Friday, October 10, 2014

Getting Folks Down

[AKA "Considering the Role of Unarmed Attacks in Abstract Combat"]

I'm a combat-phile. I'm a pacifist in real life and spend mucho time explaining to my child why violence is a terrible, terrible thing. I'm anti-war, anti-gun...hell, I'm pretty much anti-professional fighting (including boxing).

[yes, I realize there is a degree of violence in American football and that this is part of its appeal as a sport...we all draw the line at the hypocrisies we're willing to live with]

And yet the study of violence, weapons, and combat...both historical and present a personal, unreasonable, serious interest of mine. Actually, "interest" might not be a strong enough term, though "passion" is probably too strong. I've previously speculated that in a past life I was probably some sort of bookie or super-fan of gladiatorial death sports, and this contributes to my semi-obsession. If I was an actual warrior (or someone who died by violence) I would likely not be so attracted to combat this life around.

But, ya' know what? Past life speculation is mostly mental masturbation, if perhaps slightly more practical (from a developmental standpoint) than researching poleaxes. I accept the dichotomy of my weirdness. And besides, this is a gaming blog with an emphasis on D&D, right? My readers will forgive my masturbatory research on bloodletting a lot faster than my digressions on goofy woo-woo New Age stuff.

Such is the blog-o-sphere in which we reside.

So...I'm a combat-phile: a real Martian (i.e. of the Mars persuasion), at least when it comes to favorite subjects of study. And so it is that I dig on trying to model cool combat stuff in my gaming, even as I try to make gaming about something other than combat.

[maybe I should be playing 4th Edition...Jeez!]

And when I find another combat-phile (professed or not) floating around the blog-o-sphere, I can purloin "food for thought" for days. Such is the case with Mr. Taylor's Spells & Steel blog. The particular blog posts I'm waxing on today can be found here and here. The quick summary:
  • Even in armed combat, the empty hand and grappling (locks, throws, and strikes) was immensely important to medieval combat, and
  • His design concepts for allowing unarmed maneuvers to occur on "critical" attack rolls (and how he chooses to model these types of attack)
Now for me, I am not interested in modeling actual, specific, blow-by-blow opinion has been (and continues to be) that abstract combat system plus active imagination provides the potential for far more realism than turn-by-turn, tactical detail...and at the same time has the greater potential for cinematic, flamboyant combat, too.

[sorry, Brian Gleichman...this is not the least of things on which we disagree]

An attack roll tells you whether or not you were successful at inflicting damage on your opponent (and using my revised combat system, it also tells you how successful you were if you did, in fact, succeed). The detail of what happens in a given round is a matter of the narration provided by the DM (and/or player) based on the amount of damage inflicted. It is presumed that a proficient fighter using an arming sword (or whatever) is elbowing and punching and rapping the guy with the pommel in addition to "cutting-and-thrusting." If the damage inflicted is less than mortal, the narration can (and maybe should) include some sort of unarmed, non-blade/bloodletting action.

Having said that, there's something about the concept of downing your opponent that begs to be modeled.

Historically, armored knights were juggernauts on the tanks in an age that was conspicuously lacking in efficient anti-tank weapons. The best, surest way to kill an armored man was to get him on him back and drive a long, sharp weapon through a visor slit or a chink in the guy's carapace. Even Chainmail (ahh...again with the much-beloved Chainmail) models this in their man-to-man combat mechanics. The 2D6 roll needed to kill a man in plate armor is:

Dagger: 12
Sword: 10
Spear: 11
Pole Arm: 9

However, in all of these weapons, the target number drops to 7 if the opponent is "dismounted and prone." Unfortunately, as far as I can tell there are no rules in Chainmail for getting a man prone.

Footing, or lack thereof, can be a decisive factor in hand-to-hand combat. Bad footing (specifically, being bogged down in a muddy battlefield) is what allowed Henry V to achieve such an incredibly lopsided victory against the French in the Battle of Agincourt

And, so it is that I've been spending a little time working on the subject of how to get folks in down on the ground.

