A question

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A question

Postby Dragon Son » Tue Nov 06, 2012 12:00 pm

In an abstract health system, like the one used in Dragon Age and most d20 games, how do you handle out of combat damage situations? By out of combat I mean taking damage without even having rolled initiative.

Allow me to give an example,
a backstabbing rogue sneaks up behind one of the pcs in a dark alley, attempts to slit his throat and succeeds, the target rolled and failed to spot the sneaky bastard, due to wearing a good armor the target has very good damage reduction, how do you handle that? Some of the responses that I can think of are the following.

1) Mechanically correct but visually awkward - He deals 12 damage, you have 40 health, you're going down to 28 Health, roll Initiative!

2) Mechanically wrong and not very fun, but visually correct - Sorry mate you just died, time to make a new hero!

3) Kinda in between - The attack reduces you to (let us say) 5 health and you have a bad bleeding injury (penalty to actions), but you survive! Roll Initiative!

So, what's your take? Don't tell me only the one you use, I'd like to also hear the version you'd like to use. Don't feel limited to the options I present.
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Re: A question

Postby shonuff » Tue Nov 06, 2012 12:33 pm

Probably the 3rd. The campaigns I've played and run have always been narrative-based, so perma-PC death has always been understood to be off the table without the players' input (for the most part -- doing something really stupid is player input). In the situation described, I would probably give the PC every chance to notice the backstab and go into combat mode before it actually happened, although I would more likely create ambushes more like Zevran's ambush in DA:O. But if I were to use your example, and the PC was unsuspecting, I'd probably give full damage, a DoT, and a penalty of some sort.

For one-shots that are more tactical in nature, I don't see the situation you described as happening, at least for me.
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Re: A question

Postby Loswaith » Tue Nov 06, 2012 9:15 pm

I dont usualy use those kind of situations, simply because a subtle move by the victim and sliting a throat will fail.

I'm more inclined to have the Rogue go for a vital body shot, so the first option applies in that case (the damage of the attack in that determines how bad on the mark the location actually is). That said I've changed backstab a little in that it gives +2d6 if a target is completly unaware of the attack, rather than the +1d6 (actually its not just backstab as anyone can get the +1d6 damage for attacking a completly unaware target, its just most common with backstab).
The larger damage can then be modified by armour (stunts are possible as well), and combat would start from there. I'm unlikely to add a bleed to it (as bleeding isnt part of the normal rules) though poison is a posibility if I think the Rogue would be using such.

While its a bit akward at times, like Shonuff, I dont tend to like killing character's off without some input from the player themselves (again stupidity counts to me as player input as well). In that I'm also more likely to set up ambushes.

PCs may kill off fodder NPCs in this manner if they do so tactically and its good for the story but less so important NPCs (for those they need to try harder).
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Re: A question

Postby shonuff » Tue Nov 06, 2012 10:20 pm

Loswaith wrote: I'm unlikely to add a bleed to it (as bleeding isnt part of the normal rules) though poison is a posibility if I think the Rogue would be using such.


Basically, if I were to use an ambush backstab, it would be by a boss-level mob. The encounter would revolve around the PCs dealing with the encounter with pre-set penalties. You're right that a DoT isn't established in the rules, but this would be a situation where I would create something. I think it would create tension and a ticking clock effect.

Other GM modes have equal validity. Personally, I focus on the narrative aspect. Others focus on creating challenge. And still others focus on adversity.
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Re: A question

Postby Etarnon » Tue Nov 06, 2012 11:21 pm

My impression is that If I needed to have a PC snuck up on, don't look at it like

"As the GM, this is what I want to have happen."

Step 1 for me. people don't try to backstab a guy in armor. Throat slitting aside, he's got armor.
Tactic for that would be walk up, knock him over, make him face down on the ground, helpless by weight, and then do the deed, noisy or not.

So for me, we have a PC on watch, looking out into the darkness. give him a roll to detect the bad guy. If it fails, it does not mean the bad guy is right at the throat. he's got a surprise round, roll it out.

Higher level PCs have all of the tools, and attributes to survive this dastardly attack, which makes them heroes.

Until they lose their last hit point, they are full up, ready to go, like the characters in the PC game. Their loss of hit points is loss of luck until then.

