Hitting by the Piece

Copyright Günther Lehnert © 2006

Edited by Nicholas HM Caldwell for The Guild Companion

"For the new system, players with full sets of armor don't need to change anything"

HARP provides very detailed rules for the use of custom armor sets, which allow the combination of all types of armor. The rules for "called shots" additionally give the option to use hit locations in combat.

However, what has not been published yet are rules how to combine the rules for armor by the piece and hit locations. In combat, it would be interesting to know which armor piece got hit and then determine the defensive bonus (DB) dependent on this local armor. In the current system, if a character wears nothing but a breastplate he will get this plate's DB even if his feet are hit. Furthermore, matching hit locations to armor pieces is not always unambiguous, because the hit locations given by the optional rules of the HARP rulebook, Martial Law (ML), and Hack & Slash (H&S) do not correspond exactly to the locations covered by the individual armor pieces.

To remedy these issues, the present article provides rules for the combination of individual armor sets and hit locations, which ensure that only the armor at the respective hit location is applied. The present system basically does two things: First, it gives an easy way to determine specific DBs for each armor piece. Second, it gives a new hit location table that matches with armor pieces.


For the new system, players with full sets of armor don't need to change anything. Their Armor DB for each location is the same as their full set's overall DB. For characters wearing armor by the piece, however, it is necessary to divide their DB into location-specific, so-called Set DBs and a Non-Armor DB that applies irrespective of hit location. The latter comes from quickness stat, chi defense, shield, magic (but not magical armor), and parry.

The Personal Armor Sheet that comes with this article helps the player to keep track of his DBs and other armor properties.

Each individual piece of armor gets an Armor DB with the same amount as a full suit of the respective armor type would give. Therefore it is also called the armor type's Set DB.

Example: A character who wears a plate cuirass and a pair of soft leather gauntlets as his only protection will have a Whole Set DB of 20 (18 for the cuirass and 2 for the gauntlets, HARP rulebook p 89). His cuirass Set DB is 60, the gauntlets' Set DB is 20 (the DBs for a full set of plate armor and a full set of soft leather, respectively). All other locations' Armor DB is zero.

Now, when the character is hit at the torso, an Armor DB of 60 will apply. The cuirass protects him against torso hits in the same way that a full set would protect him against every hit, irrespective of location.

If you use the Rolemaster (RM) attack tables, just write down the armor type (AT) number of each armor piece. Again, handle the individual item as if it was a whole set of this armor when determining AT or any additional DB coming from a material or magical bonus of the item. Instead of a Set DB you will have a Set AT (and an additional Set DB in case of a bonus item).

Location-specific protection

Hit locations are determined in the same way as in ML or H&S, by adding the two dice of the attack roll and looking up the corresponding body part, with odd rolls hitting the weapon side and even rolls hitting the off-hand side. First determine if you actually hit by adding the attacker's OB, subtracting the defender's Non-Armor DB and applying any conditional modifiers to the attack roll. If the result is at least 1, the attack has hit. Now, it depends on the hit location and its armor how much damage is dealt.

Table 1: Hit Location Table

Result Location Armor ML col. Opt. Crit. Adj.
2-3 Foot Boots 2 -1S -15M*
4 Knee Greaves 2 -1S -15M*
5-6 Leg Greaves 2 2B -5M
7 Groin Cuirass / Shirt 3 3B -20M
8-9 Abdomen / Lower Back Cuirass / Shirt 3 1S -10M
10-12 Chest / Upper Back Cuirass / Shirt 4 --- normal ---
13 Neck Gorget 5 1S 3B
14 Head Helm 5 3S
15-16 Shoulder / Upper Arm Pauldrons / Shirt 1 -1S -5M**
17-18 Forearm / Elbow Bracers 1 -1S -10M**
19-20 Hand Gauntlets 1 -1S -20M**
* only to maneuvers requiring movement.
** only to maneuvers involving arms/hands.
1) Add the numbers on both dice of the attack roll to determine hit location.
2) Subtract 10 if foe is two or more sizes larger than character (minimum 2).
3) Odd attack roll means weapon side; even roll indicates off-hand side.
4) Called shot: For each -10 attack roll modifier, adjust the result by ±1 (up to ±5 for -50).

The Hit Location Table (pdf) gives the hit body part and the armor that applies. Note that the unmodified dice roll is used for determining location and side. The defender now tells his Set DB for this particular location. Subtract it from the attack roll and you got your Total Attack Roll which you look up in the critical charts, given that it is still greater than one. From here on you use your combat system as usual, applying size modifiers and damage caps if using HARP or ML rules. If you use ML with armor adjustment, adjust the damage for the armor of the hit location. If you use RM attack matrices, look up the damage in the column of the hit location's Set AT.

Summary: Roll for the attack, applying everything but Armor DB. Determine hit location and its applying Set DB. Subtract the Set DB and you have your Total Attack Roll as usual.

