Metascape, Part II
No Cure For Trademark Pox
I Wrote 2000 Words On Dice Mechanics
My Eyes Are Bleeding
OK, first off, whenever you see MetaScape(tm) or Guild Space(tm) imagine that there’s a little “(tm)” next to them, because I’m not going to type it every time. To fully grok the flavor of the rulebook, however, it is necessary to imagine that it’s got a bad case of Trademark Pox, the key symptom of which is the eruption of ™ pustules all over the place.
The first page of the rulebook (after the part which reminds us that we, the players, are the elite and powerful few who have the creativity and imagination to save the universe!), notes this game is true space opera (meaning, everything including the cosmically-powered kitchen sink), comments that designing the game system utilized astrophysicists, mathematicians, and the soul of a forsaken child (I may have made up one of those), and demonstrates their commitment to the future, with an 800 number to call for ordering, another number to call to ask for help, a request that comments be sent in to request future “expansion cards” (splatbooks?), and both an internship and scholarship(!!) program, along with “ranked play”.
The only thing more impressive than their vision for the future is the fact I wrote the entire preceding paragraph in one sentence! You go to hell, Ernest Hemingway! You go to hell and die! (Or, perhaps: You go. To hell. And die.)
It also promises unlimited scaling (so that everything from single PCs to mighty starfleets can work in the same rules), and an open ended resolution system so that extreme success and failure are possible. I like both of these concepts a lot, but games which actually pull them off are like a dog that speaks Norwegian. We’ll see how it goes.
8LV +c -d
That’s A Dice Notation, Not PERL Code
OK, I’ve spent about the last 45 minutes reading the multiple pages (literally) that describe the die rolling notation, and also talking to my mother. I now have a migraine. It’s not entirely certain which is the primary cause.
Now, having done a lot of work in game design trying to solve exactly the problem of how to handle vastly different scales interacting, I appreciate the difficulty of the goal, and that simple bell curves or linear rolls both fail in this area for different reasons. The MEGS system from Mayfair’s classic DC Heroes Game was probably one of the best ways to get Jimmy Olson and pre-Crisis Superman on the same chart, but it suffers from very low granularity (Jimmy Olson is Str 2, an Olympic weightlifter would be Str 4-5). So the designers of MetaScape Guild Space took on an unenviable task, and produced a system which… well it… erm… I dunno.
Oh, remember the “(c)” on the die, from last time? Yes, it is a copyright symbol, because the 16 sided die is allegedly copyrighted. (I frankly do not believe you can copyright geometry, but I am not a lawyer. I do know some lawyers, including Steven Long, of Hero Games. I ran a Champions game for him back when we both lived in NC, circa 1991-1992. That’s like having Gary Gygax in your AD&D game. But he was very cool about my rules flubs and poor GM calls. I’ve asked them for opinions on this issue. We’ll see if they respond before this installment is done.)
I’m blathering again. First, it’s due to some constant interruptions to my train of thought. Second, it’s because I have to try to digest and explain this system. Again, I am a fan of complex and detailed rules. I do not object to a little mental effort to master a system — indeed, for a decent subset of RPG players, the challenge of learning and mastering a complex system is part of the fun. (Why, yes, I am an INTP. Why do you ask?) I suspect, rather strongly, that there’s a relatively straightforward set of die mechanics hiding under a mass of descriptive text that makes things sound more complex than they are, combined with an overly baroque notation scheme. (I have ended up drifting into the same place myself in various abandoned designs aimed at similar goals… my ideal game system has Bilbo Baggins, Optimus Prime, and the X-Men flying the Enterprise to attack the Death Star in a way that’s playable, fun, and doesn’t wash out detail at any scale. I haven’t succeeded. Has MetaScape? Let’s see.)
First, the rules insist you keep the character sheet handy, as it has copies of the “doubling tables” that are essential to the whole process. The tables are labeled “L1”, “M2”, and “H4″… except they aren’t. Only “H4” has the label printed. The other two have a blank square where it should be.
(The 16-sided die is the “doubling die”, BTW. The (c) stands for “Copyright”, except it also stands for “Category”, and the “T” stands for “Type”. Got it?)
Category can be L,M, or V: Light, Medium, or Heavy.
Type can be B, P, V, S, W, C, G, or U. These stand for Bantam, Personal, Vehicle, Spaceship, World, Celestial, Galactic, and Universal.
There is also a number, 6, 8, or 10, which describes which die, in addition to the D16, is rolled.
So a die code like 6MV means “Roll a D6 on the Medium table with Vehicle type.”. (“Type” would be better termed “Scale” or “Size”, in my opinion.)
Personal is the default; if a Type is not specified in a code, it’s assumed to be Personal (P). However, I’m going to be inserting “P” into the code when I remember, because I think “There’s always a code, except when there isn’t” is a poor notation system. I hate it when programming languages use an “implied default variable” to save the poor programmers’ widdle fingers the effort of typing 1 or 2 more characters (PERL, I’m looking at you), and I don’t think it’s good for game design, either.
The different die types (6,8, 10) are supposed to be indicated by shaded boxes on the doubling tables… but they’re not. There are very faint lines demarcating the ranges.
All of this boils down to: “Roll a die of the appropriate size, and the doubling die, and cross-index them on the correct category table.”
