Less random damage

One of the things I was thinking of last night was how crazy swingy D&D style damage is. Take a standard d8 longsword - the max damage is 8x the minimum. That’s gigantic. Either the low end is effectively negligible (in which case why bother?) Or the top end is super deadly (which may be fine, but most games don’t want one hit with a weapon to kill you).

My thought is that max damage should really only be 2-3x minimum. Many modern games started doing static damage levels, but that removes a die roll,.and I like rolling dice.

So here’s my thought - rather than forcing people to roll d4s for damage all the time (because no one likes rolling d4s), instead roll d6s, but have 1 be zero damage, 2-5 be 1 damage, and 6 be two damage. I’m still unsure about doing zero damage… It would probably be fine if the average weapon rolls were multiple d6s, but I don’t want 0 damage to be common… But at the same time, rolling and hoping just for 6s is almost as bad as not rolling. So I don’t know.


I’m trying to make it so that you’re not doing fiddly math for hitpoints but still get some randomness and some fun rolling dice.

What you’re going for could be something that works well using Fudge Dice or the Shadowrun hits system, with Fudge Dice you’d be some sort of Roll X keep Y system to make the average higher than 0 (and to minimize cases of negative damage) but it’s not that complicated.

Shadowrun is more simple but slower, Shadowrun is roll Xd6 count the number of 5 and 6 results. Effectively it means you can roll dice, even a lot of dice, and the result number doesn’t go up more than you’d want it to.

I myself am using damage tiers in my game so I’m not an expert on rolling for damage, though I did decide on tiers BECAUSE I don’t like how swingy the dice are.

It’s always been a bit anti-climactic, in the moment, to have finally rolled well enough to hit a monster only to roll minimum damage. The variability of damage can add to the uncertainty of combat, as one can’t truly predict how many hits a given creature will be able to take before dropping out of the fight. A minimum roll usually doesn’t have any significant effect on the monster, so adds nothing of excitement, most often, and in all those instances provides a bit of disappointment.

So, how to provide the variability? We could use degrees of success that offer set amounts of damage for each degree. That can strain credibility when the chances of a successful attack are quite low, though; a huge proportion of successful strikes could end up with egregiously little (or egregiously great) damage inflicted.

I reckon using small dice with relatively large modifiers works well. So, that sword that does a d8 damage can do d4+4 (5-8) damage, instead. A successful strike always does solid damage, relatively speaking, while retaining variability and the uncertainty that creates.

Do you know Kevin Crawford/Sin Nomine Publishing? He’s designed a few old-school-inspired games, all of which are worth checking out and most of which have a free PDF version available (on DTRPG). At least one of them (Godbound) uses a damage table to interpret rolls from light (D6), medium (D8), and heavy (D10) weapons like so:

  • 1 or less: No damage
  • 2 – 5: 1 point of damage
  • 6 – 9: 2 points of damage
  • 10 or more: 4 points of damage

You also add your attribute modifier to damage (as you do in D&D and others). So if your modifier is +2, then a dagger (D6) will usually do 3 damage (roll of 2-5), but sometimes 2 or 4 (roll of 1 or 6, respectively). Obviously, characters have fewer total HP in this system than in many others.

Speaking on this from a D&D context, I like the swinginess of damage at low levels, and dislike it at high levels:

Low Levels (1-4): When only one or two dice are rolled for damage, there’s a lot of tension. If my 1st level wizard has 1-6 hit points (Average 3), and a monster does variable damage, 1-6 is common in this level range, than my wizard has a chance to survive this attack. If my monster uses some kind of fixed or average damage, there are more likely to be situations where my wizard has no chance of surviving any attack from a certain enemies.

Higher levels (5+): As more dice are rolled, and player characters have higher hit points, rolling damage tends to be less significant, and in my experience the extra rolling tends to slow games down. At this point I tend to use average damage for most creatures, and encourage my players to do the same.

As for your proposed system, I think 0 damage would work well if you didn’t also use an attack roll. You only have a 1/6 chance to get 0 damage anyways, which is way less common than in D&D, or Call of Cthulhu for that matter if your investigator has a really low % in one of their fighting skills.

Since the d10 has a 0 on it, one system I considered was to have the attack roll be a d10, where a 0 is a miss, and 1-9 is the damage read straight. 'Course, this damage is even swingier than typical in d&d. You could modify the 1-9 range the way you modify the 1-6 range for the desired system.

If you really wanna reduce HP & damage swinginess, you could just make d&d Hit Dice the hit points instead, which would probably work decently with your range of attacks doing 0-2 points of damage, for example:

Goblin has 1d6 hit points in “regular” d&d. With simpler health system it just has 1 hit point instead.

Another way to accomplish this would be to something like how Star Wars (FFG) does it and have weapon dmg be a flat value and have degrees of success push up the damage. Depending on the scale of your resolution system, and how you make the degrees of success work, you could keep the damage range quite small. For example, in SWRPG, a small knife is like 1 damage and a very large sword might be 4 or 5. When you consider Brawn is added to that total, an average player attacked and getting a couple successes is going to range from about 5 dmg with a small weapon or 7-8 with a large one.

I really like the idea of more consistent damage if the attacker succeeds by higher margin. No sure how to implement it without rewriting the B/X tho.

Maybe something as simple as “if you hit by 5 or more, you may choose to do average damage for your attack”. Then it’s always up the the player, do you make a wild swing to try for more damage, and take the risk of maybe only barely hitting, or do you go confidently for center mass and ensure you get a solid hit to wear the enemy down?

I’m using Target20 system with Labyrinth Lord and thinking that perhaps every poins over the target 20 you secure a point of damage from your hit.

Example PC hits 27. For every point over 20 a point damage is secured. Rolls d8 for damage gets 2 and adds STR bonus +2 ends up with 4 damage of maximum of 10. With 7 points over 20 the final damage would be 7.

FYI, the current system I’m thinking is 1d6 where

1-3 -> 1
4-5 -> 2
6 -> 3

I like the curve of the damage, and the fact that there’s no zero. Currently trying it out to see if it’s too fiddly. It seems to handle fine if you count the 4s and 5s first, then the rest are easy to remember.

You could order custom dice from chessex for this. It shouldn’t be awfully expensive either.