Drama on a Miss

Ok, there’s a bit of furor afoot at the moment about the idea of Damage on a Miss.

For the unfamiliar, it’s an idea I first encountered in D&D 4e, which figures prominently in 13th Age, and which is currently prominent because a build option in D&D next may allow it. A horrible, trollish rant was put up in opposition to it, but it is telling how much the idea bothers people by the number of people who are willing to disregard the nature of the communication because they also dislike Damage on a Miss. I’ve already written some about how this kind of rant is good for preparing yourself for playtest feedback, but I’m now going to engage in the monumentally foolish action of talking about the rule itself.

In short, the idea behind the rule is this: When you make a d20 style to-hit roll and miss, you still inflict some fraction of your damage, usually just your stat mod. I’m not going to speak to the specifics of the D&D Next implementation because it’s a playtest doc, and to pick certain kinds of nits[1] would reveal a profound misunderstanding of what playtest means.

But I will speak to the idea of the rule because it wonderfully illustrates a host of ideas, the most important of which is (and this is a bit of a spoiler) that there is very rarely a truly bad rule, and even more rarely, a good one. Games are full of moving parts and tradeoffs, and understanding the strengths and problems of any particular rule technology is how you build a design that does what you intend. “Good” is a shorthand, not an analysis, and definitely not an outcome.

And with that in mind, I am kind of delighted by Damage on a Miss (DoaM from here on in) as a piece of rules technology because it illustrates the balance so wonderfully. And so, I shall now contradict myself with great abandon.

DoaM is a great rule because it avoids the sense of a “wasted” action for a player, especially when that action is part of their bread and butter.

DoaM is a terrible rule because it’s counterintuitive. It is easy to imagine a hit translating into damage of some sort, but having a miss do the same is difficult to visualize and explain. Hit points may be abstract, but they’re broadly understood, and this pushes the abstraction too far.

DoaM is a weird rule because it takes the premise that hit points are an abstraction and runs with it. That is both very logical and very disruptive, because hit points themselves are a tough foundation to build anything from.

DoaM is a great rule because it speeds up combat by guaranteeing that fights keep going forward, even if the dice are a bit whiffy.

DoaM is a terrible rule because it makes combat more boring. Not only are outcomes more predictable, the emotional satisfaction of a good hit can be diminished by the fact that you know there’s a consolation prize for missing.

DoaM is a weird Rule because it interacts oddly with other accuracy-increasing rules, sometimes to its detriment. For this one area, I will use D&D as a specific example, because increasing the number of attacks is another way to increase accuracy (or, to put it another way, reduce the whiff chance). If you’re making 4 attacks, odds are good one will hit, and that true “whiffs”, missing on all rolls, will be enough of an edge case that whiffs may not be a problem any longer. This does not automatically cut either way, but it’s something that merits inspection.

DoaM is a great rule because it actually makes armor a bit more interesting in its long term effect. That is, reduced chance to hit as damage mitigation has always been an awkward solution when implemented as a binary, but if you shift the premise to assume some damage, but that armor prevents serious damage, you generate an outcome similar to DoaM.[2]

DoaM is a terrible rule because I can kill someone on a miss. Arguably, this is just another version of unintuitive, but it’s a very palpable example.

DoaM is a weird rule because absolutes are weird, emotionally. For some people the difference between a 0.000001% chance of success and a 0% chance of success is REALLY important.

DoaM is a great rule because it builds on D&D’s history. It was a great rule in 4e.

DoaM is a terrible rule because it contradicts every non 4e version of D&D.

DoaM is a weird Rule because it’s been in the game since the beginning with spells, but that potentially opens the other can of worms of what exactly saving throws are supposed to mean in fiction.

DoaM is a great Rule since it’s a gatekeeper. If it’s a game-breaker for someone, then they may not actually be a great audience for anything new for D&D.

DoaM is a terrible rule Because it alienates older players.

DoaM is a weird rule because it’s an unearned reward. Whether that’s bad or not has a lot to do with what one thinks players need to earn.

And that’s just the 101 stuff. This could easily go on all day, especially as you delve into specifics, like whether it’s an across-the-board rule or a specific build option (which have very different implications). And importantly, I think these things are all true.

I don’t say that to invite debate on specific points, but rather to highlight the nature of the argument is very different depending upon where you are coming from, and it boils down to this – If you cannot see the way a rule could work, then I am intensely suspicious of your opinion that it does not (and vice versa).

