The Violent Revolution continues!
Perhaps even more important to how a roleplaying game resolves whether or not a fighter strikes home at his foe is how his opponent reacts when struck.
I’ve been reading +Jon Peterson‘s “Playing at the World” recently, a densely packed and quite informative history of games, gaming, and (most specifically) Dungeons and Dragons. In it, he notes carefully the evolution of wargames from “one hit and you’re out” to the concept of hit points, partial damage, and other devices and mechanics that enhance the longevity of your hero and by doing so, promote drama.
I was going to make a joke here along the lines of “unless you’re a 1st-level Magic-User, then you’re screwed. Sorry.” However, looking at the more-pure spell-slinging classes in D&D5, the Sorcerer and the Wizard, while they both start with 1d6 base HP, the availability and free use of 0-level cantrips make this much, much less true. “Back in my day,” I remember that you were lucky to be swinging for 1d6 or 1d4 HP – usually with a staff or dagger – as a Magic-User. Now, you can do anywhere from 1d6 to 2d6 or 1d12 every round with a cantrip. You may only know a couple of them, but they can be used freely and often from the “back row,” with a range that can be quite long. Fire Bolt is 1d10 out to 120 feet, for example. And Blade Ward, which halves (confers resistance) mundane physical damage, is also a 0-level cantrip, though it’s one-round duration limits its utility at effectively doubling the caster’s HP. Alas, one can’t pick on the Magic-Users anymore.
He uses a useful taxonomy for this process that I’m going to steal: after accuracy, a target of a violent attack may invoke several types of life-extending mechanics, including avoidance, mitigation, and endurance. I paralleled this in a previous column, dealing with Action, Opposition, and Effect to some degree, but I read Peterson’s structure a few days after finishing that up.
In any case, character longevity and persistence in a dramatic fight – not just if a character can be incapacitated, but how, and perhaps as importantly, how suddenly – is a huge contributor to how the stories unfold. It can drive tactics, risk decisions, and ultimately how enjoyable a game experience can be – at least as far as the fighty bits go.
All Wounds are Not Created Equal
Wounding systems in different games usefully make their wounding and injury systems a jambalaya of different concepts – it’s difficult to make a breakdown of them that is both comprehensively exhaustive and mutually exclusive. The exhaustive part is fine, but when both of the more strongly narrative systems (Fate and Night’s Black Agents) take quantitative damage and then blend together a narrative descriptor with a wound status level and somewhat condition-based wound effects list, it’s easy to throw your hands up and despair of the entire thing.
Instead of setting out categories at the outset, we’ll go through the five games used as examples, pick out features of note, and see about categorization at the end.
Savage Worlds – Up, Down, or Out
One of the newer games on the block, perhaps ironically, perhaps not, is the closest of the five systems to an old-school wargame feel in how its injury system is described.
In keeping with its mission of providing a streamlined roleplaying experience for any genre, the wound system is streamlined as well. Characters come in two types, Wild Cards are the heroes, and Extras are the mooks. You’re either one or the other. That will be important in a moment.
The Benny Economy
One key feature of the Savage Worlds game mechanics that cannot be underestimated is the availability and usage of “Bennies,” which are tokens for the ability to alter die rolls that are available in a certain quantity. While characters start with 3 Bennies, the rate of their acquisition and spend is quite genre dependent, and of course subject to Rule Zero – the GM will hand out as many Bennies as she darn well pleases. They’re a type of metagame influence, and they are very important to how the game plays out. Some of the more severe consequences of being struck can be either avoided or dampened with the expenditure of Bennies, so their care and feeding is an important strategy.
Avoidance, Mitigation, Endurance
Avoidance of a blow is mostly a result of higher target numbers. Not too high, though; from the best to the worst (d4 through d12) the target number for hitting will vary from 4 to 8, while the presence of the Wild Die for Wild Cards means even a d4 gives 19% chance to hit (and 4% for a Raise), while d12 yields 50% hits and 11% with one Raise (which I only mention because a Raise gives another d6 for damage, which can also explode).