So have the bad guy roll for a stunt, if he gives the PC stunt 5, it's gonna be a close thing. If not, the hero is just that lucky. Like a character in a novel, that's the goal here.

In the Chuck Norris action movies, chuck does not get knifed in the back. He's the star.

So the bad guy might stab and do damage, but don't see it as the GM like "C'mon the guy snuck up unseen it's at his neck, what? the PC lived?"

No, it was near the neck, the PC sensed something, put a hand up, twisted a bit...

Down to 10 hit points roll initiative. Game it out.

If instead the bad guy can render the PC unconscious knock him over, then coup de Grace.. that's different.

In my opinion, if you push for more instant death of PCs, it's verging on railroading. They are heroes.

If you really want it to happen, 3 bad guys shoot the PC in the back with poisoned heavy crossbows, and be done with it.

BUT, if you are gonna go there, relate WELL beforehand how legions of poison heavy crossbow bad guys have been hired to assassinate the PCs, but sales of Ferelden hunting dogs are on the rise, and THOSE things have senses to sniff out bad guys a long way off....Thus giving the PC heroes a chance.

Did you figure on dogs in the stab PC in the back scenario?
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Re: A question

Postby Dragon Son » Wed Nov 07, 2012 12:12 am

In the Chuck Norris action movies, chuck does not get knifed in the back. He's the star.

So the bad guy might stab and do damage, but don't see it as the GM like "C'mon the guy snuck up unseen it's at his neck, what? the PC lived?"

No, it was near the neck, the PC sensed something, put a hand up, twisted a bit...

Down to 10 hit points roll initiative. Game it out.

If instead the bad guy can render the PC unconscious knock him over, then coup de Grace.. that's different.

In my opinion, if you push for more instant death of PCs, it's verging on railroading. They are heroes.

If you really want it to happen, 3 bad guys shoot the PC in the back with poisoned heavy crossbows, and be done with it.

BUT, if you are gonna go there, relate WELL beforehand how legions of poison heavy crossbow bad guys have been hired to assassinate the PCs, but sales of Ferelden hunting dogs are on the rise, and THOSE things have senses to sniff out bad guys a long way off....Thus giving the PC heroes a chance.

Did you figure on dogs in the stab PC in the back scenario?


You're missing the point here mate, a narrative style of GMing can be used and define any given game and situation, regardless of how lethal it is, instead of answering my question you speak of the narrative ways in which a character doesn't die, because he shouldn't die in a non impressive way. The question was not about how you handle the death of your pcs, or how you lead them to it, the question was about how the RULES of the game interact with the VISUALIZATION of the game.

Did you figure on dogs in the stab PC in the back scenario?


Hehe, check my comment above, the dogs can be there regardless of the damaging system you decide to use, whether you have 1.000 health or you can only take 1 blow before dying, don't confuse the way that the GM handles a story with how the rules interact with visualization.
Last edited by Dragon Son on Wed Nov 07, 2012 5:56 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: A question

Postby Dragon Son » Wed Nov 07, 2012 12:20 am

In the Chuck Norris action movies, chuck does not get knifed in the back. He's the star.


No he's not the star, he is the god. If he died in any way, much less a knife in the back, the movie would implode within itself and the Earth would be destroyed.

Seriously now,
there's a big difference in KNOWING that a knife in the back can't kill you in one blow, because the rules don't allow it or the script doesn't allow it, and ASSUMING that it won't happen cause your GM will not do it because he is not a jerk, but given the circumstances it COULD happen.
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Re: A question

Postby shonuff » Thu Nov 08, 2012 6:47 am

The problem with DA death is that it's perma-death. As a player, I would imagine, as a player, that losing a PC because of a bad roll (especially after possibly working on it for years) would not be fun. Likewise, I think it would suck as a GM to have to come up with completely different campaign goals because narratively important characters died. "Oh, the Chosen One died while trying to swim across the river.... Archdemon wins, world loses." And if only 1 or 2 PCs are important to the narrative, they have to be equally killable or non-killable, unless your goal is to end a campaign with allegations of favoritism.

