Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Hey, Let's Overcomplicate Weapons!

Oh, weapon damage in FATE. You're a constant little niggling issue in the back of my mind. I can ignore you by slathering on layer after layer of narrativism, but the 8-year-old in me still playing a Basic D&D elf named Legolas wants a longbow to do more damage than a thrown rock. And he doesn't give a tinker's cuss for the philosophy of "pick your cool" that puts an uppercut on equal footing with a sword in the ribs.

I myself have gone from one end of the spectrum to another when it comes to weapon damage in "Spirit of the Sword." I started with the obvious: damage bonuses. The bigger the weapon, the bigger the bonus. My thinking was that while SotC's lack of differentiation between armed and unarmed combat worked fine for a pulp game, fantasy gamers tend to put more emphasis on equipment. So I went with that for a while in playtests, but ultimately came to the realization that I didn't need a detailed list of weapons when I could just abstract everything into light, medium, and heavy weapons, and leave the specifics up to the player. That seemed more in the spirit of FATE.

But then I was like, why mandate that all large weapons have to behave in a certain way? Just have three different conceptual categories of weapons, and let players pick whatever works for them. If they want an assassin who's as deadly with a dagger as a barbarian is with a battle-axe, then go for it. This is FATE, after all. Build in equivalent advantages and drawbacks for each of them, and you're good to go. Taking that to its logical conclusion, though, led me back to SotC. The easiest way for a dagger to be as effective as a battle-axe is to consider all weapons equal -- barring exceptions for "special" weapons, of course, but that's the realm of boons.

It was probably Woodchuck and Ghim that brought it home, though. I love that bit in the first (and best) episode of "Record of Lodoss War" where Woodchuck's fighting that flying gargoyle-thing in mid-air, and as they plummet to the ground he whips out this curved knife and cuts him up a treat. Yeah! That was awesome. Meanwhile, Ghim has an identical effect by throwing his huge double-bitted axe. I wanted a way of dealing with weapons that would put Woodchuck on par with Ghim, just in different ways. It's about their skill, not their weapons, and that's 100% pure SotC.

Here's what throws a wrench in the gears, though: Diaspora uses damage bonuses for weapons. That in and of itself isn't a "problem" or anything -- they can do what they want, obviously -- but everything in that game seems so well-considered that I'm almost forced to see damage bonuses as viable and even desirable, for many players. (This is also brutally unfair to Starblazer Adventures, which also uses damage bonuses, and predates Diaspora, but the tone of that game is so different that their inclusion comes off less as a thoughtful addition than a foregone conclusion.)

So I was giving this some thought at the Flame Broiler today while waiting for my wife's car to be fixed -- don't ask me why I was thinking about this when I should've been thinking about the games I'm running at OrcCon -- and I came up with something that not only adds a stat to weapons where there wasn't one before (for me), but also complicates combat by essentially doubling the number of rolls involved. It's a win-win for complexity! Fiddly Mechanics 2, Tree-Hugging Story-Gaming 0!

The idea is pretty simple: Add a damage roll. When you attack an opponent, you roll your Weapons or whatever to hit them and they roll their Athletics or whatever to avoid being hit. If you win, you'd then roll your weapon's quality (Mediocre through Good) against the defender's armor quality (Fair through Great) as if they were skills. Add to that your margin of success on your attack roll. For this damage roll, though, you're only rolling 2dF, not 4dF (something FUDGE and, I believe, FATE 2.0 suggest anyway for opposed rolls). If your weapon roll beats his armor roll, he takes the difference in stress, which you can deal with using your damage-management system of choice.

A couple addenda: If your weapon quality is less than your Might, take the difference as a penalty to your attack. If your armor roll is greater than your Endurance, you get a temporary aspect of "Fatigued." Ties go to the attacker (ooh!).