DoaM is an impressively emotional issue in this case because it’s easy to take as a proxy for what D&D really is. It hangs a flag on something that’s always been a problem (hit points) in a way that could be taken as killing a sacred cow (though exactly which cow may depend on who you ask). And I don’t intend to dismiss those emotional arguments – they’re important – but they’re not design arguments, and it’s important to separate these things.

Do I have a final conclusion on DoaM in D&D Next? Not really. The language could be cleaned up, and it may have problems interacting with multiple attacks, but those are largely fixable. More importantly, it’s a modular design element, and easily extracted (as opposed to being a far-reaching element, as it is in 4e or 13th Age). So I’m fine with it being there, but I’m not really invested in it.

And, importantly, if they drop it, it will be because they tested it and thought it through, not because someone on the internet got mad.

  1. Specifically, I am speaking about implementation details. Does it contradict other text? Is it unclear how it interacts with other rules? Does the exact number balance correctly? These are all valid concerns, and they’re exactly what playtesting should reveal. But these are not things which speak to the underlying rule and whether it works or does not. They are knobs, and can tuned. If they cannot be tuned, then that may reveal something to be unworkable, but the gap between “needs work” and “unworkable” is deep and wide. Best to not throw an idea or rule down it until you see if you can build a bridge. Also, the DDN specific stuff has already had robust conversation, and if you’re interested in that, then go join that conversation. Coming in late game with “brilliant insights” that ignore all conversation that has gone before is amateurish and disrespectful.  ↩
  2. And less you think that sounds too abstract/wonky, that is actually exactly the model that was used by games like Rolemaster and (I think) Harn. Landing a hit was trivial, but it was also trivial in its impact. What you really wanted was a good enough hit that you would get a critical, an injury or similar.  ↩

36 thoughts on “Drama on a Miss

  1. Rob Donoghue Post author

    I absolutely welcome comments and discussion, but I also will be very happy to nuke any fight picking.

    1. RM

      Playing 13th Age, I’ve found I really like Miss Damage. I think the intuitive argument problem is really just centered around the fact that we call this a “miss” still. 13th Age’s heroes are exceptional figures. Quite simply, they don’t miss (with many/most attacks, anyway). They hit really well or they hit off-target, but they hit in either case. So I think it’s kind of a wording issue…if we call it “solid hit” vs. “weak hit” or something…likely much better than that, we won’t break people’s brains trying to figure out how you can miss something but still hurt it.

      Similarly, as a lot have noted, “HP” tends to be a shorthand for damage, but I don’t think that’s really the best way to look at it as it leads to a lot of questions. I’d say it’s more “risk of injury”. You take minor hits or narrowly defend yourself against blows (like Fate’s “Stress” concept), but it’s only at certain thresholds that you’ve taken a serious hit. This of course brings up how we re-narrate healing spells and items, but…that’s something for another day.

      (The entire HP and damage roll concept can lead to other problems, of course, such as in a GURPS game when, despite low HP totals and massive multipliers to damage rolls for critical locations, a character was shot in the eye and survived easily. So the contrast between HP and perceived reality comes up in relation to a lot of things, not just misses.)

      Systemwise, I love miss damage for many of the reasons you stated. I love that my players always feel like they’re making progress in the fight. I love that they don’t often feel like they wasted a turn. I love that they feel like their characters are powerful and capable even when the d20 roll goes against them. Miss damage is one of the things in 13th Age (and previously 4E) that really helps keep the fight moving and keep players from feeling left out if the dice rolls go badly. I’m not sure whether it fits in every system or not, but it’s definitely awesome for 13th Age.

  2. Jason Pitre

    I was actually going to ask you to expand on the good/bad/weird implications of the concentration busting on spellcasters and the inanimate objects, since you did mention those on the original google+ thread.

    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      That’s totally a dial, so it doesn’t worry me too much. Easy solutions:

      Spell Interruption
      * Interrupt concentration on a hit, not on damage
      * Chance to interrupt tied to damage (which is, I believe, the case) so miss damage has minimal chance of success at interruption

      Inanimate Objects
      * Objects have hit points. Miss damage may not help you cut the rope
      * Object have DR. Ditto
      * Treat objects as a challenges to skill rather than combat

      That’s just off the cuff, and they might all have their own problems in implementation. And I trust that Mike has thought about it much more than I have, and could list off many, many more possibilities. But the point is that it’s pretty easy to address those concerns in some manner other than “THIS RULE IS BROKEN” as a first response.

