Combat and Damage

While PDQ's Failure Ranks adequately reflect penalties to skill rolls, the author has created a different system for representing physical damage. It's based on the following assumptions:

  1. Guns are efficient machines for killing people, and knives and axes aren't far behind.
  2. Physical trauma affects all physical and mental abilities equally and profoundly, and should carry the risk of death or dismemberment.
  3. Dead Folks and Live Folks react differently to physical damage.

However, to speed the game we will attempt to use as few die rolls and charts as possible.

Man-to-Man Melee Combat

Melee combat happens in "rounds". The amount of objective time in a round is flexible, depending on how much action is involved. Generally, the more characters involved, the less time each round takes. In subjective terms, every PC and NPC gets a chance to act and react to ongoing events.

The first step is for each player to provide a Declaration of Intent for his or her characters. This is narrative conflict, not tactical or second-by-second combat: players should phrase their Declaration of Intent as "I'm gonna try to wrestle the shotgun away from Zeke", not "I run up to Zeke and make a grapple attack," unless they plan to try something else next round.

After that phase, players and GMs determine which characters are in conflict, and which Qualities apply to resolving the Conflict. For example, if the PC has a Quality of Lawman, the GM might rule that the penumbra of that Quality is wrestling for weapons. If Zeke has a Ornery Old Coot Quality, that might give him an advantage in defending himself or turning the shotgun on the PC. On the other hand, if Zeke has a weakness of "Frail Old Man", that may count against him.

Combatants then roll as per a Conflict Situation, as per the main PDQ rules. If the winner is attacking, the winner inflicts damage on the loser. If the winner is defending (e.g. dodging an axe without wrestling for it), that party escapes doom for the moment. On a tie, if both parties are attacking each other, both take damage; otherwise, the defender wins.

Attacking the Unwary and Helpless

If a defender is unaware of an attacker or is preoccupied with other attacks, the attacker rolls against a fixed difficulty of Low. If the defender is restrained or othewise motionless, the attack automatically succeeds.

Against a totally unconscious or helpless foe, an attacker can deliver a "Coup de Grace", to kill a Living character or Grant Eternal Rest to a Dead character. Killing the Living requires the usual apparatus of murder: a knife, a garotte, a gun, or strangulation with bare hands for several minutes. Granting Eternal Rest to the Dead requires either a gun or a blunt instrument powerful enough to penetrate or crush a skull.

Ranged Combat

Ranged Combat is similar to the other types, except that the target's actions aren't as significant as the range to the target, type of weapon, and other enviromental factors.

To hit with a Ranged Weapon, roll against the Difficulty Factor for the range to the target. Standard Ranges are the following:

Point Blank
Practically on top of you, about to enter Melee. (1-2 yards)
In the same room, or several paces away. (3-10 yards)
Across the street. (10-30 yards)
Across a field. (30+ yards)

Some environmental factors cause upshifts or downshifts in the shooter's skill, such as:

Shooter is sitting still and aiming: +1
Shooter has high vantage point: +1
Shooter is aiming for an Arm or Leg: -1
Shooter is aiming for the Head (Point Blank): -1
Shooter is aiming for the Head (Short or longer): -2
Shooter is firing into Melee: +1
    (and then roll randomly for who gets hit ...)
Target is stationary, or ambling (shambling?) slowly in a straight line: +1
Target is taking evasive action (requires Quality Roll): -1
Target is moving very fast relative to shooter (e.g. horseback): -1
Target or others are firing at the shooter: -1
Target has Soft Cover: -1
Target has Hard Cover: -2

Complicated Combats

Since rounds use "narrative time", combats among multiple characters can get complicated, especially when some characters are using Ranged rules and others Melee. Here are some rules meant to simplify combat.

Multi-Character Melee Combat

No more than six opponents can attack a single character at any time. If allied characters choose to fight back to back, fewer characters can attack each defender: 4 per defender for two, 3 per defender for three or four, and 2 per defender for five or more.

On the other hand, every additional opponent downshifts a Melee combatant one level against all opponents. If the downshifts would bring the combat Quality below Low, the combatant must "ignore" enough opponents to upshift back to at least Low. Each "ignored" opponent requires only a Low Difficulty Check to hit the combatant. A combatant can voluntarily ignore opponents multiple opponents, to increase his odds of delivering solid hits to one or two.

Supporting Combatants

Combatants in a many-to-many conflict can either attack targets independently, or provide "support" to a principle combatant. For example, in melee some characters may take the offensive, and others may defend their compatriots and themselves; in a gun battle, some combatants may lay down suppressing fire rather than pick off specific targets.

Each supporter whose relevant Quality is above Average contributes one upshift to "active" characters, who roll against their Qualities.

Note that this rule may include other activities besides combat: a nurse may support a doctor during surgery, or suppressing fire may aid a character running toward cover.

