Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Material Injuries

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:


Oddbit said...

For a more consistent healng speed, you could go with 5% or 10% per week which helps emphasize it's not a normal kind of damage.

Furthermore you could set thresholds of percent per seriousness of wound for ease of recognition.

For example: up to 20% being light, up to 40% being moderate, up to 60% being serious, up to 80% being critical and up to 100% (technicality) being heal spell.

If you wanted you could also allow wounds that get into the X% range to be healed at that point using the appropriate spell. Kind of a using magic once the job is a bit easier.

As for types of injuries you could probably codify them into mental, perception, mobility and manipulation as a starting point.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Yep. That makes sense.

Matt said...

I know you asked not to present hit point philosophies, but I'd like to share what I've taken to doing.

Characters have 2 pools of hit-points. One derived from class, and one derived from mass (as per your HP system). HP from class is easily healed by food, drink, rest, sex, and other luxuries. HP from Mass is only healed over time.

In combat Class HP goes first, but certain things can bypass class HP. Things like fire, armor-piercing weapons, poison gas, etc.

If a character takes more than half their mass HP in damage they are seriously wounded. We roll hit-location, and determine the injury based on the attack. Healing from that attack cannot occur until the wound is treated by a medical professional.

Also, things other than combat damage can deplete class HP. Wearing armor for long periods of time, not getting enough food, or sleep, inclimate weather, etc.

I know not all of that works with your system, but it's a pretty good way for us to manage injuries and such. I do like the idea of reducing stats drastically with an injury, and I think I will start doing that.

Oddbit said...

Oh, potential... conflict? To consider.

The % from injuries and the % from near death that you use.

Just a thought. I can see it being used as a stacking penalty (hastening death) or as an overlapping depending on how generous you are feeling.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Not bad ideas, Matt, but as you say, I can't see a fit with my system at present. Food for thought, though.

Didn't see the comment as a typical hit point philosophy argument.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Oh, that penalty stacks like crazy, don't you think Oddbit?

You know how many people die from shock due to multiple injuries, when those injuries are not serious enough to kill? Many. Many, many, many.

Harvicus said...

Those pictures are incredible.

On topic though, how many effects are you looking to model? Do you envision having a chart of various effects to roll against, or just generalized penalties/effects to apply add-hoc?

One idea I have seen mentioned before is to use a chart of these persistent effects (broken down by damage type and/or body location if desired) that is rolled on whenever such persistent damage occurs, and this is extended to combat for hits that drop a character below 0 hp. Said chart is arranged such that each higher entry has a higher severity that the prior. Falling damage is then represented as d6 persistent damage, meaning it does d6 damage + the result on the persistent damage chart.

Oddbit said...

Yeah, in delving into combat I was thinking about major injuries coming out of breaching certain percentages of HP being potential or actual serious injuries. (25%/50%/75%)

I would go with potential mainly due to a number of things including 1st level adventurers losing straight to 25% with one hit easily.

Perhaps a random roll with the number of breached thresholds increasing the odds.

There could also be different measures of the base 100%

Max HP: Easiest to pre-calculate

Current HP when battle starts: prevents bouncing around one threshold repeatedly.

Current HP when round starts:
Makes injuries WAY more likely in a combat.

Current HP per attack:
Somebody hates you. A lot.

Could play with the roll a bit... First impulse is a 1 or 1-2 on a D6 with the range increasing by 1 per threshold breached. Severity upgrades if you roll a 1 and its +1 or 2 and its +2 severity x3 on 1 when +2...


You could also do the serious injuries when the player goes under 0. With your system you just make the seriousness of it = the % of stats lost at lowest HP.

Alexis Smolensk said...


I think 'persistent' damage is a better name than 'material.' I think I'll make use of the alternate word.

To both you and Oddbit,

I've been looking over accident and injury statistics since the weekend, getting numbers that waver between 1 and 1.5% of the population suffering from on-the-job injuries annually - people participating in dangerous work where they know what they're doing.

It convinces me that 'broken arms' and stuff should NOT become a common, every time the party plays sort of event. I think there's a danger in making such injuries normal, in that over the space of a year's play the players will quickly grow exhausted with constant management of their endless injuries. While that may or may not be 'correct' in reality (war and all that), in terms of GAME play I doubt it's desireable.

Thus, it is the kind of thing I would incorporate only when something very unusual occurs. As I say, NOT combat. Falling, amputations, concussions, strain and so on resulting from specific instances incorporated into the events of the campaign (a player catches another player falling from above and experiences a dislocation, for example). Logical results manifesting during play. Hypothermia and some diseases would also fit into that category.

Until I saw the effects, I would not want to systematize it into the game - certainly not into a hit location, as this would severely reduce the amount of enjoyable combat in which the players would indulge.

Oddbit said...

Fair enough to stick a toe in before taking the dive.

Harvicus said...

and then of course the flip side. Unless you seriously restrict healing magic and how it applies to such injuries, what is really the point?

It just becomes flavor text at that point.

"You fall off the bridge and smash your shoulder into a rock on the way down. It is dislocated and the pain is terrible. But a few minutes later Carl the Cleric rubs your shoulders a bit and you are good to go..."