  3. Ed

    This post did not disappoint. I think its great that you fully admit that both the questions AND the answers can be highly subjective. In the end, it comes down to three groups of people: the designers, drawing a line in the sand about what their game is and is not; the GM, interpreting and running the rule as intended; and the players, who can choose to accept it and play, or not accept it and play something else.

  4. Paul (@princejvstin)

    It does go to one of the old hearts of the game–what IS a hit point, exactly? Why do you lose it? When do you lose it? How do you lose it?

    Hit points have never been just about physical damage, but a lot of doublethink lets many players think that. When that doublethink gets shattered (such as miss damage), it causes reactions like that post.

    Ryan Macklin jokingly “shut me up” on Twitter because I brought up GNS to him–but I think there is truth in that old division. D&D is not as Gamist as many people think–but the perception is there, and when it gets challenged hard, some people are going to react badly.

    1. Alan

      I think terminology is complicating the situation. I think that the D&D Next designers mean something closer to “dangerous threat” and “minor threat” when the rules refer to “hit” and “miss.” Unfortunately there are 40 years of history attached to hit and miss, and they’re succinct, evocative terms.

      It’s easy for an RPG author to fail to explicitly call out assumptions that seem obvious to them but aren’t to everyone. It’s easy to overlook since RPGs are usually taught by word-of-mouth; the assumptions are more obvious in play at the table. I’ve certainly had a few games that seemed to have big issues, but actual play with an experienced GM realigned my assumptions and all was well.

      (Ironically, the labels in GNS theory have similar problems. The terms seem obvious, but different people believe them to mean different things. A lot of arguments about GNS that I’ve seen stem from this problem.)

    2. Ryan Macklin

      So, GNS isn’t a concept that should be applied to any specific game’s design. That’s why it’s a minefield to even bring up, because 99% of people who throw it out totally misunderstand it. It’s about player agenda. Or, in that original post’s case, reader/poster agenda.

  5. Cam Banks

    Hit points are a pacing mechanic, yes? Damage on a miss ties into that philosophy more than it ties into, say, hit points as in-game representation of physical stress and damage.

    1. Jim Crocker

      Yes! 4e really drove that point home for me.

      Another thing that reading all this lit up in my brain like the proverbial light bulb: DoaM is fine for me because it reflects the effort of the defender not getting ‘hit’.

      Blocking that great axe will surely still wallop your shied arm, diving out of the way of the lightning bolt will bang your knees up, and even though your magic plate can bounce an arrow, it’ll still leave a bruise where it snaps on your chest. Narratively it works just fine, now that I actually think about it.

  6. Octavo

    Great post.

    I wonder if a lot of these emotional issues with DoaM would go away if they used the language Dragon Age (PC/Console, not pen/paper) used: “Glancing Blows.” The blow “misses” in that the armor rating protects the user, but because the sword is so huge, some of the impact still hurts/depletes hitpoints.

    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      Honestly? Yes. If it was phrased as “Glancing blows: inflict STR damage on any non-1/non-fumble miss as the force of your blow rocks the target without piercing the armor” it woudl probably soothe many folks. But not all, because, of course AC is also dodging. 🙂

      Always another can of worms.

      1. Bob Hoskins

        AC is not dodging, it’s preventing the weapon from hitting its actual target, namely, the wearer of the armor. One can hit the armor or shield but miss the target behind it, thus, it is perfectly logical and makes both physical sense and is congruent with a precise use of the english language where you specify, correctly, what is the target your sword is seeking. If it’s trying to make contact with the armor, it must will beat AC 10, because that’s what an unarmored, defenseless peasant has in D&D. So dodging is what happens when the attack roll is below 10, not at 1. A whiff is AC 10 or below, namely called Touch AC which is not a defined game term yet, but it probably will have to be.

