October 18, 2014

Trained ST and drawing bows

I'm actually a bit surprised I didn't do this on Thursday when I talked about Lifting ST and Striking ST and ranged weapons. But it came up tangentially on a thread on the forums about powerful warbows and how pulling a high ST bow couldn't have been that unusual if states could field thousand of archers, and one ship had 200+ bows with draw weights ranging from 100-185#. (That would be the Mary Rose, of course.)

But what about Trained ST?

The concept of Trained ST for bows already exists in a limited form in the form of Strongbow. It's a perk, and you get +1 to your ST at DX+1 and +2 at DX+2.

Trained ST uses this progression (well, that and more) already to extend the bonuses for Wrestling, going up to ST+5, or ST+50% if you like to level things up.

What I'd do is simply eliminate Strongbow, and make your ability to draw a bow follow the fast progression of Trained ST.
Stretton and his 200# bow

So your ST 12 archer could pull a bow of up to ST 17. This is basically "sport-specific ST" and I personally think it's quite realistic.

The use of "Arm ST" to push bow draw weights up might want to be curtailed. Maybe not, though. It's somewhat expensive at 5/level, and does represent a real thing. It's also often capped at 1-3 levels, but it would let you take a ST 10 guy and let him draw a ST 18 bow if you get three levels of Arm ST and are at DX+10.

I'm not sure that's a real problem, though. Yeah, your bow, which can only do damage once ever second-to-sixth turn in any sort of game where Fast-Draw and Quick-Shoot are not options, is your primary attack mode. You've invested (say) 20 points in ST, 40 points in DX, another 40 points for DX+10 in Bow, and 15 points in Arm ST - so you've just spent 115 points for the privilege of drawing a ST 20 bow, which does 2d-1 raw damage. Nice, but not world-shattering.

October 16, 2014

Lifting ST, Striking ST, and ranged weapons

In a recent thread on the SJG Forums, forumite Kenneth Latrans notes he does not like that The Deadly Spring used Lifting ST instead of Striking ST for bows, which he describes as a "striking-related action."

I'll admit I was quite deliberate about putting Lifting ST in place of Striking ST. For real warbows, like the one pictured here (a 170# bow being bent by Joe Gibbs ST 18 by TDS), drawing the bow is a slow pull (though for a 170# bow, that guy pulls it back like it's nothing).

Still . . .

Why I'm wrong

Let's start off with Devil's Advocate on myself. If Kenneth would have said "using Striking ST for damage-related action," I'd probably nod my head and say, "yep, that's a valid game design call."

In GURPS, Lifting ST is the ST you use for encumbrance, which is valuable as heck in the games I've played and GM'd, and at 3/level, is probably worth it even without drawing bows and grappling thrown in.

But "you pay 5/level for the things you need to do damage," which includes firearm ST scores, is a fine game-mechanical rule, internally self-consistent, and a good way to go.

The Basis for Doing What I did

Pulling bows is slow. Grappling can be a lot of steady pressure. Being strong has real merit, and for grappling at least, it's the kind of strength that matters. I know a guy who could defeat my arm bar by simply lifting my entire body off of him with one freakin' arm.

But with drawing a bow over at least a second, that seemed like Lifting ST to me.

Plus, of course, is that Striking ST is 5 points/level, and that +1 to ST gives you +1 swing damage, right off the bat. That's the GURPS currenty: one point of ST gives you an extra point of swing.

For bows, though, and other thrust-based weapons (and that includes Control Points from Technical Grappling), each 3 points get you a half-point of increased damage, so for equal currency, so to speak, it's 6 points per level . . . so swinging with a weapon (striking damage) and shooting with a bow or grappling are about he same. So that works there for me.

Between biomechanics and game mechanics, I like Lifting ST for bows and grappling.

Parting Shot

The middle ground would be interesting though. Striking is a fast twitch, and there are several ranged-weapon related activities that work with Striking ST, the way it's described.

