Child's kick vs Incantation of Lightning

In another thread that I do not want to derail further, I claimed that one problem that the (otherwise great) wound rules have is how they deal with wounded characters subjected to effects that do not generate defense totals; in particular, I wrote

A heavily, heavily wounded character can be more easily kiled by a child's kick than by an Incantation of Lightning.

@callen countered by saying:

That's not really true. I've run the numbers on the boards before. People have claimed things like this often, but it's a misperception.

Well, my games do tend to see relatively little "magical combat" (fighting is mostly left to grogs, and magi far more often dominate, bind, trick etc. enemies than bombard them with fire and lightning) so I may be wrong. But I still think I am right. I'd be happy to be proved wrong though.

Consider a big, really tough knight, with ... Siz +1, Def +12, Soak +12, Enc 0 (when uninjured).
He's heavily, heavily injured, having incurred half a dozen heavy wounds (-30), a dozen medium ones (-36) and two dozen light ones (-24).

A magus casts an Incantation of Lightning at him. Damage is stress die + 30 vs. stress die + 12 Soak. Soaking is not an action so it is not penalized by wounds - see the errata for clarification on this. The knight has better than even chances of taking nothing worse than yet another heavy wound (as long as his player rolls no lower than the magus'), and only about one chance in 10 of being killed on the spot (it only happens if his player rolls at least 7 points lower on the the stress die).

Assume instead a child kicks the knight. Let's say the child has Atk -3 and Dmg -3. So the child attacks the knight at stress die -3 vs. stress die + 12 -90. The child has at least 99% chance (unless his player rolls a 0 and the knight's rolls a 1) of hitting the knight with an attack advantage of at least +65, and thus a Damage - Soak Total of 50 that kills the knight on the spot.

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Fully agree with all above. But a minor point:

Shouldn't this be stress die + 30 vs. + 12 Soak? Or spells counts as non-combat damage?

It's clearly spelled in p. 181: "These rules are also used for calculating damage inflicted by spells". Living and learning.

There is an action - reflexively trying to save yourself. That's why you roll a die, and why you can botch. It's a mechanic that replaces the defense total. The wound penalty, in this case, applies to the soak, whereas in non-spell combat, the penalty applies to the defense total.

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Oh, I'm well aware of that erratum. I submitted it. Well, really submitted two options from which David chose what he thought was better because the penalty otherwise wasn't applied properly.

Your mistake is a common one. A completely (unconscious, tied up, etc.) defenseless person gets a Defense Total of -10 with no roll. It doesn't get worse than that. So let's recalculate those two:

The child attacks at -3+roll. So the Attack Advantage is (-3+roll)-(-10)=7+roll. Applying Damage and Soak makes that a final of -2+roll. The average in the child's case is about 4, or a Light Wound. To get a killing blow (assuming Size 0), the child needs to roll 23+. That requires rolling 1, 1, 6+ or 1, 1, 1, (not 2). That's 0.59%.

The lightning is 30+die v. 12+die. That makes a total of 18+die-die. The average in the spell's case is 18, or a Heavy Wound. To get a killing blow the spell roll needs to exceed the Soak roll by 3. That's roughly a 30% chance.

30% chance for lightning is a lot better than 0.59% chance for the child.

Edit: I did this with a Size 0 knight, having missed the Size +1. That alters the odds but not the relative strength of the spell over the child's foot.

This is incorrect. Soaking is explicitly not an action, as ezzelino noted. Yes, you could botch it if the troupe plays that way. But no Wound Penalty is applied.

This was made clear in the errata because otherwise you have to apply Wound Penalty twice in normal combat, first to the defense and then to the Soak. Rather than having it apply twice there as the errata could have made it, instead the errata are explicit that Soak is not an action and that is why the Wound Penalty does not apply to it.

Wound Penalty does not apply to Soak because Soak is not an action

Wound penalties are explicitly not added to soak in physical combat, while I recall it specifically applying when soaking magical damage I cannot locate the reference in the errata.

Is there any source to that? Because according to AM5 p.178:

There is no maximum limit to a character’s Wound Penalty

A source for the -10 penalty for defenseless fighters would also be welcome (I'm not doubting it, I'm just failing to find it and it solves an old question of mine).

You're correct callen that soak is explicitly not an action / modified by wound penalties... in a text passage that has attack and defense total. When you have a non-magical attack, your action is on your defense total. Applying wound penalties to soak would be doubly applying your wound penalties (since it's already applied to your defense, thereby increasing the enemy's damage).

