Arms & Armour: Crunch Part 1

I have been doing a bit of thinking about a discussion some of us had after the last play session. Specifically about the damage one might expect to do with particular weapons. This post, I hope, will attempt to lay out some of the crunchy stuff behind certain design decisions.

The Warrior

For the purposes of this post, I will be referencing my mercenary fighter template – what I consider to be the baseline for an experienced fighter but not an exceptional one. Our mercenary is strong but not ‘weight-lifter strong’, so he has a Strength of d8. He is in reasonable shape but not exceptionally fit, so his Vigor is d6. He either fights with a spear and  a shield, or he uses a bow, and he wears Reinforced Leather Armour. I assume he is good with his weapon but not a master so we have a Fighting or Shooting of d8. He is an Extra so he does not roll a Wild Dice for Trait tests.

The Technology

Armour and armouring practices are influenced by two trends: the weapons a culture uses, and the economic means of accessing technology. In the world of the Three Pillars, the most common weapons are the short sword and spear. Thus, the armour that is most prevalent should be sufficient to protect against those weapons. The technological and economic base of the world do not allow for large scale access to armour heavier than mail.

The Napkin Math

Average damage numbers do not take into account the possibility of exploding dice, by convention.

The mercenary has a Toughness of 7 (base 5 + armour of 2). He does an average of 8 damage on a typical hit (d8+d6 = 4.5+3.5). This would render a similar opponent Shaken but not Wounded, thus the armour has done its job and is sufficient to the task, given the cost. Using a bow would only cause the opponent to be Shaken if they lack a shield (2d6 = 7. Medium Shield will raise Toughness to 9).

The melee warrior has a 25% chance to hit, including a 9% chance of scoring a raise. On a raise he achieves 11.5 average damage – enough to inflict a Wound and kill his opponent. This is an acceptable result in the context of the technology and weapons being used.

The archer has a 65% chance to hit, including a 13% chance of scoring a Raise. On a raise she inflicts 10.5 average damage, only causing the standard opponent to be Shaken. Again, I would consider these to be acceptable numbers given the setting.

For comparison, a mage using the bolt power has exactly the same average damage output as an archer


I believe that this shows that the damage numbers are, in the context of the game world, in line with protection values of armour. A skilled or lucky melee fighter is going to kill his opponent faster than average, as might be expected, but does not need to be a lot more skilled or lucky to achieve this.

  • A group of archers is potentially much more dangerous than a group of spear-men, since they can stack Shaken results to achieve a Wound in a more reliable fashion, but they sacrifice raw Wound potential. Again, I don’t think that this is out of line.
  • The results tell me that the level of protection afforded by the most common armour is generally sufficient to protect against the most common weapons.
  • It also tells me that melee combatants with common weapons need to be clever about using them if they wish to reliably dispatch commonly or up-armoured opponents. E.g: called shots, wild attacks, or ganging up.
  • Melee combatants with better weapons will fare well against opponents with typical levels of protection, but not assuredly so. Example: The same warrior with a long-sword will still only render the opponent Shaken with an average result but is only 2 pips away from inflicting a Wound, instead of 3 or 4.
  • While melee weapons may be slightly less dangerous when used in a group situation, they scale better to the wielder’s Strength, have better raw Wound potential, and benefit from gang up bonuses.

~ by occam99 on September 18, 2015.

4 Responses to “Arms & Armour: Crunch Part 1”

  1. Hi,

    I don’t disagree with your numbers above however I think the actual conclusions are flawed.

    Run the same maths with the defenders parry being 8 instead of 7. Keep all the other variables the same. The warriors effectiveness drops (halves) while the archers remains the same. Is this logical?

    Historically or practically in a RP system, should you be more likely to be killed by an arrow or a sword. I would say that the chances should be pretty much equal. In your example the archer hits 3 times more often than the warrior. Then if it was balanced the warrior should be doing 3 times more damage than the archer. Basically if the archer hits you might become shaken. If the warrior hit, you are dead… I know this is over the top, but you get my drift. The two forms of attack need to be more balanced.

    I also appears that from example above that if you use a melee weapon and don’t have a d8 strength you might as well not bother. I think this is silly. Why can’t you have a warrior based upon finesse / speed and be equally effective. Remember we are roleplaying heroic characters and they should be able to come in all shapes and forms, not just muscle bound grunts.