This column is about injury, so we’re going to assume a hit. That brings us to a damage roll, which is the total of (usually) two dice in melee (the Strength trait plus another die given by the weapon), against a target number equal to the victim’s Toughness (2+Half of Vitality). This sets the target number, but lacking armor, the same kind of probabilities can apply. Meeting the Toughness leaves the victim “Shaken,” while each Raise inflicts a wound. If the Damage roll is lower than Toughness, there is no effect. Armor adds directly to Toughness – for calibration, a mail hauberk is +2, while a Kevlar vest is +4 vs. bullets.
As for Endurance, this depends on if you’re an Extra or a Wild Card. As noted in the title, Savage Worlds combatants are up, down, or out. Mostly. If you’re an Extra, you can recover from being Shaken, but once you take a wound you’re out of the fight, incapacitated (might be dead, might be fear, might be KO’d – in any case, you’re done).
Savage Worlds has two explicit mitigation mechanisms – the concept of “soaking” damage, as well as negating a Shaken status. A Soak roll must be invoked by spending a Benny in the case where you’re about to take wounds that you’d rather not. Each success and raise removes a potential wound – so if you roll a success and three Raises, you can soak four wounds. If you remove all the wounds, you’re not Shaken by that particular blow, either.
Shaken and Stirred – Non-Crippling Wound Effects
Starting with what seems like it should be the more serious of the two statuses: wounds. Each wound inflicts a -1 penalty to your Pace or anything that counts as a trait test. If you happen to take fatigue damage for something, that can stack penalties (but two fatigues and two wounds doesn’t push you to “out,” it’s just -4 total penalties to trait tests). That trait penalty is pretty much the sum total of the impact of being wounded, as befitting the “up, down, or out” philosophy. If you’re a Wild Card, you are out when you take your fourth wound. And when you’re out, you roll on an injury table, which can slap you with an ignoble death, or result in some other dramatic consequence.
Being down, however, is largely a result of the Shaken result, which on the face of it is quite nasty. You may only take free actions, including moving up to your Pace. Free actions include a bunch of things, but do not include action that requires a die roll – except for a Spirit roll to shake off the effects of Shaken. When you’re Shaken, you’re effectively in the “down” part of “up, down, or out,” though you may well be physically standing up, and you can move. The rules explicitly say that you’re not stunned, but you are momentarily distracted at the very least.
The Spirit roll, if failed, means you’re still Shaken. If you succeed, you use up your turn but are no longer Shaken, while a Raise allows you to instantly act normally. You can also spend a Benny at any time to remove the Shaken status – mostly players try to do this after they make the Spirit roll to recover, but there are times (such as if you’re already Shaken and don’t want a hit to result in an extra Wound) that you’ll do this before you get the chance to shed the Shaken status by rolling a Raise on the Spirit roll.
A recent rules update, I believe, has altered this a bit. You make the Spirit roll at the start of your turn, and if you make it, you may act normally. This means a Raise is no longer required to act on your own turn, merely a success.
Note though that damage rolls, especially if the hit roll scores a Raise, can be pretty high. A strong fighter wielding a good weapon (d8 for both) and hitting with a Raise can one-shot (deal four or more wounds in one blow) an unarmored person (Toughness 5) about one time in six . . . assuming you don’t have Bennies left to Soak the roll! An Extra, rather than a Wild Card, only requires a single Wound to take out of the fight – a Success and a single Raise. Against an average unarmored guy (Toughness 5) he’ll one shot him about 55% of the time.
Dungeons and Dragons 5e
As the market leader and pretty much the industry-defining product (the trope-namer, if you will), it would have made a lot of sense to start here. However, the Fifth Edition of D&D has some four decades or so of distance from CHAINMAIL and the wargames from which it sprung, and at this point, Savage Worlds’ damage and injury system is the closest to those wargaming roots of the games detailed here. So I started there, but that only means that in this case, D&D comes second.
