Rules Bit (GURPS): Revised Toughness

Intro: “Go ahead, runt, punch me in the gut.”

Imagine that’s the growl of a hulking bully with an Olympic wrestler’s build. And imagine that your physique is more that of… er, a guy who once gamed a wrestler PC. (Did you have to imagine very hard?)

It’s easy to imagine that your best punch to his gut – or just about anywhere beefy – simply won’t hurt the guy. At all. Oh, maybe a few dozen punches would start some bruising, sure, but you don’t get that chance; his first punch has you coughing up the lunch money as soon as your limbs start working again.

That sort of mismatch can be mighty realistic, but GURPS’ (or most any RPG’s) combat system won’t play things out quite as described above. It will when the bully’s high damage meets your puny Hit Points; there’s no problem there. But as long as your punch is capable of dealing some damage, you will hurt the bully – at least a point of hurt, which in GURPS is not trivial. (If your punch can roll zero damage, then you might not hurt him, true – but that roll won’t hurt a weakling, either. It’s a quirk of the damage dice used, not a bit of simulation realism.) In short, many RPGs have no mechanism that lets a strong fellow shrug off minor impacts without damage.

Below is a Toughness trait for GURPS that represents resilience from thick muscles, replacing what 3e called Toughness and what 4e calls DR with the Tough Skin limitation. The new Toughness below is as good as DR against crushing damage, letting a hero laugh off weak punches. Yet it isn’t as good as DR; even a weak knife slash will still cut, and a stab to the heart can kill.

The rule

Basics

Toughness uses levels, like DR.

Toughness absorbs impact, and so offers protection only from crushing, cutting, impaling, and piercing damage types. It doesn’t protect against hazards like poison, disease, acid, cold, heat, or electricity. (When in doubt as to whether an attack causes damage due to impact or not, make a GM call or use half Toughness, rounding down.)

For impacting blows, start with standard GURPS procedures for handling damage: Subtract DR, and multiply the remaining basic hits for damage type and location.

Now let Toughness subtract from damage – but only from the basic hits (i.e., the “impact”) delivered by the blow, and not from the extra hits from edges, location, or other multipliers.

In mechanical terms, this means you reduce total damage by the smaller of your Toughness or basic hits (after DR).

Examples

Example: You have Toughness 3. That lets you shrug off up to 3 points of impact damage (i.e., basic hits). A punch for 5 points of damage inflicts only 2 points.

But a 2-point edged attack will still cut you. Per GURPS rules, it deals 2 points of basic hits plus an extra 1 point of damage from cutting. Your Toughness 3 absorbs the 2 points of basic hits, but you still take the extra 1 point of damage from cutting.

Next you take a 5-point stab to the vitals, which is tripled to 15 damage. Your Toughness 3 subtracts only 3 hits from those initial 5 basic hits. You take the remaining 2 points of those basic hits, plus all 10 extra points from the stab, for 12 damage total.

Next up is a 4-point crushing blow to the neck. Multiply by 1.5 for target location, to get 6 points of damage. Your Toughness 3 subtracts 3 points; you take the remaining 3. 

You now don DR 1 armor, and take a 5-point punch to the torso. DR subtracts 1 basic hit, after which your Toughness 3 absorbs 3 more. You take the remaining 1 basic hit as damage.

Next comes another 5-point stab to the vitals. DR subtracts 1 from basic hits, leaving 4. Multiply these by 3 for vitals: 12 damage. Your Toughness absorbs only 3 of the 4 basic hits; 1 basic hit gets through, as do all 8 hits of the extra impaling damage. You take 9 damage.

The above examples illustrate the detailed workings, but all can be restated in simpler, play-friendly form: Just compute total damage per normal GURPS, then reduce it by the smaller of your Toughness or the blow’s basic hits (after DR). That’s it.

Setting Toughness

You’ll need to decide whether to use Toughness for resilient heroes only, or as the inherent resilience of just about any creature. It’s your choice.

