April 5, 2013

Thought Experiment: Kinetic Barriers

Hello Blogosphere, t'is proof I'm among the living yet.

Anyhoo, for a while now, I've been pondering the several approaches one could take to mechanically representing force fields, personal shields, barriers, what have you. Some of this thinking first came from thoughts on how shields would come into play for a Mass Effect campaign setting, but would it become too fiddly to track, especially on multiple opponents. So it became the question; what could I do?

An obvious, easy and unobtrusive direction would be the 'plus' bonuses to armour, as if magical in classic DnD, subtracting from the foe's attack throw. It keeps things simple and abstract, and what would be better in an abstract game?

But that was not the direction I sought, no. The players needed to really feel the effects of a kinetic barrier, especially when fighting the Big Bad Evil Guy of the Week, or other tough opponent. And simply 'missing' their attack rolls round after round makes players feel cheated, as if their attacks simply do an absolute zero.

The first real attempt was instead, borrowed almost whole cloth from the game mechanics of the old skirmish/RPG game, Laserburn. In that game shields could negate the damage of a certain number of attacks (20) before failing, and they had the chances of failing each round anyhoo, just from the volume of attacks inflicted. Explosions could outright destroy or knock out shields. For simplicity's sake, I modified this to three grades of shield: 3 hits, 6, and 9 hits. Explosions took out shields 3 in 6 times. If knocked out, a shield would recharge to 1/2/3 hits at the end of each round with 1/6 chances. Simple right? Mechanically obvious, and dramatic when the Referee exclaims as shields burst and flicker out of existence. But one problem. Lots of logistics to manage for the Ref if a swarm of mooks have shields.

The above idea would work quite well if used in settings where such technology were very rare and/or expensive, especially if it's alien artifact tech.

So where'd I go next? I tried another obvious approach: shields as supplementary "Hits". And made up six levels of shielding, each recharging 1/3 Hits every round not attacked. These escalated by: 3/6/9/12/15/18. The last two levels were reserved for vehicles or shielded pieces of terrain/equipment. Sounded good, but still the logistics in a multi-man-melee bothered me.

Some other mechanics I have thought of follow:

-shield level blocks that number of individual dice of damage until depleted.
-shield blocks 1 damage per die by shield level.

The last two work particularly well for the firearms damage matrix I made, based somewhat on the number/hits inflicted from ranged attacks, from games such as Fokker and Chainmail's archery kills. However, Character Rank + weapon skill improve numbers as opposed to how many people fire. There are four small matrices thus for different types of damage potential.

So, in such a situation, what would you, the reader, do?


  1. Depending on the level of detail involved, I'd have shield negate X number of hits from each individual attack, but if it is hit (negated and non-negated) twice that number in a single turn it fails for the rest of the game. That way the attacker knows he hit but the shield robbed him, but can still damage the target if he pours enough firepower at it.

    1. I like that. Not only does the shield make itself known, but can also be foiled without being too fiddly about it.

  2. Each level of shield has a die type that scales up with better shields - a lvl 1 shield uses a d4, lvl 2 uses d6, lvl 3 uses a d8. After dmg is rolled roll the shield's die and subtract the amount rolled from the damage total.

    Really good shields might have multiple die, mitigating 2d4 points of dmg and such.