So, as the progenitor of most RPGs, the mechanic by now defines the trope. Roll to hit, exceed the foe’s Armor Class, and at that point, roll damage.
Avoidance, Mitigation, and Endurance
Once you get hit, avoiding damage just isn’t in it for D&D in melee combat – avoidance for melee is in the hands of your Armor Class. That brings you right to mitigation, the ability to take some damage and make it not-as-bad.
|Oooo. Failed a Saving Throw|
For spells, this takes the form of the Saving Throw. For melee, it takes the form of Damage Resistance, which halves damage from certain types (or all types, depending on the nature of the resistance) of attacks. While “always-on” resistance is somewhat rare, as noted above, “Blade Ward,” a cantrip available to both Sorcerers and Wizards, can grant temporary resistance to mundane damage types (bludgeoning, slashing, piercing) if you can plan ahead by a round. Pathfinder/D&D 3.5 has Damage Reduction, which functions as a direct subtraction from certain types of physical/mundane damage, much like GURPS’ Damage Resistance subtracts directly from rolled damage.
That means that nearly all of D&D5’s injury mechanics lie in the foe’s ability to act like a big ol’ sack of Hit Points – a strictly ablative injury model. A 4th Level Fighter with STR 18 will roll 1d8+4 damage with a longsword held in one hand (1d10+4 with two hands) with a successful attack. dealing 5-13 HP per blow. An equal fighter will likely have on the order of 40 HP, plus Second Wind and any healing buffs (potions or friendly powers) that can be brought to bear. High-level spellcasters with Fire Bolt, again a cantrip, can hit for 4d10 plus potentially some stat bonuses every round from 120 feet out.
Wound Effects – Resource Management
By and large, if your character is hit by a mundane attack (and many magical attacks), if you have more than 0 HP remaining, you’re fully capable of acting exactly as if you were fully hale and robust. Granted, your personal Doomsday Clock is that much closer to midnight, but lacking specific special effects (as with a Sleep spell, or Hold Person, or a grapple) you’re good to go, cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war.
|Not at 0 HP yet. I’m good to go.|
Ultimately, the character’s HP are a resource to be managed as a key part of the game, especially since many HP can be recovered (if not all of them) if the GM gives you time to take short and long rests.
Characters such as magic-users have relatively few HP (and can thus be felled even at high level by relatively few successful blows), but make up for that lack with fairly spectacular offensive power. The more melee-intensive characters have more HP – fighter-types usually have d10 or (for Barbarians) d12 for hit dice, and will double down on that with high CON, which gives a bonus to HP each level. With STR placed first and CON second, winding up with 150 HP by Level 15 isn’t out of the question, allowing absorbing quite a few blows.
The tactics this can engender can be a bit odd. The fighters, being huge sacks of HP, will often serve as a meat wall whose main job is to prevent monsters from physically accosting the real damage-dealers, the spellcasters. Some of the offensive capabilities of Rangers and Thieves are nothing to be messed with, either.
It’s not odd, of course, that the fighters, having the most HP, serve as shields or barriers to the more fragile types. That’s completely in-mission, and as an example, the Paladin’s Protection fighting style invokes the ability to give disadvantage to others’ attacks on an adjacent friend. What’s odd is that the damage output by a fighter makes it such that frequently, of all the guys you want attacking you, the fighter is highest on the list. I like playing plain-vanilla fighters, but when I made Rul Scararm in 5e, converted over from Swords and Wizardry, he wound up easily better with a bow in both accuracy and damage than with a sword (though his equipment helps there). My preference, and it is a preference, is to have the feel of a fighter being that you do not want to be standing next to a fighter when he’s hostile. Ever. Standing next two a 5e fighter is more like being next to a sand-blaster than a claymore mine. You’re going to be ground down over time.
