Monday, April 22, 2013

Noodling around with DR in Dungeon Fantasy

There was a thread on the SJGames forums a while back by +Douglas Cole about rectifying melee weapons so that the damage doesn't scale up so quickly. It quickly spiraled out into one of those mega-discussions that frequently happen there in core topics, so unfortunately, I can't recommend reading it. However, his core points were, as I take it:
  • Gun damages are based on real studies of kinetic effect 
  • Our wonderful previously-mentioned author has done the same thing with bows, which dramatically changes their damage
  • Melee sw weapons are not thus rectified, which means they get way too much damage way too quickly
  • Rectifying melee weapon damage with real-world quantifiables is difficult or impossible due to lots and lots of factors
    • As a side point, it's far too easy to penetrate DR with a melee weapon.
It's with that side point I'm here concerned. Even Blunt Trauma with Edged Weapons doesn't fix this, though it goes some way, but a shortsword in the hands of a ST 10 man (arguably below the average for people who go around hitting people with swords) will penetrate a maul hauberk 33% of the time. If you bump that to ST 12 with a broadsword, he penetrates 83% of the time.

(If you're talking about a ST 20 barbarian with a maul, he laughs at your puny heavy plate layered with a double-mail hauberk. But maybe that's how it should be, at least for Dungeon Fantasy.)

Basic plate armor is fairly egregious if this sort of thing tickles your paideuometer. It's DR 7, which ST 14 will penetrate roughly half the time, depending on the weapon. Looking on B558, this lines up with 1/8" of mild steel. I'm no armorer by a long shot, but I don't think mild steel is used in plate mail. (If I'm wrong, I'm sure someone will be along to correct me shortly.) Plus, I have the most convincing of all possible arguments: sketchy anecdotal evidence from the biomed play-tester to Low-Tech who says that when the playtesters brought up that plate mail should actually have a much higher DR, they were told that it didn't for playability and legacy reasons.

The thread was inconclusive about a fix, and for good reason. The real fix would be to fiddle with ST-sw and weapon mods values until they lined up with real-world quantities on penetration and wounding with regard to various weapons. Unfortunately, that data doesn't exist and probably can't exist, and even if it did that's a huge amount of work, much more so than for firearms given the relatively orderly nature of firearm wounding compared to being hit with a baseball bat.

However, one of the easy quick-fixes put forward in the thread is doubling DR values and giving firearms a (2) DR divisor. This strikes me as simple enough to play and remember to maybe be worthwhile. It was pointed out that this just shifts the point where the system breaks upward, but I think I'm okay with that for Dungeon Fantasy; characters and monsters with high-ST should be pulling off scary, fantastic wounding shots. You should be afraid of that ogre even if you have plate mail.

What would the effects of this be, I wonder? The easiest way to visualize it for me is to separate the advantages from the disadvantages.



  • My sense of plausibility will be less tickled, as will that of several other players at my table.
  • Knights and barbarians get even more awesome - the first because they can become tin cans that much more easily, and the second because they're the only ones who can still crush those tin cans with brute force.
  • It forces the use of tactical options, like striking at limbs or other places that are less armored, chinks in armor, and picking weapons based on armor penetration vs. damage (e.g. bodkin arrows).
    • Specifically, the All-Out Attack (Strong) option might get used once in a while.
  • It helps with the survivability of the PCs. I'm not actually sure this is a plus, but I'll list it here anyway. It also helps with the survivability of the monsters.
  • It makes the invasion force from the Barrier Peaks that are coming down to take over all of Oerth even scarier



  • It marginalizes people in combat who aren't primarily combat oriented, or some of their options. That puny bard or thief just can't do much to the lucky goblin who has a mail hauberk.
    • Most of them have other options in combat, like the Wizard or Cleric can use magic
    • Specifically, it might be worth giving Missile Spells the (2) armor divisor, 'cause they're magical and fast.
  • It could lead to long combats without either side being able to accomplish much by strength-of-arms. This is a big potential failure, though I imagine it's more likely in a low-powered non-heroic game than Dungeon Fantasy.
  • It makes thrusting weapons even less attractive. Who wants to use a spear when an axe won't even get through? Where's the point?
    • Maybe targeting Chinks in Armor should be easier with thr/imp weapons? Maybe it should give a (4) armor divisor instead of (2), bringing it back down to the level already given in the Basic Set (and making it very attractive).
  •  It lowers the utility of Fortify enchantments. Oooh, +1 DR! Great! I already have 8!
    • I'm hesitant to also double the DR granted by Fortification, but maybe I shouldn't be. Or maybe it should grant other benefits somehow - being cheaper or more effective on lower-DR armor, or not taking the (2) divisor from various attacks that normally have it, like Missile Spells and that monster on level 3.
  • It raises the bar for fodder monsters. A bunch of puny goblins just aren't scary unless they're truly a bunch of puny goblins, because they just can't get through your armor. Unless you're the Wizard. Oops.
Does anyone see anything I'm missing? With the above list, I think I'm going to try it in my game, for a few sessions at least. I think my players are amenable - in fact, they first broached the idea.


