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Thread: Ask a GM [06/09/2009]: Permanent Damage

  1. #16
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    It's been rare for me to play a non-fantasy or non-scifi campaign that couldn't regrow a limb through magic or super-tech. We had some modern (usually horror) campaigns where dismemberment could be a problem, but it for some reason just didn't come up.

    We had one pretty long-running combat-intensive modern game where we were an elite task force against invading aliens, but nobody ever lost a limb since the enemy weapons put small to medium holes in you rather than disintegrating your limbs. Scarring from plasma rifles was a beyotch, but we were a bunch of gritty ugly buggers anyway. We were basically all right out of the military stockades as throw-away troops, who ended up surviving and surviving until we became the elite alien task force. Think the movie "The Dirty Dozen" meets the old "X-COM" computer game. We weren't nice OR pretty to start with, and all the players pretty much expected to die every session (deaths were surprisingly rare though). If we could get out with all your limbs intact we figured we were doing great. That's an example of a campaign where it works.

    So, yeah, it has to work for the campaign, and it has to work for the players. Comes down to knowing your audience. If someone is very attached to their character (and you can usually tell), maiming them will probably not get a great response.

  2. #17
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    In the situation I posed earlier (which did historically actually happen!) losing an appendage is an incredible advantage. If Xiahou Dun was a D&D character, then from that day forward his intimidate factor would be off the charts. I would place him as having 15 ranks in that skill from that day forward. How useful would that character be to a group with a +15 to intimidate?

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    I think it can be a cool element.

    In Werewolf: the Apocalypse, scars and wounds like that are rewarded with renown and repsect amongst the other wolves.

    In A Game of Thrones, at least in the books, it's a common enough theme since their medicine is mostly medieval.

    And in most fantasy, it's fairly common for characters to lose limbs (especially hands). Frodo Baggins, Anakin Skywalker, Luke Skywalker, Rand al'Thor, Tyr, Odin, Aquaman, Felix Gaeta, Captain Hook, Revolver Ocelot, and I guess, technically, Darth Maul, Mace Windu, and Count Dooku, though they all died almost immediately after being dismembered.

    I am all for it! As long as the characters have some warning that it's a possibility, and some warning before it happens, or if it's the penalty for a severe mistake.

    Good: "Okay, in this game there's a chance your characters could lose limbs." "I stick my hand in the mimic." "Are you sure you want to do that?" "Yeah, I see treasure!" (glomp)

    Bad: "You walk into the tavern and a giant eunuch chops off your hand! HAHA!"

    Typical rules apply, obviously.
    "Wit is educated insolence." - Aristotle

  4. #19
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    I think it is a cool idea to lose limbs, but I also don't like the thought that the DM planned it. Unless a player came up to him or her out of the game and asked for it to happen. Its a cool idea if the DM and Player work together on a concept like this, but if a DM plans something like this without the player knowing, then it is poor DMing. Don't punish players. Thats childish. Tell them out of game that you don't like the way they are handling situations. Unless the person is out of control and absolutely shouldn't be playing roleplaying because they don't take it seriously at all. If thats not the case and the person simply isn't playing the way you want them too, then too bad. Maybe you shouldn't be a DM...

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    100% for it

    UIt happens - hits to the head =- loss of [insert mental attribute here]. Characters get scars, lose health, stamina, movement, vision, hearing, hit points/resilience, etc. In my own game system, many things can simply be developed around, other things you just have to live with. It adds flavor to a character.

    The worst i ever had was in DnD, a character with -2 Dex, -1 STR, -3" movement total, -2 Con, a missing finger, blind in one eye, and one testicle (groin shot from a kobold spear); name = Kynar. My abilities i developed around most of the losses, but it took more time. The other characters were better in combat than me for our level (though i still had 180/00 str - started out with a 19, love them half-ogres).

    I found its about an even split though for players. About half think its cool if its done in moderation, the others disagree because its a game and they want to be heroes that nothing bad ever happens to.

    Incarna; Role-Playing Game System
    www.incarna.net
    Running: 3+ campaigns set in single custom milieu world.

  6. #21
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    It all depends on the genre of the game and the temperment of the players.

    I have house rules for dismemberment, but not so much for disfigurement. Seems to me if a character scores a critical hit and causes X amount of damage it should be a significant wound. Heck, I do it for the PCs why not for the villians?