  • Punches and Melee Weapons: Yep. I'd add Trained ST as well, of course.
  • Quick-Shooting Bows: You have to draw and release within one second. This is the opposite of the slowish pull seen when you draw big bows, More like plucking a string, but with 100-200 pounds of force.

This would favor "regular" ST for dungeoneers, for example. You'd want lifting, grappling, swinging, and quick-shooting. That says "Striking ST" for me. But if you had a bunch of extra Lifting ST and wanted to take a Ready maneuver to pull the bow instead of a Quick-Draw, you could combine that with whatever other perks and Trained X abilities you wanted. Slow and heavy, or fast. Or just by regular ST and have at.

October 14, 2014

Bad Guy Characterization 3: The character of pure evil

+Aaron McLin made a comment on my previous post noting that if you actually have (say) a plane of elemental evil, where evil is a real, tangible thing, then working through the "they don't think it's evil" thing doesn't work. From the comment feed on G+ Tabletop RPGs:
That, I think, depends on how you want to set up good and evil in your world. In my game world, evil people understand themselves to be evil, because they deliberately set out to be that way. But I'm also working under the idea that good and evil are objective moral stances, rather than tactical considerations. Which is something that one can do in a purely fictional world. - Aaron McLin

I still think there's room for my characterization, though, with a slight modification: that the "bad guys" must basically be able to self-justify what they do. If Evil is their thing, then they'll be happy doing it, keep doing it, and be easily motivated - "It's what I do, Mr. Prichard."

This isn't some deeply psychological angst thing. Critters do what they're motivated and rewarded for doing if they can. If there is a deep conflict within or without about what they're doing, it'll stop absent an external force.

So let's look at Evil as an objective moral stance.

Evil by the Numbers

Looking at the key questions posed yesterday, we have:

  1. Vision: What is our "bad guy" trying to make the world look like in the future?
  2. Values: How the bad guy and his minions are expected to operate.
  3. What is the bad guy trying to accomplish. In McChrystal soldier-speak: "What does winning look like?"
  4. How do you plan to accomplish your mission? "What do we need in order to win?" 
  5. Specific action plans needed to get what you need to win, and then accomplish the mission. This is the who, what, where, when, and how.
  6. "How do we know the tactics are succeeding? Quantify that our strategy is working? In short, how do we keep score ?"

For something of identifiable, true, objective evil, the nice thing about the questions is that you can jump immediately to the first and last. What does the future world look like, and how do we measure it.

Lots of answers here, but I'll throw one down: The vision for True Evil is a world/universe where suffering and despair are maximized. Reasons for hope are raised but continually crushed. This is not noble suffering - Paksennarion enduring days of torture and remaining true to her faith - but ignoble suffering. That's important.

The way I see it in this case, ignoble suffering is sort of like entropy - it's a quantity that can be "measured" or sensed by whatever is at the root of objective Evil. This is probably a source of magical power, too - it gives Dark Sorcerers and evil undead reasons to do the things they do as well.

So the vision of the world is one where freedom and striving to make things better - the stuff Superman stands for, for example - are not unknown, but known to be pointless. The nail that sticks up is efficiently and cruelly hammered down, but there is no contentment or satisfaction from not sticking up.

OK, that that hits Vision. Values for the Minions of Evil are likely wrapped around "whatever it takes to maximize suffering." This will be directly reflected in the metrics of the world in question, where the more the cruelty, the higher the reward. It explains the "make all those beneath you suffer" mentality that never seems to quite turn against the Big Bad Evil Guy the way it should. Sure, the "Trusted" Lieutenant betrays the BBEG . . . but only to set himself up in power, not to bring down the whole structure and have a bake sale and a hug-in instead.

So winning for a particular BBEG will be a situation where he/she/it has as many people under his boot as possible. Policies and influence will be set up to be capricious, arbitrary, and capable of giving the illusion of hope, while still ultimately disappointing. The other side of that is that one person's hope might be fulfilled . . . but only in a way that crushes the spirits of others. This sets up a situation where the only behavior rewarded is naked power seeking.