I'm sorry to everyone who reads this blog for my new update schedule of "seldom, and on no particular schedule." Work is seriously kicking my behind at the moment. I'm pulling 60-hour weeks to get a few projects landed.

Hopefully in a few more weeks I'll be back to normal. Until then, my policy is, if I don't have anything interesting to say, I don't post, so I don't waste your time.


  1. Besides marginalizing weaker combatants, you're also engaging in an arms race.

    - monsters need to get tougher, because suddenly DR 10 isn't high, it's slightly above average.

    - PCs, especially Knights and Barbarians, will want even more ST, even more damage, to deal with armored foes.

    - you have to think about more DR on monsters.

    Still, if you're okay with the cons, it could be interesting. I think it's better to try it in a one-shot session than in a campaign.

    1. I'm okay with testing out the cons, anyway. I'm on the side of just-barely-pro-enough to try it out and see how it works, since this 'fix' doesn't require a lot of recalculation.

      I definitely agree that a one-shot would be the ideal place, or maybe a three-shot. Unfortunately I don't have one of those at the moment.

  2. A different simple but unplaytested solution would be to get rid of swing damage entirely. All damage is based on thrust, and weapons that were formerly swing weapons get +1 or +2 damage (suit to taste).

    ST12 guy with an axe now does 1d+2 and almost never penetrates DR6 plate (if you're using Edge Protection, anyway). He can beat someone wearing DR4 scale to death, eventually, but a guy with a spear does about the same damage (or a lot better with a two-handed spear).

    Cutting damage is good enough in DF that I don't think encourage people to stab sometimes is going to break the game. Or alternately, impaling damage sucks against golems, the undead, plant monsters, and some demons, so people will still use cut.

    Another interesting side-effect is that while Weapon Master isn't nerfed, you won't see ST17 weapon masters doing 3x the damage of the ST12 cleric.

    It's also easier from the GM side, since you don't have to recalculate the DR of every monster.

    Crap, now I'm going to have to write this up for my own blog.

    1. Look forward to seeing it in action. I'd seen Doug talk about using the bonuses on swing damage as a multiplier (1 + bonus/3 or bonus/4) to model leverage, but the flat bonus might work out well. I might even suggest a flat th+1 standing in for sw for one-handed weapons and th+2 for two-handed, just to keep two-handed weapons as a viable choice.

    2. I like this idea, though two things:

      1) it seems like it would require more recalculation and remembering than the change I proposed. Thus, more work. Still, if the payoff's higher, more work is worth it.

      2) It also seems like it makes the basic damage table less variegated, and thus makes different levels of ST less exciting. I'm much less likely to buy even levels of ST. (This might be fixable by still keeping the attack types separate, and have them advance offset from one another - so at ST 10 you have thr = 1d-2, sw = 1d-1, whereas ST 11 is thr = 1d-1, sw = 1d-1.)

      I look forward to your treatment of the subject.

    3. I, too, was worried about the "Even Strengths" issue, and I really, really like your solution in option 2.

    4. Mark said
      Crap, now I'm going to have to write this up for my own blog.

      Yes, you are. And while this is a huge change for 4e, it really should be the direction ST-based damage that GURPS goes in, say, 5e if/when it comes.

      It would make a good "Alternate GURPS" article for Pyramid, too, properly hashed out and playtested.

    5. Okay, it's wrote. Now I need to playtest it sometime.

  3. Just glad to see you're okay - I know from 60 hour weeks, and came off of an entire Winter of them recently, and now find myself with more time for fun pursuits.

  4. Thanks for the mention.

    A few thoughts:

    1) Doing the same thing with melee weapons is difficult but not impossible, and I've been involved with an offline discussion with someone who's actively trying to make this happen. The key bit is to get from strength (and therefore force) to impact velocity, and thus impact energy. From there, dealing with the energy and area of impact shouldn't be impossible. The math will be somewhat ugly in the raw, but you'd want to reduce it to a few simplifying cases that cover most applications, and leave details to, well, people that love them some spreadsheet action.

