The ‘Haze’ Issue

I was replying to a comment on the Arcane Feats page when I realised that everyone might be better served if I turned my reply into a post. Here is the original comment:

Haze.

The more I look at this feat the more I feel it is over powered in comparison to similar feats (i.e. Blade Wall and Evasion). For a start you can extend its duration to a scene. In comparison Blade Wall lasts for an action and Evasion for 1 tick. With Haze you are not restricted to the types of action you can perform, like Blade Wall is tied to a guard action. Also Haze can be applied to both parry and dodge DV’s. In comparison Blade Wall only affects parry and Evasion only buffs dodge.

My second point is that I think we need to be careful with high DV’s. When you have a high DV and a reasonable soak (i.e. a reinforced buff jacket) it has a significant impact upon the ability to deal damage to a character/NPC. An example of this was our last encounter in the Haven court house. 3 player characters were engaging a NPC elf with Haze up and a reinforced buff jacket and they could not do anything to the NPC. This is fine if you want combat to be one of attrition, but not so good if you want to resolve a combat session in one evening. One point of extra DV needs a 2.5 dice increase in the attack pool for status quo to be maintained.

So my thoughts are:
1. Make Haze only buff parry DV.
2. That we remove the ability for Haze to be extend for a scene. Tie its duration to the length of the action being undertaken by its caster.
3. If removing the scene duration does not quite work with the feel of this feat then change it from an automatic +ranks to DV to a contested roll (e.g. Man + Haze vs target Wits).
4. Expand the types of actions you can tie Blade Wall to (e.g. Miscellaneous & Move). You may even allow it during an attack action, but make it that whatever you add to your DV is also added to your opponents DV (for your to hit purposes) reflecting a much more cautious attack.
5. Expand Evasion from “An adept may use Evasion a number of times in a tick equal to Ranks” to “An adept may use Evasion a number of times in their current action equal to Ranks”.

What do you think?

D

Let’s see if I can unpack this a little while I respond to your points.

1. Making Haze parry only does not fit with the intention for this feat – as it has no impact whatsoever on ranged attacks, or influence attempts.

2. This is a possibility. See below for an alternative.

3. Adding a contested roll to every action made against a Hazed character adds a layer of complexity I’d rather avoid.

4. Thematically, Blade Wall can’t be extended to other types of actions. You can already make a reflexive move while Guarding, so that’s covered, but it makes little sense to allow Dashing, or picking a lock (for example) while also presenting a “flashing wall of steel”. See below for an alternative.

5. That would be a downgrade. Evasion can be used “out of turn” already – as can any reflexive feat. Technically speaking, Evasion can be used against every single attack made against a character, at any time, up to ranks per tick, for as long as resources permit. See below for an alternative.

Alternatives for consideration:

i. Haze: Increasing duration to a scene costs 1 Health Level (Arcane) / rank.

ii. Blade Wall: Cost reduced to 1 Heroic Reserve / rank.

iii. Evasion: Cost reduced to 2 Heroic Reserves / rank.

The problem with high DV scores is a many-headed hydra. In the example given, three combat oriented characters were having trouble hitting/damaging a combat oriented heroic regular. To a great degree, this was by design. There was a reason (actually several) that those particular NPCs did not attack as a group.

However, you raise an issue that has been a thorn in my side since the campaign began. If you guys didn’t have much fun trying to damage the Templar simulacrum, imagine how I’ve been feeling. At the risk of sounding a little snarky, perhaps the answer lies in thinking of the scene as a battle instead of a series of dice rolls – tactics and creativity overcomes stat-blocks, which is how the simulacrum was captured (a little GM fiat notwithstanding).

The other part of the problem is whether or not I should fudge NPC stat-blocks or let the numbers stay as the mechanics say they should? I have, in general, designed my NPCs thematically first and mechanically second. Derived values, such as DV, are exactly as they should be given the actor’s abilities. In the plus column is that all the combat modifiers are properly weighted. The Templar simulacrum was hard to hit solely on the basis that his Dex + Melee + Feats said he should be. The penalty for being Harried (when I was reminded to apply it) had the proper weight – exactly as it would have for a similar player-character.

Fudging the derived values, however, might give me more control over whether I want a particular NPC to be harder or easier to damage. The downside then is that combat modifiers may take on greater or lesser weight than they would for a similar player character. If I artificially lower an NPC’s DV, then a Harried penalty takes on a greater weight than it should.

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~ by occam99 on April 10, 2013.

