Saturday, 18 January 2014

Insert Heart Related Pun

Today I yammer on about this damage system I'm experimenting with. Rejected titles; "Have a Heart!", "The Heart of the issue" and "Don't turn around (or you're gonna see my heart Break!!-ing)"

I feel like characters getting hurt is a super important part of role-playing games. More then anything (for me) a player's decisions in-game have to matter and solid consequences have always been a way of reinforcing that. Where there is potential victory and reward, there should be potential failure and loss. There's nothing like marking off damage on your character sheet to reinforce that bum-rushing that ogre wasn't the most prudent course of action you could have taken.

At the moment, Break! has two levels of damage. Your character's first line of defense are their "Hearts".
Yes, those
Heart's are the abstracted level of wounding. These represent a combination of your character's courage, luck and pain threshold. The amount a character has is decided by a combination of their Rank, Calling, and a occasionally a quirk or ability. One is lost on a successful hit, two if the hit exceeds the target's defense score by a margin of five or more.

If a character is  hit or otherwise hurt after they are out of hearts, a character will need to make a roll on the Injury and Death table. Initially the player rolls a d6, but die type scales upward with each successive hit, capping at a d10.

I'm still working out some of the various results on it. I think it will end up looking something like this, though with a bit more elaboration. Certain character types will have different lists as well (Warriords and Bioroids will likely have a Damage and Destruction table, for example)

Injury and Death

  1. Shocked : Next action lost, Though you can still defend yourself
  2. Wounded : -1 penalty to your total Hearts
  3. Injured Arm : Might Aptitude halved, Arm rendered useless
  4. Injured Leg : Movement reduced to "Very Slow", Deftness Saves halved
  5. Grievous Wound: -2 penalty to your total hearts, -1 penalty to all actions
  6. Near Death: Unconscious, will perish if not treated within the next 1d4 rounds
  7. Mutilated: As above, but the character must roll on this table again even if they are saved, using a d4
  8. Mortal Wound: Death is imminent, but the subject receives a final action in the next round
  9. Quiet Death: Subject has been slain without theatrics
  10. Messy Affair: As above, but with theatrics, and likely a lot of blood.
While Hearts are generally restored after combat, injuries remain in till they are treated and heal naturally or cured through magic.

I like this for several reasons. For one, it clearly divorces abstracted damage from permanent wounds. In-combat healing magic and abilities will be downplayed, making room for other kinds of support. Bravery and caution are encouraged in succession - on one hand, they have a lovely safety layer that comes back once things are said and done. On the other, death isn't too far off once they are gone, and even avoiding it could mean injuries will pile up and make life hell. It also adds to the gambling aspect of the game; your hearts are out; do you try to get away with your life, or do you trust in your luck and hope for the best?

A couple of notes;
  • Monsters and Adversaries generally don't use the Injury and Death Table, they just die when they are out of hearts. This means many of them will have more hearts then player characters do - and special techniques or stunts may be required to even hurt colossal monsters such as Dragons and Titans.
  • Hirelings and Ordinary humans will probably only ever have a single heart, so combat is really, really dangerous for them.
  • Traps and non-combat hazards will cause specific injuries, penalties, or in (relatively) rare instances, death. Things like fatigue from travel or hunger will cause heart total penalties.
  • There is a chance I'll reverse this, and instead of knocking out hearts you'll fill in hits, sort of like how White Wolf games handle damage. I'm resisting this only because I really want their to be a little life bar of hearts on the game's character sheet.


  1. I recon some wounds around senses would be good.
    - Impaired vision
    - Loss of hearing

    Liking the idea of wizard/bot specific tables - could have lots of fun with those!

  2. Interesting...still mulling it over in my head. Initial gut reaction was horror, but warming up to the idea the more I think about it.
    I notice in the calling mockups, that each calling had a damage die. Does that somehow play into this ruleset, or is it no longer needed?

    Any hints on how different types of weapons, and magical weapons play into this system?

    1. I'll let Rey answer the mechanical questions but I'd love to know...
      - What didn't you like about it at first?
      - What is making you warm to the idea?

      Anyone else got a strong views on this system?
      What are the pros and cons of traditional systems?
      How would you handle damage in your RPG?

    2. Damage die is likely out. I originally had standard style hit points which is where it factored in.

      Weapons, magical and mundane, have special qualities rather then dictating damage. Heavy weapons may have the opportunity to stun someone, but require two hands, Reach weapons allow you to attack without getting next to a foe, or even stabbing over another combatant. Small things like that.

      Magic weapons will likely allow for crazy abilities; a sword that ignores armor or is able to attack from any range, stuff like that. There are also creatures that can't be hurt (normally) by something that isn't magical.

      In the end, its an experiment. Things being as they are, I may end up back at normal hit points, but I think this is a good system and I am willing to bet on it. I do want to hear other people's input, regardless.

  3. My initial negative reaction was that it removed too much swing from combat and made it a bit too predictable. Knowing that at most, an attack can do 2 hearts of damage and having 3 yourself, you could consider yourself completely safe for a round, and more if you have backup healing to recover from hits. I worried that this level of predictability, and the system required to enforce it, would take away a lot of flavor and craziness that makes rpg combat fun.

    RPG moments that are often recalled with fondness often deal with rolling that clutch 20 followed up by max damage to drop a foe against all odds that by all rights should have crushed the character. My fear is that your heart system takes this away. It may be improbable that a first level character beats an ogre 1v1, but it can happen, and when it does....oh boy, that is something special.

    The use of hearts itself was too video-gamey (no disrespect to your love for it, Zelda is one of my all time favorites).

    Reasons for warming up to it, was realizing that this was just a high level preview of the core idea, there is no reason to assume you will not include other means of adding more flavor back into the combat.

    Also was a desire of mine expressed in an earlier post comment, that I wish early level characters had more survivability. Yes, I realize how at odds this is to my thought expressed above of having more crazy randomness in combat.

    I like that a character can die in a single hit, though I prefer that such an event is very unlikely.
    I also like that outright death is rare, and as long as someone in the party survives, the fallen will likely be saved from actual death. I think the new Hackmaster combat is the closest to perfection in this regard, though wish that some of the other parts of that system were less complex. In case you are unfamiliar, a first level character has roughly 20-30hp, and a sword deals 2d8 damage, armor provides DR (2 for leather) and damage dice "explode" on max values. A character that takes more than 30% of their HP in damage in a single hit must make a save or be taken out for potentially several rounds. In practice it hits all the perfect points I am trying to communicate.

    This is by no means any sort of recommendation to make your system anything like HM, just simply to illustrate my own person preference on combat randomness and survivability. So you can tell where I am coming from.

    whew, I hope that makes sense.

    1. I think this is totally reasonable, and I have the same, contradictory desires.

      Combat is a bit more of a complicated beast - there are stunts, maneuvers, and other things to consider. One things I really want to do is make "I hit the guy" to be a sub-optimal strategy a good bit of the time. As a whole, monsters are strong, they are hardier then you, they strange abilities and trading blows with them is not a good way to stay alive.

      We'll see if I can manage. I mentioned this in a G+ chat, but if we get to testing this out and it doesn't go as planned, I can work backwards to standard style hit points in till I hit something that does.

    2. Look forward to what you put together. And you are 100% right, swing for the fences and dare to innovate! And above all, make the game that you want to play more than any other yourself.
      Do not let a few comments by others make you change something you enjoy and believe in.

    3. Of course - but well thought out opinions are always good to hear. It makes you think of things you would have missed on your own!