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Doctor
Doctor's picture
In Defense of the World of Things (On Weapons and the Wick/Justice Debate)

In Defense of the  World of Things (On Weapons and the Wick/Justice Debate)

 

I recently re-read two articles on game design theory, one by John Wick and one, a rebuttal, by Rob Justice. While I personally think Rob's rebuttal is  compelling, one aspect of Wick's article does not receive proper examination or rebuttal.

 

"More important question. In fact, perhaps the most important question: how do any of those things–range modifiers, rate of fire, burst fire, slashing, piercing, etc.–help you tell stories?

Just a moment ago, I called weapon lists one of the most common features in roleplaying games. These things are not features. They’re bugs. And it’s time to get rid of them.

Why? Because they’re screwing up your game. They’re distracting you from the focus of the game.

Because the focus of an RPG is to tell stories."

-John Wick

 

"Like everyone else, I had become a slave to the IKEA nesting instinct... I would flip through catalogs and wonder, "What kind of dining set defines me as a person?"  We used to read pornography.  Now it was the Horchow Collection."

-Jack, Fight Club

 

These are understandable and laudable sentiments; both show appropriate distain for fixating and fetishizing objects at the expense of what is "truly important." Both sentiments, however, set up a false dichotomy. Without getting too esoteric, the choice in game design is not between Wick's narrative Gnosticism and World of Warcraft's rampant Materialism (in both the philosophical and economic sense). Games require rules, stories require a world and both of these require an internal logic to make them function. To deny the importance of material objects is to deny a world its physics (not by accident referred to as "natural philosophy") just as to deify material objects is to rob the story of its humanity.

 

I would offer up as guidance the most often quoted and misquoted statements on our relation to the world of things: "For the love of money is the root of all evil" (Timothy, 6:10). A very important part of that quotation is often dropped; it is not money, but the love of money, which causes problems. Similarly, it is not weapon tables but the love of weapon tables that impedes good story-telling. Put another way, gun stats don't kill stories; people enthralled with gun stats kill stories, which is not to say that sensible gun stat regulation isn't a good idea.

 

Of Teacups and Thumbs

In a moment of supreme irony, John uses the examples of Riddick killing a man with a teacup and Col. Alan Caldwell to demonstrate why weapon choice doesn't matter and, in doing so, misses the narrative point of both scenes. The sticky thing about equivalence is that it runs in both directions; if a sword is as good as a teacup, then a teacup is as good as a sword. I challenge anyone to watch Riddick kill a man with a teacup and say "that scene would have the exact same dramatic impact if Riddick used a machete." Similarly, I challenge anyone to watch Caldwell demolish a man using only his right thumb then say, with a straight face, "you know, that would have been just as impressive if he used one of those collapsible batons."

 

Both of those scenes derive their narrative significance from the fact that we know, without consulting tables or statistics, that a teacup is not equivalent to a sword and that pummeling a man with one thumb is distinguishable from doing so with a collapsible baton. Both scenes are memorable precisely because of weapon choice; it is, in fact, the choice of weapon that does the heavy lifting. The scenes proffered as evidence that weapon choice doesn't matter are actually the scenes where weapon choice matters most.

 

Objects as Extensions of Character

When a "white hat" or a "knight in shining armor"  comes up in conversation, we instinctively know what these terms refer to even if we give little thought to how they came to be. The tropes which gave birth to them, however, are telling; they arose from a kind of narrative shorthand and that shorthand does not require obsessive exploration of hat or armor design to be effective. We experience this visual shorthand every day and while we may not understand all the nuances of fashion, we understand it enough to make it a multi-billion dollar industry. Hollywood spends untold dollars and man-hours determining just how characters should look and these images tell stories as surely as any other part of the film:  we learn something from the fact that Luke is wearing white in A New Hope and wearing black in Return of the Jedi.

 

Material possessions can say a great deal about a character, as can the way a character comports himself toward them. We know a great deal about a unkempt character in ratty clothes meticulously cleaning his sword. In The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, Tuco goes from a somewhat comical and bumbling character to a card carrying bad-ass in one scene and precious few words beyond "revolvers." In For a Few Dollars More we learn a great deal about Douglas Moritmer simply from the presence of his arsenal and his weapon selection for each situation. In the first six minutes of the film, the character has said very little, yet a large amount of information has been communicated.   

 

When gear reflects the choices of the character and those choices are non-trivial, these objects enhance the richness of the world and the game. There is absolutely no reason that objects cannot be extensions of the character, even if they are not critical. In a Q&A, John once said "Nobody cares about Wesley’s sword in The Princess Bride;" while this might be true, people most certainly would care if it were a battleaxe, a claymore, or even a stout and rusty cutlass. "No one cares" because the choice was a good one; that does not mean that the choice was trivial.  In film and fiction we know the "wrong" choices when we see them; fortunately they are few and far between and seldom appear in works worthy of remembrance.

 

 When gear reflects the desire of a player to be "fully optimized" or to gain some statistical advantage, then it becomes clutter and ought to be eliminated. There can be a fine line here in some systems, especially those in which weapons are intended to go along with certain builds and certain styles of play, but most of us can recall a character or two carrying a weapon or wearing armor that just didn't "work." I have found that this sort of thing occurs in rough proportion to the number of columns in the weapons table; the more rules which must interact, the more loopholes are created.

 

Balancing Act

The question, really, is what level of distinction is best for the roleplaying game. Roleplaying games are not stories; they involve stories and storytelling, but they are not stories (or at the very least, not just stories). Roleplaying games are distinguished from stories by a set of agreed upon rules governing what can and can't happen. Roleplaying games are not purely games either, if only because the rules do not define the conditions of  "winning" or "losing;" only the players and GM can determine what constitutes a win or a loss  for each character and player. Additionally, a player can "win" (have a good time) even if his character "loses" (fails or even dies).

