In the last Heroes By Trade game we started a new campaign. So far it is highly entertaining as our characters started out as regular sorts of people and are being catapulted into adventure and intrigue. My character is an accountant who dips his fingers into white collar crime here and there, and that isn't exactly rollicking adventure material. However, a gang that wants us dead and four bodies that need to be hastily disposed of are a good reason to abandon my job and get on with the running, fighting, desperation, and dying that usually accompany roleplaying games.
However, we had one issue where the rules really didn't work well. One of the characters convinced an enemy to drink a potion that was actually acid, and when the enemy burned his mouth he threw the acid at me and it hit me. By the rules I have lots of Focus, so the damage should go there first, and I shouldn't take any actual Wound damage. InTheHat ruled that I took some Wound damage because it would be ridiculous that I could not possibly be hurt by acid being thrown on me, and the rules be damned.
I think his ruling was right, even though it does not follow the rules of the game as written.
I thought some more about how the game is made and whether or not this is a problem. The game is designed around tactical, heroic combat. That is, you are supposed to be able to fight bears and dragons and people with swords and come out the other side. Having a Focus pool that has to be depleted before you actually take real wounds is the way I make this work. Enemies almost land blows, but you use your Focus to desperately avoid the attacks, until you finally run out of go juice and the blows start landing for real.
This works tactically, and creates a system where people get into fights, sometimes get hurt, but mostly can predict who will win.
It fails in many situations. For example, if a dying character holding a crossbow with a single shot is waiting in a room and the characters burst in, it doesn't matter what happens with that crossbow bolt. It won't do enough damage to get through anyone's Focus, so they will just take the damage and regenerate their Focus in the next few minutes, no problem. That totally breaks the scene, because the characters *should* be worried about getting shot, shouldn't they?
But if they *are* worried about getting shot and dying, when they end up in a fight against four random dorks with crossbows, people are going to die! You can't be worried about one dork with a crossbow and not get ripped to shreds by four of them.
You can try to solve this by having combat have some serious outliers in terms of results. If damage occasionally rolls extremely high you can make characters worry about a single shot - no point in taking that 1 in 1,000 chance of dying if you don't have to. That still has problems though, because if a single shot does that, a series of shots from a series of enemies, especially ones who are more competent, will end up randomly killing characters who have made no mistakes and had no chance to react. I don't like that much.
It is a tradeoff. You can't have heroic, tactical combat without some option to recover from damage. Whether that option is the ridiculous healing model in DnD where people are openly bleeding and on death's door, but rest for an hour and then are completely healed, or the Focus regeneration of Heroes By Trade, heroic combat requires this sort of recovery mechanic. That recovery mechanic totally stomps on the scene where a single vengeful enemy throws acid at the heroes, or a lone sniper with a single crossbow bolt threatens them. I have chosen heroic, tactical combat and that means that sometimes the GM is going to have to break the rules to have characters take damage from things.
I am at peace with that.