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[BARBAREN!] Ballancing the combat system

Started by Frank T, July 18, 2005, 04:56:42 PM

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Frank T

Warning: This is getting to the nasty maths, numbers and details. Check out my write-up of the game concept, especially the combat mechanics at 4.2. You'll need to cross-check because I will not explain all of the combat system again in this post. In the few playtests I did so far, the combat system has proven to be quite entertaining and challenging. However, there is an undeniable tendency of fighters with one-handed weapons losing on fighters with two-handed weapons. Let's look at the current rulesset:

There are "standard" weapons like a spear or hatchet that are meant to be inferior. Then there are the master-weapons, of which each Barbarian starts off with only one: one-handed sword, two-handed sword, and great battleaxe. Weapons have two stats: their damage rating, and the bonus they grant on Momentum and Elegance.

Damage: one-handed sword +2, two-handed sword and battleaxe +3

Bonus: one-handed sword +1 Elegance, two-handed sword +1 Momentum and Elegance each, battleaxe +2 Momentum

Other Differences: When fighting multiple opponents, the two-handed weapons use the "sweeping blow" (cost: 1 Momentum) to strike at all of them, whereas single-handed weapons use the "flashing blade" (cost: 1 Elegance). Major difference is that fighters using a single-handed weapon can use a shield, granting them an extra 1d6 defense for free. I figured that'd weigh up for the difference in damage.

Now, first the easy part: Probably for some Simulationist reflex, I thought that a single-handed sword shouldn't have more Elegance than a double-handed one. So to make them equal, I could just raise the Bonus for a one-handed sword to +2 Elegance.

The part with damage and defense is tougher. I am really hesitant to change the main system since it works really well as long as the opponents wield equal weapons. Here's my analysis of what makes the two-handed weapons superior. Say an average beginning character gets into a fight and spends his whole combat pool without pausing. With a combat pool of 18-24, that'll take at least 4-5 exchanges (attack/defense), probably more if he doesn't always spend the maximum. If he wields a shield, he gets +1d6 each time he defends.


If I wield a shield in a duel with an equal oponent, I fight a defensive style, not spending too much on attacks and letting my opponent exhaust himself. Say I have Initiative: I spend 2 points on my attack for a total three dice. My opponent will probably spend at least 4 points because he has to be prepared for a harder attack and also because he wants to win Initiative. He will probably succeed at gaining it, but I am now 2 points ahead. Defending, I get 1d6 more than him while spending the same amount of points. If I can keep this up, he'll run out of points before I do, and I can finish him. It's hard to predict, but say Initiative switches rapidly, then I'll probably use that bonus d6 2-4 times.

If, on the other hand, I have the two-handed weapon, I have to fight an offensive style, hoping to hit my foe early in the battle which will reduce his combat score. If I hit, I have my damage rating of +3. Suppose I spend a lot of dice in each exchange, then I get 2-3 chances to strike before I run out of points. If I'm lucky, I get through with one of those and probably win. If I'm unlucky and don't hit, I'll probably lose. But how much is the additional d6 in defense, how much is the additional damage level really worth?

It takes 7 damage levels to kill a man, 6 to imediately take him out. So you could say the difference of +1 in damage gives me a 1/6 better chance to finish the fight. However, the damage as a constant adds up with the successes out of the dice pool, so it's not a linear probability curve. You'd have to apply the constant at the base of the curve, making for more than 1/6. I'm not really into figuring that out, but especially when making the difference between a flesh wound (1-3 levels) and a deep wound (4-5 levels), which can be decisive in the fight, one extra success is a great deal.

For the 1d6 defense: It's a 50%-pool-system. Let's say both fighters spend maximum points, then it makes the difference between 5d6 (attacker) against 6d6 (defender) and 5d6 against 7d6. Again, I have no idea how to figure out the exact difference in probability, but in the playtests up to now, it didn't turn out to be as efficient as the higher damage. I could turn the +1d6 into +1 automatic success on defense, but that might be overkill. Or might it? It'd really be very helpful if someone knew how to calculate the probabilities, or had a nice tool for running big-scale simulation.

