29 January 2012

Playtest Report - Stormbringer 1e Combat System

So we finished our first playtest of Stormbringer 1e rules tonight. Although there's plenty to say about the session, and the story was great fun, my main take away about the rules are that the magic system is great but the combat system blows chunks.

Combat in Stormbringer is a d100 dice throw where a seasoned warrior has about 50% chance or so of hitting. Then the target gets to roll d100 to see if they parry the blow. Then, if its still a hit, the attacker throws damage (which can be a mix of a couple of different dice, depending on the circumstances.) Finally, if the defender has armor there is a dice throw to see how much soak the damage does. Thus, a single attack can take four different dice throws, one with an obtuse addition of heterogeneous dice.

This takes entirely too long to work through and slows down combat significantly. It also turned out that many times the combat would go a few rounds where nobody was hurt and then, blam, somebody gets a crit and a combatant is killed. It definitely produced some of the tension and feel of old-time Swords and Sorcery novels; but, it just creeped along at a snails pace at the table.

An example:
Pangaarl Krin, corsair of Pan Tang, wields Odo, a Fire Elemental bound in the form of a battle ax. Pangaarl and his band of ne'er-do-wells have trapped a clan of Kronks (think orcs that look a bit like orangutans) in a room at the top of a staircase. Pangaarl takes his flaming ax and sets into the door, hacking it to smoldering pieces. He then bursts through the doorway, ax swinging at two Kronks trying to stop the onrush. The Kronks bear puglunks, iron shod staves that allow two attacks per round.

Pangaarl closes; but, the Kronks are ready for him. They attack first, twice each, followed by Pangaarl's battle ax attack on them. In addition, Pangaarl calls for Odo to belch forth a burst of flame at a Kronk. This one round of attack ends up requiring 14 separate rolls - far too many for a smooth and speedy combat round.

  1. Kronk 1 rolls first attack (d100) and misses.
  2. Kronk 1 rolls second attack (d100 at -20) and hits.
  3. Pangaarl rolls first parry (d100) and succeeds, blocking Kronk 1's second attack.
  4. Kronk 2 rolls first attack (d100) and hits.
  5. Pangaarl rolls second parry (d100 at -20) and fails.
  6. Kronk 2 rolls damage (1d8).
  7. Pangaarl rolls armor soak (1d8-1) and ends up taking one point of damage
  8. Kronk 2 rolls second second attack (d100 at -20) and misses.
  9. Pangaarl rolls attack (d100) and hits Kronk 2.
  10. Kronk 2 rolls parry (d100) and fails.
  11. Pangaarl rolls damage (1d8 + 1d6 + 2).
  12. Kronk 2 rolls soak (1d6-1) and ends up taking 11 points of damage.
  13. 11 points in one hit is a major wound, so Kronk 2 rolls a major wound (d100) throw and we find his jaw is broken.
  14. Odo bursts into flames, catching Kronk 2's hair afire and rolls damage (2d10) for another 7 points of damage.

Fourteen dice rolls! Count 'em, fourteen. For one combat round with three contestants. It took a fair bit of time and description to get through that round. The rolls help make a tense series of steps and add color to the description; but, it took 14 rolls for Pangaarl to take 1 point of damage and deal 18 points of damage and a major wound to Kronk 2.

I tried doing things like rolling multiple dice at once; but, trying to keep 3d100 separated and straight when dealing with a Kronk's roll was just too much in the heat of a session.

The magic system rocked and clearly fit the ambiance of the Elric novels. I'll have to do a post on my impression of the magic system in a couple of days. Today, however, I can say that before the next time I play Stormbringer I'm going to give the combat system a complete overhaul.

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