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Why Random Damage and Hit Locations?

I was flipping through a copy of GURPS 4e recently. It’s a game I used to play almost exclusively, although eventually I reached the point where I couldn’t get past the way that the rules seemed to force a certain style of character creation and play that I was sick of. I’ve felt similarly about other games in the past–for instance, I suspect I would find it very hard to play a d20 System game now as well, unless it was a significantly stripped down version. Anyway, not the point.

The thing that struck me is that GURPS is needlessly complex in determining how much damage an attack does. By that, I mean that it includes several different random elements in determining how much damage each attack does, all of which influence each other. Specifically:

  • Each weapon does a random amount of damage (modified by damage type).
  • Then you roll to determine where you hit the person, which also modifies the amount of damage done.
  • Finally, the damage may be further modified by whether or not you did a critical hit.

When you realize that all of these modifiers just go into determining how many hit points you lose, it becomes hard to understand the value of the additional layers of abstraction. If you’re going to have a damage roll anyway, why not let that roll tell you if you hit something important or not? Alternatively, just have weapons do a fixed amount of damage and have a hit location roll determine how bad it is.

As a practical matter, from the days when I used to research these things, I understand that combat injuries really only fall into a few categories:

  • Things that don’t matter until after the fight
  • Things that don’t put you down but do affect your ability to act, like concussions and broken bones
  • Things that make you fall down right now and possibly go into shock
  • Instant death

This is somewhat complicated by the fact that some things won’t stop you from fighting but may actually kill you. However, in terms of realism, a game is perfectly fine with a combat system that has a few wound levels plus possibly some kind of save against death after the end of a combat to identify the nasty injuries.


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