Damage to dilemma, the diceless way


Thinking about CosmicOrrery’s post about diceless violence and the reference to this post about combat maneuvers.

Skorne’s no to-hit rolls or even damage rolls is something I didn’t realize all the implications or applications of when I wrote it. Such is design released to a larger world, I suppose… This is really leading to some interesting experimental thought-food.

For combat in our tabletop games, let’s get beyond accepting the standard outcome, being it rolling to-hit in D&D, rolling damage in Into the Odd, or straight dealing damage in Skorne. Let’s move towards player choices instead of defaulting to dice. A dilemma (outlined here by Chris) is a perfect way to do this. Then Cosmic unlocked my brain to making the combat dilemma functional. The formula is this:


Who decides the condition? The attacker. Who makes the choice? The defender. Who can ask for a dilemma? Anyone! Players are encouraged to do so, Skorne can do likewise.

Digging deeper

The damage is a flat amount as stated in the rules:

  • One hit for simple weapons
  • Two hits for martial weapons
  • Three hits for devastating weapons
  • Four hits for deadly weapons

Monsters deal damage based on how skilled they are:

  • Untrained: 1 hit
  • Trained: 2 hits
  • Dangerous: 3 hits
  • Masterful: 4 hits
  • Lethal: 5 hits.

Both of these are adjusted by situational modifiers. The attacker then states how much damage they’re dealing.

Then it’s the attacker’s job to come up with a condition that A) is appealing to them and their situation, B) could be more appealing to the defender than taking damage, and C) makes sense in the fiction. Then they grin devilishly as the defender weighs the lesser of two evils.

This is how to make combat maneuvers like disarming and fighting dirty work. This is how to make scars, transformations, and mutations work as conditions that players choose to take themselves. This is how to make heavy metal scenes wear the hero pushes themselves and pushes themselves in combat, taking more and more temporary or permanent injuries and debilities instead of collapsing. “Guts, are you going to take three more damage that would take you out of the action? Or are you going to lose an arm tonight?”

Remember also that actions in combat happen simultaneously. You are concocting horrible choices for your foes and receiving them in the same round.

Alright, enough talk. Let’s see some examples!

Struck with a sword –> you take two damage or are disarmed.

Sand in the face –> you take two damage or are blinded for a day.

Whacked with a club –> you take two damage or take a concussive blow and will miss something important.

Maimed by a tusk –> you take three damage or your dominant arm is mangled.

Blasted with a fireball –> you take four damage or are permanently disfigured and hairless.

Hit with a chaotic spell –> you lose 1 WIL, then take one damage or take a permanent random mutation.

Clawed –> you take two damage or take a temporary random scar.

Fall from a great height –> you are taken down to zero hits or can never walk again.

Bit by a vampire –> you lose 1 STR, then take three damage or become a vampire yourself.

Torture –> you lose two hits permanently or betray your fellow renegades.

Resist your lycanthrope –> you take two damage and lose 1 WIL or transform into a werewolf.

Death Frost DOOM –> you take four damage or are encased in ice.

Enjoy making tough decisions! That’s all we’re looking to do here.

Happy gaming!

Side note: this is why poison and drowning aren’t always that interesting as dilemmas for the afflicted persons. They often require intervention…

Drowning –> take one damage or fall unconscious… and then die. Do this until you shed enough weight, are saved, or perish.

Poison –> take one damage or collapse… and then die. Do this until you get an antidote or perish.

Could you make this a dilemma?

Other side note here: Horror on the Siberian Express is now on itch for the spook season! Enjoy a Dread scenario about a monstrous missing link, Russians, and worst of all, ACADEMICS!

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