+Christian Gelacio had a good comment on my post on Naval Cannon. Good enough that I didn’t want to relegate the discussion to that post. So here’s my response in full. His comments are going to be in bold/purple. Mine will be in regular text and indented.

I do not believe it would be appropriate for smooth bore cannon to have a crit range. Because of the lack of stabilization of the cannon ball a single cannon rarely hits “the broad side of a barn.” Cannon are usually used en mass to guarantee hits. Targets are usually Fortifications, ships of the line, whole armies, etc.

I think you might be overestimating the inaccuracy of muskets and smoothbores, but even if I stipulate that you’re correct, the higher crit range represents (to me) the chance of the giant freakin’ cannonball hitting something important. That is, the higher crit range IS the higher damage you mention in your second point. More on that in a bit.

What I’d do for inherently inaccurate weaponry is a to-hit penalty. That way, you wind up with a lower chance to hit at all, but still the possibility of a more-damaging critical.

Continue reading “Naval Cannons in DnD – Responding to a comment”

I posted my prior article on firearms for D&D over on reddit, and a poster noted that while he thought this was all neat and stuff, he was much more likely to be interested in naval cannon.

That seems like a great idea, and I found a nice article online to base some initial stats from: Smooth Bore Cannon Ballistics.

The key data from that is the cross-section of cannon shot from 6-lbs to 32-lbs, which obviously includes shot weight, and also velocity. From that, it’s easy to convert to Kinetic Energy and Mass, which means a D&D damage conversion is somewhat trivial.

An a priori note – these are big, heavy projectiles. The critical range is going to be very large. If you get hit with one of these, it’s going to suck.

The Inputs

The primary inputs can be found in the article above. Taking those and just presenting the results, one gets the following table:

Shot Weight (lbs) Velocity (m/s) Dice Crit Range
1860 [3] 6 438 5d6+1 15-20
12 453 5d6+3 15-20
1862 [5] 18 524 6d6-1 15-20
24 524 6d6-1 14-20
32 381 6d6-2 14-20
32 442 6d6-1 14-20
32 518 6d6 14-20


Parting Shot

The table suggests that small cannon such as the 6-lbr will be in the 5d6 range, while cannon that tended to be used on other ships (12-32lb shot) cluster more or less around 6d6. The expanded crit range should take care of getting solidly thwacked by a 6″ steel projectile.
Note that this is based on a system that gave a .50 BMG 2d12, so it’s necessarily flat.
Overall, though, I don’t think it’s crazy-time. If you’re looking at a 6d6 or 8d6 fireball or lightning bolt, the cannon will straddle that well.
Also, the question arises, I’m sure, why the damages aren’t that far away from each other. Wouldn’t more differentiation be better? Well, again: flat scale. But even in GURPS, with the sqrt(KE) damage scale, relying on KE alone provides “only” a factor of 3 in scaling, and larger balls will tend to have slightly lower penetration (energy dispersed over a wider area), so a spread of 2x from the 6-lb to the most energetic 32-lb is all that’s going to be in it.
For simplicity, I might list three ranged of cannon. Small cannon are 5d6 or 3d10 with a crit range of 15-20; medium cannon are 4d8 with a crit range of 15-20, and large cannon are 6d6 with a crit range of 14-20.

Just for fun, I used the Damage = 4 * Log5(Kinetic Energy) conversion on a longer list of cartridges than I provided here.

As you can see, most weapons fit into a fairly small range of stats. The .22LR does about as much damage as a shortbow (between 1d6+3 and 1d6+4), where a 7.62 Battle Rifle is about 2d10, which converts to 1d10+5 or 1d10+6 – about as damaging as a longsword held in both hands by a ST 20 fighter.

I like using multiple dice because they both roll if you crit, which gives a lot of room for very serious wounds.