Critical Hits and Instant Incapacitation
Most critical hits double the damage dice rolled, so with a mundane longsword, you’re looking at 2d8+4 or so for damage on a critical; nothing to write home about when faced with a serious adversary. However, an alternate rule in the Dungeon Master’s Guide provides some hope: if you can do more than the foe’s Max HP/2 in a single blow, he must make a DC 15 CON save or else roll on a table that tends to end badly for him – drop instantly to 0 HP (maybe you’re stable, maybe not), or other nasty things. Note again, most fighters will not be able to do this on a foe with more than about 50 HP.
But by and large, you’re looking at beating down the other guy’s HP before he beats down yours. The characters most able to do this tend to not be fighters, though fighters can take a beating better than most.
Another game that uses HP ablation to represent the ability to soak up injury, but as far as that is similar to D&D and other games with a numerical quantity that talks to (Peterson’s) endurance, the differences can be very stark.
Firstly, for normal humans, HP tend to be in the 10-25 range, as they’re typically set equal to a character’s ST rating (10 for Joe Average; human max is probably in the 20-25 range, but that can get odd), and the recommendation for how many extra HP beyond that you can buy ranges by genre from “fugeddaboudit” to “mounds and heaps of ‘em.” But on the order of 30% more than your character’s ST won’t break much. So a fighter-type might be sporting 14-18 HP.
But a swung weapon, say, a two-handed longsword (a bastard sword in GURPS and other lingo) with a character of ST 14 may well do 2d+2 damage (and all dice in GURPS are d6). Two successful blows and even a mighty-thewed warrior is looking at unconsciousness.
Avoidance, Mitigation, Endurance
More than most games, GURPS is about not taking damage in the first place. Avoidance is accomplished by active defense rolls: dodge, parry (with a weapon), and block (with a shield or cloak). Giving ground one yard at a time or giving up your attacks can boost this ability; so can using a larger shield or some kinds of weapon (staff is the big one here).
Mitigation of damage even on a successful hit is accomplished by wearing armor. Armor makes you no harder to hit (in GURPS Fourth Edition; prior editions sported “passive defense” of often very, very high utility), but instead reduces the severity of a blow by subtracting from rolled damage 1:1. If a ST 12 warrior swinging a mace with one hand does 1d+5 crushing damage, a mail shirt with Damage Resistance (DR) 4 will make that 1d+1. A DR 9 heavy breastplate (you’ll have to go to Low-Tech for that one) might set you back thousands of dollars (4x your starting wealth for a typical fantasy game for just torso protection), but it will rarely allow more than a point or two (if any) damage through.
|The key is don’t get hit in the first place . . .|
Your endurance in GURPS is, frankly, limited once you start taking wounds. For one, taking injury gives you a temporary shock penalty (only one second, and only to attack rolls, not defenses). Dropping to fewer than ⅓ your HP has significant effects. And you just don’t have that many HP relative to weapon damage, especially when you can get critical hits delivering double or triple damage, or can start stacking awesome Advantages like Weapon Master which will take an already-impressive weapon swung by an already cinematically awesome character and significantly increase damage.
A Dungeon Fantasy Knight could notionally start the game at ST20; ST 18 for 3d swing damage is even more easily in reach. Stack on a hard-hitting weapon like a two-handed sword and the +2 per die damage from Weapon Master (a Knight’s staple advantage) and you’re looking at 3d+9 cut per hit. Against an unarmored person, the x1.5 multiplier on cut damage means you’re looking at a minimum of 18 points, and as much as about 40. That’s anywhere from “one shot and you’re KO’d and bleeding to death” to “I just cut you in two, and your little dog, too. And your neighbor and his dog.”
However, there exists in GURPS a pretty sure way to fight like D&D fighters – long bouts of fairly non-lethal combat followed by instant death: Drop 40-50 points or so into Health (HT). Once you drop to 0 HP or lower, you must make a HT roll each round (each second!) or go unconscious. Passing multiples of -HP forces a death check, again a HT roll. But the odds of surviving those rolls are something like 90% rolling against a 14 on 3d6. You can more or less fight down to instant death at -5xHP (no rolls allowed on that one). Still, at 30 points of injury per hit, above, a 10 HP average guy will still be auto-killed in two solid hits. An unarmored mook, because injury multipliers happen after DR is accounted for.
