USR Wednesdays: Health Variants

Hit points may be the most significant “mechanic” that roleplaying games introduced to the world of games. Before Dungeons & Dragons, game characters were either “up” or “down” (think of Pac-Man’s lives or even the one-hit armies of chess). And while there’s no exact agreement on precisely what hit points represent — Physical health? Willingness to keep fighting? Raw toughness? — there’s many ways to represent them.

Domino Writing-style USR calls for a lot of hit points: your character’s maximum Action stat plus maximum Wits stat (both physical and mental fortitude). Standard USR replaces maximums with a die roll from both stats, but the idea is the same. Here’s a few ideas to change the way health is used in your game. Note that most of these variants are best in a game with lots of combat, where the health amount will change repeatedly.

The original medusa.
The stunned condition at work.

Conditions


This comes directly from the most recent editions of Dungeons & Dragons: other effects besides straight hit point loss; things like being stunned, poisoned, or even charmed. They lend themselves very well to simple effects in combat, or occasionally negative Specialisms. Here’s some of the most common:

Confused: Before the character starts his or her turn, roll a d6:

1-2 — the character can act normally

3-4 — the character loses his or her turn, babbling incoherently

5-6 — the character causes 1d6 damage to him or herself from shock, accidentally bumping into something, or for some other reason

Fascinated: The character stays in place, and takes no actions this turn. Any obvious threats to the character immediately end the fascination. This includes a magical charm like hypnosis or even seduction.

Frightened: More severe than shaken, the character suffers a -2 penalty on all appropriate die rolls until he or she gets away from what was frightening.

Poisoned: The character suffers a -1 penalty to all appropriate rolls until the poison is eliminated (by waiting it out or by taking an antidote). This can also represent disease.

Shaken: Less severe than frightened, the character suffers a -1 penalty on his or her next appropriate die roll.

Stunned: The character skips his or her next turn in combat. This can be extended to more than one turn to represent things like being tangled in vines or even frozen in ice.

Decreasing Dice

One of the “unrealistic” things about hit points, especially in older games, is how they don’t have an effect until the end. A hero with 50 hit points can fight just as well as one with 3 hit points — but they both keel over at 0 HP. A simple way to debilitate characters (and monsters) a little bit is by decreasing dice: Each time a character loses 10 hit points from the character’s maximum, they also decrease stat dice by one rank, from D12 to D10 to D8 to D6 to D4. This decrease goes away by one rank as the character heals.

For example, a hero with 22 hit points and an Action stat of D10 who falls to 12 hit points now has an Action stat of D8. At 2 hit points, his Action stat is D6. If he goes back to 3 hit points, it returns to a D8, and at 13 or more hit points, he’s back to his original D10 Action stat.

Usually this effect only applies to a single stat (say, Action if the character is attacked by a life-draining ghoul, or Ego if a character’s honor and status in society is completely obliterated).

This variant can also be used to represent serious injury. The D20 versions of the Star Wars Roleplaying game and the Palladium system games like “Rifts” use something like this, where serious damage has long-lasting effects. Hit points can be healed fully (or at least up to half the character’s original hit points) after every combat encounter, but serious wounds — as judged by the game master — result in a lower die for a stat, and stick around until an appropriate time in the story.

Flashback

This comes from the Savage Worlds RPG: A character can heal back to full health at any time — as long as they narrate their recovery. It can be a scene where the character is sitting and talking about his or her past, and how it led to today. It can fill in the gaps in the narrative, explaining how something happened that the players haven’t yet heard about (think of a heist movie, where you get filled in on how part of the caper was pulled off after the action is over). The goal is to add more to the story and the world of the characters. The reward for the player is to heal back to full hit points.

USR Wednesdays: Solitaire Role Playing ― Part 2

When I buy board games, I look for ones that can be played solo, as most of my gaming is done that way. There’s a few games that are designed for a single player, mostly variants of traditional games like… Solitaire (with a deck of playing cards), or Yahtzee.

But more often, and more thematically, there’s co-operative games, where two to five players can take part, working as a team to defeat the game itself. Usually it’s a puzzle that needs to be solved in a limited amount of time, or there’s a set of instructions for monsters and obstacles that the players follow to simulate the opposition. If every player has one character on the same team, it’s easy enough to have one player as all the characters on the team, as long as you keep track of who’s doing what. That’s what I’m trying to add to Domino Writing-style USR here.

These two options build on the solitaire rules introduced last week, and expand them so you can play USR, or any tabletop RPG, without using a game master.

Co-Operative Play (no Game Master)

The rule for solitaire role playing (do what makes sense for whomever you’re playing as at that moment) can also be used for co-op role playing, where all players are taking the role of adventurers, and there is no game master.

If an adventure or monster description doesn’t provide an enemy’s combat tactics, assume its tactic is, “Move into position to make the most effective attack and fight until death.” The most effective attack is usually the one that does the most damage against the greatest immediate threat, though some enemies will take a few turns to enhance their abilities with spells or other powers before attacking.

This will require a high Wits roll.
The recovery action at work with a +2 for the professional medical assist.

The Recovery Action

To make an adventure more of a challenge, the player or players may want to limit the amount of healing available during the adventure. In combat (which starts when the first Initiative roll is made and ends when the last enemy is defeated), characters can use healing spells, medical kits and other healing available to them as described in the game’s normal rules.

However, characters cannot heal outside of combat, except for a Recovery action: The character instantly regains half his or her total Hit Points, round up. Recovery can be done only once per character per game session. For an adventure that lasts several days of game time, a character also regains all health each morning when he or she wakes up.

The Recovery action means characters can’t expect to eventually fully heal from even the worst combats, and means the player or players may even fail to finish adventure successfully, and lose the game.