Thursday, June 24, 2010

More on Unusual Attacks

Let's look at a real life example: in one of the more recent games I ran a player J. had a character named Amandine. The character was a shape-shifter in a modern-day magic game who could transform into winged fey-type. In her transformed shape she had:

  • 'Mystical' Escrima knives that she dual-wielded. 
  • A 'Sonic Shriek' that was a ranged kinetic blast that only fired once per Round AND had to recharge (take a Round off) after every shot.
The knives were a 'Standard' Attack (use as often as you like for 5 REA each--Amandine could strike three or four times a Round as she was very fast). The Sonic Shriek was what would qualify as an Unusual Attack: It fired only once a Round and wasn't available every Round.

In the book of powers we were using at the time Sonic Shriek was both pretty powerful and very cheap: it cost about 4 AP and was rated at the damage of (about) 16 AP--that's a bargain! 

The Good Thing About It
As a game designer I liked this build for a few reasons. The primary one was that it was interesting. The character did close in lethal (PEN) damage with her knives but the hits were comparatively weak. Against fleshy opponents they were devastating (especially the number of them she got) but if she ran into an armored opponent or one that didn't take PEN damage (like undead) they were comparatively less effective for the points.

On the other hand, with her Sonic Shriek she could (once a Round, every other Round) blast through heavy armor: that meant there was a greater spread of opponents that she was still "in the fight" against. Furthermore, her ability to fight at range (if not all that well) combined with her flight gave her yet another potential tactical option to use.

A Question About Effectivness
I don't recall if we, at the time, with that build of the rules, charged her only 1 AP for the Sonic Shriek (because it was less expensive than her knives). I suspect we did. I think that the value of having the Shriek was worth well more than 1 AP and probably the full 4 AP that it was costed at in the rules. This example was one of our reasons for questioning the "you only pay full points for your most powerful attack" rule.

The reason I think that the Shriek was worth full points was because it was quite valuable: the ability to do larger amounts of IMPACT damage, even only once in a while, gave the character a chance to deliver a knock-out blow to targets that her knives sometimes couldn't. In other words, if looking at raw combat effectiveness of two Amandines, one with JUST the knives but +1 AP spent making them hit a little harder and the other with the knives AND +1 AP spent on the Sonic Shriek the Sonic Shriek build would be considerably more effective against many if not most 1-on-1 fights.

THAT would mean that any player concerned about effectiveness would virtually need to spend the +1 AP on a limited-use coup de gras attack. While I liked the way the character played out, I wouldn't want EVERY character to have to imitate that.

A Question About Versatility
On the other hand I would not charge the full cost because the Amandine build that J. came up with was versatile. The fact that she could (a) fight at range (a little) or (b) face more heavily armored opponents and still have some attack options were, to my thinking not worth the full cost. If that was all she had gotten--if the character's % chance of victory against many potential opponents was NOT increased, for example, if the ranged attack had simply done the same damage as her knives but was adjusted (minorly) for Impact so that it went through slightly heavier armor? Then I would be way more hesitant to charge her a lot for it.

The reason is that versatility, while definitely a tactical advantage, is also and often more-so a benefit to the role-playing experience in a way that improves it for everyone. If the knives-only Amandine can't face armored opponents at all then the GM has some decisions to make around what he or she thinks the player experience will be if there are several of them in a scenario (does the player just sit them out? Do you give a constant mix of fleshy and armored types so there is something for them to do? Do you "not care" and risk a degraded but less 'calculated' game?)

These are all potentially valid responses (and the last one--where the chips fall as the GM thinks they 'really would' is one I happen to like) but if the game mechanics provides some simple solutions (such as the character build we saw) then I think that's a bonus. I don't want to charge an arm and a leg for that.

So What Does This Mean?
It means that when we are constructing the Version 2.0 set of the rules we need to figure out what these limited-use attacks will be combined with. What do we want them to be combined with? What are the ramifications of these intended combinations. We'll look at that in the next post.


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