Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Proficiencies in my game: Fighter Archetype

Warrior of Light by BaiHu27
Alright, after two posts examining proficiencies it's time to propose a solution.  A quick recap:
  1. Character Creation shouldn't determine the only weapons you wield in your career. 
  2. While the Fighter may share proficiencies he is still the best at wielding weapons.
  3. Not only can the Fighter wear heavy armor but he is still capable of quick movements

Taking that altogether here is the base Fighter Archetype I use in my games.
A [Fighter] is proficient in all weapons, armor and shields.  They reduce the ACP of all equipment worn by 1.  Additionally, they receive a +3 bonus on all [Attacks].  This represents how in a stand up fight the Fighter is almost assuredly the victor.  Think carefully before going toe-to-toe with a Fighter because without a hefty dose of trickery, overpowering odds and of course blind luck they are unlikely to walk away from that fight.
AC Penalty is a value of 1-3 depending on whether your armor is light, medium, or heavy.  It affects initiative, and movement.  Not only can the Fighter wear all kinds of armor but he is able to wear a heavier set than his comrades without having a higher penalty.
Level does not factor into to-hit rolls in my games so a +3 is a big deal (one Standard Deviation in 3d6 D&D).
Now that we've got those two out of the way let's examine how proficiency in all weapons is more important than it sounds.  First off I greatly dislike penalties for non-proficiency.  People are highly loss-averse so penalty proficiency provides a chilling effect on anyone ever trying out another weapon.  One alternative is to offer a bonus, +0/+1 non-/proficient vs -1/+0 non-/proficient offer the same probability differential between the two groups however, my design ethos is to avoid throwing out bonuses excessively.  Part of what makes the Fighter great is that attack bonus, the rarer they are the most stalwart he remains.

 With that in mind I removed penalties altogether for being unproficient in a weapon and instead offer a boon to anyone proficient with that particular weapon.  To become proficient in a weapon you merely need to keep using it for a few sessions/adventures.  Not only are you more likely to try out weapons you find but whenever the party is captured and stripped of their gear they can make use of what's lying around without being complete chumps in combat.

As for the boon some may suggest damage die manipulation.  This works well in games like Star Wars Edge of the Empire where multiple dice are rolled but is not very appreciable when you're dealing a single die of damage.  Although I admit, the idea tossed about before of having Class HD equal Damage Die is highly appealing (not that I can find the blogger who proposed it mind you).  Now if you are sticking with abstract combat and a universal d6 of damage we need to offer another Boon.
Ancient Minotaur by Squirrel Emperor

In the early days of development we used Weapon Qualities.  Being proficient in a weapon lets you make use of its inherent qualities such as a calamitous minotaur axe or a dismembering machete.  Being non-proficient meant that the weapon functioned as a lump of steel in your hands, dealing damage but providing nothing else.  In fact it was indistinguishable from a 2x4 which in turn led to the Plank Brigade playtest group.

Qualities were much loved and have received a lot of praise.  It is a reflection of my favorite part of Guild Wars 2 where your choice in weapons drastically separates you from another member of the same class.  Nick Wright gives a good summary over here.  Eschewing classes playtest groups found themselves remarkably different based solely the weapon they chose to wield.  Still you may have noticed the past tense, late in the testing of the Mk I rules it was deemed to be too much individual complexity for the DM to handle with humanoid heavy enemies, and too much granularity between weapon types for players.  Now it has been relegated to an optional module (where it sees the most use out of any optional rule) so I needed to come up with another boon to give proficient wielders.  
This led to the streamlining of Damage Types which I've proposed previously which made copious use of the obsolete Wounds system.  Damage Types went through a complicated overhaul where each of the three damage types had an effect whenever they dealt a Wound.  Playtesters really liked the effects conceptually but they floundered in actual play.  Effects either took hold to late for a highly lethal combat system or were just plum forgotten because what they offered was not simple to remember offhand nor powerful enough to warrant memorization.  Furthermore, Damage Types would only activate depending on the type of Armor the target was wearing; hello over-complication! With that in mind I set out to keep that particular fragment and use it to resolve another issue I was having.  A pretty fundamental one: hitting your target.

Part of what makes combat lethal in this system is that you must choose who you attack very careful lest it turn into a backbiting strike.  Early playtesting revealed that Polearms allowed for an incredible boon and stomped the floor of whoever was facing them.  While there is certainly some real world evidence for this I wasn't particularly happy with it.  The biggest problem was that on offense there wasn't a big enough to-hit bonus available outside of the Fighter class to guarantee frequent hitting.  Failing an offense can be a painful reprisal so it stands to reason you want to be able to succeed on offense regularly or you'll end up with very frustrated players.  I needed to grant a boon that didn't interfere with the Fighter territory of kicking ass at combat, so whatever it was needed to be universal to all classes without being universal in application. Attack bonus that only took hold in certain circumstances.

Part of my design ethos is to keep attack bonuses sparse to coincide with my pseudo-Level-less D&D.  With that in mind when I redesigned damage types I went for Simple and Clean approach and tried to resolve both problems simultaneously.  I think it works pretty well.  Here's how it goes.
[Damage Types]
If you are proficient in your weapon you may make use of its damage types.
Impact - Add your Impact rating to Attack vs targets in Heavy Armor or Undead.
Thrusting - Add your Thrusting rating to Attack vs Medium armor or Unarmored targets.
Slashing - Add you slashing rating to Attack vs Unarmored or Lightly armored targets.

In this way we're able to provide a decently situational attack bonus, important weapon choice and proficiency while keeping a real world influence on how different weapon types interacted with armor, albeit hyper-simplified. The Rondell dagger for instance is excellent against mail but completely worthless against some thick lightly armor Jack.  Likewise, padding or even rows of metallic rings are better able to absorb a crushing mace than a reasonably thin laminated sheet of metal.  This iteration has been working great so far and contributed greatly to keeping the Mk II ruleset stable.  
Warduke Inking by Danny Cruz


Recap:
  1. If you are proficient in a weapon you can make use of its damage types.
  2. Damage types provide a bonus to-hit vs certain armor types
  3. If you unproficient then the weapon is treated as any other d6 weapon.
  4. To become proficient keep using the weapon.  No level-ups needed.