15 Responses to “The ‘Haze’ Issue”

  1. I don’t want to see it made easier to increase player/NPC’s DV, if anything I want to see this ability more limited. However I do see an imbalance between the three current feats that boost DV.
    Further thoughts in relation to your points above:
    1. That was sort of my point. A revised Haze would defend against melee attacks and influence attempts, but not ranged attacks. This would bring it closer to Blade Wall and Evasion singular focus.
    2. Not sure if changing the cost per rank of these feats will fix this issue. I think Blade Wall and Evasion are fairly priced at their current 2 and 3 Heroic Reserves. I think the “scene costs 1 Health Level (Arcane) / rank” is unnecessary. Better to just remove its ability to last a scene. A simpler method of reducing its effectiveness. Outside of combat I would see the feats duration lasting for an entire interaction (at the Storyteller’s discretion).
    3. I want to see Blade Wall’s effectiveness improved so that it is on a similar footing to Haze. My “revised” Haze would see a player/NPC spend 2 Heroic Reserves to gain +1DV (or an increased difficulty for influence/interaction tests) for the direction of their current action. I want to see a player/NPC spend 2 Heroic Reserves on a “revised” Blade Wall to gain +1DV (no matter what action they perform, as per Haze) and if they perform a Guard action they may “parry” ranged weapons.
    4. I think you misunderstand what I wanted to happen with Evasion. Currently if you have 3 ranks in Evasion and someone attacks you, you spend 9 Heroic Reserves and add 6 to your dodge DV (no problem with this). If a second person attacks you on the same tick you should be able to add the +6DV to that roll as well (up to a maximum times equal to the ranks paid for) without further cost. In addition once activated you should be able to use the 3 instances until the end of your current action. So if someone attacks you on the next tick you should be able to apply the +6DV to that. I think this gives Evasion a fair duration and a fair return on the Heroic Reserves invested.
    5. I don’t think you should fudge NPC values. They are what they are. I think we need to make players/NPC’s ability to boost their DV more restricted. I think by reducing the duration we will do this. A player/NPC might boost their DV for a couple of actions when they “really need it” but the cost in Heroic Reserves would mean they could not sustain this for the whole combat.

  2. You’ll find, I think, that most of the high DV’s in this campaign are derived from Attribute & Ability enhancing Feats (Stalking the Forms, Enhancement, etc) and NOT from the three Feats under discussion. Only one character possesses Haze (and he’s hardly ever used it), and no one uses Blade Wall or Evasion at all. I have NPC’s that use it and I (attempt to) balance the encounter around that.

    While I’m not blind to the point you’re making, I do not think there is a simple fix. The suggestions you make, while well thought out, thematically neuter the Feats. So here’s some more thoughts of mine.

    1. You brought this up a while back – adding a range value to Haze (Perhaps 10m per Channel?). Thematically this still retains the elements I desire, but ranged attackers could maneuver outside of the influence to negate the effects. This is something I said I would consider if there had been abuse of the Feat.

    2. We have to be careful here – what is the intended duration of an out-of-combat interaction?

    3. I really, really don’t want Blade Wall to become Haze’s brother-from-another-mother. Blade Wall is clearly designed for purely defensive moments.
    a) Don’t forget that a Guard action can be cancelled on any following tick and the character can then act.
    b) How about this: Blade Wall continues until the character stops using a Guard action. Pay the cost only on the first one.

    4. I personally feel that this would grossly overpower Evasion. Remembering your own weights for DV vs. pool, and using your example, we would have the following case:

    Character is attacked once and spends 9 Heroic Reserves to activate Evasion 3. They then have +6 DV until their next action (up to 6 ticks away). EVERY character wishing to attack them during that time requires an investment of an EXTRA 15 dice to affect them.

    Evasion was always intended to be a high-cost, high-effect, extremely-short term effect – distinct from Haze or Blade Wall.

  3. Haze (continued)

    I agree. Most of the current player character DV’s are based upon high attributes and abilities and the feats that boost these. However their effect is somewhat limited because the values are halved to determine DV. So the PC is having to invest 4 Heroic Reserves to attain +1DV.
    Putting on my minmax hat (it’s never very far away) we have a PC with 5 Dex, 5 Weapon Skill, 3 ranks Enhancement and 3 ranks Stalking the Forms, with a base DV of 8. 9 if they use a shield, dropping back to 8 DV if they attack. What’s more this PC should be able to maintain this DV for the entire combat. I imagine that your average NPC will find it very difficult to hit this PC. On average the NPC will need an attacking dice pool of 22 or 23 dice to successfully attack an 8 DV PC. In my mind a very combat focused build and should reflect an extreme.

    Now imagine this same character with 3 ranks in Haze. Now their base DV is 11, 12 with a shield, dropping back to 11 if they attack, maintainable for the entire combat. That NPC will now needs an attacking dice pool of 30 dice to successfully attack the PC. To me this is an abuse and I pity the non-combat PC (with a DV of 4 or less) who gets attacked by a NPC with a 30 dice attack pool!

