This is just a quick post to get the idea out of my head, I hope to come back to it after I think some more, but I also hope to get some feedback to help me shape the idea for myself.
It all started back when I was playing D&D 4e and I got involved in a conversation about why 4E has no “disarm” maneuver. Of course, the answer lies in the fact that 4E makes you entirely dependent on your gear. To have your character disarmed causes the math of the system to break down. While this is functional for 4E and works within the defined constraints of game expectation, it does create oddities for some players.
But another, larger part of the problem is that games don’t often reward fighting unarmed. That is to say, the math of most games is based around fighting with a “typical” weapon of the setting whatever that may be. The weapon isn’t an advantage it is an expectation. In other words, the game isn’t based around the lowest level of what your PC has available, with weapons working to improve that, the weapons are integral and not having them is a disadvantage.
A similar issue exists when you think about fighting tactics in say, duels. For example, when you see two fighters going at it in a lot of sword fights in movies you’ll often get the classic, swords are locked and the hero punches the other guy in the face… but that’s not really going to happen in most RPGs. The math of combat supports you always just using your sword, not your fist. And since games rarely have the depth of tactical description to support reasons for doing this, well, it just doesn’t happen.
Thinking about the baseline of games reveals other interesting artifacts. I’ve always been bothered by the way, in Warhammer 40K, that all “normal human baseline” stuff is based on 3, but the game math really revolves around stats set at 4… the stat-line for Space Marines. Even though stats at 3 are “average” they are actually a liability in game play — average is a disadvantage.
The closest I’ve come to a game system that seems to start with the kind of thinking I’m describing is the old Stormbringer RPG. I guess the BRP is based on this same system, but I haven’t really read it much so I don’t know. Ultimately, even this was only a minor thing, but I’m sort of wondering, might it be possible to create a system that works from some sort of “weaponless” baseline and then uses weapons to grant certain advantages, while still also allowing for flourishes like punching a guy in the middle of a sword fight and having that be mechanically valuable in some way?
I have a few ideas how I’d want to do this, but for now, any thoughts about the baselines of systems? Why this happens? Other?
Thanks for reading.