Critique my system for handling wounds (Discordance)

edited November 2018 in Make Stuff!
I'm currently working on a dark fantasy game set in a world undergoing a magically-powered industrial revolution. The game focuses on characters driven to achieve their heart's desire: something made possible by, but also threatened by the rapid progress and change caused by the rediscovery of the Queens Letters: the magical language lifted from a peace treaty between Angels, Demons, and Faeries that when stolen and used piecemeal is the only way humans can directly use magic.

Society in the game's setting is akin to the late Edwardian and early Victorian era, so violence as a tool of gaining and maintaining power is a key theme. One's social class shapes how characters can legitimately use violence. For example, Working Class individuals must Obey the Spirit of the Law, meaning that a drunken brawl is an entirely acceptable bit of rowdiness but killing your landlord in the midst of an argument will get you the gallows.

As a result of this, I'm looking for feedback and critique on the system I've inflicting and suffering wounds during play. I've provided a bit of background on the basic resolution system to provide context for the linked document.

What Sort of Feedback I'm Looking For
I'm looking for comments on how well the rules as written fulfill my design goals, any concerns you have about playability, if they are easy to understand, and any suggestions you have to improve any of the above in line with my list of design goals. General feedback is welcome as well, but I find that focused critique (even if it's harsh) to be more useful.

A Bit of Background on Resolution
Conflict resolution is handled by both sides rolling two dice and summing the result, then comparing it to their opponent's result. The two dice are:

A Circumstance die from d4 to d12 that defines how favorable their situation is to their purpose.

D4: Wretched
D6: Tolerable
D8: Favorable
D10: Exceptional
D12: Perfect

An Inclination die from d4 to d12 that defines how inclined the character or creature is to that type of action. There are six Inclinations in Discordance: Violence, Reason, Subtlety, Courtesy, Vigor, and Magic.

The side with the higher total gets what they want in the manner they described it. If the victor has a larger Circumstance die than their opponent's and/or a larger Inclination die than their opponent then they get to choose an additional benefit of their success.

If the reverse is true, and the losing side has a larger Inclination or Circumstance die than their opposition's, they get to choose a concession they can exact from the victor.

Violence is the Inclination you're following if you're attempting to hurt someone or threaten them with physical harm. Vigor or Subtlety might serve as a prelude to violence, but Violence is where it's at.

My Goals For This System For Handling Wounds

1. To make combat quick and brutal. Players should pause before combat starts and ask themselves "How bad do I want this?" before drawing cold steel or preparing their pistol and powder.

2. To make wounds feel nasty and visceral, rather than an abstract mechanical system. The list characters must choose from when they take a wound is meant to drive this home, along with the requirement that they describe what the wound looks like based on the hazard or attack they just suffered.

3. To create a death spiral wherein taking multiple wounds (or a really bad wound) is going to cause problems for you, but where you can still fight back, at least in the short term even after taking a horrible wound. Yeah, if a demon rams a brazen spear through your leg it's really going to suck, and it's a dreadful wound all the way but let's say this demon's gotta go.

Let's say this is the second-in-command to the bastard that murdered your family and left you an orphan. It might make sense to suck it up, accept that you'll come close to death at the end of the scene and weary your Soul so you can have a real chance at messing this demon up.

You might be limping on one leg, and that'll fuck with your circumstance die, but you can still try. What's more, because you have access to resources that all but the key obstacles to your desire do not, you can succeed. This is a system that aims for Pyrrhic victories and glorious last stands.

4. To create a wounds system that creates quick combats, at least against NPCs that aren't integral to the player's stories. The rules as they stand mean that NPCs (most of whom can't rely on their Soul, Desire, or Corruption to save them) will very quickly get worn down by wounds. Badass minor NPCs are still going to be dangerous to face in direct combat (especially if you're unprepared) but a knife to the kidneys is guaranteed to make any creature's day decidedly unpleasant.

Fights with significant NPCs will last longer given that they have access to the same toys the players do, but those are the NPCs players have put into the game on purpose as their rivals/foils/grand foes. The six-fingered men and Judge Turpins of the world, so to speak. These are also the NPCs at the table who (if they survive to the epilogue) will get an epilogue of their own. So it may be that the wicked duchess succeeds at her scheme of ruining your family and killing you for good but the wickedness in her heart spells her undoing in the end.

5. To do all of the following without a massive list of tables, secondary rolls, rules exceptions, and the like. Right now the rules are 4 pages, which is right at my threshold of "too much". I would welcome suggestions to trim that down a bit while keeping the general gist of the system alive.

Here's the Link to the Rules Themselves


  • This is an appealing pitch, in a number of ways.