OK, then you get down to plans - strategy (what do we need) and tactics. You probably need access to, or actual, power. If it's a ruling class or noble elite, you'll want to infiltrate it. If there's a justice system or taxation system that is somehow independent of the ruling authority, you'll want to corrupt it. And if there's a stalwart band of protectors - paladins or other do-gooders - you definitely want to deal with them.

But remember - despair. So sure, you can kill the paladins, but that's likely the last resort. Torture is better, but only if you can make them recant their faith. Turning one to your side is best of all. While the suffering of the population must be real, having the leaders bewitched (not "real" despair, and presumably the objective moral plane of evil knows the difference between real coffee and decaf) might be one of those places where you give a little to get more.

Parting Shot

In any case - I've managed to throw down something that seems to hang together reasonably well. It explains "evil" races (it's all in the metrics!) pretty well, and forced me to consider the cosmology of Evil in a manner that allows me to set up a hierarchy of strategy, tactics, methods, and values that while still scenery-chewingly stereotypical, is understandable and self-consistent.

It also plays ridiculously well with classic fantasy tropes, which is all to the good. A Theory of Evil shouldn't invalidate previous classics, should it?

The questions that are asked using the method I described yesterday - thanks to the McChrystal Group for the structure - helped me bang out a useful cosmology and motivation structure for your classic Evil Menace in less than an hour of structured thinking - and much of that was exposition for the point of posting about it.

I can (and will!) do the same thing for my bad guys in Alien Menace - but I won't post about them, because if the Good Guys can understand the Bad Guy's strategy, they can interrupt the initiative and momentum of the plans and actions. "We stand now at the turning of the tide . . . "

October 13, 2014

Bad Guy Chararacterization 2: General McChrystal does RPGing

Yesterday I talked about how my almost 5yo came up with - with no prompting - that the "bad guys" in the Lego Movie didn't think they were bad - they thought that the good guys were bad.

And of course, the British thought the same thing about the American Revolutionaries (and were technically correct) and the aims of the Confederacy that seceded from the United States were preserving the rights of their member states to their rights, including the "property rights" of slaveholders in certain industries. The Nazis - and it's not an internet argument, so don't go all Godwin's Law on me - presumably thought that putting some of my relatives in the gas chamber was all good stuff in a day's work as well.

That's earned them primo status of RPG bad guys that you can maim, kill, and dismember with no compunction if you're on the "good guy" side of things.
Chiwetel Ejiofer: Giving Sam Jackson a run
for his money as a BMF since 2005

In the Monster Hunters series of books by +Larry Correia, the plotline of the second book (Vendetta) has the Big Bad state that well, yeah, his goals are whatever they are, but it's way, way better than the alternative, so really the Good Guys should just throw in the towel.

The point is, to the "bad guys" at least, what they do is at least along the lines of "self defense," "justifiable homicide," or some level of being morally and ethically permissible, given a certain background logic. Very few are as clear about this as, say, The Operative:
I'm not going to live there. There's no place for me there... any more than there is for you. Malcolm... I'm a monster.What I do is evil. I have no illusions about it, but it must be done. (Serenity, 2005)
Seeming non-sequitur that isn't: I have participated in one of the +McChrystal Group's CrossLead seminars. Other than the privilege of spending a day with a member of SFOD-D - which I said then and say again now, was truly an honor (and I gave him a copy of GURPS Tactical Shooting, 'cause why not?) - there were some concepts that were given then and again in a recent corporate communication meeting that emphasized stuff that while good for corporate governance, is pure gold for GMs.

It's also online, more or less, so I don't feel bad about distilling it in this context. I'll happily shill for them, though - it was an impressive way to look at things. So let me break it down from the perspective of . . . writing and working with plausible bad guys. Good guys too, but a plausible adversary is so much more fun.