That's why (for my personal mileage) I've never been a fan of PC death inside a narrative-based campaign (and again, there are other types of campaigns). This doesn't mean players cannot be punished. Losing items, favored NPCs, scars, having all NPCs make fun of them, etc.

I'm not one who believes that the GM is in an adversarial relationship with the PCs. IMO, I think the goal of the GM should be to present PCs with a challenging situation where they end up winning by the skin of their teeth (more Bruce Willis in Die Hard than Chuck Norris). But the PCs should end up winning. The challenge is to present the constant illusion of peril, but not necessarily actual peril.
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Re: A question

Postby Etarnon » Fri Nov 09, 2012 12:27 am

"...don't confuse the way that the GM handles a story with how the rules interact with visualization."

I'm not confusing anything. The rules are rules. the visualization is the visualization.

If I'm playing axis and allies, the rules is my transport rolls a 1 on a d6, it sinks a lone carrier attacking it.
what is my vizualization? I grant that that is a strategy game. But all rules are agreed upon and shared.

I will thus charge visualizations are not, not even to the most described detail. Church, Temple Grave all would conjusre different images.

So to me, saying how the rules "interact" with visualization is some animal I personally am not aquainted with.

If you are saying how the rules suggest a visualization for 'you personally', great. But at the same time you are saying those rules are abstract, and don't work with what you want to do.

I gave my answer, and to exapand on it, indicate that if you want a scenario where you want to as GM have stuff happen, and the combat system won't allow it, rule it by fiat or figure out why it was not designed to do what you want. then if you can't or don't wish to embrace that, write your own.

Maybe I missed the initial intent here but it seems like you want an in game agent / ofrce / rules / whatever that can sneak up and take down players in armor.

To me to do that, there are ways, but not by sneaking and neck slitting. My answer is not couched in the terms you'd like to use, because my style is different. Likewise, I am not going to ask you to borrow select notes for your Visualization of rules style.

The rule can describe the procedure, but not the actual thing, unless it is a case of procedure AS thing.

But to me there is a direct disconnect between rules and visualizing. All of that to me belongs in the more wargame-ish side of the hobby. not wrong, but not my preferred style in a narrative game.
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Re: A question

Postby Dragon Son » Fri Nov 09, 2012 12:41 am

I am okay with the rules as written, the reason I started this thread was to know what other people think about that specific example I mentioned. I've been running Exalted for two years now actually and we have had very few physical confrontations, the stories are character driven and expand on the goals that the players set, I'm not the GM that stabs players in the back and then laughs, or who thinks that the PCs are expendable.

The thing is that that for me, how the rules interact with the visualization of what you are doing, is an important factor of how much I like a Pen and Paper game. I find such systems consistent, for me it's important whether you add your Strength or your Dexterity to your Defense, not for combat reasons, but in order to describe what is going on. That's what I mean when I'm referring to visualization. Allow me to give you an example,

you're playing in a dark and gritty fantasy world wherein there is Chaos and Insanity, every character has the same mental fortitude, regardless of stats, however the setting describes that strong willed people can resist insanity better. If there was a rule that said that your mental fortitude depends on your Willpower I could visualize making a character that can better resist madness, he has a high willpower. If the system does not bind resistance to madness with the attribute Willpower then my character can't be more resistant to it, of course I can narrate that my character is strong willed and resists madness but mechanically this does not show, that's what I mean when I say how rules interact with the visualization.

I think we just disagree on this one, even though our playstyles may in fact be not so different. Anyhow cheers!
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Re: A question

Postby Alchemus » Fri Nov 09, 2012 1:58 pm

When I first started I would have gone with option 3. Now that both me and my players have evolved and grown more comfortable with each other I'll choose option 2 every time. Thedas is a world of death and hardship, and we have fully embraced that. I once killed a pc who got drunk. The party was celebrating and he drank much more than everyone else, got into a barfight, got knocked out in the first round and left his friends to clean up the mess. Later that night someone set the inn on fire. Being drunk, he couldn't be woken up, and he burned to death.

All that being said, it's not something I do all the time, but I think it's important to remind my players where they are and that they aren't invincible.

