Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Doing The Damage: Points or Effects?

In my original vision of how the Tankards & Broadswords RPG handles "damage", things were pretty simple. Every PC and major NPC has 12 "hits". Whenever you get whacked by a sword or spell or poison dart or whatever, you take 1d6 hits plus the amount you succeeded by in your attack, plus a modifier for the weapon used (generally from -1 for unarmed to a +2 for heavy weapons). Since the variable is 2d6 plus a skill from 0 to 6, vs. a defense roll of the same, You're probably doing on average around 4-7 hits per attack if you deliver a solid whack to your foe. Armor subtracts from this damage - Light armor has a value of 2, up to Heavy armor with a value of 6. Heavily armored characters are likely going to get nickel-and-dimed to death over the course of a long combat or two, while for unarmored characters the best advice is just...don't get hit.

Pretty darn simple, says I. Maybe too simple.

One of the nice things about the above is that it's just plain easy. You keep fighting away until your hits are at 0, at which point you drop like a stone. It works for D&D and all it's imitators, and in the end if your game is less about the agony of getting stabbed by a broadsword and more about gold, girls, and gratuitous violence, you want to keep your hero up and swinging right to the bitter end.

On the other hand, there are a lot of more unorthodox ways of handling "damage", and some of them force you to handle fights a little differently. For example, with Rolemaster's critical hits table, the effects of a weapon can be very specific - individual limbs can be affected, bones broken, joins sprained, veins and arteries severed, muscles damaged - it's very picky. On the other hand, Savage Worlds has a very abstract method of handling damage; you're either "Shaken", or "Wounded", and after three Wounds, you might just be dead, or at the very least, incapacitated for the rest of the fight. Now, I like this idea, because it allows characters to get battered around a lot, but not necessarily nickel-and-dimed to death.

So in considering what to do with the T&B RPG, the thought occured to me to do something vaguely similar. Damage would be resolved as normal - Attack vs. Defense, take the Balace + Weapon, add 1d6, minus Armor. In practice this would take only a moment or two to figure out since you'll hardly ever be breaking into double digits with the damage. However, once the damage is figured out, there'd effects to the character depending on how severe the blow is. Currently I'm thinking of the following:

1-4 Points: Dazed, -2 to the character's next Turn.
5-6 Points: Stunned, -4 to the character's next Turn.
7-8 Points: Clobbered, -6 to the character's next Turn.
9-10 Points: Reeling, -6 for the next 1d Turns, 1 Hit.
11 Points: Flattened, Incapacitated for the next 1d Turns, 2 Hits.
12 Points: K-O'ed, Incapacitated for the next 2d Minutes, 3 Hits.
13+ Points: slaughtered, Break out a new character sheet...

Under this sort of system, it is possible to be nickel-and-dimed to death. It is also possible to be laid low or even killed by a lucky blow (although this would be extraordinarily difficult against well-armored opponents). However, most low damage rolls are simply going to result in the character having to either back off for a round or go on the defensive while they recover their wits and grit their teeth through the pain. It also removes some of the "stand toe to toe with the bad guys and whoever hits 0 points first loses" mentality (although some of the combat maneuvers I have written up will also mitigate this), and allows characters to "take a punch" without getting punched to death. More than likely, a PC who gets killed will do so because they'll take a hit or two, get a nasty penalty, stay in the fight, and then get clobbered because they were too stubborn to back off for a turn and recover their wits.

So now it's time to put it to the jury - you guys. What do you think? Does a lightweight, casual RPG get along just fine with a simple "hit point" style mechanic for damage by virtue of being simple and familiar, or does something a little more complex sound more interesting? Should I keep the "hit points" as the standard rule for handling damage and appendix the effect-based rules as an optional rule? I've already got a number of optional rules that I'll be tucking away here and there throughout the game, so this is not a problem.

Time to weigh in, folks! Let me know what you think.


Chris said...

Sounds kinda like you're gone the long way round and reinvented the (excellent) WFRP wounds system.

I like the "knocked down/silly, no lasting damage" effect though. They're a nice touch.

Ben Overmyer said...

The only problem I can foresee with this approach is that it will make combat much longer.

This could have the adverse effect of making players bored.

That's my initial impression, anyway. I can't give a real opinion until I see it in play.

Badelaire said...


I can see the effects make the combat last longer, possibly - not the mechanical process of figuring it out.

But on the other hand, it depends. If I smack you good and next turn you're at -4 or -6 to your rolls and you DON'T go on the defensive or retreat or whatnot, that turn I'm probably going to hit you so hard you're going to be out of the fight.

Since damage is in part determined by how well you hit, and the heavier the penalty to your opponent's Defense rolls the harder you're going to hit them, if your opponent is rolling a 2d-3 or so and you're rolling 2d+3 (assuming you'd normally be on equal footing skill-wise), on average you're going to hit with a balance of 6, plus weapon mod, plus an added 1d points. The likelihood of a killing blow (or at least one that will put them out of the fight) is significant.

As you say though - gotta see it in play first.

Timeshadows said...

Your table also seems to reflect only human-ish creatures of roughly the same mass.
If, for example, the target were instead a Xorn, would those table values/thresholds still hold true? Wouldn't a giant be able to withstand substantially more damage? Etc.

Perhaps if it were a relative measure of some value of the creature's mass/toughness/etc., it would get you to where you were going.

Otherwise, it is a Wound Level system, with all those features.

Darkwing said...

The main thing I liked about the Rolemaster critical hit system was the mental picture you got of just what was happening. Sure, sometimes the results didn't apply perfectly, but in general you could visualize the wounds being delivered, which makes the combat feel more cinematic.

With a more abstract system, the GM can always make up a specific injury based on the amount of damage delivered, e.g., he rolls a "Stunned, -4 to the character's next turn" and describes it to the player as "The Orc clips you on the arm and you stagger." But this 'making up the result' on the spot seems contrived to me. Although others may argue that this kind of invention is the essence of RPing itself.

The randomness of the critical tables, combined with vivid descriptions has an appeal to me. "Deliver nasty cut to foe's arm, muscle and tendon damage, Foe Stunned and at -4 next turn."

Beyond this, once the battle is over, with descriptions like this, the player might actually think, "I need a healing potion to repair my slashed right biceps" rather than "I need a healing potion to give me 2 hit points."

So either way, I guess I'm saying that if the system is very abstract about handling damage, then it's more work on the GM's part to describe the action (which may in fact be desirable). As a player I like lots of detail, because it increases the immersion.

SuperSooga said...

I have to say I much prefer effects. I went this way with one of my games and I've never looked back for that sort of game.

Badelaire said...

@SuperSooga - care to give an example?

The problem is that with a game as relatively abstract as T&B is going to be, "effects" much beyond temporary action penalties are going to be hard to come up with unless the whole process gets a lot more complicated, and complication is a four-letter word in this system.

Right now, I am considering this "effects" idea as an optional rule, so straight up "hit points" will be the default, with "effects/wounds" being something you can add on if you want, since I don't think it'll affect most of the core rules too terribly much.