Kickin' it Bad Guy School

I'm going to assume that a bad guy and his motivations can be characterized in the same way you might motivate, say Evil, Incorporated.

There are five parts to consider when plotting out bad guy motivations and methods.

1. Vision and Values
2. Mission
3. Strategy
4. Tactics
5. Measures

In short, and in gaming terms as well

1. Vision and Values

Vision: What is our "bad guy" trying to make the world look like in the future?
Values: How the bad guy and his minions are expected to operate.

Vision is often combined with Mission, but they are different. Vision is "in the process of winning or after I win, what do I do then?" Values in this context is basically "What disadvantages do I have?" at least in GURPS terms.

One thing about the Vision: sure, "I want to rule the world!" is a vision, but why? What dysfunction will the BBEG's rule fix? "I'm smarter and better and could do things more effectively than all these clowns" is completely appropriate. One can likely look at anyone that, say, runs for high office - especially the Presidency of the US - as having to believe this to a degree that probably disqualifies them a priori from the very office they wish to hold. I'm not being partisan here: ask Douglas Adams about that:
“Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.” ― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
2. Mission: What is the bad guy trying to accomplish. In McChrystal soldier-speak: "What does winning look like?"

This is different than Vision. Really. For a company that sells disc drives, winning looks like a series of awesome products that are technically awesome (because that's what the geeks in the company want to make), serves the chosen market segments - and that may well be all of them, and makes money hand over fist, both due to brand power and reputation (high revenue) as well as a flawless execution and low cost. Winning, frankly, looks like the reason Rolls-Royce has to protect it's brand ("the Rolls-Royce of XXX") so fiercely.

For the bad guy, You want "the bad guy is trying to do X, and that will allow his Vision to be completed."

3. Strategy: How do you plan to accomplish your mission? "What do we need in order to win?"

This is the question as well as the answer. It is likely a list of things you have, but more importantly it's a list of things you either need or must accomplish in order to execute the mission and achieve the vision. It will borrow heavily from tactics, below.

4. Tactics: Specific action plans needed to get what you need to win, and then accomplish the mission. This is the who, what, where, when, and how.

For GURPS, it's the people, skills, locations, and likely an equipment list.

It may very well be such that the tactics you use can be phrased as "we will do X things, with Y people, on Z timeframe," in order to get the M, N, O, and P that are required to fulfill the strategy.

Tactics is about the right now, the visceral. Strategy is, I think, largely about mental initiative and momentum.

5. Metrics and Measures. "How do we know the tactics are succeeding? Quantify that our strategy is working? In short, how do we keep score ?"

This is key, because it will be the easiest and quickest way to figure out what the bad guys will be doing at any particular moment. If they're trying to make/steal money, then they'll be looking for the right level of score. If metrics are around recruitment, then it's about brainwashing or persuasion or whatever, and it's about the numbers. If you can quantify it, you can probably also generate a risk/reward profile for it.

If the bad guys are recruiting their Legions of Terror, then a mission that loses more than they recruit because of poor planning and run-ins with the Special Justice Group will not be repeated in the same way.

Breaking it down simply.

For game purposes, the mission and vision should be a quick summary, one or two sentences about the bad guy's outlook for what he's trying to accomplish and what the "world" will look like when he gets it.

Values are basically the Sean Connery line from The Untouchables: "What are you prepared to do?" What methods are within scope? How does one justify such methods? I can torture my foes because they're "Other" seems to work. "Our ends justify any means" is used with surprising frequency by groups whose goals would not "rationally" be associated with the actual methods used.

Examples? Protecting unborn children . . . by killing people. Protecting the environment . . . by killing people. Spreading a religion . . . by killing people. Common thread there? Yeah.

Strategy tells the PCs (and the GM) where the bad guy is going to deploy his resources. My Alien Menace patron "good guy" organizatin needs ships, space crew, exploration/scout crews for peaceful missions, scientists to figure out what the stuff is, and security teams to protect them all (or go in aggressively). That also means political contacts to ensure that the missions are either "undetected" or at least unreported. My Wayne Oliver good guy needs recuitment and training. Access to materials. Equipment, either purchased or bespoke, and doubly so for where a good/bad guy gets those stockpiles of weaponry.

