Thursday, October 25, 2007

Scion: Guns vs Melee

Over on the Scion forums, there's several threads of lively debate about guns. They run something like this:

Someone feels guns are seriously underpowered in the game, so they post a "solution". (I use quotation marks, because it's only a solution, if you think there's a problem. If you're okay with guns being less impressive than battle-axes, then there's no prob, ergo no solution needed). Often the proposal goes too far, making guns better than melee weapons. This provokes a response from another poster, typically someone who plays a melee-based character who's envious of the more streamlined gun-wielding PC in their group. And then they argue. Heck, sometimes I give in to my baser emotions and argue on forums too. It gets ugly.

The math behind weapons in Scion is roughly summarized as follows...
Guns have a set number of damage dice, and rely only on your Dexterity stat. Melee weapons, in the other hand, use strength to augment damage.

In the early stages, when strength values are fairly low, that's a pretty balanced system. You'll do more damage toe-to-toe than you will at a range, but aiming bonuses and being several yards away from the Nemean Cobra is a good thing. Also, with only one stat affecting your attacks, it's much easier to build a focused character and get full value for your XP and Bonus Points. Let's examine a starting character, Legend 2 with one dot in all Epic Attributes, and 5's in mundane Dexterity and Strength, and 3's in Marksmanship and Melee.

They fire a rifle. Their average attack roll is 5.5 successes, or 7 if they spent 3 ticks aiming. Average damage roll is 4 successes.

They swing an axe. Their average attack roll is 4.5 successes. Average damage roll is 7 successes.

Thanks to the system that turns overflow successes on attack rolls turn into extra damage dice, the rifle actually performs a little better than those numbers indicate. It probably trails the axe by only 1 points of damage when all is said and done. Sniping, shooting on the run, etc can make the Rifle feel a lot more versatile and keep enemies from ever hitting you. If you'd made a non-physical character with lower strength, the rifle would still do the same damage but the axe would drop off. At starting level, that Remington's pretty good.

But later on, melee trumps range. There's this thing called Epic Strength, and it adds Automatic Successes to your damage in melee. There's just no equivalent for guns. Let's look a Legend 8 character, with all their traits maxed out for Demigod Status.

They fire a rifle. Their average attack roll is 30 successes, 33 if they spent 3 ticks aiming, since we'll assume they took the Knack that doubles the Aim bonus. Average damage roll is 4 successes.

They swing an axe. Their average attack roll is 29 successes. Average damage roll is 30 successes.

Even with threshold successes from exceeding the attack roll difficulty, that rifle will do 24 fewer levels of damage (than the axe will) per hit.

Now, admittedly, that's a pretty stilted example, since we maxed the characters traits in everything. More realistic might be to compare two characters, one who spreads his XP between the three traits relevant to Melee (Strength, Dexterity and Stamina) and one who just focuses on Epic Dex to boost their gun...

Relative levels of Epic Dex is likely the biggest factor. It makes you hit more often, makes you less likely to be hit, and adds damage in the form of Threshold successes. But the total math that goes into who wins is really complicated. It depends on how you built your character, how you spend your XP, and what Legend you're at.

Basically, the gunbunny wins if they focus entirely, just raising Legend and Epic Dex. If they can keep both above the corresponding trait of the melee guy, and aimed-snipe or shoot while running away, they'll win.

But the melee guy has the advantage of being able to raise Dex and Strength. Since raising your weakest stat is cheaper than raising your highest, he'll be able to boost something every session or two. He won't hit as often, but he'll connect for a lot more damage when he hits. The fact that he gets hit more often can be mitigated by the ability to spend points on Epic Stamina as well.

Over the long term, the melee guy just raises whatever is currently their weakest relevant stat, favoring Dex slightly to keep the gun person trapped in an arms race. The gun guy needs to stay above him in Dex, so they have to raise Legend, and both Mundane and Epic Dex, to stay on top. The gunner keeps getting more accurate, but that doesn't mean the exact same thing as more damaging. The melee dude does both, but not to the accuracy extremes of his counterpart.

Who's actually more deadly will flip-flop from session to session based on exact levels of Legend, Dex, and XP.
In a nutshell, whenever the gunner raises their Epic Dex, they'll retake the lead for several sessions until the melee person incrementally catches up.
Whenever their Legend and Epic Dex are equal, the melee guy is more powerful because of the increased damage from Epic Strength, especially at Demigod levels.

Eventually, that Strength (and more importantly, high Soak) may make the gun completely pointless. At that point, it's gonna totally suck to discover your character can no longer compete via their divine handgun unless they use it to pistol-whip.

In the setting, it makes perfect sense - when you can run faster than a bullet (and use a skyscraper as a club) you're just going to be a lot more deadly than a bullet.

As far as mechanics go, it's the kind of thing that would have been better if it had been spelled out clearly in character creation. 16-point font, top of a page:
"Guns are superior at Legend 2, but become useless at Legend 7. If you plan to play this character for a long time, put your relic dots in a Axe, not a Rifle."
If it had said that, this wouldn't be such a hot-button topic on the Scion forums.

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