Game Mechani(sm) of the Week #23: Mega Damage

It's about time I added a game mechanism I HATE.

This series of entries isn't just meant to be about things for groups to introduce into their games, it should probably act as a beacon of things to avoid. But in the interests of constructive criticism, I'll add a few alternatives that I find far more palatable.

The system I hate is "Mega Damage" from Palladium Books.

It had it's place in the game where it was first introduced, but it's application to other parts of their game line was stupid in my opinion.

There is plenty of dialogue on assorted forums and blogs about the origins of the Palladium gaming system as a mutant offshoot of early AD&D, then a series of hodge-podge additions to that core systems in an attempt to create something rivaling "GURPS" and other generic systems in development at around the same time. Some would claim that Palladium did the "generic" thing before GURPS, other would say that GURPS did it better and then forced Palladium to play catch-up....that's all histrionics and beside the point.

Mega-Damage was an interesting addition to the Palladium system which appeared in the licensed Robotech series of games.

In essence, characters have hit points (typically 10 to 50 or more as they gain experience). In the palladium system they also have Structural Damage Capacity (SDC). Objects also have SDC, and whenever someone attempts to harm a person or an object, damage is dealt to the SDC to relfect flesh wounds and bruises before serious effects occurs with a wounding of Hit Points. I've gone on previously about how I feel hit points are an inferior system...

Mega Damage takes this to a grander level. 1 point of mega damage capacity (MDC) is equal to 100 hit points or SDC.

In a world with giant robots it makes sense to have vastly powerful weapons capable of obliterating small humans while the same weapon only deals a minor scratch to the battle juggernaut.

But RIFTS applied the same system to human sized beings and supernatural creatures. I guess it's a bit reminiscent of the robots in the Terminator movies, suffering vast amounts of damage without slowing down, using incredible strength to throw mere mortals around.

But there are some interesting scaling dilemmas that appear, along with serious engineering issues such as hardness and malleability of protective plating. A physical impact enough to punch through a human might not be able to punch through a sheet of 1 inch steel, but the same inertial impact is felt. It seems stupid that a human could be thrown back by the impact, while a supernatural being of the same height and weight doesn't even get knocked down.

There is also the anomaly of mere mortals becoming vastly powerful through their improvement in play, such mortals may gain more than 100 combined hit points and SDC and are suddenly able to withstand the impact of these weapons that would normally blow a hole through any regular joe.

Palladium gives two standard options when it comes to Mega Damage. Either use it, or don't. If you don't use it, the MDC ratings are simply changed to SDC change of numbers, no conversion factors, simply pretend the "M" is printed as an "S"then the powerful technologies simply become regular toys.

I've managed to successfully overcome some of this and bring the "Mega Damage" system into a more 'realistic' paradigm, by using MDC but scaling it down somewhat. Reducing 1 MDC to equal 10 SDC or Hit Points. Not a great solution, but it has improved things vastly in the games where I've implemented it.


Zac in VA said…
I didn't mind the D&D 3.0 version of this, called Massive Damage: whenever you lose a really huge % of your hit points in a single attack, you have to save vs. Whatever or die.

Kind of interesting, never used it, but it sounds at least more applicable than Mega Damage.
Andrew Smith said…
Yeah the MDC caper was always an odd one. On the one hand the players got the sense of BIG DAMAGE, just like rolling lots of dice (see high speed collisions in Car Wars). On the other hand, it was a system they didn't need to introduce.

The examples given by Siembeida were about hitting a tank with a baseball bat. What he was trying to do was handle the degradation of armour as well as the protective capability of armour. To do it he just combined them into degradation.

In TMNT he had the Natural Armour Rating that worked kinda well, a bit like armour class I suppose. I think he could have done better by tracking armour degradation with a reduction in the SDC, and armour protection with a reduction in AR.

But if MDC did one thing for sure, it made combat lethal. Little unarmoured humans could die from a single shot. My players were always in awe of mega-damage.
Vulpinoid said…
Like I said, in Robotech (where the system was introduced) it kind-of made sense, it was "BIG" damage.

I actually liked the TMNT system when I first played it, but in retrospect even it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. The natural armour class bit anyway.

In the Palladium system, artificial armour has a chance of protecting the character. But if it protects the character, the damage is transferred to the armour...degrading it.

If a character has natural armour, the natural armour absorbs the blow and the damage isn't transferred anywhere, it just vanishes.

It's just one of many disconnects within the Palladium System. I could probably write 52 issues I have with it as a theme for next year's blog entries.

I've actually tended more toward damage reduction systems recently. From the White Wolf AEON/Trinity system where vehicle class weapons automatically deal an extra couple of damage points to a character before dice are even rolled, while vehicle class armour automatically absorbs impact above and beyond any die rolls. (Naturally this means that vehicles weapons and armour balance against each other, character weapons and armour balance against each other, but vehicles are vastly more powerful compared to characters).

A few d20 games have used similar systems, such as the damage reduction used in certain variants of D&D, Modern and Star Wars.

I'd have agreed with Andrew's comments about MDC inspiring awe, if it weren't for the continuing power creep within the RIFTS setting. The only way I continued getting awe out of my players for a while was by continuing to bring new things to the table from the latest $ourcebooks.

Hence I stopped playing it.
Andrew Smith said…
Having played Rifts for a long time (and Robotech before that), I occasionally toy with the idea of putting the Rifts setting through the wringer of another set of rules.

SOTC might work for the sheer "awesome, dude!" of Rifts, but perhaps Carnage Among The Stars would be a better fit. How about Coalition Among The D-Bees instead?

Alternatively, the issues of racism and survival could play out nicely with PTA. Ostensibly, Rifts characters have a lot of issues that could make for good story.

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