GM Hack: Threshold Hits, Monster Nomenclature


Here’s what I’ve been trying out lately for a few Boss or Nemesis fights. I call it

Rather than assign a monster or foe a number of hearts of HP that you must count down from or up to, give yourself a simple Go/No Go Test that looks something like these…

Youngish Dragon 7>5 AND 2>8

The nomenclature should be read as “Youngish Dragon can take 7 hits of more than 5 damage each, and 2 hits of more than 8 damage.” Etc.

Couple more examples to show what you can do with this (with less overhead than counting HP):

Zombie in Armor 4>6 OR headshot 2>9
Froglodyte Super Ninja 10>1 OR 1>15 Retreat (effectively he leaps/rolls out of the way of all damage but one every single hit, but a biggie will scare him off.)

Please note that this is really just an elaboration on the Simple Effort rules (which people who’ve been here a while know I love). So This could also be used for mobs just by de-elaborating it back to simple effort, using the same nomenclature and jazzing it up a touch for funsies.

Gerblin Horde (3x#PC) Retreat

“Gerblin Horde Retreats once there have been 3 times as many hits as there are PCs”

Skellies (1@PC), Reinforced (2x#PC)>3
“Skellies fight till each Player has damaged at least one, then reinforcements arrive and fight till there’ve been twice as many hits over 3 points as there are PCs.

What happens when they do 2 points of damage? Narrate damage to their armor, or their weaponry, something fun and dramatic… they’ve still done something, but they’ve not fully broken through the foe’s passive resistance or native toughness… they’ve put the chink in the armor though!

In practice, it dovetails Tiny D6’s “count hits, not hit points” simplicity into the dice rolling crunchiness of ICRPG Effort, cutting book keeping and the sap of number braining away from creativity even lower than the already snazzy ICRPG 10 point Heart standard does for me. You can narrate slicing through three gerblins with one blow because it’s cool AF to do so, without having to roll a bunch of extra dice and drag everything down while you itemize your income taxes about it.

It also gives a GM a way to quickly set a pace for narration and battle that flexes to accommodate number of PCs easily.



This is a line I (and my players) won’t cross. I like my damage, thank you very much. :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:

However, for those who don’t like accounting HP and want to use effort still, this can be another way to play (otherwise just count hits/successes).

I see two problems with this. One, as you are aware, damage done below the threshold is either wasted or the GM has to come up with something on the fly, each time this happens. As a GM, I wouldn’t like this.

Two, you are still counting something, which is the number of hits above the threshold. I think this is more difficult because with each hit you have to evaluate whether it passes the threshold or not. I’d rather count HP.

If you want to speed up game play, you can just count hits and forgo effort altogether in combat. Then all challenges in the game become either of two things: ATTEMPTS only (counting hits/successes) or EFFORTS only (assuming you don’t want to remove EFFORT entirely from the game).


Appreciate the feedback. This won’t be for every situation or table, for sure. I tend to run big physical tables of consistently 5-6 sometimes more (won’t do it online though, nope.) so for me, keeping things in the creative brain instead of math brain is crucial to keeping the table chemistry going.

Youngish Dragon 7>5 AND 2>8

I see it more as with each hit: is the damage enough to check a box? Do so. Are enough boxes now checked to kill or retreat? Do so. Was the damage below threshold? “It bounced off his armor” “It sounded worse than it actually hurt him”

Go/No Go works just faster than tally marks or arithmetic to my brain.

ETA: But you are right this can be simpler and refined a bit to include “any” hits.

Maybe revise the dragon to:
Youngish Dragon 5>0 AND 3>10

Here would be a good place to stick to simple Thresholds too: 5 or 10 or 15 for real beasts.


Are you saying you run 5-6 tables at a time? In that case, I see your pain. Trying to keep the game(s) in the creative brain is the right approach I’d say. Go/No Go is way simpler, that’s for sure.

I have a suggestion. Try writing it this way:
Dragon 5/8

I find parsing 7>5 way more difficult compared to this. This one says that the dragon has 2 thresholds, 5 dmg and 8 dmg. It can only take 7 hits which are above (or equal to) 5 dmg, hence 7 circles to be crossed, or can take only 2 hits which are above 8 dmg.

I changed your ‘greater than’ operation as well as you can see because judging equality is faster.

A fancier example:
Dragon 4/6/8
I find this still easy enough to read. Just cross the necessary circle each time and you are done. Doesn’t really matter how many circles there are. At least this way damage matters more.

I kinda disagree on sticking to 5/10 thresholds. It makes things simpler, sure, but might be too boring and 5 is really big. 3-5-7-9 might have enough diversity and is still easy to remember. 2-4-6-8 can work equally well, maybe even better.


@Khan’s suggestion on readability is spot on.

Dragon 5/8

I too would struggle with " 5>0 AND 3>10" . But then again this is one of those DM only notes, so readability should only matter for you. The concept is neat.

You could also use it with hearts: Dragon 7 Hearts (5/8) -> 1 heart lost on a 5. 2 heart lost on a 8.

Then you could even skip it for the default case 1 heart = 10. Though probably more useful with a lower 1st default heart threshold, for example using your 5 would give Dragon 7 Hearts (8) -> 1 heart lost on a 5 AND 2 lost on a 8.

Or as defaults your 5, 10, 15 array. just noting the exeptions:

Here would be a good place to stick to simple Thresholds too: 5 or 10 or 15 for real beasts.

