Monday, August 24, 2015

Let's Compare Editions! Part 6 -- Combat

Let’s Compare the different editions of Vampire: The Masquerade

Despite the fundamental basics of gameplay not having changed significantly between the various editions, each has their own rather unique take on Combat for Vampire. Given this variation, I'm going to do a brief overview of how each Edition handles Combat, saving the comparison and analyses for this end. Let's get to it!


Especially in 1st, DODGE! Dear Lord, DODGE!
Initiative is generally a Wits + Alertness (Diff 4), but any other appropriate Ability (Brawl, Melee, Firearms, etc.) can be used. Combat is divided up into two different categories-- Hand-to-Hand and Firefight. Initiative is generally not rolled for Hand-to-Hand but is for Firefights. 

For Hand-to-Hand, each combatant rolls Dexterity+Brawl/Melee, with a difficulty based on the maneuver they are using or the weapon they are wielding. The one with the most success manages to make contact. The Damage is determined based off the weapon/maneuver plus the additional success they attained in the attack. Defender may soak, which is Stamina+Fortitude with a difficulty equal to the number of damage success + 5 (max 10). A botch on this roll means that one health level is aggravated.

There are three different basic maneuvers one may attempt in Hand-to-Hand. A throw in which one attempt to throw an opponent, such as into a wall or onto the ground.  If even one health level of damage is inflicted, the target is stunned for the next round, with any die pool limited to their Stamina. Grapple is an attempt to hold another character. No damage is inflicted, but each success reduces the number of dice the opponent can use the next turn. At any time, the grappler may assign dice to a damage roll, with a difficult of the opponents Stamina + 3. A strike is any other maneuver which intends to do damage. To stake an opponent, one needs 5 successes to do so, accumulated on a single turn. It is not clear if this is 5 successes on the to hit roll or the damage roll. 

Firefights do require initiative, generally the standard. Highest declares first, and their actions are resolved prior to moving on to any other participant. Attacks are made with Dexterity + Firearms. Difficulty is based on the weapon, unless the fight is at point blank range (in which case the difficulty is 3) or at extreme range (double the range listed, difficulty becomes 8). If the player succeeds, then each success is considered to be an automatic level of damage.  The damage roll is based off of the weapon, at a difficult of the opponents Stamina + 3. The target may soak by rolling Stamina + Fortitude against a difficulty of the weapons damage factor + 3. A botch on this roll indicates on the levels of damaged is aggravated

Three-round bursts add 2 dice to the attack roll and 2 to the damage roll. Full-Auto is accomplished by splitting your die pool and taking as many Three-round bursts as you can, up to 7. Dual Wielding is accomplished by splitting your die pool, like normal, as has no special penalties or bonuses. 

Initiative is Wits + Alertness, Difficult 4. Each participant declares their actions in reverse order--
those with the lowest Initiative declare first, with the highest going last.  Attacks are resolved by Dexterity+Firearms/Brawl/Melee, with difficulty based on weapon/maneuver. Each additional success with a firearm adds an extra die to the damage roll, though this is not true of Brawl or Melee. The target may soak with a Stamina + Fortitude roll against a difficult of 6. 

Three-round burst increases the difficulty to hit by 1, but adds three dice to the attack pool. Full-Auto increases the difficulty by 2, but adds 10 dice to the attack pool. Multiple Opponents increases ones difficulties by 1 per opponent, and staking requires three successes after dodge, and three health levels of damage, after soak. Grapples are started by grabbing the opponent with a Dexterity + Brawl roll, followed by an opposed Strength + Brawl. Whoever loses is immobilized. Body-Slams are accomplished by hurling oneself at ones foe. Success increases the opponents difficulties for the rest of the round by two, and most roll Dexterity + Athletics (difficulty equal to the number of success to hit + 3) or fall to the ground. Damage is equal to the attackers strength; each success above the minimum adds one to this. If the attacker does not do at least three success, he falls to the ground and is treated as though he has no dice left for this round.

Initiative is the sum of a characters Dexterity + Wits plus the result of one die. Characters declare in reverse order. Attacks are made with Dexterity + Firearms/Brawl/Melee, at a difficulty of 6, though certain weapons will modify this. Each additional success adds to the damage pool. Damage is rolled at a difficulty of 6.  There are now three types of damage--bashing, lethal, and aggravated. Bashing damage is reduced by half after soak. Bullets are considered to be bashing damage against vampires. An opponents my soak with a Stamina + Fortitude roll against a difficulty of 6. 

All maneuvers now have a listed Accuracy (which modifies your attack die pool) and Difficulty (which modifies the difficulty of the attack) ratings. Dual-Weapons is treated as a normal multiple action, with an additional difficult of +1, unless she is ambidextrous. Staking requires at least one success, but must be a targeted at the heart at a difficulty of 9 and three health levels of damage. Three-round bursts now are at +1 difficulty, but +2 accuracy. There are also a far greater number of maneuvers one may performs, such as Clinch, Disarm, Hold, and Tackle

Other than an optional rule regarding initiative in which one just adds 6 is the characters initiative rating (the sum of their Dexterity and Wits) and some slight changes due to how Celerity works (which we'll cover when we get to Disciplines), the combat rules in this edition are more or less identical to Revised.

As you can see, combat has changed quite a bit. 1st in particular is just weird. I have never actually played 1st straight, but now I'd like to give it a shot and see what it's like. There's a whole host of unanswered questions, though I know the Storytellers Handbook went into quite a bit of detail in answering them. Each though, for me, has it's quirks and charms. I like how Revised has a unified system of Accuracy and Difficulty, though I really dislike it's Initiative system.

