Monday, December 1, 2008

1 Hit = 1 Wound

One area of Savage Worlds has consistently bugged me: that being Damage. Here's why:
Most of the game is really fast and simple, and practically math-less. Unless a die explodes, you never do anything more complex than adding +1 or +2 . When a die does Ace, you can generally stop counting/adding somewhere around 8, as there's rarely any benefit to going above a single raise. 

Damage, however, breaks that rule/generalization. Getting a higher roll on damage means doing more wounds, which in turn means it's far harder for the enemy to soak the wound away.  Even if one wound was likely to kill them, you still are encouraged (by the system) to keep rolling and adding as high as you can to get an unsoakable total. Getting to 40+ on an open-ended 2d6 happens more often than you'd think, as it turns out, and takes forever to roll and count it out. 
From my first play of the system, I wanted to simplify that damage roll in some way, but I wasn't willing to do so till I had a some experience with Savage Worlds from the GM's seat.

Well, I've now run about 13 hours of it, all very combat-intensive (old-school D&D-esque dungeon romps), and I'm even more convinced that my initial instincts were correct. Damage rolls have some serious potential to bog the game down.

On top of that the spectre of the one-hit-kill looms pretty large. The owlbears and the dragon both came pretty close to doing just that to PCs in my most recent session, which would have sucked. (The PCs dropped one big badass NPC in a single hit as well, but that's rather less of a problem.) I want there to be danger and risk to the PCs. I'm okay with it being random. I just don't want it to happen in the first round of combat, or without warning, or as a result of a fluke die roll where the main character (a PC) gets killed by some two-bit extra. 

Some GMs would just fudge the dice - for me, with my Magic Tournament Judge background, and my Amber Diceless background, I don't see the point in ever lying about the dice. If I wanted something to be a foregone conclusion, I wouldn't roll. I roll all my dice in the open, unless I'm rolling for something the player shouldn't know - like, say, the results of a "Detect Lie" spell.

So, I've come up with a really simple house rule to solve what bugs me. Here it is:
Any single attack can only do 1 wound to any single foe. 
Only exceptionally deadly forces can break this rule. Exceptions would include Heavy Weapons, such as Rocket Launchers, and Powers intended to represent really big and dramatic earth-shattering magics, and really nasty traps in the second-to-last-room of the dungeon. Your typical Bolt or Blast won't do more than 1 point, nor will the swing of a mundane sword by the beefiest hero or villain. The GM has the final say on what can circumvent this rule.
I think that's sufficiently elegant and easy to remember. Obviously, it's only meant for fairly cinematic campaigns, as it lacks gritty realism. It does, however, have many benefits for campaigns concerned with story and character:
  1. This greatly speeds up the damage process, as the GM can tell the player the target's Toughness, and once you hit 4 more than that number, there's no need to keep counting. Less math = faster combat = more excitement.
  2. It also makes it very clear when a PC is really in danger of dying. Players can act bravely and heroic, at least at the start of fights, with no fear of character death. You'll have lots of warning before getting greased, unless the GM throws something special at you (like the nastiest of Grimtooth's Traps, or a rocket launcher ambush, or the fight with a dragon that starts with a breathweapon inferno), which he should do only when dramatically appropriate. 
  3. Lastly, it empowers the GM to have a finer degree of control over the length of encounters and the challenge they provide. In addition to the current distinction of Extra vs Wild Card, you could add in Henchmen (ala 7th Sea) that can take one wound just fine (well, a -1 penalty like a Wild Card would get) but are incapacitated by the second wound. Likewise, you could make a boss extra tough by  giving him 4 or 5 wounds instead of 3. 
Of course, it's not without some measure of troubles. Soaking wounds would become much easier, and that may have subtle ripple effects I haven't foreseen. I'm considering this corollary rule to keep that in check:
Possible corollary to "the 1 wound rule":
Soaking wounds is now a bit harder. Instead of soaking the first wound with a roll a simple success, and an extra wound for every raise, soak rolls would have a difficulty of 8. 
I might also consider a Legendary Edge (with Trademark Weapon and No Mercy as prerequisites) that would let you break this houserule with your Trademark Weapon. Spellcasting could get an Edge that mirrors that, or just have one or two "high level" spells/powers that count as heavy weapons. I haven't made the big decision on how (or if) to deal with it at the higher ranks, as so far I've run only Novice-rank games. 

Common gaming logic would be to give "higher level" characters access to more potent weaponry - but at the same time, it feels like high level fights need the "no one-hit kills" policy more than the low level conflicts. You certainly don't want you all-powerful wizard or two-fisted-pulp-hero to go down in one hit, after all. I'll try the rule out first for a few sessions before deciding whether or not to make it circumventable at the high levels. I imagine the call on that will have a lot to do with just how cinematic the campaign is. 

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