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.
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