    This is the reason I wanted to see this third tier of DV boost have a limited duration. Blade Wall and Evasion already do, we just need to bring Haze into line. This would see extreme PC’s having absurd DV’s for a couple of actions (when they really need it) but not for an entire combat. Just because no one has abused this combo so far should not be the reason for not changing it. We have an option to change our characters coming up and for some (being fully self aware of my own failings) this temptation may prove too hard to resist.

    I think we could look at ways of reducing the DV gap between combat focused and non-combat focused PC’s. Perhaps if we calculate DV as say “2 + (Dex + Weapon Skill)/3” round down. This would drop the extreme PC’s base DV to 7. A non-combat PC with say 3 Dex, 3 Weapon Skill and no relevant feats would have a DV of 4 (compared to the current 3). Worth a thought…

    D

  4. Blade Wall

    I have expressed my major concern in relation to Haze above. My concern with Blade Wall is more based upon the fact that given a choice of where to spend your hard won experience points, currently Haze will win over Blade Wall 9 times out of 10. They cost the same in Heroic Reserves to use, they can both increase you DV for ranged and melee weapons, Haze can be extended to last the entire combat and Haze works when you are attacking…

    You make the point of “no one uses Blade Wall” and I agree why would they… Blade Wall as it currently stands is a dead duck feat. The only reason to purchase it would be to see what lies beyond it in tier 2. So we need to bridge the gap between Haze and Blade Wall.
    1. Yes, I would like to see a range attributed to Haze. 10m per dot in channel would work, personally I would prefer to see it as 5m per dot. This would limit Haze’s effectiveness against ranged weapons. Score one for Blade Wall.

    2. Removing Haze’s ability to last a scene (see above) will further close the gap.

    3. I like your idea about continuing Blade Wall until the character stops using a Guard action. Pay once to initiate.

    I think these three changes would make it a more level consideration as too what feat you might choose.

  5. Evasion

    I my mind Evasion needs to be a bit more powerful. Because it is based upon dodge DV, it will be the go too feat of more non-combat PCs. If you have 5 Weapon Skill you are going to try and parry every chance you get, more so if you are using Stalking the Forms etc. I think non-combat PCs need all the help they can get. If your base DV is only 3, adding 6 will only get you up to an equivalent level to a combat focused character.

    In your analysis of my example you forget that the maximum of 3 evasions still applies. So they could apply the +6DV to 3 attacks until their next action. If they get attacked a fourth time in the 6 ticks, then they would have to pay further heroic reserves. If their action only lasted 3 ticks and they were attacked only once then the remaining two opportunities are lost.

  6. Blade Wall over Haze: Thematic assumptions. Not everyone wants or is able to have Arcane in their character build. Azo is locked out due to his race, and Paul avoids it because it does not fit his character. There is also the consideration of investment to reward – buying Haze necessarily means that you’ve missed out on something else for the time being.

    Evasion: Thanks for the clarification of what you meant. This does not fit with my intention for the feat.

    I should probably make myself clear – and I should have done it earlier: I have no intention of balancing Haze against Blade Wall or Evasion.

    1. Evasion is an ‘oh shit’ button for Subtlety. Warrior types may wish to pick it up for defence against ranged attackers. Allowing to to progress past the tick in which it was used changes it into something else entirely.

    2. Blade Wall is a tactical option. It adds to defence while the warrior maneuvers for position. It is also a good extra layer of defence versus archers.

    3. Haze: Always intended as an extra layer of defence for Arcane users, many of whom will be Elves with no recourse to buffs from Creation or Order. There are a couple of thematic downsides to this feat, not least of which is that it instantly marks the user as a blood-mage. So far you lot have been in a reasonably tolerant part of the world but this may not always be the case.

    As I stated above, however, I am not blind to some these issues. Perhaps the answer lies not in balancing Haze against other Feats, but in addressing the core issue: high DV’s for little investment (relatively speaking). If Haze is too powerful, then it requires a greater cost.

    The greater cost is either going to come from moving up the Arcane tree, thus requiring a greater investment to reach, or from increasing the resource cost for using it.

    Option: Haze stays as it stands but costs 1 Aggravated (Lethal) damage/ Rank to increase duration. Add range of 10m/Channel.

    Adding Aggravated (Lethal) damage to the Feat changes the cost to something more long-term. The range element requires a further investment in Channel if the player wants to lock out spell-casters, and archers already have more than sufficient range to negate the Feat. Which is why I think it should be 10m, not 5m.

  7. As always you have the final call on these matters…

    I started this discussion because I saw an issue with high DV’s and that with Haze in its current form a further exasperation of this issue. Your thoughts on a change to haze:
    “Option: Haze stays as it stands but costs 1 Aggravated (Lethal) damage/ Rank to increase duration. Add range of 10m/Channel.”
    Will go some way to reducing the effectiveness of Haze. Not as far as I would have liked, but I can live with it. I suggest you drop the cost back to Aggravated (Subdual) damage as it will have the same effect and keep it in line with other Arcane feats.

