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Skip Navigation LinksHigh Fantasy HERO>Content>Campaign Guidelines>Lethality Options>Unofficial Options
Lethality Options

Lethality Options

System Bias Built In Options Unofficial Options Design Options
In addition to the built in options, you can introduce unofficial combat options others have come up with or of your own invention. Below are some of the more common.
Some other games have a concept of "critical hits"; strikes that randomly do more damage than normal. The HERO System tends to shy away from "random" and lacks such an option natively. However different variations of critical hits have been suggested at or described as possible options in some supplements over the years, and some play groups have versions that they use. Described below is my version of "critical hits", which I call the "Rule of Three", that I've used successfully for years. I also describe a Critical Hit concept based on a "lucky die" mechanic, and a mechanic based on degree of success.
NOTE: You should probably only implement one kind of Critical Hit rules in a given campaign; two or more can get severely out of hand.
If a character (PC or NPC) rolls a natural three on a 3d6 roll under type of check then they have the option of either taking "max effect" or an "epiphany".
If the three was made for an Attack Roll max effect is the maximum possible damage or effect with that attack (treat all effect dice as having rolled 6's).
If the three was made for a non attack roll, not only does the character win any opposed roll (even if the opponent made their roll by more) or succeed at their task, but they do so in a stylish looked-cool-doing-it fashion which is also justification for gaining a "Display of Power" bonus to a Presense Attack made sometime within the next few actions against anyone that observed them.
The character has a flash of insight regarding the skill or ability that they rolled a three for and their competency with that ability is expanded. The character gains +2 character points to allocate towards a bonus with that skill or attack. For attacks this translates into a +1 OCV Combat Skill Level with that attack. If a skill this translates into either a +1 or +2 with that skill depending on whether the skill is on the 3/2 or 2/1 costing model. If the three was rolled for a familiarity, the familiarity becomes a full skill instead.
This can not be used to upgrade existing levels; for example a character could not opt to bump an All Combat level to an Overall Level with the 2 free points gained in this fashion -- the 2 pts must be spent specifically for the task they were gained from.
However, levels gained in this fashion can themselves be upgraded later with experience. For example a 2 pt +1 OCV level with a specific kind of pistol could be upgraded to a 3 pt "Pistols" tight group level later on.
Some other games have the idea of a "lucky die" which is rerolled and cumulatively added if its max value comes up. In other words, if the lucky die is a d6, then if it rolls a 6 it is rerolled and the result adds to the original 6; if another 6 comes up it is rolled and added in again and so forth until it stops rolling 6's.
The HERO System already grants more damage to a 6 when doing Normal damage in the form of +1 BODY inflicted but Killing damage gets no such consideration. In the interests of increasing lethality you as the GM can decide to up the ante further by implementing a "Lucky Damage Dice" House Rule for Killing damage.
You can specify that this rule applies to all Killing damage dice, which is a powerful / dangerous kind of critical hit that will occur often and can result in one-hit kills vs. even protected targets, or you can specify that only one die (represented by a physically different die) is "lucky" which is much less extreme.
Alternately, you can converge this with the Luck Power and allow characters to buy Luck dice defined as "Lucky Damage Dice" instead of the normal function of Luck dice, and a character can roll as many Lucky Damage Dice on a given attack as they have purchased up to the limit of the attack (a character with 3d6 Lucky Damage Dice using a 2d6 Killing Attack would only roll 2 dice but both would be "lucky"; if they later picked up a weapon that does 4d6 Killing they would roll 4d6 and 3 dice would be "lucky").
Some games feature a mechanic whereby more skilled attackers inflict more damage due to their increased skill. The HERO System allows this to some extent if Hit Locations are being used since a more skilled attacker can overcome to hit penalties for choicer hit locations, but using Called Shots can result in a total miss which can seem very odd in practice.
An alternative to relying on Called Shots (and even Hit Locations in general) is a mechanic whereby characters that hit by more than they needed inflict more damage.
The base mechanic is +1 Damage Class per 1 point a character made their Attack Roll by; thus in a 3 OCV vs 3 DCV scenario, an Attack Roll of 10 is made by 1, which grants the attacker +1 Damage Class. This is easy to remember and scales evenly, but doesn't overly reward characters that make truly impressive to hit differentials.
