Injury Mechanics: A Different Way To Look At It.

In 4e, damage is healed immediately overnight. This fits what HP is in 4e – it’s basically a defeat gauge, the closer you are to defeat, outside your physical condition, the more damage you have taken. Many people don’t like this aspect, and some have come up with their own injury mechanics. Usually modeled after the Disease system, which is the one most accessible way to have a long-lasting penalty in D&D 4e. Thus injury is removed from HP entirely but still there.

I like injury as an RP device. This is probably because of my extensive love for anime and manga, in a sense. In anime and manga, characters can get really hurt and have to fight with a handicap because of it. In Eichiro Oda’s “One Piece”, this pretty much exemplifies the character of Roronoa Zoro, who seems to get stronger the more beat-up he is during a fight. Despite his enemies gaining advantages over him from his injuries, Zoro draws on his inner strength and grit and pulls through heroically in battle.

This feels like a really dramatic situation, but in most RPGs, injuries are negators to action, not enablers of drama. They don’t facilitate drama much because they tend to put you out of it. They make you avoid encounters and danger because they are penalties obviously put on you. Realistic? Sure. Fun? I don’t think so.

I myself came up with some injury rules that have you recovering over time using Endurance checks in a skill challenge fashion (making a single check in the skill challenge each day you spend injured, until you are okay). You can still fight and adventure.

I liked my take on them at first, because analyzing 4e, I found that penalties to damage are less painful and restraining to characters than penalties to attack rolls, and using that, and the bloodied state (and the convention of becoming “first bloodied” in an encounter) you can have penalizing injury without having helpless characters.

As long as a 4e character has its full attack bonus and can connect, it can fulfill some function in combat and the player still feels good. To this system, I added using Endurance checks to gain benefits from overcoming injury, like extra action points. This, I thought, allowed me to use that trope I liked so much.

But lately I’ve been looking at it a different way.

In D&D 3.5 edition, “combat advantage” in the sense we know it now was a penalty upon the enemy. The enemy lost its Dexterity bonus to AC. In D&D 4th Edition, “combat advantage” is a bonus for the player. The player gains a +2 to attack rolls. Both of these simulate more or less the same thing. They just flip around who gets what. A penalty to AC and a bonus to attack rolls, in this situation, can both represent more or less the same thing.

So I was thinking – why are injuries penalties to the player? Why not have them be bonuses…to the enemy?

Here’s some ideas:

•Instead of the player losing a healing surge for a certain amount of time to represent being injured, enemies could gain a +2 bonus to damage attacking that player.

•Instead of the player taking a penalty to defenses from being injured, enemies could gain a +2 bonus to attack rolls against him/her.

•Instead of the player being dazed upon being bloodied, an enemy could make a free basic attack against it when the player first becomes bloodied. Rather than the player losing actions, the enemy gains actions against the player. Or maybe the enemy gains the ability to deal its static damage modifier as a minor action attack against the player (save ends).

•Instead of the player being slowed due to being injured, the enemies can make opportunity attacks even if it shifts or would otherwise not draw them from movement, or get an immediate interrupt to shift away from that player, or a small defense bonus.

•Instead of the player having a penalty to damage rolls, an enemy could have Resist 1 to all damage by the player. It is functionally worse than a damage penalty sometimes, depending on the nature of the first penalty…but it sounds better than a penalty.

•The creature could gain +1d6 or +2d6 damage if it has combat advantage against the player, this extra damage representing how the enemy is taking advantage to attack the player’s weakness (an injured arm or something).

So what do you think? Regardless of whether or not you think injury mechanics are a legitimate device (I know your pain, I myself don’t really like them as much as I like what they represent), do you think framing them in this different way makes things more dramatic and enabling than penalizing the players directly?

Do you think players would be more encouraged to play with the handicap if the handicap were this abstract and indirect? Do you think a mixture of direct and indirect effects to represent different injuries might be a better way to go, or that penalties should be excised entirely?

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Categories: Campaigns, D&D 4e, Fluff/Inspiration, Meta, RPG | 11 Comments

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11 thoughts on “Injury Mechanics: A Different Way To Look At It.

