Mortal Mechanics II

Hi folks, Gary here again with my DM hat on to talk about mechanics to make your games a bit more tense. Last time was 1) Currency; this time:

  • Wounds

I’m just going to say it straight-up:

Being an inch away from death, having someone magically heal you for 6 seconds and then be able to get up and fight as if perfectly well – that’s bullshit. I like my characters having the ever-present threat of death, injury or permanent disablement hanging over their heads. Without consequences why bother with the whole combat section of the game? When your character’s life comes down to a roll of the die, you get this powerful (hopefully positive) tension between all players. Whatever the outcome, it’s going to make for an amazing moment.

When my players get taken to below half health, they get hurt. Temporary blindness, fear, exhaustion, a cut across the ear… they roll a die and I tell them how they’re hurt. Not only does it make sense – they’re hurt so they should actually be, you know, hurt – but also it makes it more interesting when your fencer suddenly can’t wield their weapon, your barbarian runs off in fear, or even if one of your party valiantly blinds an enemy and turns a hopeless fight around.

When they get taken to 0 HP, they take some stat damage, not permanent (I’m not that cruel) but long-lasting enough so they feel the effects for the rest of the day.

When they get hit at 0, it starts to get juicy. I don’t do death saving throws. The character takes 1 point of semi-permanent CON damage as well as one other effect drawn at random from a deck. This happens any time they take any amount of damage when at 0 HP

I’m talking broken bones, concussion, PTSD and so forth. Serious damage that takes at least a week of healing to fix – but will always leave a residual effect. Characters might permanently have a limp, missing finger or nightmares.

Exactly how is works:

When a named character is bloodied for the first time in an encounter: Roll 1d6+1d4, the d6 determines the status condition, the d4 determines how many rounds it lasts

  1. Blinded
  2. Deafened
  3. Frightened
  4. Paralysed
  5. Exhausted (+1 level exhaustion)
  6. Stunned

When a named character is reduced to 0hp for the first time in an encounter, roll 1d6 which determines which stat is reduced by 1. This debuff ends when the character heals back to their maximum HP

  1. Strength
  2. Dexterity
  3. Constitution
  4. Intelligence
  5. Wisdom
  6. Charisma

Each time a named character is hit at 0 HP they roll 1d8 and draw an injury card from that category. Each card represents a wound dealing 1 point of constitution damage and 1 point of damage to the named stat. Each card has 8 tock-boxes, each time you take a long rest with another character actively tending to you, you can check off a box. When all 8 boxes are ticked you are healed of all its effects; but keep the card (wound) as the scar will stay with you. If you get taken to 0 constitution, you immediately die.

  1. Roll twice more, re-rolling any 1’s
  2. Strength
  3. Dexterity
  4. Constitution
  5. Intelligence
  6. Wisdom
  7. Charisma
  8. No card – lucky escape!

I’m still honing the system and will be play-testing a few wound-cards over the next few months and will post them here so you can use them in your own games!

Nearly dying should be a life-altering event. A person’s defeats, as much as their triumphs, shape who they are.


A quick note:

I mean no disrespect or to make light of any disability. When I say that characters being injured is interesting, I mean it looking from two perspectives: from a gameplay approach, i.e. how does what my character can do change; and from an improving oneself as a human perspective: I am putting myself in the position of this person (who will undoubtedly have aspects of my own personality) who needs to process having this terrible event happen to them. I need to really and honestly think about how I/my character would react events because I believe all stories and games that are story/character focussed are us trying to figure out what it is to be human and D&D can make us think complexly and deeply about people.

You can listen to The Mortal Path on iTunes and Podbean!

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