Remember when I blogged about being almost done with the core mechanics for Hack’D & Slash’D? Yeah. That was AWESOME.
A full disclosure before I continue. I like writing games and designing games as much as, and sometimes more than (gasp) playing games. Designing games often IS the game for me.
The old cliches are things like the journey is the reward, getting there is half the fun, and I’m more about process than product. And, yes, those are largely the excuses of people who don’t know how to get stuff done and push through to the finish line and actually put a bow on the dang thing already, but they can also be true and end up being my jam.
All of that is a roundabout way of saying I’m re-examining some basic game mechanics again. I would tell you how I got here, but I’m not sure, and it’s a deep rabbit hole that starts with staging musicals (which it turns out I’m going to be doing again! Hurray!), goes to using pentagons and stars as a foundational shape in the production design, the idea that the dodecahedron (which I have dedicated my current role-playing life to) is the greatest of all the dice - and I will FIGHT you - and then to how you look at the die from different angles and the appearance changes.
It SOMEHOW got me thinking about the very concept that ‘half damage’ is a holdover from saving throws and fireballs and dragon breath. You either take full damage from a fireball, or half damage from a fireball. It’s a mechanic that is simple and elegant, and it makes a lot of sense. It is linked to the idea that on a ‘critical hit’ you deal ‘double damage’. I’ve just assumed that is true since I was ten. Because it is the LAW.
But for my game, because so many numbers are fixed, these fundamental beliefs were really limiting nuance. I needed more nuance somewhere.
I was trying to get that nuance in slicing the results; you could take half damage, or quarter damage… or you could take -3 damage, or maybe -6 damage.
But… it was numbers. Numbers to remember.
I don’t like having a lot of numbers to remember. I want it right in front of me.
And then I thought about how my original impulses had been to use armor for damage reduction; I like that intuitively. I like that plate mail reduces more damage than leather does. My original draft of the rules had this in place, but it became a game killer; a monster that deals 4 damage would NEVER be able to damage a warrior in heavy plate mail that soaks 6 - because my original draft said that armor always worked. In later drafts, I said that armor only worked some of the time, but then it always worked the same way when it did: heavier armor was just better at doing that thing.
But, I realized this morning I could marry the two concepts… and I could move ALL resistant checks from attribute checks to level checks. In fact, I could give the whole concept of level check its own new moniker (like ‘save’ or ‘test’ or ‘feat’ or ‘resist’ or ‘mitigate’ or something simple and clean and elegant and that sounds nice when I say it 832 times in the core rules).
The shift is this: When you try to stop something bad from happening to you, roll 1d12 + your level. If you roll a total of 10 or better, you did it! You used your experience and training (which level directly reflects) to position your armor to absorb part of that attack, your persona to reduce that dark magic damage, or your stamina to neutralize some of that poison. If you roll a natural 12, you did even a little better than that (like +2).
Now, the problem here is that if you have a rating of 0 in something, you are only reducing damage on a natural 12. I suppose we could go with 11 being +1 and 12 being +2. This is elegant (1 is 1 and 2 is 2… so that’s good and gives nuance and is easy to remember) plus, even with a rating of 0, there is always a reason to roll.
The revised language would look like this…
Against a physical attack: Check level; if successful, soak armor.
Against a poison: Check level; if successful, soak stamina.
Against an arcane spell: Check level; if successful, soak reason.
I can then scale back damage quite a bit, because instead of 20 dragon breath being mitigated to 10, it may only be mitigated by 6 points… so even 12 or 14 starting points is pretty significant.
A shield can still give you +1 edge on armor checks.
Standard weapons deal 2-5 damage.
Heavy weapons deal might + 2-5 damage.
So, in play, this becomes really clean. You attack with your greatsword (damage 5) against a foe with armor 2.
If you hit with a result of 10+, you deal 5 damage. If you roll a natural 11, you hit for 6 damage. If you roll a natural 12, you deal 7 damage.
Your foe with armor 2 then checks level. With a result of 10+, they soak 2 of that damage. On a natural 11, they soak 3. On a natural 12, they soak 4.
Buh. Dang. One roll each time. Numbers scale. There’s a lot of variety. You can ‘hit’ and deal anywhere from 1 to 7 points of damage, depending on your attack result and the opposing level check.
Remember when I solved damage scaling in Hack’D & Slash’D? Yeah. That was AWESOME.