The Alexandrian

Numenera - Monte Cook GamesSome quick mechanical background for people unfamiliar with Numenera: In this system, you deal flat damage based on the type of weapon you use. (A light weapon does 2 points of damage; a medium weapon does 4 points of damage; and a heavy weapon does 6 points of damage.) You can increase the amount of damage you inflict by exerting effort or by rolling well on your attack roll. And, finally, you subtract the target’s armor value from the damage inflicted before applying it to their health pool.

This means that the key armor values in Numenera are 2, 4, and 6: At armor 2, you can’t hurt it with a light weapon unless you use effort. At armor 4, you can’t hurt it with a medium weapon unless you use effort. And so forth.

Now, let’s talk about items: Items are assigned a health pool and an armor value. The armor value for an item can be 1 (hard objects), 2 (very hard objects), or 3 (extremely hard objects).

This means that, mechanically speaking, the game is asking the GM to make an assessment: Can you hurt this with a dagger? Can you hurt this with a dagger if you use some effort?

Once you express it in those terms, it becomes pretty easy to see that, objectively speaking, the system is producing really unrealistic results. (If you’re wielding anything larger than a dagger, you’re going to be able to break literally anything in the game world. And you are probably going to be able to break it very quickly and with very little effort.) And from a mechanical standpoint, it would be much more interesting for the GM to have a richer panoply of assessments to trivially choose from.

My recommendation is to set the object armor values at the key armor values indicated above:

  • Vulnerable objects get 0 Armor
  • Hard objects get 2 Armor
  • Very Hard objects get 4 Armor
  • Extremely Hard objects get 6 Armor
  • Impervious objects get 12 Armor

You can hit that marble statue with your dagger all day, but unless you spend some effort to find a key weak point you’re not getting anywhere. You’re probably going to want to something big and heavy to pound through a metal door. Et cetera.

(“Impervious” objects aren’t actually impervious here. But 12 Armor seems like a decent figure for something that could be physically destroyed, but which would require significant effort. Leaves the door open for creative thinking. If something were truly indestructible in some metaphysical sense, I just wouldn’t bother putting stats to it.)

You can also look at these revised mechanics in terms of how they interact with each type of weapon when wielded by a tier 1 character:

  • Light weapons aren’t very effective against tougher objects. They can only damage hard objects (stone) if they spend some effort (+3 damage). They can deal a little bit of damage to very hard objects (made out of metal) with effort, but it’s very unlikely that they’ll effect extremely hard objects (it would require a combination of effort and a special ability or great die roll). It’s virtually impossible for them to affect impervious objects.
  • Medium weapons can hack through hard objects with patience, can damage very hard objects with a little bit of effort, and can even make pretty quick work of extremely hard objects. Impervious objects are probably out of reach, unless special powers get involved.
  • Heavy weapons will annihilate most vulnerable objects in a single blow, smash through hard objects with a couple of solid blows, and make very quick work of very hard objects. Extremely hard objects will require a bit of effort, but can be managed. Impervious objects can get dinged up, but it’s going to take a really long time.
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7 Responses to “Untested Numenera: Attacking Objects”

  1. Craddoke says:

    This seems like an eminently sensible change — collapsing two AC systems for physical objects (people and things) into one system. It seems so logical I can’t help but wonder why this isn’t the official method. Is any reason given in the rules for creating a separate AC system for objects?

  2. Stephen says:

    There are two problems here:

    – There’s no corresponding damage to the attacking weapon. Attack a stone statue with a sword, and no matter how much effort you put in you’ll almost certainly break the sword long before you break the statue.

    – Some ‘weapons’ should rightly do much less damage against objects than against living beings, while some should do considerably more. The combination of a hammer and chisel, for example, would make a pretty lousy weapon (worse than the hammer alone, in fact), but would be excellent for destroying that stone statue.

    Of course, both these problems are also present in the base rules, and in certain other big-name RPGs.

  3. Landon Winkler says:

    I like it. Unified the mechanics and looks like a nice improvement overall.


