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.
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