Project Update: Wounds, Infection, and Dying in Ostravia

Today’s not perhaps the least gruesome part of my work on Ostravia, but it’s an important part. Being a somewhat realistic look at medieval life, it’s important for people to be able to meet an untimely and violent end in Ostravia, and this will happen fairly quickly in most cases without the support of allies or the benefit of a moderately merciful foe (i.e. won’t finish you off after you’re down).

Overflow for the health pools is out. Rather, lethal and nonlethal damage have their own outcomes. Maxing out on your nonlethal damage is considered to put you in a dazed/fatigued state, which is quickly recovered from outside combat. However, getting an additional nonlethal hit (the first hit to any pool can’t give a concussion/wound) has a chance of giving a character a concussion, complete with the chance for permanent and lasting traumatic brain injury. Unless playtesting shows some issues, I’m totally happy with the system as it stands. Of course, that’s one of the few “fully finished” systems at this point, and given that it literally went in today, it’s somewhat in flux, as most everything in Ostravia is. It’s more of a narrative solution than a simulationist solution, focusing on opportunities to wake up and the potential for dying outright from concussions. People will likely complain that nonlethal damage isn’t really nonlethal, but that’s okay, since it’s not meant to be. By the time someone blacks out you have a major danger, which is realistic.

Lethal damage, on the other hand, is much nastier. Unlike with a concussion, it doesn’t always kill you over the course of a hour or so, but rather you can appear to recover and die of infection. Of course, bloodloss is pretty quick, though there’s actually tools in the medieval arsenal to help with this (obviously, bandages, but there are also styptics and similar “medicines” available to the medieval person, many of which persist as folk remedies to this day, and which work dubiously well). For the sake of the game, I’ll likely make these more effective than they are. Here’s the breakdown for how lethal damage works:

Whenever a character is incapacitated, they face a penalty. There’s a -5 limit modifier for being below half pool, and a -10 penalty for operating while incapacitated. Unlike with Nonlethal damage, you don’t black out after being incapacitated, though you lose the ability to do a lot of things well outside of combat (where adrenaline keeps you going well enough to try, though, again, you’ll likely fail). During the hour or so after you’re incapacitated, you’re bleeding out. A First Aid roll can save you, but it’s not guaranteed nor is it going to be easy if you’re trying it on yourself (there’s no penalty for working on yourself, but you’re looking at hefty penalties). Even blunt weapons cause compound fractures and lacerations, as well as internal bleeding, but I’m not going to model these separately; they’d give too much of an incentive to use a warhammer and just give every enemy internal bleeding plus a permanent bone fracture.

After you hit someone with your first (or second, third, fourth, and so on) hits to deplete their pool, your next lethal attack causes a wound. Wounds are rolled on a table, because it’s fun that way. In some cases you go through multiple tables, which is kinda against Ostravia’s guiding principles, but I’ll refine and improve it later. Depending on the weapon used, you can then get different effects (this isn’t hard-coded, it’s at the GM’s discretion), such as being merely winded by a crushing blow, which segues nicely into getting finished off with a blow to the face. Alternatively, a battleaxe being swung for an injury may immediately kill a character, with no regard to wound status.

If you have an untreated wound and you would get another, you’re dead. This is harsh, but it’s the Ostravian way. Of course, wound treatment is easy, and your health pools regenerate relatively quickly (0-4 a day Lethal, 3-8 a day Nonlethal), so you don’t have to worry too much about constantly running along the razor’s edge. A treated wound still lingers for a week or more, but it’s not going to get you killed unless you rack up several more wounds. Once a wound is “treated”, the GM may deem that a player’s actions worsen them, such as a broken bone coming unset, but that’s largely outside the scope of Ostravia.

After combat, check to see if you’ve been infected, and what the outcome is. Roll once if you’ve been incapacitated, and modify down if you’ve got a wound. Some wounds modify this down further (the “Debris” result for piercing weapons assumes that an arrowhead or spearhead broke off, though shoddy weapons can splinter rather easily). The result of this roll is modified by attributes (a maximum of +10, though usually less). I haven’t yet looked at the rules, but long story short rolling a final result of less than one, while conceivable, is pretty dangerous. Being in the -10 results in a quick trip to the grave. Fortunately, traits and qualities may save players, but they’re still down the road a little.

Ostravia’s system is quite simple in its design. If you’re conscious and aware, you’re usually able to avoid an incoming attack (or at least the worst bits of it). If you’re unconscious, unaware, or really struggling just to stand, you’re much more vulnerable. Dramatically, nonlethal and lethal health are separate because nonlethal damage doesn’t really occur during combat. Some magic may cause it, depending on how “fantasy” the GM wants to run the game, but for the most part nonlethal damage in combat comes from the environment; getting pushed down stairs is a good example. In some cases players may be able to intentionally take nonlethal damage to avoid an incoming attack, which could backfire if they wind up with a “I-need-a-roll-of-43-with-a-+5-modifier-to-save-my-life” concussion. Any “critical”-esque (degrees replace true “criticals”) hits could conceivably be doing double-digit damage in a game where combat monsters might get a ten-point health pool, if they’re lucky. Armor could maybe reduce that to the combat monster being able to shrug off one hit before they go down for good, but because once they’re sinking a limit decrease for being below half their pool’s maximum they’ll become pretty impotent relative to a fresh fighter, they’ll be barely squeaking by. And, moreover, Ostravia doesn’t have many combat monsters, and I don’t want people to play infiltrators or nobles or such and suddenly realize that a really good, contributing, detailed character just got one-shot one-killed by a wolf. Additionally, part of combat in Ostravia is disengaging. If you’re losing, don’t fight. That may not sound chivalrous, and it shouldn’t. Ostravia belongs to the canon of gothic fantasy, and if you’re not willing to put up with dying you shouldn’t put up with fighting.

There’s more I meant to write, but I’ve written perhaps too much for a single blog post. I’ll likely be working on bolstering these mechanics through Friday or so, and then I’ll get to work getting Ostravia more ready.

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