Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Using Mighty Deeds to Bring Flava to tha Fighta


One of the greatest contributions the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG makes to d20 game mechanics, is the "Mighty Deed of Arms" for warriors and dwarves. Like the "feat" in later editions of D&D, the Deed is a specialized maneuver resulting in better, flashier combat outcomes. It allows for things not explicated in the rules, but also provides a set of principles--general themes that can be applied flexibly to given circumstances--whereby one can engineer this particular subsystem to generate "feat-like" outcomes. Consider the following passages from the rulebook (pp. 88-92) to be the principles of which I speak:

  • The higher the deed die, the more successful the Deed.
  • A warrior’s Deeds should fit the situation at hand and reflect the might and daring of a great fighter.
  • A warrior may even devise a “signature move” that he frequently attempts based on his particular proclivities.  [even one involving a specific weapon ~EDJ]
  • Creative players will certainly come up with new Deeds. Encourage and allow this.

The example deeds in that section of the rulebook are types of attacks and effects (e.g., blinding, pushback, etc.), and provide a sense of how to scale outcomes based on the Deed Die roll. What it doesn't go into as explicitly, is how the Deed can be used to differentiate character from class--i.e., to make each character more than just another stereotypical example of his or her class. Sure, there's still room for the fighter to be the main battle tank of the party, but Deeds can be matched not only to fit a particular combat situation or need, but also to tell us who your character is, and how he or she takes care of business.

An Example

Suppose you wanted to create a warrior, but also wanted to avoid the increased fumble dice associated with heavier armor. If you handle that character like the standard "tank" fighter--heaviest armor available, plus shield--going toe-to-toe with every creeping horror and boss monster out there, you'll be slaughtered. Fun for your GM, but not so fun for you. So what can you do?

First, think a little bit about great fighters you've seen, the fighters who don't wear mail but still kick ass. Like this guy:
Errol Flynn being awesome in high boots and a leather vest,
with not a scrap of plate mail (nor a shield) in sight.
I can think of a couple of Deeds for the prototypical swashbuckler type. The first of these is defensive. Let's call it "Baffle Them with Bullshit." One reason swashbuckling swordspersons are so cool, is that they both outfight and outfox their opponents. A good one cash go up against the burliest of foes and slice that foe to ribbons, whilst taking nary a scratch in the process. Baffle Them with Bullshit is the reason they don't get killed. With slashing, slicing, silver streaks of sword-swinging, the swashbuckler weaves a wall of protection, adding to his or her AC on a successful Deed, but not otherwise affecting the strike. The warrior can still hit, but the way he or she does so--with lightning-fast arrays of feints, counters, and strikes, makes it more difficult to the opponent to hit the warrior. The better the result, the more the protection.

The "Defensive Maneuvers" entry in the rulebook's Mighty Deeds of Arms section is pretty generic, dealing with providing active defense for the party--Shield walls, back-to-back fighting. That's one way to go, but preserves a fairly archetypal "fighter" role for the PC. Using the deed in ways that moves you away from the typical hack-n-slash fighter (or hand-n-bash, for dwarves), also helps to to move you in the direction of another version of the warrior archetype. In this case, the Deed provides access to a different kind of fighting style, and subsequent choices about armor, for example, that support that style. You can't very well go leaping about in plate mail (at least not without risking a dire Reflex save), in the same way that you can in thigh-high boots and a leather jerkin (Whew! Did it just get hot in here?). If you're going to go up against heavily armored foes, then you'll need to have a fighting style to reflect how you go about your business: nimble defense, piercing thrusts, leaping, swinging from ropes, etc., all of which could go into your repertoire of Mighty Deeds.

Or how about this guy:
Errol Flynn being awesome while wearing hose of Lincoln Green.
So, you say your warrior has an 8 Strength due to that whole "necrotic drain from a chaotic wizard" thing? No worries. You still got  that Agility bonus. It's not much, but it makes shooting a bow much more attractive than swinging an axe. In this case, deeds will be focused on things like precision shots, trick shots, enhanced rate of fire, and the like, and even get you thinking about things like fire arrows (or poison, for the chaotic among you with a disregard of the dangers of poison-handling). Again, the flavor of the fighter shifts from armored tank to something else entirely, something more like the "ranger" archetype.

The main thing I wish to emphasize, here, is that Mighty Deeds are not simply something you do in combat. They are used for that, certainly, but they also help you think about who your warrior is, and how he or she does the biz. As soon as you get done with that zero-level funnel, and you look at the possibilities, that 7 Strength might make veer wildly from making a warrior character. It shouldn't. Are you more agile? Then use your Agility to drive your deeds? Are you a high Personality character, but the very thought of playing a cleric gives you hives? Fine. What if one of your Deeds involved taunting your opponents, enraging them and making them sloppy, and allowing you to take advantage of, say, lowered armor class, an enhanced fumble die, or something of that ilk?

Using the Mighty Deed of Arms, all of this (and more) is possible. You needn't be limited by prime requisites, by armor and arms choices, or by other limitations we tend to ascribe to the warrior-as-fighter. Sure, you're still a fighter, but specialized Deeds can make you a smarter, more interesting version of that archetype, and you needn't be the strongest guy in the tavern to do so.

Obviously, you and your judge will need to make good decisions about how this will work. The best place to do so is in the 0-level to 1st level transition period of character generation, when PC classes are chosen. With the right idea, and the right set of Deeds, your warrior may not be the biggest, baddest, hard-ass around, but he or she can still be mighty, indeed. (Damn, that one never gets old.)