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Handling Permanent Injuries

Fauchard1520

Explorer
When permanent injuries are on the table, there are two basic ways things can go.
  • Good Ending: He cuts off my hand? Like Skywalker at the end of Empire? Badass!
  • Bad Ending: Thanks for making my guy unplayable. Jerk.
That leads me to two associated questions.
  1. As a matter of player psychology, how do you help afflicted PCs arrive at Good Ending instead of Bad Ending?
  2. What's the best system you've seen for handling permanent injuries?
(Comic for illustrative purposes.)
 

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overgeeked

B/X Known World
When permanent injuries are on the table, there are two basic ways things can go.
  • Good Ending: He cuts off my hand? Like Skywalker at the end of Empire? Badass!
  • Bad Ending: Thanks for making my guy unplayable. Jerk.
That leads me to two associated questions.
  1. As a matter of player psychology, how do you help afflicted PCs arrive at Good Ending instead of Bad Ending?
  2. What's the best system you've seen for handling permanent injuries?
(Comic for illustrative purposes.)
I disagree that the "bad ending" is actually bad in itself. It's a bad player reaction to the situation, not a bad situation. As the saying goes, "There's no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothes." The good player will take that and work with it make it a part of the character and keep playing. The bad player will throw a fit and repeat that phrase you included about the DM being a jerk. If the player doesn't want harm to come to their character, they shouldn't be playing anything with even a hint of possible danger in it. You risk your life on a daily basis? You can end up losing an eye or a finger or a hand or a leg. Some settings have magic or tech to replace those lost bits, but not all.

The player psychology behind the "bad ending" is that the player doesn't want their precious character to have any flaws or drawbacks or hindrances. That's not how most games work. Especially not action-adventure games...which cover the majority of RPGs. If the player wants their character perfect, whole, and intact, then they don't want to play an action-adventure game. They don't want the risks associated with even a whiff of verisimilitude.

The best system for handling permanent injuries is to use them and filter out the players who don't want to deal with the consequences of their actions in the game and those who don't want to actually play action-adventure games.

There are plenty of amazing games out there where injury and death aren't an assumed part of play. A lot of them are really quite fun. Once you cross into "I'm going to gleefully murder ten-thousand orcs to level up" land, missing PCs bits is an option.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
  1. As a matter of player psychology, how do you help afflicted PCs arrive at Good Ending instead of Bad Ending?
Easy: just ask the player how they want to handle it.

If the player wants a dope adamantine prosthetic hand or something, go with it.

If the player doesn't want to play a disfigured or differently-abled character at all, you shouldn't force them to.
 

Dioltach

Legend
As with most things, it's good for the game if it opens new and exciting doors. Just telling the player, "You have a DEX penalty, you can't dual-wield or use a bow and getting dressed takes twice as long now" is no fun for anyone. Even if the player did something stupid and you decide to chop of the character's hand instead of killing them outright, it shouldn't be without any prospects of getting better.

So impose a penalty, sure, and make some jokes about lending a hand, but follow it up by a rumour of a mechanical/magic hand that can be attached, or a smith who can make a prosthetic hand - if the party can provide the materials. In the meantime allow the character to capture a Crawling Claw and fasten it to their stump. For added fun, make it a right hand on a left stump - with delusions of being the dominant hand!
 

Scars Unseen

Explorer
Easy: just ask the player how they want to handle it.
This, like many topics of this nature, seems like the kind of thing that should be addressed before the first session. It's not like most games have actual mechanics for dismemberment, so it's something the GM should have in mind as a possibility before they even get started, and that shouldn't be a possibility that they should keep to themselves.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
If there's a possibility of dismemberment (and it rather makes sense that there should be) there ought to be some means of fixing it, maybe at considerable expense; using the same design rationale behind there being a possibility of reviving a character if and when it dies.

Older D&D had a high-level Clerical spell called Regeneration for, among other things, just this. It also had a spell called Wither that rendered a limb useless if the victim failed a save; along with some magic weapons (e.g. Sword of Sharpness) and traps whose special effect was to now and then chop something off.

Seems it'd be easy enough to port similar elements for both dismemberment and fixing thereof into any fantasy game. Otherwise you risk a situation where the PCs meet a peg-leg pirate* who, by the game's own mechanics, couldn't exist in the setting.

* - or better yet, someone wants to play one!
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I disagree that the "bad ending" is actually bad in itself. It's a bad player reaction to the situation, not a bad situation. As the saying goes, "There's no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothes."

So, who is the game for? Should what is good or bad in the game not be defined in terms as good or bad for the players?