Tactics can probably be summed up as "at any given moment, what activities are being executed or planned?" In my Alien Menace example, they are probably flying actual missions, recruiting and training operatives, maybe some politicking if needed, and research into what they bring back. Building extra ships.

Finally, metrics. What does winning look like? Market share? Percent of the world's population that fall under his iron fist/benevolent control?

Parting Shot

Know what your bad guy is about. Make sure that his outlook is logical, even if the logic is twisted. If he's a "madman," it's probably a good idea to get a "map" of how normal inputs are twisted into something that would make sense for someone to respond that way.

Sure, someone standing next to you is no threat . . . but certain types of personality have an exaggerated view of their own personal space, and react to what even an American would say is plenty of room with extraordinary violence. Way more than the usual discomfort an American feels at "European" conversational distances.
I say this having been backed into a corner by a very intense Polish PhD who really needed to explain his theories to me emphatically and from about six inches distance.
Give yourself a lens with which to view the bad guy's world and objectives, and he'll come alive.

Or undead, if that's how you roll. But have a reason for it.

October 12, 2014

RPG characterization wisdom from a 5yo

My not-quite-5yo daughter:

"You know, in the Lego Movie, the good guys think the bad guys are the bad guys, but the bad guys think the good guys are the bad guys."

See? Even a five-year-old (not quite) knows that the bad guys do what they do because they think it's the right thing from their own perspective.

Granted, usually a twisted perspective, but while distorted, one might wish to think about the lens through which your Big Bad Evil Guy looks at the world.

Oh: but if your methods include genocide or pulling limbs or heads off of your fellow man:  it's still evil.

Even in The Lego Movie.

I suppose I could extend this and say if I have not at least thought about the "logic" of why my bad guys are doing what they're doing - what's their goal at the very least, regardless of what they'll do about it - then not only am I not done thinking about it, I've not even really started. I've just created a series of plot holes with no way to patch them.

It's probably why the "random stuff in a dungeon all packed cheek to jowl" wears thin faster than one would otherwise think. The plot has to make sense to someone, somehow. And it should be easily articulated.

Perhaps twisted, but easily articulated.

October 11, 2014

Camouflage: Unformed idea

Technically I'm sorta stealing this from the SJ Forums user Kallatari, but not exactly.

There's a thread that just cropped up on the Camouflage skill and the distinction between Camouflage and Stealth. This is an old discussion, but still mostly unresolved.

Maybe a successful Camouflage roll subtracts from the bonus you get for being In Plain Sight.

You'd want to balance it such that in order to completely remove it, you need the right materials and plenty of time.

Again, not fully formed, but Stealth to me is about movement, sound, and picking the right time to make transitions. It's about not being seen in the first place, not blending in with the environment.

Anyway, +Jake Bernstein has been egging me on to unify all of the sensory rules in the same way I tried to do in Dodge This. This might be my starting point.

October 8, 2014

Deceptive Attack - Final Thoughts (this time around)

So, I made a small error in my original sheet yesterday, but I've replaced it with the right math. I also upgraded the sheet to show the relative delta in absolute percentages from any given choice to the best choice for that defender. 

That's what led me to conclude, basically, that there really is an answer to the question of "what's the optimum deceptive attack" strategy. There's one caveat, though, which I'll throw out in the beginning as a clause.

Provided you don't know the defensive skill of your foe, the best strategy overall is to Deceptive Attack with "surplus" skill down to a level of 16.

What is "surplus" skill? Well, like mentioned in A Surplus of Awesome, you can hit important stuff, target limbs, Rapid Strike, and other things. Once you're done that, it's time for Deceptive Attack.