    You don't say how the severity of wounds is determined, but it looks like the effects will definitely be felt by the PCs, which is good. Most wounds seem pretty certain to take you out of the action. Is that as intended,

    I'm not 100% convinced that the choices aren't obvious or strange. That would require some playtesting, but I have a feeling that in some cases people will always choose the same options.
  • The severity of the wound is based on the aggressor's Circumstance die. So if you're firing your pistol in the dark against a lurking horror (which being quite horrible, and adept at lurking can of course see the dark) your Circumstance die is no doubt a d4 (Wretched).

    That means that if I hit, I'm inflicting only an Unfortunate wound. If I happen to have a higher Violence die than the horror, then I get an additional advantage which I could use to make the wound Grave rather than Unfortunate.

    A character willing to trust in the tender mercies of Hell, to throw their Soul into the endeavor, or who are acting according to their Heart's Desire can choose additional advantages (in addition to boosting their chances of success).

    So if I were a desperate sort, and I as a player reach forward and grab my Corruption die saying aloud "I Put My Trust In Hell" I can choose another advantage and change the wound to a Dreadful Wound. It would seem that I have friends in low places.

    Which choices do you think are obvious ones, or strange? And how would you suggest modifying the list to make the choice more difficult and dramatic for players? Because that's really the thrust of the mechanic, to force players to choose what they most value.
  • I scream or exclaim in rage, pain, or fear.
    Choose every time, unless secrecy is needed and for some reason the opposing party hasn't already yelled?
    I pull back and hesitate.
    Choose every time, unless it's strategically actually good to go prone or "offer peace".
    I drop something important.
    Never choose, there are always better options that don't explicitly say "important".
  • Part of the idea there is that those options will change the circumstance die for future rolls. So if you exclaim in pain, rage, or fear odds are that you're in pain, fearful, or angry. Someone playing on that can easily claim a better Circumstance Die.

    Hesitating is exactly what it sounds like, giving someone else a bit of time to take action, robbing you of your momentum. I should probably make that more explicit. Like say

    "I pull back and hesitate, giving them an opportunity."

    How would you suggest making them more difficult to choose from while still keeping Unfortunate Wounds as merely Unfortunate rather than something more serious? I want to keep emotional reactions as a big part of Unfortunate Wounds, as people screaming, flinching, pulling back, or begging for mercy is a big part of nasty but ultimately nonlethal injuries both in real life and in fiction.
  • How is the Circumstance die determined?
  • How is the Circumstance die determined?
    The player chooses a Circumstance die size based on their assessment of their circumstances. The GM will either say "ok" or ask questions about the justification. Other players can chime in too. If the GM or the rest of the players disagree, they can choose a different die but must state specifically why it merits a different circumstance die than the one the player chose and suggest what would be necessary to claim a different circumstance die.

    If the GM and all the rest of the players disagree, then a Circumstance die is chosen that's right in between their two assessments.

    So it's similar to setting Position in Blades in the Dark, but the ball starts in the player's court. It's on them to succinctly state why their position is so god-damned Perfect (for example) in a way that will past muster with the group.

    Once established, this creates a precedent for similar situations. If I bargain with a hungry ghoul using a fresh corpse, and get a d12 Circumstance die for my trouble, then I can expect to do the same in similar circumstances. A character who uses a difference in social class to their advantage as part of the action (for example, publicly beating a servant who's stolen from them) increases the Circumstance die they use by +1 Step after it's chosen.
  • That sounds like a challenging discussion to have when so much hinges on that die choice. Of course, that depends a great deal on the way the game is set up and played, and other elements of the design, as well.

    My worry, though, would be that putting so much weight on one essentially arbitrary decision could drag down the whole game.
  • I REALLY like your idea that wounds create a temporary situational disadvantage that you list (mostly) in the unfortunate category. Personal preference follows, but as a player, I dont want a character with a permanently mangled limb, or worse, a character that will die when I dont want them too.

    What purpose does combat serve in a combat heavy system (which you say this is)? Particularly when the designer says something like 'combat is so dangerous it will force players to think: is this what I want?' ? If its a combat heavy system, then it IS what they want. Apologies if I am falsely accusing you of double-think. In combat centric systems, players want to think up ingenious fictional positioning and smart use of the rules to achieve what their characters want in the scene. Failure means they suffer the consequences of not achieving what they want - not death! (IMO).

    So back to the temporary situational disadvantage - this is great because it cuts quickly right to the heart of it without any intermediate steps. If you start at - you have a fractured limb, then thats great from a descriptive point of view, but then you have to translate that somehow into exactly when and how that fractured limb affects the ongoing scene. Which is time consuming and clunky and interrupts flow. Whereas your 'drop your weapon', 'fall to ground' / whatever is perfect - thats what happens! And it instantly makes the fictional positioning in the scene that much more interesting.