 

In the end, what I believe to be the goal in design of a roleplaying game is to have enough rules to make the physics of the world believable and discernible but not so many rules that the game becomes a joyless slog through equations. So what then, is the answer? Fortunately, we do not have to look far for the answer, as we already know it. The answer, in my opinion, is precisely "what we know without having to think."

 

We know a dagger is not a sword, but we do not know it is not a knife without thought. We know a rifle is not a pistol and we know a blunderbuss works differently. We know a hatchet is not a halberd. We know a rapier is not a writing desk, but we need to take a moment to discern why it is not a saber.

 

These distinctions are intuitive and their absence is jarring, undermining the physics of the world. Other distinctions are academic, and can be discarded. "Gun Porn" is not gun porn because it has details about guns, it is gun porn because those details have no redeeming narrative value. Narrative value alone should be the standard. Now, sell me on a scene where "Riddick kills a man with... oh, does it even matter?"

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“Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.”
- H.L. Mencken

Salamanca
Salamanca's picture
Mostly because I fear having to read this argument until October, I am going to make a pitch. The above argument makes a lot of sense. I agree with most of it and the stuff I don't is not the heart of the point. So here is my pitch: What about a system that has no mechanical stat for a weapon but offers benefits or penalities to certain abilities for having a certain type of weapon? The old system never really cared what sort of heavy weapon you had, an axe and a broadsword were the same there. So what if a sword school restricted use of the ability to characters that were properly armed? What if a dueling skill gave a bonus for using a fencing type weapon? How about an advantage for pistolliers that grant an extra die for any check using a pistol? (And similar advantages for fencing weapons, heavy weapons and improvised). There are several ways around a weapon list that can still integrate a benefit or penalty for being armed in certain ways. It doesn't need 700 entries for every permutation. It can simply resolve in the system by having the GM set a specific number of consequences from damage. Maybe fist fights are 1 consequence, blades 2 consequences and bullets 3 consequences ( cannon are 5). Again, we don't need elaborate systems to cover this, just a little information. Personally, I like the idea of an action hero using his signature weapon to do non-combat stuff (Indy's whip, Zorro's sword, Lone Ranger's pistols, etc). Offering a character an advantage for any check that actually relies on use of the weapon can be cool. I use the sword to fight, climb a wall, avoid going over the cliff, rally the peasants to charge, make a vow to the king to earn his trust, intimidate some brutes, etc. That actually gives you more options than just hurting people effectively.
Doctor
Doctor's picture

"What about a system that has no mechanical stat for a weapon but offers benefits or penalities to certain abilities for having a certain type of weapon? The old system never really cared what sort of heavy weapon you had, an axe and a broadsword were the same there. So what if a sword school restricted use of the ability to characters that were properly armed? What if a dueling skill gave a bonus for using a fencing type weapon? How about an advantage for pistolliers that grant an extra die for any check using a pistol? (And similar advantages for fencing weapons, heavy weapons and improvised). There are several ways around a weapon list that can still integrate a benefit or penalty for being armed in certain ways."

 

I suppose my initial reaction to this is that I am not sure it fits the bill simply because the material object still doesn't matter; it is the advantage, sword school or skill which matters and thus the decision is not one related to the gear. I am not going to say "I disagree completely" without really thinking on it but my first impression is this:

 

Such a solution appears to offer "a distinction without a difference." Ultimately, it only answers half the question of "why one thing and not the other?" A meaningful mechanical choice is one which allows a character to gain one benefit while forgoing another. In the system above it is the choice of advantages, not objects, which represents the trade of one advantage for another. If the advantages allowed a character to do things with object A that he could not do with object B, not just a bonus but a unique Opportunity or some other effect which could not be replicated by another advantage using a different object, then I would be more inclined to jump right on board, though I would likely argue that tying this to advantages added an extraneous layer: why not just say this weapon allows this thing? The idea has merit, but may need refining.

 

" Personally, I like the idea of an action hero using his signature weapon to do non-combat stuff (Indy's whip, Zorro's sword, Lone Ranger's pistols, etc). Offering a character an advantage for any check that actually relies on use of the weapon can be cool. I use the sword to fight, climb a wall, avoid going over the cliff, rally the peasants to charge, make a vow to the king to earn his trust, intimidate some brutes, etc. That actually gives you more options than just hurting people effectively."

 

I had been thinking of something like this myself and I think John might have too:

 

[20:56] <+JohnWick> Generally, objects don’t give you bonuses. YOU are the badass, not your sword. But if the item is really special, it can give you bonuses. Nobody cares about Wesley’s sword in The Princess Bride, but Inigo’s sword is REALLY @#$% IMPORTANT!!! So, Inigo has an Advantage for his sword, but Wesley does not.

 

I support it, it would be an excellent addition to the game. 

“Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.”
- H.L. Mencken

Salamanca
Salamanca's picture
To me that mechanical benefit just doesn't matter as a player. I thought it did at one point but realized my main 7 the Sea character spent points for a Soldano Blade and in the 9 years I played him I remembered to add that bonus twice. ( literally twice in nine years). Are there times remembering that would have helped? Oh, yeah. Plenty of them. Is there room for a signature weapon advantage? Yeah, I can see that for a special weapon. All I know for sure is that taking any idea I post after 11 pm without some revision would be a bad idea. But I do think it's a solid conceptual base.
Andreas Polytropos
Andreas Polytropos's picture

Part of the problem with the old special weapons is that they were not very special. The Soldano Blade's bonus was rarelly relevant, and actually got weaker over time. Puzzle Swords cost an enormous amount for potentially minimal gain. Twisted Blades could be overwhelming, if fired off all at once.

