Friday, June 25, 2010

In theory it could work..

Ways to destroy your DM's sanity number 234: Start keeping detailed records of player character hits, misses, times knocked down, healing surges used, etc.
Start a "Fantasy D&D" league.

Erik : Yes! Thordek scored a critical hit!
James: Yes! Thordek is in my starting line!
DM Matt: Yes! I will have another vodka shot!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Critical thinking

I've never played rolemaster, but I understand it to be something like this..

One of the useful, but somewhat dull and mechanical features of 3.x is the critical hit system. Criticals deal double damage, or more depending on the weapon. Some feats improve this, and some feats improve how often the crits are done. My players are usually fairly excited to roll a crit, except for my crit-stacking munchkin Epik, but the issues which lead to my asking him to alter his character mid-session are for another time.

When I was in high school, I always did critical hits off the cuff -- if a twenty was rolled, then the die was rolled again, with escalating awesomeness depending on what was rolled from there. A second twenty would result in instant death, but I don't remember this ever happening. Triple or quadruple damage once or twice, however.

Now, as a grumpy thirty-two year old DM, I have been finding myself thinking about a return to older styles of play, including a more fluid system of critical hits, and critical fumbles.

In case anyone reading this is confused as to what I'm talking about, in the game of Dungeons and Dragons, attacking involves rolling a twenty-sided die, trying to roll at or above a target number. In most versions of the game, rolling a twenty would result in a more damaging hit, and rolling a one indicated some sort of failure.

I want to get away from the simple "this weapon does double, this one does triple" of 3.x, and have more solid, consistent results than if I tried to keep it in my head. This means a table. Something simple that operates on a d20, something with results from "oh cool" to "OMFG".

For critical success/critical hits, it seems the second roll for severity should be ascending, so 1 is minimal improvement, and 20 is maximum results. For critical failure/fumbles, it seems logical to have descending severity, but I am thinking that it should also be ascending. I have been thinking about the process of writing up some special abilities/special rules respecting the critical tables, and the rules will be simpler to write if both are ascending. So if you roll a 1, you roll on the critical fumble table, and hope you don't roll a 20. Somehow that seems inelegant to me, but anything that saves an extra 10-15 words I have to squeeze onto a notecard has to be a good thing.

So what kind of results do we want?

I would rather not have an "instant kill" option, but I can't take it completely out of consideration. A high result could cause a foe to be dazed for a round or two, possibly making a coup-de-grace an option.

Something that I'd like to have as a midrange option, in addition to a damage multiplier, would be nervous system shock -- being unable to see or hear for a round makes one an easier target, and lowers one's own attack roll. I don't like having perma-blindness as a possibility, or limb severing. Temporary limb disability would be fair to implement, I think.

I could fill out a table with those three, I think, combined with increasing damage multipliers.

So what about fumbles? Traditional results include weapon dropped, weapon broken, hit teammate, and lost turns. Hitting one's teammate, or "random selection of target within 10'", would probably be at the top of the list. Weapon drop would be at the bottom.

Weapon break is likely to be the most controversial at the gaming table. Players are, unsurprisingly, very attached to their magical equipment. Elendil might have broken Narsil, but that was in a cutscene. Bilbo or Frodo breaking sting on a bad roll would have just seemed unfair. I have a way to get around this, however.

I am planning on ruling that only one component of a magic weapon is enchanted. Everything else is conventional, and required to be of high quality and maintained to keep it in working order. With a sword, the grip could be non-magical, and could be compromised. The wooden stock of a crossbow or rifle, or the bowstave of a longbow would be magical. The magic part won't be broken, but the other components might be. Perhaps a magic sword without it's grip would cut viciously into the wielder's hand. The amount of repair work required to restore function is something that should probably be something that requires ten minutes to an hour of work for a person with appropriate weapon proficiency (as they are able to maintain their weapon)

"Lose a turn" sounds good from a gamist perspective, but should definitely be described creatively, something like the player slapping themselves with the flat of the blade, or stinging their fingers when losing grip on the bowstring. The players should be encouraged, as with much of the critical table, to declare the way in which their character failed. Pratfalls can be memorable, as much as gallant victories.

