Sunday, December 28, 2014

Magic and danger warnings from the past

This sign is well known today. Even if you don't know English it still means something. The three triangle like figures and the dot in the center are clear indications of radiation. In a Mad Max, Twilight 2000, or any other near future apocalypse anyone would be aware of its message. What about 1000 years in to the future?

2000? 10000?

What if pyramids in Egypt were radioactive waste disposal units. Archaeologists in the future (today for us) enter these "tombs" and find all sorts of stuff and a lot of writing. They're marveled at it. Amazed by it. They take endless notes of these hieroglyphics which all say pretty much the same: "Death awaits you here, keep out!" Many of them die later of unknown causes. A myth about a curse arises. The curse of an old evil king's mummy. Get what I'm getting at?

Imagine is this is a radiation warning. There's a sphere and thing flying out to hit people.

What would you consider universal warning sign for magic? Remember the species that made the sign may not be around anymore. So a sign of a human like creature attacking a kobold like creature may not be effective if a human observes it and it doesn't know what a kobold is. One of those medieval paintings of a knight killing a dragon may not seem like a "beware dragon" warning to a lizard type creature.

These for example are really bad warning signs for visitors in the far future.

Got an idea for a good sign? Share it with us!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Strength as a firearm damage modifier

Strength is commonly used as a damage modifier with melee weapons, but what about firearms or crossbows for that matter (specially the heavy medieval ones). Should STR increase damage by such weapons and why?

Crossbows store their energy in a metal bow (also called limb, lath or prod). In the heavier models this is pulled by a set of pulleys in such a way that the crossbow can store more energy than what a normal human can pull. This makes it seem  like the amount of energy in the bow (and thus the bolt) can be independent of the crossbowman's strength. The same reasoning goes into guns. After all gunpowder isn't going to burn faster or brighter because one's character is stronger.

So why should strength relate to damage? My reasoning behind this is weapon weight and momentum. The bigger the bow the heavier it is. The bigger the bullet, the bigger the gun and also the recoil associated with firing the gun. As I mentioned previously in this article (Aiming, what is it and what's its worth?), aim is strongly related to damage. A sure shot is more damaging that a flesh would and certainly more so than a miss. The stronger the character the firmer the aim and the surer the shot. The stronger the character the better recoil will be handled (an issue with magically reloading crossbows too).

Something also goes on with small weapons. Being humans are not hydraulic and all, high strength is usually associated with a bigger body. A small weapon may simply be too small for the character's hand. Too much strength and too small a gun may be actually counterproductive. There's a sweet spot after which added strength becomes counter-productive.

So it isn't about having the maximum possible amount of strength, but rather having the right strength for the weapon at hand. This is something we may lose sight of in escalating-hit-point games in which the first round of combat most surely will not be the last. But when the first round may be the only round of combat making sure your character hits first and hits well is of vital importance. Having the right strength becomes more important than having the best strength. Take a moment to think how this relates to character building as well as gender and racial differences. It seems my halfling no longer requires the Desert Eagle to be effective in battle! Thank goodness, those bullets were costing me a small fortune.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Aiming, what is it and what's its worth?

So in RPGs we're used to rolling dice to see if we hit. These rolls are in turn modified by skill and in some cases aimed or called shots. If the resulting roll is successful we then roll damage and see how much the "bad guy" got hurt. So for example if my character (Ghost) wants to hit her target I see the character's skill, if the target is moving, the range to the target etc., and come with a value say 14. If I roll 14 or higher the shot hit and then I roll for the damage, say for example 2d6 and I get 12, 8, 2, 6, whatever.

Now here's what I think after this weekend's hands on experience. This model doesn't relate too well with gathered data. See the image to the right--->

That's my target after I filled it up with lead from an M4. Notice how all the shots except one are on target and in the red area. There's one shot that's off target right below the ear, but it has its matching double tap shot right on the thyroid. So no, the target didn't make it.

This is the first time I ever fired an M4 and the third time I fired such a weapon, being the first time the AK47 followed by the FN SCAR I fired shortly before. After about 10 shots I was double tapping pretty well. I highlighted four points with bright red dots, those are a double tap to the chest quickly followed by a double tap to the head. Those are "game over" shots for the target and somehow the game rules are telling me I have to roll for damage? Come on!!! Please!

Call me gifted if you want and I'm quite aware that the target is not moving and above all it isn't shooting back, but since when has that been taken into consideration in mainstream games? If the target is, for all practical purposes, standing still while talking with another NPC and totally unaware of my character or if my character wins initiative in the midst of battle the attack roll is pretty much the same. Roll 14 or better and I get to roll damage. Now if I roll 14, 18 or 20 I still roll damage and in that case I can roll a 2 as easily as a 12. This model no longer makes sense to me.

Skill is no longer related to aim, I mean I've got practically no experience and still scored some pretty good shots. Aim in turn isn't related to damage. I put a couple of rounds on the target's heart and head and I still need to roll damage? Really? Fear and movement are not well represented. More so, many players shun from morale checks and related rolls which hamper the character's performance. I'm certain my aim wouldn't be so precise if I had bullets flying my way, and if I was moving and so was my target. In this case timing and not aim is what matters most. Not only who gets the shot off first, but also the damage that shot does and how much said damage is capable of stopping the opponent from firing back.

I believe there should be a strong relationship between initiative and aim. The better I want the aim to be the less prone I am of winning initiative. Skill should not be applied so much to aim as it should to initiative. Saying this in another way, skill should be "offloaded" to initiative because adding mor skill to an almost certain shot is of no value. So being cool and in control and not trigger happy nor prone to fire before aiming is the mark of skill and experience. Although it makes sense to apply skill to aim, at short ranges skill is more relevant to initiative, and this is seldom the mechanics I see in games. Damage in turn should be related to the attack roll, or more precisely to the body part hit, and not some random roll based purely on the ammo's specs.

