May 25, 2012

Thoughts on More-Lethal Combat.

Today we see me actually adding something to the blog, fancy that! In other news, I would like to return to my thoughts on hit points, the abstractions of combat, and how much fun it is to see experienced characters collapse, lifeless forever more.

First however, the topic is the dreaded fire-arm, and its place in the role-playing game. Often scorned in fantasy settings, the efficient, ranged killing device is a common staple of any setting not historical or Tolkien-esque fantasy. I've nothing against the primitive handgonne (sp?) in my backwards fantasy, given that guns, bombs and roman fire are all staples of my favorite sort of fantasy trope, the alchemist.

At the table (when it is mine), my methods are often criticized, mocked even, for it is the players' opinions that they don't "do enough damage." Why so, you or I might ask? Simple: the concept any grognard (or reader of the old scrolls) knows; that a dagger is just as capable of ending one man's life as a spear, though perhaps not that far back (we're talking the variable damage days of that mentality.) Given that a common man usually has 1-6 hit points (average 3-4), I'd based the damages dealt by fire-arms (per bullet) to this standard. Below is a quick list of some guns :

Handgun             - 1-6
Handgun, heavy  - 1-8
Machine Pistol    - 1-4
Pocket Pistol      - 1-4
Rifle, civilian       - 1-6
Rifle, military      - 2-7
Rifle, target        - 2-12
Shotgun, break   - 1-10
Shotgun, pump   - 2-9
Sub-machine gun- 1-6

To an unarmored man, each of these looks to be a fair bet dead, no? Of course, explaining the concept of variable weapon damage, and how it applies to normal men, removes any doubt that my weapons are too "weak," but what it doesn't make up for is how leveled-up characters can survive multiple 'hits', especially in settings like Metamorphosis Alpha. Everyone has so many hit points it's crazy. But back to the leveled characters; my views of hit points have changed some since last I spoke of the matter here, but more or less, I hold to that Arnesonian view of hit points as a "hard-to-kill" rating. In movies we see several instances of the big, strong character taking many bullets before he collapses in death, but how does this work for all Player Characters?

My point, if it can be found somewhere, is when does the character "just die?" This train of thought is one I've often boarded, but only yesterday had I started to actually remember *why* I board it. In Supplement II: Blackmoor, we find a juicy little tidbit that shares my interests in death by common sense: "roll of 19+ (95%+, in any case) — victim seized & severed," as written for the giant crocodile entry. Given the strength and ferocity these creatures can put into ravaging their prey, this is perfect sense for the outcome of a croc, especially a giant version, grabbing a poor, poor human.

This returns to the mentality I've had with a rules system I've been writing on and off for mostly science fiction games of a specific setting. The system follows that the first value of hit points are a character's true "hit points" in the physical damage sort of way, and that later pips gained through the leveling system we all love (or hate and despise) merely increase that "harder-to-kill/hit" value of the character. It also goes on to mention at the section's end, that where common sense dictates, even those at top condition may be claimed by death.

How death by common sense and fire-arms correlate is that I'm somewhere at an impasse between abstraction and easy death for the system. It is predominantly science fiction, so long arms would be fairly common, so following this mentality, I cannot decide if guns should have some (even if small) chance to outright kill both players and monsters alike, if not give them injuries, and if so, should other weapons as well? Being a long-time player of the older video games, there's an inherent interest in the death spiral, given that "bosses" in these games get stronger as their life closes. The death spiral is very self-explaining, and to many people, "no fun," but to me, the abstraction of D&D combat, with no reduction in abilities all the way till 'just dead,' is no worse, nor greater.

So anyway, for more-lethal fire-arms, I was thinking something like this (D&D-isms for reader convenience): on a natural roll of  19+, or maybe 20, characters and comparable non-players are subject to more-lethal damage. Then roll for hit location.

 1          Head
2-4        Trunk
 5          Arm
 6          Leg

1. Injury to the head is fatal with failed Save vs Death (at +1 with helmets). Character stunned for 1-6 turns. Halves current Hit Points.
2-4. Injury to trunk is fatal with failed Save vs Death (at +1/+2?). Makes character easier to hit by 2 until properly healed.
5. Injury to arm lessens chance to hit by 2. Reduces hit points by 2 (subdual).
6. Injury to leg halves movement for duration. Reduces current hit points by 4 (subdual).

How does that seem? It's simple, to the point, and dangerous. My games don't want to focus around a lot of status affectors like busted limbs, allergies and bad colds, but sometimes injuries and other incidents make for more varied and interesting situations. The further reduction in hit points from torso and head wounds does cause a death spiral, but it does emulate the sudden shock and slowing from an obvious wound, therefore lessening the character's "hard-to-kill."

Whaddya' think? Yea, or nay? It's to be a suggested, though unnecessary ruling that has yet to be tested in game situations. I really don't enjoy the "my precious PC" mentality, and am also an advocate for Saves versus Death too, in case that wasn't clear.

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