Saturday, May 29, 2010

Muskets vs Longbows (Part 2 of several)

So last time I went into D&D, a game that is built specifically without guns (despite having many other examples of 16th century technology). The guns were too slow to fire (accurate), too expensive and required the same lengthy training as a bow, or even more so (inaccurate).

Well what about d20 modern, and it's d20 past splatbook? Surely in this version, longbows will be an inferior option.

As before, we'll examine four characters. Ephram and Faulkner are first level fast heroes, designed to be good at the use of their chosen weapons. Geoffrey and Harald are first level tough ordinaries, with no martial training at all.

Ephram, the musketman, can be built with a wheellock musket, or the more advanced brown bess musket. Both are muzzle loaders that require two full-round actions to reload, or one with the Rapid Reload feat (which Ephram has). His wheellock has a 40' range, and deals 2d8 (average of 9) damage. The brown bess has a range increment of only 20', but deals 2d10 (average 11) damage on a hit. It requires the Personal Firearms Proficiency feat, and Ephram used his last feat on Point-Blank Shot, for the usual +1 to hit and damage when firing at a target within 30'. Ephram only gets the benefit of his +2 dexterity bonus with the brown bess, the more primitive wheellock doesn't allow this for some reason.

Faulkner, the bowman, has the compound longbow from the d20 modern book. This is a bit of an anachronism, as this bow is made from modern materials and allows the character to use any amount of their strength bonus at no additional cost, which is different than D&D's composite bows, which are meant to represent the technology of the english longbow, a super-weapon of it's day. His compound bow can be fired every round, with no rapid-shot feat included in the D20 modern book as there would be in D&D. He can take advantage of his dexterity and strength bonuses, so his weapon is at a +2 to hit and deals 1d8+2 (average of 6.5/hit).

So this is an improvement over 3.5, for the musketman. 11 damage every other round is at least equivalent to 6.5 every round. However, the shots every round are going to hit more often than when they only get to fire every other round.

The shot every other round sounds slow, but remember that in either version, a combat round lasts 6 seconds. Here is a video of a competitive shooter putting out three shots in 46 seconds. That means this man would only have the personal firearms proficiency, and does not have the Rapid Reload feat. I don't think that seems correct.

The bowman firing once every six seconds, on the other hand, seems reasonable. This man is firing only a 20 lb bow, which is very easy to pull, but his 10 shots in 30 seconds means he's firing twice per round, which would jibe with the rapid shot feat in D&D, which isn't available to my D20 modern character. A D&D character at 10th level can be like the guy at the 2 minute mark of this video. 12 aimed shots in 17.5 seconds, call that 4 shots/round, which would be consistent with Manyshot and iterative attacks on a full-round action. (At 11th level he goes up to 5 shots per round). With primitive firearms there's no way to stack up that many shots because the reload time is too high.

The basic reason cited most often for why the gun supplanted the bow is training time. It takes a long time for a character to reach 3rd, or 6th, or 11th level, especially if this is through some sort of intensive training regimen, not the insanely rapid leveling that can take place with adventurers. Call it one year per level, and that means the bowman is getting steady increases in number of missiles he can fire, and a greatly cascading damage output. The musketman will only see a steady improvement in his chance to hit, every other round. If we treat the training time for a soldier as "time to reach first level", then a musketeer reaches his effective maximum in potential damage every round in one year, and from there only improves how often he succeeds. The bowman sees tangible improvements in damage output at almost every level, with the same increasing odds of hitting the target.

Let's pretend that last paragraph was in my previous post, ok? Rapid Shot and Manyshot aren't in d20 modern. So the bowman and musketman in this scenario, Ephram and Faulkner, both see similarly stagnant growth in damage output, with Ephram seeing an extra shot every five levels because of iterative attacks (second shot at -5, third shot at -10, etc), or would if this were a strong hero. Fast heroes have a slower BAB progression, but all the strong hero talents are completely worthless for a ranged character. I digress..

Geoffrey and Harald are tough ordinaries, farmers conscripted to fight. They have no stat bonuses or penalties, and no feats relevant to use of their weapons, a compound bow or musket, respectively. Geoffrey is able to fire once per round, at a -4 penalty to hit, and deals 4.5 damage per round if successful. Harald, lacking the Rapid Reload feat, fires once every three rounds, making his 9 or 11 average damage unimpressive to say the least. Conscripted bowman wins.

