Well I don’t think you are completely wrong, but wounds from weapons like axes and swords do seem to lead to a range of effects. Quite often they can cause horrific damage, but almost equally as often relatively minor wounds seem to result. A lot depends on the wielder of the weapon, (a more experienced person is more likely to cause more serious wounds) and the quality of the weapon. But it seems like small wounds do routinely result.
(Before clicking this link please be aware, IF YOU ARE SENSITIVE TO IMAGES OF WOUNDS, DON’T CLICK)
this guy was wounded about 15 times in an attack with an axe. He lost a finger and suffered numerous serious lacerations, but nothing fatal. As you can see most of the wounds aren’t that deep.
Now of course, this was probably an axe used for chopping wood, not a purpose made weapon. We assume ‘real’ weapons do more damage. I relied on published FBI statistics to get a sense of this.
Another issue is that doing test cutting in the HEMA world, we noticed that both poor cutting technique and sometimes just a little bit of clothing can drastically reduce the effectiveness of a cut. I have a fairly formidable 4′ (sharp) longsword replica. If you cut right, it will slice right through a wet tatami mat with a wooden dowell inside. We have also tested it on a pork shoulder prior to a barbque. It can cut right through it. But it can also barely make a dent in a soft plastic water bottle if you don’t cut properly.
In Codex, we try to handle the variability a couple of ways:
HIT POINT CEILING – In the Codex rules, we suggest that you cap hit points at 3 x CON score. So for more people, it means no more than 30-40 hit points.
WEAPON REACH or SPEED BONUS – A high reach or speed bonus means you are not only more likely to hit, you are also more likely to land an “Artful Strike” (see below)
ARTFUL STRIKE – In the Codex Rules, if your MODIFIED die roll is 20 or better, it’s considered an “Artful Strike” meaning you do an extra die of damage, by attack type. In Codex Rules for a Chopping attack that is a D10, for a Slice it’s D12. So in the case of a big axe, it adds up to 2-22 base damage, per strike. That will kill most opponents in 2-4 hits. If you have a high To Hit bonus, which is a combination of your weapon stats, your personal ‘Prowess’ (a reflection of your skill) and your physical attribute bonus (Str or Dex), you are more likely to get an Artful Strike. If you use multiple dice attacks, meaning you are putting more effort into trying to kill your opponent, you are also much more likely to land an Artful Strike. So this means that the damage will tend to skew upward.
CRITICAL HIT – In the Codex Rules we also have a Dynamic Criticals rule. That means if you roll a ‘natural’ (unmodified) 20 on a D20, you do extra damage equal to the number of dice you put in. So if you rolled a four dice chopping attack with your big axe and rolled a 20 on one of them, you would do your base damage of D12, plus 4 x D10, so between 5 – 52 hit points of damage. That is enough to kill almost anyone with one cut, not counting the possible effects of armor.
Even with a multi-dice Critical Hit there is still always a chance you’ll do relatively low damage, but another effect of rolling multiple dice is that it creates a statistical bell curve, so that your numbers are more often going to be in the middle. A typical Artful Strike with a big Axe will land somewhere around 8-12 damage, a two die Critical Hit will be in the 15-20 hp range, a four die Critical Hit will be in the 20-30 hp damage range.
finally we also have a “Severe and Grave Wounds” system you can use to make it all even more bloody:
SEVERE and GRAVE WOUNDS – Any time you cause at least 20 HP damage, you can roll on the Severe Wounds table, and any time you cause at least 30 HP damage you can roll on the Grave Wounds table. Severe wounds mean a serious degradation in abilities, represented by a loss of 1 or 2 MP, and possible permanent maiming or disfiguring injuries. Grave Wounds mean basically death or maiming.
Despite having all this, I will say that the 3 x CON HP ceiling is probably a little bit high, and it’s set that high so that PCs and major NPCs won’t die from a single wound. If you lose say 20 HP as a PC, you may be in big trouble but you perhaps still have time to surrender or scramble away to safety.
If you want the game more bloody though, the easiest thing is to just reduce the Hit Point Celing to 2 x CON instead, or even 1 x CON. If you only have 10-20 hit points, a D12 damage suddenly becomes a lot scarier.
The real problem with the damage numbers in DnD is really just that the players and tougher monsters just had too many hit points at higher levels.
If you are wondering how this actually works out in play, I recommend reading through a couple of the sample combats we recently posted. You’ll see that even experienced warriors perish pretty quickly after 2-3 blows. That is pretty much how it works with the default rules, and for more or less ‘bloody’ combat I think the easiest thing is just adjust the hit points as I just laid out.
Hope that helps and let me know if you have any other questions! And welcome to the board!
(sorry I didn’t answer sooner I was AFK for a few days)