This is perhaps my favourite old school house rule yet! And it flawlessly and effortlessly fits into older edition role-playing games!
I like subdual damage, as you may have gathered from some previous posts. But there is more to it than just a comic book-style bashing damage as was used in the late great DC Heroes RPG.
I think that, given a reasonable opportunity to engage in non-lethal combat, eventually more characters, and some monsters may be willing to make use of it. This is advantageous for player characters, too, since they will not have to fear that everyone is out to kill them. Thus this rule helps reducing, or preventing preemptive killing sprees from player characters who adopted the "It's us, or them" mindset.
Less paranoia is better.
The beauty of this rule (I am rather enthralled by it, I confess.) is its simplicity, and that by its nature it does not change the mechanics of older edition games. It is not an added rule. This rule fits seemlessly, and enhances the gaming experience.
Most rules aren't very flexible regarding damage, but I think there is a fine way to interpret the already abstract damage code and turn it into something more useful, more playable, and perhaps enjoyable. I like the possibility to put damage rolls to some better use than only clobbing down hit points ...
The concept (hit points as currency)
A successful attack yields damage. Damage is determined by the die-code of the weapon, e.g. 1d6+1.
The result of the damage roll is the amount of normal damage the attacker deals out to his opponents.
Now, since hit points are a kind of basic currency to the game, let's go shopping and find something better than your average damage roll, or another slain goblin.
On a successful attack roll the character inflicts a certain amount of
damage to the opponent's health (hit points), and he may use these hit points to purchase the following effects:
- He may decide to apply normal damage.
- Or, he may decide to apply subdual damage only.
- Or, he may decide to apply one half normal damage, one half subdual damage.
- Or, he may decide to make a trick shot, or special maneuver instead, with various effects depending on the severity of the damage roll.
- Or, he may decide to make one trick shot, or special maneuver and apply some damage, either normal or subdual. (Depending on the maneuver, and only up to a maximum of half the damage roll.)
Note: Swapping damage points for trick shots, or special maneuvers allows for actions that are not considered normal actions in a given combat round (e.g. move, turn around). Since a combat round has 1 minute duration, there are quite a few things possible.
A trick shot/special maneuver may be employed to lop the magic wand out of the wizard's hand. It may land over by the fireside where it gets picked up by a PC who is attacked by a goblin who bites the fellow and kicks the wand under the dinner table. The wizard crawling under the table to pick up his wand, gets his fingers stomped by Rulf the Barbarian.
I favour this house rule over many other variants, because it is simple, and it lets players (and DMs!) decide what damage the characters inflict when they attack (or technically after the successful attack roll).
It is much easier to portray a duelling scene with this rule, and have fighters sweep their enemies off their feet, or disarm them, and cut their initials into their breast plate.
Yes, this makes all those fancy combat maneuvers of special classes, and extended rules in later editions pretty obsolete. Cause this is an old school way. And it is so much fun.
Slogan: Put damage points to better use! Take the initiative and start playing enjoyable combat today! Now with easy implementation of all your favourite combat maneuvers from TV and the movies!
On critical hits
I don't think that critical hits that allow a multiplier or modifier to the damage roll works best with old school games. Instead I'd rather use saving throws (e.g. vs. paralyzation/death ) in those few instances when critical hits occur. I've yet to come up with a simple rule that fits the concept above, but here are some ideas.
Saving throws can be used to determine if a character is struck by fear during combat. And you may want to use Scream Types as introduced in The Undead Dwarf Massacre series.
Critical hits can be resolved by using saving throws without the need to change the damage roll. Thus a saving throw can be required to stay conscious even though the pain, and shock of a wound is overwhelming. Critical hits do not imply that the character is instantly killed, or crippled. What's more important is an instant defenselessness, e.g. a knock-out, or stun.
So what now?
Wait to read more on this house rule, and try it out for yourself, modify it, and let me know