In every version of SaSS, up to and including SaSS:R (the sassiest!), there have been two health tracks, layered armor, and dodges. Inspired by running across an old article by the Emperor, I thought I’d talk about them and how they relate to The Most Popular Fantasy RPG that most people are more familiar with.
In the Emperor’s article, he discusses how Hit Points are actually not meant to represent wounds per se, or at least not major wounds necessarily, but instead are meant to represent luck, divine favor, magical assistance, skill, and experience. Each of these represent a part of what gets used up when, in The Most Popular Fantasy RPG, you get ‘hit’ and take ‘damage.’ I agree with the analysis, and even like the analysis provided, but dislike having things be so murky (as a Referee.) As one of the comments points out, it can be hard to narrate such an abstraction, which would be no problem if I only wanted a mech miniatures game (because mechs can simply absorb damage), but which fails to serve my purpose if I want squishy humans to be able to act outside of big mechanical monstrosities.
When I was designing the first iteration of SaSS (which I did playtest, but which was too easy and got scrapped), I wanted the “Life Points” and “Essence” of Unisystem, but without the “Endurance Points” (fun? I don’t think so!) and with a more definitively sanity/mental wellbeing statistic than the more spiritualist “Essence.” Having never played Call of Cthulhu at the time, I went with “Mental Health” and “Physical Health.” These, unlike Hit Points in The Most Popular Fantasy RPG, are actually the amount of stress and damage a character can take, respectively.
Having played The Most Popular Fantasy RPG, however, and been disappointed in how flimsy armor is in that game, I wanted to have armor be meatier. To accomplish that goal, I came up with the (entirely historical idea) of layering armor, within a couple of limits (Hindrance and Type.) In this system, armor is just armor, worn to reduce damage. With layering, it became entirely possible to become entirely impervious to (almost all) hand weapon attacks, though the Hindrance made it prohibitively difficult to do anything while wearing such a load. This is entirely realistic, not that realism is my primary goal.
When SaSS was set in a generic fantasy setting, it made perfect sense for a man in full plate armor, with a chain shirt and padding underneath, to be impervious to all but the heaviest of bludgeoning attacks. There is a reason most knights died of A) bludgeoning damage, B) knives or similar implements inserted between plates while the knight was stuck on the ground, or C) didn’t die on the battlefield at all, but were captured and ransomed, executed, or died of disease. I like the solutions I came up with, and in other versions of SaSS (yes, I plan on other versions besides SaSS:R) they will be reappearing with greater emphasis (hopefully even with a return of another mechanic I like–“Prying into Armor”!) In SaSS:R, however, these sort of take the background, but it informs the mechanics of the game, including in Mech Combat.
Finally, we come to the ‘skill’ part of the primordial “Hit Points.” For that, I have the “Athletics: Dodge” Skill, inspired by the way my primary gaming group uses that skill in Mongoose Traveller. In SaSS:R, Dodges work differently in ranged and melee combat, and different still in mech/aerial combat, though the basics are the same: an opposed roll, involving a d20+Attribute+Skill-“Context” (situational modifiers.)
In Melee combat, Dodges are free and can go on ad nauseam, to represent being better able to read the movements of an opponent when you are closer to them, though Parrying/Riposting are most definitely not unlimited. In ranged combat, you get one free Dodge before it begins taking away from future turns, to represent being boxed in by a distant foe’s shots. In mech and aerial combat, all dodges–close- or far-away–take away from the Action Pool for that Round, with an upper limit on how many Dodges can be done in a Round. If your mech uses all its Action Pool moving or shooting, your pilot is too busy and distracted to be able to make the complicated maneuver that is making a multi-ton machine dodge attacks.
In practice, this means that at lower technological levels of development armor is key, though it loses importance as weapon damages increase and the disabilities Hindrance brings to the table matter more. At the tech level of SaSS:R, armor for people on foot is largely just a matter of preventing minor injuries from building up to take you out of the fight, more than it is a necessity. Most of the players in my playtest only have the most basic personal armor, since they usually plan on fighting in their mechs, though in previous versions’ playtest it has worked out similarly to how it works in other systems, with some people choosing to rely on Skill and others tanking it out with heavy armor.