Thursday 27 January 2022

Major injuries: what doesn't kill you makes you stranger

In yesterday's game, one PC was rescued from captivity by the party, but not before undergoing some pretty severe torture. This presented me with a bit of a quandary: having him simply bounce back from such an ordeal after a couple of Cure Light Wounds spells felt wrong, but at the same time I didn't want the consequences to feel like a punishment. (The problem with most 'lasting injury' rules is that they make you weaker as a consequence for failure, which makes you more likely to fail again in future, which makes you even weaker... realistic, no doubt, but not what most people are looking for in fantasy adventure games!) In order to model what I think of as 'comic-book trauma' - the kind where undergoing severe physical suffering makes you different without necessarily making you less capable - I thus proposed the following off-the-cuff house rule:

1: When a character undergoes life-changing suffering (not just a regular injury, but an ordeal so severe that they will never quite be the same again), roll 2d6 of different colours. Declare before rolling which one is the good dice and which one is the bad dice.

2: The good dice shows how the experience has changed you for the better, as follows:

  1. Gain +1 Strength permanently. Your ordeal has left you filled with a slightly crazed fury that drives you to train harder than you have ever trained before.
  2. Gain +1 Dexterity permanently. Your experiences have left you jumpy and on-edge, sharpening your reflexes.
  3. Gain +1 Constitution permanently. After what you've lived through, regular pain and hardship barely even registers anymore.
  4. Gain +1 Intelligence permanently. Your experiences have made you hyper-vigilant, determined not to miss anything lest you expose yourself to further suffering.
  5. Gain +1 Wisdom permanently. Your sufferings have given you a new perspective on life.
  6. Gain +1 Charisma permanently. When your injuries heal, they leave you with the kind of scars that make you look cool and sexy and dangerous.

3: The bad dice shows how the experience has changed you for the worse, as follows:

  1. Lose -1 Strength permanently, due to permanent muscle damage.
  2. Lose -1 Dexterity permanently, due to permanent nerve damage.
  3. Lose -1 Constitution permanently, due to permanent organ damage.
  4. Lose -1 Intelligence permanently, due to permanent brain damage.
  5. Lose -1 Wisdom permanently, due to lasting trauma and/or derangement.
  6. Lose -1 Charisma permanently, due to disfiguring scars.
4: If you roll a double, then you've somehow passed through your ordeal largely unscathed. In retrospect it probably seems more like a bad dream than something that really happened.

(Naturally, in yesterday's session my player rolled a double and the whole thing was wasted, but we might use it again in future...)

Do note that using these rules freely enough will increase the chances of characters drifting towards the extreme ends of the stat distribution range, though this is probably pretty appropriate for people who've been through as many extreme experiences as they have!