Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Rethinking Damage Multipliers

As promised - more combat mechanics for Dying Sun.  As long-time readers will doubtless recall, Dr. Samsara thought he was damn clever in figuring out how to handle differently-sized weapons in his One-Roll Combat system.  I had initially thought to have a simple addition or subtraction to the base damage for Large or Small weapons respectively.  In the comments, the estimable Mark Krawec reminded me of Over the Edge, where weapons had a type of damage multiplier instead.  I really liked that and came up with a simple table:

Tiny Weapons multiply base damage by 1/2
Small Weapons multiply base damage by 1 (i.e. no change)
Medium Weapons multiply base damage by 2
Large Weapons multiply base damage by 3
Huge Weapons multiply base damage by 4

I was really pleased with the simplicity of that.  I carried over from the earlier (separate damage roll) version that Large weapons imposed a -1 to the Combat Roll from unwieldiness.  And done was done.

Except when it isn't.  I'm finding Large weapons to be a bit frustrating in practice.  Let's do one of my famous long and drawn out analyses.  The analysis involves one guy with a Medium weapon (let's say a sword) and one with a Large (let's say a battle-axe)

Both guys get a Combat Roll of 11.  The sword-guy does base damage of 1 x 2=2 points of damage.  It's was a weak hit.  The axe-man in this case misses, because his roll is penalized by 1.  OK, fair enough so far, I guess.

Now they each roll a 12.  Mr. Sword does base 2 x 2 = 4 points of damage.  Capt. Axe is modified down to an 11 and so does base 1 x 3 = 3 points of damage.

When they roll a 13, things finally even out.  The swordsman does base 3 x 2 = 6.  The axe-dude modified down to 12, does base 2 x 3 = 6.

From this point on, the axe-guy is doing more damage.  On a 14, the sword does 8, while the axe does 9.  On 15, the sword does 10 and the axe does 12, and on a 16, the sword does 12 and the axe does 15.

The key here is that it is very difficult to roll a 15 on 2D6.  You have to have some substantial modifiers, which would basically come from pretty high levels.  During low- and mid-levels, you would be lucky to get a 12.  Which, when add in the penalty for not being able to use a shield, makes using a Large weapon pretty much a losing bet at those levels.  The central question:

Is that a problem?

The answer: I'm not sure.  It feels somewhat problematic.  Maybe just because I've been staring at it for too long.  But the germ of this actually came up in a sideways manner when a player asked if he could do Large-weapon damage using a Medium-weapon in both hands.  I was stumped. 

If "yes", then why ever bother to have a Large weapon, if a Medium one gives you the flexibility?  Furthermore, my rationale for levying the penalty to the Combat Roll (unwieldiness) seems weird if using a nice, balanced, not awkward medium-sized weapon in two hands.   But eliminating that penalty would only exacerbate the uselessness of the Large weapon. 

If I say "no" instead (which is what I did in this case to keep the game moving), that feels strange.  The guy tossing aside his battered shield and gripping his sword in both hands to cleave his foe from stem to stern is a part of the genre.

What to do (if something actually needs doing)?

I have thought about falling back to some version my original idea: Large weapons give a bonus to damage.  I had proposed a +2, which, when you factor in the -1 to damage from the penalty to the Combat Roll, is effectively a +1 to damage.  I'm thinking now that maybe that should be upped to +3, for an effective +2.  Why?  Well, that balanced better with the loss of 2 to Defense from not having a shield and means that I could say you get an effective +1 if you use a Medium-weapon in both hands (i.e. if using a two-handed weapon, it makes more sense to use a weapon designed for it, but there is still a benefit to be had).

That's okay.  But I still don't like where that takes me with Small weapons.  Since they don't affect the Combat Roll, to make things symmetrical I would have to give them a -2.  I guess that fairly captures the d4 damage range they have in most versions of YAG, but it shifts the odds way off-kilter so that they basically always do 1 point of damage (i.e. you have to get a roll above 13 to do more than 1).  I really don't like the sound of that.  I could stick with halving on Small and addition on Large, but - dammit - that's so inelegant.

