I’d Feint but I’m too Annoyed

Feinting in PDQ#

I was reading the rules for PDQ#, available here, the latest rules variant of PDQ used in Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies. I’ve had great success using PDQ in the past and I like swashbuckling, so I was interested to see what changes had been made to the rules. Unsurprising for a game with lots of fencing, the combat rules had an option for feinting. It turned out to be a classic example of game designers not thinking things through.

When making an ordinary attack characters roll their offense versus the opponent’s defense and for every point they exceed the defense they cause a point of damage. For example, if a player rolls a total of a 9 against an opponent’s defense of 7, 2 points of damage are inflicted. If the attack roll does not beat the defense roll nothing happens.

The feinting rule allows a characters to substitute a feint for a normal attack. The attack and defense rolls are made as normal but if the attacker succeeds they don’t do damage, it is after all a feint. Instead the attacker gets a bonus on their attack roll next turn equal to the amount by which they beat the defense. If the attacker fails then they get a penalty on their defense roll next turn equal to the amount that the defender beat their roll. On a tie, the attacker gets a +1 attack bonus on the next round.

How useful is feinting? Compare simply doing a normal attack with using a feint instead. If the attack succeeds, lets say by 3. The exact number doesn’t matter but it is easier to explain with a concrete example. For the normal attack it hits and does 3 points of damage. For the feint the attacker gets +3 on their next attack roll. If that next attack rolls hits, say by 1, then the character doing ordinary attacks would have done a total of 4 damage, three from the first hit and one from the second. The character who feinted adds 3 to the roll for a total of 4 over the defense doing 4 points of damage. This gives the character a total of 4 damage, none from the feint and four from the attack. So the characters end up doing the same amount of damage, but the character using feint has their damage delayed a round, damage that might have reduced the ability of their opponent if it had been applied the previous round. So feinting is worse than just attacking even if it succeeds. But it is even worse than that. If the second attack were to miss, say 2 points too low to cause damage, then the all attack character would have done 3 damage, three from the first hit and nothing from the miss. The character using feint would up the second attack from 2 too low to cause damage to +1, causing 1 point of damage. Add this to the zero from the feint and the total is 1 point of damage. Feinting doesn’t just delay the damage a round, that is actually the best one can hope for with a successful feint!

Failing the feint roll is even worse. Failed attacks do no damage but that’s it. Feints never do damage but a failed feint gives a defense penalty the next round. Failing a feint is much worse than failing an attack.

There is one circumstance where feinting is better than attacking, a tie. Attacks that tie do nothing while feints that tie give a +1 attack the next round. Given that characters are rolling 0 to 3 d6 and adding skills the likelihood of a tie is quite low, though certainly possible. A minor bonus for an unlikely results simply doesn’t make up for the overall poor performance of feinting.

The end result is that anyone who has done the math will never use the feint rules. Given that dirty tricks, like throwing sand in someone’s eyes, use the same mechanic no one will be doing those either. The options might as well have not even been listed.

I do not mean to pick on PDQ#. This just happens to be the latest example of a very common problem. All too often combat options fall into one of three categories.

Better than normal:
Under all or most circumstances the option is better than a normal attack. So everyone uses the option whenever possible making you wonder why it isn’t the normal attack.

Cosmetic: While described in a different manner it is mechanically identical to a normal attack. This can be nice for flavor text but is tactically meaningless.

Worse than normal: Under all or most circumstances the option is worse than a normal attack. Unless it happens to be better for a specific purpose, for example subduing rather than killing a foe, that players might actually want to try, then no one ever uses the option.

If a game goes to all the trouble of writing rules for a combat option it would be nice if they took the time to make sure it was a meaningful choice.

4 Responses

  1. You should write to Chad about this. He’s very open to recommendations on how to make his games better.

  2. My question is what happens if you try to stack feints? Are they cumulative? Can I just keep feinting until I get an ungodly bonus, say +12, and then attack?

  3. It doesn’t say that you can’t just keep feinting and get a massive bonus. But in order to get a +12 bonus you would have had to make rolls that if they had just been plain old attacks would have done at least 12 damage to the opponent. And in PDQ that is alot of damage.

  4. […] better than a regular attack: This is a fairly common problem. Seriously, if the option is always, or almost always, going to give worse results than a regular […]

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