Game design musing: Can “too high” defenses be a good thing?

In a Gurpsnet thread on armored GURPS 3e fighters having much-too-high defenses, I responded to one poster below. 4e greatly alleviates the problem by eliminating PD, but high scores may still be an issue for some players. Yet the below does summarize what is to me an important point: the game should accommodate “too high” defenses when those are warranted! 

Imagine, if you will, a warrior with Plate Armour (PD 4) with Deflect +3, a skill of 22 with a broadsword, and Combat Reflexes. His total defense? A parry of 19. Now, the rules as written state that Sir Unhittable will be struck only if he rolls a 17 or 18 on his parry. Mathematically, that’s a 1.5% chance of being struck.

1) I have implemented some of TBone’s suggestions, such as causing Shields to inflict a penalty on enemy attacks rather than give PD, allowing fast blows and such. I have not gone so far as to eliminate PD on armour, however.

Doing this would certainly help… But sticking with other ideas for now:

2) I have ruled that a 15 or higher roll on a defense is always a miss. This is considered after all penalties, so Sir Unhittable above, facing off with an ork that uses a flail, has a modified parry of 15, and still only misses on a 15 or higher.

That’s one way, but I wouldn’t go for it myself. My question: Is the incredible defense score here really bad?

Assuming that some cinematic combination of amazing skill and defensive aids actually could make a defender nigh-untouchable, a good game should allow for that. It looks to me as if the poster has pinpointed one such situation in GURPS.

Look at what we have here. The guy is the best swordsman in the land, with a good weapon in his hand, and wearing the best armor money can buy (with powerful magical enhancements to boot! Magic, mind you!!). We stand him – rested and ready – before a line of nondescript challengers, and have them come at him one by one, each attempting to hit our über-defender with a generic, nondescript swing. It seems to me that this defender should knock aside each scrub’s blow, and the kingdom should be awash with tales of the incredibly-skilled, magic-enhanced knight that flawlessly thwarted a line of cannon-fodder challengers! That kind of character should be possible, and the example shows that it is. This is a good thing!

But a merely impressive (not incredible) knight will have a more modest skill (17?), and no magic plate. He’ll get hit more often. That’s more the kind of knight you’d typically find as a PC or a foe.

More importantly, place either knight on a chaotic battlefield, and all bets are off. Even if few foes can Feint against Broadsword-22 or even Broadsword-17, all it takes is for two foes to attack at once (or one foe to use AOA and two attacks), and that amazing Parry is gone vs the second attack. And at any time, the lowest scrub foot soldier could easily stick a spear in this knight from behind. And so on.

That’s my take: it’s a good thing, not a problem, when a game allows for extreme results to occur under extreme conditions. 

At the same time, twisting the topic a bit, I know many players have complained that even with more modest characters, defense rolls can be very high in GURPS, and combats long. Whether that’s realistic or not is secondary; either way, the combats are long enough to make these players complain, and that’s not good for fun play. For these cases, I’ve found various ideas, as mentioned above, to be a help. Other players have suggested others. With these tweaks, I don’t find high defenses to be the bugbear in GURPS that some players claim; they can be made manageable for typical fighters, or made amazing for amazing fighters. Once again, this is good!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.