        When your attack is between AC 10 and your actual armor class, that’s a blow that struck the shield or the armor, but failed to penetrate it. That’s in clear rules text as well, the word penetrate is used in every edition including Next. So, it’s entirely possible to hit a foe’s armor but miss their soft flesh underneath. But is the target of your attack the foe’s armor? Or is it the foe itself, behind the armor? Clearly the latter. Therefore, having to roll higher than AC is consistent with physics and the proper use of the english language. You are not the same object as your armor or shield, an a sword can collide with your shield but not you. . That’s in fact, how armor actually works : it’s a barrier between you and the incoming weapon blow. Of course you can get hit indirectly, in the sense that momentum can be transferred, but that’s fine too, because that’s what rolling above AC means, you explicitly “penetrated” the armor with your attack, and bypassed its protection in order to damage the foe beneath it. D&D is consistent with reality in this sense, largely, despite not modelling momentum transfer with much precision. It’s quite good enough and not a “can of worms” as you call it. Armor indeed does make one harder to be hit directly with a weapon, most assuredly.

    2. Douglas Cole

      The “stress” argument ties in nicely with (say) taking damage on a miss with a ranged weapon (if that happens). So you shoot a bow at me, and I have to *do something.* This cause HP loss, as a measure of distraction, stress, positional weirdness, whatever. This is akin to GUMSHOE/Night’s Black Agent’s analog of your Health pool is the ability to stay in the fight, from a dramatic sense.

      If one chooses to define HP in a way that is consistent with that, and executes it faithfully throughout the game, there need not be any internal cognitive dissonance. It’s a new edition, so changes – even big ones – should be expected, right?

      1. Bob Hoskins

        They didn’t put damage on a missed arrow, for obvious reason, because it’s completely ludicrous to imagine that every single arrow would land. And if dodging costs you HP in terms of stamina loss, why does it not cost you anything to run around all day, and fight all the time, and swing your 15 pound axe for minutes at a time? But within 6 seconds, every single kobold will die of over-exertion and stress on his heart, when going up against an apprentice level fighter with GWF. It’s beyond absurd. HP is not stamina, otherwise your HP should go down when you attack as well, which is easily as tiring as dodging. Try swinging a heavy sword and not getting tired at all, you’ll see.

        An apprentice level fighter should not automatically be able to bypass all the defenses of 6000 GP plate armor and shield and Protector fighting style, such that he can penetrate that armor effectively on every single attack, even while blindfolded and using a broom handle. If if you’re arguing that HP means stamina, try telling that to Jimmy, when a DM uses an orc with GWF, that he died of being “too tired to live”. It will never happen. If a DM uses GWF vs a PC, and they will since NPCs are supposed to be able to take PC class levels, that means the ogre with a spear can bypass the fighter protecting his mage friend or the princess cowering behind him, with 100% certainty, and no benefit whatsoever of Protector fighting style.

  7. Jean Paul

    Just my two cents here. And not really that. Just my interpretation of the rules.

    I’ve always hated the term “hp”. Before getting into table top RPGs I was playing JRPGs and HP was always graphically lowered when an enemy actually hit you. They’re called hit points for a reason. You’re hit. And you lose them.

    And then my first AD&D 2ed fight came along, where (get this) there was a THAC0 stat. “To Hit Armor Class 0”. To Hit. The name says it. So this kobold came scampering along, the DM rolls a die and announces that I’m hit. I was a novice. Also, an amateur writer. I wanted to know how I was hit.

    “You’re not necessarily hit,” said the DM.
    “But I lost Hit Points.”
    “Yeah, but those are an abstraction of your luck and energy and your armor protecting you.”
    “But I lost Hit Points. I was hit.”

    I honestly couldn’t get my mind around it. And it’s taken me more than ten years to come up with something that helped me come to terms with this.

    HPs represent, to me, fatigue and wear. You’re not necessarily hit, but you are getting tired due to dodging or jumping out of the way. And that’s why I don’t have a real problem with DoaM. In the case of D&D Next, I feel it represents such a mighty blow that getting out of the way, or even having your armor protect you from it, takes a lot out of you. You might have jumped to the side so hard your balance is compromised, or the clash of the blade with your armor shook you so much you felt the blow inside you.

    I would simply add a rule that prevents you from killing anything unless you succeed at your attack roll.

    Sorry for the rant.

    1. Andrew Modro

      It’s really being driven home right now that “hit points” are “abstract”, but the word “hit” in the term might still be a speedbump, because it certainly makes _me_ think “these are points that get lost when you get _hit_ rather than suffering a close miss”.

