Cinemechanix Design Journal 18: Back to the Drawing Board

Category: Cussin' In Tongues
Created on Friday, 17 June 2016 Written by Steve

So, as I've mentioned before, rolling a lot of dice and picking the highest reduces the range of likely rolls, which means that in a system where damage is determined by the difference of the rolls, if both sides of the fight are rolling a bunch of dice, they're not going to cause much damage. My first attempt to fix this was by tweaking the damage system so that it didn't take as much damage to beat an opponent, but the first playtest used really high dice pools and blew that fix out of the water. Too many hit points was part of the problem, but it wasn't nearly as problematic as large dice pools. 

The extra dice also don't really help you very much. At 5 dice, the average roll is 17.5 and the typical minimum (average minus standard deviation) is 14.69. Both of these increase fractionally up to 10 dice (the highest I did the math for), which has an average roll of 18.46 and typical minimum of 17.0. If both characters are rolling 5 dice, the maximum damage one can cause is 6. If they're rolling 10 dice, it's 3. Unless you reduce the hit points to such a low number that less powerful characters start dropping like flies, the current system makes for very long fights on the high end of the power scale. 

My first instinct was to see the problem as a feature, not a bug. The less two combatants know about combat, the more the fight relies on somebody getting off a lucky punch, so big ranges in possible results (like the 1-20 range of a single d20) make sense. If both combatants are equally skilled, the fight's going to last longer because they both know what they're doing and are going to have to work harder to cause damage to one another. When you get up to super-heroic levels, a fight with very little damage makes perfect sense. If Thor and the Hulk just stand there and punch each other, they can keep going for days before someone gets bruised, much less knocked out. In fiction, of course, they don't just stand there and punch one another until one of them dies, because that makes for a boring story. Instead, one of them comes up with a brilliant plan, or achieves whatever objective he was fighting the other guy for in the first place, or they realize they should be working together, or whatever. I've already mentioned how I want the game to include some guidance (and maybe even mechanics) to encourage getting away from the "punch him until he dies" school of fight scenes, so my first thought was that a system that makes it hard for very powerful characters to hurt one another was exactly what I needed. 

Then, of course, reality set in. Even though characters in fiction rarely fight until the opponent (or everyone on the opposing team, for group fights) is a bleeding puddle, the unfortunate reality is that "punch him until he's dead" is so ingrained in RPGs that a system where the mechanics preclude the possibility of doing that is going to look broken, even if in my mind it's not. I do want to encourage moving away from the "kill everything in the way" style that's the default in RPGs but rare in actual fiction, but I don't have enough hubris to think I can single-handedly undo a 40-year-old RPG default setting. So I'm looking for ways to trim down those dice pools without completely rebuilding the system. I'll probably talk more about that next week. 


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Cinemechanix Design Journal 18: Back to the Drawing Board.
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