Then I started thinking more (as aside, this usually happens when I wake up at 3.00 am and can't sleep).  I could steer away from the damage aspects altogether and find another way of differentiating weapons of different sizes.  Reach, for example.  Maybe Large weapons all strike first, followed by Medium, and then Small.  That doesn't suck, but I really, really like the simultaneous nature of melee in the game as written so far (and totally stolen from the estimable Calithena, with acknowledgment).

I started coming up with some rules about relative lengths interacting.  That Large weapons get an advantage against Small weapons until the Small weapon guy gets in close, in which case the penalty flips and now the Small weapon gets an advantage.  That's attractive in that I have often wanted to have a system show the advantage of using a dagger in close quarters, but it really goes against the abstract nature of YAG's combat; for RuneQuest, it's fine.

And that's where I am.  Maybe I should forget this entire line of thought?

An Idea for One-Roll Combat for Percentile Systems

I mentioned previously that I have recently gotten ahold of the new Runequest II and have been quite favourably impressed.  The most notable "wow factor" is probably the Combat Maneuvers; I was impressed enough to be inspired to do something along those lines for Under the Dying Sun.   I reread the book again over the holiday weekend (note for non-Yanks: we celebrated our Thanksgiving holiday last Thursday, making it a four-day weekend for most) and found subtleties to the system that I hadn't see before.

But that never stops me from changing things up.  It's what I do.  The idea that popped into my head was to do a One-Roll Combat System, along the lines of the one I came up with for Dying Sun.  I call it one-roll in that "to hit" and "damage" are both factored into the same roll; there are frequently several rolls required in RQ so this term isn't completely accurate.  But good enough.  Oh yes, I do know that there is the thing called the One-Roll Engine.  It doesn't work for me.  It just doesn't, so don't suggest that I check that out. 

Before I present the idea, I think a bit of background maybe in order.  RQ's percentile system is a type of black-jack system, where you want to roll under your skill number, but still roll higher than the other guy.  It's only implemented sometimes, but it's what the core of the system is (or should be).  Thus, in an opposed contest of whatever sort, if both actors make their roll, whoever rolled the higher wins.  This means that having a higher skill value not only gives you a better chance of success (one is more likely to roll on or under 70% than 35%), but also a better chance to make the higher roll (a roll of 60 is a success for the guy with 70%; the guy with 35% can't beat that roll at all except in the slight chance of a critical hit).

Unfortunately for me, RQ has never implemented that core idea as elegantly as I would like.  This particularly irks me in the cases of critical successes, which are achieved not by rolling high, but by rolling low (10% or less or your base chance).  Is that a bad mechanic?  No.  But it's so aesthetically unpleasing and we all know how important that is to me.  So, in addition to making a one-roll, I also want to drop that "roll high except when you want to roll low" business.
That all said, here's the basic idea:

The tens-die tells you how much base damage you have done.

Our first guy from above has "Sword & Shield" at 70% and roll a 27; his base damage is 2.  Had it been 57, his base damage would be 5.

What I like about this idea is that it plays on the blackjack system: you want to roll under your skill, but as high as you can under that.  It also continues the hidden benefits of having a high skill as the more skilled guy can get better base damage than someone less skilled; if you only have a 35% in "Sword & Shield", you can never get more than 3 base damage.

In this system, each weapon would have some sort of damage modifier that works off of the base damage.  I don't know exactly how I would set-up the modifier: whether it is a multiple (as Dying Sun is for now (hint, hint)) or just a straight plus/minus.  Whatever it is, is doesn't involve rolling dice (since that would defeat the point of the whole exercise).

With this idea, the quality of the roll effects the quality of the success.  And frankly, you could leave it at that, but RQ has always had the idea of critical successes.  I have two thoughts on this, one simpler and one that does plays better with the RQII system.  The first idea is a simple critical hit/miss system:

A success that is a doubles, doubles the damage.  A failure that is doubles is a fumble.

