Monday, October 20, 2014

Dogs & Cars

I must say it.  I don't care about weapons.

I'm a D&D player, so I know I'm supposed to, but somehow I just can't get interested.  For me, it's been four decades of people declaring that a 'long sword' is 'this' or that no, it's actually 'this,' that it is used with two hands - er, I mean one hand, or both one hand and two hands, etcetera, etcetera.  Four decades of the sword weighs this much, no this much, well in fact this much, except that you're all wrong and it weighs this much.  Four decades of every sword is basically the same weapon, except when they're not, except when every different culture seems to have invented their own version and stuck with that version for centuries, for apparently no reason whatsoever, since every sword is the same and training with every sword is the same.  Except for all those people who say it is not.

Four decades of meeting people who 'train with weapons,' who teach others how to use weapons, who make their own weapons, who unearth weapons from archeological sites, who all strangely tell me different 'truths' based upon their 'real experience' with the use and manufacture of weapons.  Four decades of opinions that distinctly differ from the opinions of others, in a culture where everyone has to begin their personal 'truth' about weapons with some form of the statement, "Let me begin by saying that everyone else is wrong . . ."

I don't know why the scholarship in this field is so universally fucked up, but I have been around long enough and heard enough now to know to doubt anyone who argues from the position of, "I know this to be true because I have done this or read that."

Any argument that requires a resume before starting is highly suspect.

Where this sort of thing dominates in other fields, there is an opinion that I believe has credibility: "We just don't know."  Strangely, in a macho-male dominated field like weapons, however, the number who are willing to say that are very few.

We don't know.  We don't have reliable records made and kept by contemporary sources, we don't know for sure that the weapons we have pulled out of ground were made for fighting, despite the nicks on such weapons (how do we know the weapons weren't used to hack and cut things to impress visitors, the same way 'weapons' are used in thousands of basement apartments today).

We do know there has never been a universal policy or philosophy in weapons manufacture, ever. Consistency in weapons didn't begin until long after the industrial revolution - and even today the value of the world's best weapon is not based upon its accuracy, range, muzzle velocity or rate of fire, but upon its ability to be made cheaply and remain functioning in absolutely shit conditions.  Even as I write this, however, someone, somewhere, is readying an explanation for why I have that wrong - and moreover, why the exceptional distribution of the weapon in all environments and among all cultures doesn't prove anything.  Nor the fact that the weapon was first put into service 65 years ago, despite all the technology developed since then.

We don't know.  Three words that most of us don't know how to say or don't like to say.  We just don't fucking know.  For me, where it comes to D&D, or the made-up justifications behind the changing of the weapons rules in D&D, every argument for why something needs to be changed about damage or weapons use comes down to a series of elaborate justifications to produce nothing more than ass-generated results.

We just don't have to work this hard.

Allow me to provide a game example.  I do this in the hopes of expressing how very, very little the actual use of actual weapons in actual history matters.

How fast does the roadster piece move in Monopoly?  And how fast does the dog piece move?  Look at that!  The same amount.

Did that require thousands of hours spent training with dogs and cars to establish the movement of either in a game?  Would thousands of hours help make better rules for the movement of either?  Does it fucking matter?  Or is it all just a lot of crap spewed out to satisfy the unhappy whims of people who are so bored with the game they have to fiddle with nonsensical rule changes?

Because I think it's spew.

My 'long sword' does 1 to 8 damage.  It has always done 1 to 8 damage.  It always will.  Why?  Who cares.  Because it does.  Because it's a game piece and that's how much damage it needs to do to make it different from another weapon that does 1 to 6.  Isn't that enough?

There are a million complex things in this game that are pretty hard to manage:  tension, character development, managing players, keeping abreast of what's happening and setting a pace that presses for player emotionality and enjoyment, just to name a few.  The accuracy of damage that a sword does seems pretty far down the list - particularly when changing that damage will have no appreciable effect on the game except - from what I've seen done in the last four decades - to fuck up the original balance.

That balance was simple.  You have hit points.  You have a weapon.  The weapon removes hit points.

And the dog goes as fast as the car.


Doug said...

The original D&D rules had every weapon doing 1d6 damage, right? No one cared that everyone ran around with daggers and such.

In my own understanding of game mechanics, I assume the "average" commoner/0-level NPC/mook has 4 hit points. Weapons designed to kill should kill a good percentage of the time. A dagger (damage 1d4) might kill someone on a lucky hit, but will more likely wound 'em. Using a sword (heavier, more momentum, etc) is more likely to get a killing blow. (5/8 = 62.5% of the time it will kill the average 0-level mook.)

And that dragon? Yeah, commoners don't stand a chance. That's why the PCs get called up.

Alexis Smolensk said...

When I started playing Men & Magic in '79, we used a d8 for long swords.

Jason Juta said...

Alexis, do you think the idea that damage is set by class (obviously therefore by training and experience), rather than weapon, has any merit? For example, fighters inflict 1d10 regardless of weapon, while magic-users might only inflict 1d4.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Jason, ask yourself this question:

Would that improve the game?

I can't imagine any way that it would. I can imagine various ways that it would damage the game by selectively setting out to ghettoize certain classes even MORE with regards to their combat ability, while increasing the comparative powers of others. I can't see how that's a good thing.

Aren't the classes effectively moderated as to their combat abilities already?

Wouldn't the energy to rebuild the game in this manner and require the players to relearn a new system be better spent on other game features?

Oddbit said...

I would say the case currently exists where damage is based on class and not by weapon.

Proficiencies available to fighters are different than mages.

Furthermore stat distribution for fighters generally favors damage, whereas for mages generally favors other pursuits.

However that is a distraction from the point currently (cleverly brought around again by Alexis)

Why change it if it is only a sidegrade? Only put effort towards improvement. Put the effort into the area of greatest gain.

For instance, weapon damage probably matters most to half the classes. (Arguably all of them as some will be on the receiving end some day) But damage effects apply to everyone.

Still, by changing the damage done, the opportunities do not open up for players. Perhaps aesthetically. Now my wizard can wield whatever weapon and do just as poorly. Or I can be a fighter that is a master of the table leg and do just as poorly as any other weapon, but for the most part I don't see this really creating new opportunities.

An economic system, a logical and non out of ass way of building cities and kingdoms, a system for making magic items that requires questing such that the DM doesn't make up components required, but has components that already exist in the world.

Those open up opportunities that mainly require front-end effort, but can pay off in the long run. And while they take "power" (work) away from the DM they open up opportunities for players to make their own adventures (opportunities).

Eric said...

In the games I've played with class-based or fixed weapon damage, you see a lot more spears. They're awfully versatile- in fact, most DMs let players get away with too much. Real spear fighting techniques need a *lot* of room to flip the spear around:

Alexis Smolensk said...

Weapons "expertise" is off-topic on this post.