Posts Tagged ‘combat’

On Meaningful Weapons

Posted: 11 January 2013 in Game Structure
Tags: ,

I’ve been thinking about weapons in RPGs lately.

At a fundamental level, how your game treats weapons says something about what’s important to the game. Some games have flat damage numbers so that all weapons do, say, d6 damage; in this system being armed or unarmed is more important than whether you have an axe or a sword. Other games have flat numbers based on class, so that a Fighter will do d12 damage and a Wizard does d4 damage regardless of what weapons they’re wielding; here it’s more important what role your character is playing as opposed to how you decide to fill that roll.

It’s also worth noting that where your game puts detail tends to be where your players will expect focus. This isn’t always true, especially if you have a regular group and everyone understands the intentions of the game and the group, but if you pick up random players for a game with a lot of nuance to the combat system don’t be surprised when they expect a lot of combat.

For my part, I like a system that differentiates between weapons and between wielders – that is, i want to see a system where there’s a meaningful difference between an Axe and a Sword, and a meaningful difference between someone who’s trained to use the weapon and someone who’s not. Dungeons and Dragons does the former pretty well. Almost too well, actually, when you consider that there are dozens upon dozens of different weapons with different properties (and feats!)… it actually gets to be a bit more complicated for my tastes.

Others have discussed what number is the right number to have meaningful selection without too much complexity, and I’m going to randomly pick 16 for my Fantasy games: dagger, staff, short sword, longsword, 1-handed axe, 1-handed hammer, 2-handed axe, 2-handed hammer, 2-handed sword, halberd/spear, whip, sling, crossbow, short bow, longbow, heavy crossbow. These are the weapons that came to mind off the top of my head, and I think that any weapon I’ve missed can be caste as one of these without losing a whole lot (the one exception being the spiked chain, I think…). Weapons can be differentiated by damage, critical multiplier, range, attack speed (ranged weapons need to be reloaded, maybe a dagger can attack as a Move action), how they fare against armor and resistances, and possibly bonuses they offer to the wielder (maybe to-hit bonuses, armor bonuses, etc).

The second piece is differentiating a trained wielder from an untrained wielder.  Originally D&D simply said certain classes *couldn’t* use certain weapons. I think a wise DM would read that as “certain classes can’t use certain weapons effectively, as weapons” because any slouch can swing a hunk of metal, but that doesn’t mean the results are going to be mechanically relevant. Later there was a penalty to hit for being non-proficient, and then a bonus to hit for being proficient, and that’s about the extent of it – training with a weapon affects how accurate your attacks are, and that’s it. If I had to do it on my own, I would probably make a trained wielder actually be more effective with the weapon, taking advantage of what the weapon allows, rather than an across-the-board bonus or penalty to accuracy. That adds a bit of complexity, I guess, but again it makes weapons meaningful: being proficient with a dagger is different from being proficient with a two-handed axe, and they lend themselves to different styles.

Under the cut I try my hand at a first draft of my 16 weapons.  What do you think about weapons, proficiency, and the complexity of making this stuff matter?

Onward To Victory

I’ve got a few different irons in the fire right now, maybe a half-dozen half-started posts.  Real Life — the stuff I do between thinking about and playing RPGs — has been more intense than usual lately, and that’s put a real drain on my energy.  So we end up with half-posts like this.

Some things I’ve been thinking about:

  • Initiative, and the flow of combat in general, is kind of wonky in most games.  I want a system that rewards a character for a high Initiative bonus as well as rewarding characters for a high Initiative score.  Some games do one or the other, but I’m not sure anyone does both. (Dr. Gentleman has a series of posts about combat that may cover some similar ground, or not; I haven’t read them yet.)
  • I want to get back to thinking about Hit Points in D&D 3.X; my first post was really just a preliminary introduction, and I haven’t gotten around to the real meat of hit points.
  • I don’t like the way Magic is split in D&D, or the way Class Spell Lists are broken up; but I haven’t thought hard enough about it yet to be sure that changing it won’t make ever caster just a Wizard with a funny(er) hat.
  • I’m intrigued by what I’m hearing about running RPGs through Google+ — my first gaming group (my brothers) is spread out over several states now, and the potential for running a game with them again is very attractive.  I may finally get a chance to play RIFTS.
  • More and more (and more) I get the feeling that system doesn’t matter, because the core of role-playing is making choices, and mechanics are just ways to arbitrate consequences.  A system is necessary, but does it really matter what system?  It seems lots of people answer that with an emphatic “yes!” and I need to do more research on that. Minutes after writing this I already feel the lie in it; I have to confess that system does matter, but I haven’t unpacked that concept enough to say how, when, or why it matters — that’s what I want to do research to understand.