Option: You can also look up the hit location before applying any modifiers. Then you apply all modifications at once, including Armor DB. This has the advantage that you only have to modify the roll once. The disadvantage is that you must look at the hit location table for every roll, even if it's far from hitting. Furthermore, it removes some of the realism, because in case of a miss, you don't know if the weapon hit the armor or nothing at all.

Location-specific damage

If you want some more realism, the hit location should also determine the type of damage dealt. For those who use ML, the Hit Location Table of this article gives the column of the ML critical tables to look up. The ML tables' columns are not as fine-grained as the hit location system, but that should pose no problem. For example, if you hit the neck but the table's flavor text mentions the head, you can either substitute one word for the other, or you assume that the weapon slid off the neck protection and hit the head instead. In this way it still makes sense that you hit the head after applying the neck's Armor DB.

If you use the combat system of the HARP rulebook or H&S, you won't have location-specific flavor text. But you can adjust the criticals to reflect the hit location. That's what the Optional Critical Adjustment in the last column is for. S means additional rounds of stun added or subtracted, B are results of bleeding, M are maneuver penalties.

If you are using hit locations with either the original HARP critical tables or with RM critical tables, re-interpret location-specific flavor text. Alternatively, you can use the RM tables in the following fashion: Use hit locations only with called shots. If a player called a shot and scores a critical, he goes down the rows in the critical table from the value he rolled until he reaches a row where the desired hit location is mentioned. This makes the attack a lot weaker, though. You can also use the RM attack matrices with the ML critical tables. In this case A, B, C, D, and E criticals get rolls with -20, -10, 0, +10, and +20 modifiers, respectively.

For those who like the way that attacks are handled in H&S, but would like to use the ML tables for hit locations, there are two options:

Option 1: Take your ML tables and write the H&S critical letters in front of the rows. Use the following progression: A/B/C/D&E/F/G/H&I/J/K/L&M/N/O/P&Q/R/S&T/U/V&W/X/Y&Z.

Option 2: Use the ML Attack Table that comes with this hit location system. It will deal about the same damage as the original ML system. The attack matrix does not need to be specific for the attack type because the ML tables already account for differences in critical types.

Hitting the armor

If you use the above hit location rules consistently (i.e., not only for called shots), as an optional rule you can also track down damage dealt to the armor. To keep things simple, the endurance points of each piece of armor are the same as the protective value (as specified by the Set DB). Thus, the values you write down on your Personal Armor Sheet will be directly modified if the armor takes damage. Armor only takes damage when it protects its wearer from taking damage himself. (Actually, it also takes damage when the wearer is hit, but the damage it absorbs is a good indicator of the amount of damage from both situations, so we go with this.) Whenever the attack roll was high enough to hit before applying the location specific Set DB, but the modification brings it back below 1, then that armor piece's Set DB is reduced by one. You can use the DB Diagram to keep track of the running total.

Examples: Each piece of soft leather armor (Set DB 20) will take 20 hits until its protective value is fully gone. To reduce the DB of a full set of chain mail armor down to half its protective value, it must be hit 160 times (8 pieces, each of Set DB 40 = 320 points total).

Armor can be repaired to regain its full DB. Repair costs are [half the costs for a new piece] times [percentage reduced], i.e., the chain armor set of the above example will be repaired at [0.5 x new cost] x [0.5 (half destroyed)] = 0.25 x new cost = 16 sp.

If you consider half the new item cost too expensive, you can change it to a quarter of the original cost.

Option: Items with an OB bonus from superior workmanship or special material must be repaired by a master craftsman or with the original material, respectively. If the former is repaired by an average crafter or the latter is repaired using normal materials, the item loses (or will not regain) its bonus. The character will not only have to pay more money to repair it, he must also find the right person or material.

If an item has a magical bonus, however, the non-magical value will be reduced to zero first. The magic is not easily destroyed by weapons. Only if the material is so much torn that it has no DB left but the magical bonus, the magical bonus itself will be affected. As long as only the normal part of the DB is reduced, the item can be repaired without magic, with costs as if it was a normal, non-magical item of the same type.

Remaining issues

The system would work best with specific attack matrices and specific criticals for each hit location. The system as it is now works best with the ML tables. Unfortunately, there are no location-specific ML tables available for Holy, Slaying, and Magic criticals, nor can you mix the critical tables from HARP, ML, H&S, and RM because they all differ in amount of damage dealt.

However, I hope that the above system gives some useful rules for hit locations, which can be used with the existing tables and will lead to some more fun. Keep in mind that you can mix the system with the conventional one. Just use the overall DB of the whole set unless somebody calls a shot.

And now, imagine a very experienced fighter who happens to be the deadly archenemy of the players' group. He's all dressed up in super-duper uber-superior magic armor +XXX, but he's lost his right boot when crossing that swampland two hours ago. Guess who will try a called shot!