So, back to our two foe men.  The guy with 35%, can get a critical success on rolls of 11, 22, and 33, with the resultant base damages of 2, 4, and 6 respectively.  His opponent with the 70% skill, gets a critical on rolls of 11, 22, 33, 44, 55, and 66.  On that later roll, he would do base damage of 12, which is pretty hot.    But if he had rolled 77, 88, or 99, he would have fumbled (and RQ has always had fun with fumbling).

I have to be honest, I find calculating 10% of a skill on the fly somewhat difficult.  Yes, that may be pathetic, but it is what it is.  So this idea makes me happier.  Plus, what we get again is that the higher the skill, the better the chance of getting a critical success, the better the quality of the critical successes, and the less chance of getting a fumble.  That later one pleases me as I have also never cared for RQ's fumble calculations either which is roll low, but not too low, but not too high either".

What we don't get here is a clear blackjack mechanic.  Does that matter?  I don't know; I kinda like this doubles thing.   But we also don't have Combat Maneuvers here, so one might change the idea so as to say that rolling doubles makes critical success and drop the doubling of damage thing as that is folded into the Maneuvers system.

Maybe once we finish this DC Adventures game, I'll try out RQII with these rules.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Stuff Still Happening

Despite my quietness here, stuff still happens.  Like a phoenix from its ashes, my real-world gaming group has been resurrected.  It was small before (3 guys) and losing one seemed fatal, but we have added three new fellas and look to be getting back on track.  We're playing through what I guess you might call an "adventure path" for Labyrinth Lord in a setting heavily-influenced by Vance's Lyonesse books.  We're reaching the end of that now and might be playing DC Adventures next.  While I can't claim to be thrilled with that choice, I feel it's fair enough to let somebody else choose the game and give it try.

I've also been running another Dying Sun play-test and again finding out that there are a bunch of stupid things still in the there.  For instance, my missile weapon ranges are buggered to hell and back.  More importantly, I'm finding that my rules for Large weapons may not work as well as I wanted.  Which means - that's right - expect more posts about Combat Mechanics in the near-future.

Finally, there is a potentially very exciting thing (well, exciting to me) going on that I can't talk about.  So why bring it up?  Because it's eating up a lot of my mental resources right now.  I should be ignoring it and getting back to work on UtDS, but I keep thinking of stuff for this other thing that I can't talk about.  Ah well.

Friday, November 19, 2010

More Geekery: My Booklets

Fresh off the presses:

Many thanks to my unwitting office equipment.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Urban Dungeon

I don't recall where I first heard this idea; probably Grognardia, but when a guy posts as prolifically as James, it is all but impossible to search around the archive and find soemthing.  Anyway, the idea was to have an abandoned city as a dungeon.  What that means, specifically, is that movement would restricted in the same way that it is in a subterranean dungeon; the characters can't just climb over buildings.  Not sure I am explaining it all that well, but it's late on a Friday afternoon.  

The point is that I was just idly looking at the old TSR Lankhmar: City of Adventure from 1985 (I think).  It had this booklet with some ridiculous AD&D write-ups for the daring duo, some maps of the various districts of the City of Black Togas, and then a bunch of city geomorphs to be placed in the city as needed.  And it occurs to me that this would work really well for the urban dungeon.  The district maps are probably a bit too much, but the geomorphs are at a much larger scale and are already on gridlines.

One of the appeals of the urban dungeon to me, is that there is an underlying rationale for all these rooms.  I'm afraid I have a lot of trouble with fun-house dungeons or even the regular old dungeons with a bunch of rooms randomly placed in a building.  Who builds like that?  I get how it works in Castle Greyhawk (insane mega-wizard does it for fun), but it gets old after awhile.  A city has some reasoning behind it, but not too much.  There was no real urban planning, but buildings do have to fit together in a city, unlike in a dungeon.

