Magic weapon table philosophy

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EHamilton
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Magic weapon table philosophy

I was comparing the ACKS table for non-sword weapons to the original version from the Expert set, and noticed something interesting: It's actually less diverse than the original table in weapon variety. Everyone knows that Alex loves spears. But apparently he also holds a deep grudge against maces, since they've been removed entire!

Because it's more fun to speculate wildly than to ask for an explanation directly, I got to thinking about why this choice might have been made. I think that there's a sort of hidden cultural subgrouping of weapons that determines how likely they are to be enchanted:

  • Ancient weapons (stuff like swords and spears and slings and bows) are centuries old, enchanted back in antiquity by powerful civilizations of humans (or elves, or lizards, or whatever your history specifies). The dominance of swords, in particular, is because they break less often due to being almost all-metal in construction.
  • Dwarven weapons (axes, hammers, and crossbows) are rare due to their tendency to be hoarded by dwarves, and perhaps not quite as ancient, but are of unusually high quality. Even if dwarves have fewer enchanters, they have access to very high quality materials; I visually a dwarven hammer +2 as being more like "a well-crafted mithril hammer" rather than "a normal hammer that got enchanted". This helps to explain why there are enchanted bolts (mithril tips!) but not enchanted crossbows themselves.
  • High medieval weapons (polearms, morning stars, most artillery, and firearms if they exist) are all of relatively recent design, intented to solve specific low-magic-world problems like dismounting knights or cracking open suits of gothic plate. You don't expect to find them in the dungeon.

There's actually a lot of implied flavor behind the choice of items in the table. The ACKS table (with no maces) is even more implicitly post-apocalyptic than the Expert Set table, in that interpretation.

This led me to start thinking that it might be interesting to find ways to more strongly differentiate the three classes of weapons. At sufficiently high levels (or in magic-heavy settings) it's probaby possible to enchant any weapons. But at least in my campaign, the high-medieval weapons end up being stimatized because they never show up in the hoards, so trying to specialize in them early is a bit of a 'noob trap'. By around level 4, everyone is using swords and spears, maces are for "your priest hasn't found a hammer yet", and even polearms are for "you stand in the second row and don't have a magic spear".

The BECMI / RC approach to making each weapon useful was to create a complicated system of skills and associated procs for each weapon category ("this can stun 15% of the time when you're at journeyman level") which seemed way too fiddly and also locked players into overspecializing to the point of not caring about most other weapons at all. But I feel like aspects of that system make some simulationist sense for the high-medieval subcategory. Maybe swords and spears are part of the "everything does 1d6 and better weapons are differentiated by enchantment" system, and polearms and morning stars are part of the "does a fiddly proc-based effect when it hits" system. I'm toying with the idea of adding some house rules to that effect, for the table-neglected weapon types.

Has anyone else tried anything to make maces, morning stars, and flails more competitive in the level 4-8 range? Obviously you could just add them to the table as +X variants, but I always like to try to find fixes that preserve flavor and lead to more differentiation, rather than more homogeneity.

Aryxymaraki
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I have not tried this, but if you want to add fiddly proc-based effects, my recommendation is to phrase them as "On an attack roll of 18 or higher" and so on.

By phrasing them in terms of the result of the attack roll, you get the % chance differentiation without needing to add any additional dice rolls.

Jard
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I don't have anything to add to the main discussion, but in terms of ways to do "procs" in a tabletop game, I have an additional suggestion.  You can make your weapon that you'd like to have a proc chance use more than 1 die, say 2d6, and have the special effect occur on "doubles" (1&1, 2&2, etc.)

koewn
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FWIW, since the KS started, Heroic Fantasy will have something much like a 'proc' effect for a new critical hit system - achieve a to-hit roll that is some value above the target AC, and that's a critical - you get to roll 2d6 on an effects table, which includes many of the special maneuvers (knockdown, knockback, etc)

I've used it in a couple different games so far, and it's f*ing awesome. We had a 5th level sword/board fighter wade through a crowd of skeletons, and they were flying every-damn-where - bowling each other over, shattering against walls...

It's a blast - absolutely the cinematic "hero wades into mooks, mooks go flying" imagery.

EHamilton
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I've always loved the "special maneuvers" mechanism in ACKS, and been disappointed that it doesn't come into play more often. Front line fighters tend to optimize for raw damage output (to take best advantage of the generous cleave system), and non-fighters just don't have a good enough attack roll to want to attempt anything that requires beating AC by 4. To be honest, I don't think that's a problem with the game system, which would support a "dirty tricks" fighter build just fine. But there's just something about baseline human psychology that likes to maximize raw numbers.

I'm in favor of anything that moves combat more in the direction of descriptively interesting effects.

Right now I'm contemplating a simple house rule to allow bludgeons and polearms to declare a subset of weapon-appropriate combat maneuvers after a hit at AC+4 and in addition to damage, rather than in advance and instead of damage. That helps to compensate them for the lack of enchantments on the random loot table, and it seems reasonable that (for example) a billhook should offer a better chance to knock someone prone than a dagger.

However, that also means that when everyone starts getting the resources to enchant up polearms with effects on par with a frostbrand, they'll take over the game again. Hmmmm....

Jard
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I'll have to look it up later, but houserules for the kind of slight power bump to manuevers you described was discussed in the forums.

