Blog Post: Combat… Damage and Critical Strikes… Help!?!

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Ok, so with the help of Chuck and Mike, I feel a bit better about a few things. But when I was trying to write up a concise summary of the combat rules last night, I ran into a few snags.

Like was documented in Starting Over… and Starting Over… Further tweaks, the basic mechanic for the MARPG revolves around these points for skill, characteristic, and combat resolution checks…

The idea is to roll on 2d10 and get a number below the designated target, which is always the characteristic or derived characteristic value involved, added to any ranks in an applicable skill, and modified by environmental or opposition effects. Sounds tough, but it boils down to:

[Characteristic or Derived Characteristic value] + [Ranks from applicable Skill] +/- [Modifiers]

For example, if we have our Tracker with a Mind characteristic of 5 and a Tracking skill at 3 ranks, by default any “tracking” he tries to do will have a target number of 8. If the rain washes away the tracks, the GM may make things more difficult (-2). Or if there’s a layer of snow that the quarry has walked through, the GM may make things easier (+2). And if the quarry is smart enough to try and cover her own tracks, she can roll against her own Tracking skill to do so. Success on her part would make things more difficult for the Tracker, and failure would make things easier.

If the character has no applicable skill, the target is based solely on the characteristic value and any modifiers from the GM or any opposition.

Success or failure is determined by comparing the die roll (2d10) to the target number. Roll the target number or less and you succeed. Roll above and you fail. The Quality of Success or Failure (QoS or QoF) can then be used, as in the quarry’s case, to make an opponent’s task easier or more difficult.

Great, so that handles the skill or characteristic action resolution. Not too tough. Pretty consistent even.

Now we apply it to combat.

As its bare essentials, combat boils down to one opponent trying to do damage to another. The damage may be direct, as with a sword in his hand, or indirect, as in a trap laid for a pursuer.

So let’s say our Tracker has caught his quarry, a female thief who took something from his employer. She is wearing leather armor and carrying a short sword. The Tracker is wearing chain mail and carrying a longsword. (Let’s forget for a moment that most trackers would probably wear less noisy armor while stalking prey.)

Each character has Hit Points (HP) like in most other systems. In MARPG, HP is equal to the character’s Body characteristic value times 4. So since each of our characters has a Body of 5, each has 20 HP.

Let’s talk about armor and weapons for a moment.

  • Armor has two main values (beyond weight). First is the number of Armor Points (AP) it has, This is equivalent to the number of HP a character has. Second is the Absorption Rate (AR), which notes how much damage the armor can take to itself in a single blow before the strike cuts through the armor to the character’s HP. For instance, a suit of Chain mail has an AR of 6 and an AP of 48. Soft leather armor has an AR of 3 and an AP of 24.
  • Weapons also two main values beyond weight. First is the Strength (Body) needed to wield the weapon. Second is the Damage Potential (DP) of the weapon. For example, a long sword has a Strength to Wield (StW) of 6 and a DP of 8. A knife only has a StW of 1 and a DP of 6. A short sword has a StW of 3 and a DP of 7. (Values for StW and DP may change.) A character with a lower Body score than needed to wield a particular weapon will drop the DP of the weapon an equal amount.

With these ideas, let’s look at our Tracker and his Quarry. Both have a Body characteristic of 5. The Tracker is wielding a long sword (StW 6) so the DP in his hands will go down by 1 for the weapon and be 7. On the flip side, if the woman he’s tracking (Body 5) is wielding a short sword (StW 3) and has no issues getting the max damage for the weapon.

Now let’s talk about how armor affects each character.

  • Each character has a “passive defense” (PD) as a derived characteristic value equal to the total of their Body + the AR of any armor they’re wearing divided by 2. So the formula is (Body + Armor’s AR)/2. If the character isn’t wearing armor, their PD is equal to half their Body characteristic value (rounded up). PD is similar to the concept of an Armor Class (AC) in other systems.

