Pick your targets

Today for some reason I was in procrastinating mood. Rather than doing what I should have been doing I ended up catching up on loads of really out of date forum topics that a really had very little interest in, which is why I hadn’t read them when they were fresh.

From my forum browsing a few bits stuck out. There was a comment by JDale about some of the people he had met at the weekend were fencers (at Pensic?  I have no idea what that is.)

I also came across Intothatdarkness talking about ballistic weapons and damage and critical locations.

So lots of things came together earlier when I had moved on to procrastinating by walking the dogs.

When I am fencing many of my fights are ‘first to 5 points’ as a competition format. My plan A is to press the attack and do three rapid ‘flurry of blows’ type attacks to my opponents wrist. The idea being that they will pull their wrist back and normally up out of the way exposing the underside of their wrist/ forearm. My next attack is to ‘beat’ their blade, I am left handed and most opponents are right handed so I snap my blade across them left to right to strike their blade. This knocks their blade off line and my blade bounces off theirs as I lunge forward to strike their chest or upper arm. My third attack is to feint to the knee before stepping in to strike the neck or head. If these are successful and I am three points up or at least in the lead in the bout I will then press the attack forcing the opponent back but not actually attack, I would rather have them pinned to the back of the fencing piste so they can only come forward. I can then stand off waiting for that attack and counter strike into their arm as they try and attack me.

The point of all that waffle is that the actual target for each attack is known to me before I take a single step forward. The idea of a random result that could be a foot or head or elbow doesn’t really come into it.

IntoThatDarkness has different critical tables for each location.

This seems like a really good way of doing things. I know that fencing is not combat. If I get hit I lose a point not a kidney. But I would counter that no skilled swordsman is going to go into an attack without a plan. Even if that plan is being revised every five seconds.

If the attack declaration phase started with pick your target area we can have very easy armour by the piece rules as you know where you are hitting and then location specific criticals, as Into has done it. Then the last piece of the jigsaw is just attack roll mods to make aiming for the head harder than hitting the body.

What we don’t need is some newfangled method of determining the hit location before rolling the critical or rolling the critical before the attack roll or reading the dice backwards or upside down which are the sorts of solutions we have seen so far. You just say I am going to aim for the head, if you hit you hit and if you miss you miss, end of.

That all sounds a bit too simple. Have I missed something?

19 Replies to “Pick your targets”

  1. I feel like you have: misses don’t happen in a vacuum. Especially with firearms. If you aim for the head and miss low, you’re talking center mass (chest and so on). It does bias toward center mass attacks (largest target, so easiest to hit), but you also take out one of the great benefits of a well-designed sniper skill (which is you hit the area you aim at when using the skill in surprise or better).

    I get the desire for simple. But I’ve had no issues with reading the last attack roll backwards for location in the years I’ve used this system and variations of it. And really…aside from the Lone Ranger how often is someone going to try to hit someone in the arm or leg? Unless it’s a fairly random result you’re just not going to see it all that often, even though limb wounds are pretty common in actual firefights.

    Your idea makes some sense for melee weapons, but as soon as you start factoring in range and target movement it really doesn’t, at least to me. There’s always a certain variable element in any kind of ranged combat.

    1. Misses, I am perfectly happy to have misses miss the intended target as the default miss, rather than as you say miss low and hit the trunk, go wide and hit an arm. I think my play style may be less ‘realistic’ than yours and I like destroying stuff. I like raining shards of glass down on my players from shattered windows or exploding plant pots above their heads.

      I have played with two players who I know damn well would soon learn what numbers produced head shots and would fudge their dice rolls to get one when their situation was desperate. I am also certain that I am not the only person who plays with players who have falsified a dice roll during a game.

      Maybe I am just too nice but in recent games where called shots were an option I have aimed for the leg repeatedly so stop without killing.

      A accept your last point though. I had this idea walking the dog so there was no play testing involved at all.

