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!

20 comments:

  1. First thought that popped into my head while reading the post: make the dice D8. Entry 7 is +/- 1 HP from either finding new reserves of inner strength or lingering injury, while entry 8 is no result (so that it can either be a net gain or loss, but will still average out to net 0 in the long run).

    ReplyDelete
  2. Palladium RPGs have some interesting trauma/insanity rules that would definitely apply…such things tend to make the character more interesting rather than “weaker.”

    ReplyDelete
  3. Doubles: Gain a new ability that any sane person wouldn't want, but is really useful in a dungeon, like "any time something is about to interact with you, you can choose to attack it first before you get any details as to what it is. A tap on the shoulder counts as interacting."

    ReplyDelete
  4. I really like this and I think that it could expand modifying also the saves and base attack (Maybe too much?).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Stephen, Spwack, Nirkhuz: Yes, any or all of those could work. The basic system could be hacked around anyhow as long as the underlying balance - 'gain something, lose something' - is preserved!

      Delete
  5. I think an entry about rerolling HP would make sense, as well. Reroll and take the total, whether it's higher or lower.

    ReplyDelete
  6. The first version of the Nameless Grimoire, the supplement for The Nightmares Underneath, has many ideas for this in the heritages and patrons sections. Both have traits that have positive and negative aspects.

    The second may also have them, but I don't own it and I do know the author dropped the patrons section.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I really like the idea of adventurers with missing legs or eyes or something, and permanent injury tables are great for introducing that to play. You're right, though, that it does make the character less capable over time. Usually in my games the players increase in power via treasure, levels, and magic items out paces any decrease via permanent damage, but I'm fairly lenient.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's a really interesting idea - having PCs gaining and losing power simultaneously, so that by the time they're high level they're also a bundle of physical and mental infirmities (and might want to consider retiring). Pendragon did something a bit similar: as knights aged their skills went up but their stats went down. I'll have to think a bit more about that one...

      Delete
  8. Hey this is pretty good!
    I use a simple 'fear/sanity points' system in my game. Every time characters get into some more-horrible-than-normal situation (not just a fight but - a fight with undead, or they get cursed, or tortured or something like that) they gain 1-2 fear points. When those points equal their WIS, gain an insanity or some other permanent mental debilitation. Fear points can be reduced 1/month spent in placid conditions, or you could set it to the pace of your game.

    It's simple and adds an extra element of long-term damage, but doesn't get in the way too much.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's a nice system - reminds me a bit of WFRP's Insanity Points. Anything that encourages PCs to actually take breaks between adventures is usually a good thing!

      Delete
    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
  9. If you want to avoid doubles, make one of the die a d5 (d10 mod 5 or d10/2 rounded up), and add its result to the other mod 6.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Are you familiar with Cairn (https://yochaigal.itch.io/cairn)? That system's SCARS rule is very much in line with this if a bit more in the OSR theme-wise. That connection stands out to me because that system and this post are pretty much the only times I've seen this concept floated.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wasn't familiar with it, no. I've read it now, though, so thanks for that. 'Casting spells fills your inventory slots with fatige' is a very clever mechanic!

      Delete
  11. Rolling...

    Good dice: 6
    Bad dice: 6

    Rolled a double, I have proved remarkably resilient and come out of my ordeal physically and mentally unscathed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good for you, unknown. Good for you. Welcome to the Year of the Tiger.

      Delete
  12. DCC rpg, my go to fantasy games, has this "physical" degradation spiral "problem". every time you are dropped to 0 hp you lose one point from one of the randomly determined physical stats. while there is a way, on higher levels, to negate this it leads to the "worn-out" characters. for some it is not a bug but feature as it forces players to consider retirement. play more cautiously or find ways to regain their youth and vigor.

    ReplyDelete
  13. btw, i am glad that you are blogging again. any new condensation in action articles.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Maybe! It's good to know that people are still interested in them - might move me to get another one done!

      Delete