As for slitting an armored person's throat, while maybe not the easiest way to do it, a highly trained assassin would probably know how, and it could be used as an effective way to send a message. You know, a "My assassins can reach you anywhere, anytime" type of message.
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Re: A question

Postby Loswaith » Sun Nov 11, 2012 9:54 pm

With that kind of scenario I'm more likely to do it in such a way that there is some kind of message in a place characters feel 'safe'. For example a character locked in their 'safe' tavern room, awake to find a note stuck on the head of the very bed they were sleeping in, with some idle threat. This works to freak out the character (and potentially player) in that they dont know what could of been done to them. If you couple that with finding no evidence of someone actually having been in the room while they slept, it adds more emotion to a situation, than simply killing off a character.

Etarnon wrote:...
Step 1 for me. people don't try to backstab a guy in armor. Throat slitting aside, he's got armor. ...

Actually they did, hence why the Stiletto became a popluar weapon for assassins.
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Re: A question

Postby Etarnon » Mon Nov 12, 2012 3:00 am

"Actually they did, hence why the Stiletto became a popluar weapon for assassins."

What else can be said other than okay that's good information?

Works well for a critical hit based system like Iron Crown.
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Re: A question

Postby NickMiddleton » Mon Nov 12, 2012 5:33 am

Loswaith wrote:...
Etarnon wrote:...
Step 1 for me. people don't try to backstab a guy in armor. Throat slitting aside, he's got armor. ...

Actually they did, hence why the Stiletto became a popluar weapon for assassins.


Err, not against opponents in full armour. Read the article more carefully.

Stilletto's (a development of the rondel dagger and also known as misericorde, from the latin for "mercy") were, when used as assassin's weapons, used againt people NOT in armour. Their use against heavy armour (the pinnacle of the development of which was circa 1460 in Europe, a century or so before the period the article suggests they were in common use as an assasins weapon) was to coup de grace badly wounded knights and men at arms on the battlefield - often literally as a mercy killing (the alternative being, at the time, an extremely painful, lingering death from gangrene and septicaemia...). One lined the dagger up with a weak point (e.g. the eye slit in a helm, or the gussets under the left arm, aiming at the heart) and literally hammered the blade home - NOT something one could achieve as a surprise blow against an aware active opponent, especially one in full field plate (which could have double mail gussets gaurding the groin, elbows, armpits and throat and a plate bevoir covering the throat and lower jaw).

Stilleto's were also favoured by gunners - they used them to measure powder and to disable cannon that were about to be captured by the enemy (hammer the point in to the touch hole and snap off, renders the gun useless).

Best weapon against an opponent in full field harness is a warhammer or pollaxe - using the spike with a decent swing against even the best made, well padded steel helm one would have a good chance of disorientating the target enough to get them off balance. But killing them with a single knife strike I'm afraid is a fairy tale, unless you've waited behind the curtains until they have removed the armour and are dressing for dinner... :wink:

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Re: A question

Postby Dragon Son » Mon Nov 12, 2012 11:11 am

NickMiddleton wrote:Best weapon against an opponent in full field harness is a warhammer or pollaxe - using the spike with a decent swing against even the best made, well padded steel helm one would have a good chance of disorientating the target enough to get them off balance. But killing them with a single knife strike I'm afraid is a fairy tale, unless you've waited behind the curtains until they have removed the armour and are dressing for dinner...


Agreed, I guess you noticed that in the initial post I gave an example in which a character is attacked OUTSIDE of combat?

The initial post was irrelevant to whether a character was wearing armor or not anyway,the conversation doesn't have to with armors, it's about health, what damage means and how you people handle it, so let's not miss the topic here people.
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Re: A question

Postby Loswaith » Mon Nov 12, 2012 7:17 pm

These are more the aspects Im refering too:
... The needle-like blade could easily penetrate most mail or find its way through gaps in a knight's plate armor, and was narrow enough to pass through the eye slits of the helmeted knight. ...


...The stiletto was preferred by assassins as it was silent, easily concealed inside a sleeve or jacket, and featured a blade capable of easily penetrating the heavy leather and fabric clothing of the day, while inflicting mortal wounds that tended to bleed less than those made by other types of knives. ...

Take those extrapolated with the factor that people in RPGs wander around in plate all day/night long (which historically didn't happen).

