Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Electrical Attacks?

So I'm churning through a HUGE battery of tests for ranged Impact damage. This involves testing a multitude of attacks at each of 3 levels (8 AP, 16 AP, and 32 AP) and then determining the best-fit for cost/damage against our four standard attacks (blast, gun, sword, punch).

So it's a lot of work.

One of the questions that has come up is this: should Electrical Damage reduce armor? Let's take a look?

Electrical Damage
Right now basic electrical damage gives a -1 to CON rolls when one is called for. This makes it about 10% more likely that, if you are forced to make a CON roll (either because you are hit for a Minor Wound or you are at Hurt Condition) that you will have approximately a 10% greater chance of a more debilitating result (Stunned, Dazed, or worse).

That's not bad--but it has another note: it "halves metallic armor." The problem here is that metallic armor is not something we 'track.' We don't say what the composition of "armor" is in many cases. The purpose of the note is twofold:

  • Verisimilitude: if you are wearing conductive armor and are hit by a lightning bolt maybe you would expect it to do less than against, like, a punch?
  • Balance against knights and other people in fantasy. In a fantasy game every human who is wearing mundane armor of any strength is almost certainly wearing metal. If you want a weapon that'll hurt a knight you want lightning. This also helps leather-armor wearing characters as well as those with magical defenses.
Now, the verisimilitude one is questionable anyway. Lightning is a tricky thing--it doesn't aim like a bullet in the first place. It cares if your target is insulated, grounded, or whatever. The "real way" a magical lightning bolt would behave is pretty damn complex compared to how the game is going to treat it in the best of conditions. We knew that--but we felt it was still something that people would find interesting (i.e. a wand of lightning is different than a wand of fire under 'X' conditions).

The second one, however, is the big deal. Being able to shock knights in fantasy games is materially significant and deserves to be considered. If we were tracking metallic armor it would even be a cost-distinguisher for players making character. But we're not. There is no way to "buy" armor as metallic. We have some armors that seem metallic--like Full Plate Armor--but there's nothing to say that in some game worlds that's not made of "worked dragon bone" or something. 

If you are spending AP's on armor, what is the cost-break for having your armor be metallic? The answer is: that's based on the prevalence of lightning attacks in the game world. That's all but impossible for us to figure out from a design standpoint. I mean, we could try (1/10 of the attacks in an anything-goes game will be lightning) but that's tantamount to saying "almost no attacks are lightning so it's not worth anything." Then we're back to the same basic effect: armor will be 'metallic' when it 'makes sense' for it to be

Put another way: if so few attacks are lightning that there is no significant cost break for metallic armor than no PC will take take it unless it "makes sense" and the GM will either carefully design every instance of armor in the game (are those cyborgs metallic or polymer!?) or will simply make a judgment call on the spot when it comes up--and as the cost difference is minimal or nonexistent then it'll likely default to what the GM "thinks sounds right."

In other words, trying to do the math doesn't help much.

What About Having It Ignore Armor?
In the Have-Not playtest we ran last week the characters were attacked by "roomba" robots that fired electrical pulses and the GM had it reduce our armor (it was not metallic--we were wearing something like ballistic-weave school uniforms). This was, I think, based on his tinkering with the simulator--that is, he created an attack described as lightning, but its actual effects (ignores armor, -1 to CON rolls) was tested empirically against his test-bed.

The fact was, it felt "different." 

One of the key things I'm trying to do with all these attacks is to make each attack "feel distinct." If you have a plasma gun that's different from a freeze ray or a lightning lance or whatever. Without getting too complex there's only so much you can do--but where possible, I want to do it.

And that means figuring out what distinctions I can make for each attack.

In this case, having lightning reduce armor should produce a different "feel" than normal IMP damage. It'll "reward" characters who spend fewer points on armor (assuming they spend those points on other defenses) and it'll still scare knights.

So it's where I'm leaning currently.

Get it? Currently. I kill myself.



  1. That's definitely a catch-22 for things like electrical damage; the benefit just isn't going to be as clearly the case in a modern setting (where most body armor has at least reasonable insulative qualities) as one where most armor doesn't (i.e. where its likely made of conductive materials). I honestly don't know what you can do about that.

  2. Well, here's the thing: realism isn't the goal. It's (as I said) verisimilitude and a coolness factor. I think making electrical damage a little better against armor is a net gain even if it doesn't always make sense. I'm leaning in that direction.

    But I agree: this is one of those compromises.