Kenoma Update 11
I realized that I’ve been going about Kenoma’s first core rulebook release a little backwards.
I’ve been working through setting sections and stuff and not really doing rules, but in practice all I really need to hit a minimum viable product is to make that on parity with the Quickstart (i.e. make sure it’s all ported over and organized), then put the character creation rules in.
So I’ve reoriented to working on the character options and advancement stuff.
I still haven’t decided exactly how I want to scale XP. I like the idea of a very flat XP gain, but the problem with this is that the Hammercalled system Kenoma developed from offers superlinear increasing returns.
Basically, as your TN goes up, your average Margin goes up as well. Since you’re succeeding on the borderline rolls you would usually have failed at and those successes are high Margin, this effect gets slightly stronger over time as well, since you’re opening up high-Margin territory in the possible result set.
So a +1 increase to an Attribute actually functions more like a +1.1 from outcome terms, and this effect is more noticeable at higher values (though this is not quite as assertive as the underlying hidden benefit).
However, the problem with large numbers of XP is that it gets hard to manage. Pacing play when you give 1 XP per session is easy. When it’s a number from 20-45, that gets weirder.
A small consideration is how XP fits on the character sheet. Make the numbers too high, and the bookkeeping gets really strained, especially with how I’ve designed the character sheet visually.
Gear is important. There’s no good currency in Kenoma (or, rather, the good currencies are rare enough to be almost too expensive to get), so it’s necessary to get it through bureaucratic means.
I love bureaucracy as a game designer and a GM precisely because I hate it as someone who has to deal with it from time to time. It gives many ways to rein in unruly players, but sometimes there’s enough luck to make it all run smoothly.
Characters have an Acquisition Modifier, which is applied as a direct modifier to the acquisition process.
Acquisition Tests are special; you roll dice, add your character’s AM, and then drop the ones-place to get a Margin-style result.
That translates to an amount of Acquisition that you can use to purchase that much Acquisition Value worth of stuff.
The Coalition doesn’t really have exclusive stuff, so anything in the rulebook is fair game (though some objects are prohibitively expensive). Faction issue gear comes cheaper because it’s purchased in bulk (though this is represented by it being given for free at character creation; to the extent I follow balancing rules there’s no special exception made in the Gear list), as does some of the common ammunition (this is a way of balancing exotic high-performance weapons).
As a balancing act, any attempt to buy something you can’t afford runs into difficulties. You can invest AV toward a future purchase, but only at half its value (rounding down for an added bit of suck). This discourages people from factions/origins with a low AM from just going ape on saving up for end-game gear.
Another balancing act is the fact that Gear must be stored when not in use. Anything a character can carry is free (even if they’re just stashing it in their apartment when not in use), but they can only store excess Gear to a limit of their Acquisition Modifier.
Because an alternate way to acquire Gear (for some characters/situations/Gear) is by bartering, this prevents hoarding low-value items for future trade.
Gaining Talents is an interesting conundrum.
Generally, I want characters to have 10-20 “me” Talents available, which are things that are either locked to their Faction or Origin or so specialized that only characters in a particular role or with a particular build take them.
Faction and Origin talents are easy. Each Origin will have five or six Talents that are the same, usually oriented around a single special ability or special role (e.g. the Zealot’s Willing Spirit health-restoring capability), and a Faction will probably have another five or six Talents.
However, it’s impossible to rule out overlap in character Faction and Origin selections, especially in cases like the pariah that have high setting identity value or the contamm that have special non-Coalition campaign opportunities.
Some of this character-specific Talent roster is going to be a product of the General Talent pool, then.
For instance, the Companion Talent lets you bring a partially featured second character along (though you as a player don’t get more actions with them, you can let another player control them if their own character isn’t around and this bypasses that restriction. The Companion’s stats scale with Ego and are pretty pathetic on average, so only a player with that build or a desire for that gameplay function will take that Talent.
Cybernetics also partially occupy this role because of the AV cost to getting an implant, while the psionics talents screen out low-Psi characters while often offering very specialized functions.
Because characters are so defined by their Talents, I want them to be easy to gain, but there are also a lot of Talent synergies. A good rule I have is that there will never be easier ways to recover Flame unless they’re very restrictive, since that synergizes with so many abilities it is hard to balance.
Much like how the Zealot has their Willing Spirit ability to recover Blood, any Flame-focused Talent would likely be locked to a particular Origin.
From an XP perspective, I make the difficulty of balancing Talents easier because they’re bought with Talent Points, which lets me tweak the cost of individual Talents by a scaling multiplier.
I generally err on the side of letting characters have cool use-case abilities and not worrying about the balance implications so long as they’re not dire.
I haven’t given this much thought, but Renown might be a good XP sink. There’s a small downside here of everything else purchased with XP being permanent, so there might be a good argument against it.
I’m still quite undecided on the final character advancement. I liked the advancement in Hammercalled, but Gear was bought with XP and was a good place to sink points there if the linear scaling of Attributes and Specializations got boring or there were no good Talents.
One thing I should make sure to do is look at the Gear from Hammercalled and see if there are any obvious use cases that could be replicated in Talents (especially cybernetics).
I’d say that Kenoma is about 30% of the way to a minimal core rulebook release right now if I had to guess, and the actual progress toward that could go quickly or slowly depending on inspiration, whether I feel like I need to flesh out every last character option, and my working schedule.