Monday, July 14, 2008

d20 Rethought: Damage Done Different

I've talked alot about taking damage on this blog, but I really ought to also describe mention the differences in d20 Rethought regarding how damage is dealt. There have been some changes made here too, again in the name of streamlining character creation and ensuring that once an aspect of a character is optimized, it *stays* optimized.

-All damage is done through dice. In other words, to calculate damage you might roll 3d6 or 4d6+2d8 but never 3d6+1 or 3d6+5. The potential drawback with this decision is that rolling large handfuls of dice can slow down play, but this change paves the way for several other rules.
-The die caliber used depends on the source of the damage. A character might use a trick that grants him "2d sneak attack damage" or "+3d spell damage"; you inflict extra weapon damage dice on melee attacks equal to your brawn score.
-"Damage Resistance" minimizes the result of a die roll, while "Damage Vulnerability" maximizes it. A feat's tactic might give you Sneak Attack Resistance 2, a werewolf might have Total Silver Vulnerability (all dice are maximized), a red dragon might have a Fire Resistance and Cold Vulnerability of 5 each. . .of course, there are still some creatures that are flat-out immune to a certain type of damage.

And the single most vital alteration, the one that has some very far-reaching repercussions on the strategy of the game:
-The maximum number of damage dice you can inflict is equal to your attack roll minus the opponent's defense (minimum 1). Let's say I'm making an attack that deals 4d8 damage against an opponent with a defense of 15. If I roll a 15 or 16 on the attack check I inflict 1d8 damage; if I roll a 17 I inflict 2d8, if I roll an 18 I inflict 3d8 and if I get a result of 19 or higher I roll all 4d8 dice.

To help make said repercussions a little easier to understand, I'll toss in another big rule about d20 Rethought that I've only mentioned in passing until now:
-You can spend X vitality and X resolve to get a +X action bonus on your next skill check. (Action bonuses are applied after the result cap.) This can be done in or out of combat. It represents a moment of intense focus on your characters part; the sort of thing where afterwards you often slump back, take a deep breath and wipe the sweat from your brow.

Those are the big, obvious changes from a player's perspective. Read on for an exploration of these mechanic's potential and an explanation of how this business with dice ties into the underlying math of the system.

How this helps character optimization:
It lets damage scale smoothly as your character goes up in level and/or becomes more optimized in that area. Think about it- abilities that improve your damage are going to do so in one of two ways, either by granting more damage dice or improving the die caliber. Thanks to the "attack check-defense" limitation, the former improvement is only useful when your character scores a solid hit on the opponent (more on that below). The latter, meanwhile, is a permanent improvement! In this system, tricks can grant anyone sneak attack dice; a backstab-happy character just picks up more of these tricks, in combination with talents that improve the caliber of his sneak attack die to a d6 and then a d8. A straightforward melee fighter, meanwhile, might have tricks that grant him more weapon damage dice and improve his weapon die caliber via a Weapon Focus talent.

How this helps gameplay:
It's the same idea as the chance to augment your critical hits- the player has a choice, to play it safe or gamble by spending a resource for the chance to hit the enemy even harder. For every 1 point of damage prevention (physical and mental) you sacrifice, you'll potentially be inflicting another die of damage- unless you roll so high that you're already using all your damage dice, or you roll so low that you still don't hit at all.

This in turn makes Defense checks (Spending a move action to roll your defense, and using that result if it's higher that the normal "taking 10" score) a hell of a lot more important when fighting powerful opponents- an average of +5 to defense doesn't just mean an additional 25% of the rolls will miss, it means that your opponent will still potentially be rolling 5 less damage dice if they do hit.

I can take the number of damage dice inflicted, add that to their attack check and compare that against the victim's relevant passive skill check for an attack's secondary effects. In other words, whenever you've got a special trick that pins someone to their wall with their clothing or gouges them so painfully they're stunned for a second or just plain knocks them on their ass. . .the better the attack roll, the better it works.

In a similar fashion, when the players are fighting mooks/minions/minor npcs, the victims can simply make damage saves (DC 10+dice inflicted+1/2 largest die size) rather than the players actually having to roll damage.

My prediction/hope- and this is something that will require heavy playtesting for me to gauge whether I've been successful- is that combat will be a tense affair that can potentially be settled in just a few blows, while still being dramatic, fun, and in practice quite survivable by the player character.

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