Wednesday, July 14, 2010


It's funny, we start playing Shadowrun under this new system, and the very first question I get asked after people figure out the dice is "how much does it cost to advance?" Mind you, we still haven't completed our first run (scheduling and some screwing around means that we don't play that frequently and don't get a ton done per session). But everyone wanted to know, game after game, and even in the fallow weeks in between, how much did it cost to advance?

Clearly this wasn't something I could put off for long, even though the rules weren't likely to get used for a while. Luckily, one of the advantages of having broad mechanics is that there wasn't that much to work out. However, because characters only have a few things to spend their experience on., I needed to make sure that the costs both gave them accessible advancement while at the same time prevented them from maxing out everything on their sheet quickly. Yes, I've read plenty of articles that say handing power over to PCs is okay if you manage them right, but the fact is that my players like to advance. If they can't advance anymore, even if it's because they're mechanically tops, they'll get bored. So I need an extended advancement scheme.

That said, here's what I got:

Methods do a lot of heavy lifting in this game. While they can't make up for a low knack rating, a single method will influence many different knack rolls. This means they're big, and increasing one will have major repercussions in regards to character performance. That earns them a high price tag. So 10x the new rating it is. Nice and simple and pricey.

Here's where I expect the majority of experience will be paid. Now, while the generation mechanics encouraged specialization, I also want to make being a true master of something that's difficult to achieve. Knacks can't be nearly as expensive as methods, since they're so much more specialized. Plus, increasing a knack by 1 means you've got another die in your pool, but that alone doesn't have nearly the statistical impact that increasing the odds of success on each die by almost 17%.

When I started looking at the costs, I quickly decided that a straight multiplier wasn't going to cut it. I want it easy to pick up new knacks and get a passing rating in them, but I want high scores to be something that requires dedication, meaning you've got to sacrifice putting points into other things for a while.

What I cam up with was the following formula: Knack Rating Cost = New Rating x New Step.
Thus to increase a knack of 2 (the default for all knacks) to 3, you look at the step for rank 3 and find it is 2. 3x2 = 6. To increase from 5 to 6, multiply the new rank (6), by the new rank’s step (3); it costs 18 karma. This formula does exactly what I set out to reproduce: makes lower level and new knacks easily accessible while putting the lofty ratings in ever harder to attain price brackets. Using this system, a knack 10 would cost 50 karma. That's a lot, but having 10 dice to sling is also nice, especially when paired with a good method.

When I mentioned I was getting hit with a lot of cost questions, what I really should have said is I was getting hit with the question "how much does it cost to initiate?" I thought about this for a long time, and it gave me a lot of trouble. See, initiation does a lot for mages, but not nearly as much for adepts, especially in this system. The way I looked at it, adepts would gain access to more powers, but none of the powers themselves would increase in potency with initiation. Mages, on the other hand, would be increasing their magic attribute, which grants them greater sorcerous firepower and access to harder hitting spirits. 

Then it hit me: if mages and adepts advanced so differently in terms of their magic, why not cost them differently? So now, initiation is only for spellcasters, and adept powers get covered elsewhere (as in later in this post).
For initiation, I have the same concerns as I did for knacks. I want initiation to be accessible, my mage obviously wants to do this. At the same time, initiation can get insanely powerful just by virtue of opening up that magic attribute. So, like knacks, I wanted it to become much more expensive as it rose in rank. 

So, why not use the same formula as knacks? Well, it mostly works, except that it's really cheap in the beginning. After all, you're starting at 0, so your first grade of initiation would be your new rank (1) multiplied by your new step (1). That means to initiate to a grade 1 initiate, you'd pay 1 karma. That's not enough.

In the end, I've added 6 to the final cost of all grades. At the higher end the +6 kicker isn't much, but in the beginning it makes initiate grades something that requires a respectable amount of karma. Going to grade 1 is now 7 karma, for example. Better.

Power Points
What about adepts then? For them, advancement is all about the accumulation of powers, none of which have ratings. Since none of these increase in power, I think a flat cost would work best. After considering the costs of knacks at various ranks, I decided on 15 points. 15 karma points gets an adept a new power, whether he's got 6 or 60. 

That leaves aspects. After giving this some thought and running the idea past my players, I've decided that there is no way to buy new aspects with karma. In fact karma doesn't interact with aspects at all. They're used to define your character's identity and story. When either of these change because of events in the game, the player can talk to me and ask to make the appropriate aspect change. This might involve adding another aspect, removing an existing once, or swapping an old one for a new one.

As for edge, I thought about allowing people to buy up the pool, but instead I'd rather keep it at 5, always. This means that in order to get more, they'll need to compel their negative qualities. Allowing them to buy up a big edge pool would make that less likely, and what fun would that be?

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