Sunday, February 5, 2012

Combat in Metamorphosis Alpha

I have a love/hate relationship with the combat rules in 1E Metamorphosis Alpha.1 On one hand, the rules present interesting concepts and options. On the other hand, the rules are frustratingly incomplete. Metamorphosis Alpha offers different rules for combat, but these rules are not necessarily mutually exclusive of one another. I shall refer to them as 'primary' and 'alternate.'

The 'primary' are so-called because the applicable 'hit or miss chart' is included on the “perforated page...[that] shows the most important game charts.” Metamorphosis Alpha employs an 'armor class' rating very similar to that used by D&D. A rating of 8 indicates no protection and the amount of protection increases as the armor class descends; therefore, an armor class of 1 represents the greatest amount of protection.2 In D&D, of course, an attacker's ability (in terms of class/level for characters or hit dice for monsters) is checked against a defender's armor class to determine the minimum result required on a d20 – rolled by the attacker – to inflict damage upon the defender. Rather than representing a capacity for avoiding a blow, armor class more accurately represents resistance to the penetrability of damage.

Since Metamorphosis Alpha does not use a level-based experience system, it requires a different approach. That 'different approach' is the notion of weapon classes; weapons are categorized into eight distinct classes.3 Weapon class is checked against armor class to determine the result necessary to inflict damage. The degree of success of the attack roll is irrelevant; either the target sustains damage or it does not.

Let us now address the 'alternate' rules; however, they appear earlier in the rulebook than the 'primary' rules and no indication is given of their 'alternate' status. These rules regard ranged weapons in the Weapon Systems section that begins on page 8. These rules are 'alternate' in that the same weapons are assigned to specific weapon classes for the 'primary' rules. The alternate rules take into account three range steps (short, medium, and long) as well as three severity levels for damage (shallow, half-penetration, and full penetration). Instead of a 'to hit' chart, there is a 'protection' graph, with the type of protection arrayed against range. For instance, with regard to the protein disruptor, the scores for plastic protection are: short, 7-9; medium, 10-15; and long, 16-18. To inflict damage upon a plastic-protected target at medium range, an attacker would need to roll a ten or greater. Rolling the minimum number inflicts shallow damage, rolling any other number listed for a given range inflicts half-penetration, and rolling higher than the maximum number for the applicable range inflicts full penetration. To continue our example: a roll of 10 would mean shallow damage, a roll of 11-15 would mean half-penetration, and greater than 15 would mean full penetration. Interestingly, this alternate method uses 3d6 and not 1d20 for resolution.4 Not only does this mean a 16-point spread instead of a 20-point spread, but 3d6 will tend to generate results near the mean as opposed to the flat probability distribution of the d20. Mental Combat also uses 3d6. Why not use a d20 consistently?

The situation does not become more intuitive when the 'alternate' method for bows and crossbows is discussed on page 19. Like the 'Weapons Systems' weapons, bows and crossbows have different success thresholds for different ranges. Unlike the 'Weapons Systems' weapons, bow and crossbow attacks are resolved with 2d6 and not 3d6. In the original edition of the rules, neither armor class nor protection type is relevant for the alternate bow and crossbow rules; however, the 2007 errata indicates that the listed minimum numbers needed to hit are for armor class 7. Each 'level' of armor class better than seven increases the 'to hit' number by one. Are we to assume that an armor class of 8 would lower the 'to hit' number? When armor class was introduced as a factor to the alternate bow and crossbow rules, the appropriate table should have been redesigned for 3d6 resolution or, better yet, convert all combat to d20 resolution.

Now we arrive at the reason I believe the rules are incomplete.  What about attacks by creatures who don't use weapons? In D&D (and Gamma World), 'natural' attacks by monsters are resolved by consulting an 'ability vs armor class' table with 'ability' defined by hit dice. The 1E Metamorphosis Alpha rules provide no guidance on this topic; judges are left to their own devices. I suppose one could incorporate a hit dice table from another game or assign each type of attack to a pre-existing weapon class. There is a list of weapon classes for creatures in the Metamorphosis Alpha forums. (I would provide a link, but it's only for the cool kids.) Better late than never I guess.

I thought of a solution wherein a creature would attack a character and – instead of the judge rolling to determine if the creature successfully hit – the player would roll to determine if his or her character avoids being hit; a combat saving throw, so to speak. The minimum number needed to 'save' (on a d20 of course) would equal ten plus armor class minus half of the character's dexterity. In other terms:

save > or = ( 10 + AC – [Dex / 2] )

I have always considered it odd that some of the early role-playing games assumed that characters would necessarily use weapons for any physical attack; no consideration was given to fisticuffs. What's up with that?  Sure, a fist doesn't do the same sort of damage as a dagger (or whatever) but it's still damage.  How should this be reflected in Metamorphosis Alpha?  Well, tucked away in the description of the 'third stage slug projector' on page 9 are rules for 'subduing damage.'  In short, if a being sustains subduing damage equal to or in excess of half of its total hit points, unconsciousness ensues.  A hit from a slug projector inflicts 2d6 subduing damage.  I suppose that a weaponless strike from a character would do 1d4 or 1d6 subduing damage (plus any modifiers due to strength).

1 Yes, I realize how geeky that sounds.

2 In the original rules, a duralloy shield – by itself – represented an armor class of 1. With the 2007 errata, a person with only a duralloy shield has an armor class of 5. To achieve an armor class of 1, a person must have a duralloy shield and wear thin metal armor.

3 The 2007 errata introduces a ninth class to represent vibro-weapons. Although listed among the weapons in the original edition, vibro-weapons were not described with much detail.

4 It thus follows that it is impossible to inflict full penetration damage at long range.

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