the roles of damage in RPGs

edited July 2010 in Story Games
I've been thinking about damage in RPGs, and the different roles it can play. Here's the ones that have occurred to me:

1. DAMAGE MAKES YOU LESS EFFECTIVE: for instance, Burning Wheel, and any other game that applies penalties as you start taking damage. It's a death-spiral, since it makes it harder to not get more injured, but sometimes that's what you want for genre reasons and/or gameplay dynamics (e.g. BW or The Rustbelt). Interestingly, BW does this without doing no. 3 below -- taking more hits doesn't really get you closer to suffering a mortal wound.

2. DAMAGE MAKES YOU MORE EFFECTIVE: like most action movies -- as the protagonist gets beat up, he gets more and more dangerous. Blood Red Sands allows you to do this, although it's not a given, since damage can take the form of traits. Sorcerer does it in conjunction with no. 1 -- using the "Will trick" to overcome incapacitating damage, you can actually end up with more dice to roll than you would have if you were fine.

3. DAMAGE EDGES YOU TOWARDS THE POINT WHERE THE FICTION DEMANDS YOUR DEATH: hit points do this, especially if you apply the loss of hit points as something other than actual wounds and blood loss, like many OSR folks: HP loss means getting tired and sore, up until you lose those last few, and that's when it means getting a sword through your gut. The other prong ("Blood") of Rustbelt's two-pronged damage system also does this.

4. DAMAGE PROMPTS EVENTS OR CHOICES: Poison'd: when you suffer a deadly wound, make a bargain for your life or die. DitV: the Fallout and healing rules. 3:16: flashbacks.

Those are all I can think of, from the games I've had exposure to.

What I haven't seen: damage changing your effectiveness, without making it more or less -- that is, changing categories rather than (or perhaps in conjunction with) magnitude. I'm really interested in this idea. Anybody seen it anywhere?

Comments

  • I guess PDQ's "getting punched in the girlfriend" counts as example no.4?

    I think D&D 4E actually does something like changing your effectiveness. I haven't played yet so I don't really know, but getting damaged can give you the Bloodied condition, which I believe unlocks new options for you. I could be wrong.
  • Posted By: TeataineI guess PDQ's "getting punched in the girlfriend" counts as example no.4?
    Hehe, I'm talking strictly about physical trauma inflicted on characters, and what that actually means in mechanical & gameplay terms.

    I'd like to hear more about this "Bloodied" condition. Somebody tell me!
  • Well, if I remember correctly, in PDQ, if my dude stabs your dude with a sword (which is physical trauma), you can choose to take that damage off one of your traits (including "My girlfriend") which triggers hooks and events and whatever (which is a mechanical thing). So for me, that falls under no. 4.

    Here's a RPGnet thread about the Bloodied condition. It's the best I can find right now: click
  • The "bloodied" condition simply means you are at half your hit points or less. There are no innate effects to that condition, however, certain monsters and characters have abilities that are usable once that condition is established. In addition, there are some powers that are boosted slightly if you are bloodied.

    For example, on a hit, this power deals additional damage if the target is bloodied.

    Hit: 2[W] + Strength modifier damage. If the target is bloodied, the attack deals extra damage equal to your Constitution modifier.

    This is one of the "unlock powers":

    Requirement: You must be bloodied.

    Effect: Until the end of the encounter, you gain a +2 bonus to damage rolls. In addition, while you are bloodied, you gain regeneration 2.
  • Posted By: TeataineWell, if I remember correctly, in PDQ, if my dude stabs your dude with a sword (which is physical trauma), you can choose to take that damage off one of your traits (including "My girlfriend") which triggers hooks and events and whatever (which is a mechanical thing). So for me, that falls under no. 4.
    But the effect isn't actually getting stabbed with a sword, is it? Or does the fact that you've suffered a wound have to intersect with how the affected trait gets compromised?
  • edited July 2010
    --edit-- mightily crossposted --/edit--

    Hit points in 4E are not strictly damage. They have never been in at least 25 years I think, but it's now very clear from the way the game works. Your effectiveness in the game generally remains the same until you have 1HP and you start being actually hurt when you hit zero HPs. But yeah, if you want to abstract the concept to "a resource that gets depleted by combat" it's the same more or less...

    Gregor, though, has a point: there are some races or classes (for PCs) like the Shifters that have some features that trigger on bloodied status. In the same way some feats only activate when bloodied, or some magic objects that can be used only if bloodied (or not bloodied). Also, several monsters have bloodied effects.

    So basically damage to the HPs in 4E acts both as a measure of 'staying in combat' and as a pacing mechanic: it determines when some effects in game can take place.