So in both of our examples, a trained soldier and a hapless conscript, the bow is superior in every respect to the muzzle-loading musket. The situation changes quite a bit if we bring breechloaders in, but this isn't about modern firearms, and the 18th century is definitely heading in that direction sharply from the muskets of the past.

Cost? Far from being a cheaply cast, mass-producable alternative to the bow, the wheellock musket is listed with a PDC of 23, which page 204 of my d20 modern book tells me is the equivalent of $5,000. The compound bow's PDC of 10 is only $120 dollars. The disparity is higher than is should be, as I'm taking the cost of the wheellock out of the d20 past book, which assumes it is a high-tech and somewhat exotic item for it's day, but the bow is in d20 modern, and it's a mass-produced sporting good. Modern firearms weigh in between $500 and $2,0000. I would personally adjust these numbers, but for now I'm only examining the rules-as-written. House rules will be coming later.

So in D&D and d20 modern/past, firearms are more expensive, require the same level of training for basic competency, and have an inferior damage output overall. How accurate are these? Next time I'll examine historical sources, like 2nd edition.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Muskets vs. Longbows (Part 1 of ??)

I've been thinking about firearms. And D&D. And firearms in D&D.

From the historical sources I've heard, early firearms were crap compared to the simple bow & arrow. Terrible rate of fire, poor (accurate) range, even lower muzzle velocity. The only thing that sets the gun apart from the bow in the beginning is cost and training time. high quality longbows were more expensive to make than early guns, which were cast cheaply from iron. Teaching a man to load and fire a gun took weeks. The longbow was a lifetime pursuit.

Anyways, let's look at a few example characters. Alfred, Bertram, Claude, and Derek.

Alfred and Bertram are first level fighters. built using the Elite array. This gives each of them a 15 dexterity, and 14 strength. They are both professional soldiers who have been trained for several years to reach this point.

Alfred has Point-Blank Shot, Rapid Shot, and Precise Shot as feats. He carries a composite longbow which cost 300 gp, which can take advantage of his +2 strength bonus.

Bertram has Exotic Weapons (Firearms), Point-blank Shot, and Precise Shot as feats. He carries a musket, described on page 145 of my 3.5 DMG as a cost of 500 gp.

Alfred's composite longbow has a range increment of 110 ft, Bertram's musket has a range of 150 ft, which is perhaps overly generous, but I am sticking to Rules-As-Written. In RAW, the musket deals a d12 in damage, for an average output of 6.5/shot. The composite longbow deals a d8+2, also dealing 6.5/shot. with a higher minimum of 3 damage, and a lower ceiling of 10. In general I think this is better against low-level enemies.

Alfred, using a longbow which is reloaded as a free action, can use rapid shot to fire twice in a round, with 10% less chance of hitting on either. I don't know how to crunch probabilities, but I assume that two shots at 40% is better than one shot at 50%.

Also, next round Bertram will spend his standard action reloading, while Alfred is able to fire twice more.

Clearly the longbow wins this engagement, despite a slight range disadvantage. The musket was also much more expensive. This seems to bear out the concept of an experienced bowman being more effective than a rifleman at low tech level. The musket was also 200 GP higher in cost than the composite long-bow.

Claude and Derek are first-level commoners. They are built using the standard array and lack a dexterity or strength bonus. Their interests include rutabaga harvesting, animal husbandry, and appearing in Monty Python sketches covered in filth. Both have the endurance and animal affinity feats. They were both conscripted three months ago, and are marching into battle with only the basic understanding of how to operate their weapons and follow commands.

Claude, as a commoner, is proficient with one simple weapon. He wields a sickle as a weapon of self-defense. He is not proficient with the longbow, and therefore has a -4 penalty when wielding it, and deals an average of 4.5 damage when he does hit. He can fire every round, as reloading the longbow is a free action for him. His longbow only cost 75 gp,

Derek is also a commoner, and is similarly not proficient with the musket. He takes a -4 penalty when attacking, and has to take his standard action every other round reloading. However, his weapon still deals an average of 6.5 damage when it hits. This isn't enough to make up for his low rate of fire compared to Claude, and his weapon still costs a staggering 500 gp.

