Review of Torn Asunder Critical Hits

Review Summary
Comped Playtest Review
Written Review

August 25, 2003

by: Jeremy Reaban

Style: 4 (Classy & Well Done)
Substance: 5 (Excellent!)

An expanded critical hit system for d20. It's not Rolemaster d20! While it adds a lot of flavor (and depth) to d20 combat and critical hits, it doesn't go overboard in lethality or charts or gorey injuries.

Jeremy Reaban has written 125 reviews, with average style of 3.51 and average substance of 3.94 The reviewer's previous review was of Oathbound: Domains of the Forge.

This review has been read 8084 times.

Product Summary
Name: Torn Asunder Critical Hits
Publisher: Bastion Press
Line: d20
Author: Steven Creech, Kevin Ruesch
Category: RPG

Cost: $22.95
Pages: 96
Year: 2003

SKU: BAS-1013
ISBN: 1-59263-007-3

Review of Torn Asunder Critical Hits

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Torn Asunder: Critical Hits

Torn Asunder is an expanded critical hit system for the d20 System from Bastion Press.

First off, it's not Rolemaster d20 (or more specifically, Arms Law d20). There really aren't charts, just location tables for differing body types (which are fairly simple to memorize, at least for common ones like humanoids).

The system is actually pretty simple, and piggybacks off of the d20 Critical Hit system. Basically, if on a critical hit, the attack roll is high enough, in addition to the critical hit damage, it will also have a "critical effect".

The severity of the critical effect depends on the attack role. If the attack roll was 5 more than the Armor Class of an opponent (AC), it's a mild critical effect. If it's 10 more than the AC, then it's medium. If it's 15 or more than the AC, then it's serious.

Once you know the severity, you roll the location. There's one main table with every sort of limb and/or appendage possible, but there are also location tables for specific body types:, ie, humanoids, abominations, various combinations of legs, wings, tails. Obviously, the location plays a huge role in the effect. For instance, most serious critical effects to the head or torso are more or less killing blows. Though the effect is the same, just what happens depends on the type of weapon (piercing, slashing, blunt).

For instance, the serious slashing wound to the torso is that they've been disemboweled; the bludgeoning version is that their rib cage has been crushed; the piercing version has their heart and/or lungs pierced. In any case, the effect is the same - death in a number of rounds equal to their constitution modifer.

That's the extreme example - most critical effects are far less deadly. Most mild effects are generally just small skill penalties (related to the limb or part in question), while most moderate effects are large penalties (and reduced movement rates, if applicable). As mentioned, only the severe effects for the head or torso are imminently fatal.

So how well does the system work? It's certainly quick enough, though you'll probably have to look up the specific effects. (The location for humanoids is pretty simple - Leg, Leg, Arm, Arm, Torso, Tail, Head, Other body part, on a d8. Though in practice it's much easier to drop the tail and other part, and just use a d6, which is generally what I've always used in games when I needed a hit location).

It seems to work best for medium level characters. Because the severity of the critical is entirely dependant on the attack roll and the armor class of the opponent, low level characters will rarely get serious critical effects, and high level characters will rarely get inflict mild critical effects.


Dornil the Half Ogre Cleric has an attack bonus of +9 with a great club. He's fighting a 4th Level Kobold Fighter, with an AC of 18. He rolls a 20 on his first attack (for a total attack roll of 29), which is a critical threat (a great club is not a great critical hit weapon, they only threaten on a 20), then makes the second roll for a critical hit.

The Attack roll was 29, to get the severity of the critical effect, you subtract the AC of the target (18), and get 11, so the critical effect is moderate.

Now at this point, you can either roll on the master location table (with a 20), or use the table tailored to the body type a kobold has (humanoid).

Just for kicks, I'll roll on the Master Table. It uses a d20. The roll comes up an 18. Hmmm, that's "Wing". As Kobolds don't have Wings, time for a re-roll. It's a 7. "Tail". Kobolds don't have tails. So re-roll again. It's a 15 - "Torso", Kobolds have those.

Looking at the effects for a Moderate Torso critical effect for a Bludgeoning weapon, I find that the blow has cracked the ribs of the Kobold. It suffers a -5 penalty to attacks, and the Balance, Climb, Escape Artist, Jump, Move Silently, Ride, Swim, and Tumble skill checks. And his movement rate is halfed.

Deciding that he's screwed, the Kobold drops to his knees, pleading for mercy.

That's a pretty good example of how this system can can add depth to combat, including role-playing aspects - rather than fighting to zero hit points, creatures may decide they're too hurt to fight any more. It also illustrates why it was a great move for Bastion to include tables tailored for each sort of critter type - just using the main body table can require re-rolling.

