nWOD (Storytelling) House Rules: Combat

(Disclaimer: 'World of Darkness', is a registered trademarks of CCP, inc. The author is in no way affiliated with this company or any of their products).

Late Edit: I've posted a handout with handgun stats here, and one with SMG stats here. If you like these house rules (or just want stats for a bunch of real world guns), feel free to take and use these. 

The first of many posts about my heavily houseruled version of the nWOD mechanics.

The essence of the modification is that rather than weapons being defined by a single stat that adds to the attack roll, weapons have a 'to hit bonus' (which you add to the attack roll) and a 'base damage' (which adds to any successes on the attack roll). Revolutionary, I know. If the King of Sweden calls with my Nobel Prize for Awesomness, I'll be down at the bar.

The trouble is that introducing that change requires a couple of other changes to avoid radically altering the game balance. What follows is an explanation of the rationale and development of the core mechanic. At some point, there will be an easily useable pdf of the mechanics, along with some gear lists.

Original mechanic: (For reference)

attacker rolls (attribute+skill+equipment)-(defender's defense OR cover)

In this system, defense applies to close quarters attacks and cover applies to ranged attacks. My main issue with this was that most attacks succeed, and it's just a question of how much they succeed by.

If we just add a base damage stat to the above formula, it makes the race to 5 damage go faster, but doesn't really fix any of the things that annoy me.

So, we add to the ability of the defender to not get hit. In a perfect world, we would reduce the typical dice pool for an attack down to 1-4 dice, so that it getting at least one success was not the statistically likely outcome for every attack.

Let's suppose that the defender can apply their defence to ranged attacks. We'll rationalize this as a general measure of physical agility/reaction time, and say that it's about having the skills to not make yourself as easy a target and/or use cover more effectively. But yea, it does sort of imply that the characters can dodge bullets. Fortunately, the system makes raising your defense stat difficult, so players aren't going to be immune to gunfire on account of their wire-fu or anything. Also, to balance out the system for melee attacks, we'll add in a 'defense bonus' for melee weapons and shields. This also reflects the notion that its easier to defend yourself with a spear or a shield than it is with a pocket knife.

House rule Mechanic:
attacker rolls (attribute+skill+equipment)-(defender's defense+equipment+cover)

Usually the defender won't have both equipment and cover, but you get the idea.

How well this works depends a whole lot on the stats we assign to various weapons, and the effectiveness of cover. As a general guideline, I'm using the following:

To hit bonus = 1-3 determined by weapon type and quality (higher than 3 under special circumstances)
Example: A weapon known for its poor build quality and low accuracy (say, a Tec-9) has an accuracy of 1 (or 0 if its in really bad shape), a similar weapon of the highest quality (an H&K MP5) has an accuracy of 3. 

Damage = 0 to 4 for most weapons.
Example: A rifle firing 7.62mm NATO or equivalent has a base damage of 4, which means that if you get shot with one, you will take at least 5 damage before factors like armor are taken into consideration.

Cover = 2-6 depending on extent of cover (ranging from 1/2 cover to 9/10 cover).
Example: Someone firing through an arrow slit in the wall of a crumbling German castle adds 6 to their defense for the cover afforded by the wall.

In my initial write-up, I had it set so that firing from behind cover incurred an attack penalty = 1/2 the cover rating (as opposed to cover rating -1, as in the original). In playtesting, remembering to penalize the shooter for cover proved to be cumbersome and I dropped all penalties for firing from cover. I didn't find that it made a big difference, provided the GM is willing to set limits on 'reasonable cover,' and use ad-hoc attack roll penalties for unreasonable use. So a PC might be able to take 1/2 cover behind a kneewall without any penalties, but if they really want 9/10 cover (laying down a firing half blindly over the top, for example) it's going to cost them on their attack roll.

Edit: To clarify, the cover rating is sort of a holistic stat that includes both the degree of cover and the cover's ability to stop bullets. If the cover is flimsy (car doors, wooden walls, etc), I usually reduce it's effectiveness by 1-2 points. 

