Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Musings on modeling damage in skirmish-level wargames

I was looking over my Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures game today in preparation for a hoped-for game and I noticed an oddity -- it's almost impossible for a single blow to be fatal among comparable fighters.

For example, the Human Fighter, shown above, normally does 15 hit points of damage with a successful attack. But the fighter has 55 HP himself, so if he were fighting a similar warrior it would take at least three blows to defeat the foe. The first successful attack would reduce the enemy fighter to 40 HP, the second would cut him down to 25 and leave him "bloodied," which would set up the "Death Blow" attack action (if available) which would finish him off.

Now I don't have a problem with this from a game perspective. It applies to everyone equally and works well enough -- the same basic system has been used in D&D for decades.

But it doesn't bear much resemblance to actual sword fighting. I'm sorry, but if you get cut by a greatsword you're fighting efficiency will suffer. And often enough a single slash or stab will do some vital damage that will kill you outright or at least incapacitate you. But in D&D this only happens if you have some very powerful fighter matched against a very weak one. Many skirmish level games are like this, of course. It's easy to see why. I can hear the howls as some 15th level character gets nailed by a lucky shot from a random archer and is killed instantly. Yet just that sort of key blow plays a big role in fantasy fiction. Consider Bard's arrow that felled Smaug in the Hobbit, for example. Simply impossible under the D&D system.

The western gunfighter game Cowboys; The Way of the Gun has this effect, too. The Cowboy characters can't be killed by a single shot. Great for players but obviously absurd. The earlier wargame-like western gunfighting game Gunslinger was more realistic on that score. If you got shot, you were probably not going to be able to do much, and what you did get to do would take longer and be less effective. And there was always a chance of an instant kill.

I don't mean to pick on DDM, because the same thing is nearly universal among skirmish-level games, especially those with a fantasy or science fiction base. Occasionally there's a provision for quick KOs for ordinary run of the mill NPCs, but the more powerful characters can always take a licking and keep on ticking.

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