Commentary: Eric Gibson, Nick Simmonds
Playtesting: Dominick Riesland, Amber Thom, Scott
Smith, John McGlynn, Bryan Bradbury, Thomas Stevens
.pdf of this article.
One of the most common complaints about Torg’s game mechanics
is known colloquially as the “Glass-Jaw Ninja” Syndrome (or GJN).
It’s so common, it has an entire page devoted to it in the Revised
and Expanded Torg Rulebook (page 92). Put simply, because
of the way the Torg combat mechanics work, anytime a character
who is very good at defending themselves (the “ninja”) is hit,
they often take a lot of damage (their “Glass Jaw”).
Many solutions have been proposed for this, and one even implemented
in the Torg-derived Shatterzone and MasterBook games.
Yet all of the solutions proposed thus far have caused far more
problems than they’ve solved: many revise or discard the Torg dice
mechanic, altering the core of the game, most of them require extra
steps during play, and some require conversion of the combat options
(or other rules changes) to implement.
This article offers a simple, straightforward solution that eliminates
the problem, doesn’t introduce any new problems, and doesn’t change
the core dice mechanic of the game. This solution is transparent
in play- game play isn’t altered at all. The solution also enhances
the cinematic feel of Torg, and enables certain subtle
distinctions between characters that weren’t possible before.
Torg’s combat system is designed to be quick and cinematic.
It is similar to systems found in many other roleplaying games:
- The attacker’s “to-hit” total (based on their attack skill)
is compared to the defender’s defense (based on their defense
skill) to see if the attack hit.
- The attacker’s Damage Value is compared to the defender’s Toughness,
to see how much damage is done.
- The “to-hit” total is the attacker’s skill plus a bonus (based
on a die roll) and their Damage Value is a base value, plus the
Torg uses a unitary rolling method- the “to-hit” and “damage” rolls
are the same roll (this is contrasted with Dungeons & Dragons,
where the “to-hit” and damage rolls are separate). Thus, when the
player rolls high, they have a higher “to-hit” total and do more
damage. When they roll low, their “to-hit” total and damage are
When a defender has a high defense skill, attackers with low attack
skills will often miss. When they do hit it will be because they
rolled very well, which means they also do a lot of damage.
and stories are replete with examples of characters
who kill using weapons that, in Torg terms,
do very little damage. Ninjas are especially known
for being able to use nearly anything to bring down
current rules reflect such situations only with difficulty.
If he is to succeed, the player must expend enough
cards, Possibilities, and so forth to ensure that
the Bonus Number is high enough to cause the requisite
the skill-based combat system, a character who is
extremely skilled can become lethal with common implements,
even those with low Damage Values. Yet, skilled combatants
are still able to protect themselves, escaping certain
too, is cinematic. In many movies, a skilled defender
is shown knocking away a projectile, trapping it
between their palms, or taking the blow in a shoulder
or other non-critical area, when other opponents
of the same attacker have been instantly slain.
Example: Joe the Shocktrooper has
a Dexterity of 8 and a fire combat of
+1, making his attack skill a 9. Lou the Bruiser has
a Dexterity of 8 and a dodge of +1,
making his defense skill a 9.
Joe can hit Lou with any roll that gives him a +0
to his skill (just a little less than half the time).
That means his pistol, which does 14 points of damage,
will do at least 14 points of damage when he hits Lou
(and maybe more, if he rolls better).
Lou has an associate, Jimmy the Thief. Jimmy has a Dexterity of
8 and a dodge of +6, making his defense skill
a 14. Joe has to get a +5 to his attack skill to hit
Jimmy, which happens about 15% of the time. Usually
he misses, but when he does hit, he always does at
least 19 points of damage to Jimmy.
The problem is phrased in many ways and has many consequences,
but for most it boils down to high-skill characters getting hit
less often, but taking a lot of damage when they are. The implied
solution is that highly skilled defenders should take less damage,
which as a corollary means highly skilled attackers would do more
Most of the solutions to the GJN syndrome implement this principle,
but in ways that cause various problems. The MasterBook solution
is the one official solution, and the problems it causes are numerous.