    2) I really do like the concept that there is but thrust damage, and swinging gives you a per-die damage bonus, likely based on weapon reach, balance, and mass.

    3) In my forum and blog post on rescaling weapon damage, my suggestion was if you treat thrust damage as something like ST/20, matching that up with an armor divisor of (2) for impaling hard weapons tends to give a reason to thrust instead of swing when dealing with armor, which works well.

    4) It's possible that LT pushed DR too high. The assumptions seem to state that typical DR per mm of LT steels outperforms RHA by a bit. The best steels of the day probably did (RHA is nothing special), but the assumption seems to reflect that all armor was that good, rather than the armor that was that good reflecting a fine piece. I do thing that weapons probably punch through armor too easily, but then, I also think that GURPS is probably underestimating the potential injury or stunning from blunt trauma in some cases. I don't know that the LT optional rule for giving armor double DR before a real penetrating hit is the best solution (though I can't off-the-cuff suggest a better one).

    5) Finally, in terms of long combats. If one looks at medieval fight manuals, it would seem that a lot of the fight-enders look to me like "hook foe, grapple, throw to ground, take out really evil pointed dagger with diamond cross-section, and drive it into somewhere weak." that or "take huge lever arm, take shape equivalent to nasty aforementioned dagger, and swing it really hard." So if you were forced to deal with people in heavy armor with target selection or grappling, that wouldn't upset me at all. For obvious reasons. :-)

    1. I'm not sure how well "wrestle the foe to the ground and stab him at close quarters" works in the typical DF environment where the PCs are outnumbered 2:1. It seems like a potential opportunity for a TPK.

      On the other hand, if the PCs are wearing metal panolopy while the monsters are wearing leather, the idea that 5-6 delvers can take on a dozen orcs and triumph makes a lot more sense. And things could get tense if the orcs decide to use their numerical advantage to grapple and go to the ground.

    2. With respect to 5), "yes, that." Full coverage plate armor historically resulted in a lot of grappling and specialized anti-armor weapons. Since in DF full plate is probably going to be common amongst the warrior niches, this probably logically results in Orcs with Pollaxes and goblins literally swarming all over you and wrasslin' you down to the ground before stabbing a dagger into your eye slit. Sounds awesome to me.

      However, as Patrick said it is a big relative power bonus to kaniggits and other high ST PCs, plus a nerf on monsters that can't wear armor or penetrate the higher DR, and a nerf on thrusting weapons in general. Not so awesome. If it is done, I'd recommend making more options for chink hunting, if only allowing it as an option Crit result (instead of the negated defense).

      Also, if this goes into effect, you will probably see PCs of classes that normally fall on the unarmored side armoring up. Trading half my Wizard's move for DR 4-5 is probably not worth it. For DR 8+ - yeah, I will probably go for that.

      Also this is a relative power boost for stuff that normally pierces of ignores DR.

      All of this is sustainable I think, but there is still one major problem: You have made GURPS combat more complicated and knowledge based. Not a problem for most folks reading this blog, but for a lot of folks, needing to know a special set of rules/work-arounds for dealing with the heavily armored is a Problem.

    3. Regarding 5), my question is: is it gameable?

      Don't get me wrong, it sounds awesome to me. But I'm looking at a 3-hour time slot with guys who mostly don't know GURPS beyond "roll 3d6, roll under" and for whom the grappling rules are entirely unknown. Not to mention not all of us have access to the draft of - dare I invoke its unholy name? - Technical Grappling.

      But I do very much agree it's realistic. And potentially fun.

    4. The "is it fun" thing coexists with another bugbear, which is "what purpose does armoring up serve?"

      Right now, grabbing DR whatever armor, especially in DF where throwing an axe blow that does 3d+1(2) cut just isn't that good, and even not invoking the (2) I think some of Peter's characters can throw down with 2d+7 or more raw damage, the point of armor isn't invulnerability, it's mitigation.

      You're reducing your chance of injury, not making you impervious. The armoristas on the forums seem to be going for impervious.

      I like the way things work in DF, where currently my guy is more or less immune on torso and head to anything less than 1d+2, and functionally resistant up to 2d+1. Thumvar, Ted's Knight, has DR 14 or so, but Shrivener (Cadmus' axe with the (2) Armor Divisor) is still a threat.