Horde Combat

When a small number of combatants face a horde of opponents, it's better to treat the Horde as single large entity able to do damage to each individual combatant. All damage done to the Horde reduces the strength of the Horde. When the damage exceeds the threshhold of the Horde, it will either disband into a few individuals or cease entirely.

Taking a random and farfetched example, assume a Horde of Ghouls attacks the PCs. Ghouls typically attempt to grapple with their prey, wrestle them to the ground, and tear them apart with their teeth and hands. Each Ghoul can take about 15 points of damage (see below) before being incapacitated (cut in half, legs chopped off, etc.), or at least 2 points to the head at two Downshifts to skill. Assuming, say, 60 ghouls, the PCs would therefore have to do 900 points of damage to the Horde, although a good headshot would count for 15 points, with some mopping up afterwards.

An Average individual Ghoul can do 4 damage points against an active defender, or at least 5 against the defenseless or inattentive. Estimating aggregate damage from the Horde depends on the PC's tactical situation:

  1. If the PC's scattered around in the open in the midst of the ghouls, 6 Ghouls can attack each PC, so assuming a PC hits two Ghouls, the other 4 can jump him and quickly tear him apart (20 points of damage, or Master+1 Wounding). Even if they're back to back, that still leaves one or two ghouls who get a free shot unless there are 5 or more defenders.
  2. A wall of advancing Ghouls ten abreast at Medium range would lurch into Point Blank and Melee range in about 15-45 seconds, so PCs would have to take out 5 or so a round to avoid being overwhelmed. Each ghoul that gets into Melee range will jump a PC, so calculate damage as above.
  3. The most defensible position would be a doorway or alley with one to three ghouls spilling out each round. The GM can treat each one as an individual combat, or, if the PCs get into a rhythm after the first ten, simply assume similar results for the remaining ghouls and move on.

As with Supporting Combatants, this rule can apply to non-combat actions as well. Multiple engineers may need to make a threshhold of Quality checks to shut down an Infernal Device, or a bunch of cowboys may need to collaborate to rope a dinosaur.

Wounds and Damage

The combat system is based on Damage Points, an abstract measure of how much force and accuracy was behind a blow. To calculate the number of Damage Points, compute the following:

  1. Count the number of points by which the attack roll succeeded, called the Success Margin.

  2. If the attack was not a ranged attack, divide the result in half rounded down.
    Rationale: in Melee, opponents roll a total of four dice, while in Ranged Combat, a shooter rolls only two dice against a fixed difficulty. Without this rule, dueling axes could be twice as deadly as duelling pistols.
  3. Add the weapon's Damage Bonus to the result.

  4. If the weapon is marked "Impaling", and the target neither alive nor a Walking Dead's head, divide the result in half rounded down again.

Damage for Dead Folks

Dead Folks don't suffer the kind of trauma live folks do. They don't bleed, or at least don't care if they do; except for their brains they don't need their vitals. The only disadvantages to damage (other than the head) is the mangling or loss of body parts.

Apply Damage Points to the Hit Location the Attacker was aiming at. If the attacker declared no Hit Location, roll on 2d6 on the following table.

2d6 RollPercentLocation
3,414%Right Leg
511%Right Arm
911%Left Arm
10,1114%Left Leg

For a large number of Damage Points in a single blow, apply the following conditions cumulatively:

2+Downshifted once for next round only.
4+Fall over. Can get up next round.
5+If applied to a Limb, that limb is severed in a "Clean Blow".

Dead Folks can take the following number of Damage Points to each hit location before they suffer any serious effects.

Disabled571010 Special, see table below.

A Disabled limb is useless until repaired; a Severed Limb may be beyond saving unless it was severed in a "Clean Blow". If the Abdomen is Disabled, the creature cannot walk or stand; if the Abdomen is Severed, the whole lower body is lost. If the Chest is Disabled, the creature cannot move arms or legs effectively; if the Chest is "Severed", at best the head might survive.

For damage to the head, consult the table below.

Damage PointsConditionEffects
1StunnedDownshift all actions once per Stunned result for the next round of combat only. Do not mark off a Damage Point.
2,3Head WoundTake a Damage Point, fall and lose the next 1d6 rounds. After the second Head Wound, go to Brain Damage.
4Brain DamageIncapacitated for hours or days, permanent Downshift to one Quality.
5Eternal RestBrain destroyed.

Blocking Without Weapons

Since Dead Folks feel no pain, they can block close-range weapons like axes and knives with their arms. (Arrows are at two Downshifts, bullets are right out.) If the Dead Folk succeeds, his arm takes half damage; if the attacker succeeds, damage goes first to the arm, and excess goes to the intended Hit Location.


Since Dead Folks don't heal, they need to be repaired (if anyone wants to). Sewing the limb back on, or the dead flesh together, makes it usable but with one Downshift if the limb was Disabled, or two if it was Severed with a Clean Blow. A skilled surgeon might be able to repair Dead Folks with no disability.

