Direct Damage Resolution

Copyright Jan Mueller © 2008

Edited by Mario Butter for The Guild Companion

"the system makes it possible to include any critical tables you like"

My fellow GM and I are blessed with a group of players who enjoy evolving their characters, playing out their personalities, and all in all roleplaying to the best of their abilities. They act, they cry out, they chat with the NPCs... it's beautiful.

When combat starts, they slump in their seats and unwillingly roll their dice. Somehow, we could never excite them for the combat system we used (HARP Hack'n'Slash with a second critical roll), and they would dutifully work through a combat, but it wasn't part of their gaming experience.

What a shame! Especially since my fellow GM enjoys a little gritty combat, so we needed to make them like it. That was that.

As an additional motivator to rework combat, there was my feeling that indeed, things were a little done in a complicated way. I could see why people would get a little frustrated. Once you have figured out OB, DB and modifiers, you end up with a number that more or less tells you how good your attack was. 21? Bad. 83? Pretty good. But you had to look everything up for every single attack. You had to look up how many hits you made (depending on weapon size and type), and then what kind of critical you achieved. But actually, everything was pretty linear. The higher the attack result, the more damage. The higher the attack result, the better the critical. If something is so linear, it should be obvious, too. But it wasn't.

So, I put these 2 linear truths together, and added my clear preference for a combat system with a second roll for the critical, and I ended up with the following rules:

  • Determine attack result as usual.
  • In this result, the first digit represents the primary damage. The weapon size gives a factor to multiply with (with a minimum result of 1 for any attack result greater than or equal to 0): Tiny: x1 Small: x1.5 Medium: x2 Large: x2.5 Huge: x3
  • Then, determine the critical using the original attack result. We use 5 critical sizes (A to E), and the ranges are dependent on weapon size.
Critical T
A (−20) 40 30 20 10 0
B (−10) 50 40 30 20
C (+0) 70 60 50 40
D (+10) 90 80 70 60
E (+20) 100 90 80

A tiny critical can never exceed A-severity. For all the other weapon sizes, progression follows the core rules in that Large is +10 better than Medium, only that we don't change the critical itself, but the chance to get a critical.

  • Roll the critical on whatever critical table you like. If you use old Rolemaster tables, you might use the letters by themselves. If you use a critical table that doesn't have letters, use the modifiers given in brackets. The result yields secondary damage as well as stun, bleeding, etc.


You (OB 80, DB 30) attack a wolf (OB 70, DB 70). You both use 20 of your OB for defense. You roll a 78. The attack result is (78 + OB60 - DB70 - DB20 =) 48. With a small weapon, you do (4 x 1.5 =) 6 damage and manage an A-critical. If you had had a medium-sized weapon, you would have done (4 x 2 =) 8 damage and a B-critical.

As the attack results get higher, weapon size makes a bigger difference. On an attack result of 93, a small weapon does (9 x 1.5 =) 14 damage, while a medium one does 18 damage, a really big difference.


The system as it is distinguishes 2 things in each combat: How well you hit, and how badly you wounded your foe. They are related, yet distinct. How well you hit (the attack result) depends on your skill (OB), your opponent's skill and his armor (DB) as well as any situational modifier. In this system, a big or nasty weapon won't help you hit your opponent. Weapon size and type don't enter the math until after you know how well you hit, which I think reflects the real world pretty well. Of course, size and type do matter:

Weapon size will influence how much your blow hurt (bigger weapon = more hits) and will help you achieve a stronger critical. We deliberately didn't make the difference all that big, so that players aren't too pressed to always want the biggest weapons. A short sword is pretty deadly.

Weapon type is only relevant in the critical itself - there's nothing to calculate, you simply choose the right table to look up your result. The reason for this is simply that this difference is enough. The criticals are what makes a hammer feel like hammer, and a sword like a sword. We don't need minor differences in the primary damage, as we have in the Hack'n'Slash rules - these differences in primary damage are usually quite small, and the hassle you get with all the tables just isn't worth it to me.


The biggest benefit I see in the system is that it spares you some looking up. The almost linear tables to look up hits and critical severity aren't necessary, because you can now calculate your damage. Even if you DO look it up (see table below), the clear algorithm to reach the damage gives players an instant feeling that their attack roll is important. Once you know the attack result, you have immediate feedback regarding hits and critical, and immediate feedback is good for a sense of control in players. Also, many systems have a damage roll, so I believe many players will be thankful for a way to look at the dice and know their damage. The critical ranges can be easily memorized, so in a short period of time players will be happy about a 61, knowing they just made a C critical (with a medium weapon).

As a side effect, the system makes it possible to include any critical tables you like, as long as weapon type is represented. A club should stun more often than a dagger, a sword should cause more bleeding than a whip. As long as this is the case, any critical table will work.

I didn't try to change armor classes, instead I just used the standard HARP method of treating armor as DB, because for me simplicity was the reason to come up with this method. I wasn't too interested in adding more complexity. I'm positive it could be done, though, because the critical tables are independent of the rest of the system. If anyone successfully tries this, I'd be happy to hear about it (find me on the HARP forums as janpmueller).

In our group, some people still prefer looking up damage on tables. For their sake, I made the following table, containing hits and critical severity - otherwise, the critical range table given above is sufficient:

0-9 1 1 1 1 1A
10-19 1 2 2 3A 3A
20-29 2A 3 4A 5A 6B
30-39 3A 5A 6A 8B 9B
40-49 4A 6A 8B 10B 12C
50-59 5A 8B 10B 13C 15C
60-69 6A 9B 12C 15C 18D
70-79 7A 11C 14C 18D 21D
80-89 8A 12C 16D 20D 24E
90-99 9A 14D 18D 23E 27E
100-109 10A 15D 20E 25E 30F
110-119 11A 17D 22E 28F 33F
120-129 12A 18D 24E 30F 36F
130-139 13A 20D 26E 33F 39F
140-149 14A 21D 28E 35F 42F

(as you see, 0-9 always gives one hit, because we didn't want a positive result to mean the exact same thing as no hit at all)

If you're interested in making combat even more streamlined, and all in all quicker: We also use the SPAR rules from Guild Companion March 2008, and an idea by Tim "SamwiseSeven" Harper from the HARP forums to use cards for determining iniative. Both help us to have a very quick, easy, and intuitive combat resolution.