Friday, March 21, 2014

The degenerate case

I have been doing some thinking about edge cases in character builds in Heroes By Trade.  I know the system is relatively robust in general but I always get a little concerned about how prone the game is to breaking when extreme situations arise.  For example, I have a character that has a pretty extreme build with 10 Strength, 3 Dexterity, 3 Constitution.  Because Strength provides Armour my Armour value is very high.  This is exacerbated by the fact that I am also wearing heavy armour, using a shield, and getting Armour bonuses from elsewhere.  My final Armour value is 18, which means all physical damage dealt to me is reduced by 18.  However, I also have access to a Ritual which increases my Armour by 10 for a limited time.

For reference a regular archer using a crossbow has a maximum damage roll of 16.  A longbow can hit as high as 23 but it is extremely unlikely to do so.  As such I can pretty much walk up to a city wall manned by hundreds of archers and be unworried about the volleys of arrows that might be launched my way.  They simply can't hurt me because none of them can manage the 29 damage required to beat my Armour value.  A serious character trying the same thing is quite capable of beating my Armour value, but mooks aren't.

It isn't like this is free - I have to take damage to use my Ritual and I have the penalties inherent in stacking all this Armour including weak attacks, slow movement, and other opportunity costs.  Costs aside though I can stand there and take a thousand arrows in the face and laugh which is pretty insane.  The question of the day is whether or not this situation is okay.  It comes down to what sort of vision I have for the game.  Do I want a world where high level people can laugh at armies and very slowly wade through hundreds of soldiers, invulnerable to the attacks being sent their way?  That is definitely high fantasy territory and isn't generally the way HBT fits in my mind.  I wanted to avoid characters disrespecting armies as part of the vision, after all.

The solution for the problem is very simple - any successful attack deals at least 1 damage.  That means that having a ton of Armour is still bloody amazing against physical attackers because you do NOT want to be fighting someone that only takes 1 damage from your attacks but nobody is going to be walking up to 1,000 archers and just taking the arrows in the face.  Heck, even 20 archers are going to be dealing 12 damage per round to me and that is lethal in a serious hurry.  It is possible that I could take down 20 archers given good luck but I wouldn't bet on it.

I am curious what sort of world other people, particularly those who have or are playtesting HBT, want to play in.  Do people enjoy the idea of being an invincible machine who (with the right build) can churn through endless hordes of losers, or is it better for the world to be more dangerous than that?  Some people really like that a crowd of peasants with pitchforks can beat anybody and some like being a superhero... so tell me, what do you like?


  1. All attacks should do at least one HP damage, not WP if you're into it.

    Maybe have an epic ritual that came remove the on HP mandatory damage.

    Armies should be beatable, but not just because of really, really nice armour. You should be making a deal with questionable forces.

  2. Armor should have hit points and a complex table that shows how it degrades as HP drops. Weariness should also be tracked - number of attacks per day before your stats start falling and you start getting hit. And grappling rules. There should be realistic grappling rules that factor in multiple opponents getting a bonus.

    And facing. You need to have facing rules so the people shooting from behind can get through the armor.


    I'm not sure where I stand on the 1hp minimum. Probably a good idea.

  3. We're talking about rolling d10 here, right? So the way you run a campaign you'll have one fight per session and run the campaign every week for a year, minus a few weeks. Fights go what, six rounds? And each round there are about 5 or 6 hits. So that's 1500 damage rolls per campaign. It's no wonder, then, that you are willing to settle for a damage system that rounds out the three and four standard deviation edges.

    A long bow hits for 23 one in one hundred rolls, but has a mean of 11.25 and a standard deviation of 5.83. So that 23 damage is only two standard deviations up. You should have four or five hits per campaign that do 28.83 damage, but it's fine that you miss those. But with 1000 shots a round, if half hit, you should have a hit that just nearly does enough to penetrate that armor. About one in two thousand hits should do 1 damage, one in twenty thousand should do 3 or 4 damage and one in just over thirty thousand should do 5 or 6. That's certainly enough to make 1000 archers a credible threat. Even if it takes them a while.

    So I recommend you implement a system where before rolling damage each time you roll to see if it is an "outlier" attack, roll d1000000 or so, and add an appropriate damage bonus for certain rolls. You know, roll 999998 or higher and get +9 damage to the attack.

    I'm not sure about the 1hp thing. Suppose you have a guy who is wearing armor, augmented by magic, that is so tough that a typical dude standing there firing a bow straight at him is very, very unlikely to hurt him. Virtually all such shots will simply glance off. How much more successful would 1000 guys with bows be? 1000 people cannot realistically all fire at the same bullseye at the same time. If a dragon stomping on you is only going to cause injury some fraction of the time, why would any sap with a bow be able to get you given a few minutes? It works both ways, I guess.

    But isn't this situation handled by the fact that we don't pull out the dice when you go to fight 1000 people? Player: "Well, since they can't hurt me, I eventually kill them, right?" GM: "Well, since you can't keep up with any of them, they just keep making way for you, then surround you with makeshift wooden barricades to keep you penned in."

  4. @Sthenno

    There are a few ways to handle it, like your crazy roll d10,000 idea. I just like the simplicity of my current plan and the fact that it adds no more dice rolling to actual play. As to your idea that the tank can't actually keep up with the archers - not true. My character was five points over invincible, it would have been easy at my level to be moving at full speed and still have more armour than the max damage of an average dude with a longbow. At that point (and given that I was a ranged character!) I could easily have mowed down as many dudes as I liked.

    Obviously the GM can just step in and say "Okay, 1,000 guys shoot arrows at you, we arne't using the combat system, you die." Perfectly reasonable I say! However, I think given the increasing time to live that each point of armour gives it is actually useful to put in a mechanic that penalizes its effectiveness as it gets close to the point of invincibility. I did the same thing with dodge - a 20 on the d20 always hits, which makes stacking dodge to the roof a little less good.