The Math

My original calculation was 
Hit chance = P(Crit) + (1-P(Crit)) * P(Hit) * P(Fail Defense).
This was a mistake. This does reduce to 
P(Crit) + P(Hit)*P(FailDef) - P(Crit)*P(Hit)*P(FailDefense)
What this should really be is the probability of a crit, plus the probability that a non-critical hit strikes home. That should be [P(Hit) - P(Crit)], since (1-P(Crit)) includes misses as well. 

So that means
Hit Chance = P(Crit) + [P(Hit)-P(Crit)]* P(FailDefense), or
Hit Chance = P(Crit) + P(Hit)*P(FailDefense) - P(Crit)*P(FailDefense), orHit Chance = P(Crit) * (1-P(FailDefense)) + P(Hit)* P(FailDefense)
So in my formulation, I'm subtracting a smaller number from the total, by the amount of P(Hit) times the last term in the maroon equations. That will be a small reduction for large skill (where P(Hit) is close to 1), but can get significant at low skill. 

In any case, it's fixed now, so the numbers should be basically right.

Taking Completeness to New Idiotic Heights

So I'm going to start at a skill level of 13 and go up by 2 through skill 23. 

I'm not going to focus on the actual percent chances to hit much, but I'll give some examples of the charts. 

Skill 14

You can see for Skill 14, there are only really three levels for DA. None, -1 to defend (-2 to Hit), and -2 to defend.

Based on the "pure" answer of what's the best choice for any given defense, you can see there's no one best answer. The odds of getting a hit in at all depend on how much skill your defender has.

If you know what that is, of course.

If you're fighting yourself, let's say with stats in the 10-12 range, you're probably looking at a base Dodge of 8 to 9. That could be as low as 6 (due to Committed Attack's -2 to Defenses) or up to 12 or 13 (Combat Reflexes and a Retreat). Parry will start at about 10, and with a medium shield, Combat Reflexes, and a retreat can be up to 14, but as low as 8. So defenses will be from a low of about 6 to a high of 14 . . . and that's on one foe. His maneuver choice means his actual effective defense can change turn to turn as well.

Given that, you're either at full skill or -2 to hit for a 12, but how to choose? 

Let's look at the relative matrix. I've color coded the differences, taken in absolute terms from the optimal choice. Green is less than a 5% difference between the cell in question and the "best" cell for that row, and red is larger than a 20% difference. 

What you see here is a bit differently put. While the very best choice changes a bit, you can see that it can be an actively bad idea to do heavy Deceptive Attack vs. inferior foes. In fact, vs. Joe Average and his Dodge-8 and likely Parry-8 (Weapon skill at DX 10), you are worse off than optimal (which is no DA at all) one time in 4-5 tries.

Shooting down to 12 isn't a bad choice either here, though again it's not optimal against very bad or very good foes. 

Still, the surprise here is that if you're not fighting a total incompetent, you will not be overly penalized in total hit chances by any level of DA that you can throw, but by and large either 14 or 12 are your best choices. 

In fact, the one that's either the best choice or within 5% of the best choice (making no difference more than 1 time in 20) is no Deceptive Attack at all. 

You can get to this by math, too: take the average deviation of all the potential trials listed. The lowest deviation is no DA for skill 14 and 15. Now, that heavily weights Defense 17+, which is "fishing for critical hits and defensive critical misses" territory, but it does it equally, so I'll call it indicative.

Skill 21

This skill level is good but not the top you can get to in a starting DF character if you optimize a bit, and not even close to the top if you're into Monster Hunters or (god forbid) Black Ops. 

You can see from a pure math perspective that which is the "best" strategy changes quite a bit depending on your foe's skill.

Anything from no DA to the most DA you can throw is viable at some point in the spectrum, and someone with Skill-21 has a base Parry-13, likely with CR, maybe some enhanced defenses as well, perhaps enchanted armor? Parry 17 is not out of the question here, but that's still not completely in the "crit fishing" range. Still, what about if you don't know your foe's defenses?