That’s the other thing that could potentially be done here, as well, using the principles from expanding the crit range for different armor types. Larger and more damaging projectiles could (should?) have a wider range where a hit is also a crit. I based this entirely off of the mass of the bullet, using a logarithmic scale. My first attempt gave 5/4 * log (Mass) for the width of the range (a .22LR was 2), which gave 19-20 for the anemic .22, and 17-20 for the mighty .50BMG. A 25% chance of a critical hit is pretty great, so I stopped there, though obviously it could be tweaked even more.


One late-breaking idea on the critical range: some of these cartridges/loads should potentially be able to rock the world of nearly anyone. I’ll suggest that for weapons with an inherently expanded crit range like above, that one divides it into segments, with each segment doing more damage.
So instead of a crit is roll the dice twice (2d8 becomes 4d8), you might say that if the crit range is 17-20 or better (so 12-20 to 17-20), then half the range gives double damage, while the other half gives triple or even quadruple.
So a .50BMG does 2d12 on a hit, 4d12 on a 17-18, and 8d12 on a 19-20. (Alternately, reserve quadruple damage for a natural 20). That would make the maximum damage from a 16″ Naval Gun 16d12, max damage 192 points, which can and should threaten just about anyone.

I’ve set myself the task of writing a few alternate injury/wounding systems for games I play.

I’ve got a good idea for one of them, but I’m struggling with a few things.

The first is that I cannot occupy my usual writing environs. I find it difficult to sit at my desk and write and type, because the blood drains to my injured foot and, well, hurts. Makes it hard to concentrate. I can somewhat avoid this by wearing the Cursed Boot of Confinement, but that still requires propping my leg up on the desk. Distracting.

The second issue is technical, in that I kinda know where I want to start, and where I want to wind up, but connecting those dots in a playable fashion is problematic. It’s the playable that’s the key, of course. I could write a great system that would adjudicate with multiple die rolls and table lookups, all implemented using a computer or spreadsheet. But that’s not my goal, even though it would be really cool.

So, I do a lot of thinking and jotting down stuff in my Notebook of Pretentiousness.

I think I know what I have to do next, actually. Just have to do it.

So, it’s two weeks post-op. The procedure apparently went as well as it could go, I guess – information hasn’t been terribly forthcoming. They put in five surgical stainless screws (the phrase “living tissue over metal endoskeleton?” Yeah, it’s come up.) to affix the broken pieces of the calcaneus (heel bone) back together.

Key questions I had sorta-answered today:

  • It will be another month before I am to start weight-bearing exercises, and I expect those to be light
  • Real activity must wait until three months post-op
  • Full remodeling can take as much as a year
  • I can expect to develop arthritis in the area in a bad way, likely leading to a bone fusion later in life. This cannot be good. 

A lot of orthopedics seems to be a bit of a bailing wire and duct tape approach – we’ll “fix” it now, but you’re going to have to come back for even more surgery later. Sorry about that. They’re very cagey about what activities I can do or not do, probably for liability reasons.

I ran into that when I blew out a few discs in my neck, too. Asking about martial arts after rehab was over, the answers were all wishy-washy. Look, just tell me the risks and percentages, and I’ll make the call. I get that.

So. Back to the heel.

The incision was revealed for the first time for me. I forgot to take a picture of it, and now it’s under steri-strips. But it’s wide. I mean like 1/4″ wide. I think they actually made a 3″ long, 1/4″ wide U-shaped incision and peeled back the skin, to give maximum access. There’s another smaller incision, this one much more precise, a bit farther away. I suspect that was just to put in one more screw.

The swelling is down, believe it or not, and now that I can access the foot directly, I can massage the not-cut-on bits to help move some of that dried blood out of there. The ability to rub your own feet? That’s a surprisingly important thing.

I’ve been given mobility exercises for the ankle, too. Up/down motions, a few times per day, as well as side to side and inside/outside circles. I should probably do them about three times per day, which I will do.

The Boot, The Boot, the Boot is on fire

They’ve put me in a “fracture boot” for the next month. As noted in a prior comment (perhaps on facebook), I thought before that surely nothing could be worse than the cast in term of comfort.