For special werapons, the challenge then is to make them actually compelling to use. Effects that really make the scene stop and focus on the fact that this item is present. Combat seems deemphasized in general, so it is easier to make them impressive in that way. Manyof the Advantages are hero point invoked, so thats another way to allow for occasional superlativeness.

For non special weapons, I would probably talk to players about what weapons they want to use and why. One of my players at one point wanted to play a tiny Vesten woman with a polearm taller than she was, that physicality was important to her. She spent an absurd amount of time looking up polearm maneuvers and trying to translate them into game effects. Another player made a non combatant courtesan with a bodyguard henchman. Translating forward, I would try to present Kira with opportunities to trip people, knock things, down, vault over something, or otherwise use her beloved polearm. Meanwhile, Opehlia would get opportunities to notice or understand things inn the situatiuon while Dan held people at bay. And mix it up every nowaand again.

As I was reading Doctor's post, I also thopught FATE's system, where a player may create an aspect that another player may invoke once for free. That seems similar to what the QS proposed, and a goof way for people who want to use their weapon the way they think it should work to get some effect without going all the way into estoteric items.

Kevin Krupp
Kevin Krupp's picture

The drastic difference here is that 2nd Ed wants you to start the game a Riddick or as "Dread Pirate Roberts Wesley" not "farm-boy Wesley." 2nd Ed wants you to BE Jeremiah Berek, not some guy in the Sea Dogs who got to shake Berek's hand like once. One of the biggest frustrations I had with 1st Ed was the 100-pt heroes - "Hey I've got this great idea for this war-weary captin who fought in the War of the Cross, but his stats are totally not going to reflect that because he has to start as a 100-pt hero like everyone else.) 1st Ed's starting characters were a bit more robust and capable than starting characters in most games, but they're still Lv 1 characters, and I really don't have the time or energy to spend two years playing the same character so they can finally be like James Bond, Batman, Captain Blood, Robin Hood, or maybe Trinity at the start of The Matrix where she takes out a bunch of armed guards using only martial arts.

Instead of being "Oh, you want to fight with knives? That's *great,* but you're going to have to gain like 10 levels before you're as competent as the guy with the battle axe is now," the idea is, sure you're awesome with those knives, in fact, you're just as competant as the guy with the sword. (Yes, I'm exaggerating.)

Mind you, I think 1st Ed does a pretty good job of this. Knives aren't really all that different than Fencing or Heavy weapons other than a few unkept dice, which, while they do matter, they don't skew the probability that much, and while there were a few special modifications/mechanics, for the most part there are really only a 4 or 5 groups of weapons that more-or-less worked the same that everything fell into. And if you really want to play a game with more experienced Players, just start them out with more HP or XP, so it's not like it wasn't doable with the old system, but *meh.*

Now, to the specific point about the awesomeness being about how it is the disparity of the weapons that make the scene so cool and that being the irony. Okay, sure, fair point - now how would that scene with Riddick work mechanically? How do we address the damage done by the tea cup? In 1st Ed, it's an improvised weapon and is probably a 0k1 or 0k2 weapon (I don't have my stats in front of me) - you better hope that guy you're being so cool in front of is a Brute, because even if you roll AWESOME and take like 4 raises, you're still only keeping 1 or 2 dice - the ONLY way that scene works is if the guy Riddick is facing is a Brute, in which case *pffff* how cool is that? He was a friggin brute. Lame, man. But, pull that against anything other than a Resolve 1 Henchman? You better be pouring DD into that damage roll (which I can't remember if the rule saying you can't is a houserule of mine or an actual rule) so you can make +20 greater than their soak roll.

However, in 2nd Ed...guess what, against a Strength 1,2 or even 3 Villain? That's totally something you could pull off.

I'm not saying 2nd Ed has solved the problem, all I'm saying is that in terms of the point John's making, how do you translate those cool moments mechanically into something that is actually achievable. Riddick pulled that stunt because he was totally confident he'd succeed; it wasn't a "Oh god, I really hope this works but I have only a 10% chance and am going to do it anyway" moment - same in the scenario with the thumb...even a Master-Level 1st Ed character would have second thoughts about pulling something like either of those off, because mechanically the odds are not on their side.

Doctor
Doctor's picture

Just as an aside, if I recall correctly, the guy who got killed with a teacup was, in fact, a mook; he had no name, story, or narrative importance beyond death by teacup. He would have qualified as a brute. 

“Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.”
- H.L. Mencken

Kevin Krupp
Kevin Krupp's picture

Heh, in that case, totally doable in 1st Ed. wink

Really though, I've never seen the movie, just the scene, so I have no real context on that specific scene.

Morgan Wolfe
Morgan Wolfe's picture

There's always been a simple way around "We want to play Big Dame Heroes, but we can't make them BDHs with the number of starting points we're given" -- the GM can give everyone more points, and create characters that are new but not noobs.

Sometimes it's fun to start from scratch, other times it's fun to pick up the adventures of people who are already good at what they do.

Heck, we started doing that with D&D back in the 80s, when no one wanted to start a new campaign with 1st level characters. :-)

Morgan Wolfe
aka Capt. Doña Sir Kestrel of Avalon http://silver-gateway.com/7sea/

Kevin Krupp
Kevin Krupp's picture

Note that I recognized exactly that in my post.

 

The thing is, what hasn't been addressed is that even for master-level heros you couldn't get away with pulling the Riddick tea cup trick in 1st Ed, unless you were REALLY lucky with your roll.