      Someone mentioned slaying sacred cows in the comments to Rob’s posting of this on Google+ — maybe if “hit points” were renamed, and we included the concept of the “incredibly near miss” or “your armor stopped this from becoming a lethal blow” _in the results of the attack or damage roll,_ the whole thing might crystalize.

      I actually keep thinking back to Palladium’s house mechanics. You only really “miss” on a very low roll. Between that and whatever the target’s defense or armor rating is, the target/defender has a chance to absorb some of the damage with armor. A lot of that falls into the boundaries of where “damage on a miss” would exist in D&D — those rolls that aren’t really low, but don’t quite meet the AC.

      I would accept the porting of this concept into D&D to try to settle the issue. Something like this, maybe: On a truly low roll (in Palladium, it’s 4 or lower), you really do miss and deal no damage. On a middling roll (say, between that and AC), you either come close enough to stress the defender or force the defender to actively defend in a way that tires them a little bit, or isn’t a completely successful defense; you inflict the “damage on a miss” damage. On the traditional roll that “hits”, you score a solid, true blow. It isn’t perfect (it still equates HP with “meat points” on the top end”), but it attempts to work with the abstraction rather than outright rejecting “damage on a miss”.

      1. Jean Paul

        Yeah. I agree that renaming them would make it more clear. But, like Rob says, that would open up another can of worms. Especially with traditionalists.

        And the fact is that even using the term “damage” does not help the case. I like stress, like the use in Fate. It conveys what happens much better, I think. Exertion is a word I like to use when describing the effects of “hits” in battle.

        “You block the attack with your sword, but the blow was mighty you can feel your arm muscles are already taxed.”

        I would love it if they changed the name, actually. I know that’s not happening, though, to the detriment of clarity.

    2. Caias Ward

      This is what I think is a good example of hit points in action.


      Achilles, Level X Fighter, fighting some 2nd level dude. He blocks the impact of a javelin with his shield, taking a few hp in damage but still doing very well. He ducks without breaking his stride (another hit, but minimal damage compared to his boatload of HP an X level fighter has). Then he hits 2nd level dude, dropping him in one shot because Achilles is awesome.

  8. froth

    The true spirit of D&D imo is to make the game your own. If you dont agree with a rule, change it or make your own. This fighting style is a single option among many, easily ignored or houseruled. I am ashamed and embarrassed by the whole thing.

  9. Fade Manley

    Oddly enough, I find that I like damage-on-miss most when it’s an occasional thing. Which is possibly the influence of the D&D board games, because I really enjoy the daily powers there that have some small guaranteed effect, and then a much bigger effect if you roll well. IME, it encourages players to use them, because even if you fail and you’ve blown your one great power, you still did something.

    But it would feel a little weird to have damage-on-miss on every type of attack. Which it probably shouldn’t, given the abstraction of HP–even wild swings make someone pay attention to what’s going on and spend some energy/focus on not being hit by them–but, well. It’s the name of “hit points” all over again. Some part of my brain wants them to still represent what happens when you’re hit.

  10. Alan

    I was reminded of Joel on Software’s “The Law of Leaky Abstractions.” He’s talking about computer programming, but I think it applies here as well. Any game that simulates reality (or something close) must be an abstraction. No abstraction can perfects simulate reality. Thus, if you poke at any abstraction enough, you will find “broken” things.

  11. Alan Kellogg

    I like “Drama on a Miss”. No damage is done, but other things happen.

    Say an attacker needs a 19 to hit, but the GM rolls an 18. So the GM tells the player, “The point of his rapier goes past your throat as you barely manage to dodge. You lose concentration, and the spell you were casting is lost thanks to fright and confusion.

    Or (on a 13 rolled and a 14 needed), “Your great mace goes whizzing past his chest as he jumps back to avoid it. The good news his. he loses control over his lyre of confusion, it goes flying out of his hands, and the discordant inadvertant chord his fumbling fingers sound make his companions take a -3 to their rolls as they are mentally stunned by the tonal chaos.”