Wound Effects – Crippling Injury and Key Locations
While you can always treat your foes as a giant bag of hit points by swinging away at the torso, GURPS supports increased wounding effects through tactical choices and combat options. Certain body parts, especially the limbs, can be crippled by exceeding a HP threshold in one blow (often HP/2 for major limbs, HP/4 for hands and feet). A crippled foot means you fall down. You can’t swing a sword or hold anything with a crippled arm or hand. And any crippling injury means you roll to see if you’re knocked down or stunned.
And both Knockdown and Stun are bad juju. Penalties for attack and defense are large (-4 to attack, -3 on defense) when prone. If stunned, you’re at -4 to defend, and can’t attack or retreat. This is basically disaster – it allows your foe to deliver huge attacks without fear of reprisals. GURPS embraces the death spiral like (spoiler alert!) Romeo and Juliet in Act 5, Scene 3.
In addition to crippling effects and knockdown and stun, certain locations like the Vitals (in the chest), Skull (and the ever-popular eye), and the neck have additional behind-armor injury multipliers, so if you can reach that creamy center, damage can increase, replacing (not stacking with) the usual wounding modifiers with x2 (cuts to the neck), x3 (stabs to the vitals), or even x4 (headshot!).
One-and-done is a real thing in GURPS, which is why defenses and armor (Avoidance and Mitigation) are very important. Endurance can be key too, since crippling thresholds are set as fractions of total HP, but your best bet is to not get hit, or have so much armor that you don’t care.
Night’s Black Agents
A strongly narrative game, Night’s Black Agents also uses an ablative model for injury and death. Every character has a Health score, and general faceless, non-combatant civilians have Health 2, a mook terrorist or militia might be Health 4, police and quasi-military forces Health 6, First-World soldiers Health 7, and Special Ops and Bodyguards will start at Health 8. Starting PCs get Health 4 for free, and have generous point assignments for General abilities (52 points that might be spent on Health).
So Health will usually range from 4 through 12 for PCs and serious foes. So long as you have Health greater than 0, you may act freely, much like in D&D. While a numerical health scale is provided, there are really three conditions of note: Hurt is Health 0 down to -5, while Seriously Wounded is -6 through -11. At -12 or lower, you’re Dead. Any Health of 0 or lower
Damage can be highly compressed in Night’s Black Agents: 1d6 is rolled for just about everything, with modifiers from -2 to +2 for the severity of the instrument (-2 for unarmed combat, +2 for a .50 BMG).
The other way to get extra damage is by using the Called Shots rule, where you can specify a hit location, which increases its target threshold by 1 to 4 points, in exchange for +2 or +3 to damage.
In keeping with the narrative bent of the game, the exact nature of the attack is not terribly specific or, indeed, important. Grappling attacks do the same amount and kind of Health reduction as striking.
When you are Hurt, target numbers for actions increase by 1, you must make a Consciousness roll when you’re first Hurt, and another if you spend any Investigative points. This is not considered a life-threatening condition – just seriously in some pain and possibly demoralized a bit.
When you’re Seriously Wounded, though, you’re out of the fight, consciousness roll failed or no. You lose more Health every hour unless you’re stabilized by someone with the Medic skill, and you must spend a day in a hospital or other healthcare facility for each point you went negative. There’s an optional rule to treat all gunshot wounds as being Seriously Wounded (if you have Health 4 and are shot for 5 points, bringing you to 0 or below, you take an instant extra +6 damage to make you Seriously Wounded instead).
Avoidance, Mitigation, Endurance
Attack rolls are against a target number; you’re assumed to be fighting, dodging, and otherwise do unto others before they do unto you without having to say so explicitly. However, there are some options to increase that target number. This includes having a high Athletics rating (increases your target number from 3 to 4), seeking full or partial cover, attacking from range, and taking Evasive action (each two points you spend increases your own target threshold by one and your foe’s by two).