Salamanca
Salamanca's picture

ok, let's argue in fvor of having special weapon rules. what kind of rules do we need?  

 

do we have to have special rules for damage? does that really matter that much to warrant the effort?  

can we get by with rules for various vague types of weapons? maybe melee, firearms, improvised, and explosives. each doing something the other does not.

can we skip the mundane stuff and just do some sort of advantage for "special" things.  maybe an advantage for a mastercrafted  weapon or an heirloom sword. 

this game has never really embraced the whole fantasy notion of a named weapon with magic powers (sting) but is that the sort of advantage we are seeking?

 

Tilly Bomas
Tilly Bomas's picture

Actually, their were a couple magic blades in 1st Ed.  Other then Bone Whips and other Artifacts, the only real named sword I can think of off the top of my head was not-excaliber.  But named magic sword were VERY rare, and rightly so.  Unless one of the SOrceries we are getting is going to have 'enchanting' and then perhpas we would have more.... 

Kevin Krupp
Kevin Krupp's picture

Let's see...Cutlass of Command, Scarlet Hook of Madness...that's about all I can think of in terms of "named" weapons...that's beyond your Twisted Blades, Puzzle Swords, Castillian Blades, Sidhe Weapons, Dietrich Swords, Patterned Weapons, Vago's speical weapon (el punal occulto?) etc...

Cutlasses worked slightly different from other fencing weapons.

True Iskander
True Iskander's picture

Types of weapons would work for me, with maybe a few more categories. To me, a spear should be different from a rapier. But a spear could mechanically be the same as a lance, a trident or a halberd.

Kevin Krupp
Kevin Krupp's picture

You mean like "Polearm?"

True Iskander
True Iskander's picture
Yup, exactly. "Melee" is too broad for me, but if you divvy it up a bit more it'd be hopefully sufficient for most players.
Kevin Krupp
Kevin Krupp's picture

I think the groupings from 1st Ed are pretty reasonable as-is. I wouldn't want it much more detailed or general than that.

Kevin Krupp
Kevin Krupp's picture

I am totally fine with not having special magical weapons. I also don't think we need Puzzle Swords or Twisted Blades or any of that. I would be cool with one or two legendary weapons, but that's tapping into Arthurian legend, but that can be addressed in ways other than "damage."

 

If anything, I could see something for heirloom or mastercrafted weapons, but that could be addressed in ways other than damage. Maybe a mastercrafted weapon is more difficult to break, or maybe you get to re-roll 1s, or maybe your 10s explode. That's where I see the variation starting to occur.

 

That said, I don't really think it's necessary, honestly, but I'm jaded and have become less interested in crunch bits as more time has gone on.

Tec Goblin
Tec Goblin's picture
I think 4th Edition Gamma World stroke the best balance between fun, telling stories and making weapons matter. It's very close to 7thSea second edition.
A weapon could have one of the following traits:
Light or Heavy (requiring Dexterity or Strength). 7thSea has a similar approach, but it's (unless I missed it) silent on what exactly do you use for Firearms
Ranged or Melee or Both (ok, this is obvious)
One or Two Handed. That's something that's missing in 7thSea. Why take a musket when I could take a pistol and have my hand free to describe other actions? If nobody's using muskets, we're losing a bit of the variety in the game. By NOT awarding some benefit to muskets, John is actually reducing players' options.
So, a player could hold a greatsword or a road sign. It didn't matter. It was cool. You could make a character who would fill natural with a road sign in his hands. It enabled stories. Dead Rising-like stories. We ended up with more variety and better stories, exactly because EVERYTHING was fair game, based on the previous basic rules which ensured reasonable play balance and suspension of disbelief.
 
But what if I wanted 'special' items? In 7thSea we have the 'signature item' possibility. That's pretty simple and versatile. A signature holy symbol is not the same as a signature sword, which is not the same as a signature panzerhand. You'll use them (and get the corresponding bonus) in slightly different situations. That's cool. And the GM can easily award the signature items based on what happened in the story, you don't need to care that a signature panzerhand is more powerful than a signature tesseran magnetic disc (or do I confuse the Syrneth? whatever).
Now if you wanted a game where the loot is more central, but still weird, exciting, magical, then the card system of Gamma World would work. You made a deck (maybe the DM influenced it a bit) and you drew loot from that deck. A lot of the loot could break after a few uses, because nobody understood how it worked (alien artifacts, ancient technology, dark relics, you know, Syrneth stuff). And it was cool because it provided ideas about exotic items, where the current 7thSea book doesn't. But it's just the first book, right? We cannot expect it to include all content, and the signature item rules are enough to keep it interesting for a few months.
Morgan Wolfe
Morgan Wolfe's picture

Hi, I'm Morgan's husband Roland, and at my lady's recommendation, I'd like to share a story about design -- both game and non-game.

I'm working on some novels, and I also work on RPGs. The latter feeds regularly into the former. I also love magic systems, both RL and fantasy, so I tend to turn into a bit of a design wonk when working on them. This came to a head last weekend when a magic system I designed for a web serial I wrote had taken up enough headspace for me that I was considering replacing the one I'd come up with years ago for my primary novel series. It's somewhat "crunchier" and more complex, and I like the greater detail and fine-tuning it allows, but I also really like my old system for its elegance and the way it shows how the character's progressing along the path.

So I'm bounding all of this off my wife, who works as my sounding board (among many, many other things), when she said something that really struck home. I don't remember the exact words, but the gist of it's like this: "This is a novel. I suggest the simpler one, so it'll take up fewer words to explain and be easier for readers to understand."

Cue me slapping my forehead and going "DUH."

I still like that other system. I intend to use it for more specialized stuff, and maybe for the RPG set in the universe of said serial one day. That said, I'm going to stick with the simpler magic style for most of my novel's characters, using the other one to make certain supernatural characters distinctive. It'll also be introduced later on, when readers are already comfortable with the simpler one.

Now, all that said, note which one I think is better for a roleplaying game. The crunchier one isn't super-complex (it's a basic noun-verb flexi-spell system), but its internal rules allow both flexibility and specialization, so it feels more "right" for an RPG than the super-fluid narrative one. Now, there's plenty of room for super-fluid narrative-based magic systems in RPGs (c.f. Nobilis, Mage, super-magic in the Mayfair and West End DC games), but if IMO if you want any sort of parity between spellcasters and sword-swingers, magic needs some real limitations. Those come with rules. Weapons should probably be the same way, with the level of detail being a matter of what sort of style you want the game to have. So on a general level, I agree with the original post above. I posit that it's likely that team 7th Sea wants it to be easier to kill someone with a sword than a tea cup. (Word of God is that when guns come out, guano's gotten real, so I'm leaving them out for the moment.)

But what if that's wrong? Remember, this is John Wick's world, and we're all just playing in it. What if taking down a Brute with a cup is a mere narrative difference compared to stopping one with a sword? What if the whole purpose of making All Melee Weapons Equal is to allow creativity to trump arsenal, to make that scene in One Piece where Mihawk holds off Zoro's three katanas with a thumb-sized dagger a matter of style rather than mechanics? What if...we're looking at this completely backwards, and the point isn't that Riddick becomes less awesome if he's using a machete, but that Riddick is more awesome because he thought to use a cup at that moment?

For all I know, I may house-rule that when my wife and I start playing 2e. It may break our personal suspensions of disbelief. I know where my line is for this sort of thing, and Morgan's already commented on her preferred level of detail on weapons (a few, but more than one). But John Wick's been doing this for a looong time. I own L5R and 7th Sea...and also Enemy Gods and octaNe, also his design work. His mechanics may seem odd at times, but as a general rule, you can assume that he knows how he wants a game to feel.

As an aside, octaNe is distilled Crazy Awesome as an RPG, as if Hunter S. Thompson, Albert Einstein, and Marilyn Monroe got together to make an RPG...after trying that INSANE SH*T Hunter brought with him. wink

In short, I agree in principle with the original post...but in practice, I think we need to know what 2e's supposed to feel like before making a final judgement.

Morgan Wolfe
aka Capt. Doña Sir Kestrel of Avalon http://silver-gateway.com/7sea/

Doctor
Doctor's picture

Okay obviously I need to clear some things up, because I think people are still reading a lot of "either/or" into my argument.

 

Riddick Remains a Badass

 

I want to stress that simply because I want to distinguish between a sword and a teacup doesn't mean the teacup is not a lethal weapon in the hands of the hero. I am not even suggesting that the sword is an inherently better weapon than the teacup; I am merely suggesting, that from both a physical and narrative point of view, a sword and a teacup do different things. For example, the teacup clearly provides a significant intimidation bonus, or maybe even grants the "Intimidate" opportunity on a successful attack. A war hammer like Riddick's victim was carrying might provide an opportunity to knock over an opponent. Why is this even at issue? Because it's not clear at all that the hero otherwise could. Neither weapon needs a damage rating, a speed factor, or anything beyond something to the effect of "on a successful attack (1 or more wounds) the wielder may spend a raise to __________." This could and should be across broad categories of weapons (sword, heavy, pole arm, pistol, long gun, blunderbuss or some similar breakdown) and could be accomplished with six or so sentences rather than a weapons table. 

 

"And" Not "Or"

 

To cast things in terms of "allowing creativity to trump arsenal" implies that the purpose of my arrangement is for arsenal to trump creativity, which is not at all what I propose. I argued in my original post that, if done right, this is not a 'zero sum game' in which creativity must lose if arsenal gains or vice versa. I believe it is more than possible to create a system in which arsenal augments creativity, where the two complement each other. If we begin from Wick's assumption that any concession whatsoever to materialism is "in the way" of a story, then we have to see things in this binary fashion, but my argument is that to do so isn't freeing, it's constraining. Rather than assume the two cannot work in tandem and blind ourselves to that possibility, isn't the reverse worth exploring?

 

Equipment should be a narrative and mechanical tool; my complaint with the current system is that because we have been given only a hammer, everything must be a nail. It's inelegant, so much so that it does not feel real. We know, without much thought, there is a difference between being shot and being stabbed just as we understand, intuitively, the dramatic and narrative differences in effect between the two. Some recognition of this is all I am advocating.  "Equipment" could be and should remain a paragraph, not a chapter or even a section; right now, however, it is a sentence.

 

“Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.”
- H.L. Mencken

KC Krupp
KC Krupp's picture

I completely agree with that idea, that certain opportunities open up based on the equipment being used. I think that's great and much more interesting than a comparison of damage, like I've seen a lot of the chatter about.

We're also all making a lot of assumptions based on the QS. We have no idea how Socrery, Swordsman Schools, or how much of the game works. With any luck they'll release an updated QS in a few weeks that might give us a bit more of a taste, but until then, I'm hesitant to play the game of "the system is broken because it doesn't address X." The reality is at this point all we really know is 1) Weapon damage isn't based on weapon stats, it's based on your hero...and that's it.

Doctor
Doctor's picture

I am not saying the system is broken and I really intended to spark discussion about game design theories and the role of equipment in games much more than I intended to cast aspersions on the system. I also admit that I intended to put the issue on the radar in an articulated way so that  if anything wafted over to JWP, it was something more specific than "it's light on crunch."

“Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.”
- H.L. Mencken

Kevin Krupp
Kevin Krupp's picture

That's fair enough, and I do get where you're coming from, and I do see how one could interpret the Riddick and thumb scene from both the perspectives John has presented and that you (and Rob) have presented. From John's perspective, it's not that machetes are equal to tea cups, but that the hero is such a badass that in their hands the difference between machetes and tea cups is negligable.

Now I can see why one would argue that by eliminating the stats for a tea cup and a sword there's now no way to "measure" just how much of a badass Riddick is. I mean, what's stopping anyone else in the world from picking up a tea cup and doing the same thing?

I also agree that equipment does matter in many ways, but in many other ways it really doesn't. Would it really matter if Cutlasses only did 2k2 like all other fencing weapons? What if knives did 2k2 instead of 1k2 damage? Technically you would never weild an epee, short sword, sabre, or rapier the same way, but they're all interchangable in 1st Ed. There's also the catch-all term "broadsword" which is an anachranism to describe a wide varaiation of different hand-and-a-half weapons. Swordsman's Guild even tried to address some of this by adding ways to customize your equipment, but any of my players that tried doing this had basically forgotten these customizations and bonuses existed after the second or third session.

That said, I think there is a lot of awesome suggestions with your ideas around different types of equipment having different opportunities associated with them. I think that's a really cool and interesting way to add flavor and highlight how different weapons have different purposes. I'm not quite sure how it would work, and I suspect that's likely to get folded into the Swordsman Schools, which is 1) how it was done in 1st Ed and 2) highlights that you've really been trained in how to use that weapon properly. I am also curious how they're going to address weapon breakage. Although, I actually believe there's going to be more...maybe not crunch, but more...complexity to the system then we've seen so far. The dueling manuevers kind of suggest this, and while the formal "Dualing rules" have been removed, it sounds more that the manuevers are just getting folded into additional intents within larger action scenes rather than being removed.

Tilly Bomas
Tilly Bomas's picture

Well, DND really did it fairly well... their were three types of weapons:  Bludgeoning, Slashing, and Piercing.  To me, those would be the catagories I would rather use for determination, because at the end of the day, a hammer is a mace, is a cudgel.  They are designed to fufill the same purpose, and that really was to cave in lungs and armor.  Piercing weapons to strike through armor (which is why allot of warhammers had spikes, for the finishing blow after an enemy had been knocked down by the hammer part), and slashing weapons, used to cleave limbs and flesh.  

While I like the idea of having weapons 'provide oppertunities' it is going to be something... overly used.  Right now, far as the QS has told us, Villians have no real way to mitigate damage, although they may be able to spend raises to mitigate as normal... As all we have seen is a duel, which has been stated was removed, I am unsure how every attack that deals damage (which seems to be a decent amount in this system), just toss a raise to knock them down... rinse and repeat every action.  

Not to say the idea doesn't have merit, but that would still make some weapons (or groups), more favorable then others.. and in terms of the tea-cup giving intimidate bonuses, is that just non-conventional weapons as a whole? (Beer mugs, wine bottles, chairs, rocks, ect.) and thus every improvised weapon would be the same, or would it be unique to the tea-cup, and thus we would need a chart of 'weapons' to tell us what possible weapon might give what possible bonus.

True Iskander
True Iskander's picture

Speaking of which, I read that 1e had no armor whatsoever. While I understand that - most movies portraying that era have characters dressed very lightly - I do wonder if there will be any items that can improve defensiveness.

Tilly Bomas
Tilly Bomas's picture

There was armor.  But only in two books from my recollection.  Their was Drachenisen, which is the armor most common in Thea.  It was special to Eisen, and was like their sorcery, and a full suit of it gave some pretty niffty bonuses.  Getting a full suit, however was very time consuming, since the only way was to get Drachenisen Heir over and over (usually done in my group via Foul Weather Jack).  

The other Armor, was listed in the Cathay Book, since armor was still used in the East.  I had made a character that was an armor specialist, but yes. armor was not very good.  I was rich enough to make my armor good enough to mitigate it's negatives for the most part, but it still had some limitations.  So as a general Rule, no... armor was not used in 1st unless you were using Eisen's sorcery.  

Dave Crane
Dave Crane's picture

Haha..."nifty bonuses" being like half your character points for about +10TN to be hit....lol....it wasn't a game breaker for PCs I assure you

Doctor
Doctor's picture

In the end, getting into precisely what a teacup might do is a bit premature: intimidation was used only because of how the scene played out in the movie. The bottom line is that until we know how to impose conditions on an opponent (blind, knockdown, disarm, etc.) and how these might be resisted, avoided, mitigated, or removed, the exact expenditure of dice, or bonuses, or cost in dice, or whatever, is really not something we can get into intelligently. 

 

I am not at all wedded to a specific mechanic: maybe the opportunities are tied to skill like rank bonus, maybe they are only available with X or more wounds, maybe they allow a reroll on specific intents, etc. Also I don't think simply because they are different options they have to be inherently unequal. If, for example, it costs a Raise to stand up and a Raise to pick up your weapon, then neither Knockdown nor Disarm could be considered mechanically superior but they do create different situations: another hero could run past the knocked down guard or kick his weapon to a prisoner. The details depend dramatically on mechanics we haven't seen yet; my argument was for the principle of some differentiation in options. 

“Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.”
- H.L. Mencken

Salamanca
Salamanca's picture
Defense used to be based on sub-skills to parry, Dodge or otherwise avoid being hit. Once you got hit, there were a few advantages that reduced or absorbed damage but that was it. Roland, thanks for speaking up. Very insightful thoughts there.
Dave Crane
Dave Crane's picture

Defense is the bigger issue, and certain characters should be allowed to have better ability to not take damage than others for sure, and not purely in terms of Dramatic wounds either.  I would like to see a more streamlined use of Parry (such as allowing it to remove raises as it does in a duel)

True Iskander
True Iskander's picture

Absolutely agree. An RPG pet peeve of mine is when all characters have the same health bar and no way to modify.

Doctor
Doctor's picture

Just returning to this topic: Now that the rules are out, how do we feel about equipment?

“Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.”
- H.L. Mencken

Carlo Lope
Carlo Lope's picture

Something that's been bugging me for some reason is the pugilist background. Its quirk says that you gain a hero point whenever you drop your weapon and beat the enemy with your fists instead. How is that a quirk? If there are no weapons, that is not a challenge and actually, the enemy cannot say something like "I spend raises to disarm him" so the pugilist has the upper hand in this case.

In the introductory story on the first pages of the book, that vesten woman was fighting throwing bottles! It is funny, yeah but with the rules is totally practical to do so.

I have been trying to "implement" some of the style from the first edition but with damage so high for duelists, that would only make it deadlier. Nevertheless, I thought of something like this:

  • - Every edged weapon does +1 damage
  • - An improvised weapon (a table, a chair) gives 1 extra opportunity or consequence (If you don't spend raises on opportunities or consequences then you get one from this).

The problem I'm stuck at right now is trying to differentiate edged weapons. The original idea was something among the lines of 1st ed with 1k2, 2k2, 3k2. Knives that were 1k2 now do +1 damage, cutlasses and fencing weapons that did 2k2, now do +1 damage and you throw 1 extra die. With heavy weapons would be 2 extra dice but I'm not convinced about this.

Donovan Morningfire
Donovan Morningfire's picture

Honestly, the Puglist's Quirk is more of flavor thing, as not all Quirks are meant to be a disadvantage to the PC, and most of them read as being a reward for playing your character a certain way.

For instance, the Castillian Diestro background has the Quirk that triggers when you best a trained duelist "at her own game" which is generally read as "beat them in a proper swordfight."  I'd hardly call that a disadvantage, since the Diestro background offers Skills and Advantages that make for a pretty solid swordsman (just grab the Duelist background for a style that uses fencing weapons and you're ready to throw down with the best of them).  An NPC duelist with Villain Rank 5 and Duelist Academy still counts as a trained Duelist, and most Diestros worth their salt aren't going to have that much trouble defeating such a meager foe, who becomes a minor nuisance at besf if the Diestro has a duelist style.

You've also got Aristocrat, whose Quirk triggers when you show that being a blue-blood is more than fancy clothes and parties... which is easily read as not being a vain popinjay and actually being a Hero.  Thing Don Deigo de la Vega, who certainly is an Aristocrat, but puts his life at risk to help the common people under the guise of Zorro.

Or the Jenny, whose Quirk triggers when they use their sexual wiles to solve a problem, which can be as simple as using Come Hither to get a problematic NPC to leave the scene, or simply break out the Convince/Perform/Tempt skills to sweet talk their way out of trouble.

In trying to come up with weapon stats just to address a non-existent "flaw" with a single Background, you're ultimately tipping the balance of combat to be far more in favor of those who use weapons than those who prefer to go bare-knuckles, as well as hampering the sort of dynamic fun that players could have in describing what their Hero does if they also have to bear in mind that certain attack types carry a distinct advantage over others, which in many players will lead them to favor what has the most benefit rather than what is the coolest approach.

Dono's Gaming & Etc Blog
http://jedimorningfire.blogspot.com/

Warwick
Warwick's picture

For me the idea of items as defined as part of character is both unsettling and appealing in equal measure. The problem is not that I don't see the interesting outcomes and narative issues in this debate but instead I really I get it. For this reason I already dealt with it in my group through the idea of tells ( http://www.7thsea2e.com/port/comment/2268#comment-2268 ) [which I have been changed in play due to various issues with the design], but are basically defined as a consequence for a general item category, and players can take this to get the linked benefit in their approachs. So far It has meant that some interesting outcomes but mostly It has added to, not limited, choice.

The problem I always see in this sort of argument is not that the idea of items do not matter, they do, but how to fit static effects into what is a very dynamic game system. If you start adding bonus die you start skewing the percentages and weird effects instantly apply. If a special item gives a consistant special effect then we are into the realm of gizmo's (aka super heroes). If we have a group damage what does this mean to variable size groups? And we haven't even got into the effects of items in the realm of dramatic scenes. 

The idea of making weapon lists honestly horrifies me but even the greats of literature do care about the realism of violence and it will always be blackadders the firsts' "return of the king" scene that defines how much weaponry matters. The face when the king returns brandishing his fork and the horrified face of blackadder because of the incongurity of the situation is far stronger than even riddicks cup scene in my mind. 

I am dealing with items to a large extent in my current game (mainly because the heroes are trying to rebuild an eisen holding) but the truth is it will be the players not me who define what matters and what does not in regards to equipment.

Carlo Lope
Carlo Lope's picture

I think it is a very attractive idea (no items I mean). When you check the item pages of any game, you realize that you are going to use it once and that is when you create a new character. You may use it for some other things but mostly you will be ignoring 90% of the gear.

First edition has an item list but for some reason, when it came down to weapons, no one cared if someone carried a Zeihander or dual daggers even with the difference in dice. It was not much, throwing more dice but not keeping them was not that much of an advantage. Like you said, this edition gives you that feeling but forgoes the feeling you get when you use different weapons (I don't really have a problem with the rest of the items).

