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Disarm is Terrible in Melee (with math)

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  • DoctorBoson
    started a topic Disarm is Terrible in Melee (with math)

    Disarm is Terrible in Melee (with math)

    To be clear, Disarm has never been a commonly used maneuver in Savage Worlds; it's never been something that's easy to do. But, it is a trope that shows up in movies and television a lot—any time a hero comes up against an enemy with a gun, they almost always go to disarm the gun before trying to actually hurt the enemy. Even in life, anyone in any kind of combat training will tell you that if you're forced to defend yourself against a weapon of any kind (assuming you can't just get away, which is real step 1), prioritize taking the weapon out of the equation.

    In a number of discussions that have been brought up on other topics (notably Athletics), the folks at PEG outline their focus on "tropes" in stories. The shooter in any story should take Shooting, the thief in any story should take Thievery, and so forth. Therefore, the trope of the great fighter disarming his opponent in combat should be one that is not only achievable in play, but a viable choice.

    Unfortunately, disarming is not viable in Savage Worlds as written. Let's break down the math.

    Disarm in Savage Worlds is accomplished in 3 steps: 1) you attack the opponent's hand (–4), 2) you cause them pain, 3) you do nothing while the enemy attempts to hold on to their weapon. These make disarming anyone in any capacity excessively difficult to the point of uselessness.

    Let's start with a hypothetical scenario, where a successful disarm maneuver is more or less expected to succeed if you attempt it. Our hero PC d12 Fighting (d6s in anything else relevant) closes on an Extra with d4 Fighting, no armor, and a short sword (d6s in anything else relevant, so fairly common). The hero is unarmed because he was forced to give up his weapon earlier in the session, and he knows he can't reliably put down this Extra in one hit, so he opts to disarm him—what should be a wise move! First, he has make an attack at –4, which has a 50% chance to land with his d12 Fighting. Then, he has to Shake the Extra... against a Toughness of 5, his d6 Strength will be causing Shaken around 22% of the time (wounding around 11% of the time—which takes the Extra out of commission but doesn't "Disarm" him). Finally, the Extra must fail a Strength roll at –2, which is very likely at about 83%. The chances of all three of these happening in a row for a successful Disarm is... 11%. (If you count Incapacitation as a "success" in the sense that the enemy is no longer a threat, that rises to 20%.)

    As a point of comparison, the chances of simply punching the Extra and Incapacitating him is closer to 23%—strictly better, and far more likely to simply Shake him (31%). In fact, an Extra with d6 Intimidation has a higher chance of successfully Testing a Wild Card with d12+1 Spirit at 13% (if you're counting Incapacitation as successful Disarm, then it's slightly less likely than the same Extra Testing a d10 Spirit Wild Card). In fact, the same Wild Card in the above example has a higher chance of breaking that Extra's weapon with a warhammer (15%)! Finally, the chances of a d12 Shooting pistoleer in Deadlands disarming a similar Extra by shooting his hand are 17% (with a 23% to accidentally Incapacitate him on top of that), with a 29% chance of disarming an enemy Wild Card (less likely to Incapacitate), which becomes significantly easier with Marksman (19% (36% to Incapacitate) and 39% respectively).

    The odds of a melee disarm are absurdly low—remember, these aren't the chances of disarming an incredibly skilled Extra, or even a Wild Card enemy with the same stats. These are the chances of an expert hand-to-hand combatant disarming a random mook who barely knows how to use the sword he was given. Using the same math, a d12+2 Fighting Legendary character would only have a 26% chance to disarm an Unskilled Extra, with a Parry of 2 and d6 Strength (though a 23% chance to Incapacitate him outright)—even with Martial Warrior, such a character would only disarm an Unskilled Wild Card 60% of the time (25% for Extras but Incapacitating them 62% of the time so it doesn't matter as much).

    The difficulty in disarming really just goes up from there as enemy skill, Armor, Toughness, and Strength begin increasing; poor Arrogant characters will simply be left standing around like idiots after attempting to disarm their Unskilled foe and failing. (If the initial hypothetical scenario was against a Wild Card equal in skill and strength to the player character instead of an Extra, the chances of a successful disarm drop to just 5%—it would be better to spend your time attempting to beat the snot out of the enemy with your bare fists while he keeps the sword in hand.)

    As far as tropes go, you can watch almost any action movie or show to see how often Disarming happens—from Jason Bourne to John Wick (and even the Extras John fights), Black Widow (1, 2) to Bucky, and even Hulk. Furthermore, many disarms have nothing to do with hurting your opponent to get them to drop their weapon, particularly in fencing (from The Count of Monte Cristo to The Princess Bride), though the Hulk fight above is another example of that. The only trope that's really done justice is the "gunman" disarm, which is absurdly difficult in the real world and simply quite impressive in settings where it's appropriate.

    While disarm was seldom attempted in previous editions of the game due to its difficulty, it was at least viable (between the easier chance to hit and higher chances to force a disarm with higher Strength levels). Now... well, at the best of times it'll be as difficult as shown above; at worst, it's going to be easier to shoot the weapon out of the enemy's hand.

    To be clear, I think the difficulty in shooting weapons out of the hands of your enemies is perfectly reasonable—that shouldn't be simple or reliable, which is why nobody ever does it. The problem is that it's so absurdly hard to pull off in melee, which makes the shooting option a viable alternative by comparison. Making close quarters disarming significantly easier alleviates this due to contrast.