  12. PinkRose

    The whole argument makes me think about the origins of D&D.
    I know I played D&D “wrong” for years. But I had no choice. It was me and a group of friends in Jr. High & even in High School. Just 6 or 8 of us, and a Dragon Magazine. So the only “answers” we got were those 3 or 4 that were given in Dragon each month. 4 answers a month was all the “correct” D&D we could get.
    Fast forward, 25 years. Now, I can get 144 character answers instantly, multiple times a day, some directly from the authors of said rules. I can post a question on a forum and come back to 40 pages of “answers” tomorrow. D&D is not chess. It doesn’t, and in my opinion shouldn’t, have exact rules and definitions for everything. It plays “better” when each groups idea of the rules works for each group. So in the case of DoaM, if my table thinks it’s silly, and we throw it out, that’s ok. It effects 6 people and we move on. D&D is an abstract game, and when too many rules, or too many voices, cause it to be less abstract, I think it loses a little bit of the fun.

  13. Pingback: On Damage on a Miss | ***Dave Does the Blog

  14. Mikhail Bonch-Osmolovskiy

    I’m going to miss the point of this post entirely, and talk about DoaM in 13th Age a bit. I don’t think it works very well there, at least not in our experience. It doesn’t speed up combat. First, you need to actually remember that it exists at all, then check to make sure the attack you used inflicts it. Both minor things that’d go away with proficiency, but a significant time sink in the first couple of levels. Especially because we’d typically remember about it half way through the next person’s turn. A disruptive minor bonus effect.

    And that’s the other thing – it’s too minor for it to actually make a difference. Doing 1 damage when the enemy has 30 hit points is just not significant. It does not meaningfully affect the fight, and doesn’t feel like anything but a consolation prize. But it still takes time to call it out and record it, which just feels like a wasted effort. Delaying the action just to say you’ve made a token contribution.

    Finally, 13th Age already has a pacing mechanism to make sure the fight moves forward – the escalation die. And its much more efficient at this.

    1. Bob Hoskins

      1 point of automatic damage is as useful as 1000 when your opponent has 1 hit point left.

      A D&D Next fighter, with polearm master and GWF, will, by level 5, have three attacks, at reach 10, which all deal automatic damage (3 or 4, due to strength). That means that no matter what defensive barriers are put in your way to deal damage, such as a knight using Protector to protect a low HP but high value target standing behind him, will have his defensive style benefit negated. When you can guarantee doing 15 hit points of damage on each turn, that’s a huge amount of control and fiat assertion capability in the hands of a player to simply assert that this or that foe dies, period. He can look over and compare that orc with 15 HP and the dragon with 15 HP remaining, but one with 18 AC and no disadvantage, and the latter with 25 AC and disadvantage, and simply say “I kill the dragon”. It equalizes out all foes’ AC and offensive and defensive accuracy buffs from mattering to whether you deal any damage. And dealing damage is also a trigger for concentration loss, meaning a level 1 fighter with GWF can disrupt a 20th level wizard’s concentration with 100% reliability, despite that wizard having invested in plate armor proficiency, and using the Blur spell or some other aura that grants disadvantage. A level 10 or 20 fighter cannot guarantee concentration disruption because he/she cannot guarantee dealing damage.

      Imagine an apprentice who can never fail, who always has a successful attack, even while blindfolded. A blindfolded level 1 Gwfer with a club will automatically damage a dragon on every attack with a stick he just picked up, but a master swordsman without a blindfold, and graced with a holy avenger, will not. That’s utterly broken and an exploit. 1st level characters should not have 100% success rate, and even 20th level characters shouldn’t. That’s the entire point of bounded accuracy. One cannot with a straight face claim that D&D Next is founded on limited accuracy differences between characters, when one can deal damage all the time, and the other might only deal damage 0.25% of the time (e.g. when you can only hit on a natural 20 and have disadtantage, that’s one in 400 chance of hitting, compared to the level 1 guy with GWF who has a 1 in 1 chance. That’s 400 times better).

  15. littlemute

    tl:dr: If 13th Age does it, it’s the right thing to do!

    If my group is playing a good D&D derivative (13th Age, Lamentations) we are not looking for super crunchy combat and we’re all aware that hit points don’t reflect wounds (until someone is staggered that is) . You are rolling against a target’s AC (unlike systems where you roll against your own skill like WFRP), so I have explained miss damage as HP lost for the creature or person attacked to USE their AC to full effectiveness.

    If you envision a combat where multiple characters are attacking a single monster and the fighter rolls a 4 and misses, the monster (actively using his AC) STILL is effected by the attack in some way since it’s had to dodge or put up a part of it’s body that’s hard enough to block. It’s like a cost for them to dodge or block the attacks. As a monster (like a big beastie) ,having a power like “does 3X level on a miss” is key to me narrative-ly to let players know that this beast is awful dangerous and they are going to get hurt if it turns it’s attention to them. It’s important that the abstraction holds up to the narrative for the emotional reasons you mentioned– and I think it certainly does.