Maybe it's just me, but this has a weird appeal.  It might work really well to give you a Red Nails kinda location.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Groomsmen: Beloved of Death

Groomsmen (Red Monks)
No. Appearing: 3D
Size: Medium
Armour Class/Defense: 1 / 1
Move: 30’
Hit Dice: 1+2 (8)
Attacks: 1+1 (Large Sword)
Modes: 11+ chance for sorcery
Disciplines: 11+ chance for sorcery
Special: Class Abilities: 1st level Slayer
Morale: Never check
Treasure: Type 1
XP: 1

Groomsmen are seemingly-normal human beings; they are also homicidal maniacs.  They belong to the dreaded Cult of the Red Bride, a sect devoted to the spread of death.  They symbolically marry themselves to death, who they represent as a beautiful woman covered in blood and gore, with a two-handed sword in her grasp.

Whether these men are driven insane during their secret ordination rituals or were crazy to begin with is a topic of some idle conversation in the markets of the world.  Certainly something is done to them upon ordination for the eyes of a Groomsman are inhuman: deep black windows into the void.  Should, a PC gaze into the eyes of Red Monk, they must make a WIS Throw or fight at a -2 due to unease and fear; NPC’s must make Morale Rolls and suffer -2 unless they score an Extremely Positive result.

The Groomsmen, who are more often called "the Red Monks" by outsiders, wander the world in small bands and attempt to kill anything they meet.  Although these “human locusts” present no real threat to walled cities, they are frightening terrors to the smaller habitations under the Dying Sun.  Many villages have been utterly destroyed by larger bands of Groomsmen.  They themselves know no fear, nor anything other than the need to present deaths to their beloved Bride; they never check Morale and will fight even in obviously suicidal circumstances.  Red Monks wear light armour underneath scarlet robes, with cowls over their faces, belted at the waist with linked human vertebrae.  They wield two-handed swords of iron and have few other possessions.

Most Groomsmen are 1st level Slayers, specialized in the greatsword (which counter-acts the usual -1 penalty from Large weapons).  For ever 5 Groomsmen encountered, there will be an additional “Elder Brother”, a Red Monk who has somehow survived to make it to 2nd level.  Elder Brothers have an additional Hit Die (12 Hit Points), a further +1 to Combat Roll, and Mass Slaughter giving them 2 attacks versus 1 Hit Die foes.  Whether or not there are any Red Monks who have survived to higher levels is unknown.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Artifact: Somatic Restoriation Matrix

Somatic Restoration Matrix (Super-Heroic -8 to Decipher)

A bizarre assemblage copper and glass tubing filled with vari-coloured liquids all surrounding a hollow crystal larger than a man.  The Matrix is able to restore (or more accurately, “recreate”) a living organism to full health and with it’s natural complement of appendages whether the subject is alive or dead.  To do this, the subject must be placed into the crystal, which fills with various solutions that break down the subject into his component parts for analysis.  This is fairly unpleasant if the subject is still alive, although he won’t be for long.  After that, the Matrix will “grow” a new version of the subject in the prime of health and with all the memories of the original. This restoration process takes some six weeks to complete.

The legendary God-King of Karch was reputed to have such an Artifact, which was the secret to his seeming-immortality. It is said that a treacherous wife (one of the infamous 1,001 Brides) broke the Matrix after the God-King had allowed himself to be dissolved, but before he had regrown to more than a lump of protoplasm. What happened to the protoplasm is unknown.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Places under the Dying Sun: The Sea of Bones

