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Determining Attack and Weapon Damage in Mothership
Using dice roll distributions to inform your decisions when creating creatures or weapons
As a warden you have created a cool new creature. You thought about the fiction of the creature, you’ve given it the perfect abilities. How do you determine the damage dice for these abilities?
As a warden or a player, you have brought a new weapon to the table either through playing a module, purchasing a weapon, or building one as a project. What damage dice should the weapon use? Should the weapon deal damage in wounds?
I am about to explain how you can think about each of these technically. However, you should be making these decisions based on the feel you are trying to give the creature or the weapon. I’m providing some quantitative guidelines that you can use to make your qualitative decisions; it is not about choosing the right numbers to balance things. Mothership is, first and foremost, about making interesting player decisions, not about providing balanced combat encounters.
Please see the following link to refer to the numbers I will discuss in this post.
When considering attack and weapon damage, knowing some general statistics about player health can help you make good decisions. Health per wound is determined by rolling a 1d10+10. The median roll for a 1d10 is a 6, so most PC health will be a little more or less than 16 hp/wound. Taking a wound is something the PCs want to avoid as much as possible because ruling on the wound table can lead to death, so it’s good to keep that in mind as you look at attack dice.
Attack Dice Values
The median value for each of the attack dice sizes are as follows, I only go up to 4d10 based on Sean McCoy’s suggestion that anything dealing more damage should probably deal damage in wounds instead:
1d5 - 3
1d5[+] - 4
1d5[-] - 2
1d10 - 6
1d10[+] - 8
1d10[-] - 3
2d10 - 11
2d10[+] - 13
2d10[-] - 9
3d10 - 17
3d10[+] - 19
3d10[-] - 14
4d10 - 22
4d10[+] - 25
4d10[-] - 19
It is possible for any attack with attack dice larger than 1d10 to deal a wound of damage with one hit. Most PCs have two wounds with some classes having three. If someone is especially weak (2 wounds of 11 hp each). It could be quite likely for a 3d10 or 4d10 level of attack dice to kill them on the spot. On average, a 3d10 is quite likely to deal a wound’s worth of damage, but there is enough variation in these dice rolls to not quite call for an automatic wound. A 4d10 attack will generally take out a whole wound of health and then some. It is possible for a 4d10 attack to cause multiple wounds and to kill a PC on the spot. This leads to a hierarchy of possible damage.
1d5→1d10→2d10→3d10→1 Wound → 4d10 → Multiple Wounds
Each of these has a different feel to them, and they have a different feel in relation to other weapons. It’s not nearly as simple choosing from the hierarchy in order based on the power you want.
A discussion in the Discord was about the heavy machine gun, and how it would feel more powerful in your hand to roll 4d10 than it would to have it deal a wound or wounds. Thinking about the distribution of dice rolls, the 4d10 value also makes the weapon more dangerous. It has a chance to not hit well, but if all 4 are d10s are a high value, it could completely shred something in one turn. A hmg is a weapon that is difficult to aim and fire and puts out immense amounts of bullets. If someone is skilled and lucky, it can do a lot of damage, or it can barely touch someone while putting a bunch of ammo into the wall. The fiction of the weapon better supports the use of 4d10 attack dice rather than dealing wounds.
On the other hand, a combat shotgun is clearly a wound weapon to me (it is written that way as well). It’s hard to miss with a shotgun, and it does one clean amount of damage. It is going to put a whole in things, take out chunks, or knock someone over if armored. This feels like a guaranteed wound, not the variable amount of damage that rolling damage dice would insinuate.
Finally, frag grenades are the perfect example from the 1e WIP of a multiple wound weapon. It makes since that grenades do high amounts of damage that would be variable at a degree different than another weapon, it’s a matter of chance how many wounds it takes, not how much health.
Damage Levels and Certainty
From the above examples, the decision for how much damage something does is based on relative damage dealing ability and as well as the certainty of doing damage. An attack dice roll may hit, and then hit for a small amount of damage. A wound attack or weapon deals a full wound every single time. A wound weapon and a 3d10 or 4d10 weapon are roughly similar as far as raw damage dealing ability, but each dice you add to the pool adds a higher level of variability to the damage done. This leads to two questions when thinking about attack dice.
How dangerous do you want this attack or weapon to be?
How certain are you of how dangerous it is?
There are many more interesting ways to differentiate your weapons and attacks than via damage levels. The number of dice and the decision to take wounds impact the feel of the weapon; however, your table is going to make it feel alive.
Does it make a noise? Does it have something printed on it? Etc.
Does it cause any conditions or affect anything else mechanically?
Are there more interesting behaviors than straightforward combat that I can give this weapon or creature?
Ultimately, choosing attack and weapons damage is an intuitive process based on your world’s fiction and the feel of the creatures and the weapons. Falling back on the numbers is not the point, but knowing the implications of the numbers can help you make the best decisions possible for you and the people at your table to have the most amount of fun possible.