It may have been
Originally designed as a purely offensive weapon, the stiletto was used to finish off a fallen or severely wounded heavily armored opponent.
, it doesnt negate the factor that it was favoured by assassins for a reason.

While a warhammer or pole-axe is clearly a better weapon against armour in battle they are hardly a tool of an Assassin .

Apoligies for the tangent.
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Re: A question

Postby shonuff » Tue Nov 13, 2012 4:34 am

It's probably a moot point, as I would say that a person fully encased in armor is in combat. Someone would not be walking around in full plate, visor down, normally, IMO.
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Re: A question

Postby Zapp » Tue Nov 13, 2012 8:54 am

Dragon Son wrote:In an abstract health system, like the one used in Dragon Age and most d20 games, how do you handle out of combat damage situations? By out of combat I mean taking damage without even having rolled initiative.

I don't see a good way to handle things differently out of combat.

So I try to use rules that present a useful compromise between
* how reality (and on occasion story developments too) demand that one shot kills are possible
* how the genre conventions of traditional fantasy demands that the mighty hero walks through a rain of arrows up to the orc hordes and valiantly slays them all

In a game like (high level) d20 Dungeons & Dragons the expectations are skewed sufficiently that hit point loss no longer is in the focus of the issue. There are after all plenty of other one shot kills available: namely save or dies. The fact there are few or no ways to actually take a beefy hero from max to nought hit points kind of falls by the wayside - any opponent worth his salt wouldn't even try to win through such a primitive way...

In my Dragon Age game, where Health is recovered rapidly (and is kept separate from critical injuries), I have instituted a rule that doubles damage when you are unawares of the attack (such as when your throat is slit from behind, or when you're sniped at from a dark alley). A second rule change says that if you take more than half your maximum hp in a single hit, that's a critical injury right there. A third change means you don't automatically get more Health with level (experience).

Taken together, in my game I can use the same set of rules both in regular combat and in cases like your example. Getting jumped is never merely a nuisance, and even if you survive, the added loss of Health (together with the fact that you never have gobs and gobs of Health to spare) means that you are at a significant disadvantage once regular combat commences.

(Of course, if the assassin only has a single shot, since you're surrounded by guards or whatever, the demands of the fantasy genre still demands that the assassin uses a strong poison or some other hp-bypassing method, if he or she wants to achieve reality-like levels of probability of success)


Dragon Son wrote:Allow me to give an example,
a backstabbing rogue sneaks up behind one of the pcs in a dark alley, attempts to slit his throat and succeeds, the target rolled and failed to spot the sneaky bastard, due to wearing a good armor the target has very good damage reduction, how do you handle that? Some of the responses that I can think of are the following.

1) Mechanically correct but visually awkward - He deals 12 damage, you have 40 health, you're going down to 28 Health, roll Initiative!

2) Mechanically wrong and not very fun, but visually correct - Sorry mate you just died, time to make a new hero!

3) Kinda in between - The attack reduces you to (let us say) 5 health and you have a bad bleeding injury (penalty to actions), but you survive! Roll Initiative!

So, what's your take? Don't tell me only the one you use, I'd like to also hear the version you'd like to use. Don't feel limited to the options I present.

My ruleset would lead to a variant of 3)

3z) He deals double damage, which is 24. Assuming you have no armor (at least where the rogue hit ya), that is.
Since this is more than half your maximum you need to "save or die" (i.e. roll defense or get a body part critically hurt).
If you fail, you're looking at a -2 "system shock" penalty at best, and probably an additional -1 penalty in the stricken body part. You could also lose the body part entirely (i.e. it is crushed or ripped to shreds). This would result in a need for amputation (=permanently crippling you) if it doesn't kill you outright.

Even if you make the roll, the amount of Health you lost isn't exactly trivial, and facing the rogue in regular combat with only 16 Health is probably not much fun.
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Re: A question

Postby Dragon Son » Tue Nov 13, 2012 9:36 am

Thank you for you helpful and very accurate answer Zapp, I'm assuming you've played a lot of Warhammer!
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Re: A question

Postby Zapp » Wed Nov 14, 2012 10:16 am

You would assume correctly 8)
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