    The other system that uses this is Exalted — Exalts always do their Essence in damage for every attack regardless of normal armor or soak. Since Exalts are shaping reality to suit them in a fight, this is thematically justified and while there are complaints about it being broken systematically (granted there’s a lot of other types of attacks in Exalted that are far more broken), I haven’t heard players complain about it being thematically off.

  16. Bill Olander

    On the opposite side of things in one of the Mutants and Masterminds annuals, where Steve Kenson talks about the origins of the game, he goes into detail about the origin of the damage save mechanic. Originally it was going to be DC 10+Rank just like all of the other saves. The playtesters however had such a strong reaction a PC would take damage even though they made their damage save that the DC was bumped up by 5 in order to give a ‘Take no Damage’ option.

    Players are very opinionated.

  17. Blake

    It’s funny that there was a lot of half-damage on a miss in 4e, but it never caused much controversy. I think the reason’s actually painfully obvious, and says a lot about the folks who are so willing to take a stand against it, /now/, but not then.

    4e converted saving throws into mathematically-identical attack rolls, so a spell that traditionally did half damage on a successful save now did half damage on a miss. Attacking damage on a miss would have been attacking the way lots of classic spells had always worked – and made casters less powerful. Instead, there were a lot of complaints that casters didn’t get damage on a miss /enough/, particularly with classic spells like Burning Hands and Lightning Bolt that were made Encounter powers instead of dailies.

    Ultimately, I think it’s just another symptom of the ‘anti-martial’ double-standard that’s endemic to D&D and its community.

    1. Bob Hoskins

      That’s completely false. Most of us who want damage on a miss to be removed also do not want wizards’ cantrips to deal damage on a miss or a successful save as well, including the broken level 5 evoker ability. Automatic damage is a bad mechanic, it gives players god-like control over the story, to simply assert things happen. “I cause damage to that monster”, and it happens, no matter what any dice rolls say.

      As a lover of both martial and magical classes, your argument that removing damage on a miss comes from a place of caster supremacy is laughable. Just because we don’t want level 1 fighters to be able to automatically deal damage to monsters with 25 AC while blindfolded, using a broom handle, on every attack, does not mean in any way that we want fighters to be boring. Many supporters of damage on a miss also acknowledge that fixed damage is boring, and so if you actually want fighers to be more fun to play and more exciting, you should be instead advocating, as I am, that they replace damage on a miss with (more) damage on a hit, or some other effect on a hit, or some other way that actually works well in conjunction with the rest of the combat rules. The apprentice level fighter should not be given a mechanic to bypass the normal rules for fighting.

      For example, a 1st level fighter with GWF will be 30 times more effective at hurting and killing the toughest monster in the game, 25 AC with disadvantage, than a level 11 fighter with three attacks. Go ahead, count the number of rounds it takes for both to kill such a creature. A first level fighter with GWF will deal damage 100% of the time whereas a level 20 fighter with 5 attacks and a legendary weapon, but without GWF, will not. That’s totally absurd and totally broken. No one should start at level 1 with 100% accuracy. As you gain levels, your proficiency bonus should matter towards your fighting style, not have an inverse quadratic relationship to it. As you gain levels in Next, your prof bonus goes up, which means you hit more often, which means you miss less often. That means that a level 20 fighter with GWF benefits from it only about 3-6% in terms of average DPR, whereas a first level one will benefit 50%. So, it goes from 50% down to 3%. Go ahead, do the math.

  18. Bob Hoskins

    Hi there, I found this post which seems to be a rebuttal of sorts to my highly controversial “Open Letter to Mike Mearls” regarding this topic.

    Let me state that I am not here to pick a fight, but would like you to respond to my critiques, one by one.