The "split shield" move

Another big problem for the fighter with sword & shield is this rule for use of Momentum:
QuoteSplit Shield: Your opponent must score at least one success more than you, or his shield is rendered useless. He cannot use that same spare success to gain Initiative.
It turned out that it's too easy to negate the only advantage the single-handed fighter has by splitting his shield. I might, of course, just toss the rule. But then again, I could just make it harder and leave it in, to provide extra excitement. It'd be a tough choice to use that move: little chance for success, but if it works, it puts you at a big advantage. I could just change the rules so you need two more successes, for instance.

On the other hand: let's say I find a way to really ballance two-handed weapons against shield & sword. Now if I allow the "split shield", the one with the two-handed weapon has an extra option he might or might not use to his advantage. The one with sword & shield does not have a similar option, which means his choices are more limited. The alternative could be to keep the "split shield" but have the sword & shield be a little superior in duel, maybe by doing the "automatic success instead of additional d6" thing.

So the choice for the fighter with the two-handed weapon would be: Stay at a disadvantage and hope for a lucky blow, or risk everything in a "split shield" move that could win him the fight. If I require two more successes, that would meen a succesful "split shield" would require as many successes as actually wounding your opponent, so you'd have to calculate if it's more valuable to try and take the shield out, or try to just hit him right away. Interesting choice there.

Multiple Oponents

When fighting multiple oponents, especially swordfodder, who just roll 1d6 and don't spend combat points on attacks, the defensive style doesn't prove effective: you have to split your dice between the opponents and you don't really get rid of them. Dealing "sweeping blows" with a two-handed weapon, the +1 extra damage is invaluable because you have a much higher chance of taking opponents out, especially swordfodder, who go down at 3 damage levels already. Now, from a verisimilitude point of view, this looks nice because I can imagine a mighty battleaxe taking foes out like a scythe going through a wheat field much better than a one-handed sword doing the same. But from the tactical point of view, this makes the single-handed sword a lot less attractive.

Right now, using shield & sword against multiple opponents, you just have your additional 1d6 against up to three oponents on whom you have to devide your pool. Now, would I make the "additional one success" rule, I could make it so you get an additional success against each opponent. That's a tough one on verisimilitude, but I could get away with it. (Note that I believe verisimilitude is an important part of any rpg, not just for purpose of Sim play.) But: An automatic success against swordfodder means they can never hit a fighter wielding a shield, because they only have 1d6 to attack. So that doesn't work. I would have to make it so the player has to decide on which opponent he puts the automatic success. He could still stay pretty safe defending as long as he has combat points left, but each round defending is a lost round fighting swordfodder 'cause they don't spend combat points anyway. And using the "flashing blade" to strike 'em all, you are at a huge disadvantage because you have 1 less damage and therefore a significantly smaller chance to take 'em out with one blow.

Since I don't really see a way to fix this while keeping different stats for the different weapons, I am thinking about the idea of making the sword & shield combo more effective in duel (see "automatic success") and have the two-handed weapons stay more effective against swordfodder. Or should I just discard the stats as a whole? That'd solve the ballancing problem, but would take a whole layer of tactical variation away from the game.

I hope this wasn't too confusing. Anybody got any ideas how I could fix the problem?

Thanks in advance for putting that knot into your brains,



Solution #1:  Shields and one handed weapons are for effete weanies who hide behind city walls pissing in their skirts.  Of COURSE two handed weapons are superior.  This is BARBAREN!  If you're not big and strong enough to swing a battle axe that wieghs more than you do, than you deserve to be cut down like chattel by those who are.

Solution #2:  Add a couple additional tricks to the sword and shield side, like
a) allow for big shields that give +2d6 defense
b) Shield Bash moves that allow you to use the 1d6 on offense instead.
c) "Flurry" attacks that allow you to use small light weapons to make multiple attacks against inferior opponents.  Not as good as a sweep, but helps deal with the horde problem.

Frank T

Hey Ralph,

we're not talking about those toothsticks that foreigners call swords. You need a hand like a shovel and an arm like a tree to single-handedly wield the Barbarian Broadsword! This makes me think about reducing the damage for spears, bows and foreign swords, however. They shouldn't be the same as a broadsword. I'll have to ponder the ratings and damage levels again.

I think fighting with shield and sword is pretty cool, especially if you do that shield-bash thing. Including more special moves is a nice idea. You know, I could also limit the "counter-attack" move to single-handed weapons. That'd be a large advantage. Thanks for the suggestions!

- Frank