Monday, April 29, 2013

More On Combat

I guess I feel like talking about combat some more, but about weapons instead of armor. I guess I'll start  with the beginning. My understanding is that back in the day, it was a Wednesday in the seventies, all weapons did 1d6 damage because it was believed that 1d6 damage could kill your average zero level human, and pretty much anything can kill a man. One-handed weapons did 1d6 damage, smaller one-handed weapons rolled 2d6 for damage and used the lower die result of the two for damage, and two-handed weapons rolled 2d6 and used the higher die result of the two for damage. I know for certain that in Basic Dungeons and Dragons all weapons did 1d6. I'm not sure where I heard about the rules for light weapons and two-handed ones though, so that might be of questionable accuracy. I'm not sure what the ruling was on critical hits either. As the game progressed, weapon statistics increased in complexity and variable damage for weapons became a rule instead of an option, critical hits were a rule, and so on. In 1st and 2nd Edition there were differing damage values for weapons when used against a small or medium opponent and a large opponent and there were weird base weapon damage values like 2-5 (1d4+1) or 2-7 (1d6+1). In 3.0/3.5 Edition, it got really complex with weapon qualities like reach and disarm and different critical ranges and multipliers, which in 2nd Edition were just 20/x2. 3.0/3.5 also added weapon damage based on the weapon's size. A regular sized shortbow for a medium character deals 1d6 damage and a regular sized shortbow for a small character deals 1d4. A solid and sensible rule, but I like 4th Edition's version better.  In 4th Edition, small characters can't use two-handed weapons (unless they have the small special quality) and weapons with the versatile quality (the weapon can be wielded in one or two hands and using two hands offers a +1 to damage) must be wielded in two hands by small characters and it doesn't get the normal damage bonus from doing so. Pathfinder uses pretty much all the same statistics and rules and damage notations as 3.0/3.5.

Damage types are broken down into slashing, piercing, and bludgeoning damage. This is pretty consistent with the kind of damage weapons deal in real life in my experience. Beyond that and the fact that every weapon has the potential to kill your average human, weapon statistics and abilities go bug nuts crazy. The general theme of the weapon charts in Pathfinder's Ultimate Equipment, which is a compendium book of all the gear found in Pathfinder books up to this point, is that "precision" weapons (rapier, dagger, etc) tend to do less damage and have smaller critical multipliers but have wider critical ranges, while brutish weapons (greatsword, greataxe) have larger base damage, tiny critical ranges, and larger multipliers for damage when they do get a critical. The way I interpret critical hits is that they are the knife to the kidney, the blade to the hamstring, the debilitating blows that hit organ systems or are savage enough to break bones and sever limbs, if Pathfinder combat allowed that sort of thing.

That theme makes a certain amount of sense, a well struck blow from a greataxe is much more likely to inflict grievous physical injury than a well struck blow from dagger. A rapier is a precision weapon that must be used cautiously and intelligently, you can't just swing it around willy nilly, so when used properly it is predisposed towards deadly strikes. Yeah, makes a certain amount of sense. On the surface. Because combat is way abstract.  This system makes everyone into a fucking fencing master. When an Orc Barbarian picks up a rapier, for whatever reason, he immediately knows how to parry and riposte and lunge to make deft strikes to slip through defenses or gaps in armor to strike at vitals to get a critical hit. Even if he has up till this point in his life been a Barbarian with a Strength of 24 and a Dexterity and Intelligence of 9 or 10 and is used to making these huge, two-handed, sweeping strikes designed to create a furious whirlwind of death dealing steel in an arc around him. A rapier is only a precise weapon if you wield it like a precise weapon. If you don't, it is a really long dagger that snaps because its thin blade is not designed to be swung around and wielded like a greataxe. Luckily, all weapons in Pathfinder impart ancestral knowledge of how to wield them effectively to anyone that picks them up.

I get that weapon proficiencies represent basic knowledge of how to use weapons without embarrassing yourself. Returning to the rapier example. Two Fighters with the same level, ability scores, and so on pick up a handaxe and a rapier. These weapons have much different stats, other than a base damage of 1d6. One is slashing, the other piercing, one has an 18-20 critical range while the other is just 20, one does x2 on a critical hit and the other does x3, and historically they would be used in battle in very different ways. Axes hack and slash and rapiers are deft and pierce. However, these two hypothetical Fighters with all the same ability scores and feats wield these weapons in precisely the same fashion in combat, even though a rapier is useless to a big clumsy brute that doesn't know how to fence. The rapier requires agility and deft footwork and quick reflexes and hand eye coordination to be an effective weapon. I'm not talking mastery here, merely just picking up a rapier and being able to defend yourself and be seen as a threat by enemies. You can take all the Weapon Focus, Weapon Specialization, and Improved Critical feats and effectively wield and be deadly with a rapier and slap on full plate armor and have an 8 in Dexterity and you will be deadly in combat. Despite the physical ability score and armor being completely counter intuitive to the way a rapier is utilized historically. Because, abstract.