Once life lets up on me a bit, I plan to address some or all of those thoughts.

Crit Die

Posted: 24 July 2012 in Toolbox
Tags: ,

As a follow-up to my quick note on combat, here’s the idea of the Crit/Fumble Die. I had a discussion about crits with my players, and where I like having a cit-confirmation system, they almost all preferred a natural-20-always-crits system.

My preference stems from the math and what we end up modeling.  With cit-confirmation, when you roll a 20 you get an auto-hit and then roll again to confirm, hitting the creatures AC again (doesn’t need to be another 20) means you get a critical hit.  This means that there’s always a 5% chance to hit your opponent (auto-hit on a natural 20), and additionally that 5% of all your hits are going to be criticals.  You’ll hit weaker enemies more, and thus get more crits on them, and tougher enemies will be hit less and have proportionally fewer crits.  I’m building a similar system for fumbles because I like using them, but “always fumble on a natural 1” just adds in too much chaos (5% of all your swings are dismal failures).

Counter-wise, a 20-always-crits system means that 5% of all your swings (not your hits) will be critical hits.  You will crit as much on strong enemies as you do on weak enemies, and if you have auto-hit on 20 as well you will *only* crit on tough enemies.  That means 95% of the time you can’t touch the guy, and the other 5% you’re landing devastating blows.  That just feels wrong.

But all my players see is that they roll a 20 and then I “rob” them of their crit when they fail to confirm.  And I can see the logic in that.  The Crit/Fumble die is my proposed solution, divorcing the “did I hit him” roll from the “did I crit him” roll.  Each attack rolls 2d20, with one designated as the hit-die and one as the crit-die.  If the hit-die beats the target’s AC, you hit and deal damage; if the hit-die is a natural 20, you auto-hit regardless of AC, but it has nothing to do with a critical strike.  If you hit and the crit-die is a 20 (regardless of what the hit-die was), then it’s a critical strike.  If you roll a 20 on the crit-die but miss with the hit-die, it was a good swing that just didn’t connect.  And of course, if you miss with the hit-die and the crit-die is a 1, you just fumbled and something bad happens.

You’ll have 5% of your hits be critical, 5% of you misses will be fumbles, and 5% of your attacks with be auto-hits and auto-misses.  But hopefully the perception that failing to confirm a crit “robs” the player of anything.

Dr. Gentleman has a series of posts about Combat that I’m trying (and mostly failing) to read.  This post isn’t really about anything I’ve read there, but it has Combat on my mind, and Gnome Stew just posted a little trick about color-coding your dice that I thought was neat, and all that reminded me of a trick of my own that I’d been meaning to mention.

People complain about the speed of combat a lot — roll d20 to hit, what did you get?, that hits now roll damage, what did you get?, describe results of the attack, next action.  With even a handful of players it gets bogged down quickly, especially if there are NPCs (enemies and/or allies) involved.  But it doesn’t have to be this way, really.

A simple trick that I’ve used, and that I’m surprised doesn’t get used more, is to chuck a handful of dice.  Instead of making each piece of the attack sequence a separate roll, grab a d20 and whatever damage dice you use and toss it in one throw.  If the d20 hits the AC damage is already on the table, and you haven’t wasted any real effort if you miss.  I’ve considered adding a Crit/Fumble die to the mix so that crits are confirmed in the same throw as well.  With a little color-coding, you can quickly see hit-die, damage-dice, backstab-dice, crit-die and so on.  It becomes a lot more roll-and-go, especially if DMs aren’t coy about monster ACs (which I don’t think they should be, in general). If people start thinking about their next action before it’s their turn (something my players need practise doing), it gets even smoother.