In defence of the damage chart


For the past few months, I have been obsessed with Troika!. Not only it rekindled my love for Advanced Fighting Fantasy, but it also introduced me to the never-ending chest of wonders that is the OSR community.

As I re-immersed myself in all things RPG again and spend all my waking hours reading all your delicious blog posts and zines, I noticed people talk little about damage charts, which is one of my favourite aspects of AFF and Troika. In this post, I’m going to defend the opinion that damage charts are better than direct damage rolls, and why they lead to weapons with more flavour.

There is a lot to unpack here, but first, let’s get everyone on the same page by defining some common terms. These may be obvious to you, dear reader, but believe me, someone reading this will have no idea what I’m talking about.

Direct Damage: This is the most common case I see in RPGs today. You have a weapon and its damage is the direct value of a die roll plus modifiers. So if your OSE Short Sword does 1d6 of damage, that means the damage will result from rolling 1d6, or a value between 1 and 6.

Damage Chart: In this case, the damage is not the value of a die roll. The dice roll informs you of a position in a damage chart. The damage value is whatever is in that position. While the dice roll still influences the damage, it is not a 1 to 1 correspondence between the face value of the dice and the damage.

Consider both the Short Sword as defined in the OSE SRD and the Sword as presented in Troika! Numinous Edition. In the OSE version, the sword does 1d8 of damage. The damage value and roll show a linear profile.

You are rolling a single six-sided dice, so you have an equal chance of rolling any of those six values. If you compare it with the Short Sword:

or the Silver Dagger:

What can you perceive from all of this? That damage rolls are linear and boring. Those weapons feel the same even if they have different maximum damage values. Between rolling 1 and 4, they’re all the same. They have no flavour.

Now, let’s consider the Troika! sword, this is its damage chart:

Damage Roll →1234567+

To calculate damage in Troika! or any AFF derived RPG that still uses damage charts, you roll 1d6 and then check the corresponding damage value on the damage chart for the chosen weapon. From a quick glance at that table, we can realise that the damage range is between 4 and 10 and that in most cases you’ll hit the enemy with 6 damage. The profile is not linear:

Also, notice the green lines. They mark the maximum value you can roll on a d6. This means that to reach the higher levels of damage such as 10, the player needs to resort to something else such as testing their luck or relying on bonuses from other items.

These damage charts are not the equivalent of applying bonuses to direct damage die rolls. A magical OSE Sword that is 1d6+3 will still have a linear profile:

While a hypotethical AFF magical sword could be:

Damage Roll →1234567+
Maybe Magical Sword66668810

Which may look quite similar but has a very different profile than the previous sword we’ve shown:

All these graphs are just a quick way to convey the idea that by using damage charts, you can have bespoke damage profiles that move beyond linearity and bell curves. This leads to weapons and attacks that feel unique. You’re no longer restricted to having an upward linear line of damage. You can go crazy. Let’s build two very strange weapons using damage charts.

The Sword of Good and Evil

Long time ago, some wizard-scientists were attempting to create the perfect prince for their kingdom. They created a machine that would split an unborn child into twins, one containing the good essence of the original child and the other containing its evil side. The king and the wizards had a plan, to use the machine in the pregnant queen while she slept, wait for the twins to be born, and kill the evil one. The good, perfect prince would eventually grow and lead their ringdom into a perfect utopia.

Well, or that was their plan.

The machine worked, but once the twins were born, they realised they had no way of knowing which child was the good and which was the bad. So they ended up raising them both and hoping to find out as they grew up.

That didn’t work either and in the end there was a civil war between the good and the evil princes, and no one knew which was which. The wizards-scientists wanted the war to be over and, amidst their desperation, they created a reintegration ray. That would fuse the two princes back together. It was best to have good and evil back together than risk the ringdom collapse.

During the last battle, when the two princes were crossing swords inside the throne room, they used their ray. After the blinding light, good and evil were reunited, but the princes were nowhere to be seen. Just their swords remained on the floor, fused into a single weapon

Damage Roll →1234567+
Sword of Good and Evil28282810

and the graph:

That sword has both good and evil inside it. The good side of the sword wants the player to succeed and will contribute to the damage. The evil side wants the player to fail and will sabotage the attack. This duality is part of the game mechanics. The damage profile for that sword oscillates. You can have a very good roll or a silly attack.

Enhancing that with good roleplay and group interaction lead to a much more enjoyable damage calculation experience than simply rolling direct damage dice.

Not convinced? Let’s create another weapon.

The Spear of the Worthy

A magical spear that excels when held by someone worthy of its magic. It can be built with a simple damage chart:

Damage Roll →1234567+
Spear of the Worthy44668820

That is remarkably similar to the standard spear damage chart from Troika! except that the standard spear maximum damage is 10 and here it is 20. What that means is that on the hand of a common person, this spear behaves just like any other spear.

But when this spear is used by someone who just rolled six on the damage dice and then tested their luck successfully, it inflicts a terrifying amount of damage. These rare situations are the stuff of legend. This is how a Cyclops can be killed by a single hero and his spear, because they were worthy.

It is a simple weapon that instead of always giving bonuses behaves exactly like any other weapon of its kind until the stars are right and the player is lucky (or has some other way to get the modifier).

Final words

I hope that this brief post inspired you to see damage charts with more fondness. They can lead to brilliant weapons and attacks because they are much more flexible than a simple die roll plus bonuses.

When it comes the time for you to write your next hack, I hope you consider adopting damage charts. They can add a lot of flavour to your game.

Also, I’m keen on reading feedback and comments from you all, don’t hesitate to reach out.

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