    I'll add another case: Damage only exists as descriptive color and has no mechanical representation. In Don't Rest Your Head you can be beat up pretty badly and lose conflicts and apart from describing the bad stuff that happens to you and other people around you there is nothing on the character sheet measuring damage. The only consumable resources are exhaustion and discipline, but those are not reduced by combat (not more or less than any other consequence of other kinds of conflicts, and not tied to success or failure of those).
  • Posted By: renatoram
    I'll add another case:Damage only exists as descriptive color and has no mechanical representation.
    Good call. I thought about it but hadn't actually played any games that worked that way.
  • <blockquote><cite>Posted By: renatoram</cite>I'll add another case:<em>Damage only exists as descriptive color and has no mechanical representation</em>. In Don't Rest Your Head you can be beat up pretty badly and lose conflicts and apart from describing the bad stuff that happens to you and other people around you there is nothing on the character sheet measuring damage. The only consumable resources are exhaustion and discipline, but those are not reduced by combat (not more or less than any other consequence of other kinds of conflicts, and not tied to success or failure of those).</blockquote>

    I've been working on some game design ideas where damage is totally fictional. I need to check out Don't Rest Your Head. That's twice it's been brought up in conversation today.

    Thanks.
  • "Bloodied" in D&D can be #1, or #2, depending on your race/class and what monsters you're facing. Some character builds benefit a lot from being Bloodied. Others not at all. Some monsters benefit a lot by you being bloodied. Other not at all. Bloodied can even be both 1 and 2 at the same time: your shifter barbarian gets bonuses while Bloodied, but the monster you're facing gets bonuses against Bloodied enemies.
    Posted By: Marshall BurnsWhat I haven't seen: damage changing your effectiveness, without making it more or less -- that is, changingcategoriesrather than (or perhaps in conjunction with) magnitude. I'm really interested in this idea. Anybody seen it anywhere?
    I haven't seen it anywhere specific, but it sounds like interesting design space to explore. Perhaps once you're injured, you can choose more high risk/high reward options (maybe the only way to win a fight or to kill a character is via such high risk/high reward options). Drastic moves are only encouraged or possible once you reach certain thresholds of hurt.
  • Posted By: Marshall BurnsPosted By: TeataineWell, if I remember correctly, in PDQ, if my dude stabs your dude with a sword (which is physical trauma), you can choose to take that damage off one of your traits (including "My girlfriend") which triggers hooks and events and whatever (which is a mechanical thing). So for me, that falls under no. 4.
    But theeffectisn't actually getting stabbed with a sword, is it? Or does the fact that you've suffered a wound have to intersect with how the affected trait gets compromised?

    Basically its both 3 and 4. It's hit points since it doesn't make you less effective at fighting but if you get hit hard enough you're out. Its also story engaging. You choose what gets hit so you hand over to the GM the story hook to effect that relationship, item, reputation, etc.
  • In Primetime Adventures damage is all color.

    Tenra Bansho Zero has a thing where damage makes you more effective. Andy can obviously pontificate.
  • Lemme rephrase -- in PDQ when you get attacked with a sword but take damage to your girlfriend, does your guy actually get cut by a sword, in the fiction? And does the fact that he's cut have anything to do with the girlfriend?
  • Off the top of my head, yes and no. You are stabbed in the fiction but don't lose any effectiveness (if you don't actually damage the stat that you use for combat). But you *do* get closer to be knocked down because sooner or later you won't have any more traits to damage.
  • Well, that's sort of the thing that bugs a lot of people. Yes, in the fiction, you're stabbed with the sword. Mechanically, one of your traits gets damaged. It does not have to be one directly related to your physical health and the sword wound however.

    It is mechanical damage. Is that what we're talking about? Your character traits get damaged - as a result of a violent action by another character - depleting your player resources.
  • Posted By: Teataine
    It is mechanical damage. Is that what we're talking about?
    Pretty much -- I'm just trying to get a clear picture of what actually happens.
  • Posted By: Jason MorningstarIn Primetime Adventures damage is all color.
    The same can be said for Fiasco, right?
  • edited July 2010
    We replace Damage as Death Spiral (you become less effective as you are hurt) with Damage as Consequence Spiral (GM becomes more effective in unleashing story consequences while your effectiveness remains the same as you are hurt) in many of our game hacks.

    Mouse Guard also works this way in a more subtle way. The more your Disposition decreases in a conflict, the larger the compromise you must give even when you win.
  • Posted By: Jason MorningstarTenra Bansho Zero has a thing where damage makes you more effective. Andy can obviously pontificate.
    It's actually just a combination of #2 and #3 from the first post. Heck, actually a little #4 as well:

    Taking damage makes you make some little choices: Do I take it in "hit points"? Do I take it in "wounds?" (the player decides). If "wounds", do I take a Light Wound? A Heavy Wound? Am I Dying? (again, the player taking damage decides this, it takes a while for folks to get their brains around this). That's just the dressing. (#4)

    The more damage you take (wounds), the more powerful you become. If you check the "dead box", you're generally rolling 30-50% more dice for every action you take from that point on, forever, until you decide you want to heal. "You're strong, I'll give you that. But THIS is my Final Form!" (#2)

    #3 is the most interesting: Players basically decide if their characters die or not. Their character Will Not Die unless they check off that "Dead Box", basically saying "I'm open to the possibility of my PC's death". If they don't check off that box, they can be taken out of the fight, rolled over, taken captive, or fail to meet all their goals... but they'll stay alive.

