Monday, 25 August 2014

Monitors: Armour

Next (convenient) list item: armour.

I want armour to be non-negligible in the game for a couple of reasons. One is that the kind of sci-fi I vaguely have in mind as inspiration incorporates a whole range of clothing situations, from sitting in your study in pyjamas to repairing the ion thrusters in a massive protective exoskeleton, via defending your ship from alien invasion. As such, I'd like the precaution of wearing suitable clothing to be respected.

The second is that a game about space lizards where playing a terrapin doesn't let you game-mechanically deflect stuff with your shell seems like a pretty pants game to me.

After some thought, there are (as usual) a few broad ideas I think are relevant.

It's still a fairly simple game, and while combat is relevant I don't want it to be a game full of Combat Stuff, so I want armour to be simple. Minimal modification, and a limited number of armour types.

I feel like worn armour and (I can't avoid the D&D-ism) natural armour should be different in some ways, because brief musing suggests to me that trying to treat them the same way will just cause trouble.

As I have done to some extent with weapons, I think some form of very limited encumbrance-type effect would be appropriate for bulky armour. I will also want to encourage GMs to consider NPC reactions to armour, especially on covert missions.

Broad armour types

The very basic degrees of armour I'd like to implement are something like:

  • Reinforced clothing, such as heavy industrial garb or stab vests. This would offer some protection against environmental hazards, accidents, brawls and low-powered weaponry. Equivalents for other damage types might be sunglasses or dust masks.
  • Genuine armour, such as armoured jackets and helmets, rebreathers or welding masks. These offer substantial protection against most minor threats, as well as more hazardous environments and light military weapons, but assuming the user makes an effort to minimise risk.
  • Heavy armour, such as full hazmat suits, the classic space marine sealed armour, or photoreactive optic filters. These are designed to protect against significant threats, with the assumption that avoiding the danger is not an option.

Something else I might want to include is thresholds for environmental hazards. For example, a fume-filled factory or debris-ridden wreck might pose a mild risk to PCs, which would be negated by any level of armour.

The types above are by no means the only or best armour I'd expect from a setting like this. Massive armoured sealed-environment exoskeletons or pulsing power fields are also reasonable ideas. However, this is not a military game, and so although some military-grade weapons might make it into adventures, I would not expect agents to have the best armour money can buy. It's simply not appropriate for the kind of missions I want them to take on, most of the time. In real life, even organised criminals don't tend to go around in full military armour, even on a bank raid - it's inconvenient, often cumbersome and hard to remove or conceal in a hurry. Weapons offer an immediate advantage in both actual power and perceived threat, they're relatively small compared to full-body armour, and much easier to hide or dispose of quickly.

The Monitors universe absolutely has room for super-armour designed for elite military units to fight antimatter battles in open space or on the surface of Venus, where they cannot possibly avoid hazards and need to weather them; I just don't think they need to be in the main rules. I don't want PCs to wear armour that will deflect 99% of dangers they might plausibly face, because that makes most physical threats irrelevant or forces the GM to rank up the danger, which presents problems for less well-equipped PCs. It also seems like it would cause story issues in explaining the constant unrelenting danger. But most importantly, it seems out of genre.

Armour mechanics options

There are various ways you can implement armour in games. These include:

  1. Increase the roll needed to 'hit' the wearer.
  2. Subtract a fixed amount from damage inflicted.
  3. Grant a roll to reduce damage.
  4. Grant a roll to negate damage.

Option 2 is off the table because I don't use a hit point model. Options 2-4 can result in a hit causing zero damage. Option 1 can feel unsatisfactory because it doesn't seem like your flimsy hide armour would work at all against my matter annihilator, even if I was only one off on the die roll. Options 3 and 4 require an additional roll and thus slow down resolution of damage-inflicting situations. Option 4 can have a similar problem as option 1, although armour piercing systems can deal with this.

Option 1 is probably the fastest and simplest, as it doesn't require an additional roll. Option 3 is the most forgiving to multi-damage weapons, although these are relatively rare and it isn't necessarily a problem.

Although it's another roll in the sequence, I think my inclination is to go with a damage-negating roll. This also offers the chance to play around with variable die sizes, which I've been enjoying as a penalty system.

Armour saves

The way I see it, there are basically three ways (that I immediately think of with minimal reflection) to do armour saving throws with variable armour.

The probably-oldest one is to roll one die and have different target numbers based on armour. It's a classic and works well with modifier-heavy systems like Monitors isn't now.

The next is the soak-dicepool where you aim for N successes on a dicepool dictated by your armour. I am currently using dicepools, so this would make sense and fall coherently in line with the model I'm using. I could use armour with 2-5 dice and have this rolled against the same 3+ as everything else. I already know the odds.

A third option is to roll one die against a fixed target number, but vary the size of the die. I'm sure it's been used, but I don't know where.

One of the problems of the dicepool is that I already know the odds, and the odds that I think work well for attainment in a high-competence genre game are not the odds that I want for armour in a game that isn't supposed to be about combat. You can see this easily by looking at the diagram I'll repeat from the post linked I provided above

Rolling 2 dice against target number 2 gives a 44% change, while rolling 3 dice gives 75% and rolling 4 dice gives 88%. There is a huge, huge leap between the worst armour and the next, and this seems like it would massively encourage players to wear medium armour. There's no way to adjust the numbers, or to introduce a new class of worse armour, without changing one of the parameters (target number or successes needed). Once I do that, the advantage of keeping the same system is significantly decreased; in fact, it is arguably better to use a significantly different system in order to minimise confusion.