It also illustrates how useful armor is - in this example, the Kobold had an AC of 18, because he was wearing armor. But he wasn't wearing armor (kobolds often don't), his normal AC would have been 14. In that case, the same attack roll (a 29) would have produced a severe critical effect (29-14 = 15, a severe critical effect) , which in the case of the torso, would have crushed the rib cage and killed the Kobold in a number of rounds equal to the Kobolds Constitution modifier (+2, if you really must know)

Because I have a somewhat weird d20 campaign, I was able to playtest it with guns. It seems to work pretty well, too, since bullets cause piercing damage. So this system should work fine in a d20 Modern or modern campaign. In fact, as mentioned, it makes combat in games where there is no magic armor a lot more deadly, as lower armor classes = more serious critical effects. On the other hand, there's no damage effects for things like lasers or blasters, so you'll have to come up with the descriptive side of that on your own if you want to use it for futuristic games.

I'm not sure if I'll be using the rules long term, because as the section on critical hits in the DMG mentions, the player characters will be on the receiving end of critical hits more often than their specific opponents (as PCs last the entire campaign, and opponents only a fight or two). It might end up being too much of a hassle, but in the short time I've used the rule (basically 1 weekend), it hasn't been too hard on the PCs (of course, I also use "troupe" play, where each player has more than 1 character, which lets them rest up characters who are too hurt).

There are also very good rules for called shots. They're perhaps useful enough that you would want to use a called shot in a combat from time to time, but not super-powerful that you'd want to do it all the time. Just for special occasions, or combats against really tough foes (and they are somewhat risky, as they provoke an attack of opportunity and require a concentration check first to perform). There's also a simple system for critical fumbles (again, it's not as extreme as in rolemaster where you could accidently kill yourself on a fumble)

The new critical hit system takes up about a third of the book. The next 25 pages deal with the consequences of the first section, that is, healing or otherwise coping with damage caused by the system.

It starts off with a new take on the Heal skill, which is quite well done, the follows it up with lots and lots and lots of healing herbs (some taken from other books, including Atlas Games' Occult Lore). There are rules for scarring, rules for prosthetics (you can emulate the villain of "Enter the Dragon"), rules for cod-pieces. Even rules for acupuncture! Pretty comprehensive, but not excruciatingly detailed.

One minor quibble - it gives charisma penalties for scars - I'm not sure that's always true - small ones tend to add character. (In the words of famed animated daredevil Lance Murdock, "Chicks dig scars")

Have you ever wanted to play the Villain from Enter the Dragon? (The Bruce Lee movie?) The guy with who is missing a hand, but has a variety of attachments? Well, there's quite a selection of prosthetics here, including things like that.

There's some new classes related to healing and critical hits. Most interesting (for me) is the Apothecary core class. It's basically an improved expert (so it might be suitable for PCs, maybe not an obvious choice, but I know of at least two series of historical novels that feature an apothecary as protagonist), but only gets 5 skill points per level (as opposed to an expert's usual 6), though that might be a typo (or changed in 3.5), and lots of special abilities. It's the best version of a non-spell casting healer I've seen (and er, I've actually seen a lot).

The last third of so of the book is filled with misc. stuff, somewhat related to the subject. Some of it is necessary, like new spells designed to cure critical effects. Some of it just seems a bit like filler, like most of the new weapons (some of the new armor is useful to offset particular critical hits or called shots, like the armored codpiece. Very useful for protecting your cod.).

I probably wouldn't allow most of the new weapons. One of the things you have to ask when creating new weapons (or armor), is "Is this so good that no one would ever want to use anything else?". Unfortunately, that applies to most of the new weapons, many of which are just like the ones in the PHB, only more damaging ("Weighted Greatsword", "Triple Threat Crossbow") and one of the new armors ("Warcaster's Armor").

One of the new monsters is pretty interesting - the "Dung Golem". Kind of like a politician, it's a golem that is full of dung, or more specifically, bat guano. It's mostly used by underground and cave dwelling magic using races.

The rest are less interesting. There are a couple new races, one a type of reptiles (Bastion seems to love reptile races), and one a type of Hedgehog or porcupine. Perfect if you're a Sega fan, I guess. Nothing bad, but nothing as notable as the Dung Golem.

Physically, it's a very solid book. While it's 96 pages, it seems almost bigger, because they used a thick type of paper. Cats also apparently find it comfortable to sleep on (though this is the case for most RPG books, for some reason).

I thought the book looked a bit cluttered at times, the top and bottom margin art and the outer margin art sort of blend together. The margin art also features spirals, or circles, which can be somewhat disorientating. But the layout itself is pretty good. There's also no wasted space, and very little white space in the book, period. So it's a good value, in terms of the amount of content you're getting.

The artwork is generally good, with a few excellent pieces. For instance, early on in the book, there is a great full page picture of a Kyton (one of those Hellraiser-esque chain fiends) having it's arm being chopped off. Really nice piece, if a bit gorey. (The outer margin art is also a bit icky)

Other than the overpowered nature of some of the new equipment, and the averageness of most of the new critters, this is a great book. It offers a quick, easy, system to add detail to injuries in combat, but without going to extremes that would make it unplayable or unwieldy. A-

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