EDIT: messed with the counts in this case of OOOOOOO AND OO it would be something more Dragon 7 Hearts (5 /// 8) -> 1 heart on 5 and 4 hearts on 8, so it falls on two strikes > 8)… but then legibility starts to get messy :frowning:


Ye gads! No but tables of 5-6 players or more.

Your nomenclature adjust is phenomenal and spot on. Exactly the kind of quality feedback I was hoping for.

Thank you!


Good take. Your example really shows (to me) how this type of health track for a baddie has the potential to change up the dynamic of combat… with little added mathbrain work.


Another variation on this theme that I have used from time to time is the “First Hit Special.”

These versions are best kept to occasional use, maybe brought out in climactic set piece battles, or sometimes as the result of converting a few Timer click downs to a delayed Boss Advantage. Basically add a Tag of something like this:

READY FOR YOU - Ignores ALL incoming Damage and unwanted effects from the VERY FIRST successful incoming attack this session. (Afterward, back to normal.)

Another spin on it might be to gussy up a nemesis (or heck, even the occasional peon!) with something like:

WELL PROTECTED - Ignores ALL incoming damage (and/or unwanted effects) until any single attack causes >10 points damage. After that, remove this Tag.

Another Hypothetical situation to grant a baddie such a tag: Player rolls dat Natty 1 on an attack against a were-rat sorceror. The were-rat takes advantage of their gaff by putting up a Ready for You forcefield.


If you are writing something for other GMs, this works.

Otherwise Overly complex…and this is coming from me.

Same can be accomplished in many other ways.

Both are very simple mechanics that I don’t think need tags. If you have several types of mobs…probably???

ignore first hit

over 10 dam threshold to start taking damage

Are the same.
However, your descriptions are more fun in a literary point of view.

On the second “well protected” these are probably semi elite units you will be tracking anyway. You will know…

As to naming of the powers/tags:
Hard Shell
Might be better tags. At least in my mind, they stick better. Slippery is kind of a toss up, I can see it being taken in many ways, but Hard Shell should work for 90%.


Reread original post…running large tables is not hard, but it is different. I’ll expound a bit shortly.
As to the shorthand

It becomes problematic if hits are 9,6,7,6,7….you have 5 successful threshold hits, one of them being a hard core hit…creature is still alive.

Threshold 1/5/9
As the GM you know first threshold = 1 hit, second threshold = 2 hits, third threshold =3 hits…

Same as above except with the threshold marked by !!! Or the infinity symbol that I can’t find here, you would know a hit with 2 or more effort is one hit, 5 or more effort is 2 hits 8 or more is dead/headshot/severed spine/decapitation.

I wouldn’t often go over 3 thresholds except for boss type mob. But for a boss, you can then use the “/“ OOO/OOO/OOOOOO to denounce transformation or changes in tactics.

Anyway, large tables

  1. Acknowledgment of the large table (players understand and buy in)
  2. Allow them to split (if at least 3 in each group)the party and have a 10 minute timer to go from group to group…encourage players to do bio breaks and such during that time.
  3. Encourage players know their action and to roll to hit and damage at once.
  4. Allow player characters to have their own drama.
  5. Before shifting focus during a split party, leave them with a decision point…they have to choose a course of action.
  6. Allow the players to discuss things out of your earshot. (Take a break with the group needing to make a choice)
  7. Flash card stat blocks…figure out your shorthand and the rest is just hit markers.
  8. Have a mechanic to go between full group action, player characters getting 8 unfettered actions will clear many bad guys, if you compensate with tougher bad guys…death spirals can occur quickly.
  9. Tell things to individuals…let them tell the rest of the party, highlight the PCs not your NPCs. Your NPCs are your background and entertainment, not to show how cool you are. The drama is with the PCs relationships. Not their conflict with the NPCs.
  10. Use swarms of bad guys. (Enemy group of 5 has 10 hits)
    5 Ninja wannabes
    no overlap damage unless AoE. AoE treats each OO as an individual.
    One attack per OO with at least 1 O.

No longer numbering as this gets weird as in what works for the group. Not one size fits all.

Theater of the mind is your friend here. More than very detailed maps….except when it really matters…fights that are meant to challenge the group, as opposed to resource eaters and or story points.

Know what your NPCs are doing and how they would react, and allow the players to create their own fun…
You just keep them in the carnival. They can ride whatever rides they want.

Good luck, I really enjoy large groups more than normal sized ones…but that is how I cut my teeth into GMing. 8~12 players. Always theater of the mind except for boss fights.
But I really knew the group and we played for 6+ hours. 4 hours assuming chit chat and catch-up, food run,…you got to be disciplined and witness to the players magnificent idiocy…4 rounds of combat might be an hour, even in ICRPG. So RP amongst the PCs, can be way more valuable, than with your NPCs.


These are very good ideas.

Let me chime in with a similar idea: TAGS which are added/removed with a TIMER. Example:
Hardy: At the beginning of combat, this creature cannot take more than 2 DAMAGE from any single attack. Lasts for 1D6 ROUNDS. - Nothing special but memorable enough.

Another example:
Motivation: When one of its ALLIES critically hits an ENEMY, this creature’s ATTEMPTS are EASY for 1D4 ROUNDS. - Can be very deadly when a group of creatures have this. Also very simple and memorable.

I didn’t say anything about this because Lon didn’t ask. In my mind, a higher threshold hit would remove 1 circle each from all thresholds below. Otherwise the system becomes wonky like you point out.