Codified Rules in RPG’s

Some tabletop role-playing games can have a LOT of rules and mechanics. We can often use them or not. Pick what you want, leave what you don’t. But! There may be advantages to codifying rules for your rpg. 


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DigitalHobbit comments on Healing

Just finished listening to this episode. Great discussion!

I’ve been able to appreciate the different takes on healing implemented by the various systems I’ve played. As always, a lot of it comes down to the vibe you’re going for, and perhaps the genre you’re emulating.

I generally enjoy systems where harm results in lasting consequences that need time for recovery. I feel like Blades in the Dark and Fate both handle this very well, for example. In contrast, for a game that generally errs more on the simulationist side, D&D’s hit points pool can feel a bit silly at times. Everyone is at perfect fighting capacity until they hit 0 points (at which point death is on the table), and a long rest (at least in 5e) restores everyone back to full hit points. While I’m mostly ok with this abstraction, it means that characters are rarely encouraged to think of longer term consequences, which would force them to make smarter or more cautious decisions.

In my upcoming Hot Springs Island campaign, I’m going for a different vibe. Perhaps more gritty, but also less balanced, and with more meaningful long term consequences in general. So I decided to introduce some house rules around healing, which I mostly lifted from Into the Unknown (a fairly straightforward take on O5R; poorly edited but with some good ideas):

Characters can only spend 1 HD on short rests (2 if they use a healing kit)

Characters only regain 1 spent HD on long rests; they can spend as many HD as they like and roll these with advantage

Failed Death Saving Throws don’t clear when stabilized; expending 1 HD also clears 1 failed Death Saving Throw

I feel like these house rules should perfectly support the vibe I’m going for. For example, characters should think twice about unnecessarily engaging in combat. Perhaps they’ll opt for a stealthy approach, use diplomacy, or find other ways to achieve their goals instead. Otherwise, they’ll have to spend significant days (especially at higher levels, when they have more HD) to recover, which in itself may be difficult or risky (do they have safe cover?) and may prompt interesting actions.

Of course, this might end up not working out at all, in which case we’ll tweak or abolish these rules as needed. Happy to report back in a few weeks. :slight_smile:

Warden comments on Healing

While this episode felt more like a discussion on damage, you can’t have one without the other (unless you’re in a madcap game where hit points only go down… hold on, writing that one down.)

My opinion on the role of either has changed a lot recently as I try to find new ways to bring that same level of tension you can get from watching your character’s life trickle downwards without the constant tracking that comes with constant combat scenes. I do very much like the combination of harm & complications in Fate and even some PbtA games where harm is just a series of check boxes or others (like Fudge) that use a stress or damage track to weigh the characters down over time.

I know hit points in many games are intended to be abstract, but it’s hard to reinterpret a great axe swung at someone in leather armour as being anything other than your rib cage chopped into kindling. So to imagine these characters getting constantly hacked and slashed over and over and over again only to be magically healed so they can get hacked up some more? That’s a deep level of Hell right there. I think I’d rather push that fucking boulder uphill for eternity, thank you very much.

Regardless of how damage and healing occur, I feel how harm of any kind should occur in a game is based on these three questions.

  1. Do I need/want all or most of these characters to survive to the end of the story? Or can anyone finish it?
  2. Do I want characters to be temporarily removed from a scene?
  3. Do I want to use harm as resource management or to create complications/obstacles in a scene?

The first two questions really help me determine what happens to these characters when they are subject to a successful attack roll. If I expect them to die or go down often and their survival to the very end doesn’t matter, slashy slashy! Otherwise, I want damage to reflect the pace of the story. Let them take harm, yes, but not every fight. In this case, games with hit points and healing spells tend to get hacked so characters can simply recover their own hit points. Healing is for dire situations, such as critical attacks.

The third question can apply in many outcomes and combinations, but I very much want to have some level of complications added to a fight scene to create a more dynamic fight scene. It can also depend on the players because if you have a group that will use something like @Fafhrd’s narrative bonus approach, they can easily be encouraged to make their own complications in exchange for bonus XP or a future +2 bonus after they remove their complication. But the first two questions do help me determine how I want to handle the third.

It’s a balancing act to help create the tone, theme, and spirit of what you want to play. These are things you can do without hacking a game by simply applying them narratively or you can strip that game for parts and build something new or new-ish. How damage and healing are applied helps to sell the goals you set for the game.

Now what’s this about team play I’m hearing so much about…? :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

Samuel writes in about the AD&D episode

Good AD&D episode I especially liked the topic of players narrating their actions vs making generic skill checks. One thing I’m curious is how you handle the Thief Class who’s main ability is skills? I can imagine as a DM saying “well if you aren’t a thief you don’t know how to pick locks”, but how do you handle skills like Move Silently, Hide in Shadows, or Detect Noise which most people are able to do with little to no training. I could imagine saving those types of Percentile Checks for etremely hard circumstances non-thiefs would practically auto-fail (like moving quietly on floor covered in bones and dry leaves). Or another idea is to left all players do things like moving silently/ detect noise/etc with regular ability checks and let thiefs make an extra percentile roll if the stat check fails (to show they’re extra good at these tasks).

Healing wraps up with input from Isiah

Loved the ep!

I appreciated @Warden’s thought process on how to manage harming the PCs in the game.

The game’s rules about healing can lead in another directions, which I’ve used in systems where healing was not instantaneous. When healing is a skill check, that can lead to an interesting scene. It can be a complication in a fight or about performing a complex medical task, such as the party working together to heal someone else. I ran an encounter in Alternity which required the players to work together in a medical intervention to remove some mind control implants from an NPC they wanted to rescue. We even got the combat oriented person to use their “powered melee weapons” skill to direct the shocking probe which disabled the implants. It was a nice change of pace from the talking-sneaking-fighting pattern which had become the norm for challenges.

In a game where fast healing is not readily available, the complications of injuries could provide content for a whole game session. I had an Alternity game in which the diplomat was badly injured by an enemy laser, and since nobody had the appropriate medical gear or skills (like surgery and a portable surgery kit), the party had to help her limp around while ducking enemy patrols until they found an infirmary with an automated medical robot they could hack.

These kinds of things can make healing the spotlight rule for a while, without turning the whole game into the Grey’s Anatomy RPG.

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The 'S' of Gaming and BS podcast. Besides producing and hosting the show, Sean enjoys long walks on the beach, running rpg's, and killing player...characters.