Project Update: Combat and Initiative in Orchestra

Orchestra is really at heart an experimental game; I’m working with a system that has a fair deal of intentional quirks to see how it works; such as the probability curve-based system 2d20 core roll system, which means that there’s a number of things that I can take into account as a difference between Orchestra’s unique mechanics and some more mainstream mechanics such as linear dice or multiple dice.

Orchestra’s initiative system will be more familiar, system wise, to people who play tactical video games such as Fallout or XCOM, with a focus on allowing for more dynamic combat actions; Orchestra has a large potential probability curve, and its modifier/limit system allows lots of “bidding”, making it more keen to taking an interest to an action point-based system; players of Shadowrun will be familiar with this from the earlier editions or the most recent Fifth Edition to a degree; every ten Initiative points in those editions of Shadowrun equals an initiative pass (with a certain number of actions allowed during each pass). Orchestra will go for a true Action Point system; more akin to a tactical game or a wargame, where each character rolls their core dice and then adds their appropriate Initiative modifier. Action Points are used to take an action, and they actually work to help simplify the system; characters with the most Action Points go first, taking their action then handing off their action to the combatant with the highest remaining Action Points-in cases of ties, actions that require fewer points are executed first, and in case of these ties Action Points may be expended to move earlier or a coin toss may be used to determine who executes their action first (though, at the GM’s discretion, simultaneous action could be possible).

Obviously, there are some concerns with breaking up actions into Action Point costs; while it’s possible to define a round (the amount of time between Action Point refreshes and a certain amount of real world time) pretty arbitrarily, things have to make sense. Grenades, for instance, have variable timers; a five-second timer would mean that a grenade readied and thrown in a three-second round wouldn’t go off until the next round. Orchestra’s more simulational than some games in its design theory; it’s still a heroic action focused cyberpunk game, which means that there are concessions made for drama, but some of the system is meant to allow for greater depth; looking at it objectively the most common amount of Action Points in a round will fall somewhere between 21 (the mode and median of my dice results) and wherever the expected modifiers will be, something which I expect to be 30 for low-level characters and 40 for high-level characters.

To get deeper into game design theoretical stuff, I’m looking at a ceiling of about 60 Action Points, and an extreme floor of 5 or so (a more practical floor is in the range of 12-15), but these extreme cases are a 1/400 possibility. There are some challenges involved in this, obviously; if a character has only 4 Action Points, they need to be able to still act in combat, or they’ll miss a whole round doing nothing. At the same time, 60 Action Points allows a truly horrifying amount of movement and combat (there would certainly be a movement cap), and most of these actions could come before anyone else got their first action. Stepping back, this means I have to look at some things as a game developer.

  1. Is it okay for one character to move four times as often as another?
  2. How can I ensure that all characters are capable of surviving a combat?
  3. Can I make it so that more Action Points are nice, but don’t inherently win a combat?

I’m pretty happy with a conclusion that states that this system can be created in a way that’s balanced so that the theoretical case where someone gets 60 Action Points doesn’t translate to a single character being as effective as four characters with 15 Action Points.

First, movement speed limits are a must; character speed will likely be a function of their appropriate attributes, with a cap at 10AP of movement; this allows the 15 Action Point character to move as well as the 60 Action Point character; subsequent movement could be bought at double price for a total of 15 AP worth of movement costing 20; this keeps our 60 AP character from burning through his entire 60 points (say, for instance, to clear an attack’s blast radius in a turn) to move, but allows even characters who don’t get great results to move in a hurry at the expense of having AP to attack with.

Second, attacking can burn additional AP to aim and compensate accuracy penalties. I’m not going to go into specifics, but there are certainly issues with this. Fortunately, I already have the modifier ceiling, so it will never be possible for a character to get more than a +20 or so on his limits, meaning that a roll of 2 still comes in at about a novice’s 50/50 result. Obviously, the exact ratio of AP versus a modifier is somewhat uncertain until some rigorous playtesting can occur, and it will likely somewhat depend on the effect of recoil on combat; firing more bullets translates to a damage/accuracy increase on individual attacks, being more efficient at a single attack than a semiautomatic or single shot weapon, but requires more compensation for recoil (depending on the weapon type, this may even apply to the attack being made). Since Orchestra’s using a system where success is quantifiable rather than all-or-nothing, recoil can look at attacks on a per-bullet basis, like Rise of the Tenno was doing for a while. This also raises the question of whether or not applying full damage on successive bullets is legitimate; realism actually dictates an exponential likelihood of serious injury or death after multiple injuries; Orchestra will likely examine damage linearly, but penalty thresholds will compensate for the “unrealism” of this system. Similarly, armor in Orchestra will provide better coverage and higher thresholds, and characters’ powers will aid their abilities to survive incoming damage. so there won’t be characters dying left and right just because of playing with the game as written.

Third, Action Points can be spent on defense; I haven’t yet figured out how this one will work, but I’m inspired partially by Fallout; likely, any remaining Action Points from the time when a character cedes their turn to the end of their next turn will contribute to their defense, with a cap based on their normal abilities to dodge. This represents both staying in cover and being evasive; there would be rules to allow movement such as scrambling away from a grenade or actions such as fighting off a hand-to-hand attacker at the cost of this defense pool, which would then lower the effectiveness of the character’s defense. This also presents an opportunity to spend any of the remaining AP from a round should there be a few left over after all actions have been taken.

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