For the past several years, some of my favorite games of Vampire have consisted either exclusively or primarily of "n00bs." Honestly, I think it works great, but the Revised initiative is always a sticking point. It's just...counter-intuitive. After many, many rolls of "Attribute + Ability" to suddenly switch to  "sum of two Attributes plus the results of one die" always grounds things to a halt and causes confusion. It might be more statistically sound, but I've found the Wits+Alertness, difficult 4 to be a much simpler method.

The other thing I've noticed is how guns have been gradually "depowered" over the years. In 1st, they are nasty. I mean, automatic damage based off of successes? Soaking is a variable difficulty based on the weapon, and can go as high as 9? Ugh, nasty. 2nd still keeps them fearful, as they are the only weapons that add dice to the damage pool with successes. Not as bad as 1st but still scary. With Revised, you'd almost be a fool to use them against anything but mortals. Everything now adds successes to damage pool, but guns are now bashing

It's the bashing thing that really changed the game. I mean, it's nice to finally have a clear explanation for what exactly a mortal can and can not soak. But, the "vampires only take half after soak" really knocked down a lot of methods of combat. When I played 2nd, I see a lot of "combat builds"--some people use knives and swords, sure. But, there's also those who like guns, and those who go with their fists, feet, and whatever they can grab at the scene. 

In Revised it's swords, knives, claws, and that's about it. You might use a gun or a fist against a mortal, but that's about it. I guess it depends on what kind of feel you want. When Revised first came out, I was very excited about this rule change. But over time, it made each fight feel much like the last one. 

Also, Stamina has been generally devalued. In 1st, it is a critical combat attribute. Not only do you use it for soaking, but it also increases the difficulty for damage rolls, making it less likely that you would suffer damage in the first place. Once you get to later editions, Stamina becomes less and less important. The presence of bashing damage makes this even less important.

Let's take a look at how this plays out in a gunfight in each edition. We'll assume average Attributes and Abilities, just for ease of comparison. So, a 4 die pool to attack, and a base of 2 for soaking.

1st Attacker rolls 4 dice with their gun, get's average success (2). That's one more than they need, so they get one bonus automatic damage. They roll damage (4 dice) against a difficulty of (Stamina+3,) 5 and get 2 success. Total of 3 health inflicted.  Defender rolls Stamina + Fortitude against (Weapon Damage+3) 7, and gets 1 success. Takes 2 damage.

2nd Again, 4 dice rolled, 2 success. They get an extra die of damage, so it's 5 dice against difficult of 6, We'll say they get 2 successes on damage (I got that about 7 out of 10 rolls). Defender soaks with Stamina + Fortitude for 1 damage.

Revised 4 dice, 2 success. They score 2 Health Levels of Damage, Defender soaks 1. Guns are bashing, so that should be "halved", but that still leaves 1.

So, at "low levels" it's about the same. Let's look at "high level" Dex 5, Firearms 5, Stamina + Fortitude pool of 5.

1st Goes all out with multiple three round bursts. We'll say 3 of them. First attack is 4 dice, plus 2 for the burst, for 6 dice . 3 Success. 4 damage dice against 8 is 1 Success, for 3 Health Levels. Target soaks 2, takes 1. Next two attacks are a 5 (3 base+2 for burst), for 2 success each. Damage is 1 Success, for 2 Health Levels, Defender soaks both. Takes a total of 1 Health Level of Damage.

2nd Goes Full auto. Base pool of 10 + 10 dice for full auto against a difficulty of 8 for (average of 10 sample rolls) 6 success. Rolls damage of 4 + 5 for 6 success for damage. Target soaks 2 of them, for a total of 4 Health Levels of Damage.

Revised Again, Full Auto. Base pool of 10 + 10 versus difficulty of 8, 6 successes. Damage of 4 + 5, for 6. Target soaks 2 of them, but the remainder is halved, so the end result is only taking 1 Health Level of Damage.

Hrm, maybe guns are really only nasty in 2nd? Though I suppose in 1st you would keep dividing up your attacks to do more and more bursts, each doing a net 1 Health Level  of Damage.  Though, my sample pool might be too small for any meaningful comparisons.

I don't really have strong feelings on the various Combat systems. The truth is, I've never really enjoyed the Storyteller System for combat. In fact, even in the most battle focused games--Werewolf, Aberrant, Exalted--I've found it to be a pretty boring once the fighting actually starts, at least compared to many other games--Cyberpunk 2020, Shadowrun, hell, even GURPS

No, where Storyteller excels at is being a murder simulator. Sudden, brutal violence brought on by the one you thought was your ally. Betrayals. Ambushes. Desperate acts that you must flee from, or die. THIS is where Vampire shines, and these are the kinds of combats I like to see. In fact, for most of my games I've abandoned the "official" combat system for something more or less derived from the 1st Ed Storytellers Handbook take on narrative combat. It's a much simpler and more free form take, less concerned with specific and discreet rules, and more up to the troupes imagination. It works great for some groups, less so for others. Still, I'd recommend giving it a try.

Oh, and one house rule I'd definitely do, something I'm amazed didn't make it in to V20 and, despite my advice to "ignore the fans" something I hope the do in 4th--LET FORTITUDE AUTOMATICALLY SOAK NON-AGGRAVATED DAMAGE. I've been playing with this house rule for years, and all it does is make Fortitude be as useful as Potence and at least comparable as Celerity. Before this house rule, NO ONE bought Fortitude, even the Gangrel and Ventrue were only getting grudgingly. Once that House Rule came into effect, suddenly, it became a semi-useful Discipline. Seriously. Get on it Onyx Path. 

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