      1. With players like that I simply switch to rolling hit locations myself (there is an alternate system for that).

        With hit locations, you DO have fatal crits lurking in the limb tables. Stopping without killing isn’t always an option (unless you’re using a small caliber weapon that caps out below D or E crits, for example). And I’m really not a fan of the ‘skip up or down until you find the right location crit’ idea that’s been floated for RMU. It narrows the crit options far too much for my taste. And I agree with Peter’s later point regarding penalties for hit location. Once again, though, I look at this stuff primarily through a missile weapon context.

  2. This is the system JessicaEwers and I discussed, and she has worked out a system for doing it. It is on p. 4 of her ‘Armourer’s Appendix’ (the section on called shots), which I think she uploaded to the RM forums.

    You don’t need specific critical tables for each body part (though I would be very interested in seeing IntoThatDarkness’s system). You just have OB modifiers for each body part (e.g. Head -30, Leg -10). You roll the attack roll against the Armor Type of the body part you are targeting. Then you roll the critical. If you get a roll that doesn’t match (e.g. you were targeting arm and your critical roll said leg), you just adjust your critical result downwards until you reach the next arm critical result, and apply that result.

    Simple, easy, and uses only the existing charts in RMU.

    Big thumbs up for the Scanners reference by the way! We loved that part so much that ‘doing a DelGrande’ became our slang for blowing someone’s head off.

    1. I play tested JessicaEwers method and for me the penalties for the called shot were consistently too draconian. The problem came from the to hit penalty vs location armour seemed like a fair deal, hitting the mentalist on the head (AT1) vs hitting the platemailed body was a fair trade. The critical was then generally more severe but then the slide down the critical table to get something in the right place completely wiped out the gains from calling the shot to avoid the stronger armour.

      We also found that for low level characters the penalties made called shots way to difficult, but for from 7th level or so for fighters the penalties were of no consequence.

      So there is absolutely nothing wrong with JessicaEwers rules but with my players and their character’s builds they simply didn’t deliver the effect one would have hoped for.

      1. I haven’t playtested them either, but I too am thinking that the double penalty (OB and crit result reduction) might be too much.

        Have you considered not giving the OB penalty, and just doing the critical result reduction?

        1. If you remove the location penalties then what JessEwers rules do is exactly what I suggested above. The flaw in the system is what Into points out in the last comment, too little variety of critical. There are probably only 6 usable criticals at each A to E level.

          1. Yes, the variety of criticals is significantly reduced, so I understand that. But if you just use an OB mod, and have location-specific criticals, then won’t being a Mentalist be a bit of a death sentence? I mean, won’t everyone just always aim at the Mentalist’s head? If the OB mods became trivial as you say at around level 7 or so, then won’t they also be trivial in the new system you are suggesting?

            I would also note that the RMU development team seems to be trying to cut down drastically on the number of charts in the new edition, to combat the perception of the game as ‘Chartmaster’. Just something to consider.

  3. One other thing: I always understood the randomness of the hit location chart to be a function of the fact that you were taking what your opponent gave you, and looking for the best opportunity. If you swing at your opponent’s wrist and instead of pulling his wrist back, he moves his shield over to his right side, thus exposing his own left leg. So you can either seize the good opportunity to swing at his left leg (i.e. no OB penalty) or you can push ahead with your plan to attack his right wrist but in less advantageous circumstances (i.e. with an OB penalty). The choice is yours: stick to a plan even when it doesn’t seem to be working, or take the best opportunity your opponent presents to you, whether the latter is his legs (because his guard is too high) or his head (because he drops his guard slightly when he moves forward).

    1. In a flurry of blows world then you are right. For my RMC game I am using 2 second rounds and 1 roll = 1 attack.

      Going back to my fencing we are told “Plan the attack and attack the plan.” It is better to step out of distance and reassess than start to dither about changing target to head or legs.

      Mind you as I said above, I haven’t thought these suggestions through, I just had a lightbulb moment when walking the dog.

  4. This is an interesting topic and there are fantastic, in depth responses. There are so many topics and angles covered as well, so the best I can do is to throw my 2-cents in.

