Monday, June 20, 2011

The Right Tool for the Job

So lots of comments about shields and armour and weapons.

The thing about Western Europe was, they were constantly evolving their weapons and armour to outdo their neighbors, or last year’s models. The corollary to that is, every weapon was specifically built to handle a particular job. Sure, some were modified farm implements, but they kept being used because they proved to be useful.

Those polearms with all the hooks on them? Great for dragging enemies off their horses.

Polearms with hammers and axeblades on them, as well as maces, are great for mauling armour and concussing the folks inside with their heavy blows.

Single-handed swords suck at penetrating heavy armour, but are great against lightly armoured (or, even better, unarmoured) targets, where those long, sharp edges can leave really nasty gashes.

The axe, favored weapon of Richard the Lionhearted and Robert the Bruce, was a compromise between the two. The bearded axe could be hooked around the edge of a shield so you could pull it out of someone’s hands, or just jerk them around with it.

The flail could get around the shield entirely.

And so on. Different tools for different jobs. How do we model this in D&D? Not well, I’m afraid. Gygax’s weapon-vs.-armour-class table was one stab at it, but as I understand it, even he didn’t use it. The other options I can think of require rewriting the combat rules entirely, and end up looking something like the table-crazy Arms Law from Rolemaster.

24 comments:

Oddysey said...

The best way I can think of to deal with this actually isn't tables, but colored dice pools. Heavy armor would subtract a lot from slashing blows, but not much from piercing or concussing. Shields would subtract a small amount from all kinds of damage, except weapons with a keyword that specifically got around shields. Having no armor might actually add a die or two to the pool of a sword or other slashing weapon.

This would probably be a system where it only takes one or handful of hits to kill you -- perhaps with a damage status track. Most of the complexity involved would be in the type and size of the damage pool. If the system was colored coded, it would be fairly easy to sort even a large, complex pile of dice into the necessary buckets -- especially if you went all Zak on it, and created a little multi-zoned sheet to arrange dice for each type of armor.

I'd also probably slow add dice to the pool to represent the opponent's fatigue, and other factors that D&D represents with hit points... and now this is starting to sound like a post... hmm...

Robert Fisher said...

Arms Law was a pretty good answer. I think Hârnmaster had some good ideas too.

I think a modified version of the Chainmail man-to-man table could work. It needs some tweaking when taken out of context, and expanding it like classic Traveller—for teeth, claws, and such—would be good. I think this works well for D&D, since combat skill is mostly abstracted into hp.

Still, you might want to make it three axis—attacking weapon, defending weapon, and defending armor—but that just makes it more complex.

(And then there’s the fact that I’ve long thought we need to classify more by fighting style than by weapon. The two are related but not exactly 1:1.)

In the end, though, whenever I head down those roads, I just come back to not wanting the complexity required. At least, not for classic D&D.

trollsmyth said...

Oddysey: Yeah, a very cool post. The dice-pools idea never occurred to me, but that's likely due to a personal bias against 'em. Mostly, that's because they tend to be unwieldy (sitting around while folks count up dice pools in Shadowrun can drag out combat). So I'm really intrigued by your idea of a Zakian dice mat thingy and use of colors.

Robert: Yeah, same here. Eventually, for D&D especially, there comes a point of diminishing returns for combat complexity.

However, I could absolutely see a shift towards combat styles if you wanted a more Asian or early modern feel to your game's combat. Ditto for a game that involved a lot of stylized, one-on-one duels (Star Wars or similar properties). Whipping up a dozen or so and letting characters pick them as they go up levels (fighters get one every other level, clerics every third level and thieves every fourth, for example) would allow enough variety to make your choice of style in any given fight interesting.

In that sort of a game, I could see weapons and armour giving a bonus (or a penalty, if it doesn't fit the style) in combat, but the primary decider of issues like to-hit and damage and such would be the style itself.

Oddysey said...

Well, yeah, because Shadowrun dicepools are ridiculous. Dicepools require a success-based system. Ideally with a different color/symbol for successes.

trollsmyth said...

Oddysey: You mean like <a href="http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_gA4nyjec2nc/TT4hRd75SHI/AAAAAAAAARU/nWbXrs4oCzM/s1600/fudge-dice.png>fudge dice</a>?

trollsmyth said...

Um, let's try that again: You mean like fudge dice?

Oddysey said...

Kind of. WoD dice, too.

5stonegames said...

I hate to make D&D more complex than necessary. Even previous incarnations of this (the well thought out weapon vs armor and the mediocre speed factor rules) tended to slow down play.

However if you like 3x and want maximal realism, try the Codex Martialis. Its written by a western martial arts practitioner using the latest research and the reconstructions of fight manuals.

Its not crazy hard to convert to early editions either.

As for weapons, the key is understanding how they worked vs armor because really the whole race was weapons vs armor.

Fact is armor works very well to the point to being nigh impervious and that effectiveness combined with the some system to take skill into account would create a kind of combat that might not appeal to many D&D players.

24-7 leg or joint shots and high '"Whiff" factor does not settle well with the heroic fantasy roots of the game.

bighara said...

Competing rolls for attack vs. defense or a defense target number to beat. Then make armor give damage absorption instead of "AC." That's probably the easiest way to go. Not exactly D&D, but not terribly complex.

morrisonmp said...