So with that in mind, our Tracker has a PD of (Body 5 + Chain AR 6) / 2 = 5.5. We’ll round it up to 6. His Quarry has a PD of (Body 5 + Leather AR 3) / 2 = 4. The Tracker’s armor will obviously absorb a bit more damage than our thief.

Really we’ve only added a few new ideas to the basics we discussed earlier in the post.

Our Tracker now looks like this:


  • Characteristics: Body (5), Mind (5), Soul (6) (we’ll talk about these in another post)
  • Derived Characteristics: HP (20), PD (6)
  • Skills: Swords (Body) (4 ranks) (default target 9), Tracking (Mind) (3 ranks) (default target 8 )
  • Items: Chain Mail (AR 6, AP 48), Long Sword (DP 7)

And our Quarry (thief) looks like this:


  • Characteristics: Body (5), Mind (6), Soul (5) (we’ll talk about these in another post)
  • Derived Characteristics: HP (20), PD (4)
  • Skills: Swords (Body) (6 ranks) (default target 11), Tracking (Mind) (2 ranks) (default target 7)
  • Items: Leather Armor (AR 3, AP 24), Short Sword (DP 7)

(Acronym reminder: HP = Hit Points, PD = Passive Defense, AR = Absorption Rate, DP = Damage Potential)

Now let’s walk through a bit of combat. The Thief heard the Tracker coming, and is not surprised. She has her sword out and is ready to defend herself.

Let’s ignore initiative here and just say that the Tracker goes first. He’s going to attack the Thief with his long sword. The Tracker’s player rolls a 5 on 2d10. The Tracker’s Quality of Success (QoS) is Target 9 – Roll 4 = 5. Great. It’s a hit!

The Thief can choose to actively defend with her short sword (i.e. parry the blow), dodge, or take the hit and strike the Tracker. She chooses the last option. The GM rolls a 7. The Thief’s QoS is Target 11 – Roll 7 = 4. It’s another hit, but the Tracker tagged her as well.

Though the thief didn’t defend herself, she has her PD on her side, which is 4. And she has her Leather Armor on, which has an AR of 6.

Here’s where my questions come in… Should the Thief’s armor absorb all 6 points of damage, doing 6 points to its AP of 24? Should her PD kick in, absorbing 4 points (to where exactly?) and letting 2 points get through to her HP?

In the next round, the Tracker chooses to attack again with his long sword. He rolls a 8, which means a QoS of 1. Not a great hit, but a hit nonetheless.

The Thief decides not to let him just smack her again, so she parries with her short sword. She rolls a 3, which means a QoS of 8.

Her parry beats his attack and she manages to avoid any damage.

Moving to the third round, the Tracker attacks again. He rolls a 10, which means a QoF of 1. He missed.

Not waiting to see if he was going to miss, the Thief dodges, which is a Body characteristic check. She rolls a 6, which gives her a QoF of 1. It’s ok though, his attack missed anyway. And on the other side of the Dodge, she attacks with her short sword. She rolls a 2 (natural 1 and 1 on 2d10) for a critical success. Critical success means she gets all 11 points of her target number. Her short sword has a DP of 7 however, so she can only do 7 points of damage maximum.

Again, my question is… how does damage get computed? The Tracker has a PD 6 and an AR 7 for his chain armor. Should the armor absorb all 7 points of damage? Or should it take 6 and have 1 get through to HP?

On the flip side of this, it doesn’t seem fair that a Critical Success in this case would only allow the thief to do her maximum. Should she perhaps do the same amount of damage as her target number, which would be 11? This would be tantamount to finding the chink in his armor and exploiting it.

So what do you think?


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14 thoughts on “Blog Post: Combat… Damage and Critical Strikes… Help!?!”

  1. Hmm, that’s a tough one. I’m going to have to let it brew in my mind a few days. Maybe something completely different. Who said that crits have to do extra damage? Maybe something else. Extra attack? Extra Defense for the attacker the next round. Reduced Armor for the target. Just throwing out ideas.
    .-= Chuck´s last blog ..Web Clip Wednesday Geek Goodness =-.