A few seconds of glancing at the tables indicates that if you take L=1, M=2, and H=4, you multiply Type x Die Roll x Doubling Die roll. The table is useful in that it pre-calculates this. This means, by the way, that a code of “8M” produces a range from 2 to 256, skewed by the odd numbering of the doubling die (see previous article in this series). A “10L” roll could go from 1 to 160, and an “6H” roll from 4 to 384.
No matter what, you will always be rolling exactly two dice: A 6, 8, or 10 sided die, and the doubling die.
A roll of 16 on the doubling die is open-ended; you roll again and multiply the prior result by this new result. Another 16? Keep at it!
But I am getting ahead of myself. I forgot about level and value. The rules for calculating value from level… or is it level from value… or something… again refer to the non-existent shaded boxes. This is getting annoying.
So, “Level” is basically a way to count the various permutation of die size, category, and type. “6LP” is Level 1 — the lowest level. Except Bantam is lower than Personal. I’m sure that will be addressed. 8LP is level 2, 10LP is level 3, 6MP is level 4… after you hit 10HP (level 9) you “wrap around” or “scale up” or something to the Vehicle Type, so after 10HP comes 6LV. There’s 9 die codes in each Type.
Now, in addition to Level, there’s Value. The value of a code is the row in the doubling table corresponding to the ‘x1’ column next to the (nonexistent) shaded box representing the rating. Or, if you prefer “the largest value for the die, times the multiplies for the category (1,2, or 4 for L, M, or H, respectively). So the Value for 8H is 8 x 4 =32.
Converting a Level to a Rating (“Rating” is what I’ve been calling “Die Code”), just count back down the shaded squares, which don’t exist.
I’m not entirely sure what Values and Levels do yet. But that’s how you get them.
Honestly, this system isn’t too bad. If you can handle counting up Body and Stun in Hero System and applying them correctly to Resistant and Non-Resistant Defenses (and remembering that Normal Attack and Killing Attacks read the dice differently, and remembering when you apply Damage Reduction vs. Armor vs. PD/ED), you can handle this. It’s just explained very poorly and with, IMO, unnecessary terminology. I also think relying on the tables and then pointing out the fact you could just multiply the numbers and ignore the tables is bass-ackwards. Better, IMO, to give the formulas and print the tables in the back for a lookup.
(Oh, the rules note you should not confuse a ‘die type’ (6,8,10) with a ‘type (Personal, Vehicle, etc). You’d think the necessity of this comment would have told the designers that they needed a different word somewhere. Now, let’s talk about “level” in D&D….)
I would prefer, at this point, to have at least started character creation, but given how integral the die mechanics are and how impossible it would be for me to even pretend to make decent choices in chargen if I didn’t understand what a 6LP was, I feel I’m obliged to slog through all this, and take you, my dear imaginary audience, along for the ride. And I’m not done yet… I still haven’t gotten to what the ‘c’ or ‘t’ means.
“Type” is another multiplier. “Vehicle” means “multiply the number by 10”, Ship is by 100, etc. Presumably, most of the interactions in the game will be within in the P, V, and S bands. Oh, Bantam, which we keep ignoring, divides by 10, dropping all remainders. So a 32 result in Personal scale is a 3 in Bantam scale or a 320 in Vehicle scale.
(It is noted in the discussion of the open-ended 16 rolls that most of the truly huge numbers you might on rare occasion generate are pretty much going to be up to GM interpretation and, let’s face it, in practical terms, there’s not much difference in most cases. If it takes 20 points of damage to destroy a door and you end up rolling 13,456 points, well, sure, the door is extra-super-atomized, but so what?)
We will skip the half-page long explanation of the die system involving a triangular staircase in an eight story building. Yes, really. That’s the metaphor they chose.
Oh, hey, look, we finally get to the ‘c’ and ‘t’ results! Please note we’ve gone through five pages of smallish type with almost no illustrations just covering the dice mechanics, and we’re still not done.
But we’re at 1800 words, more or less, and I need to post something. So let’s be kind of quick.
A ‘t’ result on the doubling die shifts the ‘type’ of the attack one step closer to ‘Personal’, so a ‘Spaceship’ roll becomes a ‘Vehicle’ roll. A ‘Bantam’ roll is upgraded to ‘Personal’.
A ‘c’ result changes the ‘category’, moving it down one step — from Heavy to Medium, or Medium to Light.
But… this doesn’t give you a number on the doubling die, does it? So after shifting the type/category, you roll the doubling die again, and if you get another ‘c’ or ‘t’ result, you apply and continue. But if you roll a 16 on the doubling die after rolling a ‘c’ or ‘t’, you don’t roll again as per the prior rules for a 16. Also, the player on the dealer’s right gets three cards, unless it’s a Tuesday.
OK, pushing 2000 words of trying to explain a bunch of dice mechanics… that the author altered in subsequent, unpublished, revisions of the system, many times. (I scrounged around quite a few corners of the internet to find ancient and forgotten archives scoured from the corpses of dead websites.) Sorry if this is dry stuff. I was tempted to just say “smeg it” and jump on to character creation without boring you with all this, but if I put the effort into writing it, someone’s gonna have to read it. Neener.