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I've made several portable steam powered items intended for any setting with a technological level comparable to that of Golarion (emerging guns, clockwork constructs exist).
In short, the rules system for these items are based on a Pool of "pressure points" (PrP), generated by a portable steam boiler, a certain Pool value (or threshold) required for the continuous benefits provided by steam engines (powered armor, weapons etc), and a certain number of the Pool's PrP spent when activating special functions of the engines. The system and the items were designed with an aim to be player-friendly in combat, provide non-caster characters with additional versatility, and to include a large number of meaningful and varied options and combinations.
Currently, the maximum Pool value and the number of PrP the Pool regains per round is set and only dependent on the type of boiler used and its accessories. Though this has been briefly tested in play and seem to work fine, I would prefer a system which also allowed the user to take actions in order to temporarily affect the max Pool and regain values. I experimented a bit with various actions (swift, move, standard etc.) to disable engines for additional PrP regain and "pressure Pool overloading", but found it to be too complicated for practical use, at least with the current design of the steam engines. I've been trying to come up with other mechanics for partially action-dependent PrP regain and max Pool, which:
1. Rewards clever combat tactics
2. Demands a minimum of book-keeping in combat
3. Is at least somewhat believable as non-magic
So far, I haven't been successful and would greatly appreciate any suggestions, advice, tips or other relevant input you may have.
Here's an excerpt from the document I'm working on, describing the current system and a a few of the more complex items. Apologies for the wall of text... (You're of course welcome to also comment the content from other perspectives if something seems totally out of place, but this thread is primarily intended to focus on the above.)
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I've never been a fan of magic items with charges (aside from wands and staves obviously). But I do like the premise behind a set of items that require a power source from another item. My biggest piece of advice is this: keep it simple. Players don't want to read a book to learn how their shiny new toys work.
I'd make the relationships simple. There's boilers that provide steampower and steampowered items that need to be connected to a boiler to work. Some steampowered items have special abilities if you spend a point from your boiler.
After a casual look-over. This seems like a really cool system.
My thoughts in no particular order:
This could be helped by simplifying the devices. Or at least having simple devices to start on. All the ones i looked at had continuous effect, pool requirement, activation effects, and special circumstances for activation, and rather complex effects once activated.
Is there a way to work up to multi-use stuff?
Does the heat from the boiler affect the character at all?
Can there be a condenser to re-use water?
How do i attach my bottle of air and decanter of endless water? There is potential to supercharge these (I realise this is the opposite of simple, but I think players will jump on this as soon as they are comphertable with the rules)
Are there external boilers?
Are heat bricks like the black clay item, or a continuous heat source?
Does all this stuff have to be integrated into armor?
Overall, the extra armor rules were the only ones that gave me pause. The pool system seems fine, much like how grit or other class features work.