The more I’ve been thinking about resolution systems and consequences (using damage as the generic term, since it’s readily familiar to most of us), the less I am liking separate “to hit” and “damage” rolls or systems. It’s got a long and storied tradition in RPGs, but I think its time may have passed.
So, what’s gotten me ready to ditch the dice? I break it down this way:
The to hit roll is a skill roll. Many skill roll systems (such as in D&D and its ilk) are binary systems: you either succeed completely, or you fail completely. If you just roll the needed target number you do as well as if you roll well over; the GM may well narrate things a bit differently, but mechanically, you are supposed to do equally well.
This means, then, that your attack roll just means you got your sword/etc somewhere on the target. The damage roll is supposed to tell you where on the body you hit, whether you hit a weak or strong point on their armour, how strongly you connected, etc. And if you are playing D&D, since HP are mostly not meat, it also indicates how much effort the target used to dodge or turn away the blow, how much divine favour they burned, how much of their mettle they used, etc.
And then you roll a Natural 20 and do double damage. Suddenly, in this one instance, your skill roll indicates a stronger hit.
A skill roll already has the ability to indicate a range of success values, from just enough to a stylish success.* To throw that out and then use a second roll seems like a lost opportunity and extra work. There is also the frustrating case of rolling extremely well to hit, and then rolling pitifully for damage. Natch, the opposite is also possible, which can be exciting… but both could be well handled already inside of the skill roll.
In a system where the skill roll is used as part of determining damage, then, the quality of the roll takes on those areas listed before: where on the target you struck, if you knew and hit where their armour was weakest, how strongly you connected, and etc. I’d assert this actually makes you/your character feel like it had more agency and even more powerful – it is their skill that did the damage (or not), it is not some luck of the dice. Your skill really matters.
How, then, to handle the actual damage value? (I pontificated on how to model the damage itself in my previous post) I’m thinking along two avenues right now:
One, is a multiplicative system (a la Silhouette, ie, X damage for each Margin of Success) or an additive system (weapon does base damage plus some damage per point of Success).
The other, and what I’m finding a rather interesting idea right now, is to have the weapon, and, additionally, the armour, directly modify the attack and defence rolls. It combines all the probabilities into one roll/test… because ultimately in total this whole thing is about the probabilities of your character doing damage to the other one. All the bits – skills, conditions, circumstances, weapons, armour, modifiers – they all are affecting the probability that this attack will cause harm/detriment to the target. So why not include them all at once?
There’s something compelling to me about this option. If we’re using a multi-die system (as I like to do), then the weapon could be bonus dice to your attack roll, and armour could be bonus dice to the defence roll. The thing to avoid here is ending up with too many dice to roll at once, but I think that’s well and easily manageable.
One test and one set of calculations to determine the outcome. Blam, done. Narrate the outcome.
Note that while I’ve been using damage here in a physical combat kind of way (and it is indicatory and telling, I think, that it is the place we most easily go for it has been the core of many/most RPGs since the beginning) there is no reason why this couldn’t/doesn’t apply to other types of conflict be it mental, social, and etc. What grants bonus dice would change, but the whole shebang would work out the same way, which would be very elegant.
* – Another incentive to use a die system with a bell curve. If you use a straight up D20 or percentile and try to pull a margin of success/failure from it, you are just as likely to barely succeed (example roll a 10) as you are to knock it out of the park (roll a 19).