I'm quite strongly inclined to use the die-size system, because it seems both simple and flexible.

Armour Dice

Let's assume we keep a target number of 3+, and assign different kinds of dice.

The basic, worst armour that is worth paying mechanical attention to is going to be a d3. We can easily get values of 33%, 50%, 67%, 75%, 80% and 83% with d3 to d12 respectively.

...unfortunately, I don't think these start low enough either. I don't want to be messing about with 2% armour because it just becomes a pointless little roll to clog up the system, but I'd like some kind of low-effect armour in the 15-25% bracket.

I can change the target number as well. Starting with a d4, this would give us 25%, 50%, 63%, 70% and 75%. Again, it's tricky because the jump between the first to values is so huge.

Sadly, I suspect this one isn't going to work out.

Saving Throw

So how's about that old one-die variable-target system? It's really easy to get a wide range of values with small jumps because single large dice are good at exactly that. By simply using a d10, I can get anything from 0-100% in 10% increments. A reasonable option might be to use 5, 7 and 9 as the armour types available to PCs outside very specialist missions, giving 60%, 40% and 20% chances respectively.

Composite Armour

Another possibility that presents itself is to combine more than one of the rule models. For example, I could have some kinds of armour not only provide a saving throw, but also increase the difficulty of hitting the target, relying on the aforemention idea that combat is a bit handwavey. However, I don't really seem to be going for modifiers, so I'm a bit wary of that, and the plasma annihilator issue remains unsolved. It also seems like a bit of a fudge, to be honest, and it blurs the boundary of what armour saves and hitting actually represent. So while this is a theoretical possibility, I think it's best avoided.

Armour Dice Again

I suddenly had a new idea, which is possibly the idea I originally had for variable die size and forgot. What's wrong with stealing the Penalty Die model?

If we assume that the idea is to roll a 1 on the die, then various die sizes can take us from a 1/6 chance to a 1/2 chance quite easily. This does not account for the possibility of rolling two or more dice, which is also an option, particularly for very good armour types, or where multiple armours come into play.

In particular, I notice that this armour model is exactly the reverse of the previous ones: it allows quite fine-grained control of low-success armours but gets increasingly coarse as your chances increase. This isn't supposed to be a war game, so I think I prefer a variety of low-mid armours and few good ones to the reverse. Moreover, Monitors has a fairly abstract approach to combat: ammo isn't counted, any successful hit is assumed to be good and powerful enough to injure someone who isn't protected, and so I think you can reasonably view it as being a simplification where some hits are indeed bouncing harmlessly off the armour. Basically, we assume that only reasonably good armour is relevant.

In situations where I really did want to model high-quality military armour for a short period, I think I'd go for allowing multiple dice. 3d2 looking for any 1s is highly effective armour.

Here, we could rule that (for example) tough clothing or very scaly hide is a d6, armour is a d3, and heavy armour is a d2. I don't want heavy armour to become routine, because it belies the sort of game I'm looking for; on the other hand, I do want it to be useful. Halving the chance of suffering damage sounds like a good bet to me. Weapon penetration would negate dice of a particular size or larger.

A weird alternative would actually be to do the whole thing with one die size. Probably a d6. This would mean rolling a lot of dice for good armour, but it has certain advantages because it offers a novel way to model weapon penetration. You simply have the weapon subtract a number of dice from the target's armour pool, meaning that a) it will auto-penetrate weapon armour, and b) a very penetrative weapon is still a superior option against even better armour. This avoids getting into numerical modifiers, which I like.

Either way, I could model things like additional armour types or shooting directly through a wall by adding additional dice. A terrapin wearing a flak jacket might get a d3 for the flak jacket and another for its carapace. I could allow, say, three categories of protection: Gear, Natural and Environment. You can only roll once within each category, so wearing two sets of armour is useless, but a terrapin can still get credit for its carapace and taking shelter from heavy fire is still helpful, while good air conditioning or a windy day will help you survive knockout gas. I'd want to semi-carefully consider how cover is used in the system, though, to try and keep things streamlined between hitting stuff and hurting stuff.

A potential disadvantage of the variable-size model is that this looks a bit like Penalty Dice but actually works quite differently. Hmm. What would happen if I did actually treat armour like a Penalty Dice..?


  1. Hmm, I thought I posted a comment on this but it seems to have vanished.

    One possibility for a dicepool system would be to allow armour to force rerolls on attacks. So your attacker rolls their attack pool and then you make them reroll a certain number of dice depending on your armour. And that way weapons that ignore armour can simply ignore this effect.

    Technically this is no faster than allowing a soak roll, but it *seems* different somehow, I'm not sure why. For some reason "roll X dice, then you might have to reroll up to Y successes" seems cleaner than "roll X dice, and then the target rolls Y dice".

    1. *Yoink*

      I like this quite a lot.

      Another version might be to have armour force rerolls (once) of certain *numbers*, which I think might be theoretically interesting, but wouldn't actually get the results I want here. It doesn't immediately offer a simple way to do weapon penetration, and with a 3+ target a reroll wouldn't actually make heavier armour very much better. Not sure about the statistics in terms of how much rerolling you'd have to do, as it doesn't seem worth running them right now, but that may be awkward too. One to keep on the back burner.

      I think your method is also nice because it can pass things over to the players: they reroll for their own shots, but can also do the rerolls on the NPCs attacks for a bit of that "armour save" feel if they want. Wouldn't bother myself, mind.