particular dog is not just my perennial addiction to the EVE trial. I’m also interested in what makes games work. And since CCP’s in another ‘how do we keep all these new players playing’ kick, it’s worth looking again.

I said I serendipitously found a reason to stay. And speaking as one of the casual-meaning-once in a while players, I thought I’d share. Knowing that the reasons are almost anathema to long-term players.

For me, it’s “let’s go see the sights.” I wandered to Eve Gate, and it was surprisingly moving.

Eve Gate is, in the context of the Eve Online universe, the starting point. It’s where mankind arrived from Earth, the route of constant traffic until /something/ happened and the gate closed. There’s still this massive, unstable, and unusable wormhole there, a god’s blind eye staring at this morass of humanity. And there are dozens of little monuments, anchored cargo boxes labeled to provide epitaphs inane and profound. At which point I went, “Hey, I wonder what else is there?” No, not really – I already know /of/ several things. I just never before had the itch to go looking.

And that gives me my suggestion for CCP of how to get people like me. Give us a hint of goals that do NOT require hours of investment. Something that lets us get something even with only a small handful of hours a week. I’m going to suggest that probably most of us will expand once we’re in. It’s the cliff of commitment that is daunting.

Does it need an ‘achievement’ – a label that says “I did this”? Me, I suggest yes. It can sit with all the other certificates and job histories. It doesn’t have to be public, though the option might be a hook for some.

But the majority of those EVE loses are, I suspect, the people who like the idea of flying through space but don’t want to invest themselves in a part-time second job to do so. So if CCP wants to keep them it’s going to have to think about those rewards, at least for the ‘young’ pilots of the game.

Tristan’s Drones in Eve, part one of many

•May 18, 2014 • Leave a Comment

So as I mentioned, I’m trying Eve online again. Way back in the early days of this blog I did a little bit of theory crafting. I decided I’d do it again for this my current interest.

Now before I begin, some old caveats. First, I’m doing this for my learning. So if you’re reading and you see I made a mistake by all means tell me. On the other hand if it’s “you noob” or “drones suck” you’re welcome to go away. Second, again due to me starting on this I’m probably going to do an update later with new lessons learned. Finally, this is almost purely “nominal target”. The enemy, especially a human PVP enemy, will do things to pull out of optimal. But if I’ve got a baseline I can start guessing what I need to deal with the new surprises.

I’m playing with a Tristan. That’s a frigate (smallest player ship for you non-EVE players). Its designed primary weapon system is drones with two turrets for supplemental weapons. Drones are pets. They can be – and in Eve actually are – pretty decent. But because they’re autonomous and driven by the AI they’re dumb. And they’re easier to kill than your ship. And they’re rather restricted in the damage that they can do. But a pack of them can be very worrisome. My goal here is to see how worrisome they are at base, and how much more so I can make them be.

Before I get to that let me point out the benefits the Tristan has for drone combat. First, it’s got enough magazine space for 8 lights or 4 mediums, though the lights are restricted by my ability to control a maximum of 5 drones (after training). I can also squeeze in a heavy or a sentry drone at the cost of 8 lights or 2.5 (well, 3) mediums. Lights are fast, both in base speed and tracking speed, and have the tightest signature resolution. On the other hand they have the smallest damage. Sentries move zero, track like slugs, have large signature resolutions, but have lots and lots of range and damage.

At first pass, then, it’s time for a raw damage comparison. For simplicity I’m ignoring “damage modification” for now. So base damage for a light is 15, for a medium is 25, a heavy has 48, and a sentry has 50. 5 lights base is 75. 4 mediums base is 100. If I toss a heavy or a sentry I can add three lights but even so that’s less than the four heavies. For this (and some other reasons I’m not going into right now) I am dropping the heavies and lights. I think there are situations where they’ll come into play, but not as a relative beginner.