For example:
Partario and Rosie are in a fight. Partario's using a longsword (Fair) and wearing leather armor (also Fair), while Rosie's swinging a doubled-bladed battle axe (Good) and wearing plate (Great). Partario's Might is Good, as is his Endurance, and he has Fair Weapons, while Rosie's Might is Fair, her Endurance is Good, and she has Great Weapons. The upshot: Rosie's attacks with the battle axe are at -1 (it's a Good-quality weapon wielded with only Fair Might), but Partario, with his Good Might, suffers no such penalty.

Partario goes first, and attacks with his sword. His effort is a mere +1, but so is Rosie's, so his attack succeeds -- but his damage roll doesn't benefit from his margin of success, since it's only zero. Rolling his weapon quality on 2dF gives him a +1 (again!). Rosie's 2dF armor roll is +5 -- spin! -- so her armor easily absorbs the blow. However, that's higher than her Good Endurance, so she gets an aspect of "Fatigued."

Now it's Rosie's attack: The dice come up +4 (no foolin' -- I actually rolled that), which, added to her Good Weapons (or Great -1, because of the discrepancy between her Might and weapon quality), makes for an effort of +7. No, +8, because of her spin from before. Boosh! (And/or "ka-kow.") Partario's defense roll of +0, plus his Fair Weapons, gives Rosie six shifts on her attack. Her 2dF damage roll is -1, plus her margin of success of +6, plus her Good weapon quality, gives her a total damage of +8. Partario's leather armor is unlikely to save him here, but he rolls his 2dF anyway and hopes for the best. The dice come up +1, and adding his armor quality of +2 gives him a Good effort, but not good enough. He takes five Health stress and is unhappy.
Of course, this whole thing flies directly in the face of my usual commitment to each player only rolling once per turn, and that's nothing to sneeze at. However, all things considered, if I had to differentiate between weapons, I wouldn't mind doing it this way.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

"little niggling issue[s]"

You are lucky if you only have the one. Weapons, armour, equipment and magic are my niggles.

About weapons and armour, it seems we have made similar journeys! I have considered pretty much the same options. Unfortunately I have not yet arrived at a satisfactory destination. As for your destination... math gives this Barbarian a headache too.

I do like the power of cool up to a point. If a Halfling wants to duel wield halberds - because it's cool - then make it so; just don't expect a mechanical advantage from it. But cool only gets me so far.

While you don't explicitly state it, your weapon qualities seem to be ranked on a Might scale. So a weapon lighter than a longsword, like a rapier, would be Average? Wouldn't Athletics be a better gauge of the Rapier's quality? In fact, I would think that a rapier would be better than Average on an Athletics scale!

I haven't worked out all the kinks but I think there may be the seeds of a more elegant solution in the game Faster, Better, Cheaper. A weapon may have the attributes Faster, Heavier, and [something else?]. Pick any two. A short sword may be Fast, Fast. A long sword would be Fast, Heavy. A broad sword is Heavy, Heavy. Heavy weapons bonuses come from might. Fast weapon bonuses come from Athletics.

Just had a thought! Maybe [something else] is Reach. Spear: fast, reach. Halberd: heavy, reach. Pike: reach, reach.

Mike Olson said...

You are lucky if you only have the one. Weapons, armour, equipment and magic are my niggles.

Well, weapons and armor are pretty intertwined, IMO. However one works, the other has to work in tandem for the system to be intuitive. For example, if weapons add damage, it's intuitive for armor to soak damage.

Non-combat equipment is usually a matter of an aspect for me.

Magic is so setting-dependent that I don't really believe in a one-size-fits-all solution anymore. Witness Guy's work on "Spirit of Greyhawk." He's going after a very specific kind of emulation there, and the work's better for it. So magic, to me, isn't so much an issue as another setting facet to be worked out when/if necessary. And so far, it's only really been necessary once. (Magic in "Spirit of the Fist" is comparatively loose and hand-wavey, so I wouldn't say it counts.)