  1. Anarkeith

    I think this is a brilliant interpretation of the mechanic. It also has the benefit of being the GMs responsibility/option to apply. Hurt your left arm? Only attacks from that side get the advantage.

    There are probably too many combat condition modifiers in 4e for the average player, but for enthusiasts it’s a great option.

  2. mikeloop86

    I like this more for the fact that its something the player doesn’t have to actively track. He’ll still be aware that he’s ‘injured’, and know it puts him at a tactical advantage, but he won’t be the one putting the penalty on HIS attack rolls, or counting away from HIS surges. This, to me, is what would enable (or rather, keep from inhibiting) a player from continuing his usual ballsy playstyle, cause he doesn’t have to actively worry about the penalty keeping his attack from landing.

    Out of all the injuries mechanics, I think the one I’d be most likely to use would be the +2 to enemy damage received, cause to me it would equate more with the ideal of being “injured” in the fantasy drama setting. You’re not easier to hit, but it counts more then it normally does, and you’ll burn through your surges quicker then you would if you were at full health. Yeah, I like that.

  3. Telicis

    I think these are a great alternative to what you had created before, though I’m hesitant to say I like them more… Mostly just because it seems to just shift the weight of the record keeping to the DM, and an irritated DM is always worse than a little more bookkeeping on the players part.

    I agree wholeheartedly with the concept and what you’re doing though; it fits much more neatly!

  4. Nice! Great idea, damn… you know I think I’ll be using these. Being slowed and dazed sucks ass in the game, the ideas of shifting draws opportunity attacks(slowed) and granting an opportunity attack after becoming bloodied(dazed) makes the game much more tactically interesting.

    Definitely going to use these, at least to try them out.

  5. I like your thinking outside the box on this, but I do see a major drawback. Making a injury for a Character result in a bonus for the NPCs and Monsters is much more severe a penalty than just giving the Character a penalty.

    As my old gaming buddy used to tell me, when I DM’d – “You got us outnumbered a million to one!”

    Characters get one action typically per combat round, but there may be dozens of NPCs and Monsters milling about and each of them get an action – the DM always has as many critters to play with as he feels needful for an encounter.

    If the injury acts as a penalty, the Character will only gets nailed with it once per round – but if that same injury grants a bonus for the bad guys instead, that Character may experience that detriment due to injury many times over. I see this as inherently frustrating for the player, especially if the injury lasts multiple rounds, granting the “bonus” way too many times to the DM’s evil horde.

  6. @Telicis and Neuro: Yes, I unfortunately cannot account for bad, combative DMs in my logic. Since this is intended as a device to generate some drama and excitement (and challenge), I would hope DMs wield it carefully and understand its consequences. It is indeed inherently unbalanced. It can indeed be greatly exploited.

    But I believe it gives players more a fighting chance than the Dazing and Stunning mechanics in 4e, or having a -4 penalty to all your attack rolls, and things like that. Those things make you feel helpless, which I find is worse than feeling handicapped. A character to whom enemies deal +2 damage, however, can just expend resources to try to kill enemies faster. Now, I’ve seen DMs bandy about diseases and injuries which daze a character for very extended periods of time. This I find is more frustrating than taking a bit of extra damage.

    As well, it’s also easier for a DM to downplay the factors of injury if they’re on his side of the aisle. If he thinks he’s beating up a player too much? Hit another one! Or downplay your own damage.

    This is the reason why the injury mechanics aren’t a main rule – they’re kind of bad regardless of form.

    In spite of that, for me, and I write under the logic that not all DMs are terrible, which is not how things seem to work nowadays, I’ve found a less pernicious way to go about it.

    With that said, it’s also ridiculous easy to just say the injury bonus is granted only to the first monster to attack you this round and that solves everything.

  7. On that note, my own personal use of this proposition is here:

    I didn’t limit it more because I wanted it to be as flexible as possible, so the per encounter or per round and such ideas are presented but not codified. I know the trend is that DMs suck and should be sledgehammered into the course of action which you as the writer find necessary for the game to succeed. However, I like to have a bit of faith in the DM, and nudge him in the direction I want to. I like flexibility.