The Sea of Bones (10 XP)
Beyond the Tharian Hills, far to the west of mighty Hajal, lies the much-storied Sea of Bones.  Uncounted years ago, before the birth of the grandfathers of the eldest, the mighty Grand Dukes of the East, whose wealth and power exceeded the dreams of the grandest dreamer, met the heretofore unstoppable Kerchak Horde, whose fury and lust for destruction exceeded the nightmares of the most timid, upon a grassy plain whose original name has been lost to time.  The Horde of the Supreme Khan was so vast that the thunder of their hooves could be heard in the Hegemony of Ashok,beyond the Valley of Mariners, and the people marveled at the ceaseless thunder without a storm.  The united armies of the Grand Dukes were so large that the feet of the marching men carved a great rift in the earth, which is still visible in the Aeon of the Dying Sun. And when the two sides finally met in clash of arms, the force of their violence was such that the entire earth could feel the ground shake so that all feared the end of this world had come at last.

Some say that the vast hosts fought together for a year and a day without end, with some going so far as to say that the Sun took fright and refused to leave the Underworld so that no man could truly say how long the battle lasted without means of reckoning the passage of time; others, such as the anonymous scribe of the Faresian Chronicles, assert that the destructive power of each side was so tremendous that the great battle took but the span of a man’s breath.  Whatever the case, all agree that every man there was killed and no living thing remained on the plains of forgotten name. That once-grassy plain was turned, in a year or an instant, into a vast sea of death, shadowed for miles around by the flight of carrion-beasts, which blotted out even the fiery Noon-time sun.

Yet the sloth and avarice of Men knows no bounds and soon human ravens descended upon that place to loot the bodies of the fallen.  And there was much to be scavenged, for the armies of the Grand Dukes were arrayed with such finery as none now living have ever seen and the Kerchak Horde had spent the previous decade plundering the uncounted wealth of the Far Lands.  But no matter what treasure was prised from the dead hands of the fallen soldiers, no scavenger was ever satisfied for each hoped to find the bodies of the Grand Dukes of the East, to whom mere wealth was the slightest possession.  It is said that one of the Grand Dukes rode a magnificent steed made all of gold to the final battle; another wielded a mace whose head was a perfect diamond of a size exceeding a man’s face and of a colour which no longer exists; a third Grand Duke is rumoured to have brought a personal bodyguard carved out of green jade who could not be slain by ordinary means; while a fourth wore an impenetrable suit of mail made of stars that had been forged in the heart of the sun.  Many stories there were and are of the surpassing splendour of the Grand Dukes of the East and many longed to find and loot their corpses with a passion that overwhelmed all other considerations. Yet there are no tales of even one of the Grand Dukes ever being found.

Today, the Sea of Bones is vast wasteland, so filled with the ancient remains of the great battle that the earth beneath is entirely obscured. For all practical purposes, the ground of the Sea is bone, human and animal.  Virtually every other substance has either rotted away over the centuries or been looted, yet the faint odour of decay somehow remains.  There is no vegetation and, since the carrion disappeared, no natural animal life either.  The only exception are the Scavenger Clans.

Travel upon or through the Sea of Bones is thus an unpleasant, eerie experience.  Animals that are not familiar with the area become very tense and can act in unpredictable ways; some people behave likewise.  Although there are areas at the periphery where the bone has become ground down, from the passage of feet, into a fine powder, in most places traversing the Sea of Bones means picking a way through a thick layer of remains, some of which are heaped together in piles exceeding a man's height.  Travel times are multiplied three-fold in this place and dangerous, even fatal, falls are not uncommon.

And yet there are some few merchants, crazy or desperate, who travel to the Sea of Bones, to trade with the Scavenger Clans.  The Scavengers are an unpleasant lot, largely composed of the descendants of those who came centuries ago to loot, supplemented by the occasional desperate misfit with nowhere else to go. Mutant and barbarian, the Scavengers are ignorant, malnourished, greedy, territorial, suspicious, unpredictable, and extremely in-bred.  Congenital diseases of various unpleasant sorts of common.  Most know of no other life beyond the Sea, being the off-spring of those consumed by lust for the treasures of the dead and learning such lust themselves to the exclusion of all else.  Without any natural resources, however, the Scavengers would all die, but for those merchants who are willing to venture into this place, bringing food, water, and other goods in exchange for the ancient loot still torn up by the residents.   The Scavengers have very little sense of the value of their items, since they have no frame of reference anymore; they regard everything as “treasure”.  Some few merchants have made their fortunes and retired as a result of a single, fortuitous exchange in the Sea of Bone; many others have met their deaths due to some unprovoked outburst of violence.