The former is easier to implement. Toughness becomes a special punch-shrugging resilience that costs less than DR and better fits the action hero image. Between 1 and 3 points work well for a wiry tough guy; other characters can do without.

The latter choice is more realistic, though. To give any creature an appropriate default level of Toughness, try ST/5, rounded down. Add a bit more for particularly tough or rubbery types, including rough-and-tumble action heroes.

Either way, the upper limit is up to the GM. Twice the above ST/5 is reasonable, though unnatural or alien flesh may allow higher levels (or even require it as part of the racial template).

Minor details

The eyes have no Toughness.

The skull has DR instead of Toughness – essentially, its Toughness is converted to DR. (You might want to set default brain DR to ST/5, the same level suggested for Toughness above.)

Cost of Toughness

Toughness is less useful than DR. Treat it as a -40% limitation on DR, or 3 points per level.

Toughness replaces the Tough Skin and Flexible limitations on DR (BS 47). It (and Edge Protection) act as alternate ways of handling similar effects.

Variants and options

Balancing Toughness and damage

Toughness makes it a bit harder for characters to hurt each other. That’s not a big problem in play. Those characters have paid points for the defense, and it’s notably inferior to DR: no matter how much Toughness you sport, a stab in the right place will leave you dead.

But if you take the option of applying Toughness to most or all creatures, or simply find all PCs stocking up on this new form of defense, you’ll want to consider boosting damage to maintain combat balance. Here are suggestions for doing so, to compensate for widespread Toughness:

  1. Encourage more strong AOA attacks, bone-crushing techniques, and bigger weapons. Also remind players that ST is more important than ever for breaking Toughness-enhanced foes!
  2. Use Toughness together with increased ST-based damage (see New Damage for ST below and the linked article New Damage for ST).
  3. See other suggestions in the above article for boosting damage, under Expanded Damage Table.
  4. See the options immediately below that reduce Toughness for some damage types and locations.

Toughness and damage types

Impaling or piercing damage with a multiplier of x1 (impaling to a limb, piercing, etc.) or x0.5 (small piercing) can interact oddly with Toughness (among other rules). This is not an oddity with Toughness itself; it’s an artifact of the strange way in which GURPS handles these damage types,  ruling that these flesh-penetrating attacks cause the same damage as, or less damage than, equivalent blunt attacks.

To address this oddity, halve Toughness versus small piercing attacks. This can be explained as exceptional penetration versus muscle. It helps prevent Toughness from erasing the attacks’ small final damage.  

Example: You have Toughness 3. You’re hit by a small-caliber bullet which, after DR, inflicts 6 basic hits. Damage is halved to 3 for small piercing. Now Toughness kicks in, but only half your normal amount, rounded down to 1. It absorbs 1 point of the damage; you take 2 points. 

For impaling or piercing attacks with a x1 multiplier, you could proceed as usual, subtracting Toughness from final damage (which will be the same as basic hits). That makes Toughness as useful as DR versus these attacks. But if that seems unrealistic, halve Toughness as above. This lets the attacks’ penetration ability cause a bit more wounding than blunt attacks do. 

Toughness and location

For more detail, modify Toughness as follows (at least for humanoids):

Halve Toughness (round up) in the hands, feet, groin, and nose. There’s less flesh and muscle there to protect delicate stuff. (The throat would qualify too; treat this as the neck with an extra -2 TH, or -7 TH total.)

Conversely, give Toughness a 50% bonus (round down) against torso attacks from the rear, thanks to big back and buttock muscles. (Drop that bonus for targeted attacks to the kidneys, spine, etc.) The same could apply to the upper chest, upper arms, and upper legs, if the attack were specified to hit those locations.

That extra Toughness is why a boxer unable to dodge blows will at least try to catch them on sturdier locations. (It’s also why you’d curl up and expose your back to passively take a rain of blows. It’s better than being kicked in the front… a little, anyway.)

Toughness and shock

The default way to handle shock from blows is also the easiest: Compute shock as final damage (after DR, Toughness, etc.) times any appropriate multiple (such as doubled vs the groin). If Toughness absorbs all damage, then there’s no shock.