On first pass, then, it’s “obvious” I should use four mediums. But there’s a problem. It’s not just the damage I can do if I hit, it’s hitting to do the damage. That’s where that signature resolution comes into play. Actually, let me take a moment to discuss the whole to-hit formula.

First, it’s derived, not displayed from CCP. That means that so far empirical results match it but it might be slightly wrong, and it might get changed a little bit if CCP deems it necessary. There are also some ‘levelers’ in the program that prevent strings of good (or bad) luck. We’ll ignore those for now.

Base formula simplified is: 0.5 ^ (((signature equation)*(tracking equation))^2 + (range equation)^2).

Signature equation. In simple, smaller ‘bore’ weapons have better accuracy. It’s not right, really, but let’s rephrase that as smaller ‘bore’ weapons have tighter shot groups. The bigger the target the less this matters. And in fact (still keeping this analogy because it’s working) the whole ‘signature resolution’ and ‘signature radius’ discussion can be thought of as ‘shot group size’ and ‘target size.’ If Res is smaller than Rad then obviously it’s going to hit – if everything else cooperates. However we don’t cap this at 1 (100%) because it gets multiplied by the next element, the tracking equation. On the other hand it’s never going to be zero – every target has at least a little radius.

Tracking equation. This gets a little trickier though it’s conceptually simple – it’s ‘how well are you aiming at that moving target’. A target that’s standing still – or is approaching or moving away in a straight line – is essentially stationary. One that’s in a circular orbit is a lot harder. How much harder depends on how many degrees (well, radians really) it moves per second. This is a matter of its range and actual speed.

You can ‘get’ this by simple math without going into trigonometry. Remember that a circumference is pi*diameter, and diameter is 2*radius. Now let’s set a pair of orbits, one 5 units out and one 10 units out. The first orbit is 30.14… units in ‘length’ (circumference), the second is 60.28… units. A ship moving at the same speed takes twice as long to get around the ship when it’s further away.

Now not only does the target move around the ship but the turrets have a limit on how fast they can move. This is their tracking (aka tracking speed). Obviously if the turret can rotate faster than the effective transversal speed then it’s easy to hit, but if the transversal is faster it’s a lot harder.

That’s the tracking equation. Transversal velocity (how fast is it moving from left to right, ignoring speed in or out) divided by the range times the tracking speed. It’s possible for this to be zero, but that’s almost totally under the control of the target.

Finally there’s the range equation. Yes, I know we already used range once but this is something else. Analogy first. Up to a certain range everything flies straight. Once it’s past that range, however, it can start veering a little off target. Here’s the way it works.

All weapons have an optimal and a falloff range. Optimal range is the “up to this range”. Falloff is where things start missing, and the way the formula works the formula winds up with a 50% hit probability at optimal plus falloff. How?

(Actual range – optimal range)/falloff range, limit 0. Limit 0 so no negatives can sneak in. From point blank to optimal range the number is 0, and 0.5 (the base number) to the 0th power is 1 or 100%. At falloff range the number is 1, or 0.5^1 = 0.5 (50%).

The tracking and signature equations are multiplied together and squared, and this is added to the square of the range equation. The squaring among other things cuts out the corner cases that might give a negative number. And since we’re adding two things together, if both sets give us “1” then we’ve got a 50% chance to hit.

Remember why I went to the gunnery equation? To show why the mediums weren’t an easy preference over the lights. There are two Big Deals. First, there’s the respective signature resolutions. Lights are 25. Mediums are 125. In general, frigates (like the Tristan) have signature radiuses (radii?) of 30-50, with some of the specialized ducks running 60, 65, or even 90.

The signature equation for lights against frigates, then, is less than 1. For mediums it’s 3 or even 4. 0.5^(25/30) is still 56% chance of hitting. 0.5^3, however, is 12.5, or about four and a half times worse. And 25 base medium damage is not four and a half times greater than 15 from a light.

That’s a lot of words but it gives us the base information we need for theory crunching. I’ll stop here and run some more in a bit.

In the meantime, have fun.