Putting it all together:
Round 1:

A PC (attack pool 6 dice, defense 3; armed with an H&K 45 pistol, +3 to hit, 2 base damage) leans out around the corner of the alley and sees two mooks (dice pool 4, defense 2) armed with Baretta M9s (+2 to hit, 1 base damage) standing guard outside the villa of Margerat Gray, who is holding one of the PC's allies captive inside. The mooks haven't seen the PC yet (he made his stealth roll), so he uses the element of surprise to make an all out attack on the closest mook.

PC rolls 11 (6+3+2) dice (the mook isn't behind cover, and doesn't apply his defense because he isn't aware of the PC). Assuming successes = 1/3 of the dice pool, that's 5 lethal damage (3 successes + 2 damage from the gun) and the mook goes down.

Round 2:

PC and remaining mook roll initiative. The mook wins and returns fire. He rolls (4+2 - (3 for the PCs defense + 2 for 1/2 cover)) = 1 die. That gives him about a 1 in 3 chance of hitting the PC, which would do 2 damage. Whether he gets hit or not, the PC fires at the second mook. This time he rolls (6+3 - 2) = 7 dice, likely doing ~4 damage, and badly wounding the mook.

This is more or less what I'm trying for - Skill, equipment, surprise, and position/available cover all favored the PC in the case, and the resulting odds are heavily in his favor even though he was outnumbered.

Suppose that changes.

Round 3:

The gunfire has alerted Ms. Gray, who sleeps on the 2nd floor of the villa, and is a professional assassin (attack pool of 7 dice, defense 3). She spent last ground getting her assault rifle (Steyr Aug A3, +3 to hit, 3 base damage) and getting into position near an open window. The PC sees her, but she wins initiative. She rolls (7+3 - (3+2)) 5 dice, likely getting 1-2 successes and doing 4-5 damage. The PC will likely survive, but only just. With 5 dice, there could easily be a couple of 10's and enough successes to end the PC.

Which brings us to the next round of rule modifications: 'Hovering on death's door' (ala Pathfinder or the old D&D houserules) and the mechanics for a full dodge.

Hovering on death's door is a pretty common modification, and one I recommend for lethal combat systems. In this case, I like to call 0 health unconscious/critically wounded, and save death for when health = -(stamina) in lethal damage. Also, I tend to run games where the PCs have either a supernatural edge (like being vampires, mages, or whatever) or sci-fi games with technologically advanced healing so that players can patch themselves up in combat, and aren't walking wounded for months at a time afterwards.

For the full dodge, it's easy enough to keep the old mechanic (double the characters defense). In practice, I end up using Defense+Athletics for avoiding ranged attacks, Defense+Brawling for avoiding close quarters attacks when unarmed, and Defense+Weaponry when defending against close quarters attacks with a weapon, but more on that in another post.

So, if the PC does a full dodge, that changes Ms. Gray's attack to:

((7+3) - (6+2)) = 2 dice.

As a variation, I'm a fan of having characters roll their full defense as a contested action rather than subtract it from the attackers roll.

In this case, Ms. Gray rolls 10 dice, the player rolls 8 and whoever gets more successes wins. (You could have the player roll 6 and subtract the cover from Ms. Gray's attack, but that's a lot to keep track of).

I'm fairly sure that this is statistically identical to the above case, but I like giving the defender an opportunity to roll, especially since they aren't going to get to do anything else that round. Also - full dodge will often have a higher pool than the attacker, so if you are subtracting it, you are going to have folks rolling a chance die pretty often. Better just to make it contested.

There's still a pretty reasonable chance the player will get shot, but they are much less likely to be killed outright. Also, characters who are expecting to get shot at with rifles should wear body armor.* Or be supernaturally resistant to bullets.

*Late edit: I'll post the body armor stats I'm using at some point, but the gist of it is that armor soaks lethal damage - 1 point for light kevlar to 5 points for full dragon skin or body armor with rifle plates. Against 'armor piercing' calibers (most rifle cartridges and some specially made high velocity handgun calibers), it converts lethal to bashing instead. This sounds weird for 'armor piercing,' but really just means that the armor manages to dissipate some of the kinetic energy from the bullet into bruises and cracked ribs. The net effect is that good body armor won't make a character invulnerable to gunfire, but it'll keep them from getting killed.

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