    1) Fencing is absolutely combat. It’s gentlemanly combat. You use elegant weapons from a more civilized time. Of course you are not going to lose a kidney, usually, it’s sport or practice. Accidents happen though. In Martial Arts, even with padding and the goal to score points not to kill your opponent, participants have died. Martial Arts tourneys are to points not to the death. I know killing strikes, but I really have no way to practice them without ending up in prison just as fencing is sword fighting, with no way to truly test it out without you ending up in prison. Don’t sell yourself short, my good man. You are master chef with the epee.

    2) Called shots and missed shots don’t always go the way you want. Sometimes when you aim to miss, you still hit, sometimes worse than you expected too. When starting your lunge, how many times has your opponent reacted (or failed to act) in a manner you weren’t expecting and your ‘aimed shot’ failed? Did you still hit or miss completely? When I was sparring one student. I had expected to do a low kick to get him to drop his guard. He instead CROUCHED down lower and I kicked him square in the groin. Plenty of times, I started my feint but the student decided to lunge at the same moment and essentially ran into my kick or punch. One time, I was sparring my cousin and I did a very slow (relatively speaking) left kick towards the head. I had no intention of making the kick to the head, it was very purely a feint. I wanted him to see it and to dodge to my right so I could throw a punch. For some ungodly reason, he turned full to my left and lunged full on into my kick. I was stunned (not as much as my cousin), and my uncle was pissed because the blood was on the carpet. I had one student who expected me to back up from his first kick and had his second strike planned. I didn’t move. I just blocked the kick and he was so off-balance he fell on his ass. I had no idea why. He tried the same combo again and I recognized it so I held my arm out and let him walk into my punch. I didn’t even make it an attack… I held it out and he walked into it with his face.

    I can see, and I am perfectly happy to accept the randomness of attacks going where they shouldn’t and hitting where they weren’t expected. I can easily accept that I tried to make a strike to the head, but hit an arm, or he ducked and I missed over the top of his head completely. Combat is frenetic and unpredictable. Even when fighting to subdue, accidents happen because you simply do not know what your opponent will absolutely, without a doubt, behave or react 100% precisely the way you envision him acting.

    The hole we fall into with gaming is that in our minds.. we are assuming I rolled the dice, I made my attack, my opponent stood there like a statue, my “called shot to his heart” hit him in the face. What? How is that possible? Simple. Your opponent and ducking and weaving trying to get you to miss. You missed your called shot.. hooray for him. But be blocked with his face. Poor fool. These attacks happen at the same time, but for the sake of clarity and narrative, they are resolved or described according to the dice roll initiatives.

    1. You make many valid points, I have effectively thrown myself onto someones blade by lunging at exactly the wrong moment. The point of an epee is about 1/4 inch diameter with the combined mass of two 140lb men lunging at each other, and the point of a lunge is to accelerate extremely quickly there is a lot of force there. It takes 0.5Newtons of force to score a hit and yet we wear multiple layers of 800Newton protection. I have never seen anyone stabbed through their jackets but I have seen the force break ribs and a collarbone.

      One of the problems with most RPGs is that we have combat rules. The problem with combat rules is that ‘combat’ doesn’t really exist. Fencing obeys one set of rules were on average the opponents spend most of their time more than 7′ apart and make tactical strikes. Epee in particular is the modern interpretation of the duel to first blood so the point is hit but not be hit and a toe or a finger is a perfectly valid fight winning hit. Against an Orc a dab on the finger is just not going to cut it.

      Martial arts on the other hand is rather more up close and personal. If there are no weapons then the effective range between opponents is zero. The amount of force needed to score a point from what I have seen in the Olympics seems to be quite considerable. There is quite a lot of heaving people around and trying to achieve what looks like center of gravity superiority.

      When firearms come into play the ‘rules’ of combat change again. Is there one bullet or many. The first bullet of a volley is likely to be more accurate but then with recoil that probably goes to pot pretty quickly. If you are using a handgun in a fisticuffs scuffle is that using the same skills as the same handgun when going room to room checking for an assailant? Sniping is recognised as a skill in its own right.