    For example, my player attacked a goblin and in one shot caused 40+ points of damage to his abdomen with his sabre. Since most characters in the system can take up to 100 points and survive I figured any shot over 20% was probably gunna hack a piece of flesh off so I had the goblin's intestines fall from the wound as he lost muscle control and collapsed to the ground.

    In another battle, the player was hit in the thigh for a critical that caused more than his health score. The result was that an artery was cut and he began bleeding out.

    Bottom line, the system allowed for it and the players knew what to expect from their own extreme successes. What's fair for the good guys is fair for the baddies.

    As for disfigurement I tend to leave this for the players unless something horrible happens (take a swim in an acid pool, burned alive). In a sci-fi or fantasy game you can actually reward the PC with cool new toys like replacement limbs, eyes, and so on. Modern and historical games, not so much.

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    I inflict disfiguements and insanity all the time in my games. Sometimes the cure or other method of fixing the problem are avaliable sometimes not. I had a juicier that decided that a great place to put a .40cal hand gun in his mouth for storage. Problem was a punk still had his hand on the grip and the weapon went off. Most of his jaw was blown away and the doctor managed to save his life. Because they were in lazlo he was able to get magically healed. Now I have a cyber knight who was fighting a sword wielding demoness. She removed his right hand. Now they were at sea so it took a while for him to find a bionc replacement. (Many jokes about a peg armed cyber knight in the meantime) I say if it could happen in real life it could happen in the game as long as it is reasonable.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Farcaster View Post
    I want to tackle something that came up recently in my game and I am sure has vexed GM and player alike in many a campaign -- character altering debilitation or disfigurement. This may be something that has an actual game mechanics effect, such as the character loosing a hand, or it might be something that purely affects the image a player has of his character, such as a nasty battle scar. What are your thoughts for or against inflicting permanent damage on a player character?
    I think its pure roleplaying awesome. You now have a chance to play someone who might have some depression or other mental issues around loosing their hand. Playing out how you come to terms with it and how you learn to compensate. I once ran a vampire game where the pretty boy was turned into a Nosferatu (he figured he would be a Toreador but the evil GM was picking clans), not only did he have to deal with the change of human to vampire but he also had to deal with changing from handsome ladies man to hideous leper look. He loved it, it gave the character a depth it wouldn't have had if he was a pretty vampire.
    Last edited by MortonStromgal; 06-12-2009 at 10:30 PM.
    Playing: Pathfinder
    Running: infrequent VtM game


    "I'm beautifully hideous!" - Sven the Nosferatu

  9. #24
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    I'm all for it!

    As for the game effects, it depends on the type of scar. The standard neg to Cha, but the person may be able to pick a bonus to intimidate....

    TS

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    I like to put myself at the whims of the DM. This provides several things:

    1.) I get to be blame free, cause the DM did it. This happened once when a Malkavian of mine (insane vampire) was induced by the DM to attack school children in front of the Caitiff who loved kids during a schizophrenic episode. It resulted in the death of my Malkavian.

    2.) I get to learn if I'm playing with a good DM. This happened when a Nosferatu of mine had the flaw Dark Fate (which means at some point in the campaign you're going to die, and you have nightmares about your death, etc.) The DM did everything almost perfect... dreams, portents, creating paranoia. Then randomly killed off the character in a way that had nothing to do with the established background information.

    3.) It can create awesome character traits. My first Hunter: the Reckoning game, the Storyteller picked our Creeds on how we reacted to the monsters. I ended up becoming something entirely different than I'd wanted, and was very happy with the result.

    4.) It makes you feel like you're more a part of the story, like reading a book, or watching a movie, it's less fun if you KNOW what can and cannot happen to your character.

    So. To you DMs out there. Maim away!
    "Wit is educated insolence." - Aristotle

  11. #26
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    I'm with the "depends on the setting/feel/group," camp. I've done it once, and then it was to enhance the drama. A final, climactic battle between a PC and his (unbeknownst to him) brother ended up with his brother amputating his hand before being struck down. The PC pulled off his opponent's helmet, discovered it was his brother and completely forgot about the missing hand. Another party member is an insanely skilled healer and, with the great rolls and awesome descriptions, I allowed her to reattach it.

