Sunday, May 29, 2016

Adventurers vs. Soldiers - Men of Steel or Wheat?

In Team Cap - and why it’s FRPG, I started talking about adventurers vs. soldiers. That’s a key theme both in the role-playing conversations between characters in my campaigns as well as between players outside of the games. So I wanted to get deeper into it!

One of the biggest problems I had with that original game was that adventurers got to be so much more powerful than everybody else, nearly right off the bat. By level 3 a fighter typically had four times the hit points of the common soldier and (I don’t know if this rule is still in those rules) could attack three times in a single round simply because they were common soldiers (level 0). Let me complain about that for a bit, but then I’ll tell you how it might be possible to justify it.

The urban legend when GENCON was still in Kenosha was that hit points were meant to be rolled at the start of every mission or every day. The idea was that you might be feeling poorly or you might have gotten a great night’s sleep and be ready to kick ass. I never used that rule, but I always kind of liked it. I do think that if you rolled poorly that morning, you should be able to get a cure disease spell or something of the sort and get to roll again, but that’s just me using role-playing and not trying to min-max every opportunity.

But it is HP that is the issue. You take a guy with 70HP and he gets cornered in an alley by four city guards. The city guards are packing heavy crossbows which they have aimed at the PC. What does the PC do? He charges them! He has nothing to worry about. He has 70HP and the best they can do is 2-5 x 4 = 20. He slaughters them. Now here was how I played that as a GM (after having that BS happen one too many times): If someone has the drop on you, they get to use the assassination rules. You charge straight into a line of guys planning to shoot you with crossbows, they each get to roll to assassinate you. Admittedly, they are unlikely to get the instant kill, but then they fall back on the “backstab” damage which was at least double. It’s still not enough to stop most guys with 70HP from charging, but even a 1% chance of instant death (multiplied by four guys) should make them think first.

So here’s how I would justify it if I were still playing that game: Think of the adventurers as Jason Bourne or Black Widow. They go flying into the pack, sliding here, dodging there, throwing fists and people around, etc. It is high fantasy, so let her rip. After all, HP is not supposed to represent the physical damage the body can take, but instead how they use their luck and abilities.

But then why is a character supposed to rest for weeks in order to get all of their HP back? Do their skills not show back up again once they catch their breath, or at least first thing tomorrow morning? Shameless plug here, but in Legend Quest, you have a certain amount of damage you can take physically based on your Endurance attribute (your “Life’s Blood”). As you take damage you bleed, fatiguing you and eventually sapping your Life’s Blood even if you do not take additional hits. But those skills and abilities you have are represented by your skill levels, and they are back every turn. So this turn, I can use my shield levels to block an incoming crossbow bolt, use my sword levels to parry a thrusting spear, but still use my Strength attribute to slash at the spearman. Or I can just take the bolt and hope my armor stops enough of it and focus my shield’s parrying against the spear so I can use strength and skills on my sword attack. What’s the difference? Well - You get to decide on strategy. It is better to not get hit than to simply assume you can take huge damage. You also get to use your skills over and over in the day, deciding how it will happen. Look, the HP thing is a simplification of combat, and that works for a lot of people. It just doesn’t work for me, and from our sales figures, it doesn’t work for a lot of people.

But we were talking about adventurers vs. soldiers, right? Yep. The question is: Should the difference between adventurers and soldiers be 70 to 8 or 36 to 30? If you have any respect for the warrior NPCs, I think it has to be 36 to 30.

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