    I know you have said in the past that warriors get access to many edges at seasoned level that increase their effectiveness. However I counter with the argument that so do archers (e.g. marksman edge has a huge effect on an archers effectiveness). I would also like to state that why do we even bother to play at an novice level if the system is so clearly broken?

    I conclude that the gap between the chance to hit for an arrow and a sword is to great. No other RP system has this disparity. You argue that a sword does more damage, however the difference is pretty minor and certainly does not compensate for the reduced chance to hit. Edges should be irrelevant to this argument. How do we fix it? Increase the base target number for missile/spell attacks or increase the damage potential of melee attacks (or vice-versa).

  2. At Novice Rank, without any investment in Edges and using my default mercenary as outlined above:

    The archer cannot even score a Shaken result without an above average damage result. With a raise to hit, then Shaken is the average result.

    The melee fighter scores Shaken with an average result and a Wound on an above average result. A raise to hit scores a kill on even an average damage roll.

    Which part is unbalanced?

    A melee fighter can Wild Attack to increase the odds of landing a killing blow. One on one, that is a serious tactical advantage an archer does not have.

    Even Shaken allies provide a Gang Up bonus (as I just found out), so a group of spear-men just became potentially more dangerous than even a group of archers (scoring a killing blow about 40% of the time, each, compared to a group of archers that average 20% chance at a kill for every two archers).

    To address the specific points: Why should every aspect of combat be firmly balanced? Some sort of artificially introduced fairness? You claim that a melee fighter should do 3 times more damage to compensate for the archer’s increased accuracy, yet we note that the archer’s attacks are largely ineffective, while the warrior scores a Shaken on average.

    A melee fighter with a d6 Strength also scores a Shaken result on average against a similar opponent (because the Shield does not add armour against melee attacks), and a kill only slightly less than average if they manage a raise to hit. Since this is a system of trade-offs, a character that sacrifices raw strength will make up for it in another area, such as a higher Agility (for an easier time raising Fighting or Shooting) or Vigor (thus making them even harder for an archer to kill).

    I don’t think that the system is ‘clearly broken’ at Novice level. Like any RPG with a notion of levels, the early stages of character development have less options than the later stages. I’ve shown above that a Novice melee fighter with common equipment is – one on one – more effective than an archer.

    Please don’t tell me that you’d expect a Novice warrior based on speed and finesse to be able to charge an archer with relative impunity. A Novice without a shield should rightly fear an archer. Historical and fantasy literature are replete with examples of exactly this: when you know your opponent is a proficient sword-fighter, you kill him from a distance – Boromir, Achilles, Harold Godwinson, Leonidas…

  3. Yes if you compare one individual hit from a missile weapon against one from a melee weapon then you are right. But that is not what we are talking about, a missile weapon hits 3 times to one success for a melee weapon (I know this is not exact but it makes it easier to explain). That is two more opportunities to roll an above average damage roll. It is simple probability. Work it out, What is more likely rolling 3 times 2d6 to score an 8 or more or rolling d8+d6 once?

    You keep on saying that you have shown that a warrior is more effective than an acrcher. I dont see it. Think back over the past few combats for our party. Who has been the most effective at killing opponents? The warriors using melee weapons or the archers/casters?

    I did not claim that a melee character should do 3 times more damage than a missile user. That is just silly. But using the same thinking is it fair that a missile user hit 3 times for every 1 melee. I would argue that this is also silly and that is the point I was trying to make.

    I am not asking for all aspects of combat to be “firmly balanced”. Each should have its own advantages and disadvantages. What I am asking for is what I percieve as an unbalanced aspect of the combat rules to be addressed.

  4. One thing: remove Burst from the calculations of who has felled the most opponents (since it operates on a different mechanic to either archery or melee) and the kill tally is firmly in favour of the melee characters.

    Let me try to put the argument into a different perspective: game balance aside, I need something other than giant monsters to scare you. A dozen archers (even moderately skilled ones) does just that and I’m not about to give it away.

    Another perspective is this: the TN of 4 is to hit a target who is in the open, standing still, at short range. Change any one of those things (which any character can accomplish) and the hit rates become comparable between the two fighters (with the archer losing overall due to lack of damage). The defence against melee is, generally, skill based. The defence against archery is, generally, movement based.

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