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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 158 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: Rules for damage and wounds - how do I avoid punishing my players?  (Read 1766 times)
Abkajud
Member

Posts: 188


« on: March 01, 2009, 03:15:32 PM »

So I've been playtesting my game, Mask of the Emperor, for three sessions now, and in our most recent session, one of the PCs suffered a wound. In game terms, this means a loss of dice from the relevant dice pool (the stat and skill used get penalized til the wound heals). Also in game terms, players get to choose whether a particular conflict they engage in will have "you could get hurt, or even killed" at stake. Victor, the player whose PC took the wound, did this all quite deliberately - Kaizo the Herald, horrified that his master was disappointed in him for getting himself taken hostage by foes, attempted to cut his own throat on the knife held by his captor.
This was a great game moment - for once, a PC was engaging in self-destructive behavior because of a story-contribution from the player, not because of player-frustration, which had been my experience most of the time. It fit Kaizo and the concept of noble sacrifice so well, making it a great all-around moment for us.
We rolled to see if Kaizo could get his throat pierced by the knife, and the soldier holding him tried to keep his human bargaining chip from losing its value. He got a success - not an amazing one, but enough to tear himself up pretty good.
From there, I realized that my rules covered how to get wounded, but not how to recover - and now I find myself stuck on how PCs recover from social/emotional wounds as opposed to plain old physical injuries.
I came up with a completely ad-hoc table for physical recovery, one that returns a die worth of "healed" stats or skills to the PC when a certain amount of time elapses, based on the % of the total dice pool that each die represented. To whit: a dice pool of 5 would heal a single die about as quickly as a dice pool of 10 would heal two dice.
That being said: it occurred to me that, not wanting to go too terribly far into the realm of "realism", I wouldn't try to shoehorn psychological care into my Asiatic feudal fantasy setting; instead, I figured that a PC could heal a die of social/emotional damage from experiencing a really validating victory of some kind, particularly if it dealt with someone who had *done* the damage to the PC in the first place.

So! The point is this - I set things up so players could control, or at least influence, the stakes in a situation where they stood to get hurt, humiliated, or killed. The flip side is, well, in some cases they could take months to heal from wounds. Depending on how validating their lives are, social Wounds might not be quite so bad; but I don't want to downplay the impact of dangerous, violent conflict.

So far, it hasn't discouraged my players from using violence, when it fits the way they want the story to go - nobody has shrank away from the chance of losing dice and getting hurt, although this could be in part because I haven't really explained my tentative wound-recovery system yet. I think that letting players control the stakes, and making violence really count for something, will encourage a lot more chatty conflict than stabby conflict, which is what I want as a designer; it makes violence a last resort, like it generally is for us humans. But I don't want players to feel like they're laboring under a crappy, unforgiving system.

Thoughts?
- Abby
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Mask of the Emperor rules, admittedly a work in progress - http://abbysgamerbasement.blogspot.com/
Dr_Pete
Member

Posts: 12


« Reply #1 on: March 01, 2009, 05:09:12 PM »

By social/emotional wound, I guess you're talking about some kind of mental damage track... something equivalent to a CoC sanity score, yes?

For healing, I guess it depends on what you want that damage to mean to the game, and what those mental points do for characters.  Think about the purpose of the stat, and the assumptions you want to have go with it.  Is it mental hit points, with a fixed "healthy" level that they mostly just drop away from, or just a floating number that reflects how far from freaking out they are at any given moment?  Can they do things to move it up, or only take damage to it/move it down?  Does the stat do anything besides whack the characters when they run out of points?  What is the reason for tracking it?

You might have a "social damage" track that is really tracking how respected they are in the community, for example.  You don't really "heal" from being made to look like a buffoon in front of everyone, though.

You might have an "emotional damage" track that is modelling your slide into madness, in which case it depends what you want that to look like in your game.  Or it might represent something else.  It really depends on what you want your recorded number to represent, and what you want it to do in the game... if you want it to model how they start out easily freaked by violence but get numbed to it after being exposed to a lot, that's a completely different mechanic for healing than modelling a fixed limit to how much they can get embarrassed before they run fleeing from the party.
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Abkajud
Member

Posts: 188


« Reply #2 on: March 02, 2009, 08:13:47 PM »

Thanks for the suggestions, Doctor! Smiley

In my game, there is little room for madness or sanity as mechanics concerns. The inspiration for social wounds comes from a chapter in Larry Gonick's inimitable History of the Universe, specifically Volume 2, in the bit about Rome. There's a friend of Gaius Julius Caesar who, while delivering a speech in a public square, gets a basket of feces dumped on his head. He doesn't come out of his house for the rest of the year. That's what I'm going with - debilitating humiliation that people have to recover from.
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Mask of the Emperor rules, admittedly a work in progress - http://abbysgamerbasement.blogspot.com/
Gurnard
Member

Posts: 29


« Reply #3 on: March 03, 2009, 01:57:32 AM »

Then it'd probably be more that positive events would have more of a healing effect on that sort of psychological damage than simply recovery time. In fact, I'd propose that with no other influence, time could either heal or cause further harm as the character stews over the inciting incident. However, an opportunity to redeem oneself, or if whoever humiliated the character were to receive their comeuppance, it would counterbalance the damage (or just erase it in game terms).
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Abkajud
Member

Posts: 188


« Reply #4 on: March 03, 2009, 03:00:25 PM »

Hey, Gurnard!

I think Dr. Pete and I have, collectively, somehow, gotten me to go ahead and decide what I want to do about social wounds - doling out comeuppance will do. That being said, I'm intrigued by the notion of further harm being done to a person because he stews over the incident. I don't know how to express that in mechanical terms, but here's a thought: what if you had to succeed at something important to the PC in order to heal socially? What if there were no other way?

Time heals all wounds, maybe, but not in this case. I think this could serve as another carrot-and-stick to get players to charge towards things they care about, towards things they want to explore, rather than waiting for the GM to help them out. Thoughts?
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Mask of the Emperor rules, admittedly a work in progress - http://abbysgamerbasement.blogspot.com/
Amadeo
Member

Posts: 16


« Reply #5 on: March 09, 2009, 12:34:45 PM »

I like the idea that to recover from social wounds a PC has to strive and succeed on his personal goals, as his control over his life becomes validated his minor gaffe seems less and less important.
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