When you have a system like this, addind dice or extra powers is the only thing you can do (unless I'm missing something really important). Actually I'm not sure about what I wrote because I see unbalancing things if I change something but I see lack of feeling (same weapons) if I don't. There is also the simplicity of the system that makes any change feel too complex.

Kertész V
Kertész V's picture

Coming from decades of D&D and Shadowrun, the idea of getting rid of petty cash, loot, and gear/weapon tables was a bit jarring, but we were able to overcome it by thinking of it cinematically.

It's easy to imagine that an appropriate cinematic hero (say Zorro) could defeat a brute squad with a mere gentleman's cane if he were caught without his sword. Instead of spending raises to stab or slash his enemies, he would spend raises to parry one brute's sword through another brute before whacking the first brute on the back of the head with his stic. From scene to scene it doesn't matter what exactly Zorro is equipped with, he's the hero and can deal with a brute squad using whatever he has at hand because his heroistic flair comes from him, not his gear.

The Rook and The Raven
A 7th Sea 2nd Edition Adventure Podcast

Donovan Morningfire
Donovan Morningfire's picture

I think trying to shoehorn in weapon types and with it mechanical adjustments to damage ultimately defeats what I feel is one of the core design intents of the game.  Namely, your character is awesome not because of what weapons or gear they are carrying, but because of who they are and what they are inherently capable of.  Once you start factoring in weapon stat bonuses, you're going to have players that are going to weigh their options based upon what bonuses the weapons provide.  After all, why take a Finesse+Athletics Risk to swing down from a chandelier and topple a bunch of Brutes when you could use your broadsword with its damage bonus in a Brawn+Weaponry Risk take down those Brutes with Raises to spare?  This is the sort of game where "what would be a really cool way to defeat the opposition?" should be the question that players are asking themselves when faced with combat instead of "what attack type gives me the most bonuses?"

Rook Raven's example of Zorro-type Hero being able to defeat a Brute Squad with a simple gentleman's cane is a prime example.  Yes, he has a very cool rapier in some tellings of the story, but he can do just as well with any other fencing weapon.  Inigo Montoya has a unique sword (a Signature Item if ever there was one), but Westley was able to triumph in their fight using a far more ordinary rapier, and Count Rugen was able to use treachery (and a knife to the gut) to put Inigo at a distinct disadvantage when they finally squared off, though Inigo did ultimately triumph due not to his superior sword (though as a Signature Item I'm sure it helped), but instead through his raw determination to avenge his beloved father's death.  If one introduces weapons and weapon damage bonuses, then someone like Fezzik (who generally fights barehanded) really doesn't have much reason to do exactly that, especially if a player is looking to play a Hero that is inspired by the gentle giant.

Dono's Gaming & Etc Blog
http://jedimorningfire.blogspot.com/

Evan Sageser
Evan Sageser's picture

I see nothing wrong with having opportunities and consequences related to weapon type, but I don't think those are things that should necessarily be codified. The Consequence/Opportunity system in general seems designed to be flexible. Making a system that fixes what you can and can't do with a given weapon just seems antithetical to this idea.

Peasant
Peasant's picture

With reference to the Riddick and Caldwell scenes (with the cup and the thumb), have a think about their Approaches in 7th sea terms. they weren't just trying to defeat the other guy (lethally and non lethally respectively) they were trying to intimidate people. In Riddick's case, he was intimidating the other guys (and by extension, everyone they would talk to) and in Caldwell's case, he wan't really tring to hurt the guy, he was trying to get him to respect him, and his uniform. Riddick would be rolling something like Panache +weaponry (or Brawn+convince)  and Caldwell Pananche+Brawl (possibly finnese+convince). The mechanical disadvantage would come from using what would probably be non optimum stats for combat encounters.  

For Tuco and Douglas Mortimer, i'd argue that those scenes told you very little about the guns, but a lot about the men using them: Tuco knows revolvers extremely well, and knows how to use them; and Mortimer? If that wasn't a textbook wits+aim approach, I don't know what is. 

Doctor
Doctor's picture

"For Tuco and Douglas Mortimer, I'd argue that those scenes told you very little about the guns, but a lot about the men using them”

That’s almost precisely my point; the equipment teaches us something about the character. Now, do I think the fact that Tuco carries an 1851 Colt Navy (or whatever it ultimately is)? No. I do, however, think it matters that it is not a shotgun or a knife. Similarly, Tuco’s level of intimacy with the equipment is important to the narrative: “Every gun makes its own tune.” Similarly, James Coburn’s character in the Magnificent 7 wouldn’t have been nearly as impressive with a gun; the knife matters.

The only point I was attempting to raise here is that equipment matters, not merely to the nuts and bolts but to the story, and there should be a place for it somewhere

“Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.”
- H.L. Mencken

Rossbert
Rossbert's picture

There is, but it exists in narrative justification.  If you wield a claymore and your chosen risk is "I am going to try to snap his weapon" it is easier to believe and more likely to be an accepted action as well as have appropriate opportunities and consequences.  But extension using it to hook and slide a ring of keys might not be allowed, though a rapier or epee might.  It is a little like some of the advantages you can try anything, but with the proper equipment (background, resources, contacts, etc.) you require less elaborate justification as to why you mioght succeed.

I will absolutely admit this approach is awkward coming from D&D, RIFTS or any game that has lists and lists or even books of specific gear and fiddly bits.  It is less so coming from FATE or Numenera if you experience with those, but still an adjustment since categories got even broader (gun, not-gun, specific style weapons).

 

 

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