    1. @Chuck – good point about criticals. Maybe there’s a variety of criticals, something like the critical hit/critical fumble decks from Paizo? Something like the good old random table…

      d10 – Description
      1 – Target hit in knee, hobbled for 5 rounds…
      2 – Attacker hit an artery, target bleeding out 1 extra HP every round
      3 – Target stunned 3 rounds, -5 for every combat/characteristic/skill check
      4 – Attacker knocked off piece of Target’s armor, he loses 1/4 of his remaining AP


      We could do the same for critical fumbles too.

  2. I would suggest stepping back and thinking about what your values; especially AR and PD, which seem to be your sticking points; actually ARE. From my reading you’re treating both as a mechanism for reducing incoming damage, but you’re also using AR to modify PD. That seems a bit overly complex. If you’re going to go to the trouble of calculating a PD then I would make that the most important stat, perhaps reevaluate the scale of your AR values to simplify this calculation.

    1. @mthomas768 – Well, I’m wondering if there’s really a couple of things here. The idea of PD came up from my last couple of posts chatting with Mike & Chuck. Honestly I think if I toss PD and go back to AR/AP and HP, it makes more sense. The human body (unless there’s some magical/mystical/mutant thing in the way) doesn’t really shrug off damage like armor would. So initially if a character was wearing armor, some of the damage would be absorbed by the armor and the rest would go to HP. I think that’s simpler.

      The other part of that is the weapon damage quite honestly. Right now it’s the difference between the strike and the defense. Defense needs to be actively done by the opponent – i.e. parrying or dodging – or they’ll be hit. But it seemed from earlier comments that computing damage each time (up to the maximum damage potential of the weapon) was too much of a time sink during combat.

      I don’t honestly think a little addition and subtraction during combat is any different than rolling dice for damage and adding/subtracting modifiers in other systems.

  3. As I read it your attacker is only rolling against the stat + skill correct? That implies hitting a flying fairy is as hard as hitting a human fencer is as hard as hitting a dragon. Should that be the case?

    Maybe fall back to armor absorbs damage, but a PD-like attribute increases or decreases the potential for the base attack to succeed. Heavy armor may actually reduce this (the target is less mobile) but greatly increases AR.

    Given the description above, does a fast attacker (who regularly wins initiative) force their opponent to always actively defend, to the detriment of offense?

    1. @mthomas768 – You bring up some good points. The whole small/medium/large target aspect isn’t something I’d thought much about, instead focusing on human vs human for the time being. That said, the idea of modifiers (so it’s Stat + Skill + Modifiers to generate the Target #) would probably handle the size issues (i.e. would be easier for a small opponent to hit a medium or large, medium to hit a large; harder for a medium to hit a small or a large to hit a medium).

      And I like the idea of modifying PD based on mobility (i.e. heavy armor = higher AR, but low mobility, light armor = less AR, but high mobility, etc.).

      And yes, a fast attacker (who regularly wins initiative) would always force their opponent to be on the defensive. It would force players to keep in mind the uses of armor, shields, and parrying weapons more than they would otherwise. If you have a shield and a sword vs. a guy with a sword, the guy with better defense should come out on top. Or the guy with no armor vs. the guy with armor better run for his life (i.e. Dodge) every single round unless he has some other skills to bring to the fore.

      My question with PD comes back to how does it work? Does the PD figure into the Target of the attacker (i.e. making it more difficult or easier)? If so, how does the PD get computed? (Body + AR)/2 is obviously stacked in favor of the guy in armor or the body builder with a Body of 10 (think Conan) with no real armor, just pure might & muscle.

    2. Were it my game, I would turn PD into a modifier to the attacker’s chance to hit, either as a bonus/penalty to the roll or a chance to the target number. I’d give armor a AR, which is the damage it absorbs, and separate number for how it affects PD. A guy in heavy armor should be a bit easier to hit, but harder to damage.