Hit by: 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Extra DC: 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
This can be scaled up or down by the GM to suit their campaign by varying the ratio of extra success to extra damage; for instance a GM could set the ratio at +1 Damage Class per 2 points a character makes their Attack Roll by.
Hit by: 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Extra DC: 0 0 1 1 2 2 3 3 4 4 5
A GM could also make hitting by a little not make much differenct but hitting by a lot being extremely lethal by basing the to hit vs DC ratio on a Fibonacci sequence instead as displayed in the following table. Basically using this kind of progression hitting by 5 or less is not much different than the basic progression (and is in fact more moderate overall), but an Attack Roll that hits by 6 is more comparatively deadly, and anything that hits by 7 or more is almost absolutely fatal.
Hit by: 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Extra DC: 0 1 1 2 3 5 8 13 21 34 55
Any other progression of this sort is equally valid based on the GM's preferences, of course. The following displays the same concept on an exponential progression which is easier to remember and more consistent with HERO System doubling rules but would result in excessively higher damage if on the same scale as the Fibonacci sequence; thus this chart is based on a progression of hitting by 2 more than needed per step.
Hit by: 0 2 4 8 10
Extra DC: 0 1 2 4 8
And so on; it's just a numbers game. Any approach that is easy to remember and apply at the table that rewards hitting with a margin of succes at a rate acceptable to the GM and players is equally valid for that group.
While the HERO System offers a rich model to define fully realized characters and track combat between them against a number of attack vectors and their corresponding mitigation resources (BODY, END, STUN, PD, ED, PowD, FD, MD and their Resistant variants) the simple fact is, in a typical campaign not all opponents the PC's will encounter are equally important and it is thus not really necessary to fully stat unimportant opponents so as to fully simulate their combat interactions.
Agents, mooks, goons, minions, minor monsters, whatever you want to call them ( I refer to them in general as "chumps") are just there to provide filler anyway and while treating them like full characters with the same benefits of END, STUN, and BODY as PC's and important NPC's is ok for some settings, it can get painful and counterproductive for others.
More to the point in most Fantasy settings it is usually appropriate to implement some kind of variant handling for such chumps and there are a number of different popular ones. You can also come up with your own method.
What constitutes a chump is less obvious, but my rule of thumb follows:
  • A given NPC is a chump if:
    • U nimportant: the NPC is not important to the plot.
    • N ameless: the NPC does not have a proper individual name.
    • I nterchangeable: the NPC is or could be part of a group of very similar NPC's.
    • T hrowaway: the NPC is a minor throwaway obstacle, not a real adversary.
I call any kind of House Rule that revolves around unimportant opponents getting removed from play easier than PC's and important NPC's as a "Chump Drop" mechanic. There are many variations of this basic idea, and it is almost not worth it to get into specifics on them as every GM that uses such a tool has their own preferred version, but I'll cover some of the more basic versions in brief:
  • X Number of Hits: An easy method to do chump drops is to just decide how many solid hits a chump can take, regardless of how much damage is really inflicted. Some might be one hit wonders, others might take two or five hits, but when their hit limit is reached they go down.
  • Ignore BODY, 0 STUN = Dead: You can just ignore BODY for chumps, and assume if they hit 0 STUN they're done for.
  • Ignore STUN, 0 BODY = Dead: You can conversely ignore STUN and just track BODY -- but still check for CON Stunning; this is kind of like turning chumps into weaker versions of Automatons without paying for it so be careful of doing this in conjunction with good defences.
  • When Dramatically Appropriate: The GM just decides that when it is dramatically appropriate for a chump to exit the scene, whether due to getting taken out or fleeing or what have you, they do. The just GM narrates it, with no bookkeeping necessary.
There are a lot of advantages to this sort of resolution; not only does it ease the GM's administrative burden, it also makes PC's seem more potent. However they are still able to be challenged by non-chumps who get the full character treatment. The perceived lethality goes up, but the PC's themselves are immune to it so PC death doesn't upscale in conjunction.