The situation here becomes cooler, in a way, with regimes of "it's stupid NOT to Deceptive attack" as well as "you're DAing too much, silly man."

DAing down to 15 is either optimal or within 5% of optimal i the largest range of circumstances. Lacking other information, it's the best option in many cases, and a pretty good option in nearly all cases.

Even the one cell that's not green is only "not green" by 0.3%. Going down to 13 gets you very little, and only against a select few foes. Choosing 17 against middle-ground foes is actually a poorer choice, but it's good against those of much less or much more defensive ability.

Now a Bunch of Tables with Few Comments.

Rather than comment on each, I present Skill 16 through Skill 22 counting by 2, then jump to Skill-30. 

0.00% means that's the best result you can get for that row. 

In all cases, the average result is best to DA down to 16. There are areas where DAing down to other values are locally best, but you have to know your foe's defenses precisely in order to get this result in many cases. Since even lousy foes can be lower in active defenses by 2 without actively giving them up (Committed Attack, being grappled by RAW, being in several postures, even -3 for lying down, -4 for stunned) and can eke out +3 for retreating Dodge, and with the right mundane advantages and equipment can pretty easily hit +4 to Parry, you're really dealing with a range of defenses on any given foe that's around 5-8 wide. So Defense-10 can vary between Defense-6 and Defense-14, though honestly it's really smaller than that unless you're dodging, at least on the high end. 

Parting Shot

There are limited ranges where more DA than the 16 global best average answer are appropriate (and by the way, if your net skill happens to be odd, you want 15, not 17). If your foe is sporting a defense value of 7 + half your skill, you maximize your chances by going all the way down to 10. (You of course, give up increased chances of critical hitting, and increase your chances of missing entirely). But in every case, your odds have been increased by . . . 1%. You will take advantage of that extra optimal hit chance one blow in 100.

The sweet spot for DAing down to a skill of 12 is about 4.5+ Skill/2. So for a good warrior of Skill-16, if your foes are in the 12-13 defense range, this is where you want to be. 

Note that in an equal battle . . . this is where your foes will be. Parry starts at 11 with Skill-16, and with a retreat, combat reflexes, or just a medium shield you're in the "go down to 12" category. So if you're willing to give up crits and you're fighting a foe basically as skilled as you are, this is your target. However, this will only make a difference about one time in 16 relative to the critical effects you give up by doing this from Skill-16.

If your foe is half your skill, DA down to 14. But again, you're looking at this making a difference from between one time in 25 to about one time in 50. 

If your foe's defenses are equal to your skill, buy down to 16 and no further. You're crit fishing here, and buying down is actively bad. If your foe's defenses are even one less than half your skill, again, stay at 16 - the biggest impact to your hit chances here is your own lowering of your base chance to hit. They're so hopeless that them making a defense roll will be an active surprise.

But as the graphs show, all of this is at the margin. +Peter V. Dell'Orto summarizes some of the benefits and pains of maximizing critical hits and minimizing critical misses in one of his posts on the thread that spawned all these charts. Those can be inflection points in fights, and so they're more important than raw "did I hit him with this particular blow" might show!

What the heck? Why do all this?

Honestly, my curiosity got piqued. Peter's been playing DF for years, and literally wrote the book, along with +Sean Punch, on Martial Arts. I've heard varying opinions on this issue from lots of people, and even some charts, but nothing quite as comprehensive (or iterative) as I did here. I thought the color coding of marginal benefit was illustrative.

And they key, as always, is knowledge. If you know your foe's defenses and the only goal is maximum chance of hitting per blow, there probably is a numerically best answer. But a few things did surprise me.

The easy answer to "what to do with skill less than 16" is "nothing." Swing away, but don't waste time on DA. Note that's NET skill. If you have Skill-14, but win a Feint in a duel and then have to attack a superior foe . . . you might well want to DA to 14 or 12 on top of a Committed Attack. 

But Deceptive Attack is what you do when you're awesome, either permanently or temporarily.