The number of weapons in my new heartbreaker are fairly limited...moreso even than the weapon list of B/X (which is quite a bit more limited than later editions of D&D). The reasons for this will (perhaps) be explained in a later post...but for the most part, weapons have a maximum damage rating of six, meaning that (without adjustment for high strength) the best damage one can achieve is six points, by rolling six over the defensive class ("AC") of an opponent. Just to reiterate, the "attack roll" is your die roll to see how effective you were at inflicting damage upon your opponent in the (10 second) melee round...a minimal success means only minimal damage was inflicted. In terms of locks  (for damage) and strikes (for damage), this is inclusively assumed within the (gauged success) of the attack roll. Breaking a dude's arm, or giving him deep bleeder might be the result of 4 or 5 damage (depending on the number of HPs the opponent has) while punching him in the gut or clubbing him with the hilt of you weapon might represent 1 or 2 damage. Okay?

But what about throws and takedowns? These bestow an effect on an opponent (what 5th Edition might call "conditions") along with the possible addition of damage (depending on how hard the opponent hits the dirt). I don't have "critical hits" like Mr. Taylor (though rolling high is a better success than just barely hitting one's target number), so I have to consider a different mechanic to impose my will on my opponent, and I think the best way to do so is by sacrificing damage inflicted. an attacker, you can choose to lose four points from the damage of a successful attack in order to down your opponent. This means you cannot "down" an opponent unless your attack roll is at least moderately successful (four over the target needed to hit), and it limits the amount of damage inflicted to 0-2 (unless the person doing the throwing is exceptionally strong and skilled) which case you might break the poor fool's neck or dislocate one of his joints.

Now there is a caveat here...a trained fighter isn't likely to be flipped by a peasant, no matter how lucky the attack roll. To represent this, an opponent cannot be downed unless the attacker's attack bonus equals or exceeds the attack bonus of the opponent. Attack bonus (for PCs) is determined by class and level: +1 per level for fighters; +1 per two levels for all others. Using multiple attackers (ganging up on the tough guy) can boost your attack rating for this purpose, but you're still going to need a lot of peasants to take down a veteran warrior.

"That tickles!"
[takedowns should also be limited to humanoids of "usual anatomy" that do not exceed a certain size...I don't really see ogres being subject to judo throws]

This actually melds well with the combat system as it stands. I said most weapons have a max damage of six. Unarmed attacks actually have a max damage of two (and suffer a -4 penalty to their attack's really tough to knock someone out with your fists when their wearing full battle kit). This means its easier to takedown someone when you're using a weapon...whether because you can hook their leg or their arm or achieve a lock or use the weapon's leverage or because you just don't have a disadvantage of wading in empty-handed. True, this means that a character lacking strength cannot achieve a takedown without a weapon to assist (because the maximum damage that can be inflicted doesn't equal four)...but if you really want your aikido master character, you can choose to specialize in unarmed combat, which increases you max damage with a weapon by +2. So there.

[having said that, I might need to add in some sort of exception for the cinematic "running tackle" maneuver...maybe allow a character's full damage bonus for such a maneuver, rather than half? This would allow characters with STR 14 to takedown an opponent with an unarmed attack, though the attacker would likewise end up prone. Heck, maybe just give a +2 attack/damage to such a suicidal tactic...something to thing about]

So what happens once you get your opponent down on the ground? Do we get a 2D6 auto-kill result like Chainmail? That hardly seems fair (or appropriate) for my heroic fantasy game. If I was using 5E's advantage/disadvantage mechanic in this game, I'd be tempted to bring that into play against a fallen target (that is, in fact, what 5E does for the "prone" condition)...but so far I've been able to hold off on using A/D in this game (I am using it all over the place in my rewrite of Cry Dark Future).

I think that what I want to do is give a substantial bonus to attacks against the downed opponent...something like +4 to the attack roll until the defender can get back on his feet. The prone dude needs to lose his action/attack if he's going to regain his footing...and you can't fight with a two-handed weapon from a prone position (you can, but you won't have the same leverage/damage inflicting ability). You probably can't use a shield either while prone (at least, not while making attacks from the ground). A +4 bonus is pretty doesn't negate the wearing of heavy armor completely (that would be +6), but it renders it less effective than "light armor" (you lose the ability to increase distance between yourself and your opponent). It means you're going to have a better chance of inflicting serious damage on your downed foe...which is, after all, what I was aiming for here.

"Who's laughing now, buddy?"
Neat, huh?
: )

1 comment:

  1. I am always for different more fluid combat options myself where combat does more without having to do a lot more.