      Some of (or lots of) the things you'd do in a more reality-based campaign go horribly pear-shaped when you throw magic, extra effort, or other rules into the mix without integrating the entire system together in a very 5th Edition kind of overhaul.

      Not worth the gain, likely. I do like to identify where the issues lie, though. Makes for good fodder for discussion.

    5. Oh, one last: I'm not playing in any secret games using Technical Grappling either. The draft that I have has just enough changes in it that it would need to be shared to others in order to play it, and for obvious reasons, I can't do that. I'd have to have people in a FTF group, I think, to try it around my own table. And I don't have those either.

      Alas, even I have to wait.

    6. Another thought on the grappling issue - if you want this to happen in DF you probably need to nerf or outlaw armor spikes. Otherwise low armor types are going to really pay for those grapples, and high end combat might very well devolve into sweaty buff folks in spiked plate with rondel daggers rasslin each other at which point GURPS Dungeon Fantasy is straying a little too close to the *other* definition of DF.

      The battered warrior with a half dozen dead gobbos stuck to her armor is also kind of absurd...

      ... GURPS DaDa Fantasy? "The Wizard, the Accountant and the Blueberry Muffin have all been vanquished by a combination of your pinhead costume and bodily ordeur. Their treasure consists of a giraffe stuffed with M&Ms, a +3 flaming baby sport, and half a pack of Quantum Camels. Do you wish to return to town to bathe in jello?"

      I'm not sure if this is more awesome than wrong or more wrong than awesome. I probably shouldn't talk, since I insisted on saving Shortcousin with a lit spliff a few games back.

      OK, OK, untangenting now...

    7. Sorry, the bit about TG was meant just as a touch of harmless fun, not anything serious. Honestly the more I think about it, the more interested I am in giving swung weapons a thrust basis with an extra +1 or 2 per die, instead. But I'll ask the group, and we'll see how it goes.

    8. I understand, but if you make armor twice as effective against strikes, grapples are suddenly more likely, regardless of the status of TG.

    9. Grappling in DF - at least in my personal experience - has one more teeny tiny issue: I've not seen it work. Even once.

      And this is the most friendly version: the Judo Throw after a parry, often done at Skill-20 through 24 or so! The parry as the setup works well, but in my experience, though it could be unlucky dice (over and over and over) is that the follow-on throw is a real issue. They keep getting parried, since the follow-on to the Judo Parry is an Attack/Defense combination.

      It's remarkably difficult to get that attack/defense thing to work, it seems, especially when you're dealing with "mooks" with Skill-18 (which, as was pointed out to me in my Ravenscraeg 7 play report, are mookish in DF).

      Again, it could be that I was just unlucky. The only think I can think of is that perhaps I need to try Sweep (a quick contest) to knock down my foes rather than Judo Parry/Judo Throw.

    10. I think some of Peter's characters can throw down with 2d+7 or more raw damage, the point of armor isn't invulnerability, it's mitigation.

      One guy does 2d+8 crushing with his mace. The others all do 3d+4 and up cutting or crushing damage. DR helps a little, but mostly serves to annoy the scouts and wizards and non-front line fighters. Even 2x DR on plate would just make them kill people a little more slowly, while it would make the second-line guys helpless.

  5. As a slight tangent on the nerfing of non-bricks...
    while it would require a change in tactics and equipment it is not necessarily out of genera.
    A martial artist who defeats opponents by tripping them with his staff or putting their weapon arm in a lock seems in character to me.
    A wizard who out thinks his opponents with good use of tactics and a surprise spell or two looks appropriate as well.
    Also don't forget the sneaky guy with that misericord of chink-seeking should be something of a threat to a heavily encumbered guy in a confusing situation wearing a helmet that restricts his field of vision and impairs his hearing.

    my $0.02

  6. FWIW, I think that the game works fine as is *for DF.* If you want more realism, of course, then start with the LT "edge protection" rule and go from there. 2xDR works, but so does the "swing = thr" damage idea. Really though, you have to consider the benefits of doing this in a realistic game. If it is truly a realistic game, you aren't likely to see DF skill levels. If that's the case, then the fancy moves needed to actually damage someone in plate are going to be too hard to pull off. What you end up with is Boring Combat where nobody can hurt each other without a lucky crit. This is generally not a recipe for fun, but YMMV.

    1. I agree with you completely here. I'm not actually that bothered by DR performance in DF, because I'm fine with treating it as mitigation in this case.

      However, the genre is flexible enough (read: the expectations, in my group, are loose enough) that you can mess around with things while the world's running without spoiling anyone's fun.