Random Damage vs. Static Damage

By | October 11, 2014

Hello and welcome!

As we iterate forward into version 3 of our Beta, we’re re-examining some formerly settled issues.  One of those issues is randomly rolled damage versus static damage.  Static damage is most often seen in systems where characters take specific kinds of Wounds, but also can exist in a system where, for instance, certain weapons always deal X damage.  The latter offers more variety, but both provide a level of consistency and simplicity that are attractive when attempting to design for the fastest possible gaming experience.

We had discounted using a Wound system long ago because all damage dice exploded in the earliest iterations of Forthright Open Roleplay.  This was exciting and different, and early playtesters loved it.  Over time, however, we came to see several problems with it, specifically that the lack of consistency was so strong that the system was unintentionally dangerous.  Any attack could kill any character at any time, making combat extremely deadly and removing much of the fun and tactics from that segment of the game.

By Beta 2, we had removed exploding dice from the game, but we’ve kept Resolve largely the same.  As part of the mathematics of the system, we calculate against median results, including median damage.  As a result, we noticed that we could every easily replace rolling for damage with Wounds, and began re-examining what we’d moved away from some time ago.

The pros for static damage were:

  • Faster
  • Easier
  • More consistent damage

The pros for rolling damage were:

  • More dice = more fun
  • Less consistent damage
  • More mechanical possibilities

In the end, these weighed out nearly equally.  We know from experience how frustrating it is to roll high on a Strike only to roll low on Damage, so the more consistent damage was appealing.  And given our focus on speed and ease-of-use, static damage was looking more and more like a winner.

But.

It just didn’t feel exciting to us.  We enjoy the act of rolling dice, we find a lot of fun in opening that door to chance.  Rolling to Strike and then just marking off dots on a character sheet just felt a little bland by comparison.  There were fewer highs and lows, and hurting an opponent became more humdrum.  Additionally, we were suddenly only using the d20 out of a standard pack of polyhedral dice; our feeling on the matter is, use all the dice or just use d6s (the most common of dice).

And finally, most compellingly, more consistent damage meant less emergence.  Enemies would always take X number of hits to go down, without variation.  While this may seem beneficial, it removes the possibility of having a commoner be unusually lucky or tougher than would normally be expected.  The story would not evolve to fill the unexpected blanks, because those blanks were being replaced with expected results.  The gamescape thus becomes a little more predictable and a lot less precarious.

So in the end, we decided against static damage.  In this case, the speed and ease-of-use did not provide greater benefits than what was being lost.

Thanks for reading!  We’d love to read what you think in the comments below.

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