But there are worse fates than simply dying.  A number of travelers and traders have reported uncanny, manlike forms moving through the bones at night, with only the gleam of their red eyes to see them.  Unearthly keening noises have also been noted.  And bones have been noticed which are both fresh and gnawed upon, although there is no animal life. Some have suggested than at least some of the Scavenger Clans have turned to cannibalism and degenerate ghouls are the result. They say that the more human Scavengers trade only to lure fresh meat into the Sea of Bones.

All animals not bred in the Bone Lands become extremely skittish there. Any attempt to make animals perform even the most routine actions requires a Reaction Roll.  Any action which would normally require such a roll, suffers a -2 penalty.  Similarly, most NPC's need to make  Morale Roll upon entering the Sea of Bones and every day thereafter, rolling at a -2 when confronted by violence.

The Sea of Bones can serve as the reputed resting place of any fabulous artifact the GM needs. The Grand Dukes possessed anything and everything desirable, according to the legend, so if it’s something that a PC or NPC might want, it might be there somewhere (or again, it might not).  It can also serve as a destination for trade, if the PC’s find themselves desperate for cash and fall into the job of guarding a merchant train.  The tensions inherent in the bottom-feeding traders ultimately seeking the same things as the crazed, starving Scavengers can easily lead to violence.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Back in September, I posted about my dissatisfaction at the asymmetry of the my Psychic Combat Modes.  In play-testing the other day, a thought hit me: most of the physical combat rules assume that you are using deadly force, but all of the psychic combat rules are based on that assumption.  The one really big difference is that there is an option for non-deadly physical fighting i.e. grappling.  So, perhaps a psychic grappling might serve as the solution to my aesthetic dilemma?  Instead of doing direct Ability-damage, like the other Attack Modes, a successful psychic grapple would freeze you into inaction.

What I particularly like about that option is that as normal grappling is STR-based, I can make psychic grappling CHA-based and fill that one missing slot.  Kallos, baby!  The grappled guy has to make a CHA Throw to escape, just as the wrestled guy has to make a STR Throw.

Of course, there are still some details to work out.  In physical grappling, the attacker has the option of squeezing the victim on subsequent rounds to do damage or to throw the victim.  Should mental grappling have the same options?  Although it sounds dangerously asymmetrical, my instinct is to say "no", but I'm not quite sure why.

Another thought is the applicability of the mental grapple.  This touches on a subject that has been bothering me for some while: should there be some kind of Attack Mode that works against the non-psychics?  YAG provided for that possibility (through some ridiculously complicated rules).  I decided against it fairly early on and was working from the idea that having psychic sorcery was, potentially, as much burden as benefit, because it opened you up to the possibility of psychic combat.  And I still like that idea.  

But, something else that came out of play-testing brought this up again.  You will doubtless recall my struggles over Scorpion Man benefits and drawbacks.  One of the ways that I have addressed that is that I have removed psychic potential from the Akrab.  They are now the only playable species that can't have sorcery.  That was a suggestion from Drew and make so much sense I kind of had to wonder why the hell I hadn't thought of it.  The alien bug-men have different brains that the humans?  Shocker.  But, going back to the past paragraph, that isn't as much of a drawback as it might seem because it makes them invulnerable to psychic combat.

So, I'm considering making psychic grappling the one Mode that can affect anybody.  That then brings up another consideration.  The Psionics of YAG had it that every psionic would get the Empty Mind Mode.  So should Mental Grapple be the automatic first Attack Mode that all sorcerer's get?  Or do you just take your chances?