For better or worse, the d20 combat system is based upon attrition and unrealistic. It’s hit point system simply tracks general state of health; no attempt is made to describe the wounds a character incurs, nor to add any sense of gritty realism to the proceedings.
If its grit you want, Torn Asunder: Critical Hits is like a whole mouth-full of sand. This latest release from Bastion Press brings added realism to the game by creating a simple yet effective way of determining the nature and effects of serious combat-related injuries. More importantly, it does so without altering the existing d20 rules in any way, and is fully v3.5 compliable.
The critical hits system revolves around “factor levels”, which determines how bad the injury is. These three levels--mild, moderate, and the limb-severing serious—can then be applied to any hit location, as determined by a body location table. Once the degree and location of the injury is ascertained, the GM simply consults the text to determine the exact game effects of the injury based upon the type of weapon employed (piercing, slashing, bludgeoning). It’s easy and effective. I personally would have liked a bit more variety in the final wound descriptions…not every serious slashing wound to the head should end with a throat being slashed. How about lopping off jaws, severing ears, or lobotomizing a skull?
While the system is sound its clear that wound descriptors that work for humanoids wouldn’t work for most animals or monsters. To that end, Torn Asunder includes rules for body types that don’t conform to the humanoid shape, breaking them down into seven logical categories (abomination, four-legged beast, six-legged beast, eight-legged beast, bipedal, dibrachium, draconic, and serpentine). Each type has a customized body location chart to reflect its form.
A really nice touch is the wound tracking charts for all the body-types found in the appendix. It’s a simple but welcome touch.
A logical extension of this new system is a more detailed set of called shots rules, which Torn Asunder delivers. Again, the rules are simple but effective. A character decides what body part he wishes to aim at, and he suffers a penalty to hit based upon the location. You can even aim for a specific point on a body location (an eye, for example), but the difficulty increases. Called shots also have specific critical effects, which make sense; a targeted blow to the calf is far likely to hamstring a person than is a simple wound.
Taking advantage of these called shot rules is a new prestige class, the Marksman. A second prestige class, the Spiritual Healer, and the Apothecary, a variant core class designed for low-magic campaigns, joins him. All three are well designed and fill a niche.
The Spiritual Healer and the Apothecary are supported by new healing rules that take into consideration long-term care, the seriousness of the wound, and even scarring and limb loss (there are eight pages of fantastical prosthetics; who knew losing a limb could be so much fun!). New healing spells focused upon treating critical wounds, an assortment of healing paraphernalia, and enhanced rules for herbalism that includes a half-dozen really detailed new curative plants round out this section.
One of the more popular aspects of the d20 rules is the ability to use feats, especially those related to combat. Recognizing this, the authors include eighteen new feats, such as hamstring (you know how to cripple foes), pierce (your ranged attacks pass through initial targets to strike a second foe), and Strong Two-Handed Attack (when wielding two-handed weapons you double your Strength bonus for damage!).
Players will also love the new weapons (including lung-puncture arrows, ogre mauls, and stunning sling stones) and most especially horrific spells. Want to lop off an enemy’s head? Use headsman’s caress. Feel the urge to break a few bones? You don’t need to hire thugs any more, not with power word: bone–shatter. The point is, the spells are deadly and they’re cool.
Rounding out this fine effort are seven new monsters and three templates. They don’t fit as well into the overall concept of the book and feel a bit like filler. That’s not to say that they’re poorly designed or conceived however, because in most cases this is far from the case. The bonecracker is plain frightening and the dung golem (made from bat guano) has definite possibilities. But the scantling, a porcupine-like sentient race, seems distinctly out of place in this book, and the threatened (bigger and nastier than usual ‘cause they gotta be to survive) and spined (mutants covered in spines) templates are a bit of a stretch.
Torn Asunder is graced with a beautiful cover by Jason Engle, while the interior is illustrated by solid, if rather sparse artwork. I usually don’t notice borders, but in this case I did and for all the right reasons. They’re both attractive and appropriate, a subtle touch that goes along way to creating a pleasing package.
Authors Steven Creech and Kevin Ruesch succeed admirably in what they set out to do: add a dangerous new element, in the form of critical hits, to the d20 system without making any changes to said system. The extra element of danger goes a long way to creating tension in combat that may have been missing before. The added resources are merely icing on the cake, but welcome to be sure.
Bastion Press scores a critical hit of their own with Torn Asunder.