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?


  1. I like the damage differences for size. The length rules...well, its accurate I guess, but I think it begins to had a level of complication that jsut bogs things down.

  2. Hmmmmm... tricky problem.
    If you were using APs (Action Points), things would even out. Let's say that the damage multiplier also counts how many actions are needed to attack with the weapon. The guy with the dagger could get 2 shots in, the small sword one, the medium every 2nd round, the large every 3rd, etc. Makes weapon choice all the more important, and doesn't add complication, but players are apt to hate the wait. As for initiative, make that a 'reality check' rule. The dagger guy goes first if he's inside the enemy's guard, otherwise the larger weapon can keep him at bay.

    Good luck finding a solution

  3. Yeah, ultimately I feel that way too. But which damage difference rules?

  4. Have you ever considered inverting the issue? Making sure that the damage they choose is the issue your after rather than the weapon? A smaller weapon is light enough to strike several times, where a heavy one flies and must be righted and readied for another attack.

    Abstractly speaking the pay-offs for both even out depending on how you simplify things.

    One of the best solutions I saw for heavy weapons was not more damage, but side effects that the damage could implement. A heavy hammer or mace does knockdown, or stunning, a polearm sunders armor, or whatever.

  5. You may find it useful to think of "effective attack attempts" rather than just "attack attempts". Often game designers will say that since the dagger is lighter and faster, one should get more attacks with a dagger than with a greatsword.

    In actuality, the greatsword will (in most cases) have lots more opporunities to attack than the dagger due to the superiority of that weapon (in most instances).

    ~Adaen of Bridgewater