Do wound penalties affect soak totals?

This came up a while ago in our group, in discussing how it's impossible to "paper cut" someone to death in the Ars combat system - that is, doing a +5 touch fire spell will only give someone a -1 penalty; you have to actually do 21 points of damage in a single hit in order to kill them.

To me, this sounded off. So, I went to investigate. The first thing I discovered is that, according to the AM pg. 116, under the "Spell Damage" header - "Many spells have damage listed in the form +X. This is an abbreviation for stress die +X. The damage inflicted by such spells varies from one casting to another." OK - so spells on average do 5.5 points more than the listing, with the potential of open-ending. Cool.

But also, in looking at the Wounds section, (pg. 178), "The character suffers a penalty to all actions (rolls and totals) equal to the sum of all penalties due to his wounds..." In this context, "Totals" seems to refer to Soak Total - ie, how well the target can resist damage. So if a character has -5 wound penalties, a 1 point wound would do 6 points of damage, and thus a Medium wound. Someone with -20 wound penalties taking the same point of damage would die.

Is that how it works?

In the case of missile and melee, the soak total isn't modified, but the defense total is modified, increasing the overall attack advantage and creating the potential for higher damage. The wounds penalty only counts once, in the defense, and is already included in the total.

For other damage (spells, falling, non combat) you do get a roll for soak, so the +15 damage of PoF, on average will be 15-applicable soak. The language (all rolls and totals) suggests that all penalties do apply. If players are having trouble understanding that, take it to a philosophical discussion. In a game where magi are supreme, does it seem reasonable that a magus should do less damage to a wounded person than a warrior?

Death by paper cuts is pretty lethal in Ars Magica because as you pointed out your soak total is penalized by wound scores. Secondly wounds are really bad in Ars Magica.

Say I'm you average sta+0 peasant walking along in the covenant. Say someone drops a jug from the second floor on my head. (+6) I'm likely to take a light or medium wound. (Slightly in favour of medium). In the case of a light wound I have a 30% of going to medium. From medium I have a 50% chance of going to heavy. And there an 80% chance of incapacitation. That light wound has... maybe a 10% chance of killing me. A medium wound is more like 30%. If you just layer on the wounds then... death is near certain.
But this is the death of paper cuts right? The next jug that is dropped on me will be more likely to wound me and is is more likely to be a bigger wound. I probably have a -4 penalty to my soak right now! The third and fourth jug? I'll probably get another medium and my first heavy wound. Now the fifth jug? I'm rolling at -18 and the jugs are at +6. That kills me dead.

But suppose I get out with only a few small wounds from the Tipsy Ceramics of Doom! You can get a similar result with lesser sources of damage, like say... touching ice with your bare hand (+1). ...

So the moral of the story is a) wounds are nasty b) paper cuts quickly add up to death and c) the people of Ars Magica seriously suck. If I stated myself up I would need like +10 soak not to die when I drink a cup of soda after adding ice.

P.S. If you want to be a real jerk/RAW stickler wound penalties remove not only your soak total, AND any defense total or non-combat soak total you might have. If you have a -1 wound you subtract off -1 from the soak total and again from the non-combat soak total.

Not sure what you are getting at. In combat, Soak is a derived total, calculated based on other rolls, the opposing attack and the defense roll. I wouldn't apply it double, that doesn't make a lot of sense and seems even more jerky than being a killer DM.
As you say wounds are bad enough, no need to make them worse.

In general a good rule of thumb is stuff shouldn't apply twice unless it is specifically called out as applying multiple times. If one formula is "Your Foo Total is Magic Theory+Int", and then the next formula is "Your Ferzle Total is your foo total+int" then Magic Theory would count twice towards the Ferzle total. But a -1 wound penalty would only take away one from the Ferzle total. Ex: If a character has a light wound, 2 MT and +2 int, then Foo is 3 (2 MT+2 int-1 wound), and Ferzle is 5 (2 MT+2 int -1 wound +2 int). If you got a blessing from a hermit that added +2 to all totals then Foo would be 5, and Ferzle would be 7 (not 9).

However, by RAW would penalties seem to apply to all totals. If a total affects another total not only is the first total lowered by one, the second total (being derived from the first) is also lowered by one again for a net of minus two. In combat you're defense total AND your soak total get lowered. Similarly out of combat a wound lowers your soak total, and then the wound lowers your out of combat soak total a second time. If a sta+0 peasant has a light wound their out of combat soak total is -1+stress die.