    Long story short, yes, I use it, but only rarely and only to highlight and add to the tension in the story.
    Games: Exalted 2e pre-errata (hiatus), Recruiting for a Sci-Fi/Fantasy game (System TBD) in SF south bay area
    The Dolling Blogs (1, 2, 3 & 4)

  12. #27
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    disfigurement, disabling, and usually even death, is either special, significant, or temporary. i usually play high-level fantasy, sci-fi, or heroic games, so we don't see a lot of permanent irreversible damage outside of a plot point or character disadvantage. now, that doesn't mean i don't make the repair costly or difficult somehow. there is usually some form of payment in either time, money, plot, and/or rare reagents of some sort.

    the times that death is not permanent are the times that there is some level loss, or perhaps a reconfiguration of the character due to their experiences on the other side, or some difficult and/or expensive process to effect the return. and if the pcs can, so can the npcs. just when you really thought you had finally killed the big bad nasty overlord....

    i do tend to say that even magical or sci-fi healing leaves its marks. if the healed spot doesn't have some kind of scar or discoloration, then it will be noticeably younger than the rest of the body... which in the case of internal organs, can result in small penalties while the new organs finish growing in situ. after all, you speed up the growth of something unnaturally, then you get weakened tissue. hasn't had time to develop quite properly, after all.

    some of my thoughts on the matter are that... roleplaying is a cooperative game. characters are the player's property, and in many cases, a reflection of some part of the player. mess needlessly with the characters, and you hinder the ability to role-play, as people will naturally be unwilling to invest of themselves into the character. after all, if the character in which a player has vested some significant portion of themselves into is messed with, that's tantamount to messing with the player. law of similarity.

    so i prefer, when possible, to work with the player before enacting such a potentially drastic change on a character on a permanent basis.
    nijineko the gm: AG16, CoS. nijineko the player: AtG, RttToH; . The Journal of Tala'elowar Kiyiik! .
    CrystalBallLite: the best dice roller on the planet! . nijineko the archivist: the 3.x archive

  13. #28
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    I dont mind characters being maimed as long as its not done to spite anyone. I say if you let you wounds heal naturally then the scarring remains.

    I myself had a DnD fighter lose a hand and he wielded a two-handed sword.

    Took a bit of training and a dwarf metalsmith but i was able to compensate by attaching a dagger to my stump with a longsword in the other hand for two-weapon fighting.

    Also had a rogue lose an arm.... picking locks was not so easy after that

  14. #29
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    It's my personal preference to use hit point systems for damage. I made an exception when ran a Twilight 2000 campaign where disfiguring injuries to an NPC did advance the plot. The player characters started as escaped POWs with very few resources. Their only way to strike back at a very well equiped pursuer was by setting traps. It became a running gag, but three games in a row ended with the bad guy suffering a broken limb or a concussion. The chase went on until the PCs were strong enough to confront the bad guy more directly.

    A more descriptive (and debilitating) damage system has a steeper learning curve. I would need to roleplay some scenes designed to establish reasonable expectations (both for the GM and players). How pervasive are battle scarred NPCs? How are battle scars perceived by society? How do the PCs interact with scarred and disfigured NPCs? What social structures exist to promote effective healing? How easily do PCs hack pieces off their foes, and vice versa? Which allies and foes have reputations for inflicting extra carnage? Can the players anticipate the level when their PCs are really at risk?

    The basic conflict appears to be the GM's style for affording the players an opportunity to make a informed choices. How do the players perceive and control the risks associated with combat? Can the players choose to do something extra, but at the risk of their PCs suffering some grave, lasting injury? Might some tangible benefit actually make that level of risk acceptable?

    On the other hand, is griveous injury an endemic and natural consequence of all combat? Is this level of risk an unavoidable part of every combat encounter? How can this risk be reduced? How much extra risk does a superior opponent pose?

    I favor the situation where players can choose heroic self-sacrifice, because it adds positive meaning to an adverse outcome. One further note of caution. Using roleplaying to flesh out the fundamental game mechanics is an indirect way to add house rules. Be up front about it.

    Regardless of the GM's style, disfigurement carries tremendous emotional weight. Lay the groundwork carefully, even if the game has detailed rules for critical hits. Establish acceptable limits before a PC gets slammed. Support the players, both in and out of the game, by making sure the players have some control over the risks.

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    There are no rules in the core for handling loss of body parts, but as a rule you can always impose a -2 to -5 penalty for skill checks and attack rolls that require the use of the said body part.
    The MINDSQUID

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