Another option is to calculate shock from damage before Toughness, and then subtract Toughness from shock. That’s a little more complex, but allows high-shock attacks (hello again, groin!) to inflict shock even when Toughness shrugs off actual injury. 

Free Toughness

As Toughness is an optional purchase, you can design oddities such as the PC with all the bar-bending muscles and Hit Points of his ST 20, but who chooses to buy none of the expected Toughness to go with it. Or build a small, wiry (even rubbery) PC who laughs off kicks and punches with unusual Toughness.

Alternately, the GM could include Toughness as a free, innate component of ST. Under this option, Toughness equal to ST/5 (rounded down) is automatic for all creatures, at no cost. Additional Toughness is still available, as above. (Or, if by chance you use some alternate scheme for ST (like this), set the cost of added Toughness to 30% the cost of added ST.)

This option offers a nice consistency in character abilities: Any creature of a certain strength will be certain to sport an appropriate and generally predictable resistance to impacts. But it also adds benefit to ST for no extra cost, so use it with caution. (Be sure to also consider the issues discussed under Balancing Toughness and damage.)

Required Toughness

As a middle ground between optional purchase of Toughness and the above built-in Toughness, you can require that all characters purchase the suggested level (or higher), but also charge for it (no freebies!). That too offers consistency in character design, though for good or bad, it also tells players where to direct some of their character points.  

When to use it

Toughness is a tool for those GMs who want a little extra combat detail. Using it consistently across characters and creatures adds a very realistic element. At the same time, added levels of Toughness are a fantastic way to build cinematic heroes that shrug off all sorts of bone-cracking blows, without the invulnerability of DR.

Toughness in an action hero has effects different from extra Hit Points. A few points of the latter will let the hero take an extra blow or two, but that’s it; until he’s healed up again, he can’t take any more blows than if he hadn’t bought those extra Hit Points. A couple extra points of Toughness, however, may let him take dozens more mook-level punches than he could have taken otherwise. Then again, it won’t avail him much against a bullet. It’s a trade-off…

Connections

New Damage for ST

The increased resilience to damage that characters gain from Toughness meshes nicely with the extra damage they dish out using New Damage for ST. Try it and see.

Edge Protection

Toughness together with Edge Protection (EP) let you model innate resilience and armor effects in great detail. As discussed therein, Toughness and EP work together in a special way: a point of each combine to form a point of DR, in both effect and cost. Head to the article for details. 

Status

This is old and tested stuff which has received many positive comments from gamers over the years. The various options offered, though, get tested in one game and dropped or changed in another; more testing is always welcome! 

For any combination of options you use, try a little combat testing before your big game. Let me know what works for you and what doesn’t!

Designer’s notes

1. Toughness is actually one of the first house rules I generated shortly after meeting GURPS. It was inspired by Physical Defense (PD) in Champions or other HERO games: a defense that directly reduced damage from punches and other “non-lethal” attacks, while not protecting heroes at all from knives and guns.

HERO’s PD is somewhat unsatisfactory in that it forces the game’s arbitrary division of damage (and protection) into lethal and non-lethal types. GURPS’ use of damage multipliers instead of binary categories offered a better solution for protection that interacts with any impact type. By not requiring any special lethal vs non-lethal distinctions, Toughness plays nicely with GURPS’ assertion that all violent blows are “lethal” (if some more than others).

2. Old versions of these rules appeared in GULLIVER for 3e, and suggested free Toughness as the default. This version switches to suggesting a cost by default. The reason is simple: An optional purchase with an appropriate cost makes Toughness easier for a GM to drop into any existing game, without mucking up current character abilities or combat balance.

Wrapping up

Drop some Toughness on your two-fisted heroes before dropping them into the next brawl. Let them take more of the little stuff on the chin… so they can rush unscathed into the really bad dangers.

I’d like to hear how the rule works out in your game!