I was wrong.

This thing is awful.

Now, bear in mind, for its intended purpose, which is a walking boot, it’s probably the right thing. But also bear in mind that I’m not allowed to bear weight on my foot for another 1-2 months. The boot, in my case, has three design goals

  • Keep the foot at a right angle
  • Be removable to allow me to do my mobility exercises
  • Protect the heel from incidental contact
So basically, it’s a rigid deflector shield that needs to come on and off.
In exchange for these things, what are the issues?
  • It’s much, much larger than the cast it replaced. This doesn’t seem like much. Until you bump it into things because your foot is now the outer dimensions of a shoebox. Or you try and get into a car, and can’t maneuver the foot into the driver’s side.
  • It’s much heavier than the cast it replaced. This manifests in some subtle ways. When crutching, one has to be very conscious of where it is, or else it’ll bounce on the ground, upset your momentum, and throw you to the floor. When sleeping – or more properly, making a futile attempt at sleep, the vast weight and bulk of this thing is like always being put in a joint lock. It twists your knee either to the inside or outside, and it’s very difficult to get to sleep. When sleeping, if you shift, the inertia of this concrete block can cause some surprisingly painful yanks. Which of course, wakes you up.
  • It is surprisingly hard to adjust to fit. This thing is a monster, but that’s not all. Once you force your heel into the bottom of the thing, it’s a rather involved procedure to get it put back together. First you have to work (ow) to push your heel into the bottom of the boot. Then you fold up a few padded flaps in the toe. Then you put on the outer plastic shell – but careful! The lower part goes inside the strap, the upper goes outside, and then you reach down to secure the three velcro straps. Then you have to inflate the thing in four different tubes. 
Again, what do I need? I need protection, the correct angle, and the ability to remove it.
This is clearly a case of “we have a million of these boots, so we’re going to use them.”
So I’m going to put my cosplay skills to use. I will probably whip something up with Aquaplast, but I’ll want to find larger sheets than 9×12″ for my needs. I suspect two sheets of 12×24″ would be about right. 
I’ll cut top and bottom pieces using a paper blank modeled from my good leg, but mirrored. Then probably mold them over my body, and then attach some padding on the inside, and velcro straps from the outside. It’ll give me removability, keep the foot at 90 degrees, and with the padding, it’ll stand off the heel by the size of the pad, providing both rigid protection and some shock absorbing capability.
And since the boot I’m wearing is already putting my foot to sleep because it’s too tight on the arch . . . this can’t come too soon.
They, of course, wouldn’t approve for liability reasons. A pox on their house – I need to sleep, and the boot is ridiculously overdesigned for the purpose I need it for over the next 4-8 weeks. The splint will be lighter, more convenient, and serve the needs better.
I end with more pix of the foot.

So roughly this time yesterday I was waking up from surgery. So, in the spirit of nearly every movie made these days, we’ll do a flashback sequence.

This will have almost no RPG content.

So I drove myself over and showed up at 6am per instructions at the surgery center – not a hospital – and started in on the paperwork. And to pay the $700 that was my part of the facilities charge for the procedure. That’s not the physician’s time – that’s just the surgical theater, I think. I’d had less than 24 hours to set it all up, since my “let’s meet with the surgeon” appointment on Wednesday turned into “we need to get this done right now” pretty fast.

Forgive me if this jumps around. Pain meds on board.

Anyway, they brought me into the back, checked in my stuff, and I got into the standard surgical gown. I also got to tell the story about fifty times – I was awarded the “best story of the year” prize by voice vote by the assembled staff.

Pretty soon, it was time to start the IV. I’m a needle-phobe, so this was, ironically, going to be the most stressful part of the entire day for me. Thanks to a very, very timely tip by my cousin, I requested a surface anaesthetic – they gave me a tiny amount of lidocaine. So inserting the IV was simply a non-issue after that. That was great.

Then the anaesthesiologist came by (and I told the story again), and asked if I wanted  nerve block. Another needle (a 30-second injection), and he told me what it would do.

