Tuesday, September 9, 2014
We had a little snow last night. The pic above was taken at quarter to seven, as I was walking to work. The temperature was -1 C (30 F). The inevitable melt hadn't started (note the lack of falling snow on the road). It was like a fairy land.
Yet, of course I was only able to walk through it comfortably because there are streets, because the pavement on those streets retains more heat than the ground, so that my feet could remain completely dry. Seeing the world this morning put me in mind of mornings in a wet camp, where we were above six thousand feet and the rain had turned to snow in the night. With the snow heavy and everything soaking wet, when even the wood under the tarpaulin won't light, it can be a misery. More than that, careless people die in these conditions. Thinking they need to march out as soon as possible, they're soon soaked to the bone from weather and sweat, only to fall prey to hypothermia.
This I offer as proof that the wilderness ought to have physical effects on characters - and not merely a mild encumbrance like -1 to hit or -2 damage. I can recall mornings in August so cold it was hard to open my fingers and grip the box of matches to strike a fire; hikes so cold that I was shaking and half-delusional as we descended back to camp, or back to our car because we had been caught mid-afternoon during a day trip. Minus one is ridiculous. Minus ten is more like it. With a maximum weapon weight allowance.
I have been thinking about a shadow hit point/ability stat system that wouldn't fundamentally change any part of the existing game, while addressing things like hypothermia or, say, a broken arm. Unfortunately, this would bring us back to the subject of hit points - and there is nothing that online gamers like to talk about more than what are hit points and what hit points represent and why hit points are silly and so on. So before I venture forth, I suppose I shall have to write a very short explanation about hit points.
Hit points are a game mechanic. They are a game measurement meant to indicate the nearness of a character to death. Lots of hit points = far from death. Few hit points = near to death. Low level and minimum hit dice creatures are near to death. High level and maximum hit dice creatures are far from death.
I do not care what hit points 'mean' beyond this reckoning. Please do not bother to write to give me your pet theory. Please read the English words in the above (look them up in a dictionary if necessary) and recognize that this is not a post about the meaning of hit points. This is a post about game structure.
Let us take two persons, Rafe and Karl. Rafe is a 1st level fighter with 14 hit points. Karl is a 9th level fighter with 82 hit points. At the start of a combat, Rafe is near to death, as only a couple of attacks may kill him. It will take a lot of attacks to kill Karl.
Both Rafe and Karl fall off a low castle wall together. Both break their arms. In the real world, if Rafe was a 'cherry' and Karl was an experienced soldier, the main difference we would expect is that Karl is calmer, less affected emotionally by the broken arm. Neither would be able to use that arm, however - and given proper treatment, both broken arms would heal at approximately the same rate (varied, depending on the type of break and precisely which bone in the arm was broken). We'll presume for the sake of argument that both bones broke in precisely the same place and in precisely the same manner, so that the x-factor is in the basic biology of both. Karl is probably older than Rafe, though perhaps by no more than a year or two, but if Karl is a lot older, Rafe's arm would probably heal earlier. My point is that the combat skill of the injured persons would have no special effect on the rate of healing.
This is precisely the sort of thing for which the hit point game mechanic does not work. We cannot say that a broken arm causes 8-48 damage, because that would probably kill Rafe while at the same time it would probably fail to reduce Karl even half his hit points. A broken arm cannot be measured in hit points. The result is that, usually, in game terms we ignore the issue that broken arms occur, conceiving 'damage' as something (in terms of the game mechanic) that happens to the whole body and which has no particular effects upon ability until the last hit point goes.
Making any attempt to adjust this gaming perspective is viewed as an affront to the game. Nevertheless, the game was made for players, not players for the game, so there must be something that can be done to address the issue. Any adjustment, however, would need to fulfill two requirements:
1) It must be SIMPLE. Players and DMs alike do not need it to be a complex set of rules or the creation of multiple note fields. In other words, to keep it simple, stupid, let's not get bogged down in trying to adapt for a broken arm vs. a broken leg vs. hypothermia vs. fifty thousand other possible temporary weaknesses to the humanoid body. We don't need to go from NO recognition of such things to a multi-varied adjustment scheme.
