Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Influence of Combat & Tactics

I burnt my hand cooking breakfast today, so in a fit of childishness I opted to do nothing this afternoon and ended up reading Combat & Tactics a bit. I'm still a little shocked at how it really does pre-figure third edition quite a bit. Armor is classified into light, medium, and heavy (or Leather, Mail, and Plate). There are proficiency options that are basically feats by another name. And the whole 5 foot square gridded combat system.

Obviously all of it didn't make it into later editions, but there's one aspect that I'm wondering if we left behind. Third edition codified a lot of bonuses to individual weapons into weapon properties, but left some things behind a bit. And now Fifth feels a bit like an exercise in filling a grid of weapon damage types and properties. Its not quite that bad, but a couple more weapon properties might be helpful.

I think some of this is the tactics that have been left behind with the transition to more story-focused games. Don't get me wrong, I love 13th Age and Vampire and other story-focused games. But I have a hankering for some old school simulation too, and I like the idea of two soldiers opting to use shields and short swords because they're optimal in a cave where both can be in the front ranks where a longsword or battle axe would be ineffective. Maybe I yearn for the days of putting the dwarf and gnome up front too where others can use reach weapons or ranged weapons over their heads. And Henchmen. But henchmen might be for a different post.

Anyway, I've picked a dozen and one (ish) additional properties here inspired by Combat & Tactics. The designers probably considered something like these and opted not to use them, so there may be reasons not to. Chief among them is probably the part where many of these properties only apply to fighting armed humanoids, not beasts. It also makes the game more complex, obviously. A well-trained fighter might be encouraged to switch weapons based on his opponents (a feature, in my mind, rather than a bug). Some of these properties have a "critical" effect. This could be re-worded to happen in addition to extra damage, but it seems possibly excessive. These properties are also written for 5e. As such they are mostly limited to +1 bonuses: advantage seems too good and would synergize with things like a rogue's sneak attack. A small (+1) bonus shouldn't really muck with the math; besides rogues/bards can already get stupid good at disarming or tripping because of expertise. If I were writing these for AD&D, they'd be more like Defensive +1 or Armor Piercing (Mail) +2. Because AD&D could work that way. I also listed some weapons these properties might apply to (though not all exist in 5e): this might be motivation for adding in a few other polearms or whatnot as well.

Defensive - +1 to AC while wielding the weapon (even in your off hand). We lost the defensive property from earlier editions, but I'm not sure why a parrying dagger or gunsen couldn't have it. There may be a good reason this went away.
Added to: Parrying Dagger/Main Gauche, Gunsen, Jitte, Ranseur/Spetum/Partisan, sai, three-piece-rod

Wrap Around - This property would give chain weapons a +1 bonus to hit opponents with shields or behind cover.
Added to: Chain, Flail, Whip, Kusari-Gama

Armor Piercing (Heavy, Medium, Light). These properties would give a +1 bonus to hit opponents wearing the appropriate plate, mail, or leather armor. A weapon might only pierce one type of armor or all three. The idea is plate might not be as good at defending from a weapon designed to pierce it.
Added to: Crossbow (Heavy), Dire Flail (Heavy), Mace (Medium), Morningstar (Heavy), Pick (Heavy), Halbeard (Heavy or Medium), Greatsword (Heavy or Medium), Estoc (heavy or Medium), 

Disarming - A +1 bonus to disarm an opponent. On a critical hit, you can instead deal normal damage and automatically disarm your opponent.
Added to: Chain, Flail, Whip, Scourge, sai, three-piece-rod

Tripping - A +1 bonus to "shove an opponent" and instead you may opt to pull them closer or knock them prone. Or/Also, a critical hit you can opt to deal normal damage and also knock your target prone. A tripping weapon cannot trip an opponent with more than two legs.
Added to: Chain, Flail, Whip, Bill/guisarme

Charger - Double damage when mounted and you've moved at least half your speed.
Added to: Lance

Set-For-Charge - Double damage if you set the weapon to receive a charge. (This needs set-for-charge rules and possibly better charging rules. Probably readying your weapon is like readying an action and then you get the attack if your opponent "charges" or moves 15' and then attacks you.)
Added to: Spear, Pike, Halbeard, Glaive and other pole-arms

Shield-Sundering - +1 bonus to sunder a shield. On a critical hit, you can instead deal normal damage and automatically sunder your opponent's shield. [This would need a rule for sundering a shield probably, though the crit property could live on its own.]
Added to: Battleaxe, Greataxe

Close-Quarters - No penalty for attacking in close quarters or while squeezing. [This would be different than just giving this to piercing weapons, which I had considered. Then I remembered picks.]
Added to: javelin, Spear, Shortsword, Rapier, Trident, Pike

Quick - You can use your reaction to make an attack of opportunity when an opponent attempts to grapple you.  [If it weren't such a pain, I'd consider saying that after making an attack with a quick weapon, your initiative increases by +2. So after a couple rounds you'd end up passing people in the initiative order. Its not a bonus attack, but could be interesting.]
Added to: Dagger

Subduing - This weapon only attacks to subdue. If the opponent is reduced to a number of hit points equal to your level + the damage bonus from your ability score, they are instead reduced to 0 hit points.
Added to: Sap

Ineffective (Heavy, Medium, Light). These weapons are less effective against particular armours, and receive a -1 penalty to the attack.
Added to: Blowgun (Heavy), Bo (Heavy)

Surprise - When you initiate combat and your opponent isn't expecting you to be armed, you gain advantage on the surprise role and a +1 bonus to the initiative roll.
Added to: Brandistock, Ninja-to

In 5e, many properties correspond with damage dice alternations. For example, a two-handed or heavy weapon will do more damage than its one-handed counterpart. Likewise light weapons tend to do one die-size less damage than an otherwise similar weapon. Here, I think the quick and defensive properties should likewise be associated with smaller damage dice. The others don't seem like they're quite sexy enough to merit a change in damage dice as long as they're associated with thematically appropriate weapons (i.e. chain weapons tend to do wrap-around, disarm, and trip).

There's a few other bits of "tactics" that would be interesting to add (I'm thinking forming a shield wall), but these might do a bit to help add in a few tactics to the game and make various weapons a bit more unique. I'm still a little unclear on the bonus part. For some, proficiency bonus might be an appropriate thing rather than just +1. But, by and large, +1 is easy to add in and not going to be overpowered. I'll have to take a closer look to decide if any of these properties are redundant or could otherwise be combined, but it just might make a slightly more interesting set of weapons available.

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