    When I got through translating those rules, back in 2006, I believe I had to change my pants. I've incorporated a version of the above into many other "normal" games I ran, including totally rewriting the damage scale from L5R.

    However, it doesn't change type/magnitude as per the question in the original post.

    -Andy
  • Also, it's neither here nor there, but I just really can't get into death-spiral games anymore. I usually just hack it so there is no death spiral or whatever.

    It doesn't emulate fiction/cinema, where the hero takes a sword to the heart then somehow still stands up to kill like Everyone.

    If doesn't emulate reality, where the hero gets shot in the thigh and then basically can't walk, move, or do anything other than fall over and scream in pain or pass out.

    It sorta emulates a squishy place in the middle, that emulates a kind of Cinematic Reality. These days, I kinda prefer one or the other.

    -Andy
  • In Microlite20 (which I've never played and only read a couple of times) you spend Hit Points to cast spells. It seems like that would mean that damage both increases and decreases your effectiveness -- if you're damaged by your opponent, your effectiveness is decreased (not only are you closer to death, but now you can't cast as many spells), but if you damage yourself, your effectiveness goes up, in that the more damage you give yourself, the higher level spell you can cast.
  • In my game River and Lakes, 'damage' is primarily a means of keeping score in the current conflict. It doesn't fall in to 1-3, and I'm not sure it counts as 4 exactly.

    But on the other hand, if you stake injury on the outcome, it becomes 1.
    Or if you stake death, it becomes 3, more or less.

    I've not got Dead of Night, but I played it at Continuum and it had an interesting twist on 3- when you run out of- whatever it was called- you lose your plot immunity and can now be killed off. But, the wrinkle is that you can spend it voluntarily for a number of purposes, so you can choose to endanger your character for some other gain.
  • Damage is also about:
    - risk and excitement (qv Trail of Cthulhu where combat gas a random element but clue finding does not)
    - limiting the amount of fighting you can do

    Damage in FATE implementations is a strange beast, to me anyway. You could have a condition that is Slight Papercut or Massive Head Trauma but in a scene mechanically they have the same effect, either can be tagged once for free by your enemies (or even yourself if you engineer the correct circumstances 'My Massive Head Trauma prevents me from understanding what is going on so I'm not afraid of Cthulhu, +2 to my roll'). One will last more scenes than the other. It gets you away from the death spiral, certainly, but somehow I've yet to become comfortable with it.
  • Posted By: Nathan H.Posted By: Jason MorningstarIn Primetime Adventures damage is all color.
    The same can be said for Fiasco, right?
    On any topic there's always a great game other than your own to point out.
  • edited July 2010
    In my game Pure Shoujo, being injured is perhaps what you are asking about. If a character of yours is injured you choose to take a +2 bonus, a -2 penalty, or no modifier on any of his rolls, as you deem appropriate. There is a character removal mechanic, but it is entirely independent of injury, i.e. you are just as likely to lose a character to transferring to another school as dying from injury.

    - Mendel

    PS: Jason, I'm sure. I'm just 1) really tired, and 2) trying to address Marshall's original question about a state change independent of overall good or bad.
  • Posted By: Mr. Teapot"Bloodied" in D&D can be #1, or #2...
    It can also be something that's not on the list:

    #5 DAMAGE MAKES OTHERS MORE EFFECTIVE AGAINST YOU. For example, the "If the target is bloodied, the attack deals extra damage" example mentioned above.

    You could argue that this the same as #1, but I don't think it is. I can't think of any games where this is the sole way damage works, though.
  • Posted By: AndyIt doesn't emulate fiction/cinema, where the hero takes a sword to the heart then somehow still stands up to kill like Everyone.
    Depends on what kind of fiction you're reading. Frex, people typically slow down a lot when they get shot in a Stephen King book.
  • I was nodding along and almost forgot that in FATE3 games, if you take an extreme consequence, i.e. the highest form of damage other than death, it results in you changing your Aspects permanently. You can be blinded or have an artificial robot hand or whatever, but it has at least semi-permanent change on your character sheet.
  • edited July 2010
    Dark continent has location damage which effects stats linked to that location.
    example Head/perception chest/Endurance arm/Strength Leg/ Agility
    Damage is shared between the wounds counter and the associated Stat. Stats are linked to skills so you become less effective.
    Also there are different types of damage, Wounds and stun, some weapons cause both damage types.
    Stun is recovered at the end of combat. Wounds are recovered depending on location days weeks months.
    Quite a rules game but quite enjoyable and full of Dark continent goodies.
    http://index.rpg.net/display-entry.phtml?mainid=332
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