In older versions of D&D the combat round was a lot longer than most systems tend to make it these days...

I always worked from the premise that the long combat round plus the abstraction of hit points equaled narrative control over the action and yet a simple To Hit roll and To Damage roll to finalize the nature of that minute worth of fighting...

When considering this issue, the problem for me is that you would need more than just weapon vs. armor. You'd need to account for weapon vs. armor, weapons vs. shields, how much space a weapon needs to use it properly, fighting styles, speed, recovery time after swings, etc.

Again, I always presumed that shields worked as a moderate bonus to represent abstractly how they might work really well against one opponent, be useless against the next, and usually were somewhere in the middle for most others...

As I was thinking about this I realized that I actually miss long combat rounds more than I thought I did... hmmm.

faoladh said...

Of the non-D&D systems, I am most fond of Hârnmaster's, but it is not, by any means, as abstracted and quick as D&D's. I can't think of a good way to differentiate weapons strongly in an abstract system. The weapon vs. AC (type) table was a good attempt, but perhaps difficult to use in practice.

Anonymous said...

NO DONT DO ARM-SLAW I TRYED IT AND NOW MY BRANE IS COALS-LAW !!1

:p

-NUNYA

fluerdemal said...

Yeah, this is one of those places where D&D (OD&D or AD&D) really starts to fall apart. But if you add in a some of "modes of combat", more effective shields, two-weapon combat, parrying, and some sort of bonus for big huge weapons (two-handed swords, massive war-axes and war-hammers, etc), even *gasp* weapon specialization of some sort you can get to a decent level of evocative without sacrificing speed and playability.

D.

newsalor said...

My game isn't exactly D&D, I guess there is some similarity between my game and Codex Martialis. In my game I try to assess which combatant has the benefit in terms of equipment, position and such. There is like a questionnaire I go throught.

Anyway, the party that has the advantage, gets bonus dice and the best result from those D20's counts. I know that this system is kinda soft, but I'm not sure that hardcoding this kind of system is the best thing to do.

If there is a matrix of different weapons and armors, then it becomes an equation to solve. However, if it's more fuzzy, then players can advocate for cool tactics and stuff.

trollsmyth said...

5stonegames: True. I think the "whiff factor" is fixable (and isn't terribly realistic), but would require restructuring the mechanics considerably.

Bighara: Yeah, a number of options present themselves, but as you say, each one takes you further from D&D. Granted, I've been known to drift pretty far from the reservation myself.

trollsmyth said...

morrisonmp: I prefer the longer round times myself, but it really falls apart with ranged weapons. The old one-minute combat round ought to allow an archer to fire 18 arrows and a crossbowman to get off 8. And you'll be rebuilding your combat system from scratch if you want to allow that and not have ranged weapons dominate your game.

In my Doom & Tea Parties game, I'm just allowing one shot per round and gritting my teeth over it.

trollsmyth said...

Faoladh: I've never seen the Harn system in action. I should probably track it down just to take a look.

trollsmyth said...

Fleurdemal: Not much of a fan of specialization myself, but I know lots of folks who are. Again, it really comes down to what you want your combat to do. Generally, I'm fairly happy with a generally modest level of verisimilitude that allows skill to triumph over gear.

trollsmyth said...

NUNYA: No worries there. ;) I'm happy (for now) with my fairly abstract D&D clones.

trollsmyth said...

newsalor: That sounds a little slow and horribly unpredictable. That combo would generally encourage folks to avoid combat. Is that your aim, or am I making too many assumptions about what you're up to?

newsalor said...

trollsmyth:

It's not really that complicated. Last session we had our barbarian waving a 2-handed sword trying to keep zombies at bay and I ruled that he was at an advantage. When the zombies managed to get close and even wrestle a bit, the zombies had the advantage.

Likewise, if the barbarian would happen to be fighting in a corridor against goblins wielding spears, I would rule that the goblins would have the advantage, because you need to space to chop with that big weapon whereas the spears are good, because you poke with them.

Things can even out too if for example you'd have an armored guy with a big sword fighting against someone with knifes or such at close quarters.

I'm not sure if a system like mine would work in anything more like D&D, because my game doesn't have AC or to-hit numbers. It's about testing the combatants dice pools against each other and you get bonus dice if you have an advantage in some area or another.

So anyway, my point was that the system is quick, but doesn't necessarily help with anything you guys were thinking about. I guess it's just that I've been thinking about similar stuff and your writing really resonated with me and clarified lots of stuff about armor that I had been thinking about.

Blue Paladin said...

trollsmith: Well isn't that the point of the long round? When you're swinging your sword, you only get to roll once (or however many attacks you get each round). It's implied that there are plenty of other swings of the sword in that minute of combat; they just don't "count".

Similarly, not every shot of the bow is rolled for. You could mark off 18 arrows or 8 crossbow bolts fired every round, but you would only roll attacks for whatever your weapon's ROF tells you to roll.

trollsmyth said...

Newsalor: Glad to be of service. :)

Blue Paladin: That would be great, if we marked off a dozen or so arrows for every roll of the dice. But we don't. I'm tempted to go there myself, though.

Eric Walker said...

4e powers attached to weapons. *runs away from being stoned by OSR mob*