      Then we get to big swords, axes and possibly shield walls. It appears that the critical tables and even most ‘roll to check the hit location’ systems sort of assume that the target is standing dead straight in front of you but in almost all combat you want to be at a quite considerable angle, a fore leg and back leg allows you to take a blow and absorb it more easily, if you are stood straight on you are much more likely to be knocked over. If you are side on you are a much smaller target. If you are side on your weapon arm has a greater reach and your opponent needs to reach past your weapon arm and shoulder to get to your head and body. Your shield on the other hand never needs to be far away from you. So in melee hits to the back leg would be much less common. With bows, arrows and bullets they are no respecters of distance so that front/back distinction does not apply.

      So we get to archery. I find most GMs and Players massively over estimate the effects of leaving a bow strung for relatively short periods of time, but that is another story. With archery times and distances seem to be based upon the standard set by the English longbow. These had a pretty slow rate of fire. They were used almost like artillery pieces, less placed shots and more blacken the skys with shafts. PC parties rarely have massed ranks of longbow men, the combat round would take too long for your 500 henchmen to make their attacks. There is no flurry of blows in archery, you buy your arrows individually and fire them individually. I was practicing this evening as I have a competition at the end of the month and I was putting 6 arrows in the gold in 15 seconds from 15m. I shoot short distances because of the type of archery I do. I can empty a quiver in the time it takes an Olympic archer to take a single shot but they can hit a target they cannot even see from nearly ten times the distance I am shooting. Same basic weapon, very different techniques. I would allow an olympic archer to buy the sniper skill because they are that accurate.

      And then you get play style. I like my combat ‘hollywood style’. I have never and will never make a roll to see if a PC has a permanent penalty when recovering from wounds. I don’t care if that is not realistic. I feel that too many penalties on the players do not add to the fun. Obstacles are there to be overcome but permanent penalties are just a drag. Other people like to approach something approximating realism with their combat.

      The point is for one set of rules to try and cover all of these different styles and situations is nigh on impossible. To try and have different rules for every situation would call down so much scorn for rules bloat so that is not an option and of course you would have too many crossover points such as a martial artist that has a staff in one hand and not the other or spears being under one combat system when thrown but another when used in hand.

      What I was writing about in the post was not a thought out rule proposal but me avoiding doing any real work. But the principle of the player saying “I want to shoot the mentalist in the head” and having them attack the head, if they hit great, if they don’t then they shatter the carriage clock on the mantlepiece behind their target. That moves the story on, the target now knows they are under attack, surprise is lost, their target may flee etc.. The automatic miss is actually a perfectly valid ‘penalty’ and a viable alternative to adding an OB penalty. The OB penalty could make getting any sort of hit too difficult. With the proposed RMU rule of dropping down the table to first suitable critical is a double penalty.

      If we ignore people for now, when a mountain lion leaps on your back it knows exactly what it is doing and it wants to snap your neck with its jaws. I think of that as a called shot. I think the lion would be very surprised if it leapt on you with surprise from above and ended up mauling your ankle.

      It is entirely possible that I am seeing combat as too simplistic but then I quite like simple, big and bold. I quite like the idea of players considering called shots more often as right now it is a non event. RM2 and RMC have no working rules that I know of so the players pretty much know that if they try it the GM is going to have to wing it and the success or failure of that will always be coloured by whether the GM really wants that to happen or not. However much we say we are totally fair, there is some small part of us that doesn’t want a villain we love killed in the first combat round but a smart arse with dodgy dice.

      1. For the record, RM2 did have a ‘strategic targeting’ system in the Arms Companion, pp. 30-1. There might be some other rules in some of the other companions too (I seem to remember us using a different system than the Arms Companion one when we played RM2).

        I agree though that I would like to see called shots become more viable (that’s why I posted a thread about that specifically on the RMU boards). I really like the idea of adding that tactical element to combat. I would love to introduce the players to giant turtles with heavily armored torsos and lightly armored legs; or constructs whose armor could be smashed off to offer more vulnerable targets.

