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Critical Damage

Let’s try this once more

Last week, I proposed an alternative damage model for S&W that makes use of hit points, but allows for one-shot kills and performance degradation as a result of wounds. Part of this model is critical damage, explained here. But first, a minor revision:

I’m Soaking In It

My original mechanic allowed a PC to soak up damage via hit points or to take a wound. A few of you pointed out that this didn’t really support the goals I was trying to achieve, and after thinking it through more, umm, thoroughly, I agree. So here’s a new proposal:

hit points

Flesh wound my ass

When an attack hits, damage is rolled normally and subtracted from the target’s hit point total. When you reach zero hit points, you’re “vanquished.”

However, if the attack is a critical hit (see below), damage is rolled normally and counted as a wound, with severity equal to the damage rolled. Each wound imposes a cumulative -1 penalty to movement rate and all die rolls. If the number of wounds, or the damage from a single wound, exceeds your Hit Dice, [1] you’re also vanquished.

As by-product, this means that non-attack damage (e.g., traps or falling) will not result in wounds (though it could be fatal if delivered in sufficient quantity). [2] To my thinking, this makes hit points more akin to “stamina,” while actual combat wounds are measured by hit dice. As an abstract for “stamina,” hit points could also track the ill effects of fatigue, sickness, exposure to the elements, and other factors that don’t actually cause damage, but that do legitimately wear you down.

Critical Hits

A critical hit occurs when an unmodified attack roll result falls within the attacker’s critical range, which is 20 minus his class-based to-hit bonus. Based on my revised to-hit bonuses chart, for example, a 4th-level fighter with a to-hit bonus of +2 has a critical range of 18-20. Thus, if his d20 attack roll shows a natural 18, 19, or 20, and the attack succeeds, it’s a critical hit.

I’ve converted the to-hit bonuses from that chart into the critical ranges shown below:

Critical Hit Ranges by Class [3]
Level Cleric Fighter Magic-user Thief
1 19+ 19+ 20 19+
2 19+ 19+ 20 19+
3 19+ 18+ 20 19+
4 19+ 18+ 20 19+
5 18+ 17+ 20 19+
6 18+ 17+ 19+ 18+
7 18+ 16+ 19+ 18+
8 18+ 16+ 19+ 18+
9 17+ 15+ 19+ 18+
10 17+ 15+ 19+ 18+
11 17+ 14+ 18+ 17+
12 17+ 14+ 18+ 17+
13 16+ 13+ 18+ 17+
14 16+ 13+ 18+ 17+
15 16+ 12+ 18+ 17+
16 16+ 12+ 17+ 16+
17 15+ 11+ 17+ 16+
18 15+ 11+ 17+ 16+
19 15+ 10+ 17+ 16+
20 15+ 10+ 17+ 16+

Monster Crits

For monsters, the critical range equals 20 minus their hit dice. And this also brings up some interesting possibilities.

Puny humanoids (i.e., those with less than 1 HD, like goblins and kobolds) will crit only by rolling a natural 20. Assuming they’re attacking with the usual crap weapons humanoids cotton to, we’re talking about damage in the 1d6, maybe 1d4, range. Under this model, those “puny” humanoids inflict a 2.5 to 3.5 points of damage every successful hit—meaning that they’ll vanquish a 1st-level character in one blow 5% of the time.

Big, shiny, screw-you monsters will fare much better. Take a dopey hill giant: At 8 HD, this guy crits on a roll of 12-20 and he does 2d8 points of damage. Put another way: there’s a 45% chance he’s gonna vanquish a 2nd-level or less character each attack. Minimum. More likely, he’s going to inflict 9 points of damage per strike, and that’s going to put down all but name-level characters nearly 1 attack out of every 2.

Admittedly, this sounds pretty harsh. But remember: These examples above don’t factor in armour, which I’ve decided (as in Chimera) is “ablative.” This means that the armour reduces the damage inflicted. Using the S&W stats, the armour’s protective value equals either:

  • 9 minus the descending AC, or
  • Ascending AC minus 10

It’s the same value either way.