    By the way, what did you think of my suggestion for changing the way we calculate DV:
    “I think we could look at ways of reducing the DV gap between combat focused and non-combat focused PC’s. Perhaps if we calculate DV as say “2 + (Dex + Weapon Skill)/3” round down. This would drop the extreme PC’s base DV to 7. A non-combat PC with say 3 Dex, 3 Weapon Skill and no relevant feats would have a DV of 4 (compared to the current 3). Worth a thought…”

  8. Further note

    I would still like to see the change to Blade Wall:
    “Blade Wall continues until the character stops using a Guard action. Pay the cost only on the first one.”

  9. Yes, I like that one too. I was only commenting on changes to Haze in that post.

    Issues with Blade Wall, Evasion, or any other Feat can be addressed separately – though not in a vacuum, of course.

  10. By the way, what did you think of my suggestion for changing the way we calculate DV:
    “I think we could look at ways of reducing the DV gap between combat focused and non-combat focused PC’s. Perhaps if we calculate DV as say “2 + (Dex + Weapon Skill)/3” round down. This would drop the extreme PC’s base DV to 7. A non-combat PC with say 3 Dex, 3 Weapon Skill and no relevant feats would have a DV of 4 (compared to the current 3). Worth a thought…”

  11. Napkin math (no consideration for equipment):

    Average Human (non-combat, non-heroic): Dex 2, No skill. DV = 2 + (2/3) = 2 (Current: 1)

    Average Soldier (non-heroic): Dex 3, Melee 2. DV = 2 + (5/3) = 3 (Current: 2)

    Elite Soldier (heroic): Dex 4, Melee 4. DV = 2 + (8/3) = 4 (Current: 4)

    Combat PC: Dex 5, Melee 5, Stalk Forms 3, Enhance 3. DV = 2 + (16 /3) = 7. (Current: 8)

    Non-combat PC: Dex 3, Melee 3. DV = 2 + (6/3) = 4. (Current: 3)

    Extreme Combat PC: Dex 5, Melee 5, Stalk Forms 5, Weapon Trance 5, Enhance 5. DV = 2 + (25/3) = 10. (Current: 13)

    For reference:
    Xander in the Tower of Elements: Dex 5, Melee 5, Weapon Trance 3, Haze 3. DV = 2 + (13/3) + 3 = 9. (Current: 10)

    Evil Templar in the Hall of Law: Dex 4, Melee 5, Stalking the Forms 2, Haze 2. DV = 2 + (11/3) +2 = 8. (Current: 8)

    I’m not totally opposed to the idea if the Feats system stays as it is. My main concern would be that there are more ‘sweet spots’ that players will be reluctant to spend XP to get out of – mainly due to always rounding down. It gets worse if you allow rounding up for heroic characters…

  12. I’ve been thinking about it some more and I’m not actually sure the problem would be alleviated.

    The combat oriented PC above would still have problems reliably hitting a similar opponent, no problem at all hitting a lesser warrior, and be virtually invulnerable to non-combat PC’s.

    Which is exactly the same issue we have now, yes?

    I have no problem with two equally potent warriors having an issue hitting each other – the combat is then decided either by luck or the warrior that can break the balance somehow. But the issue remains that a non-combat PC is still useless against such a warrior, and only marginally safer versus lesser opponents (without the Feats to protect themselves if they do get hit.)

  13. I liked it as a potential solution as it pulled in the extremes in a bit (both low and high). Obviously there are more complicated formula that would do a better job. I suppose the issues are:
    1. Do we feel that the current rule system has the capacity to generates DV’s that are too high; and
    2. Is the range of DV’s generated (minimum 1 vs. maximum 13) too broad?
    If the answer to these questions is yes, then we need to determine what we feel are reasonable. With a bit of creative accounting we could limit the range to DV’s to somewhere between 5 and 9 or alternatively 3 and 7. Personally I think a range of 3 to 7 might work; base it on a table like:

    Sum of Dex, weapon
    skill & feat boost Base DV
    0 – 5 3
    6 – 9 4
    10 – 13 5
    14 – 19 6
    20 + 7

  14. Bum! my table didnt work… Hopefully you can work it out…

  15. I’ll talk about it tonight. In a nutshell I am heading towards an idea that the Feats system in general needs an overhaul. I’d like the use of a Feat to be an interesting CHOICE, not simply something that is “a given”. At the moment only some of them are like that, and that is my fault as a designer.

    Something like this would have serious implications for things like DV, especially ‘always on’ DV such as that granted by Stalking the Forms or Enhancement.

    So you’ve got something to think about, my intention would be to make each Feat smaller in effect, and less persistent. This is, in effect, in line with your suggestions regarding Haze but across the board.

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