Maintain injuries, physical or otherwise, as individual character traits.
Games that individually track character injuries follow the Wound Trait pattern. In its simplest form, the pattern does not provide any mechanical means of modifying a character’s abilities when harmed. It merely describes the specific injuries a character has sustained. If wounds need to impose some mechanical restrictions on characters to satisfy design goals, they may certainly be augmented with other patterns, such as the Rank, Hit Points, and Trauma Gauge patterns.
One reason a game designer might utilize wound traits is to enhance story potential. If a player knows that a character has a gaping flesh wound on his left thigh, he can take that into account when he narrates scenes involving the character. Games having combat as their primary focus are often designed to simulate the “gritty realism” of battle, and may use wound traits as one means of doing so.
Games about combat realism are likely to mix this pattern with the other injury tracking techniques described above. They may also handle injuries far differently than games centered on drama and story. In real life, wounds are a Bad Thing, so a game designer seeking to accurately reflect real world conflicts will likely implement wounds as having universally detrimental effects to those injured. The degrees to which various wounds hinder characters may vary drastically depending on the location and severity of the wound, but are unlikely to ever aid him.
On the other hand, a game targeting the telling of interesting stories might take a different approach. First of all, wounds might be introduced only if they drive the storyline forward in some fashion. For example, in a game based on the horror genre, a storyline might progress more quickly and with greater believability if the protagonist, a female Olympic track star, conveniently suffers a crippling leg wound so that the serial killer can catch up with her and initiate the game’s climax. In such a game, a player might willingly accept (or even suggest) this kind of a wound to increase dramatic tension and push the plot forward. In so doing, the game might reward the player by actually making it harder for the serial killer to slay the fleeing character. One good way to reward players that accept disabilities to enhance storytelling is to use an abstract meta-game mechanic. This maintains the “believability” of a story (in that it doesn’t give wounded characters absurd physical enhancements) and at the same time allows players more flexibility in their story options. Our horror game example might provide players with “Plot Points” that they could spend in augmenting contest rolls (see the Resource pattern). Our heroine would be physically hindered by her wound, but the player would be rewarded with enough “Plot Points” to more than make up for the injury’s debilitating effects.
The Wound Trait pattern is appropriate in games where you
In games where wounding effects occur infrequently, the Wound Trait pattern is ideal. True, the bookkeeping overhead is relatively high on a wound-by-wound basis. But, the cost of tracking a small number of injuries during a game session is generally well within the tolerance of most players’ sensibilities given the level of story potential the pattern provides.
If you find the bookkeeping too high a price to pay, you might want to consider the Hit Points or Trauma Gauge patterns instead. If you want to guarantee the survival of characters until their roles are fully played out in a storyline, you should also consider the Endgame pattern.
Of all the health tracking patterns, the Wound Trait pattern provides the most detail. It gives players reasonably clear views of their characters’ states of health, so scenes in which injuries play a factor become easier to describe. However, overuse of the pattern can bog down game flow with details that add little or no enjoyment to players. So, you should use the pattern only to the degree that it supports the “mood” your game tries to generate. Anything more will detract from your ultimate vision.
On its own, the wound trait pattern is conceptually very simple. If a character is harmed, a note is made of the wound’s characteristics. However, if you need wounds to provide some mechanical effect in contests, you need to find some other means to accomplish this goal. Wound traits are commonly mixed with other patterns. For example, wounds can be assigned a Rank to describe their severity. They can be associated with a damage rating, which is subtracted from a character’s Hit Points or added to a Trauma Gauge.
Some games provide tables that specify the effects of specific wounds. Wound tables are usually based on the severity of a blow and can take into account factors such as hit location and armor types. They can be as large as necessary to give the required level of detail. Be warned, though, that table lookups like these can take significant amounts of time to use.
A game in which characters all play World War II infantry might rank individual wounds according to their severity. The sum of the individual ranks could then be used as a modifier to physical actions. After a difficult battle, a soldier might have the following traits listed on his character sheet:
|Grazing bullet wound on left shoulder||1|
|Shrapnel wound on right thigh||2|
|Bayonet wound on lower right abdomen||5|
The Riddle of Steel has a variety of means to simulate injury. First, it has a Pain attribute that is subtracted from a character’s dice pools on every combat round. Damage is also delivered in the form of “Shock,” which reduces a character’s short term combat effectiveness (a single round), but does not linger. Blood Loss also drains Health, which can kill a character if Health drops to zero (see the Hit Points and Attribute patterns). However, perhaps the most important form of damage in the game comes from “Wounds.” A wound is an injury delivered to a specific location. The severity of a wound is determined by the Margin of Success of the attacker in landing the blow. Its effects are determined by both its severity and its hit location according to various tables. Each wound is unique with effects ranging from “Charlie Horse” to “Death. Destruction of cerebellum. Really Messy.”
Rolemaster Fantasy Role Play uses “Hits” as its primary means of tracking physical punishment (see the Hit Points pattern). But, it also uses wound traits to add flavor and detail to combat. Attacks are made by rolling d100, adding the aggressor’s “Offensive Bonus” (OB), subtracting the defender’s “Defensive Bonus” (DB), and looking up the result on a table based on the weapon type used to deliver the blow. The tables take into account the defender’s armor type. This lookup provides a damage rating, which is subtracted from Hit Points, and a “Critical” rating ranging from A to E. The d100 is rolled again and the result is looked up on a “Critical Strike Table” corresponding to the weapon type used (Puncture, Slash, Heat, etc.). The second table lookup is based on the criticality rating of the previous table lookup. The effects take into account whether the defender must parry, cannot parry, is stunned, bleeds, or has other penalties and for how long. The sheer volume of tables gives a wide variety of possible results ranging from “Not very impressive” to “Blow turns hip to dust. Foe falls down. Attempts to stand. Falls again and dies in 6 rounds.”
Universalis treats injuries like all other traits. Wounds are purchased through the expenditure of “coins,” which is the sole source of narrative power in the game (see the Currency pattern). Wounds are simply traits that have the characteristic of reducing a character’s effectiveness in some way. Multiple coins can be spent on any given wound to augment its severity. Player must take the effects of wounds into account when having characters perform actions. If they fail to do so to the other players’ satisfaction, the “importance” of the wound counts against the character in conflict resolution. A character can only be killed or otherwise permanently removed from a storyline by spending a number of coins equal to the characters total “importance.” His importance equals the sum of all importance values of all traits. So, a character that has been inflicted with a wound is actually harder to kill than one that hasn’t been wounded, even though the injury hinders his activity.