The MasterBook Solution
The GJN Syndrome was large enough of a problem to cause WEG to
change how the dice mechanic worked in Shatterzone and MasterBook.
This solution, also detailed on pg. 92 of the Revised and Expanded
Torg Rulebook, is to ignore the rolled bonus number, and instead
apply the Result Points of the attack to the Damage Value. So if
an attacker’s “to-hit” total is 3 points higher than the defender’s
defense total, they add 3 points to their Damage Value.
This solution caused many problems (the rules in the Revised
and Expanded Torg Rulebook even suggest ways to fix the
fix). A few of these problems are discussed below.
The MasterBook solution (MBS) added an extra step to
combat- calculating Result Points and adding them to the Damage
Value. This additional step slowed down play.
The change emphasized Dexterity over skill, as each point
of Dexterity added 1 point to damage for
all combat skills (pain
and reduced damage from all attacks by 1 point, while each point
of a skill only increased the damage of that skill.
It also made Dexterity into a protective attribute. Since
an attack that missed did no damage at all, raising Dexterity increased
the number of attacks which did no damage. It also reduced damage
from all attacks that did hit by 1 point. This made Dexterity more
valuable than Toughness, as Dexterity both increased
and reduced damage (while Toughness only reduced it).
In Torg, characters could hit with a negative bonus,
lowering the weapon’s damage. Using the MBS, the minimum bonus
to damage is a +0 (because negative Result Points signify a miss),
meaning all weapons never do less than their base damage. The MBS
effectively raised the base damage of weapons, making combat more
To summarize: the MBS solution introduces new problems, which
require more fixes, it adds extra steps during play, it makes combat
more lethal, and it makes Dexterity more important than
it already is.
has none of these problems. It also enhances certain aspects of
The rule is simple: the attacker’s Damage Value is increased by
their attack skill adds and the defender’s Toughness is
increased by their defense skill adds.
Example: Using this system, Joe
the Shocktrooper does 15 points of damage with his
pistol (the pistol’s base Damage Value of 14 plus 1
point for his 1 add in fire combat). When
he hits Lou the Thug, Lou takes 14 points of damage
(because his 1 point of dodge reduces the
damage from 15 to 14).
When Joe is shooting Jimmy the Thief he needs a +5
to get past Jimmy’s defense skill value, making his
Damage Value a 20. Jimmy only takes 14 points of damage,
though, because he has 6 adds in dodge. If
Joe had rolled that same +5 against Lou, Lou would
have taken 19 points of damage.
combat passes the believability test for most people.
It makes sense that a person who is more skilled
with a sword does more damage than one who is less
skilled, while one who is a virtuoso with a blade
takes less damage than an inept amateur. Not only
does this seem believable, it is also highly cinematic.
This rule is cinematic in other ways.
skills are attribute plus adds, so a character with
a high attribute (natural talent) but little training
(few skill adds) is indistinguishable from one who
has less natural talent but more training- the two
are equally matched. Yet, in the cinematic movies
that are Torg’s inspiration, this isn’t
the case. We frequently see a weaker, but better
trained individual defeat stronger, but less well
these rules, a tough but raw fighter would have high Dexterity and Strength values,
and so land blows fairly often and with some force.
A character who is weaker and less agile, but more
skilled, could still defeat the brawler as he knows
how to evade the brawler’s inexperienced swings and
knows exactly where to strike for maximum effect.
by these criteria, skill-based combat is both realistic
Stated more formally, the rule is:
1. Characters who attack add their skill adds in the appropriate
attacking skill to the Damage Value of their weapon. (For weapons
with a Max. Damage, this can exceed the Max. of the weapon.)
2. Characters who are defending (passive or active) add their
skill adds in the appropriate defensive skill to Toughness.
