Thursday, October 22, 2009

Massive Damage In D20 Modern Games

The "gun to head" issue raised in the previous post's comments by Dunx is an interesting one and highlights a basic problem D20, a system designed (mainly) to run heroic characters through RPGs with little acknowledgement of "reality"1, unsuited without some work to the obvious consequences of specially located damage - the headsman's axe, the bullet to the head and so on.

The D20 system enables characters to be larger than life, just as Fafhrd, Conan or Strider were, and to cheat death within the confines of a rigid, arithmetically constrained game system in the same way they would on the printed page. I salute the authors for managing to get that far, and sympathise with the problems arising from "one size fits all" thinking in the customers and gamers, while fully understanding the wish for as flexible a gaming system as possible so the player doesn't need to learn new ones every five minutes.

I enjoy playing D20-based games.

I also see the point in the reluctance of the DMs and players to adopt a one-size-fits-all "Death Damage" roll that is applied across the board. I suggested a framework for modifying that rule yesterday and I still want comments and suggestions, for and against. But my suggestion would not work well for modern weapons which can wound but also kill as a matter of luck (in the hands of the average person) or for specific cases such as a headsman's axe. For these situations I see a possible solution of a different type, that still adheres to the D20 system closely - the critical hit.

Briefly, when a weapon or class of weapons poses a real danger of killing outright in one attack - a handgun in a D20 modern setting suggests itself as the most obvious example of this - one could up the lethality of the weapon without changing the standard damage dealt by tweaking the critical hit roll needed and the damage multiplier gained.

Consider: A .32 revolver might be said to pack 1D10 + 2 (a figure I pulled out of the air for the purposes of illustration since I do not have access to a D20 modern sourcebook). Clearly people should be able to be killed or seriously wounded by a single shot, but also should be able to escape relatively unharmed for the purposes of PC heroism. One way to achieve this would be to set the Critical Hit roll needed to a relatively low number for this weapon, say 15, and let the damage multiplier be very high, maybe x4 or x5. How this would work in just about any D20-based ruleset would be that someone would shoot the gun at someone else. The shooter makes an attack roll, adding in all sorts of character-level based and circumstantial attack bonuses and/or penalties for the final score. If this score would be 15 or better (in our example) a "threat" is declared and a second attack roll made at the base chance to hit (all special circumstantial bonuses stripped off). If a hit is made under those conditions, a critical hit has been scored and the damage inflicted is multiplied up by the given amount. this means that we would deal 4D10+2 or 5D10+2 depending on what we had picked for the multiplier when we designed the weapon table. Note that death is still not guaranteed, but is much more likely. When combined with a massive damage effects rule such as I suggested yesterday, this becomes a powerful disincentive to place oneself in the path of such a weapon.

Once again, this is simply a starting point for wondering aloud how D20 might be tweaked without breaking it, not some sort of tablet from the mount. I welcome comments and suggestions.

  1. And who wants that? we get that 24/7 any day we aren't gaming. The whole point is the escapism the RPG provides


Dunx said...

Well, fair enough - guns are more deadly, and more unpredictably deadly, than weapons that focus the wielder's energy. No argument. Unfortunately the scenario I incompletely described was more a case of inappropriate application of rules rather than weedy gun damage.

Here's the situation: the party has gone to search a house where a disappeared individual was last seen. They encounter some hoodlums, and proceed to engage them in flying lead fisticuffs. The hoodlums lose.

One is captured and questioned. The party's resident amoral bastard uses intimidate then says he is going to kill the hoodlum anyway: gun to the head, pull the trigger, walk away.

But the GM rolls for damage.

This is where the massive damage rule might have been useful to say "enough damage was done, the punk dies" but instead we got into a protracted and pointless argument.

The combat rules exist to apply structure on a chaotic situation, but I would argue that an execution hardly counts as combat. It uses the tools of combat, but it isn't a combat situation - it's like saying that chopping down a tree is a combat situation, or using a drill in the workshop is a combat situation.

Steve said...

Very true. I was approaching the same argument from the direction of attempting to use the same system to adjudge damage no matter how it's inflicted or where it is dealt. Of course, this is why they invented hit location back in the White Box D&D days (in the Blackmoor suppliment if anyone is interested). The complexity of such systems usually precludes their use for more than a couple of games though.

The problem arises, I think, when two worlds collide: The world in which the hero can shrug off damage because the plot demands it - this is the world we are firmly in in most RPGs during damage allocation in my opinion - and the obvious real world intrusion into the fantasy realm when someone wants to chop off or shoot a head, a sitruation in which only a daytime soap opera writer could conceive of the victim surviving to fight another day.

Under such circumstances you can all agree to say :yep, the target dies *despite* the damage allocation rules, or you can elect to tweak those rules to attempt to accomodate those kinds of situation.

My argument is really about placating the "never use massive damage" lobby and paying respect to their reasonable objections to the rule, while at the same time putting realistic, acceptable and above all *usable* rules in their place.

It may not be worth the bother in the end, which I think is what you're getting at. Only playtesting would prove the concept one way or the other.