Wardrobe malfunction

At the tail end of this encumbrance system, Logan Knight included this bonus optional rule, called wardrobe malfunction:

If you are hit in combat you can choose to sacrifice a Significant Item or other piece of equipment before damage is rolled. If you can explain how the attack removed or destroyed that item instead of injuring you, it happened.

As he writes, it’s like shields will be splintered, but for everyone. Personally, I don’t care for shields will be splintered (for a number of reasons that are not relevant to the purpose of this post), but this did give me an idea for a variant wardrobe malfunction rule.

In my game, there are no negative HP. Rather, when reduced to zero HP, a saving throw is required, with failure indicating death and success indicating unconsciousness. Rather than make unconsciousness always the cost of success, there could be a chance of an item taking the brunt of the almost fatal blow, allowing the character to remain conscious at 1 HP. This chance could be 50/50 (potentially requiring another die roll) or maybe occur on a natural saving throw roll of something like 19 or 20 (10% chance seems about right for this).

This does add a little bit of complication to a rule that I value primarily for its lethal simplicity. And such complications pave the way to death and dismemberment charts (which, to be clear, I also enjoy using sometimes). That said, the variation added by this additional potential outcome (lose a randomly determined item but stay conscious) might be worth a slight increase in complexity.

9 thoughts on “Wardrobe malfunction

  1. Neko--kun

    Reminds me of stories of people surviving getting shot by keeping a flask in their coat, or Teddy Roosevelt surviving the same fate due to an extremely long speech he was likewise keeping in the same place.

    1. Brendan Post author


      Yeah, I had similar things in mind when I was writing this up (also the scene in the Tim Burton Batman where bruce uses a silver tray or something to block the Joker’s bullet).

  2. LS

    I think I actually like the original rule (as you quoted it) more. It plays out as a dialogue between the GM and the player, rather than a gradation on the save v. death rule. (Which I agree, is valuable through its simplicity.)

    1. Brendan Post author


      Yeah, I think the original rule could also be a lot of fun in some games, especially ones that were not intended to be quite so deadly.

    1. Brendan Post author


      Sure. So, there are a several different things going on.

      One, HP is already one buffer protecting from death. Every additional buffer that is added reduces the salience of danger, and the “survival horror” aspect of old school dungeon delving is one of my favorite aspects of the game. I don’t like negative HP for the same reason.

      Two, shields will be splintered functions somewhat like a fate point. This is related to the first point, but is not exactly the same thing, because fate points give more narrative control, whereas an added buffer might be a mechanistic thing outside of the player’s control. Courtney over at Hack & Slash has a good post about fate point dynamics:


      Three, shields will be splintered requires a level of diegetic suspension of belief which I find aesthetically unappealing.

      Four, it fits into the class equipment restriction regime oddly. Can magic-users benefit from shields will be splintered? I don’t much like strict restrictions on weapons and armor, so if I used splintering I’d need to take that into account.

      Five, shields become so tremendously valuable that it becomes somewhat insane for PCs to not carry a boatload of them, since they are pretty much extra lives. If you don’t like that, you need to place artificial game restrictions on how many shields can be carried. I would rather there be some natural game trade-off, like encumbrance, that would function as an invisible hand. Nothing like encumbrance can really offset the benefit of an extra life though.

      1. 2x Backslap

        Before this I had never thought Shields will be Splintered all the way through. I am now firmly against that rule. Thank you very much.

      2. 2x Backslap

        Don’t know if I can edit, so I’d like to add: this quote from your link is the absolute best description of fate points that I’ve ever seen.

        “… they are the awesomely platonic idea of a disassociated mechanic.”

  3. Pingback: La piccola bottega delle idee | Blog di cronachedelgattosulfuoco

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