Combat sans Hit Points
Fast fighting with realistic results
You may be aware of my love/hate relationship with hit points, which motivated me to consider alternatives in Chimera 2.0. My “must-have” features included simulation of wound effects (as opposed to the binary “you’re either healthy or you’re dead” status so common to hit points), and I wanted to decouple damage tolerance from character advancement (i.e., experience should have nothing to do with how much damage you can take). And while I know that hit points are more than than just these two limitations, we’ve broken up, and I’m not taking Hit Point’s calls anymore.
Anyway, the result of my machinations is below. No hit points, but still fast (faster?) and capable of realistic results without a lot of bookkeeping. And, if you’re sporting, you can adapt it to your own RPG system without too much hassle.
Yet Another Combat Variant?
I’m hoping the answer is “no.” Here’s why:
- No hit points – I sound like a broken record, but it’s important. Instead of chipping away at a foe’s hit point total, damage is represented by wounds of varying severity. When a target is sufficiently wounded, he’s knocked out. But until that happens, each wound reduces his overall performance.
- Hit Determination – A skill roll made by the attacker, independent of the target’s armour.
- Armour absorbs damage – Armour prevents damage from reaching the target on a successful hit, though it doesn’t prevent a target from being hit.
- Variable wound severity – damage that gets past armour is applied as a wound, which penalises subsequent Action Rolls. The deeper the wound, the greater the penalty; the more wounds you take, the worse you perform.
- Wound limits – You can take only so many wounds (which are not the same as “points of damage”). Wound limit is also the maximum damage a combatant can sustain in a single blow. This allows “death by a thousand cuts” as well as “one-shot kills” (beloved by all roleplayers, everywhere).
- Healing – Recovery is measured by reducing the severity of a combatant’s wounds, and thus his wound-based Action Roll penalty; getting healthy has an actual game effect.
Chimera’s combat system is built on the Action Roll mechanic, so it’s fast and easy to use. Combat time is measured in 10-second rounds, each comprised of the following sequence:
- Choose Actions
Typical combat actions include attacking, moving, readying an item, wielding a power, or using a skill. You are limited to one action each round.
- Determine Initiative
Roll 1d20 to determine Initiative; results are adjusted by your action’s Initiative Modifier (IM).
- Resolve Actions
Actions are resolved in order of highest Initiative to lowest. Resolution is immediate, so it’s possible for a fast attacker to dispatch a slower foe before his turn comes up.
When everyone has resolved their action, the round ends. Unless the fight is over, you rinse and repeat as described above; combat encounters can last any number of rounds.
When attacking, make an Action Roll with either your Fight (mêlée) or Shoot (missile) skill. Possible outcomes of the Action roll are:
- Critical Failure: Attack misses; reduce weapon Penetration (Fight) or force an Ammo Check (Shoot)
- Normal Failure: Attack misses
- Normal Success: Attack hits; roll 1 damage die
- Critical Success: Attack hits; roll 2 damage dice
When an attack hits, roll for damage and subtract the target’s Damage Resistance. The difference is the Wound Severity (WS; zero or negative values are ignored).
If the Wound Severity is less than the target’s Wound Limit, the target takes a wound, which imposes an Action Roll penalty equal to the amount of damage that got through. Wound severity is cumulative, so the effects of all wounds are applied as a single penalty.
If the total number of wounds, or the severity of any single wound, exceeds the combatant’s Wound Limit (WL), he’s knocked out of the fight and must make a CON check. Subtract the knock-out blow’s damage from the CON roll, and check results below:
- Natural “1”: Instant death
- Critical Failure: Barely conscious; death in 1d6 rounds unless healed
- Normal Failure: Unconscious 1d6 hours, CON check or permanent injury
- Normal Success: Unconscious 1d6 turns; CON check or temporary injury
- Critical Success: Unconscious 1d6 rounds
This approach does make it harder to kill an opponent outright, though such can be assumed when an enemy is “left for dead.” More appropriately, though, the system accounts for combat injuries, which are almost always ignored in RPG combat mechanics. When applying injuries, the GM should consider an appropriate physical or mental flaw (or whatever your system’s equivalent is); temporary injuries last 3–8 (1d6+2) game sessions.
Damage is restored by reducing each wound’s severity. Each point healed reduces the severity of the wound tended; when the wound’s severity reaches zero (0), it is completely healed.
Wounds are best treated via the ministrations of a Healer, though certain technologies and powers may expedite the healing process. Wounds also heal naturally at the rate of 1 point of severity per week of complete rest (i.e., no activity beyond eating, sleeping, and moaning in pain).
This system has been designed from the ground up, and it takes a little getting used to if you’re more familiar with hit point-based systems. But for all the detail you can capture, bookkeeping is simple, and combat becomes faster and a bit more interesting. Character death is rarer, but the threat of wound penalties and injury actually deters combat more than the risk of death.
If you opt to incorporate this or poach a few ideas, please post a comment—I’d love to hear if this system gets some play out there.