So let’s say that 4th-level fighter were fighting that hill giant. The giant’s AC (4 [15]) gives him 5 points of protection. The fighter crits 15% of the time; with a long sword and a 17 STR,  he inflicts 1d8+2 points per attack. That’s an average of 6.5, reduced to 1.5 because of the giant’s armour; at that rate, you’d need 6 crits to bring the 8 HD monster down.

Given that only 3 out of every 20 hits attacks would crit, it’s more likely that you’d whittle away the giant’s hit points first. But if there was a way to inflict a whopping 14 points of damage and you scored a crit, you could drop him in one shot.

Final Words

I think this addresses the holes in the system described last week. I still get one-shot kills and performance degradation, all using S&W’s existing stats. The crucial change here is re-defining what a critical hit does: Instead of doing extra damage or some specific and crippling strike, a crit simply converts what would be normal hit point attrition into an actual wound.

What I like most about it is that it scales well, but with strategic nuances that make it interesting. As PCs advance, they’ll crit more often, but so will the monsters they fight. Yet, given variations in damage determination, the debilitating effect of wounds that don’t drop opponents, and a few as-yet unrevealed bits of my revised S&W combat (hint: group initiative and to-hit target number), I think table-top fights will be exciting, with outcomes anticipated, but upsets possible.

So, is this an improvement?

  1. Hit Dice, mind you – not level. This creates some interesting outcomes for the Core S&W classes: Cleric and Fighter max out at the expected 9 HD, but Magic-users get 11 and Thieves get 10. At higher levels, then, clerics and fighters certainly have more hit points, but magic-users and thieves can stand more wounds. This is unexpected, but the end result is that magic-users and thieves could potentially suffer a higher wound penalty than clerics and fighters, and this fits in well with my class skill system (which will include magic-users rolling to cast spells in certain circumstances).
  2. The astute among you might ask: Can you inflict critical damage with a spell? The answer is yes, you can. I’ll cover that in a future post, as it requires explanation of my class skill system.
  3. Natural result on the d20 attack roll.

  1. Greg MacKenzie
    September 26th, 2011 at 12:04 | #1

    You’ve noticed some important things here which I find problematic in the game. I don’t like the progression of hit dies at all. In my way of thinking, ok granted my thinking is bent, The Fighter should always progress better and have more hit dies than the other characters at any level. This should translate into better attacks. Hit die is the root of the game in my way of thinking.

    I think the critical hit system your proposing will plug into the system fairly easily, and it interprets the idea of what a critical could be in a more meaningful way. You’ll need to address the healing of such critical wounds. There could be other effects as well, such as reduced ability to fight with shields or two handed weapons, reduced movement, and reduced carrying ability, penalties to spell casting…

    Another thought I’ve had is that the monsters which are man-like such as Kobolds and the like come off the losers with diddly little weapons that do squat for damage. Well, you’ll have to wait and see what I come up with but the field needs to be levelled a bit to make these adversaries more believable as worthy foes. I’ve been revising some house rules which are more weapon vs. weapon for man-like foes and the damage inflicted by character’s and monsters is based on the number of hit dies rather than weapon type. The fighting qualities of the Halberd for example are not at all reflected in the rules.


  2. Greg MacKenzie
    September 26th, 2011 at 14:53 | #2

    Another notion, part of the whole critical and hit point conundrum is that to have a measure of risk you have to have something worth losing. Hit points are the currency, typically, of this transaction. I wonder if it really matters if they are variable per hit die.

    The combat tables traditionally pit the hit die vs. armor class. One could liken this to the abiltiy to get past an armor using skill. Also partly implied by hit die vs. armor class is that the armor has some intrinsic value beyond your skill, a protection that under the existing system doesn’t usefully take away any damage.

    In the game as it stands the chance to hit the other guy improves by hit die and the contest between foes is resolved in the blow and counter blow until by attrition the die roll yields a winner. I wonder if any statistical analysis has ever been done?