    Heres a throwaway thought - in combat heavy systems, often choice of weapon is crunchy - does D6 damage plus armour piercing etc... There are (positive) gamey reasons for this, but in your system, you could again cut to the chase and define weapon damage straight up by the type of temporary situational disadvantage that they inflict on an opponent, and leave the choice up to the attacker.

    i.e. polearm

    unfortunate: sweep opponent off their feet
    force opponent to stay out of your reach for two turns

    grave: much worse situational disadvantages etc...

    mortal: NPC dies
    character is out of the contest in some way.

  • For what it's worth, I didn't say that combat was an integral part of the game. I said that Violence is. For me at least there's a distinction and it comes down to whether or not there's an expectation that fighting will be a regular part of play in the way it's expected to be in say, D&D.

    So Violence is terrifying and consequential because it while it is always *possible* it is very rarely necessary. The setting I'm working within is Victorian/Edwardian for that very reason: formalized or casual violence is acceptable in a lot of contexts, but just going around killing folks will have far-reaching repercussions. Especially since the assumption in the game (both setting and mechanics wise) is that you can reasonably talk to anyone/anything and come to a potentially peaceful resolution, if you're willing to deal.

    It's the sort of setting where one might take tea with a demon or dissuade a ghoul from attacking by offering to make an arrangement with it using a resurrectionist of your acquaintance. Other avenues exist to achieve your character's desire. Violence is just a rather quick and dangerous route, where you needn't worry about stuff like "do I have something this person wants".

    With that in mind, I'm thinking that putting in a safety valve of sorts is important. I'll think on that. In the interim, do you folks have any ideas on how I could implement procedures for establishing the circumstance die that:

    1. Take into account what's going on in the fiction.

    2. Are subject to some manner of back-and-forth between players and the GM.

    3. Don't take too long to establish (I see where you're coming from Paul, on the time issue).

    My initial thoughts are having establishing questions like:

    Is my situation utterly unfortunate? If so, d4.

    Otherwise, your die starts at d6 (Tolerable) +1 step for each of the following that's answered Yes by a majority of the table:

    Do I have the perfect tools for this?
    Am I in an ideal place to do this?
    Is this the proper time to do this?

    Truth be told, I'm not entirely satisfied with this either, as I feel like it would be ripe for the sort of endless back-and-forth that Paul T. referenced. Does anyone have any additional ideas on that subject?
  • edited November 2018
    Circumstance Die arbitration really depends on the participant roles.

    If the GM's job is to arbitrate the world impartially, no matter what, and play relies on the players trusting the GM with that responsibility, then the GM can pick the die, period.

    If the GM's job, on the other hand, is to arbitrate the world in a way that's fun and entertaining and probably fairly impartial but not rigorously so, then their input into die choice should be simply one equal voice among all participants.

    Similarly, what are the other players' jobs, the players who are not rolling? Are they expected to be audience when I'm rolling, and happy to accept whatever I come up with? Or are they expected to have a vested interest in the internal logic of the world and/or fair application of the rules, and to participate as they see fit to uphold those interests?

    Are "internal logic of the world" and "fair rules use" even the right criteria? Is "fun and exciting" (group decides) or "ruthlessly dangerous" (everyone except acting player decides) or "empowering fantasy" (acting player decides) more important?

    Supposing you do decide that "internal logic" is the decider, then I don't think checking off a list of "specific factors for +1s" is effective in getting there. If you want to provide guidance, then sure, remind the group of stuff to consider. But the ultimate decision must reflect what seems plausible/most likely to the group, as that is the priority being served.

    In my experience, if everyone at the table prioritizes internal causality and knows this, then the die size will always reflect that priority with no trouble. You will have one outlier who's doing it wrong in the moment, and everyone else will agree on the correct die size, and the only formal rule you need is "majority wins".

    Prioritizing "fair rules application" in this sort of game is a path to unsatisfying accounting hell, in my opinion. But that's because I prefer fictional causality. If you don't care too much about fictional causality and just want to make sure that every action is judged according to the same formula, then that certainly is an option. Just don't waste your time trying to make the formula a perfect causality simulator, because it never will be. If you want to go down that particular road, let us know, and I'm sure we can help you come up with some +1 criteria.
  • Troubleshooting aside, I like the logic you've created for how wounds come about, progress, and inflict consequences. It's hard for me to guess how they'd impact play, but I'd think that a clear and well-organized character sheet for tracking such things would make it manageable enough to be worth the bother.
  • That's tremendously helpful David. I think that the answer to your question is that the GM is generally supposed to uphold the internal logic of the world, but with an eye towards being a fan of the player's characters. This means assuming that they're competent, and discounting trifling circumstances in favor of settling on what the general tone of the situation is. Which is part of why the Circumstances are set up in fairly plain language.

    With that in mind, the group also plays an important part in establishing the internal logic of the game. Character creation is set up as establishing important facts about the world and tying the character's so created into it's society and history. So players should have a stake in maintaining internal causality too.