The player psychology behind the "bad ending" is that the player doesn't want their precious character to have any flaws or drawbacks or hindrances.

Overgeeked, you overstate, and use a broad brush, and seem to be trying to assert that problems are really about a personal flaw in any player who is put out by such things. The result is to dismiss a thing that has a lot of nuance to it, without actually addressing the nuance, and being kind of insulting in the process.
 
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A sprained limb is a light wound. It'll heal after 1d6 days of rest or medical care, or a first level spell.

A broken limb is a serious wound. It requires 1d6 weeks of rest or medical care, or a third level spell.

A lost limb is a critical wound. It won't heal naturally, but a fourth level spell will do the trick.

In all cases, you have to receive it within a window of time or else the natural healing process will lead to the body considering the injury part of the status quo, ineligible to be 'healed' by magic. Likewise, if you don't rest, or get a medical care that's bad, a light or serious wound can set improperly.

If a fifth level spell can raise the dead, a fourth level one can regrow a leg.

If players know this, injuries become a setback, not a permanent weakness. And if you want wounds to still show up, have a few rare types of magic deal wounds that magic cannot heal, but make them super obvious so players can try to avoid them.
 

aco175

Legend
This brings up the argument about HP and how they are represented. There is also problems with damage from 10 levels of slaying monsters and not a scratch on me. Now, suddenly, the DM is giving my PC a lasting problem. Maybe cool, if I have something to do about it and make it cool again.

I do not want to be forced to take levels of rogue to finally get ranged mage stump in order to do something normal.
 

Fauchard1520

Explorer
This, like many topics of this nature, seems like the kind of thing that should be addressed before the first session. It's not like most games have actual mechanics for dismemberment, so it's something the GM should have in mind as a possibility before they even get started, and that shouldn't be a possibility that they should keep to themselves.
I don't know that Session Zero is the answer to this one. Permanent injury is a plot point that can come up, but it doesn't usually make the list:


That's why I'm looking for systems that do this. If giving the player a way out of the drawback is important, what system does that best? If establishing it as a baseline part of your grim and gritty game is important, what system is best at that?
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
This brings up the argument about HP and how they are represented. . .
If you're playing D&D or a D&D knock-off.
That's why I'm looking for systems that do this. If giving the player a way out of the drawback is important, what system does that best? If establishing it as a baseline part of your grim and gritty game is important, what system is best at that?
Here's how Modos RPG handles it:
  • Each character has one or more Flaws (like a lost hand).
  • Flaws don't affect other attributes, but they do work with Goals to earn the PC rewards.
  • Players can ignore their Flaws, although GMs might invoke them once in a while (like in Fate or Numenera).
  • The Bad Ending from OP is moot, because Flaws don't make characters unplayable, just more interesting.
  • The PC can keep and use the Flaw (to gain rewards), or work with the GM to remove the Flaw (by getting a cybernetic hand) which could involve yet more adventure.

You don't want to know how I'd handle the player's psychology. It would be something like this:
 

This, like many topics of this nature, seems like the kind of thing that should be addressed before the first session. It's not like most games have actual mechanics for dismemberment, so it's something the GM should have in mind as a possibility before they even get started, and that shouldn't be a possibility that they should keep to themselves.
In my experience (somewhat extensive) somewhere around 1/4 of RPGs have rules for some form of lasting injury; most of those it's an optional rule.

I never ask about it as a GM; I do warn about it in systems where it exists. By lasting, I mean something that isn't just "some down time and it's over"...
Some I've run where it's core: L5R 5E, Warhammer FRP (1, 2, 3, and while I've not run it, 4), RuneQuest 3e, Elf Quest, Worlds Beyond, FFG Star Wars, Alien (YZE), Vaesen (YZE) Twilight 2000 (1e, 2e, 2.2e, 4e), Dark Conspiracy (1e), Spirit of the Century (Fate system), Dresden Files (1st ed), Hârnmaster, Rhand (LEG), Aliens Adventure Game (LEG), GURPS, Rolemaster, Spacemaster (1E and 2E),
A few I've not run that do have lasting wounds as part of core mechancs: Fate Core, FFG's End of the World line, Genesys (Same mechanics as FFG Star Wars),

Hmmm.... most of those do so via critical hit rules. GURPS, BRP (RQ, EQ and WB) by excess damage to hit location. Fate (SotC,Fate Core, Dresden Files) and EotW do so by trading in harm for a lasting injury, freeing up damage space. Fate, that can eventually be bought off.
The crit table types (L5R5e, WFRP all, T2K4, all the FFG games, HM, both LEG games) include results removing limbs.