2 Comments

  • Demi Benson

    I’ve been a fan of your Toughness for a long time. This plus Edge Protection and new ST-based damage progression make a great combo… but, it adds a lot of computation to combat, which is already teetering on the edge of “too complex”.

    I suspect you’d get more (or faster) buy-in if these three rules plus a new armor system were better integrated into the core mechanics. That is, rewriting the combat system to make a stronger distinction between the damaging blow (from fists, bullets, arrows, swords, but not poison, disease/death-ray, acid, or fire) and its “damage value”, the crushing component, and the wounding from the type of blow (cutting, impaling, etc). That lets you point out where the three forms of DR (DR/EP/T) get applied: subtract DR from damaging blow, subtract Toughness from crushing damage, and subtract EP from extra wounding.

    This would also tie in nicely to knockback calculations (based solely on crushing component) and shock penalty (based partially on damage type).

    How does this ties in to a new armor system? Since EP and Toughness take care of that silliness with GURPS flexible armor or tough skin, we no longer need armor with special case values for physical blows (e.g. DR like “2*” or “5/3”), instead we pull all physical protection into a fixed three-value format like “4/0/2” (lorica segmentata) or “1/2/0” (a martial arts padded suit) or “0/0/infiite” (impenetrable magic silk shirt). Impaling attacks halve EP (rounded up).

    That leaves the non-physical wounding (burning, corrosion, and toxic) to be incorporated into armor. Since those are only three values, you can just add those the above armor format – 10/0/25/3/3/0 for a tactical suit – even ignored for low-tech armors which won’t have any values.

    Some other thoughts on how to rework the armor format…

    • Virtually no armor will protect versus toxic damage, so leave that one off all together. If an armor (or super power) does have it, add it back in at the end with an X (for toXic, since T already means Toughness). e.g. “5X”
    • All types of protection can have a letter associated. D for DR, E for EP, T for Toughness, B for burning, C for corrosion, and X for toxic. So the armor format just adds in whatever it has values for (“4D/2E” or “10D/25E/3B/3C”), leaving off any with zero protection. This makes the armor tables more cramped, but now we don’t need all those footnotes and special case symbols, and ultimately simpler because every armor table can have all the information you need.
    • Even radiation, fatigue, pain, and stunning special types can get an entry in the main table, using R, F, P, or S for their protection type. For radiation, it would be the Protection Factor (PF) divisor, not a linear damage reduction. Most of these will never be used, so you just leave them off.
    • Some protection only applies if the suit is sealed, so you can append a lowercase “s” to the armor format for B, C, X, or R types – “3Cs/10Rs” for a NBC suit with a radiation liner.

    Then there’s the weirdness with small piercing doing 0.5x damage and impaling to the limbs doing 1x damage. It’s awkward, especially with the Toughness rules. We have to have a way of showing that those aren’t deadly but will still hurt. Ok, so if we’re redesigning the whole combat mechanic anyways, why don’t we adjust HP and damage so no one has to do divide by 2, round off, subtract, etc… we can double (or triple) HP across the board (HP = ST x 2), adjust some basic damages and most damage-type multipliers. Bullets will be the most changed, because we give them low damage dice but high wound multiple. That also takes care of the special case for bullets and knockback since their crushing component is so low it will hardly affect anyone.

    • tbone

      Demi Benson wrote:
      I’ve been a fan of your Toughness for a long time. This plus Edge Protection and new ST-based damage progression make a great combo… but, it adds a lot of computation to combat, which is already teetering on the edge of “too complex”.

      Glad you like them. Re complexity: Well, the new ST Damage doesn’t add or take away anything there. But as for Toughness (Tgh) and EP, yes, like any added combat option, they add complexity – though not as much as “two new armor statistics” would appear.

      First, they also do away with existing complexity like flexible armor and Tough Skin. Second, Tgh and EP combine to form DR, so no target will have three protection stats; it’ll have DR, plus either additional EP or additional Toughness. Not all three at once.