Curiously, broken bones do not affect Dead Folks as much as damage to muscles or brain. Broken bones can be splinted together, or even replaced with other bones or inorganic substitutes.

Wounds for Live Folks

For Live Folks, calculate Damage Points as for Dead Folks and look up the effect on the following chart.

Damage PointsConditionEffects
1Scratchno game effect
2,3HurtDownshift all actions once per Hurt result for the next round of combat only
4,5WoundedMark off a "Wound", and lose a round of combat. Each Wound applies one Downshift to all actions. If the character already has two Wounds, the character is Incapacitated.
6,7IncapacitatedFall to the ground, unconscious or helpless. Character can attempt one action by rolling against a relevant "True Grit" Quality, but will then progress to Dying.
8,9DyingCan take no actions, and will die without medical attention.
10+DeadKilled instantly.

Stunning Damage

If the weapon was a fist, a blackjack, or some other light bludgeoning weapon, Wounded results count as Hurt, and Dying results as Incapacitated. Characters are never at risk from dying in a fistfight, unless the attacker has superhuman strength or Master-level skill.

Hit Locations

The above chart assumed damage to the torso. If the attacker targeted an arm or a leg, the limb is disabled on a Wounded result, and completely removed at Incapacitated or worse.

If the target was the head, use the table below:

Damage PointsConditionEffects
1StunnedDownshift all actions once per Stunned result for the next round of combat only.
2,3Head WoundTake a Wound, fall and lose the next 1d6 rounds. After the second Wound to the head, go to Brain Damage.
4Brain DamageIncapacitated for hours or days, permanent Downshift to one Quality.
5Mortally WoundedBrain destroyed, although body might linger. Will not rise again.


Live Folks, if they survive their Wounds, heal naturally at the rate of one Wound every two weeks, or one Wound a week under medical care.

Damage for Inanimate Objects

Instead of calculating Wound Points for objects, use common sense. A bullet can shatter glass but will only make a hole in wood; an axe or large club can smash just about anything. If there's a question, use any applicable "strength-like" quality and upshift once for a heavy tool, or twice for something really big.


Melee Weapons

WeaponDamage BonusNotes
Fist0Against the Living, fist Wounds heal in an hour, and a failed Wound roll means the character is out but not dying.
Spear+3Impaling, but can immobilize target
Pitchfork+3Impaling, but can immobilize target
Burning Torch+2Add Fire effects, below
Savaged by Ghoul+4Divide damage among two hit locations.
Trampled by Horse/Steer+6
Eaten by Giant Worm+8Being digested does an extra 3 points per round to Dead Folks. Live Folks who are still alive and conscious get one action after being swallowed, before they're suffocated.

Ranged Weapons

Range Difficulty Factors
WeaponDamage BonusPBShortMediumLongNotes
Thrown Knife+1GoodGoodExpert-Impaling; Upshift skill if using a balanced throwing knife
Thrown Hatchet+2GoodGoodExpert-Upshift skill if using a balanced throwing hatchet
Thrown Rock+1AverageGoodExpert-
Thrown Spear+3AverageGoodExpert-Impaling
Bow and Arrow+4GoodAverageGoodExpertImpaling
Pistol+4AverageGoodExpertMasterImpaling; Usable in Melee
Shotgun+8/+4PoorAverageGood-+8 at Point Blank, +4 at longer ranges.
Winchester (Single Fire)+5GoodAverageGoodExpertImpaling
Winchester (Rapid Fire)+5 (x3)AverageGoodExpertMasterImpaling; Triple normal Wound Factor. Requires skill for Rapid Fire; otherwise resolve each shot separately.

Other Hazards


For Live Folks, the Wound Difficulty varies between Poor (for a candle or lamp) to Master or higher (for a house on fire). Live Folks don't catch fire easily, unless they're wearing flammable cloth. If clothing does catch fire, continue Wound rolls each round until the fire is out.

Dead Folks find fire more troublesome. It does 1-5 (or more) damage points per round, distributed among the affected areas, and Dead Folks do catch fire easily. Continue damage each round until the fire is out; damage may increase one point every other round, depending on circumstances. Burning Dead Folks can catch other Dead Folks on fire, although only the most mindless undead would wander next to a burning corpse.

Changed Aug 9, 2006: clarified Hit Locations, reduced many Wounding Difficulties and Base Damages, clarified Winchester damage, added damage for "Savaged by Ghoul", formatting changes.
Changed Aug 10, 2006: rules for multi-character combat, mixing melee and ranged combat, coup de grace.
Changed Aug 11, 2006: steps, changed hit points for body parts, example of Horde combat.
Changed Aug 12, 2006: rewrote damage system for simplicity.
Changed Aug 14, 2006: tweaked damages and ranges for Thrown Spear, Bow, Pistol, Rifle, and Shotgun. Corrected typos and outdated example text.