Dropped weapon would be move-equivalent to recover from, in general, but might not be possible if engaged in melee. Perhaps dropped weapon should be made more interesting, like the weapon is not just dropped, but flung d6*5 feet in some random direction. This kind of mechanic makes a backup weapon important to a well-prepared hero.

I have been considering, along with critical tables, including some luck mechanics -- maybe some special ability specific to thief-types, which allows a greater chance of getting a critical. Or the ability to occasionally add a d6 to the roll for severity of the critical success. I have been noodling over having a relative danger in adding the d6, where another d6 will be put on the table, waiting to be added to the next critical success or failure rolled by anyone.

That's it for now, just throwing out some thoughts.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Muskets vs Longbows (Part 3 of 4, maybe)

Things aren't looking good for my 2nd edition musketmen.

I'm going to leave aside the theoretical soldiers for now. In 2nd edition the strength and dex scores don't have an impact below 16. I didn't give that score to any of my 3rd edition/D20 modern characters, so I on't dwell on it too much. With a bit of a nod to the concept of masterwork, bows with a cost of 3-5 times the book rate are mentioned to be able to deal extra damage as normal for the character's strength bonus.

The composite longbow, costing 100 gp, is listed with a Rate-of-Fire of 2/1, which means two arrows loosed every round, even for a level one fighter. The 500 gp arquebus, on the other hand, has an RoF of 1/3, one shot every three rounds. This jibes pretty well with the later versions, except that in the second edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, a combat round lasts one minute. I'm told that a "player's option" book brought combat rounds down to 10-15 seconds with a "standard round" still taking one minute. No matter how long a round supposedly is, our bowman lets slip 6 arrows to one shot fired by an arquebusier. [As an aside, my spell-check doesn't like "arquebusier". I think it's correct, but it suggested a corrected spelling of Albuquerque.]

Damage is a complicated subject, with either weapon. The composite long bow, with a sheaf arrow, deals d8 damage with each strike. with range increments of 40, 80, and maximum bowshot of 170 yards. At medium range the attacker has a -2 penalty to their shot, and long range has a -5 penalty. With flight arrows, dealing only d6 damage, the numbers are 60, 120, and 210 yards maximum.

The arquebus has a comparable range, 50 yards medium, 150 yards long, and maximum range of 210. However, range penalties are doubled with that weapon, meaning that from 50 yards they will have a -4 penalty, and a difficult 150 yard shot carries a -10.

It's worth noting that the game of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, most combat takes place underground, or in buildings, and those range increments are in yards, not feet. So multiply that 50 yards by 3, and divide by five, that means medium range doesn't start until 30 five-foot squares. Combats are generally smaller than that on my gaming table. Perhaps I could remedy that, but it's difficult using a grid map and miniatures 3.5 style to have bigger fights. So for personal level, rather than mass-combat engagements, I don't believe range is a significant factor here. I suspect the more modest ranges of weapons in 3.5 is because of this issue.

Anyways, the arquebus damage is weird. It's a d10 with an footnote: When a arquebus scores a hit, it normally does 1 to 9 points of damage on 1d10. When a 10 is rolled, the die is rolled again and this amount is added to 10. Each time a 10 is rolled, the die is rolled again and added to the previous total. Thus, in a rare instance, a single shot could inflict 37 points, for example, if three consecutive 10s were rolled, followed by a 7. The damage caused by an arquebus is never modified for a high Strength score.

The game also seeks to punish you for choosing this weapon, with a 10% chance of failure on each shot: If the attack roll for the arquebus is a 1 or 2, the weapon backfires, causing 1d6 points
of damage to the firer. It is also fouled and cannot be used again until it has been cleaned,
which takes about 30 minutes.

So, the arquebus.... Drastically slower to fire, possibility of doing a lot of damage with one hit, but just as likely to blow up in your face. The longbow can attack twice per round, with a modest damage output and no chance of blowing up in the user's face. The longbow has a longer accurate range, but most players won't encounter more than medium range in combat. Both have the same ease of use per the rules, which are a simple pass/fail of weapon proficiency.

I don't think I have any more sources available, unless I start looking at actual historical resources, like wikipedia. Let's do that next time, shall we?