    So here's what I've set upon:

    1. The person portraying the character or obstacle chooses a circumstance die.

    2. If anyone disagrees, everyone votes to determine what circumstance die will be used with ties going to the GM for determination.

    This (hopefully) will cut down on the amount of time spent haggling over fictional positioning, as it gives an opportunity for groups who are on the same page regarding the internal logic of the game world to quickly bypass group discussion. Sort of an extension of the Bakerism "Say yes or roll the dice". Except in this case it's "Say yes or vote."

  • "Say yes or vote" sounds like a solid place to wind up! In order to get there, though, I'd expect that some discussion would be worthwhile for the first several dice-determinations in play, just so everyone can communicate where they're coming from and establish shared expectations. It'll be slow at first, but once any doubts about whether all participants are using the same rationale have been addressed, subsequent "say yes or vote" moments should be both quick and fully acceptable to all parties.

    As a designer, I think the best way you can help this process along is by communicating the correct judgment rationale in as simple and memorable a way as you can. Hopefully a single short phrase. And then you can embellish beyond that -- I think "assume competence, discount trifles, GM should be a fan" are all fantastic -- when you first introduce the game, as well as in reference documents.

    This is what I've had the most success with, anyway, when it comes to inculcating functional group fiction-appraisal skills. I'm sure others would advise you to just design rules with simpler judgment calls. :)
  • Personally, I'm not a big fan of setting difficulty ratings based on "how hard is this?" judgement calls. I find it gets messy, you get all these edge cases (is this a D6 or a D8?), and weird social dynamics (Not wanting to invalidate another's opinion, different people using different criteria, etc.). I also think that distinct categories are an excellent way of steering the fiction towards the kind of game you want. A game where you get bonuses for being prepared, having the element of surprise and numerical advantage becomes very different from a game where you get bonuses for fighting for what you believe in and when your lover is watching.

    File this under "personal opinion", though.
  • oh, my misunderstanding - well if combat doesnt play a huge part in your game, then no need to fret about 'wounds' really.

    IMO the threat of character maiming or death is not credible or desirable. Its like the designer saying to the player - dont risk engaging with this part of the system if you want to keep your character. Its kind of a 'meta' threat rather than an 'in game' threat' if you follow.

    Keep the consequences of combat gone wrong 'in game' somehow, particularly in games that are not combat centric.
  • edited November 2018
    @stefoid I think there's some potential fun in navigating the risks of maiming. Not just as a penalty but as character change marking the ups and downs of their journey. And, y'know, most of the time you don't wind up maimed, but it's there on the map of the terrain.

    I didn't notice anything in this game's rules to dissuade me of that notion, but it's certainly possible that I missed something.

    Not sure I know enough about the game overall to comment on whether the possibility of death is desirable.
  • oh, my misunderstanding - well if combat doesnt play a huge part in your game, then no need to fret about 'wounds' really.

    IMO the threat of character maiming or death is not credible or desirable. Its like the designer saying to the player - dont risk engaging with this part of the system if you want to keep your character. Its kind of a 'meta' threat rather than an 'in game' threat' if you follow.

    Keep the consequences of combat gone wrong 'in game' somehow, particularly in games that are not combat centric.
    It's really a matter of theme. If Violence is going to be a theme in the game, then implicit in that is the willingness to live with it's consequences. Say if a character's Heart's Desire is to bring security and freedom to the workers of a glass-blowing factory that makes the tools of the ephemerist's trade. If the owner of said factory calls in a crew of ruthless toughs to beat some sense into the striking workforce (and no doubt they will, given that the GM's job is to provide opportunities for folks to address their heart's desire AND to be true to the realities of the world) then people *are* going to get their heads beaten in, their ribs cracked, their hands crushed.

    Asking "are you willing to die for these principles?" is a damn good question. It's not always the best question to ask, but being unable to reckon with the consequences of violence means not being able to ask it.

    Violence doesn't just mean "this proto-union gets broken up" or "I don't get what I want". It leaves scars, and has consequences. I feel that any game that includes violence in it and intends for it to be part of the game's theme, rather than a straightforward power-fantasy or as tactical challenge needs to address this on some level.

    Death doesn't mean that your character doesn't get what they want. Dead characters still get an epilogue, where we see what the legacy of their actions is. Maybe this character's death at the hands of the factory owner's thugs spurs a movement. She's a martyr now, a saint to a new cause. That's why Death is a choice in this system: weary your soul (which lessens the chance of a happy ending for you personally) and fight on for what you want or pass on content that your death will mean something.

    So it's not really a matter of meta-punishment. Characters who die still have an impact on the fiction, as do characters who are maimed. Indeed, losing an eye or a hand is a cool dramatic beat especially in a heavily magical world where all manner of creatures might be willing to help you out with your injury in exchange for certain...considerations.
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