    Why is this so unreasonably difficult? All three steps contribute to this issue about equally in my mind: the difficulty in landing the hit is far too high, the requirement to Shake the opponent is disproportionately weighted against unarmed fighters, and the Strength roll is strictly bounded in difficulty regardless of the skill or strength of the disarming party—in other words, rather than players succeeding in a disarm, the opponent must fail in their Strength, which means that bennies cannot ensure a successful disarm attempt. (That final point means that some of the above examples of disarms—Bucky disarming Cap and Hulk disarming Thor—are either virtually or literally impossible, though that is a much smaller issue than the lack of function that disarm currently has.)

    I do understand the logic behind these issues: for step one, disarming a character should be more difficult than simply hitting them. With step two, you shouldn't be able to disarm your enemy if your strike doesn't even hurt him. However, this chain of logic only applies to a single method of disarm—hurting your opponent's hand and hoping that suffices in forcing them to let go. This doesn't support disarming in most of the situations shown above (and, in fact, is probably one of the worst ways to disarm an opponent). Furthermore, the difficulty penalty applied to targeting an opponent's hand assumes that the enemy is trying to keep their hands protected (similar to the penalty involved with hitting someone's head), but your attacking arm is one of the most vulnerable points in a fight—it's far easier to land a hit on an enemy's arm or weapon than bypassing their defenses and hitting the enemy's body, especially if the enemy is expecting to have to protect their body rather than their arms.

    So, this is a problem. What about solutions? First, there should be two versions of disarm—a ranged disarm and a melee disarm. The current rules work just fine for ranged disarms (though they might be worth tweaking depending on the flavor of change you choose to fix melee disarming—keep reading to see what I mean). Melee disarming, however, needs an overhaul as simply lowering the penalty to a –2 doesn't address the other two issues of damage and a Strength roll that is 100% in the enemy's control. I have a solution that addresses all of the issues of melee disarming, though (in the next post, since I've reached the character limit already!)

  • JamesG
    commented on 's reply
    Jounichi's post missed one key part, which DoctorBoson commented on.

    When targeting the weapon, "the attacker rolls damage normally for an item (no raise effect or Aces, see Breaking Things, page 98). The defender must make a Strength roll equal to the damage or drop the item."

    (The quote is direct from SWADE 4.1, but SWADE 4.0 was the same).

    PS - love your suggestion to use a Test for finesse based disarms and the SWADE Disarm rules for more brute force methods. Consider it stolen.

  • Freemage
    commented on 's reply
    But you're mixing up the two types of 'disarm' mentioned in Jounichi's post.

    If you're attacking the object, it's just a 'break things' roll with no resistance at all. That would be Breaking Things rules, and thus no explosion on damage.

    If you're attacking the hand/arm, they get to resist dropping the item, but then the damage dice against them CAN explode, because it's really just a specific-effect Called Shot.

  • dfrankovic
    commented on 's reply
    Fair enough.

  • Lysenda
    commented on 's reply
    Damage to break thing doesn't explode. p98

  • dfrankovic
    commented on 's reply
    What? No.
    "All Trait and damage rolls in Savage Worlds are open-ended." pg88

  • DoctorBoson
    commented on 's reply
    Well, the damage dice can't explode; the Strength die can. It'll be difficult to hold on but I like that personally (especially given the difficulty to hit).

  • Lysenda
    replied
    With the V4 disarm rules, when you hit the weapon the target has to roll strength against the damage done. Since melee damage are usually STR+dx, it will be finally a target STR versus STR+dx . Isn't it too much ?

    I like better Freemage proposal with disarm a option with a Test. (very intuitive)

    Leave a comment:


  • paladin2019
    commented on 's reply
    Just Fighting vs. Fighting. Brutes don't necessarily know the leverage tricks and how to counter them.

    No damage, that's not the point of the maneuver.

  • Freemage
    replied
    Originally posted by Current SWADE Page 108
    If the attacker wins the opposed roll, he
    can choose to make his foe Distracted or
    Vulnerable (see page 203). If he wins with
    a raise, the target is also Shaken or there may
    be other subjective effects as the GM allows,
    such as a tripped foe being knocked prone.
    (Emphasis mine, of course.)

    If the player wants, I'm going to let a Fighting or Athletics Test against Agility (against Strength if you're using Athletics and have Brute) Disarm with a Raise instead of Shaking them. On a success, you knocked their weapon out of alignment, either throwing off their next action (Distracted) or leaving them open to a follow-up from yourself or someone else (Vulnerable). Fast, simple, already part of the rules, and gives a pretty good cinematic portrayal of the trope, IMNSHO. (The Fighting d12 vs. Agility d6 from the OP becomes a solid assurance of a Success, and betting odds on a Raise--average 4.2 vs. 8.4, if I'm remembering the math of such things correctly.)

    The Disarm rules in the book then become what you use when you're trying to destroy your opponent's weapon, or both hurt AND disarm them at the same time.

    Leave a comment:


  • Christopher Brady
    commented on 's reply
    Does it do damage?

  • MichaelDawn
    commented on 's reply
    Right?! Just Athletics vs Strength or Agilty. Fighting if you are using a weapon.

  • paladin2019
    replied
    Oh, for....

    Just make it an opposed Fighting roll, already. Add penalties to flavor if that ends up too easy in play-testing.

    Leave a comment:


  • Christopher Brady
    replied
    Hmm, so I was reviewing a lot of the older pulps, an disarming is a LOT easier than the game lists, even with this rule. I wonder if there's something there, like an Edge or something.

    Leave a comment:


  • Jounichi
    commented on 's reply
    Ah, missed that part. Still, that adds another level of complexity. A damage roll with higher a mean might mean it's better to attack the weapon instead of attacking the person.
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