Strike a Blow Against the Plink Effect With This Alternate GUMSHOE Damage Rule

Some players find damage dealing  in baseline GUMSHOE emotionally unsatisfying. This becomes an issue especially when they’ve spent a lot of points, or gotten a high die roll, only to roll low on the damage die, plinking the opponent for a miserable 1 or 2 points of Health.

Rolling high to hit and then minimum damage is the longstanding plight of RPG characters. But spending lots of a resource to do next to nothing heightens the sting. And in GUMSHOE an opponent with an Armor value knocks that off your damage, worsening the plink effect. If your group feels that pain, give them the following option.

After rolling for damage, a player may choose to substitute the margin from the successful attack for the damage die result. The margin is the difference between the test result (spend plus roll) and its Hit Threshold.

Professor Wingate swings her katana at the ghoul. Her player, Maia, spends 4 points of Wingate’s Weapons ability and rolls a 5. The final result, 9, beats the ghoul’s Hit Threshold of 3. Maia then rolls for damage but gets 1. Combined with the katana’s damage of 1, this would result in a miserable 2 points of damage. The ghoul’s rubbery flesh Armor of 1 would decrease that even further, to 1. Maia calculates the margin: the result of 9 minus the Hit Threshold of 3 equals 6. She swaps the margin of 6 for the die roll of 1. The katana damage bonus and the ghoul’s Armor cancel out, and its Health drops by 6 points, from 8 to 2. It meeps in furious dismay.

Possible drawbacks of implementing this variant rule:

  • This introduces another decision point for the player on each successful hit, probably slowing combat slightly. It won’t happen every time though–just when great hit results are followed up by lousy damage rolls.
  • It gives the players power to mow through opposition quicker by upping their attack spends. If you find that this weakens creature stats too severely, increase enemy Health ratings by 20% across the board.

For obvious reasons, this rule applies only to iterations of GUMSHOE that include damage rolls. It does not affect GUMSHOE One-2-One or the new quickshock combat system found in The Yellow King Roleplaying Game.

4 Responses to “Strike a Blow Against the Plink Effect With This Alternate GUMSHOE Damage Rule”

  1. Nanouk Harper says:

    This could very easily be a Cherry in Night’s Black Agents, making a character really stand out in a combat. Maybe only apply to one skill at a time, or even a specific weapon.

    What if you just applied it automatically, like damage rolls in World of Darkness or Ars Magica? ‘to hit’ excess automatically carries over to damage, so better hits always mean more damage?

  2. Tony Williams says:

    It might be simpler to just allow the margin difference in the test roll/Hit Threshold to be used as a further Damage Modifier to the damage roll ALL THE TIME (removing the need for an extra decision point).

    That way, if the player is using a lousy weapon with a terrible damage modifier (-2 hat pin ) they can choose to make up for it at the decision point of how many Weapons points to put into their test roll.

    This also allows for the type of weapon used to still have an affect on the damage.

  3. Simon Rogers says:

    This especially suits games where the characters are super-compentent fighters; so all GUMSHOE games except Fear Itself and Purist Trail of Cthulhu.

    I’ve used a variant of this, with two different coloured dice, one for damage and one for the test. If the test die is higher than the damage die, you use the test die for damage, too.

    I suppose this could be an 8+ cherry rather than the default.

  4. Robert says:

    Not sure this really adds a decision point as such – is there ever a reason a player would choose to take the lower damage? If not, you could just outright say that if your damage Roll is less than your margin of success, use the margin of success instead.

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