  4. How about this: Damage Dealt = [The attack’s margin of success] OR [the weapon’s DP minus the defender’s PD], whichever’s higher. Agile targets are more difficult to hit in the first place, thus effectively decreasing the average margin of success against them. Someone with a light weapon relies on precise attacks to deal heavy damage, whereas someone with a giant axe is gonna inflict some serious pain so long as they can land a hit (unless the opponent is really well-armored, etc.).

    1. @Dagda – Thanks for chiming in. Appreciate the input!

      My only concern with doing an “either X or Y” approach is that it requires players to do two calculations as opposed to just one, if that makes sense. The goal here is to simplify things to a happy point so that folks are more focused on being creative than doing math. So I don’t want it to become too math intensive. But I definitely see what you’re suggesting. I’ll have to give it a shot.

    2. An attack roll’s margin of success barely counts as a calculation in my eyes, and your weapon’s damage minus the target’s damage resistance is a calculation you only have to make once per target. Only playtests can tell for sure, of course, but I wouldn’t be too worried.

      Really, the big thing that concerns me about your system isn’t the mental legwork it requires to determine an action’s outcome- it’s the mental legwork required to figure out your next actions in the first place. Adding mechanical depth to a simulation is fine, but you always want to pull it off in the most simple/elegant way possible.

      If you’d like, I can actually outline a revised version of the core combat system that would streamline things. It just cropped up in my head as a result of mulling over the mechanics you’ve given us so far.

      1. @Dagda – Yeah, as I’ve discussed with Mike a time or two, I’m not the best designer. It was my friend Sean who did most of the design work and I was the setting/adventure/editor/writer/everything else guy. 🙂

        I’d love to see your version of some combat rules around this idea. I think skill/characteristic resolution is pretty straightforward, but combat has always been a sticking point. And I’d happily give a game design credit to you in the book if they are used.

        BTW, your idea of a game based around what I can only guess is court intrigue on your blog is very interesting. There’s plenty of back-stabbing and intrigue in that arena to go around. 🙂

    1. @Dagda – I was going to cover this in a different post, but there are three characteristics – Mind, Body, and Soul. If a character has a Body of 7 or higher (stats go from 1-10), they have a bonus to Body-based abilities/skills and are considered more “Agile” than most (7 = +1, 8 = +2, 9 = +3, 10 = +4). These bonuses would apply to Strike, Parry, and Dodge rolls and may also apply to the concept of the Passive Defense (PD) we’ve been discussing.

  5. So only the toughest, most muscular characters are agile? If you want to represent combat in this much mechanical detail, you’re probably gonna have to do something a little more complex than that.

    Here’s my suggestions: Introduce a Reaction (Mind) skill, representing quick thinking and alertness. Armor has two scores, Coverage and Strength (A full-body suit of leather armor’s got more coverage and less strength than just a chain shirt). Your weapons also have two scores, Weight (your attack TN is penalized if this exceeds your Body stat) and Damage Potential (your attack TN is penalized if this exceeds your weapon skill ranks)

    At the start of combat, participants roll initiative (i.e. determine turn order) using Reaction. (I’m generally just going to name the aspects of the character that matter, without getting into whether you’ll divide a given score by 2 or something.)

    On each person’s turn, they attack by rolling against a TN of ([relevant Weapon skill]+[Body]-[target’s Armor Coverage]). If they hit, they deal damage equal to [attack MoS] OR [Weapon DP – target AS], whichever is higher.

    The target of a succesful attack may choose to make a Dodge or Parry roll; both options inflict a sizable penalty on your own next attack. A Dodge attempt means rolling against ([Reaction skill]+[Mind]-[your AC]), while a Parry attempt means rolling against ([Weapon/Shield skill]+[Body]-[Weight of attacker’s weapon]). Succeed and you can subtract your MoS from the damage taken.

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