    First, you yourself just listed TEN “Daom is either weird or terrible” attributes. That alone is enough to exclude it from consideration in D&D Next’s core PHB for three core classes, including the fighter with the big sword archetype, which is front and center in D&D. Especially since it is at-will, and useable up to 5 times per round, every combat, for the entire campaign. One might not be bothered by such a fighter never missing at first, but after a while, it will grate on many people’s nerves. One of my arguments is that the surveys only polled people two weeks after that rule was put there, far too little time to ascertain such long-term irritation that it will most assuredly cause to a good 45% of the players. The threshold for inclusion of mechanics in a game which has the explicit design goals of having “invisible rules”, that “get out of the way”, and are simple and elegant, clearly cannot be said about something which, in your own analysis, has ten flaws. “Weird” rules are anti-thetical to the design goals of D&D Next. Obviously, so are terrible ones. Something with so many negatives but few positives (even for those that support it, most find it boring and have nothing to do with two-handed weapons anyway), is a very poor threshold for inclusion. Having high positives and low negatives could be easily achieved by Brutal 2, or Damage Advantage, or Cleave, in its stead.

    Second, the fact that hit points are abstract to some degree, when they are non-zero, is quite irrelevant. GWF allows you to kill a kobold every swing, every single attack. It allows you to finish off that 25 AC dragon without a single dice roll. All climactic and dramatic tension is gone. When you kill a foe, as per the actual definition of HP when at 0, that was as a result of a “direct strike” (read the packets if you don’t believe me). Therefore, if you missed your attack, but killed the foe, that attack gets retconned to be not only a hit, but a direct one, which is not abstract in the slightest. Death is not abstract, it’s a binary yes/no state that cannot be said to be up for debate in the same sense that someone at 40% HP vs someone at 60% HP is. Say whatever you will about HP from 1% to 100%, at 0% everybody agrees, including the designers of every edition of D&D, that life-threatening trauma has occurred, a physical connection was made between the weapon and the body, and thus it was not a miss, and cannot have been. Thus, a clear, black and white contradiction in the rules ensues. An attack that kills a foe is also not an unsuccessful attack, either, so even if you re-write Hit points to be Argle Bargle points, at 0 AB your character or the enemy is still dead or unconscious and bleeding on the floor. And that’s not abstract, that’s clear as day and there is no wriggle room there. At all.

    Thirdly, Damage on a miss is going to be removed soon, so all the activism on the boards were for a reason. Stuff that bothers too many people should be excluded in a game meant to be inclusive. I cannot sit at a table, as a player, and demand from a DM or other players to not use GWF as it is, and that will limit me, part of the 45% who want Daom removed, to play a different game, one which is suitable for my tastes. The 39% who love it most likely don’t even like D&D Next anyway, and are playing either 13th Age or 4th edition. So from the point of view of a game designer, alienating your core audience with an outright irritant is bad for business, especially when they can trivially replace GWF with something that has zero controversy whatsoever, and people who otherwise love the game can focus on its positives, rather than this glaring contradiction which is an insult to reason. You cannot kill an enemy with a sword attack that missed, and you cannot kill a fit foe from them getting too tired to live after a few seconds of combat. HP is not stamina, and it never was. Otherwise you’d lose HP every time you attacked or ran around the dungeon or climbed a staircase wearing plate armor. Totally absurd.

  19. Bob Hoskins

    If anyone wants to actually read the comprehensive list of 25 bugs (well, 26, when you include the 0th one, which is actually the most important, the contradiction between missing and “direct strike” when a foe is killed), see the website link in this post.

    I’d love to hear what Mike Mearls has to say on the topic, so if you are indeed an acquaintance of his, ask him. I know he’s already not a fan, but I grow tired of seeing the same old arguments in favor of damage on a miss being trotted out time and time again, such as that HP are abstract so that whitewashes any other contradictions in the rules. As HP go from 100% to 0, they become less and less asbtract (read the “How to describe HP”, and at 0 HP or below, they are not abstract at all, they are one of two things, either dead or unconscious, having suffered some trauma as a result of a “direct strike”. Those states are not abstract in the slightest, and it grows really tiresome hearing that same fallacy repeated in so many different venues and going unchallenged. Death is not abstract, it is the great equalizer. It is concrete, final, and not up for debate.

    When the game is over, the king and the pawns all go back in the same box.

  20. Bob Hoskins

    Hey Rob, thanks for unwittingly helping me get Damage on a Miss removed from 5th edition.

    Signed, the guy who wrote that open letter that actually succeeded despite all the invective and hate thrown my way (and ignored by the moderators). Even the Enworld moderator Umbran was telling me repeatedly that there was no way that rule was going to change.

    And now here we are. Justice has prevailed, and the water cooler bullies of the internet have been put in their rightful place : utter irrelevance.

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