While you don't explicitly state it, your weapon qualities seem to be ranked on a Might scale. So a weapon lighter than a longsword, like a rapier, would be Average? Wouldn't Athletics be a better gauge of the Rapier's quality? In fact, I would think that a rapier would be better than Average on an Athletics scale!

That makes sense. The whole Might thing was rather tacked-on, but I needed something to keep people from running around with nothing but Good-quality weapons. However, there's nothing stopping some weapons being based on one skill, and others being based on another.

Actually, I think it might be fun to spread it around a bit. Base "high-dexterity" weapons on Sleight of Hand, martial-arts weapons on Athletics, and etc.

I haven't worked out all the kinks but I think there may be the seeds of a more elegant solution in the game Faster, Better, Cheaper. A weapon may have the attributes Faster, Heavier, and [something else?]. Pick any two. A short sword may be Fast, Fast. A long sword would be Fast, Heavy. A broad sword is Heavy, Heavy. Heavy weapons bonuses come from might. Fast weapon bonuses come from Athletics.

That reminds me a bit of my third method, IIRC -- weapons were either Fast, Balanced, or Vicious. But I'll check that out. Thanks for the recommendation.

Anonymous said...

"Non-combat equipment is usually a matter of an aspect for me".

Equipment that is tools-of-the-trade is not the issue. A character's special equipment, bound to them by aspect or stunt, is not the issue. My problem is with found items.

A magic sword would normally be an extra (stunt) on a character's sheet but what if character comes by one during the game. Does it need to be bound to them by aspect or stunt in order to work?

In my own version of armour rules I want the armour to be able to absorb a consequence. A fighter type would have a stunt for that. What if a Thief needs to run the gauntlet and decides to use a found suit of plate armour?

A related issue is how many buffs (temporary aspects) can a character have?

In fact there are any number of things that can be modelled by aspects, skill and stunts of a temporary nature; but there is no guidance on how to allow this and maintain balance.

Mike Olson said...

In fact there are any number of things that can be modelled by aspects, skill and stunts of a temporary nature; but there is no guidance on how to allow this and maintain balance.

If using SotC as a base, yes, there won't be support for this sort of thing, because it just isn't "pulpy." And I don't think FATE 2.0 cares much about it, either, for whatever reason.

However it is you're doing things, if you require a stunt for equipment, then whatever equipment you happen to pick up is inherently temporary, and more prone to theft or breakage, whereas the stuff you got with a stunt will always be with you in one form or another, or at least never too far removed.

If that thief wants to put on plate for whatever reason, he should be able to -- and if the system is such that this simple act is problematic, then I'd look into changing the system, if I were you.

A related issue is how many buffs (temporary aspects) can a character have?

For me? A kajillion. I've never found it to be an issue.

If five out of six players want to spend time, energy, and possibly resources to lay a bunch of temporary aspects on the badguy, the scene, and/or Player #6, more power to them. As long as this isn't the only thing they can do every time, I don't see the problem.

Guy Bowring said...

@Mike:

I definitely agree the desire to want to have something slightly more crunchy than what SotC has for weapons.

However flying in the face of what we happen to want, I have to include this anecdote from SoG playtesting (campaign play / sessions over the course of 18+ months) that I find pretty hard to argue with...

The SoG ruleset has tried 3 different methods of weapons crunch to date, and in every game session--they have been forgotten.

Literally, everyone (players, power players, myself) forgets to use them. Once we throw down and get into it, we always forget about weapons rules. And no one misses it. It's even come up in conversations afterwards, and there's never been a sense of "crap, we screwed ourselves!"

The reaction has been more of a "huh, how 'bout that? No biggie."

In contrast, your Armor hack for a "best of" dice pool (more armor = larger dice pool), was a perfect fit the first time out and has been in use ever since.

I've considered doing the same method for weapons ("best of" dice pool), but for the time being, I'm going with a "it ain't broke, so I'm not fixing it" approach to weapons.

There's still part of me that does want to have really nasty damage / weapons allow for "go straight to consequences" potential, but insight hasn't struck me yet on that one.

