My Spider died.  That is, the Daigotsu I was playing in our Second City campaign got unlifed.  Crushed to death by a serpent in the middle of the night, with nary a peep to let the PC on watch know.

While not all that sad, it was a character that had potential, could have done a lot more in a different situation.  Funny build, not that that’s all that surprising, in that … I’m trying to get a few more “thats” into this sentence.  Anyway, archer and duelist build of a school that lends itself to Water Ring stuff – grappling, investigating, tracking.  Never did duel, which is typical.

Anyway, about the only thing worse than hearing about someone’s character is … no, that’s the worst thing with RPGs.  Still on the subject of L5R, though, a recent thread on the AEG forums got me to thinking about damage.

With L5R, there’s very little besides wounds to measure combat success.  Even games based around hit points tend to have things that require saving throws, like petrification, drowning, forced sleep.  L5R has conditions, but I see it ruled by wounds.  You would think I’d notice earlier considering how many silly situations parties get into where the party is trying to capture someone alive and has to manage damage not to accidentally kill enemies.

So … what?

If we consider wounds to be the nigh end all and be all of combat, I think there are possible insights into managing combat for both GMs and players.  I can already see a problem with this line of thinking since Tempest of Air is such an awesome spell because it knocks folks down not because it deals damage.

But, let’s try going down this path.  It’s easy enough to do multiplication of attack roll percentages against damage roll averages to get a metric of damage output.  But, how often do people match that up against the opposition’s ability to absorb wounds?

An Earth 2 character (or rough equivalent) has about 40 wounds.  Less to be out of combat (31, normally).  Earth 3 jumps that to 57 total and 46 to incapacitate.  Say 5 Earth 3 foes, and that’s 230 wounds to beat through.  Not that attack rolls scale with ATNs, but for this simple hypothetical, let’s say that attack roll percentages and damage roll averages are consistent.  Let’s say 60% hit rate with average 20 damage, for average of 12 damage per attack.  That’s about 20 attacks to put the fiendish five down.  With 5 PCs, that’s four attacks per PC.  Figure two rounds of not attacking per PC whether due to range, casting spells instead of attacking, or being taken out, that’s six rounds of combat.

That’s not sounding fast.  In 3e, an E3 character would take 37 wounds to reduce to Down, though there was a way to attack from Down.  Numbers become 185, about 16 attacks, about 3 attacks per PC.  Third Edition tended to worry less about range, so more first round attacks.

But, then, this doesn’t even take into account Void Points.  Assuming the common, if boring, use to reduce damage, the 230 wounds goes to 330 wounds if all of the fiendish five have Void 2 and use both points.  That’s like 8 more attacks, almost 2 attacks per PC, meaning more like an 8 or 9 round combat, which is along the lines of what I’ve experienced.

Nevermind that I’m not even bothering to factor in Reduction, which is rather common.

Is the lesson to not to throw E3 characters who spend VPs at parties?  I don’t know about that.

Again, L5R is very much about fights to the death.  I don’t know if I mentioned this in a previous post, but almost nobody has a reason not to fight to the death.  Samurai are happy to join their ancestors … in theory.  Bandits know they are just going to be executed.  Ditto maho-tsukai.  Monsters exist for killing.  Animals might flee, but animals are hardly the most heroic thing to be hacking to bits, even if bears are the scariest mofos in existence.  And, of course, PCs don’t flee because Honor says don’t be a coward.

If it was more plausible that PCs or enemies fled, then it wouldn’t be a grind through several hundred wounds.  In the absence of that, though, there is an element to keeping wounds down or having damage go up.  Multiple attacks for bushi is huge for speeding the murder rate up.  Again, as lethal as it was for 3e to have Raises for damage able to increase kept dice, it massively sped up slaughtering.  Plus, static bonuses to damage were more common.  VPs were less of an issue as two incoming attacks in one round might just explode somebody, where a 4e fighter will hang on enough for something like healing or just a tactics change to something like guard actions.

There are numerous other scenarios for just trying to put everything into a wounds paradigm that might bring up interesting features.  For instance, if you go with one third less wounds, E2 vs. E3 type enemies, but increase numbers of enemies by 50%, what happens?  In reality, this is even worse for PCs as the number of VPs increases even as the number of wounds stays the same.  This is why I dislike mooks using VPs for defense.  I don’t mind the 4k2 attack roll from the mook becoming 5k3 to be a tad more likely to connect, scares PCs a bit more.  But, increasing effective wounds by two thirds (31 to 51) is crazy painful – mooks exist to frighten players and explode in fine red mists.

Then, what of big bads?

Suppose a big bad has 100 wounds.  Say 5 PCs need to do 20 wounds each.  That’s two rounds.  But, what if the big bad has the Spirit quality, effectively doubling its wounds.  Okay, four round combat is cool.  Let’s say it has 150 wounds and Spirit.  What if there are two?  And, so forth.

Meanwhile, it should be dealing damage as well.  Suppose it hits 80% of the time and deals 25 wounds on average, for a 20 wound average per attack.  That’s 3 hits on a single E2 PC who spends VPs for reducing damage.  If it has two attacks, it squishes a soft PC on round two, then round three another drops.  This attrition is huge for calculating its expected duration of life.  If only a single attack per round, it will take forever to beat through the party, making for a rather tedious grind if the PCs can’t punk it fast.  But, what if it has one-shot attacks that take PCs out of combat?  Ah, that’s beyond the scope of this post.

Not that I’m going to cover all of the things this post could.  For instance, what makes combat dangerous to a single PC rather than a party?

A party might have hundreds of wounds to play with.  But, a single PC is going to hate being hit for two attacks for 30 wounds in one round.  For the E2 PC, that’s death.  For the E3, that’s watching others fight a lot waiting for a Path to Inner Peace … if the PC is smart.  If not, fighting in Crippled or whatever means being a single hit from perma-nap.

So, what’s the lesson for the player who doesn’t want a PC to die?

Don’t engage enemies with multiple attacks.  Don’t make yourself a target for multiple archers.  Avoid the tactics of ganging up that the party should be using on its enemies.  Ignore enemies with Nk1 damage while Nk2, Nk3, and Nk4 are still fighting.  Hope that the party shugenja remember that Path to Inner Peace is a combat applicable spell.

My poor Spider couldn’t really do anything – being grappled by a superior grappler (huge serpent, for instance) doesn’t provide any tactical options outside of how to spend VPs, Luck, and the humor of a 1k1 Honor Roll to try to get out of the grapple.  But, in a more normal situation, there seem to be ways to gauge threat level and duration of combat by not getting distracted and focusing as much as possible on damage/wounds.  After all, pretty much every fight is to the lifelessness!


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