  4. Brooser Bear says:

    This combat system has merit in that it facilitates story telling and improvisation by the DM, but I think that it is too simplistic if you want to have players actually think tactically and be on a quest for better gear, thus making the game as interesting to fighters as it is for the thieves. Making the warhorses and armor expensive, or as really expensive as it was in the real world to field a knight, helps; but a historical accuracy flies in the face of any game mechanic.

    For instance, the high tech weapon of the ancient world was a sling bullet cast from molten lead. In Ancient Roman times, it had a range of 500 yards, fired as an area effect weapon, equivalent to both, the English longbow and modern assault rifle. The only difference is that anybody can learn to shoot an M-16 or an AK rifle in a week, while the Balearic slingers of Ancient Rome were trained in the use of the sling since childhood. Ancient Greece recorded the defensive uses of shaped sling stones that were shot (pelted) at the advancing phalanxes (500-1500 men advancing in formation) by massed slingers. When a sling stone fell from a high trajectory from 200-350 yards away, it broke shoulders and killed through brain concussion without actually penetrating the solid metal helmets or the plate mail armor that covered the upper chest and the shoulders. And it wasn’t roll to hit and then hope to roll low, any contact with the sling-stone meant death or serious injury, to be exposed to them was a nerve wracking experience that tested manhood. Do we have a game mechanic in AD&D or any other game to accurately convey that experience to players?

    Similarly, contrary to what revisionist “historical” re-enactors want to believe, if a knight in plate mail armor was unhorsed or pushed off his feet, he was finished, if surrounded by weaker and unarmored skirmishers. Two or three commoners would hold the armored knight down, while a man with a wood chopping axe or a mallet would walk around the battlefield and kill knights one at a time, before their own knights or men at arms could come around and take knights prisoner for ransoming. Of course, this hatred went the other way also and both knights and men at arms would commit murder against the enemy skirmishers, armed with improvised weapons and cloth or leather armor, torturing and mutilating the captured commoners.

    Sword also much misunderstood. It was one medieval weapon designed specifically killing people. Medieval men at arms spent their lives since pre-teen years learning to fight and kill with it. That’s why peasant uprisings were generally doomed. A typical man at arms might fight against OTHER men at arms only once or twice in their lifetime, yet in the course of their service they’d kill about 30 people, enforcing the rule of their feudal liege – even an angry commoner armed with an axe, or a pick, or a shovel or a pitch-fork was of little concern to them, especially if they outnumbered the angry peasant. Two men with pitchforks, however, had an advantage over a professional swordsman and could hold him until the mob arrived to deal their revenge. If the two me with pitchforks were trained halberdiers, they could actually disarm the swordsman, and the swordsmen had no compunctions about murdering the unarmed peasants on orders from above. Men at arms were tools of feudal oppression, something that most fantasy overlooks.

    I like historical realism and I strive to have a thinking player be a superior warrior, and that entails giving medieval weapons and armor their historic uses and effectiveness. This inevitably leads to complex game mechanics that when run amok will slow down and take away from the game play. On the other hand, simplistic game mechanics, such a OD&D or this highly flexible system, leaves too much to chance and the thinking player is overcome with die rolling, but it allows for a more natural and more vivid story telling.

  5. Wyvern says:

    I agree with your reasoning, but it would be helpful if you gave concrete examples of what the different hardness levels mean. For instance, I initially assumed stone would be considered “very hard” while “hard” would be something like wood, ice or gold. Also would diamond be classified as “extremely hard” or “impervious”?

  6. Brooser Bear says:

    Hmm, diamond shatters if you hit it with a mere hammer, and also, it BURNS to black ash.

  7. Wyvern says:

    Well, the fact of the matter is that hardness doesn’t always correlate to durability — after all, glass rates higher on Moh’s scale of hardness than marble. Conversely, cloth would be considered “vulnerable”, but trying to destroy a curtain with a hammer is an exercise in futility. A truly “realistic” system would take all of these factors into account — hardness vs. brittleness vs. the type of weapon (cutting/piercing/crushing), but at some point you have to accept a degree of abstraction, and everybody’s sweet spot is different. My impression is that Numenera skews towards simplicity.

    In any case, I was hoping for an answer from Justin, since he’s the one who came up with the rule.

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