Alex
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To encourage special maneuvers, you could allow a character with Combat Trickery to decide *after* the attack throw if he wants to inflict a special maneuver, or you could allow a character to hit with a basic attack if he misses due to the -4 penalty. 

nemomeme
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I'm always looking for ways to make make special manuevers more likely/attractive.

Right now I have a "hólmganga" subset houserule for my viking campaign:

Axes are only a -2 to Sunder shields (rather than a -6) and characters armed with a shield have only a -2 for Force Back and Overrun.

Axes and shields along with the good ole ACKS spears are pretty much the standard kit. Especially as I've also got a "Shields Shall Be Splintered" variant houserule.

Making Force Back and Overrun a bit easier really helps make some of those dungeon hallway/doorway fights a bit more dynamic.

Alex
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Joined: 2011-06-30 18:10

I'm always looking for ways to make make special manuevers more likely/attractive.

Right now I have a "hólmganga" subset houserule for my viking campaign:

Axes are only a -2 to Sunder shields (rather than a -6) and characters armed with a shield have only a -2 for Force Back and Overrun.

Axes and shields along with the good ole ACKS spears are pretty much the standard kit. Especially as I've also got a "Shields Shall Be Splintered" variant houserule.

Making Force Back and Overrun a bit easier really helps make some of those dungeon hallway/doorway fights a bit more dynamic.


-nemomeme

I quite like your house rules; but do you offer any sort of consideration to make swords or maces useful? It seems like axe ends up as superior to sword for all purposes.

Interesting that there's substantial interest in having more weapon differentiation in ACKS. Areas to play with (especially in HFH) might include...

  • Relative ability to perform particular special maneuvers
  • Relative ability to score critical hits
  • Limits or penalties on cleave attacks

Etc. 

nemomeme
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Swords tend to grant status in my game and are the weapons most likely to be imbued with magic, so I expect them to be more popular as the campaign progresses. But nothing really for maces yet, no. That's a weapon of the bloodless "false gods" southerners (Slavic-types). Clerics haven't been unlocked as a class option yet so it hasn't really come up. Or Bladedancers. They'll want to in the long term as all the northerner PCs are refugees from homelands which are now overrun by undead. That's what comes of having only Witches & Shaman around when the ultimate necromancer comes along...

But I really like the idea of giving mechanical differentiation for weapons which is why I'm asking.

Maces might become good weapons against plate armor and/or brittle skeletons and zombies a la some later versions of the game.

My polearms only cleave at cleric/thief rate or worse, so they tend to be used for charging and then the northerners switch to sword or axe.

edit: maybe bladed weapons are the only ones that can be made masterwork? (+1 to hit?) once I figure that sub-system out. (the PCs are nowhere near a mastersmith...)

koewn
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One may want to look at the fighting style as a whole, as well.

Perhaps Forcebacks occur more often if you're wielding a shield; or free Cleaves with two-handed/large weapons. Two-weapon style gets more Disarms, maybe. It may open the door for the old 'weapon vs armor' paradigm.

Philosophically I'd rather have standard damage die and more interesting (but easy-to-judge, paradoxically) combat effects, as far as weapon/style differentiation go. One of the several reasons I was impressed with ACKS when I first saw it was the simplicity of the two-weapon fighting style, as an example.

jedavis
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> Swords tend to grant status in my game and are the weapons most likely to be imbued with magic, so I expect them to be more popular as the campaign progresses.

Yah, if you want to kill monsters with immunity to nonmagic weapons, swords are the way to go, and +1 damage from magic is a 30% expected damage increase on a d6 weapon - nothing to sneeze at. I quite like your holmgang rules as well. I agree that maces getting a bonus vs plate might make sense (it certainly makes sense for picks and warhammers), or a bonus to Subdue / nonlethal damage maneuvers? That doesn't come up often, though.

> Two-weapon style gets more Disarms, maybe.

I used to do filipino martial arts, which involved a lot of two-weapon stickfighting and disarms, and we had a fun trick called a projectile disarm where you send the opponent's weapon flying at high velocities at a second opponent. More of a demo / exhibition move than practical, but "ranged cleave with opponent's weapon following a disarm" seems like a perfectly reasonable thing for an RPG.

nemomeme
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It occurs to me that it's relatively tiring to defend against a well-balanced one-handed blade relative to a mace or an axe or polearm. You're probably looking at having to defend against more attacks over the course of ten seconds.

This combined with the hitpoints also being stamina to some degree makes me wonder if swords doing 1 point of damage even on a miss might not be too much in contrast with giving other weapons their own small benefits.

Maybe I've been playing too much XCOM2.

tire_ak
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Just chiming in to say that my players (and monsters) can convert their attack into a special maneuver if they hit 4 points above AC. On a natural 20, they get both the hit and the maneuver.

Loswaith
Joined: 2017-05-12 02:19

Rather interesting to see that maces are under enchanted given that they are a staple weapon for Clerics, one of the classes that do enchantments and that they do them with the least cost.

As other have mentioned bonuses to special attacks are not a bad way to go, alternativly for a proc system, take a look at the Dragon Age RPG stunt system (in their quickstart guilde).  That could give some ideas for the 'proc' style system, but would obviously need modifying for ACKs.