Hit Effect Vs Hit Damage

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Here I present a general idea, rather than a developed and detailed game mechanic, I have come up with regarding damage. The main problem I find with most damage mechanics is that lots of undesirable complexity and book-keeping is required. With this approach I try to eliminate or at least reduce them to more manageable levels, while retaining the stress factor that damage introduces in a roleplaying game situation.

Enrique Martín, 2006. Under construction.

Don't roll for damage, roll for effect

Ok, so there is the classic adventurers party fighting against a bunch of, let's say, orcs, and one of those monsters happen to hit Gorbal the fighter with a mace.

Now, in this situation, you would typically roll for damage. In D&D you would roll how many hit points Gorbal takes from the blow (whatever that means), in other systems you might roll for location, criticals, damage soaking... but the underlying point is "Let's determine how serious this wound is".

However, either the damage roll is too simple and unsatisfying, such as in D&D, or you need to go through lots of steps, rolls, chart consulting, etc. to solve this. It would seem like the combat suddenly stopped and everyone keep staring at poor Gorbal saying things like "Well, at least he was wearing a helmet", "This is going to take a lot of mending" or just "Ughhh".

I like a detailed description of a wound, but I find too much detail unnecessary during the course of action. If Gorbal is heavily hit in the arm what does anyone care whether the arm is only bruised or is broken, or how many days will it take to heal in that very moment when Gorbal is fighting for his life? Or if Gorbal falls into a coma, is it important to know in that precise moment how many days will it take for him to awaken afterwards, or if he will suffer permanent nerve damage? Cannot we wait until the combat is over to examine Gorbal wound in detail?

So, in order to find some balance between wound detail and playability I propose dividing this process in two parts:

  1. Roll for effect: In the course of action you only determine how Gorbal (the victim) is affected in the short-term by the hit he has just received. It's a quick roll, so action continues without interruption.
  2. Roll for damage: After combat or action, when characters are able to examine their wounds, you can roll dice again for damage, obtaining precise and long-term information. Maybe complicated charts crossing damage type against armour are consulted, it doesn't need to be a quick roll.

Stopping Power vs Lethality

In order to understand the difference between Hit Effect and Damage we must think in terms of Stopping Power besides Lethality: many lethal wounds do not instantly kill or even disable the target, they being capable of fighting for a short time; similarly there are many non-lethal wounds which knock out the target at once, rendering them helpless.

Some examples (note that I'm no expert and they might be inacurate):

  • Lethal and Stopping Wound: Beheading
  • Lethal but Non-stopping Wound: Puncturating kidney
  • Non-lethal but Stopping Wound: Head sapping
  • Non-lethal and Non-stopping Wound: Punching

Obviously both Lethality and Stopping Power are no all or nothing concepts, we should rather refer to High or Low Lethality or Stopping Power hits. Crude, blunt weapons tend to be more stopping than lethal, whereas low-caliber firearms can have a relatively low stopping power but be highly lethal.

So, now that we have introduced both concepts, it's easy to relate them to the Hit Effect vs Hit Damage paradigm:

  • Stopping Power ---> Hit Effect (during combat)
  • Lethality ---> Hit Damage (after combat)

The Hit Accumulation Paradigm

The real objetive of a damage system is to determine how long can characters keep fighting and when the fight is over. As ending a fight at the first blow landed would be too drastic, games need a way to calculate how many hits (and how strong) can a character take before falling unconscious or killed.

In many popular RPGs you note down the hits each character keeps taking, for example substracting hit points from a predetermined pool, or ticking off damage levels, or whatever. This follows the logic that a strong character might take a single hit and keep fighting, but taking several of them can bring him down. We can call that idea "Hit accumulation paradigm".

Here I will propose an alternative to the "Hit accumulation paradigm", as there are three things of it I dislike:

  • First-Hit Invulnerability: You have many hit points. You are hit by a sword and take a few of them. You should not be afraid of the sword because you know for sure that you are going to keep fighting afterwards, impervious to the damage.
  • Last-Hit Vulnerability: You have fought a big red dragon, surviving its powerful fire-breath, its column-shattering tail attacks and its sharpened claws and teeth. You only have 1 HP left. But you made it, the dragon is dead, the treasure is all yours... until a kobold comes, throws a rock at you and does what the dragon could not, vanquish the proud hero.
  • Book-keeping: This is the worst thing. The "hit accumulation paradigm" needs that you note down every hit you sustain, and watch continously if you have HPs left or not, in the middle of the battle. This bogs the gameplay down, in my opinion, specially when you have to manage 100+ HPs pools and dozens of unique hits per battle round.

Different Hit Effects

Under construction.

Describing Hit Effects

Under construction.