      Demi Benson wrote:
      I suspect you’d get more (or faster) buy-in if these three rules plus a new armor system were better integrated into the core mechanics. That is, rewriting the combat system to make a stronger distinction between the damaging blow (from fists, bullets, arrows, swords, but not poison, disease/death-ray, acid, or fire) and its “damage value”, the crushing component, and the wounding from the type of blow (cutting, impaling, etc). That lets you point out where the three forms of DR (DR/EP/T) get applied: subtract DR from damaging blow, subtract Toughness from crushing damage, and subtract EP from extra wounding.

      My exact thought when writing up Tgh: “You know, all damage should be rated on an impact component and a damage multiplier. The former would instantly answer questions about penetration, knockback, etc., with no special rules for certain damage types. Both components together would make things like EP and Tgh work easily for all damage types.”

      So I agree that it’d be an obvious improvement, if one were to rework such basics from scratch.

      Demi Benson wrote:
      How does this ties in to a new armor system? Since EP and Toughness take care of that silliness with GURPS flexible armor or tough skin, we no longer need armor with special case values for physical blows (e.g. DR like “2*” or “5/3”), instead we pull all physical protection into a fixed three-value format like “4/0/2” (lorica segmentata) or “1/2/0” (a martial arts padded suit) or “0/0/infiite” (impenetrable magic silk shirt). Impaling attacks halve EP (rounded up).

      Are those three values DR/Tgh/EP? I haven’t considered *armor* as having Tgh; I’m not sure what that would represent. As an inanimate object, armor doesn’t suffer a damage multiplier to begin with, and to any extent that armor absorbs impact, it should also prevent edge penetration (meaning DR not Tgh)… I don’t know, I can’t think of a meaningful example of armor Tgh. Also, any combination of armor Tgh and EP would have to be converted to DR instead… though I see that’s not a problem in your examples, where either Tgh or EP is already 0.

      In short: Unless I’m failing to see a good reason for armor Tgh, I rate armor using only DR and EP.

      As for your remaining armor suggestions: At quick glance, it all seems a very interesting reworking. I agree that it’s nice to have all needed info spelled out in stats, rather than case-by-case footnotes. Polished and tested, it’d make for a good Pyramid or fan site article.

      Demi Benson wrote:
      Then there’s the weirdness with small piercing doing 0.5x damage and impaling to the limbs doing 1x damage. It’s awkward, especially with the Toughness rules. We have to have a way of showing that those aren’t deadly but will still hurt. Ok, so if we’re redesigning the whole combat mechanic anyways, why don’t we adjust HP and damage so no one has to do divide by 2, round off, subtract, etc… we can double (or triple) HP across the board (HP = ST x 2), adjust some basic damages and most damage-type multipliers. Bullets will be the most changed, because we give them low damage dice but high wound multiple. That also takes care of the special case for bullets and knockback since their crushing component is so low it will hardly affect anyone.

      I agree, too, that bullets arguably call for better handling. It’s an old discussion, and I remain in the old camp of “Give bullets modest basic hits, high damage multipliers, and an armor divisor”.

      Regarding the x0.5 dam multiplier for small piercing, I too think it’s weird… though before saying so with certainty, I’d like to ask the 4e designers what the intent is. Say a small but high-tech bullet were to, an inch before impact, magically sprout a medallion-sized force-field “shield” in front so its damage became crushing. Do the designers say that this flat bullet, intentionally and logically, will inflict more damage than one bullet piercing flesh? (I’m open to the argument.) Or is it just a case of “Yeah, it’s not ideal, but we had to reduce damage below that of regular bullets, and those canonically had a x1 multiplier. Not much choice.”? I’m curious as to which it is.

      Assuming it’s not ideal, the triple HP suggestion would be useful, as you say, in avoiding small multipliers. In fact, someone just wrote to me w/ the idea of setting HP to ST x 10. Together with the New Damage Table, that allows something interesting: basic damage becomes ST dice.

      … And by that point, the combined ideas above are straying into a serious departure from the existing game. But all are interesting ideas to play with.

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