  8. One thing you have to be concerned with in any penalizing system is the spiral of death issue. Whether the penalties are from the players side (harder to hit things, less resources) or from the monsters side (monsters hit more often or do more damage although I like this idea a lot more than the obverse), it can cause the players to end up in holes they can’t dig out of and death becomes inevitable.

    The difference between any other form of storytelling (fiction, anime, action movies) is that the storyteller has full control of the dice, in a PnP game the dice can destroy the best laid plans of GM and Player. :)

    But by doing this from the DM’s side he can certainly use his experience to gauge when to start easing off on the penalties by not applying the bonuses to the monsters.

  9. I understand that issue. I said on Wizbook:

    “D&D combat needn’t be fatal. In my Spirits of Eden Campaign Setting I try to reinforce that everyone knows there’s karmic consequences to rampant murder. This is a long shot away from D&D’s longstanding “death to all things in the monster manual, if I want their loot that is” tradition, but under that context, a death spiral sort of doesn’t exist. There are ways to defeat PCs and reinforce that defeat without having them fire up the character builder again and burning their old pieces of paper.”

    Not only that, like diseases, there would be ways to remove them faster. Remove Disease isn’t altogether very difficult to cast, for example, and Injuries work like the disease track (at least in my implementation). So a DM who is afraid of a death spiral can add a ritual to remove injuries. Or he can have it so injuries don’t happen all that often. In my system, it’s very rare for an injury to occur when a player or DM isn’t ready for it. Dice are never involved in that decision.

  10. I don’t think the issue is good or bad DM’s – it’s about simple statistical probability.

    Typical 4e combats are designed with there being more monsters than PCs – a portion of these are minions, true, but have nearly the same hit & damage capability of their full hp brothers.

    If it comes down to penalizing one player vs. handing multiple monsters a bonus to hit and/or damage that player, I think it’s a safer bet to just penalize the character.

    Of course, you can fudge behind the screen, but then if it comes to having to do that to save the injured character, why did you bother inflicting the injury in the first place?

  11. For the drama of it – like I said, I’m a nonstandard D&D DM, I care a lot about the feel of things more than I care about letting the dice fall where they may (though that’s not to say I trivialize dice, I just am not afraid of altering as mood befits, or with my player’s rotten luck, they’d have been dead a few times over by now) or defeating my players all the time. I’d say I’m a literary/cinematic DM, I care about more than math. Again, not to say I trivialize it. I just don’t care about it when I propose house rules, as I’m already breaking it.

    Fighting a whole combat with a handicap feels cool, even if you don’t die at the end (especially if you don’t). It’s like Minions – killing a bunch of minions makes you feel like you did something worthy despite their being a bunch of statistically handicapped failures at living, as far as monsters go.

    To me the players can work as a team to help that character out and prevent them from being taken that much advantage of, in a combat with all things neutral. In a combat with a jerk DM who has imposed this large bonus on all his critters and exploits it to the max, I can’t really account for that in anything I propose, as I believe those DMs just shouldn’t be played with. To you they may seem natural creatures, to me they are abominations.

    Like I said, you and I fundamentally disagree. Penalties to me feel a lot worse than bonuses to monsters. And since not all those minions will gang up on the injured character all then I don’t see it as a huge problem. So I feel the issue is a bad DM. If he has every minion bum rush the injured character, I’d say he’s not thinking about the consequences of what he’s done, which you documented and for which I am thankful for, but they’re ultimately not the rules’ problem as far as I see. I’d also say that even if uninjured, a character constantly targeted by the majority of a combat is going to get killed regardless, that’s just how 4e is. Focusing fire is deadly at all times. Even two on one situations are very deadly, and those are incredibly common.

    So we’ll agree to disagree. If you’ve taken a look at my implementation of the concept, as I pointed above in the Eden Variant Rules Page, a lot of the bonuses are relatively minor anyway.

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