        Like IntoThatDarkness, though, I’ve never had a problem with coming up with an easy system for discerning the location of the attack. We just use the existing critical roll; and I like that RMU’s new critical charts make that so easy now.

        I do agree thought that giving called shots the penalty of both and OB mod and a critical adjustment is too much. I think we should just use one or the other.

        1. You are right there are rules in the Arms Companion. Our group never adopted that companion. By the time we had that book we had already started to reject skill bloat and too much complexity. It was not RMs fault, we had a brilliantly creative GM but he was a stickler for the rules and would check every book for every modifier. I am not joking when I say that a combat round would take forty minutes to an hour. You would roll your attack and then get up and go to the kitchen and make tea. By the time your next round came around everyone was ready for another cup anyway. It was a testiment to how great his world building and plot creation was that despite this OCD rules following was we still turned up at his table twice a week, every week. The combination of needing to have everything exactly right and a terrible memory for which rule was in which book is a horrible combination.

          It was that experience that taught me to (in those days) photocopy the important rules for each scene and insert them into my plot notes at the right place and to photocopy attack tables and critical tables so I can have all the right tables for each combat in a personalised mini Arms Law. It sounds like a lot of pages but I could reused almost everything.

          What you comment has inspired is this.

          We agree that the double penalty of minus to OB and reducing the critical makes targeting not very viable but too easy a called shot makes them too easy.

          So can we use the number of ranks in your weapon skill a factor? We have a number at our fingertips already that has a direct bearing on the characters combat effectiveness.

          I have one idea that is not very “Rolemaster” but does feel like it could work. This is of course completely untested.

          So we do have penalties to the OB depending on location and the table on the Arms Companion (pg31) has suitable modifiers.

          When it comes to rolling the critical you roll d100 but ADD your ranks in your weapon skill to the critical roll. (that is the major change) We then slide down the critical table to find the first critical that is suitable for that location.

          This means that clinical precision attacks are a really viable option for a highly skilled warrior but a real gamble for a lesser skilled fighter.

          How does that feel?

          1. It feels interesting!

            So, just to be clear: you are suggesting having both OB penalties and critical adjustments. However, the character’s ranks in weapon skill could essentially eliminate all or part of the critical adjustment?

            Some of the critical adjustments can get quite large; the most egregious example I believe is the head criticals. After the result of Head at 16-20 on the critical charts, there’s not another head strike till 81-5, which means that, under the current (JessicaEwers) houserule, any result greater than 20 but less than 81 gets reduced to a 20. So a character who rolls a 61 sees his critical result reduced to 20.

            In your suggested tweak, what happens when a level 10 fighter with 20 ranks in broadsword gets a critical, and rolls a 61 on it?

            Might it not be better to apply the skill rank to the OB mod rather than the critical result? Adding to the critical result can get out of hand/overpowered very quickly. But using the rank to eliminate the OB penalty instead might work better. Then your rank in your weapon skill would kind of be like a passive bonus you applied when making a called shot/targeted attack, to reduce or eliminate the penalty for targeting a specific body part.

            1. Yes, I was thinking to add the number of ranks to the critical roll so in the example the roll of 61 would become an 81 and the higher critical head shot.

              Regarding whether it is better to reduce the penalty rather than raise the critical is hard to say without any playtest experience. I didn’t go down the reduced penalty route as it felt like double dipping. The character would have a higher OB and less penalties to that OB.

  5. All of the replies in this thread have worked off one another and further supported one another. Simple is better. Realism vs. crippling penalties. Called shots vs. modifiers. Hits vs. misses. It shows that we are all on the same track and all trying to hit the same goal.