You addressed healing a bit in your main post, but I think deciding how any injury could persist any meaningful length of time in a world in which you have access to a good friend with healing magic is critical.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Yes, having to overcome trials and limitations. How boring.

Worry not, Harvicus; was going to write the second part of this post tomorrow, answering your question.

Oddbit said...

My first thoughts Harvicus are these.

1. Only very minor injuries are cured by Light wounds. Mid to high level adventurers would be required to deal with serious things like broken limbs, concussions and other things like that.

This is based on the paragraph with this line in it "A broken arm is not a 'light wound.'"

2. Carl the Priest is probably at the top of the cliff, not the bottom. That means that Bob the Clumsy just took the limb damage and any checks necessary as he is still falling and or lands at the bottom are going to be penalized.

3. Not everyone has a cleric. I mean, it's a great thing to have, but sometimes one is just not handy. Times being what they are sometimes you have three players, a rogue, a warrior and a wizard, with all the healing being low level salves, caution and lots of rest.

4. Reaping the benefits of hard work. This means, the characters started at lvl 1. Back when they had Cure light wounds only it was horrible when you got a broken arm, and god forbid you lost an eye. Now that were level 16 I am SO glad we don't have to worry if someone has an injury greater than minor hypothermia or a sprained wrist. This might not be something players will value if they didn't have to start at level 1, or they have plenty of potions of every level they found in every dungeon. But for those who don't, it's a real thing.

Jhandar said...

When contemplating how to approach the issue of the issue of injuries over hit point I have find the system put forth in Earthdawn to be an elegant and simple solution. I will attempt to bastardize a version of how I would adapt it to a more D&D friendly interpretation.

Wounds, as they are called, are received whenever a creature takes an amount of damage exceeding a threshold which garners them a negative on all rolls until that wound is healed. Earthdawn generates this threshold off of their Toughness stat, which ports easily to Constitution. This also may help weight the Constitution stat for fighters, as I remember you had explored the mathematical benefits of putting higher stats in CON versus DEX a few months back. You could either set this as a permanent fixture or and scaling target number. I would personally set it to a set number plus CON modifier plus character level, which would give more experienced warriors an edge in terms of resisting these wounds. You could also add variances per class if you prefer the numbers to work in that way, making fighters more tolerant to big hits than mages.

I intellectually prefer the idea of a smaller threshold rather than a percentage of hit points for a few reasons. The first being that as a percentage, if it is required that they take the damage in one shot it becomes increasingly harder to wound the player and the mechanic loses some value. Also if the concept is your receive wounds at set percentages of health it creates a cognitive disruption in my mind. For example if Raif has 40hp and will take a wound at 25%, if he is hit for 9 points of damage from a sword and then 2 points from a thrown rock the next round it would be at the rock throw that would he would receive the wound which has a more counter intuitive internal logic in my opinion. With having a set threshold for wounds to occur they would occur at bigger hits of damage, which I think flows better than a percentile system. The downside to a threshold number versus a percentage is that unless the threshold number is set low (which is more punishing that interesting in my mind) lower level characters would not be able to receive a lot of wounds before dying. However, at low levels, the penalties are more pronounced (as a percentage of total bonuses) than at higher levels where a deeper hit point pool and better access to healing options would allow for multiple wounds across a longer range of encounters.

Once an entity takes damage exceeding their wound threshold they then receive a -1 penalty to all rolls or figures. This means attack rolls/THAC0, saving throws, damage, AC, pass/fail rolls, movement speed, etc. These wounds are also received in increments of the specific wound threshold, so if the player receives 2x their wound threshold, the then receive a -2 penalty, and are cumulative with other existing wounds. I know that you current have a threshold for stunning characters due to damage taken in a round, and while this does not work in the sense of if you obtain enough nicks and scrapes to exceed the wound threshold over the course of a round you would not be wounded, but you may still be stunned. I would imagine that if you were wounded, you would likely also be stunned per your mechanics, so I think it would be easily digested.

Jhandar said...

(continued from above)

These wounds persist through minor healings as well. If you want them to be removed via Cure Serious Wounds, that would be fine. Earthdawn has only a few ways to cure them, and the most reliable of which is convalescing in bed for a week or so, per wound.

Obviously the numbers are able to be modified to fit whatever curve you would like them to occur at. I enjoy this system as both player and DM because it very much has a quicksand like approach as players may ignore a wound, they may even ignore two, but as they push themselves further and further past that point they continue to be susceptible to more wounds due to the lowered defenses and their damage output slows due to decreased attack rolls and damage making each subsequent encounter more dangerous. I thought the segment on the assault on the Bishop’s castle with your online campaign would be a great example of a place where this would shine adding a lot of tension having to discuss the dangers of pushing forward versus tactical withdrawl.

While this does not necessarily answer the question of environmental damage through exposure intrinsically I think that this could be handled by having the players make CON checks against the temperature modified by your temperature scale and if they pass, they continue on unscathed, if they fail, they obtain a wound. I know you have toyed with exposure/incidental damage due to travel and environmental conditions and you could initiate these checks once a player reaches their threshold in this damage or at your whim. While I stated previously that cumulative damage did not generate wounds, you could logically make the argument for exposure taking time to set in and other factors. While the environmental aspect may take some additional justifying, where I playing under this system I would not find it unrealistic or draconian.