Project Update: Health in Orchestra

Long story short, I’m kind of through with the interesting things of Orchestra for right now. Of course, that’s not to say I’m done working on it, but there’s only so much stuff I can do until I reach the end of stuff that’s really worth discussing what I did and why, compared to things like skills and such that I’ll probably handle more in explaining what I did and some basic reasoning, rather than the reason why I think Orchestra is special for doing it.

One of the goals of Orchestra is to allow pretty much any style of play. In fact, the name Orchestra actually comes from its roots as a simple system for roleplaying that takes an approach to everything that allows them to be handled through the same simple mechanic. The health system really is meant to reflect this; “health” is a measure of well-being, and people exploring in 2063 are likely to encounter many threats to theirs.

The first type of health is Physical health, which comes in two sub-bars. If you’ve ever played a game like Shadowrun, this is the sort of health you’d be used to; a lethal and a non-lethal health-bar run in conjunction to form a character’s Physical health. This is a necessary tracker for realism’s sake; it doesn’t make sense to just track all damage in one thing when death is going to be coming pretty easily, and Orchestra is at its core a realistic setting-one with over the top characters, but doing something like Dungeons and Dragon’s Hit Points which equal the character’s heroic resolve and luck (i.e. you don’t actually get *hurt* until you drop below 1) isn’t really its style. Whenever the Physical health meter fills up through the sum of both lethal and non-lethal damage (the character sheet will have intuitive trackers for this), the character is knocked unconscious, and when the lethal damage fills up they’re in immediate trouble. However, unlike in Shadowrun, where one merely gets penalties for having damage of both types, getting shot and then getting punched is as likely to get you knocked out as getting punched four times, assuming that a punch does a third as much nonlethal damage as a bullet does lethal.

Mental health falls under a second category, and has its own bar. It, and its companion, Social health, function somewhat differently. They are still divided into two columns, psychological and neurological, in the case of Mental health, but need  some more explanation. Psychological health is hard  to lose. Most people aren’t going to suffer its loss, sans extreme life events, such as things that bring on depression (anything that can drive people to addictive and self-destructive behavior counts as psychological damage), PTSD, and other things that can happen as a consequence of Dominance or extreme mental stresses go here. It is possible to get psychological damage healed “naturally”, but it requires either therapy or time as the character figures out how to cope with their new issues. Neurological health, on the other hand, represents damage to the brain in some form or another that impairs mental functions; this is somewhat easy for characters to come by with traumatic brain injury, as occasionally happens to people who live dangerous lives that involve a high chance of taking physical injury, weapons explicitly designed to damage a subject’s neurological structure, botched augmentation, diseases (such as Alzheimer’s), and some Dominance related things. Neurological health repairs itself in the young (it’ll be governed by a “Healing Factor”), as the brain is more flexible in youth as it is still developing, but treatments, some technological and some based on Dominance, can restore damaged memory or nerves.

Social health is the most likely to rapidly fluctuate. It is used in two forms; suspicion and pariah. The suspicion meter is quick-building and quick to be lost, it’s used in both stealth and social engineering as a way to track actions that could be perceived as out-of-place. For instance, failing to have a good enough reason for why your face isn’t in the database and you forgot your keycard will raise your suspicion, as will someone catching a fleeting glance of you (i.e. “I think I saw something move over in those shadows”, not “There’s an intruder”); it’s essentially a barrier to successfully interacting with them in the future-either the audience thinks you’ve lied to them, or they expect to see someone who doesn’t belong. Pariah, on the other hand, is a much more dangerous rating. Like suspicion, it can be lost relatively quickly by a change in scenery, but it’s essentially an active notoriety rating. If doing something that could be interpreted as odd causes suspicion, doing something that’s blatantly antisocial causes the pariah meter to fill up. Having any pariah rating makes most social interactions very difficult, but it’s also very difficult to become a pariah unless you do explicitly antisocial things-it’s possible for a particularly mean-spirited person to attempt to cause this damage to another individual, but it can backfire and it’s difficult. It’s one thing if people say you’re a creep and a menace, but another entirely if you take a hostage at random from a crowd.

The most dangerous part of pariah damage is that its healing can be very slow; it bleeds off in weeks as it represents a society-wide response to your character. Not everyone will care (only people who see the damage caused care, but if you gain more you get the same rating with your new witnesses as well), so it’s possible for a character who’s a pariah with the World League to flee without reprisal to New California-their new buddies won’t care that he held up an armored truck because he was sticking it to “The Man”, but if you pull the same stunt there they’ll just think you’re a good-for-nothing robber. In short, if you gain any significant pariah rating, you’re likely to end up as breaking news, and the recovery time from being ostracized by a whole society is pretty large. If you’re the 2063 equivalent of Charles Manson, you’re going to have a hard time taking off that reputation, and the likes of the World League have just the sort of media outlet to make sure it never goes away.

2 thoughts on “Project Update: Health in Orchestra”

  1. Perhaps the coolest thing I’ve read in an RPG blog recently is “Pariah damage”. I love the idea of social damage. Often players need a solid indicator that the affects they are having on the game world mean something. The narrative ways are reinforcing their status is OK but I like the idea of a mechanic to track the damage they are doing to their own reputations.

    1. Yeah, I’ve always found it interesting that most games don’t explicitly include something that functions to show their active notoriety/amount of wanted posters hung up.

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