    We want to see called shots better. I certainly do. RM2 the penalties are so high that players say screw it and just roll with their full OB and hope for the best. If the player hits, I’ll adjust the wording in the critical to match what their called shot was. It’s the GM’s narrative of the round of combat that matters. No one knows what the authors in I.C.E.’s publication for “85 B-Puncture Crit” states until the GM makes it “real” by reading it aloud. (OK, maybe some of us do know what the text for 85 B-Puncture reads 🙂 )

    Olympic Judo is only one style of Martial Arts too. Tae Kwon Do is primarily kicks. Kenpo is more offence oriented. Aikido is more defense oriented. Just as there are different bows, styles, techniques. Someone intimate with the sport is able to appreciate finer points. I know a long bow, compound bow, and cross bow. I hadn’t considered or really noticed the Olympic distances vs. ‘speed’ shooting a quiver in 15 seconds vs. accuracy at 500 miles. That’s roughly 2.4 km for you European folks. 🙂

    I think we’re onto something good. Now we have to get these ideas to the powers-that-be to have it somehow worked into RMU.

    1. I promise I haven’t looked but isn’t the 85 Puncture critical a hit to the hip? I think I used it once as an example in a blog post, although that could be the E crit.

      What I do isn’t speed shooting as such, that is an entirely different discipline. I am a horseback archer. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3i58R9rw8q4 Skip forward in this video to about 4:18 and you will see the sort of rate of fire that horseback archers work at. The video is of last year’s hungarian competition. The host was the bowyer that made my bow, Christoph Nemethy. In a competition I can normally get 4 or 5 arrows away in the 12/13 seconds it takes my horse to complete the run. The sport has two elements to it you get speed points for riding faster as long as you shoot three arrows at the target and hit with at least one and points for hitting the target. It is a point per second for every second under 18 seconds to do the 90m track. My training partner has a horse that does the track in about 6 seconds so as long as she can get 3 arrows away and hit with at least 1 then she could get 12 speed points. Her scores are typically 90+ points for 6 runs, so an average of 15 points per run. I aim to shoot 15 points and get 5 or 6 speed points per run.

      There are at least two horseback archers on the ICE forums.

    2. In a standard two-second round (which is what I use for combat in my firearms settings), I don’t deal with the idea of a called shot in normal combat. That’s because, frankly, there isn’t time in the rush of fire and movement to be that precise with that kind of shooting. My tables are predicated on a shooter going for the main part of a target’s body, with other hits distributed accordingly. I also use this concept to simulate the actual stress of shooting in combat conditions (when someone is shooting back at you). I think it balances well between realism and playability without getting in the players’ way.

      There is one exception: Sniping. I have Sniping as a separate combat skill, and it has several innate and player-declared functions. Innately it modifies a weapon’s maximum effective range and offsets wind penalties at ranges beyond Medium (based on their skill, but the penalty can only be reduced to zero). Players may declare some shot benefits if they have Surprise or Complete Surprise. In a Surprise situation they may use part of their Sniper Skill bonus to modify a hit location roll. If it’s Complete Surprise they specify their hit location and a successful attack goes straight to that Critical Table. Both actions have OB penalties, but if they succeed there are major benefits. Note that Complete Surprise is only likely during the first Round of combat, and Surprise really only happens once or twice during a firefight, so there are built-in tactical limits to that use of the skill. It can also only be used with single-shot attacks (no machine gun sniping), and there can’t be any penalties for recoil (so you’re looking at one Sniping attack every other Round in most cases, and they’re not possible once Surprise is lost).

      I haven’t messed with this for melee combat simply because I tend to think in the confusion of attack and block it’s hard to do in this format. One of the better systems I’ve seen was the old Top Secret one where you picked a martial arts style and then a number of attacks and defensive moves (you could also go all attack or all defense). Both players did so, or the GM did for NPCs, and then the choices were cross-referenced on an attack chart. Attacks either got through or didn’t depending on the moves selected by the combatants. I actually had one fight between two PCs (one player ‘borrowed’ another’s surveillance gear and the owning agent got pissed and declared that he attacked him), and they knocked each other out! Luckily it was in a hotel room so there were no adverse consequences (aside from headaches and comments from the other players for a month or so…).

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