How does this relate to Saints and Sinners? To answer this let me break this into attack roll, damage roll and initiative.

Attack Roll
In S&S fire arm attacks are skill checks against the range's difficulty. My character is given a set of dice to roll given her skill with a certain weapon and the target's range determines the difficulty. At short ranges like 30 to 50 yards the shot is trivial and even a barely skilled character has a chance of scoring a hit. An unskilled character, one who just picks up the weapon and fires (supposing no loading is required) has a 33% chance of hitting and a skilled character (the likes of me with a bit more experience, but no real training) has a 52% of hitting. An expert would have somewhere around 88% chance of hitting. This is pretty consistent with what I observed. The odds of missing at such range are slim. It's not a question of if I'm going to hit, but rather when and if it will matter at all by then. If I put in a +3 modifier for static target the odds go up to 50%, 70% and 95% respectively.

Damage is one thing I think I got right in S&S. There is a random aspect related to the weapon's ammo, but damage is strongly modified by the area getting hit. Lower leg and arm areas add a penalty to damage, while torso and head shots add a strong bonus to damage. In that sense there is a strong relationship between impact point and damage. Impact point is in turn determined by exposed areas and attack roll. A roll that beats the required value by 10 or more is marked as outstanding success and calls for a critical hit on the target. A torso hit becomes a critical hit to a vital organ. A head shot goes into the brain, main arteries, throat, or spinal cord area. Both are surely incapacitating and almost certainly lethal shots.

The skill levels mentioned in the attack roll section (unskilled, skilled and expert) which had a 50%, 70% and 95% chance of scoring a hit respectively would have a 8%, 18% and 53% of scoring a critical and almost certainly game stopping shot. So while the expert character has only twice the odds of hitting a target than the unskilled character does, the expert has an almost 7 times greater chance of having that shot be a killer critical hit.

Initiative in S&S in not a comparison of individual die rolls by all players, it's a roll below attribute check against the character's mettle score. Whoever rolls the lowest relative to the character's mettle score wins the initiative. If character A has an 18 mettle and character B has a 14 mettle score and character A rolls a 12 and character B rolls a 10, character A wins the initiative because the roll is 6 (18-12) below mettle while B's is only 4 below (14-10). This difference is actual game time measured in quarter second intervals. In this case A beats B by half a second.

Now a character can trade in aim for speed at a rate of one difficulty per beat (equal to 4 initiative tics). Character B being an expert can trade in aiming skill for speed and get an advantage with a high enough odds to score a hit. The character's initiative goes from 4 below to 8 below and beats character A's roll of 6 below. With the modified attack roll character B has an 87% chance of scoring a hit (down from 95) and a 32% chance of that hit being a critical life threatening shot.

If I'm character A I'm at a loss now. I'm getting my shot off half a second later with an odds of hitting of 70% vs my opponent's odd of hitting of 87%. The catch is that my opponent's shot has a 32% chance of being immediately life threatening while mine has only an 18% chance.

So so far I like what I see. The rules seem to be more consistent with reality and give the truly skilled shooter a tangible advantage over the unskilled or weekend shooter. What do you think?

PS : There are a few elements I'm leaving for an upcoming post on handguns. These cover single and double action weapons, adrenaline and suppression (the effect from a shot that misses but comes close enough to cause fear). More on that coming soon, stay tuned.

Some hands on research

Had a great time yesterday doing some hands on research for Saints & Sinners at the shooting range. Boy has this given me food for though and a lot of ideas particularly related to character generation and skills.

I've to to give thanks to +Robert Brumbelow and +Jonathan Henry for making this possible and of course to all those who've also contributed by paying for a copy of Saints and Sinners, rest assured the money has been well spent and I hope this leads to an even better second edition.

I had the opportunity to test a broad set of weapons at the range and get of feeling of some of the stuff that's not on the weapon's description and some of the stuff we don't like to hear in the game, things like jams and misfires (of which I was fortunate to get a few). The weapons I tried out were the AK-47, M4 (suppressed), FN SCAR, SIG226, Desert Eagle, CZ75, Glock 17 and a pump action 12 gauge shotgun (let's not forget the zombies!!!).

The experience gave me insight into many aspects that differentiate one weapon from another even when the caliber is the same and also a lot of insight into issues that get overlooked which lead to easy min-maxing. Without these elements at play the easy choice is to gear up my character with the Desert Eagle and the FN SCAR because they've got the biggest most bad ass high damage rounds. Instead, my choice is the M4 and the SIG226. Why? They just felt better and I did better with them. No point in having the most damaging weapon if you can't hit shit.

Now I'm no expert in firearms, not by a long shot; before this I had only fired a handful of rounds and this day probably increased my total twenty-fold at least. I'm also quite aware that practice makes perfect; so a lot of the issues I'll be rising can be overcome by training. Yet role playing games isn't always about playing the super expert character or having the weapon of choice at hand.

My goal in the upcoming series of posts is to narrate my experiences, what I learned from them and in what way they can help make a better game in which character and weapon have more depth than just character attributes and weapon stats. To put a term to it I'd call it weapon personality. When character personality and weapon personality match you get something that is more than the sum of the individual parts. I also want to take a second look at initiative, because, guess what, paper targets don't shoot back! Initiative is usually the underdog of rules and mechanics. A simple system that lacks a means to portray skill and character determination and also lacks a means to relate to aim and hit rolls.

What do you think? Are there guns that just feel right and which your character would prefer over meaner looking more powerful ones? What makes them feel "right"? What advantage (if any) does this provide in the games you play and what advantages do you think it should provide?