2) It must not damage, slow, destroy or otherwise weaken the working game mechanic as it presently exists, preserving CONTINUITY. I've run thousands of hours of combat and I have no problem with the system. My players like it. They don't need the system cluttered with junky rules or structure or anything else that will seriously undermine their ability to predict their own survival.
Fundamentally, I have no interest in including 'broken arms' into the combat procedure. I would like to limit such grittiness to issues where people fall off cliffs or are knocked about in rivers or otherwise damaged in wilderness escapades. At some point in the future, perhaps, there may be a means to marry the two prospects together, but for the moment I'd like to keep them separate.
My scheme would be to incorporate a material injuries as a percentage of stat or hit point total. A broken arm, for instance, might reduce the number of existing hit points (and maximum hit points) by 50%. It could be a range, but let's say 50% for the sake of the post. The trick that would manage the two points above (simplicity & continuity) would be in healing the damage
As an example, let's start with Rafe. He has 14 hit points and hasn't been hit yet. He falls off the wall, breaks his arm and takes 50% of his hit points in damage. He isn't dead, but he can no longer fight with his broken arm. If it is his shield arm, he must take a few rounds to unstrap the shield (a painful operation) because he would be in too much pain to let the shield hang there while he moved about. If it were his weapon arm, then he would have even more trouble freeing the shield from his arm (as he'd be doing it with the hand of the broken arm).
Writing this, I find myself thinking of rules about strapping of shields to arms (what shields need to be strapped, what need to be carried, how easy is it to knock an unstrapped shield from a character's hand, etc.) but that's a completely different subject.
Once Rafe's arm is freed, he can go on attacking with his good hand (the adjustment for attacking with the wrong hand is a dexterity issue) - but we have to acknowledge that every blow he makes and every one he takes will hurt his broken arm. His strength, constitution and dexterity should all be dropped. I would suggest 50% (as I'm a mean bastard), eliminating all bonuses. For a fighter, this isn't that bad (though dropping the strength to less than '9' would mean Rafe was technically not a 'fighter' and should be fighting according to his hit die and not his level), but it's bad for a thief or a mage, since those classes tend to have lower stats in strength.
Karl is in a similar position. Let's say he's suffered 20 damage already, so that he's at 62 of his 82 hit points. His present hit points drop to 31, and his maximum to 41. His stats drop by half, just like Rafe - and his THACO suffers, unless Karl has an 18 strength.
Both, then, are affected significantly. Neither can shrug it off. Karl is still a lot farther from death than Rafe, but there remains a meaningful ratio in the impact the broken arm has caused.
Most of all, both can go on taking part, while adjusting to the fact that they can't use their arms. Such consideration can be dealt with on a case-by-case basis (the broken leg making movement impossible, hypothermia reducing intelligence and wisdom as well as physicality, etc).
How, then, do we heal it?
If we go back to the original D&D game, we find the healing spells helpfully described. A broken arm is not a "light wound." It is certainly serious, but it isn't critical, so we can assume that any spell of sufficient description will heal the hit points lost (cure light wounds would have zero effect on a broken arm). Therefore, cure serious wounds, cure critical wounds and heal would all be effective. As hypothermia is only serious in its later stages (reduce hit points 10% per hour, perhaps), if dealt with before it became serious or critical, cure light wounds would probably work.
For Rafe, there are seven hit points between his present 'maximum' of seven and his usual total of 14. To heal those 7, he would need either a powerful spell or actual resting time. Seven days would not be enough. He would need, rather, 7 weeks.
Karl, on the other hand, has 41 hit points to gain back. He could heal the difference between 31 and 41 normally, but above 41 he needs a serious spell or rest. We would not, however, suggest that he needs 41 weeks! Rather, we argue he heals 1 hit point per level per week of material damage, so he would heal in just 5 weeks (rounded up). The reason? Well, perhaps he can ignore the pain a bit more, so that while he isn't totally healed after five weeks, it stops hampering him as much as it still hampers Rafe. Perhaps, as an experienced veteran, he knows better how to rest - fixedly keeping his arm still, eating better, not screwing around with his arm as patients often will, etc. There may be other reasons.
As yet, this whole idea is untried. I'm only expressing a possible way it could be managed - no doubt there are tweaks necessary, and perhaps a list of specific effects caused by specific injuries. I intend to go on giving it consideration.
In the meantime, some more pictures from my walk to work: