Monday, April 21, 2014

Cover, hit rolls and damage

Firing a weapon from cover requires the exposure of some parts of the body. Generally the less critical hand and arm and the quite critical head. This increases the risk of mortal injury if hit. It also raises the question about damage capacity of an attack and the character profile to the enemy as the encounter progresses. How do attack and damage rules affect the way the character appears from the enemy's standpoint?

We're used to attacks having a set amount of possible damage: 1d6, 2d8, etc. But what if the damage didn't only depend on the weapon, but on the target area? After all getting hit on the hand, as painful as it may be, will not be immediately life threatening. There should be a cap on the amount of damage that can be delivered to such body parts, right?

Asking around I got feedback on this issue. The comments can be grouped into two camps: a) some games (Hero System for example) have such rules and b) that's already taken into consideration in the damage roll. The former puts me in a cold sweat, I certainly don't have any interest in creating something as complex as Hero System (all due respect to those who enjoy playing it). The later leads me to ask the question: are the odds of hitting a certain body part a property of the setting and current storyline or are they a property of the damage roll, the hit roll or the character's hit points? Does this lead to certain body parts being "more visible" and "less visible" as the character's hit points change or the enemy changes weapons? Are rules affecting (and limiting) the storyline instead of helping narrate it? Let me explain.

Lets say a character has 12 hit points and the weapon does 1d6. We might interpret a 3 to 6 as a head wound with varied degrees of severity and a 1 to 2 as a hand injury. The first contradiction is that a head wound would never kill the character. Even the deadliest of hits would only reduce the character's hit points to half. To handle this we may totally exclude a head wound and as a storyteller one may just narrate that the hit impacts the hand or lower arm, sparing the head from any injury. But this totally excludes the possibility of a head wound in the beginning of the encounter. Rules are dictating what we can narrate.

Now as the character's hit points drop and reach a level of 3 o 4 remaining hit points it is quite hard to exclude a head wound from the storyline. It is very hard to narrate a hand wound at this point because it would be very hard to convince someone that their character died because he bled out of his pinkie. Once again the game mechanics are forcing the storyline and our trusty character is going from being this in real life:

to this at the beginning of the encounter:

and this as hit points are depleted:

It is clear from this example that the rule design affects the story's potential. A storyline's plausibility depends on the weapon used and the character's hit points instead of the current setting, actions and skills of those involved.

Question here is how to create a set of rules that describe what's happening without limiting what can happen. Games that take on a more narrative focus have less of an issue with this, but games with different mechanics could suffer from the aforementioned issue.

I'm looking at handling damage differently. First there's the hit roll, the the impact area is determined and finally the damage, which depend son the impacted area. This sounds a bit more complicated as it adds another die roll, but it can also be a means to simplify things. Here are some considerations:

  • Hit rolls with various degrees of success rather than a binary outcome. This can help determine the impacted area by GM ruling rather than another die roll.
  • Fixed damage to non critical body parts. If the hit roll is a marginal success then a hand or foot is hit, or the hit is just a flesh wound.
  • Roll for damage only on good hit rolls that represent a severe or critical hit.
Thoughts? What would you propose or what games have you played that keep the character looking like the following image all through the encounter instead of some deformed version of it?

Image source

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