    What isn’t in this is a direct contest opponent hit die vs. opponent hit die. So the critical you propose, is important if some of those strikes add to a debilitating effect upon the ability to attack rather than just adding to attrition.

  3. September 26th, 2011 at 21:44 | #3

    @Greg MacKenzie : Yeah, the max hit die thing is strange. The classes in S&W Complete have surprises, too: Assassin – 13 HD, Druid – 9 HD, Monk – 16 HD, Paladin – 9 HD, and Ranger – 10 HD (2 at 1st-level). Monk and ranger I could see, but you’re right–intuition suggests that fighter types would have more.

    But I’m planning on limiting max level to that of the class’ Prime Attribute, and this helps rationalise the HD such that members of “common” classes would have prime attributes in the average 9-12 range of the 3d6 roll. IOW, fighters are common – probably greater than 70% of all classes, let’s say. Of that 70% the max level will be 9th to 12th. Uncommon classes, like Monk, require more stringent prime scores (Monk is WIS 13+), so by default, max level is greater than the 9-12 average.

    Wound effects would be felt as movement and roll penalties (blanket -1/wound, just like in Chimera). This would effect attacks, spell casting, etc. plus it’s open enough for GMs to tinker with. Healing a wound requires you to heal the wound’s severity (e.g., a wound of sev 8 requires 8 points of healing). Curative methods can be applied to hit points OR wounds.

    The HD vs. HD point is interesting – never thought of that. But I take your meaning. I’ll post more about it this week, but I intend on making the to-hit number equal to the target’s movement rate (again, just like in Chimera). I think that it might also be cool for different classes to have other options/effects on a critical (e.g., a fighter could inflict a wound or disarm or push).

    Last bit – there’s still one issue, which is how do you damage or wound a target if their armour absorbs more damage than they can inflict (e.g., 1d4 dmg dagger vs. 6 points of plate mail). I have a tentative solution (Hint: Deimos won’t like it) ;)

  4. Greg MacKenzie
    September 27th, 2011 at 08:19 | #4

    I’ve re-worked the entire hit die table for the stuff I sent you in the 2d6 oriented PDF to give the fighter the edge on hit die. I’m restricting all classes to 10 levels. That fits my minimalist sensibility. So there are only 6 “levels” which I’m re-terming “classes” of spells in the scope of what I want. My project is more minimal and not very compliant with S&W, so I’m doing away with the Thief and other classes in favour of a general skill table based on attributes which can by used by any of the three base classes. I figure anyone can try to sneak.

    I’ve left the HD vs. Armor Class in place but how many times a Character or Monster attacks is based on the HD vs. HD ratio. Thats in the PDF too under Multiple Attacks. So if your opponent has less HD you have an advantage. This also allows you to attack multiple foes in adjacent squares. The table doesn’t let you go bananas.

    If your opponent is man-like, the weapon class used by each combatant determines who strikes first in a round, followed by DEX, followed by a precedence roll. A referee, the original term in the LBBs ;), will likely have to roll up some man-like monster DEX stats on the fly. I’m widening the man-like foes to include skeletons for example, which should make them a lot more interesting.

    There is a problem with the current weapon damage if you begin to consider armor as having a protective value worth 1 or more hit points. My solution: I’m relating damage to Hit Die as well so if you are a first level fighter “Hero” you have 4 HD you roll 4d6, but you only sum the highest pips of two of the dice. The value of an Armor Protection is the same as its class which in my interpretation ranges from 0-6, so you would subtract that from the sum of the 2d6, add your Strength bonus and apply that as damage. Using a second weapon such as a dagger allows you to roll an extra d6 for the damage roll, but you count only 2d6 towards damage. If you go that route though you drop your AC to the base value.

    I’m changing the effect of damage as well, when you reach 0 hit points, you check for a mortal wound, which is a saving throw vs. common hazard death. If you fail you drop on the spot and begin to die. If you pass the check roll you can still fight but must make a saving throw vs. common hazard death each time you are wounded. Those points don’t get counted. Again, if you fail at any point you drop and begin to die. Basically if you reach anywhere near 0 it’s time to exdigigate! ;)

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