ORE Vampire part 2: Damage

Storyteller-Style Damage

The way ORE force fits the hit location to height doesn’t appeal to me much – it seems like adding an extra dimension for the sake of it. Okay, I quite like the way it’s handled in MaoCT, but for other ORE games the integration isn’t seamless.

Besides, hit location tables are so seventies, and few of my gaming group use or like them. This is one area where abstraction is actually a good thing.

Lethal and nonlethal damage

Splitting damage into lethal and nonlethal types is common for ORE and Storyteller systems, but is binary – a weapon either causes Bashing or Lethal damage. ORE has a nice way of downgrading Killing damage to Shock by action of armour.

The Amazing Engine rpg Kromosome setting uses a nice mechanic to differentiate between lethal and nonlethal damage.

When the percentile dice are rolled to hit the ones die is used to work out lethality. If the die is higher than the weapon’s lethality rating, it does killing damage, otherwise it’s just bashing/shock. Armour (or Fortitude) will modify the lethality of the damage, as well as soak hits.

This system is a nice fit with the ORE height roll. And crucially it makes damage variable while making amount of damage independant of lethality.

Shock and Fatigue

Very few systems do instantaneous damage with immediate but without lasting effects.

This is not what comes to mind in the modern Vampire tropes, where supernatural creatures throw each other around like rag dolls but are only temporarily affected.

I propose a few (re)definitions:

  • Shock is an instantaneous effect that can temporarily slow someone down
  • Injury (lethal or nonlethal) is a lasting effect that will also slow the character down, and is recordable.
  • Fatigue is simply cumulative injury that affects the body’s base state. This is what happens as you mark off wound boxes.

Characters can suffer both shock and injury as a consequence of taking damage. Some weapons may be designed to deal shocking damage (e.g. a taser or blackjack).

Damage Presentation

Kromosome just uses a traditional pool of hit point and fatigue (a bit like Palladium‘s HP/SDC approach). The problem with this is the need to grind through Fatigue just to knock someone out – good for PCs, tedious for running combats.

For the Department V game I used a grid. Each wound level was a row of boxes equal to some formula involving Stamina. Nonlethal damage knocked off boxes along rows, and lethal damage knocked off entire rows, one per point. This was attractive to look at but in play massively emphasised the need for PCs to get in lethal shots – if anything, the grinding was worse.

(That was inspired by the system in the Cyberpunk 2020 Character Sheet with its four boxes per wound level. I never liked the damage scaling in CP2020 but the feel of the system was very good.)

Exalted uses a nice hybrid of the CP2020 and (old) WoD with the first few wound levels represented by multiple boxes. Mostly this is an example of how damage scaling has been tuned to a high-fantasy setting compared to the default horror setting.

I feel that a single damage track à la Storyteller is still the best, where both lethal and nonlethal hits contribute to current wellbeing. However using one level = one box means you have to be very careful to tune the damage scale. Using the CP2020 approach has a benefit that you can be more relaxed with the scaling. There are other benefits when presenting Aggravated Damage as well (see below).

One other alternative is not to use any kind of track or running tally, but to count each wound individually. The Maelstrom RPG did this. It’s useful if you want to track how each wound heals over time.

Damage Scaling

The ORE silhouette puts ten boxes in the torso and four in the head. Four kills to the head will kill a character, otherwise ten are needed for a kill to the torso. Five hits will take out a limb.

Weapons tend to do damage in the range of Width, plus one or two for the larger weapons. This means that a two to four width shot (Shock or Killing) to head or limbs is going to destroy that location. By comparison a similar shot to the torso isn’t nearly as final.

Whether you like this scheme or not (and I don’t – it’s arbitrary and in some cases just wrong) it’s significant for a couple of points.

  • firstly if damage is scaled on Width+ then damage will be in fairly predictable increments of 3-ish, more with bigger weapons.
  • secondly, a character struck by an above-average hit will, 70% of the time, suffer a serious setback – incapacity or death. The other 30% will be a torso hit which won’t incapacitate – hey, you weren’t doing anything with those internal organs, right?

The role of Stamina

The standard RPG trope is Stamina (or Body, Constitution, Endurance) equals more hit points. But in ORE the Body is primarily skill-oriented, so doesn’t confer extra wound boxes.

The old World of Darkness way was to use Stamina to “soak” damage, which made for a lot of dice rolling, and also doesn’t translate to ORE well.

The NWoD is streamlined so that Stamina just adds more wound boxes. (There are quite a few system changes with the new system – some people think it’s broken, because weapons become disproportionately important and at the same time don’t reallydo much damage).

Whichever approach you take, using ORE damage ratings makes Stamina useful as a “threshold” stat. For example, you could rule that any one injury that exceeds the target’s Stamina results in some temporary shock – regardless of whether it causes actual lasting harm.

There is a temptation to apply Strength and Stamina as direct damage modifiers. The problem with that approach is the extremes of scale (e.g. Strength 1 vs Stamina 5) are larger than the normal width of a roll, so base stats dominate over skill.

Aggravated Damage

Vampires and other supernaturals tend to have weaknesses which balance their advantages. To make the weaknesses really bite, you could consider knocking off one wound level for every point of damage from fire, for example.

This approach could make fire disproportionately deadly for players. But that could be just the effect you’re after, right?

Final Comments

I still need to work on the scaling, but my preffered approach (from player readability PoV) is

  • a single damage track – but possibly split into multiple
  • Stamina provides an instantaneous threshold for any one attack (a “shock threshold”?) as well as providing a “buffer” for the damage track
  • weapons are rated for Lethality, and a roll with sufficient Height is lethal (otherwise it is bashing damage)
  • armour may reduce the lethality of weapons as well as reducing damage (but not necessarily “shock”)