This rule only applies to combat skills:
- Biotech Weapons
- Energy Weapons
- Heavy Weapons
- Fire Combat
- Unarmed Combat
- Melee Weapons
- Missile Weapons
- Pain Weapons (see sidebar)
No other changes to current rules or combat options are necessary.
The “Specializations in Play” sidebar highlights one
Skill-Based Combat in Play
One of the strengths of the skill-based combat rule is that it
doesn’t alter gameplay at all. Rolling dice, generating Bonus Numbers,
and so forth- no extra steps are needed and no steps are changed
The rule is simple. It is easy to explain and easy to implement.
The skill adds of the character do modify the Damage Values of
their weapons and their Toughness, yet these calculations
needn’t occur during play. Rather, the player (or gamemaster) records
the modified values on their character sheet and refers to those
rather than the original values.
Example: A Storm Knight with Toughness 10, Strength 10,
2 adds in dodge, 3 adds in melee
and who uses a short sword (Damage Value Str +4) would
record the following values:
Toughness 10; dodge +2/12; melee
Short Sword, DV Str +4: 14, melee
weapons +3: DV
By recording these values on the character sheet, the rule is
implemented transparently. Play proceeds exactly as under the current
system and no new mechanics need be learned, nor do any new steps
slow combat down.
pain weapons (see the Tharkold Sourcebook,
ppg. 45, 121, and 127) use melee weapons or unarmed
combat to hit, but the Damage Value of the weapon
is the user’s pain weapons skill, compared
against the target’s Spirit or pain
weapons. The Result Points are read as spiritual
stun damage, with spiritual consequences (such as
the target losing use of their faith or focus skills).
this rule, pain weapons work exactly the
same way they do now- melee weapons or unarmed
combat are used to see if the attack hits, but
adds in either do not increase the Damage Value of
the weapon. In this case, the knowledge of how to
cause or avert damage from a pain weapon doesn’t
lie in physical combat (melee weapons or unarmed
combat) but how the pain energy is channeled
This rule directly implements the desired solution: defenders
with higher skill values take less damage and attackers with higher
skill values do more damage. Only combat is affected, the die rolling
mechanic of Torg and other core mechanics remain unaltered.
In general, this rule de-emphasizes Dexterity and emphasizes
skills. In Torg, skills cost fewer Possibilities to improve
than attributes. Even so, there was a point beyond which it was
more effective to raise the attribute (which also raised all the
skills based on it) than to increase the skills individually.
Using this rule, skills are more important in combat than under
the standard system- offensive skills cause damage and defensive
skills protect from damage. Raising Dexterity doesn’t
offer either of these benefits. This makes the skills relatively
more valuable and Dexterity relatively less valuable.
This also has the effect of increasing the seriousness of unskilled results.
As skills increase damage or protect from damage, becoming unskilled strips
a character of those tools. This may have the effect of encouraging
Non-Combat Interactions, especially against highly-skilled opponents.
One of the issues of concern with the various GJN solutions is
that of combat balance. The MasterBook solution was believed
to offer the opportunity for greatly increasing damage, far beyond
what was reasonable (hence the need for the “fix to the fix” in
the Revised and Expanded Torg Rulebook.)
Using the rule suggested herein, the increased damage available
to those with high attack skills is matched with the increased
protection available to those with high defense skills. When characters
have skills of equal adds, the damage is identical to that done
under the current rules. When the attacker has more adds, he does
more. When the defender has more adds, he takes less. Balance between
the two isn’t an issue.
specialization is an optional rule, found on ppg.
34-35 of the Revised and Expanded Torg Rulebook.
Skill-based combat works just as easily using those
character with a fire combat of +2 and a
.38 caliber revolver (Damage Value 14) does 16 points
of damage. If they take a Type Specialization in
pistols, they have +2 fire combat adds for
all firearms and +3 adds just for pistols, making
their .38 caliber damage 17.
they choose just a Trademark Specialization with “my
father’s .38 caliber service revolver”, they have
+4 adds with that revolver and do a base of 18 points
they take both Specializations, they have: +2 fire
combat adds for all firearms, +3 for pistols,
and +5 for “my father’s .38 caliber service revolver”,
making its base damage a 19.
