Game: Torn Asunder
Publisher: Bastion Press
Review Dated: 28th, August 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 7
Average Score: 7.00
I like the abstraction in the d20 rule mechanics. Torn Asunder is a Critical Hit system which has the honour of awarding +4 AC to anyone wearing a codpiece. Actually, to be fair, it’s only +4AC in response to any called shots to the protected area – but that didn’t stop me chuckling when I noticed the +4 in the summary table first. Critical Hits and armour values for parts of the body is, for me, a step away from the abstraction I hold so dear.
So, if Torn Asunder is a step in the wrong direction then I must not care for it at all. Right?
Wrong. Torn Asunder’s critical hit system is fairly fluid. It snuggles nicely into the current combat system. You can use it or drop it at will. There’s an element of bookkeeping but it is small enough to avoid being a real problem. If I were forced to use a critical hit system then I’d probably use something like this.
It’s the flip side of the coin that wins Torn Asunder a space on my shelf. I tend to play in a gritty fantasy game without magic healing. This is the least supported d20 campaigning style. D&D itself assumes there will be plenty of magical healing. Urg. Torn Asunder has a system for character healing to complement the critical hits. Excellent. In a low fantasy game, or a high fantasy game with nasty critical hits, a character’s ability to recover from near death or get back to peak fitness can be an entire scenario in its own right.
There’s more than just hit and heal in Torn Asunder. As noted above, there are extra sets of armour, bits of armour and rules for working with the two. You’ll need something like this as you wheel away from abstract and slide towards the concrete. The book offers two prestige classes, some spells and even monster templates.
There’s a critical hit system inherit in d20. If you roll high enough to reach your weapon’s critical threat range then you’ve managed to make a better than normal hit – even if you can’t follow through and score the damage bonus there was still something notable about your strike. In this system we look at that first role, the role that marks your strike as being special. If this critical threat roll beats the target AC by at least 5 then there’s a critical effect. That works well: a bit of luck and a bit of skill. The greater the difference between the critical threat roll and the target’s AC then the more serious the critical effect will be. Mild effects, the lowest level, tend to inflict an additional -1 or -2 to certain dice rolls. A mild effect to an orc’s leg will result in -2 to all Dex rolls, Balance, Climb, etc. Moderate effects, the middle of three levels, will impose a fairly crippling game mechanic penalty. Serious critical effects tend to involve a slow death unless there’s a cleric or decent healer near by. Death by critical hit is either a merit or a flaw, some players and GMs will leap at the chance but others will shy away.
These criticals affect body locations. Initially the book offers up a single d20 body location chart; one that includes wings and tails. It’ll do for most creatures, we’re told, but I’d probably have removed wings and tails then. Putting the location and the effect level together results in hits being described as “arm (appendage): mild” or “torso (body): serious”. In most fantasy games a simple hit location chart won’t work. There are too many weirdly shaped creatures. Torn Asunder includes a section of these more exotic location charts to use if you’re not happy with the generic one. With these extra charts you can work out where a four legged creature or even a serpentine creature like a naga might have taken the critical hit. There are no modifications for size though. GMs are encouraged to apply common sense; a halfling can’t hit a giant’s head in most situations. This isn’t a problem with the hit location charts. It’s just an issue with the idea of producing a critical hit book. Ultimately critical hits will always come down to a GM being able to make a judgement call.
The healing system is primarily designed to add some juice back to the heal skill in high fantasy games. Roll well enough and you’ll be able to heal a wounded character up and beyond the stable level. The high fantasy theme continues as the book addresses the role of shapechanging in healing. If you can physically mould your flesh then it makes sense that you can do this to close wounds. Torn Asunder successfully addresses many common questions. It solves many common problems. If you want rules to deal with scars then they’re here too. A particular favourite here for me are the pages of herbs, plants and fungi that can be used to quicken and aid healing.
Torn Asunder’s healing magic does more than just rehash Cure spells. Some of the spells heal specific problems. There’s Heal Broken Bones. It makes sense that if we’re introducing critical injuries that there’s a spell to Heal Critical Injuries. Other spells are the sort of magic a healer will want to cast. Rescue teleports a prone ally to the casters side.
There are two new prestige classes and an alternative core class. The Marksman is a ten level prestige class with a focus on making those critical strikes on key places of an opponent’s body. The Spiritual Healer is a magical healer, essentially taking the cleric’s healing roles to a new level of specialism. The new core class is the Apothecary and amazingly it’s specially designed for those fantasy games with little or no magic. Magic! Chalk up another success.
The argument for the inclusion of new monsters is fairly weak – but this doesn’t bother most d20 supplements and so I don’t see why it should bother Torn Asunder. The monster templates look at monsters with a particular attack that’s likely to cause a nasty injury or those creatures with an immunity likely to thwart those characters who’ve specialised in inflicting critical hits. The Dung Golem? Thanks a lot guys!
Torn Asunder’s rules are surprisingly clean and effective. They will slow down your combat but not terribly so. Back in my school days I used to have fun with my regular gaming group, playing Warhammer FRP and ghoulishly effusing the details of yet another gory critical hit. We don’t have that level of gore here. Torn Asunder’s critical effects are quite matter of fact but this may suit the wider range of shapes and sizes in the d20 game better. Do kobolds have their hearts in the same place as gnolls? Hmm. There’s little in Torn Asunder for lingering effects of wounds. If you want to terrorise characters with gangrene and infections then you’ll have to look elsewhere. Mind you, I’d rather have the healing system offered in Torn Asunder than gangrene though. If you want rules for critical hits then there’s every reason to go out and buy Torn Asunder.