I started to refuse, or at least make noises like I was going to refuse. But his body language was funny.

“Your face is giving me a ‘my patient is being an idiot’ look. You really recommend this, don’t you?”

He’s probably not allowed to push it on me. The nurse was way more straight-up: “I’d definitely get one for what’s about to be done to you.”

OK, sold. He sticks the site – the outside of my left thigh – with a bit more lidocaine, and also gives me some sort of sedative through an IV push. I definitely get mellow, and the nerve block starts to take hold, I guess.

I say I guess, because the night before  I probably got only a few hours sleep. I was on the couch downstairs so I wouldn’t wake my family clomping around on crutches at 5:30am, nor have to navigate the stairs. The fracture boot the surgeon gave me that day as a temporary stand in for the second cast was worse in every possible way than the fiberglass.

It’s heavier. More bulky by a huge degree. It didn’t fit right, and would push up against my injury – causing pretty active pain – in a way that the cast simply did not.

So I was exhausted and on some sort of sedative. And then . . .

. . . I woke up in recovery. I don’t know if that was the plan (the relaxant was really to put me out) or just happenstance. But the next thing I knew, I was done. New cast on my foot wrapped over a surgical dressing. I did get to see some post-operative X-rays. I am the proud owner of 5 surgical screws, each of which go pretty much all the way through my calcaneus (heel). Eyeballing it, the doctor did a very nice job realigning the shattered bones of my left heel.

Anyway, my wife and daughter showed up at that time, we got the IV out, got me dressed, and then home to the couch. I’m here for about 48 hours with the foot elevated, no exceptions.

I was expecting the nerve block to wear off at about 7pm last night, but here we are 24 hours later and I still can’t wiggle or feel my toes.

Again: five screws in my foot for the full-on carpentry experience. I’m happy the block lasted this long – I’m told 12-36 hours is normal. Starting to get some tingling in my heel as I write this, so perhaps I’ll be getting some sensation back soon.

Otherwise, things are OK. I can still crutch around, and my collection of electronics allows me to do plenty of computing-related stuff, including keeping in vague contact with work.

So, that’s where we are.

Kidding aside, looks like my calcaneous fracture is worse than I thought. Broken in many places:

Surgeon: Your calcaneous basically exploded.

Me: There was a lot of that going on that day.

So: surgery tomorrow morning, because every day that goes by is another day where instead of a 3″ incision, they have to make it twice the size.

I expect that the first few days will be rough, and I’ll be confined to the downstairs couch with my foot elevated. And no ibuprophen or other NSAIDs, because +Peter V. Dell’Orto was right about recent research showing NSAIDs retard the bone healing process.

Oh, and for the next 24 hours, I’m in a ‘fracture boot,’ I did not think anything could be more awkward and annoying than the fiberglass cast.

I was wrong.

So: farewell for a week. Game on.

Another throwback while I edit 90 minutes of video from my daughter’s musical peformance last weekend and ensure I meet my Violent Resolution commits.

Today’s throwback is a series of posts that deal with the impaling damage type.

The first is from Jan 2013, basically within a month of starting the blog, where I complain about the impaling damage type in GURPS.

The second is a look comparing the impaling and piercing damage types.

Finally, something I’d worked out as part of an article that wound up being an interesting idea, but too fiddly to try and try for publishing. Part of an article that started life as The Cutting Edge, putting wound modifiers and penetration modifiers on an adjustable scale.

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).

Called Shots

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.

Run Away

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.

Finish Him

A system of injury, then, will have certain features. Most of these are obvious.

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!

Image Stolen from Trovare de Spada

GURPS Day postponed to later in the week for me. But instead, I give you four interesting articles about how to stab people with swords, courtesy of linkage to Trovare de Spada

Dubious Quick Kill – Part One

Dubious Quick Kill – Part Two

Dubious Quick Kill – Part Three

Dubious Quick Kill – Part Four

These make for interesting reads thus far. Check ’em out.