Combat and Super Skill
existing weapons and powers work well with the skill-based
combat rules. One exception is the super
skill Pulp Power.
who chose this power can rapidly gain a huge number
of adds in any combat skill, which would allow them
to increase their base damage to incredible levels.
Gamemasters who use the skill-based combat system
should disallow this power or reduce its utility.
variant super skill power
is presented below. It operates like Skill Specialization
(ppg. 34-35 in The Revised and Expanded Torg
Rulebook), but doesn’t require the character
to specialize. As super skill can
prove unbalancing under the default Torg combat system,
gamemasters might consider adopting this version
of the power even if they don’t use the skill-based
Adventure Cost: None
Tech Rating: 26; Gizmos/gadgets cannot
have this power.
Ritual DN: 14
For a one-time cost of 3 possibilities, characters
that purchase this power gain +3 extra adds to place
into one skill. The adds are increased for the purposes
of using the skill, but not for buying future adds.
This power may increased the skill’s starting adds
beyond the +2/+3 maximum. Super skill may
be purchased for more than one skill.
When Super Skill is taken as a Pulp Sorcery ritual,
the adventure cost is paid for only once.
However, gamemasters need to be aware that this rule does narrow
the range of comparably skilled opponents. As skill matters more
in combat, differences in relative skill levels matter more. Highly
skilled attackers are more effective against less skilled opponents.
Example: If Character A, call him
Adam, has 2 more fire combat adds than character
B (Bob) has dodge adds, then A will do, on
average, 2 more points of damage on an attack.
Likewise, if Bob’s fire combat is 2 points
lower than Adam’s dodge, he will do, on average,
2 points less on an attack. This gives Adam a big advantage
The implied solution to the GJN syndrome was to have skill matter
more in combat. Most of the GJN solutions, including the MBS, implemented
this principle and all of them affect the balance between combatants
of differing skill levels.
This isn’t a drawback or a problem- it’s the point of the rule,
the result that was requested. People wanted skill to matter more,
so differences in skill matter more and gamemasters need to keep
this in mind when designing opponents.
The Fire Combat Skill
There is a good case to be made that the Torg fire
combat skill is unbalanced. Certainly, it’s the strongest
skill in the game. It covers a wide variety of weapons, which
weapons do respectable amounts of damage and have decent ranges,
the skill is native in every cosm except the Living Land, fire
arms of one variety or another are natively available in every
cosm except the Living Land, and as combat is frequent, fire
combat is used as often or more often than nearly any other
skill, save perhaps dodge.
Gamemasters who implement the skill-based combat rules need be
aware that, as combat skills are of increased importance, fire
combat is of increased importance. If it was unbalanced, or
close to it before, it may become so under this rule.
Gamemasters who implement this rule are encouraged to consider
making fire combat a limited skill (like scholar or science),
such that instead of taking adds in fire combat and being
able to shoot weapons of all varieties (and increase damage in
all of them), characters are forced to choose between pistols,
rifles, SMG’s, and so forth. This makes the skill more expensive,
bringing it back into balance. (Additionally, the Villain Approved
Action rules, available here,
might help with this as well.)
Previous solutions to the GJN syndrome typically required extra
steps in play, some changed the die rolling mechanic (which changes
how spells and miracles and other parts of the game work), and
many introduced problems little different from the GJN syndrome
Skill-based combat fixes the GJN syndrome without any of the
above difficulties. In terms of balance, the changes skill-based
combat introduces are positive ones. It also adds cinematic and
realistic verisimilitude and preserves the fast-paced Torg combat
system. Of all the solutions to the GJN syndrome presented thus
far, this rule seems the most straightforward and the most effective.
The Storm Knights website and
its contents are copyright © 2001-2010
by Jasyn Jones.