Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The build-a-weapon workshop

The flaw I'll discuss today is one of recurring humour. The endless amount of weapon options randomly thrown about with no rhyme or reason, every variation of sword is different with its own arbitrarily defined distinction. Don't even get me started on pole-arms.

Piecemeal gives weapons a set of 'tags' that define their attributes.

These are the primary tags of size, damage type, and range.

Example: Small, Piercing, Melee or Medium, Blunt and Missile.

Then a few additional tags are chosen (based on type) like pole weapon, devastating weapon (axes, hammers and picks), Firearm or Sling (among others).

So a woodcutters axe might be a large, slashing, devastating melee weapon while a Small, piercing, Firearm would represent a dueling pistol.

Each tag has certain predictable results. Weapon size increases damage and decreases speed for each step. Devastating weapons increase the damage die by one while giving a negative to attack rolls. Piercing weapons are quicker and may bypass armour on a critical hit, slashing weapons increase the damage die by one size and blunt weapons have their own special effects on critical hits.

Not all tags are beneficial, improvised weapons may get a tag like ineffective (reduces damage die by one) among others.

This allows the generation of weapon qualities quickly, without being arbitrary. If a player picks up a chair, or a battleth or a katana you can quickly ascertain its effectiveness and move on. If you are running piecemeal at the time it can even quickly generate the stats by just selecting the tags (removing any paperwork)

What are you thoughts?


  1. Firearms are all three: Blunt, Cutting, and Piercing at the same time, and really ought to be afforded all three special effects simultaneously. That more properly models their effects on materials (including organics) and reduces the need for very high numbers of damage dice (or whatever alternative exists in a given game system) while still retaining the high effect-value of such a high- to hyper-velocity mass entering and exiting a subject.

    As far as the tags themselves, you've not shown us what effect they have upon the mechanics, but I assume (rightly or wrongly) that they model fairly basic gaming breakdowns of physics.

    Additionally, there _are_ minute differences in melee weapons, otherwise humankind would have quickly found the best ones and used them all in their particular niche roles.
    --It may be handy, and clever (not a jab) but it doesn't address those differences that are more than just cultural or material-based restrictions.

    Please take that as constructive criticism.

  2. If you drill down to some of the secondary characteristic tags you can get some pretty specific tags (curved blades, hand and a half hilt, broad bladed, basket hilt). Depending on which level of detail you choose to go into.

    I would also not consider a firearm a blunt nor slashing weapon, anymore than I would consider stabbing them with a dull spear to be slashing or piercing. Firearms, especially early firearms, have this misguided reputation of being hell on wheels and all powerful, up there with the Katana. I've fired blackpowder weapons, and bows and crossbows. The blackpowder weapon is not the be all end all. A medieval or early renaissance firearm had about a 2:1 edge on muzzle velocity vs bolt speed to a crossbow but its projectile weighed far less than half, had the same impact surface area (approx) and was less aerodynamic. Its a bit of a side topic, but guns and katana's as all powerful god weapons bug me. It took hundreds of years for militaries to switch over to firearms for a reason.

  3. Zzarchov,

    I'm not trying to pull rank or anything with you, but I work with firearms and have looked at a lot of ballistics data and read really wonderful articles by medics who have had to treat those sorts of wounds.
    --In every way possible a ball round fired into the elastic tissue of an organic subject does emulate blunt-trauma upon its initial stress-flex threshold before the tissue tears away. The concussive force of a bullet is far greater than I think you seem to figure it. Next, the tearing effect is so great that tissue stresses cause the bullet to deform and shatter into fragments. It isn't a tiny knitting needle and it isn't an arrow or quarrel.

    If you are confining the discussion to blackpowder weapons, may I ask you what you'd rather have your pet or child struck with, a .50 blackpowder rifle round, or a arbalest bolt? They'll both end someone's day, but the punch of a firearm very frequently, even in those days, was a good deal higher than many imagine, often resulting in immediate unconsciousness or at least 'stunning', much in the same way a heavy blunt object could, but not requiring a plexus or head hit. Hitting the liver with a bullet is pretty much a guaranteed KO.

    Also, if you ask for feedbck, try not to assume that folks don't have a modicum of knowledge about the subject matter.

    If I were truly proficient with a Katana, and I were truly proficient with a Rapier of whatever make and year you choose, I'd likely still choose the Katana.
    ---Now, compare the Bustard versus the Claymore versus the Zweihander versus the Katana versus the Sax, etc. and you are getting into the very thing I was saying before: The differences matter.