Stuart said...

How I'm handling it (noting that I haven't actually written the equipment section yet):

The results of an attack are a number of degrees of success. These can be used to buy damage or other effects (knockback, disarming, combat advantage, etc.)

Weapons have a bonus number of successes that only apply when the attack is successful and effectively make some of these things less expensive. A big axe might be +2 for damage. A rapier might be +1 for combat advantage. A flail might be +1 disarm. Things like that.

If damage is bought, it can be resisted with a Toughness roll that armor adds to...

Guy Bowring said...

@Stuart:

That's a nice tweak to break out success / damage without getting too far afield.

Stuart said...

Guy:

Sometimes I let myself get carried away with mechanical complexity. I've been trying to avoid that, though...

Stuart said...

How I'm handling magic weapons:

Magic weapons have aspects.

Particularly powerful magic weapons also have fate points that can only be used in conjunction with the weapon.

So: A flaming sword can have the aspect Fiery. The character who uses it can spend their fate points to invoke this in combat (or intimidation), to make declarations about how things got caught on fire, and the like. A powerful flaming sword might have its own pool of fate points that can be used for these purposes.

Mike Olson said...

Weapons have a bonus number of successes that only apply when the attack is successful and effectively make some of these things less expensive. A big axe might be +2 for damage. A rapier might be +1 for combat advantage. A flail might be +1 disarm. Things like that.

I like that -- but I pretty much like anything that lets you use a margin of success for something other than straight effect, so it's an easy sell. Is there a default for those non-damaging effects? Like, if I want to disarm someone using my axe, how many shifts will it cost me?

That would be my only concern with it: the volume of weapon stats I'd have to keep track of. In FATE, I mean -- in lots of other systems, it wouldn't bother me at all.

Years ago, I did some preliminary work on a swashbuckling RPG with this other guy (he was fluff, I was crunch). The combat system was very duel-oriented and involved scoring points, then spending those points to achieve effects, somewhat similar to what you're suggesting here. The downside was that I had to have a fairly sizable list of all the stuff you could spend points on. Plus, if your character had specially trained in, say, disarming, then disarms would be cheaper for him -- and if he'd specially trained in avoiding disarms, then the cost to disarm him was higher. It was intuitive, in a way, but probably way too involved to generate the kind of fast, exciting combats we wanted.

Stuart said...

Mike:

I'm trying to avoid variable costs for effects. Weapons will give you bonuses. Hopefully, that will be the only modifier (other than invoked/tagged aspects).

Stunts/feats (deciding on what to call them) ideally shouldn't give you flat bonuses. That's boring. A feat might make you harder to disarm, but instead of making disarm attempts more expensive when used against you, it might (for instance) let you make an Athletics roll to ignore the disarm. A feat that makes you better at disarming might allow you to damage someone and disarm them with the same attack, provided that you have enough successes to do both (normally you can only buy one effect/attack).

Those are probably a bit too narrow for the sorts of feat/stunts that I'm going for - but that's the philosophy behind it.

I should just blog about this stuff.

Anonymous said...

Have you seen this?

Mike Olson said...

I should just blog about this stuff.

You should! Sounds interesting.

Have you seen this?

I hadn't, but it sounds a lot like No-Stress FATE -- with stress. That is, the way I normally do it, 1-3 stress is a Minor consequence, 4-7 is a Moderate, etc. Fred's essentially adding some buffer to that with stress boxes before each consequence. It's a little different, of course, due to the way +1 stress differs from +1 stress box, but if you took out those stress boxes it'd be nearly identical.

I also briefly considered having high Endurance and Resolve change the ranges for those consequences (e.g., 1-4 instead of 1-3), but since I usually run these games as one-shots at cons, I wanted to avoid anything that would add processing time when teaching new players the game. For the same reason, I wanted to keep the rules consistent from player to player. You might be able to take more Minor consequences than your neighbor, but the condition for receiving those consequences is consistent.