Mitigating damage is largely done with armor, which directly reduces damage. Depending on the armor type, this can be from 1 to 3 points, though it’s often less effective against cutting and stabbing than bullets. Modern military body armor with its three points of protection from bullets and explosives is considered “very effective” in NBA. As most guns do 1d6 or 1d6+1, about half the time you’ll take no damage when wearing armor worth 3 points.
As mentioned in the intro, endurance is provided by your Health pool, and is a narrative measure of both injury tolerance and grit. It can be assumed that attacks that do not reduce your Health to 0 or lower are scary, loud, demoralizing . . . but ultimately did not do anything major to you. Even Hurt results are not life threatening, Consciousness roll or no. That being said, humans – even skilled ones – will usually range from Health 4 to Health 8, which means that if they’re not armored, they’ll be checking for consciousness in a hit or two, four will threaten incapacitation, and five or six hits will kill just about anything. Anything human, that is.
The final game system dealt with here is Fate. When an attack does more “shifts” in its execution than the defender rolls to counter it, the residual shifts must be dealt with by the character. This occurs in basically two ways. Stress and Consequences.
Stress is temporary wind, exhaustion, or even loss of initiative and confidence. Characters will usually have two Stress boxes, but higher levels of the Physique attribute can double this to four. Stress resets at the end of each fight or other dramatic partition in the game, with no lasting effects. The boxes are not cumulative – two boxes means you can absorb a 1-shift and a 2-shift hit; four means you can absorb each of 1, 2, 3, and 4 shift. If you take a 2-shift hit and your 2-shift box is already checked, you need to use a higher one, or (literally) suffer the consequences.
Consequences, on the other hand, add Aspects to your character sheet. Potentially temporary, but an Aspect exists to be invoked, and the foe that puts it there gets a freebie. An invocation of an aspect adds +2 to a roll, and being two shifts up on your foe is, mathematically, a pretty devastating advantage when fighting (8dF has a very strong zero tendency). If your Physique is +5 or better, you get an extra “Mild” (2-point) Physical-only Consequence slot; if your Will is +5 or better, you get an extra Mild Mental-only slot. Otherwise, you have a single 2-point, 4-point, and 6-point slot. There’s also a single 8-point extreme consequence, which if invoked replaces, permanently, an existing Aspect on your character sheet with something reflecting the nature and severity of the hit.
Basically, the combination of Stress and Consequences are used to “absorb” damage in a fight. If you’re hit for three shifts, and you don’t have any extra boxes, you will probably choose to take a 2-point consequence and a 1-point Stress (because there’s no such thing as a 1-point consequence, so if you have to use a 2-point consequence, you might as well only use your 1-point Stress box). If you have to take a six-point blow and you have 4 stress boxes, you can check off the 4-point box if it’s available, leaving a 2-point consequence . . . again, if you haven’t checked it already. You may only check off one stress and one consequence per hit.
If you can’t absorb all of the Stress or Consequences from a hit – you’re “Taken Out” of the fight. This means that the foe gets to narrate the result, up to and including violent death.
Avoidance, Mitigation, Endurance
Avoidance is usually accomplished in Fate through defensive action. The defender gets to roll their 4dF, spend any Fate points to invoke relevant Aspects (including a foe’s Consequence if you’ve hit him before), and if you win, you either avoid the blow or if you defend really well, you might inflict hits on your foe instead (or claim a boost).
Armor and weapons in Fate can be a bit hand-waved, in that an unarmed blow can be, if you don’t invoke certain rules for Extras, could be the same as a bullet from a Really Big Gun. If the campaign calls for it, Weapons can add shifts of damage on a successful hit, while armor negates them. This is an optional rule, though, and the categories of injury are very broad – using divisions like Night’s Black Agents: unarmed might be -1 or -2 shifts for damage, while a huge swung polearm or .50-caliber bullet might be +4 or something (that’s just me winging it; the real rules are found on p. 277 under extras).