In D&D 3.5, there doesn't seem to be a good reason to equip an army with muskets. It's more expensive and doesn't deal a decisive amount of extra damage compared to the longbow with a professional soldier, or a conscripted commoner.

Next time, I take aim (ha!) at early firearms in D20 Past.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Focus on the positive

So Saturday I ran this game, you know, and tied a module in for the adventure. A module that was very fond of monster manual 2.
It had the teratomorph, which some different thinking person reckoned to be CR16.

Anyways, I will say what I liked about the teratomorph encounter..

Transformation: Target is changed as though targeted by Polymorph Any Object, changed to an object of DM's choice.

The DM chose to ask his five-year-old son to name something, which ended up being a "spray bottle". To keep it in appropriate tech level this became one of those things with a bulb that is squeezed to spray perfume (someday I will research before I start typing my blog)

fortunately the change was temporary, per the spell descriptor.

You see, every time the teratomorph hits with it's nearly unavoidable melee slam, the DM rolls on what I call the "random cornhole table", with such lovely things as 2d4 constitution drain, d6 strength or dex drain, change into a cosmetic appliance, or DEATH. Not just quick-trip-to-the-druid's-office death, this is 18th-level-cleric-and-25000-gp-worth-of-diamond DEATH. I rolled high on th table and this happened to Epik in the first round. I decided that this was a bit extreme(as is everything about the teratomorph), so he came back the next time I rolled on that table, with his skin turned a randomly chosen blue.

I am not even mentioning half of the insanity of the teratomorph.

But as I said, I will focus on the positive. Changing a player character into a spray bottle was hilarious. Asking a small child to choose the punishment of a character is like asking Ray Zelinski to choose the form of Gozer the Destroyer - pure fun and deliciously ironic to have a half-orc suddenly be a cause of good smells.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Little heroes...

(I'm fairly sure it's waiting for me to throw a stick)
So tonight I was able to get my regular group together here at Chez Grag.

Sometime between character level-up and starting the game session, we gave The Heroes of Hesiod a try. My five-year-old son got his first taste of something approximating the old delta ampersand delta, and rolling a d20 in battle.

The party faced off against their foes, a fearsome bulette, a reptilian creature of some sort, the least threatening beholder I've ever seen, and a swarm of pixies.

The system of battle is pretty simple. Roll a d20 (or 3d6) plus your character's attack bonus, deal one point of damage. Each character had some special ability which was simple to use and understand (except spectral shackles), and on a critical hit you get to drop a glorious d6 of damage. The monsters had little candies for hit points, which I presented to each player when they dealt damage. The game took about twice the half-hour suggested by the front cover as we all got used to the system, but it never felt like a drag at any point.

While the character types and abilities had a very 4e feel to them, thankfully the designer shied away from concepts such as encounter powers. Aside from the youngest player, who didn't pay attention to his little pile of hit points, the players felt a great amount of concern as they were whittled down by the monsters. It wasn't until the final two monsters were on the board that a character was knocked out, and they were quite surprised by being healed soon after. I suspect a group of 5-7 year-olds might not have thought about it until someone was knocked down.

Playing this with adults, it is hard to avoid the creepiness in some of the descriptive language in the opening story. I don't know whether the writers intended this or not, but there was a lot of snickering around the table at my delivery of lines like "No one your age knows what exactly goes on at the cabin, and no adults are telling."

Would I use this system for further adventures? Probably not in it's unmodified form. The special abilities are rather more complicated than I would like, and what is written on the character sheet feels very limiting. I would probably give monsters a few more hit points, and have d6 damage on all hits, and double that on crits.

If I were going to run Hesiod again, I would print the character and monster sheets on cardstock for easier handling. Also, the light paper battle map needs to be anchored better. Maybe cut out a piece of cardboard and glue it down nicely before the game.

Should you run Hesiod? It's not bad, 4/5 for what it is trying to be, a light and fun introduction to D&D concepts, aimed at a younger audience. It falls flat as the basis of a campaign, but had no such ambitions in that regard.