That list above represents about 5% of the games I've run over the last 40 years in terms of systems/editions; it represents closer to 40% of my game time...
A few I'm not able to check at the moment:
BTRC's CORPS & EABA ( I recall the broken bones category)
Palladium's games (all have a provision for it; I don't recall if it's optional or core - when taking HP damage instead of SDC, roll for lasting injury on a table.)

that's about 30 editions of arouond 400 editions/games I've played or run over the last 40 years. So about 8%. Many more have an optional rule for it in core; more still added it in a subsequent publication.
 

steenan

Adventurer
I like how Fate handles this kind of things: as a player opt-in.

There are consequences of various severity that take various amount of time to recover, from a couple of scenes to a whole story arc. There's also an optional rule for "critical consequences" that are permanent changes to a character, replacing one of their aspects. Taking a consequence is always a choice of the player: do they want their character to get hurt but stay in the conflict or do they prefer getting defeated.
 

When permanent injuries are on the table, there are two basic ways things can go.
  • Good Ending: He cuts off my hand? Like Skywalker at the end of Empire? Badass!
  • Bad Ending: Thanks for making my guy unplayable. Jerk.
That leads me to two associated questions.
  1. As a matter of player psychology, how do you help afflicted PCs arrive at Good Ending instead of Bad Ending?
  2. What's the best system you've seen for handling permanent injuries?
(Comic for illustrative purposes.)
1. Stop playing D&D.
1a. Stop trying to incorporate permanent injuries into a game that uses hit points.​
1b. If you insist on playing D&D (or another tradgame), set player expectations about combat, death, and injuries upfront.​
1c. Understand probabilities: permanent injuries are virtually guaranteed for player characters in a longstanding game. Plan accordingly.​
1d. Never force a combat; provide non-combat avenues for conflict resolution.​
2. Play a game that makes handling permanent injuries better.
2a. A more narrative system, like Fate, can turn a permanent injury into an Aspect, which enhances the character.​
2b. A system where a permanent injury isn't crippling is another option. A cyberpunk or science fiction game has prosthetics available.​
2c. A system that provides a detailed subsystem for handling non-combat conflict resolution works hand-in-hand with 1c.​

3. Game with players who are good sports about permanent injuries.
 
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John Dallman

Adventurer
In the old-fashioned D&D I play, permanent injuries usually get fixed fairly soon. There are specialised healing clerics, and some specialist healer character classes, and they're reasonably charitable.

In GURPS, which I play more of, crippling and dismembering injuries are fairly well-defined and these things can usually be fixed. The basic magic system has fairly short prerequisite chains to Restoration and Regeneration, and their energy cost is manageable. Resurrection is much harder, but GURPS characters usually fall over well before they're in danger of dying. The other magic systems mostly have ways of dealing with permanent injuries. There are exceptions: my Laundryverse campaign had theoretical healing magic, it was just likely to be worse than accepting permanent injuries, so nobody studied it.
 

ardoughter

Hero
Supporter
In a game like D&D with a lot of combat and no built in permanent injury rules, anything that permanently penalises a characters combat performance, is the beginning of a death spiral. Unless you allow fairly accessible mitigation of the injury.
Death spirals are no fun and I do not blame the players for objecting.
 

Hand of Evil

Adventurer
First off it is best to let the players know before hand that there is a chance of dismemberment in the game so they can have an good medical plan. Then you as the GM should have a few plot hooks to dangle in front of the players.

Example would be a shady hooded NPC that whisper to the character in a dark tavern of hearing of a forest spirit that regrows limbs for quest. The character says yes, gets a replacement of wood and vines and has some special abilities and the next adventure starts. Others; demon packs, rewards from the gods, mechanical replacements or even Frankenstein parts.

Just work with the players so, they are cool being known as the man with drow eyes. S
 

J.Quondam

CR 1/8
First off it is best to let the players know before hand that there is a chance of dismemberment in the game so they can have an good medical plan. Then you as the GM should have a few plot hooks to dangle in front of the players.

"We are off to fight the dragon, for we've heard a rumor that its vast hoard contains that rarest of treasures: a platinum health insurance plan!"
.
 

Hand of Evil

Adventurer
"We are off to fight the dragon, for we've heard a rumor that its vast hoard contains that rarest of treasures: a platinum health insurance plan!"
.
S Well, sort of. In my games it comes down to piety and good standing, the characters visiting shines, giving to the church (I mean why should a non believer be granted the same healing as a believer) or adventure guild dues (contract to provide services) and such.
 


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