June 3, 2014

Trading Down Damage Dice

I meant to post a long-overdue review of Julian May’s Pliocene Exile, but since I’ve not finished it yet – the books were too dang tempting to re-read in full! – here’s a thought off the top of my head that takes an approach I use in Vivid and adopts it to other game systems.

Hacking the Called Shot
The ‘called shot’ was one of the great house-rules-that-became-official in D&D, but to my mind falls short of its full potential because of the way it’s implemented. Called shots let you do a whole lot of stuff in combat that’s cool, and encourages player input, which to me is always a good thing because it takes combat away from the ‘I roll to hit’ paradigm that drives me nuts.

Thing is, called shots as implemented are too inefficient; if I’m going to take a penalty to hit, it’s unattractive to me at low levels because my chances to hit are already so low, and it’s unattractive to me at high levels because I do so much damage on a normal hit already.

So: what if, instead of a penalty to hit, you ‘trade down’ damage dice for called shots that should do little or no damage, like pushing your opponent or whacking his knuckles to make him drop his weapon? This is combined with a ‘margin of success’ mechanic where you have to roll X higher than you needed to hit as normal.

Say you need a 12 to hit, and let’s standardize the margin required to make the called shot to disarm at +3. Let’s say your damage die is 1d8. If you roll 12-14, you do 1d6 damage instead of 1d8, or maybe the GM ruled 1d4. But if you make your called shot, the effect you asked for happens.

Rather than fixing the damage die you drop to, you could leave this to be negotiated between player and GM on an ad hoc basis, leaving the GM much more flexibility to make rulings based on your stated intent.

‘Trading up’ damage dice may also be allowed, perhaps with a larger margin of success requirement like +5. If you don’t make your margin you do your reduced die of damage, if you make your margin you do your improved die of damage.


  1. Zak S has a great house rule for called shots here. In a nutshell, you make a called shot if you roll a natural 20 (crit). You can also choose to extend your crit range: natural 19-20, 18-20, 16-20, all the way up to 11-20. The only catch is you then have to extend your fumble range from one by the same amount.

  2. That also makes sense, since you are more likely to fumble in some way I think when you do that -- leaving yourself open, etc. Thanks!

  3. In Moldvay's Challenges system, a to hit role that goes below or above the target number gets incrementally reduced effects or bonuses. For example a -3 miss still results in one point of damage...a fuzzy combat matrix that allows you to make use of all sorts of conditions.


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