    I think what you are going for is cool, and I think it is a step-up from vanilla games, but like everything else, there are going to be trade-offs and weak points that accompany the strengths.
    --Your noted dislike of lists of weapons was perhaps your starting point and the catalyst for your chosen path, but you've got to admit than any agenda caries with it baggage that affects the outcome.

    Tunnels & Trolls weapons list has many things going on beneath the surface. Brian Penn has done a great deal of decoding the mechanisms on why the various 'Tags' result in various dice + adds on the weapons, and has distilled it to a rough but very accurate formulae for edition 5 weapons, so much so that it is possible to build new weapons based upon criteria and generate a number of dice + adds that fit within that game system. Are there duplicate D + a results, yes, of course, math is just that way.
    --That said, T&T's weapon list is perhaps one of the most evocative (and well defined in the back of the book) of any I have ever seen. In simply choosing to employ a Bank versus a Bichwa, or an African Throwing Knife over a Sax, I have the ability to envision/depict my character to a fantastic degree of detail and even flavour her with tales of travel to different cultures. That'd be harder --not impossible-- to do with a Tag-only system.

    Anyway, those are my four bits (a silver dollar?). If it helps you build a game you like, cool. If I'm just talking crap, I hope you'll just file it in the rubbish bin.

    I really do dig your blog. It makes me think.


  4. On the topic of firearms. What you are saying is very true, but the important lost bit is context.

    Take firearms. A brown bess had a muzzle velocity of about 1500 fps if I recall, a medieval black powder weapon about 500. It was not immediately apparently to medieval gunsmiths that barrel length affected muzzle velocity. That is akin to a swordsmith not knowing that the edges of a sword need to be sharp and then expecting him to make useful swords. Early industrial era blackpowder weapons are as different from medieval gunpowder weapons as a modern F35 fighter is from a sopwith snipe.

    Medieval firearms did not have the kick to breach plate armour, most plate armour you find in museums will have a nice dent on it, often circled. That was from the quality testing to assure the client it would stop a bullet.

    This is not to say a bullet to the liver won't take you out, but a crossbow bolt will too. As will an arrow and god help you if someone swings a woodsplitting maul and hits you with the business end. Force is mass times acceleration, and while other factors impact tissue damage (surface area of impact, splintering) it boils down to that equation.

    The other matter of the tags limiting your weapon choices. I would suggest just the opposite. In your example a katana is better to a rapier. In my example a Katana does more damage, but a rapier is more useful against armour. A katana can easily be wielded in one or two hands but a rapier has both a large catch and basket hilt, making it superior for parrying. etc.

    The system doesn't impede choices in any way, it merely makes them more logically connected. Compared to traditional RPG weapon settings it also gives you a much greater level of control over the finer details, should you wish it.

    Afterall, you may choose a Bichwa over a Sax, but do you really get the benefits you seek? Does the Bichwa with its basket hilt (to the Sax lack of crossguard) have a substantial edge in parrying a blow? With its straight edge and balanced hilt is the Sax better for throwig (even if not ideal compared to a carnival throwing knife).

  5. Why do your mediaeval firearms have to conform to examples, when Tags will allow mediaeval melee weapons to be better than they really were?

    Will your Rapier-type-weapon have the baskleted hilt Tag advantage in Piecemeal?
    --Will Pm have '+ to Parry' and 'Sword-breaker' Tags? What will determine which of two similar or like Tagged weapons will trump the other?

    What will determine how many Tags can be added?
    --What effect does adding a Tag to a weapon? Weight increase? Length Minima/Maxima? etc.

    It seems to me that there needs to be a limit on the number of Tags that any one weapon could possibly have, or, again...everyone would be using the optimised Tagged weapon(s).

    I don't remember saying that Tags limit, but rather, that in reality, no one weapon can be everything, and that each thing has its role, beyond cultural significance or material/construction restraints.

    Anyway, when the .pdf version is released, I will be very eager to see how deftly you were able to incorporate Tagging rules into the weapon-creation process. :D


  6. One thing I strive for in Piecemeal as a game design, is choice not decision.

    With a nigh unlimited number of tags you get issues where on a given technological level, different tags cause trade offs.

    For example, a basket hilt improves ones ability to parry but makes the weapon unsuitable for throwing. Having a weapon be specifically designed for throwing (say a javelin instead of an infantry spear) its throwing range is doubled but it suffers a -2 to hit penalty in combat. It is very hard to have a best tag, only a "best at this very narrow purpose while worse in other areas".

    Now it is possible to have some weapons that are just better than other weapon combinations at their intended task. This is where cost (aka time to manufacture and materials) and technology come into play. This can be an advantage on their own.

    The Thompson was superior to the Sten gun, but the sten gun was under a thirtieth the cost. The sten gun won out, but no one who had a thompson stopped using it.