I'll grant you - both of you btw - that it's not at all clearly written. But I essentially came to this conclusion:

  • There's no logical explanation to adding a stress die on the soak vs a spell, unless there's a reflective defense going on vs attack spells that auto-hit (after all, soak is static, not variable, in the regular combat system);
  • If wound penalties do not apply, then yes, ezzelino is 100% correct, damage spells in ars magicka are broken and spellcasters can't kill things with damage, they're just sweetening the opponent for grogs.

I suppose that reading damage spells as useless can be a reading of the RAW, but... in a game with magi main characters, it's a strange reading to me.

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No explicit source for that - it is just a logical conclusion that you can't really be worse at defending than when you are completely helpless.

That is from Lords of Men p124

The only time a character doesn’t get
a Defense roll is when he’s totally helpless
— unconscious, securely bound to a chair,
magically paralyzed like a statue, and so on.
In these cases, if any opponent should be so
ignoble as to attack the character, treat his
Defense Total as –10 (note that this Defense
Total is a fixed number; there is no die roll).

Thanks ErikT!

As for this, I'll disagree. If you are heavily wounded already, it makes very sense that another strike at you hurts even more. It's not about defending, is about being so hurt that anything hurts even more.

Also, the text you quoted doesn't say that any other penalties do not apply. It just tells to use a -10 Defense Total. I would agree, however, that any penalties due to being fatigued wouldn't make sense.

I'm not finding this either, could it be a house rule? But it solves the problem, equating magic and physical combat. I'll adopt it in my table, even if as a house rule.

It's in LoM somewhere. If you're tied up while unconscious and naked with your head on a block, you've got a -10 Defense Total.

Besides, if we don't want to go with that you can just say you drop your weapon as a botch and go with a 0 Defense Total to game the system, which was already available. And that makes the child even worse.

You get this Soak if you're lying unconscious, naked, tied up. Tell me what action you're taking.

Have you considered what happens if they do apply??? You die super-fast from all sorts of painful but fairly normal environmental stuff. It's all sorts of totally messed up. But the damage spells are still OK because of ezzelino's other mistake.

No, it doesn't.

Somehow you are reading that the penalties are included in the Defense Total, and thus -10 means any penalty is disregarded. They are not. They are applied to the Defense Total. You get -10 and any penalties on top of that.

Otherwise you have the very weird case of two people tied up, one of them without any damage, the other severely wounded. Hit them both with a sword. It's obvious that one of them should have a higher chance of dying than the other, but if you give a flat -10 on defense to both without accounting for the penalties, this doesn't happen.


Read it again. You treat the Defense Total as -10. That's it. Whatever it would have been, you now set it to -10.

Point me in which part of the book it says that the wound penalties are included in the formula for the Defense Total.

And disprove the part where it says "The character suffers a penalty to all actions (rolls and
totals) equal to the sum of all penalties due to his wounds" on p. 178.

One has 10 cuts on their arms and legs. The other is unwounded. Who's head is easier for the headsman's axe to take off? Those cuts are irrelevant.

You're now examining a different part of the rules. If you disagree with how wounds happen and all, fine. But this is handled by a different mechanic that you're conflating with this one. If you're heavily wounded and undergo more stress you make Recovery rolls. That can kill you, too.

That right there ^
The sentence you quoted is where it says to include the wound penalties when calculating the Defense Total (and other Totals).

Why disprove it? I'm not disagreeing with it. You take no action to defend yourself: no penalty. But you're now defenseless: -10 replaces your Defense Total.

You just quoted it. Why do I have to quote it back to you? If you disagree with your own quote, look at the page 172 example.

You are giving a very specific example. I would counter it with "the headsman hits the arms of both of them, which one do you expect to have the worse wound on their arm afterwards?"

And if you are talking about an execution, there is no need to roll attack and defense totals at all. Off with the head.

Nope. It says that you suffer the penalty on the Total. This implies that Totals are calculated without wound penalties, these are applied afterwards.

More directly, the formula for the Defense Total is:

Quickness + Combat Ability + Weapon Defense Modifier + Stress Die

Wound Penalty is not included.

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Sure, because you ignored the rest of what I wrote? Added stress if your hurt can worsen things by a different mechanic that uses Recovery rolls.

Read the example on page 172, as I mentioned above.

while the wolf only manages a 2 (including penalty), for a Defense Total of 10.

See? It's included. They just didn't want to write it into all those formulas.