Fate has endurance be measured in how many combinations of Stress and Consequences you can take before the next hit overwhelms your remaining capacity to absorb them. This is going to vary a lot based on the combatants involved. Even if you “only” have 2 Stress boxes and the usual 2, 4, 6, and single 8-point Consequence (though I might not let that one be invoked for unimportant characters), if you have a skilled fighter against a mook, many-shift hits can be delivered regularly, but with 8dF on the table, the dice will be +/-2 about 70% of the time. In any case, unless mitigation methods are in place, the number of hits you can take is limited to the total number of Stress/Consequence boxes you have on the high end.
One option that’s explicitly mentioned in the Fate Core rules is that if you simply don’t want to risk taking another hit, you can give up, and Concede the Conflict.
While other games certainly let you give up, Fate provides mechanical support for doing so. You get a Fate Point for conceding, plus an additional one per consequence suffered during the fight, and you get to avoid the worst parts of what might have happened to you otherwise. So if you are battling a fierce foe, and concede, you might agree with the GM that you’re knocked out and ignored, instead of messily killed and eaten.
You need a way of quantifying the severity of an incoming successful blow. Most games do this with a damage roll (D&D, GURPS, Night’s Black Agents, and Savage Worlds), but not all of the have this explicitly (Fate with the contest of attack and defense rolls; some GURPS contests likewise use margin of victory).
Secondly, this wound will need, somehow, to be scaled to the adversary in some way. D&D actually scales the adversary up (more HP), as do many systems with ablative hit points. If you take a very, very large creature, as an example, in D&D and to a lesser extent in GURPS you might simply have a giant pool of Hit Points. Savage Worlds probably would give such creatures very high Toughness (hard to get in a blow strong enough to render a creature like that Shaken or Wounded). Where humanoids fight other humanoids, this can be deprecated, but it’s a good idea to think about how it’s done.
Next comes the effects of one wound or many. Depending on what is being modeled, there might be no lasting consequences until a threshold is passed (D&D and NBA, if you have more than 0 HP or Health; GURPS has no lasting consequences at ⅓ of starting HP and higher). Fate has its Stress tracks for small, forgettable, temporary inconvenience. The effect could also be determined by comparing a quantitative damage and robustness number, and once that is determined, applying conditions or status levels. So a small damage and large robustness might be a no-effect result, and a foe could take an infinite number of these. A single damage/robustness ratio that is of sufficient magnitude might have some instantly debilitating effects. GURPS does this with Major Wounds and crippling hits.
Even if there are no lasting effects, there can certainly be temporary ones. Does a hit cause attack or defensive loss of capability (penalizing hit rolls due to “shock” in GURPS), or partial loss of agency (the Shaken result in Savage Worlds)?
This can be expressed by conditional statements as easily (and dramatically) as it can by a declining Hit Point total, and in many cases is more visceral than saying “My character has 5 HP left.”
Ultimately in the combat game, the point of fighting is to incapacitate your foe (or otherwise make him impotent). Injury is how one keeps score. Whether this is keeping track of wound status or a HP total, as long as the GM and players can understand what the effects are, the game can be made fun.
Make no mistake, though – injury mechanics drive tactics and decision-making! The mechanical weight given to Conceding a Conflict in Fate is likely to lead to fewer “fight to the last man living” scenarios. The lack of any real effects of HP loss up to hitting 0 HP in NBA an D&D drives much different behavior than taking a similar fraction of HP in GURPS, because of the short-term effects of being hit (you may or may not be stunned, your next-round attacks are penalized, limb may be crippled, or weapons may be dropped, as examples). The key currency in Fate, Night’s Black Agents, and Savage Worlds for both inflicting and avoiding injury effects is the expenditure of metagame tokens (Fate points, General skill points, or Bennies).
How you play is defined by how you lose in these cases, and result in a very different feel for each game, even when they borrow some of the same concepts!