Monday 23 May 2016

Active Survival, Scars, and Afflictions

Down with Hitpoints!

hinted recently that I wanted to experiment with a 10hp cap on characters. Well I've played around with the figures and I'm going to try 3d6hp, so an average of just over 10hp, and absolute cap of 18hp for high-rollers.

If you're looking at this with general OSR systems as a point of reference, remember that Into the Odd's combat is different.

The fact that every attack causes damage works equally in favour of the PCs, and against them. Odd characters are tougher than Level 1 D&D characters because of what happens at 0hp. In most cases they're going to risk being taken out of the fight, but as long as they aren't abandoned they probably won't die.

A hidden advantage to players is that this damage system is more predictable than D&D. The chances of you getting one-shotted to instant death are pretty low.

So, in my experience, Odd Explorers go down quicker than some D&D Level 1s, but they don't die nearly so easily.

Currently the highest level of character in Into the Odd has 5d6hp, so putting the cap at 3d6hp is in line with a current mid-level character.

So why am I even suggesting this?

Active Survival

When I think of a successful, established explorer, I don't think of someone wading into danger because they know that their HP gives them a good buffer against death. I think of somebody that's seen danger, and knows how to tackle or avoid it. While they have plenty of resources to call on (followers, equipment), some impressive skills (special abilities and knowledge) and even some true oddities at their disposal, they'll still die if they get cocky or let their guard down.

They still fear the monster and the spear trap.

In short, their means of survival are active, not passive. It's not that the world has less chance of impacting them, but when it does they have more tricks to stay alive.

Oddities, especially disposable types like potions and bombs, can get you out of a tight spot.
Hired Help is a great way of keeping you away from death, when a common cause of character death is the TPK.
Becoming Odd is something I want to make more use of, and is the topic of the next post. Expect mutations and other nice things.
Union Rituals can give you all sorts of tricks.
Player Experience and Knowledge is the most proven way to keep a character alive.

With these tricks under their belt, you don't need 5d6hp to be a big player in the world.

Of course, you do get more HP than your starting d6. But for too long they've come without a cost.

Getting Grizzled: Scars and Afflictions

- When you pass a Save against Critical Damage by rolling exactly the number needed, you get a Scar.
- If you roll a duplicate Scar then apply it, if able, and also roll on the Affliction table.
- If you roll a duplicate Affliction then apply it again, if able, or else no additional effect.
- Your first Scar earns you an extra d6hp.
- Your first Affliction earns you your final d6hp
- You only get Scars from real, deadly combat, so forget trying to get your first Scar through training.

Scar Table
Roll the die that was used to deal the significant damage.
1: Shattered Hand - One of your hands is out of use until you get a Long Rest, after which it's fine besides looking a bit gnarled.
2: Shaken Nerves - You stammer, twitch, or shake, unless you use something to calm your nerves.
3: Lasting Pain - A nasty scar that causes intense pain if pressed on.
4: Battle Scars - A random limb (1-4) or half of your face (5-6) is badly scarred and you lose all feeling in it. If you roll this Scar a second time you also lose all movement of the affected area.
5: Gouged Face - A random part of your face is gouged enough to impair its use and look bad. Roll d6. 1: Left Eye, 2: Right Eye, 3: Ears, 4: Nose, 5: Teeth, 6: Jaw.
6: Busted Lung - Your breathing is always loud and you can't hold your breath as long as normal.
7: Extremity Loss - Lose a finger, ear, or other small part of your body that you could live without.
8+: Personality Disorder - People don't like you until you've put in time to bond with them.

Affliction Table
Roll the die the was used to deal the significant damage.
1: Organ Damage - A vital organ is in critical state. If you suffer any other Affliction it gives in, and you die.
2: Fading Senses - One of your senses is slightly dulled now and is completely gone if you suffer another Affliction.
3: Disfigurement - Your injury has left your face totally disfigured.
4: Splintered Mind - A specific element of this injury is stuck in your mind. Lose d6 WIL each time you're forced to relive it.
5: Lost Limb - One of your limbs is torn off or otherwise made useless.
6: Fractured Skull - You have trouble talking and making facial expressions. If you suffer this Affliction a second time your skull is utterly split open and you die.
7: Broken Body - You're reduced to walking speed and require a crutch or cane to go faster than a hobble.
8+: Shadow of Death - You shouldn't have survived that. You have nightmares of your own death until you next have to make a Save against Critical Damage. If you fail it, you die instantly. If you pass it, the nightmares turn to occasional instances.

Design Notes

Scars aren't something you want your character to get, but you certainly want the extra d6hp. I guess it encourages combat, and rewards getting beaten up, but only the first Scar is desirable, and I certainly don't imagine anyone's going to be chasing an Affliction.

Each time you make a Save against Critical Damage there's a 5% chance of a Scar, then varying odds that any further scars will lead to an Affliction. If anything, these percentages sound a little too low on paper, but we'll see how they feel in play. A scar every couple of sessions, and Afflictions being a big deal sounds fine to me.

A side-effect of this system is that, if you make some freak rolls, you could end up with a Scar, Affliction, and the full 3d6hp before the end of your first session. Even if this happens, this isn't a problem, as HP aren't a main driver in the changing feel and scale of the game. The changes are much more a result of finding Treasure and Oddities. A tiny chance of a new explorer coming back from their first expedition as a one-armed bad-ass is fine with me.

The goal is that this will tie Advancement to specific events of the game. I like to think players will remember that they got their second hit die at the same time the Crystal Lion gouged their eye out, or a beating from the headless cultists left them with a permanent stammer.

Impact on Monster and NPC Design

- As a rough guide, give Green NPCs 1d6hp, those that have seen action 2d6hp and a scar (not necessarily from the list), and veterans of action 3d6hp and a noticeable affliction.
- We'll cap Monsters at 18hp and see how we get on. With so many ways to make monsters tough, I'm not worried about them being fragile.

Ability Scores

Static for now, while I test this, but I want something in there to help round out characters that roll crappy scores. For the sake of symmetry, and because I almost did so in the first place, I'll probably be capping them at 18, just like HP, even for monsters.

No Country for Old Explorers

With all these characters picking up Afflictions, they'll get to a point where they want to semi-retire and send a protege out in their place. We'll look at how I handle that, and link into what happens when your character gets increasingly Odd.

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