Wednesday, November 18, 2009

To Hit

I've been thinking about the "to hit" mechanic in roleplaying games. Combat still plays an important role in roleplaying (pardon the pun), whether you're a vampire stalking prey down the alleys of New York City, a Jedi Knight defending the Republic, or a child facing down monsters in the closet. Storytelling is about conflict, and the easiest mode is fighting. In most respects, we're still mired in the miniatures games that proceeded RPGs. Therefore, the "to hit" mechanic is critical to an RPG.

Contemporary games typically handle combat as any other task. Once skills were broken out separately from a character's profession, it made sense for the "to hit" mechanic to work the same was as skill resolution. That is to say, shooting a gun is really no different from driving a car -- it's something that can be learned and improved upon with practice.

Once this was done, it was generally assumed that players would pick combat-related skills for their characters. This is a valid assumption. You can't kill monsters and take their stuff without killing them first (though some sort of game where you get the monsters to invest in your Ponzi scheme would be fun). Some games automatically assign combat skills to characters. I always liked the system in Call of Cthulhu, where the rules assumed a basic, innate proficiency in certain skills; you start with Drive 40%, for example, while academic skills start at zero percent (which makes sense, because you have to study algebra, you don't just know it). I'm surprised no other game mimicked this particular mechanic, but I digress. In CoC, you could conceivably never put any points into a combat skill, and still shoot a gun.

Venerable Dungeons & Dragons assigned a "to hit" number based on the character's class. Warriors knew how to swing swords, wizards not so much, so the latter had a much lower "to hit" number. Oddly, there was no connection between a character's weapon skill and his "to hit" chances. A fighter got a proficiency in longsword, and that was that. If he picked up a proficiency in battle axe later on, he got to use it at the same proficiency as his longsword, as though he'd been using it for years. That is, he used the same "to hit" value for all weapons, no matter when he learned to use them.

Since System X is an attempt to go back, as it were, in game design, I'm wondering if I should copy this mechanic. Should I assign each class its own "to hit" value? I generally like this approach for the above-mentioned reason: Different classes have combat values that reflect their focus. I'm not a fan of wizards swinging swords as well as fighters.

Also, both sorts of games modify this "to hit" number through the character's base attributes. Typically, this is through dexterity (or agility, or whatever it's called in a particular game); sometimes, strength plays a factor, too. I'm toying with the idea that intelligence and perception play a part in modifying the "to hit" number, as well. Twisting the blade at the last moment to slip through an enemy's defenses. Determining the weak spot in an opponent's armor and aiming for it. These would be examples of intelligence and perception affecting battle.

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