Ok, yes, you can take Weapon Finesse with rapiers and use them similar to the way they were used to duel with historically. But you can do that with an elven curve blade that weighs almost four times as much as a rapier. Apparently all the curves and leafy art stuff elves put into their steel weapons makes them more aerodynamically efficient and allows one to wield them like a dagger or rapier, despite the size and different damage type and style of combat. Let's be honest though, in the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring when Galadriel is doing her voice over and the line of elves is meeting the line of orcs and Agent Smith and his guys whirl all their curvy elf swords into the faces of the orcs, it was kind of neat. Ok, this is weird. The description of the elven curve blade says it is basically a longer and thinner two-handed scimitar that you can use Weapon Finesse with. Meanwhile, you cannot use the Weapon Finesse feat with a scimitar and a steel scimitar is only about half the weight of an elven curve blade. I guess you can make the argument that you use two hands with the elven curve blade and it only weighs seven pounds and a scimitar weighs four, so technically the elven curve blade is lighter when taken as a weight per hand kind of thing.

Actually, you know what. Fuck Weapon Finesse and rapiers. A weapon quality that states that a melee weapon uses Dexterity instead of Strength for attack rolls isn't a bad idea. It's no different than thrown weapons like daggers and javelins adding Strength modifiers to damage while using Dexterity to hit. I mean, it is one thing to say that yes, a dagger can benefit from it when wielded by a warrior with deft hands and another to say that about the rapier. As far as I know (once again I have to cite my status as a Wikipedia alumni with a dual degree in armchair history and smithing) the only way to effectively wield a rapier is with deft hands and fast footwork. Look, all weapons are going to benefit from being strong and having fast hands. But with some of them, physical strength is going to be more important or of more benefit and with others, reflexes and agility. A clumsy oaf with an 8 in Dexterity can wield a rapier as effectively as one with a 16 in Pathfinder if they have the same feats and same Strength score and neither has Weapon Finesse. Every movie I've seen and book I've read says that rapiers and other fencing weapons don't operate efficiently when used by clumsy brutes.

Evidently I have strong feelings about rapiers, probably because I played too much Soul Calibur as Raphael. Got kind of sidetracked. Wandering back around to the theme of the weapon tables.

Hmm. I had some more examples I was going to list and a few more paragraphs of nonsense I was going to type. I'll TL;DR it, this post has been long winded enough. If a weapon is built in such a way that it is more likely to leave a truly grievous wound with a x3 or x4 multiplier when it gets a critical hit, doesn't that make it more likely to perform a critical hit in the first place? A greataxe is a fairly large axe that requires two hands to wield. If you manage to penetrate a target's armor and get a solid hit with it, isn't it more than 5% likely that you'll lop off an arm or bury the large blade in their rib cage? Piercing weapons are more likely to leave lasting injury or result in immediate death, as they pierce, which by definition means they deal damage by being inside of you. Slashing weapons slash, which means they tend to leave a larger wound area than piercing weapons, but the depth of the wound will vary depending on lots of factors. A scimitar that penetrates armor is going to wound, but a two-handed axe that penetrates armor is more likely to leave a deeper wound because the weapon by default has much more force behind it (due to the weight, being wielded by two hands, and the likelihood of being used in a overhand chopping style). Doesn't that logic mean that the greataxe is more likely to get a critical hit than a scimitar?

I dunno, this whole system seems kind of janky to me. Big nasty weapons deal more damage when they hit well, but they're less likely to hit well? Slimmer weapons that rely on precision are more likely to hit well, but do less damage when they do? If a weapon is designed to hit hard and hurt a lot, shouldn't it be more likely to hit hard and hurt a lot more often? If a weapon is "precise" and more likely to hit hard and hurt a lot, shouldn't it do more harm when it does? 

This is all pointless meandering and doesn't really mean anything, despite writing about it entertaining me. Because, abstract. 

1 comment:

  1. Might I recommend Unearthed Arcana's Weapon Group Proficiency rules? (Page 94 for your quick reference)

    As for damage types, there are very few ways to describe how off the entire nature of combat in a D20 system (or any RP system really) compares to reality.

    Piercing weapons in a historical and practical sense are designed to get into the joints of armored opponents. A Rapier and a military pick are both classified as Piercing weapons though even though a pick just plows right through armor while the rapier (or other types of long, thin piercing blades) go to the weak points. This difference isn't well represented by any system unless it specifically stats out every single special thing about a specific weapon (probably done by GURPS).

    One of my pet peeves from the current game is how my Pirate who has levels in Swashbuckler can't use his Thrust ability with his Cutlass because it is listed as a Slashing weapon. It is true that a Cutlass does extremely well as a Slashing weapon, but it is also a piercing weapon. It is a short sword with a slightly curved, single edged blade that comes to a very obvious point. It was designed for shipboard use and allowed the use of both a slashing and stabbing motion, granting it great versatility in a boarding action. And it's bullshit that the most "Pirate" like class out there can't use a pirate sword because it has the wrong damage type.

    Plate armor is another one of those things that's poorly represented too. It's 60 pounds of metal and other materials built to go into battle. It isn't as large of an inconvenience as the game seems to think it is. You have nearly full range of motion in a properly made suit of armor and a warrior (like a knight) who has trained for most of their life in this armor is going to be able to wear it and not be hampered by it one bit. The armor is basically impenetrable by slashing attacks and most forms of piercing unless attacking a joint or are designed like a pick or used like a lance (lots of force in a small surface area).

    And now you have me ranting about it. You're right, you just want DnD to be GURPS =P