And by RAW it is applied to the total, in that is applied in your ability to defend against an attack. There's a difference between a soak roll when affected by non combat damage and combat damage. Again, that's worse than being a killer DM, as it means that anyone who has a medium wound effectively has a -6 when trying to absorb damage. -3 when counted against the defensive total, and then another -3 when included in the soak total. Keep in mind that the combat soak total is entirely derived and already includes the penalties once. RAW only states that it be included in all soak total, and it already is, by dint of the calculation of Attack Advantage.

Well, it depends what you consider an action. Some consider only the Defense Total is an action to be penalized. Some consider the stress die in Non-Combat Soak Total makes it an action too.

Lightning Reflexes mentions type of actions, so does ReMe15 Confusion of the Number Will. No further definition is found anywhere.

Nope, all mortals are not men. "all actions (rolls and totals)" is a different beast.

Also going back to my previous point, if you include the wound penalty again on the soak calculation in combat damage, you are giving a greater weight to melee and missile combat in a game that is principally about magi., where magi should have an overwhelming role in combat when they act in combat.

This is not a new discussion, it has occurred before, most likely both here on the forum and across gaming tables.
It is difficult to write rules that are so unambiguous and iron clad that they can't be misinterpreted, deliberately or innocently misunderstood. IMHO it is a matter of using common sense and seeing what works and is fair.

It seems fairly rerasonable that Wound Penalties apply to Defense rolls, and eventually this is what kills you since lower Defense means higher Atk Advantage forthe opponent, which means higher Dam which is Soaked by the same amount as before, resulting most likely in larger wounds. Which affects the next combat round.
I know the Wound penalties are notes to affect both rolls and totals, but I bet it was not intended to apply twice!

For non-combat Soak apply Wound Penalties, because there was no rol before this where it could modify.

And suddenly you see that no mtter how the damage is applies, the Wound Penalties are applied once and make matters worse.
...except when someone casts a PeCo "inflict a Light Wound", these never kill you by themselves. OTOH once the poor victim has 42 Light Wounds go smack him upside the head, and even the Brawl 0, Dex -3, Str -3 magus can kill. But repeated use of '+1 damage' spells can eventually kill.

Thanks for the replies, all.

I can certainly see how you apply wound penalties to defense rolls - that's seems fairly unambiguous. (Wounds, pg. 178). And I also agree that it should only be applied once.

What's not quite clear to me is that direct magical attacks automatically get a defensive soak die. Now, I do agree that it's a good idea - but it's not explicitly spelled out, that I can see. I can see the ruling for "non-combat sources of injury" on pg. 181, and the example they give (being boiled alive) certainly could apply to a CrAq(Ig) effect - but that's implied. Is there anything that explicitly says "direct magic damage gets a soak die, if it didn't get a defensive total?"

Again - I think this is a fine and reasonable ruling - I'm just hoping there's something more explicit I can point my gaming group at.

How about:

If that's not clear enough for all but the most obstinate rules lawyers I don't know what is.
Note that a PeCo doing a specific type of wound does not inflict "damage" in the ArM sense, as this is expressed as "+X dam".

I always struggle to find these rules that I know so well. But one thing the 5th Edition book does much better than 3rd Edition is that it puts things in logical places, and the index isn't wrong. :smiley:

Kevin, one of the things I do with any game is that my rulings, or understanding of the rules stand until the player can show me I'm wrong, specifically, or the entire table of players agrees it's a bad rule and shouldn't be enforced. Everything is on consensus, so if there is one vociferous player who doesn't like the change it doesn't happen. It also makes the appeals to the SG useless, since everyone has to agree. And usually, when someone says no, it's because that change harms their character in some way, and it is a problem for the players to solve.

I also point out that any changes the players make the "bad guys" also get the benefit of, and sometimes that's not such a good thing. :smiley:

Cool, thanks.

Jonathan, I think the main issue with my playgroup is that some of them have been playing AM for a few versions, and they've been using a few house rules for years. As such, sometimes "it's the rules" means "this was the rule 2 versions ago" or "this was the rule a while ago, but we didn't like it and so we changed it, and have since forgotten that we did so". I'm actually fine with house-ruling, but I'd like to know what the rules actually are before we start doing so. (For example, one player really doesn't like T:Circle - he feels that it's a cheap way to get T:Room/Structure/Boundary. As such, he instinctively replaces the +1 circle magnitude with +2, +3, or even +4, depending on the size of the circle. This whole "magic does flat damage, but can't kill anyone" is I think another example of a combination of older edition rules + house rules + not knowing the new version of the rules.)