Tuesday, February 24, 2015

ACKS and Class-Based Damage

After my brief foray into looking at the Basic Rules for 5e (which led to the unfortunate conclusion that it's unplayable as-is), I have shifted my focus back to my own RPG comfort zone — some iteration of B/X (and my favorite B/X retro-clone, Labyrinth Lord). Since I do not have the luxury of playing at the moment, and the only way I can decide whether or not hacking 5e is worth my while is by playing it, I am simply going to go back to hacking the version of the game I know I love to play.

To that end, I would like to highlight the one RPG-related purchase that I have spent more time using in the last year than any other — the ACKS Players Companion (ACKS PC). As with all things B/X, the guys at Autarch reverse engineered all of the core classes (minus the halfling) and then came up with a system with which to create all kinds of classes, including those same core classes. It is rather ingenious, actually, because it is now possible to create campaign-specific classes for a B/X-type of game.

This is important for me, because when I started my Lost Colonies campaign, I only allowed Fighters, Clerics, Magic-Users, Dwarves and Elves. As the campaign evolved, not only did players want to explore different class options, but the campaign world itself demanded it. At the time, however, I didn’t have a lot of options for dealing with these needs other than introduce Advanced Edition classes, which didn’t quite fit.

With the ACKS PC, I am now able to create those classes exactly the way I want to and still have them express some kind of balance according to the logic of the B/X core classes. There is only one issue with the whole system that I am struggling with: weapon damage.

ACKS elegantly divides weapons into various categories where each has a one-handed, one-and-a-half handed and two-handed version. These do from 1d6 to 1d10 damage. This isn’t an issue if the world can logically supply all these types of weapons; however, Lost Colonies is a metal-poor setting where iron, especially, is quite rare. Swords are normally bronze and there is no such thing as a long or two-handed bronze sword. This throws a kink into the ACKS damage system.

To boot, I also normally use universal d6 damage at my table for a variety of reasons; however, using weapon selection is a key element to the custom class design presented in the ACKS PC. Therefore, I need to somehow make weapon choice or damage meaningful in order to properly implement the custom class system.

The ACKS PC has four levels of weapon selection:

  • Restricted (as with a Magic-User)
  • Narrow (as with a Cleric)
  • Broad (as with a Thief)
  • Unrestricted (as with a Fighter)

When it comes to weapon damage, there are those who like to emulate Gandalf, the sword-wielding magic-user. They advocate damage by class, where every class can use any weapon, but the damage will vary from class to class:

  • Magic-User = d4
  • Cleric/Thief = d6
  • Fighter = d8

With a little tweak, this class-based damage system can be ported over to the ACKS PC weapon selection:

  • Restricted = d4
  • Narrow = d6
  • Broad = d8
  • Unrestricted = d10

This would be a simple solution save for a couple of concerns. I wonder if d10 damage too powerful? Elves and Dwarves would also do d10 via this system and, in the case of elves I do think that is too much.

There are three solutions to this potential problem:

  • The first would be to dial back all the damage by one die, where Unrestricted is d8 and Restricted is d3. That poses the question of whether or not the magic-user and cleric are too weak.
  • The second option is to use the ACKS PC system to hack the fighter, elf and dwarf to have Broad d8 damage with some kind of weapon specialization/combat bonus; however this would add to the XP total necessary to advance. Fighters would need 2150 XP, elves 4150 and dwarves 2350. It doesn’t seem like much, but especially with elves it certainly feels that way.
  • The third option is to use Unrestricted = d10, etc. for human characters and Unrestricted = d8, etc. for demi-humans.

So, my question (especially to those of you who have used class-based damage) which of these options do you like best?


Stacktrace said...

Also a big fan of ACKs and have come to a similar conclusion (using ACKs as the baseline instead of 5e, despite early joy/hope regarding 5e). I think d10 is probably relatively high for unrestricted class based damage. As both Broad/Narrow come from having 1 point in Fighter, I would suggest collapsing those both together, and use the progression:
Fighter 0: d4
Fighter 1: d6
Fighter 2: d8

Which then saves the d10 and d12 for the rarely used Fighter 3 and 4 if you design such classes.

Are you also planning to keep the Fighter damage bonus/level? Seems to tread similar ground.

Tom Hudson said...

Harvicus' idea also allows you to increase damage by one step for a two-handed weapon, if it appeals.

Yes, that mashes together Broad and Narrow weapon restrictions; there's no longer any mechanical reason when point-building classes not to choose Narrow weapons for the wider range of armors it allows. But perhaps we can find some other way to balance, or just note it as something not really balanced.

(If I recall correctly ACKS has thieves' skills only usable in leather armor or less, which offsets a large chunk of the mechanical issue - but makes an assassin a frustrating class to play, because they've got access to chain but can't be sneaky or backstab when they're wearing it.)

FrDave said...

My only issue here is that when creating new classes, weapon selection can be sacrificed in order to gain various special abilities. The difference between Broad and Narrow is significant in this case because it counts for 2 slots, not just 1, as it is when going from Unrestricted to Broad. In terms of getting new abilities, it is one of the easiest ways to trade for interesting powers.

I don't plan on using the fighter damage bonus/level and thus I ignore it when building a custom class. I suppose I could do the same with weapon selection and tie damage to Fighter 0-2. Custom classes would need to sacrifice armor for special abilities in many cases.

Stacktrace said...

You can grant Fighter 1 three combat styles. The Cleric takes: Light Armor, Heavy Armor, and Shield, the Thief gets: Light Armor, Ranged Weapons, and Dual Wield

ktrey said...

I use class HD based damage frequently (putting the Hit back in Hit Dice). I like it because it makes superior damage a big class feature for Fighters, and makes even a lowly dagger deadly in their hands. It also supports Wizards with Swords, which I'm fine with.

Maybe just use the d10 damage for demi-humans when they're fighting their "ancestral enemies?" Not ideal, (a similar feature may already be modeled as a building block in ACKs) but it could dovetail with option three above.

Christian Kolbe said...

Try this system... just restrict certain weapon types to certain classes.

Weapon Damage:
Instead of each weapon having its own damage value and critical values, I like to class weapons into broader, size-based categories with all weapons in each category doing similar amounts of damage. Within each category, each weapon may have other abilities which are not tied to damage value: e.g. an axe could be really useful when you want to chop down a wooden door while a dagger is very easily concealed on one’s person.

Melee Weapons:
1d4-Tiny, easily concealed weapons such as daggers, spiked gauntlets, and hatchets. Additionally, staves do 1d4 when wielded one-handed and 1d6 when wielded two-handed. May use DEX bonus to hit in melee. May be used as off-handed weapons. Initiative, 1st Round Only, -1 Modifier. Other Rounds +1 Modifier.

1d6-Small weapons designed for one-handed use such as hand-axes, short swords, and javelins. May use DEX bonus to hit in melee. May be used as off-handed weapons.

1d6/1d8-Medium weapons designed for one or two-handed use such as bastard swords, morning stars and spears.

1d10-Large weapons designed exclusively for two-handed use such as halberds, great swords, and two-handed axes. Initiative, 1st Round Only, +1 Modifier. Other Rounds -1 Modifier.

FrDave said...

In other words, Unrestricted = Large; Broad = Medium; Narrow = Small; Restricted = Tiny where each category above Restricted may use all the weapons below?