This is the final part (at least for now) of a series presenting the House Rules that have been introduced into the Pulp Campaign that I co-GM. Today I look at the most recent addition to the rules, relating to the healing of injuries, look at the thinking behind the curtain, and why GMs from other game systems – especially Pathfinder/3.x – should consider incorporating something similar.
Credit where it’s due
As always, Blair Ramage deserves half the credit and half the blame for these rules. This article is partially based on discussions between us, but was written by Mike alone. The sections dealing with applying the principles to other RPGs is also Mike’s solo work.
Damage in the Hero System
The place to start is with a little context.
Damage in the Hero system is divided into two types, Stun and Body. Stun is recovered very quickly and represents shock and the capacity for coherence of thought as much as anything else; use up all your stun, and you are knocked unconscious.
Body damage is physical harm – it can be anything from burns to broken bones to holes being punched in the character by bullets. use up your Body Damage capacity and you are dying; you lose one additional point of body each time you would normally have acted, and when you have lost twice as much as your original Body capacity, you’re dead.
In order to inflict damage, you have to first get through a character’s defenses, which are subdivided into two forms: Physical and Energy. Attacks are classified into these two categories by the nature of the attack, and most are one or the other for simplicity.
Attacks are also divided into two types: Normal and Killing. In normal attacks, damage is rolled on a number of d6s depending on the severity of the attack. The total is the amount of stun – so 3d6 normal inflicts 3-18 points of Stun Damage. At the same time, each dice inflicts 1 point of body damage on a successful attack, -1 if you roll a 1 and +1 if you roll a six on that die when determining the stun damage inflicted. Your defense applies to both body and stun generated in this way.
Killing attacks are nastier. The total that you roll on Nd6 (depending on the severity of the attack) is the amount of Body Damage done, and a Stun Multiplier (usually determined with a separate d6-1 roll) is then applied to that total to determine the amount of Stun that results. Optional and House Rules often impose further variations on that Stun Multiplier, as does an optional Hit Location System (which multiplies the damage done by anywhere from x1/2 to x2). So 3d6 killing will inflict 3 – 18 body damage, possibly more if the hit location optional system is used, and 0 to 90 stun damage, possibly more if the optional system is used. In addition, if using a physical attack like a knife and not a firearm-type attack, the attacker’s Strength adds (or subtracts, if you are puny enough) to the base killing damage done. Furthermore, your defenses only apply to this damage if they have a special attribute applied to represent some form of armor.
Problems with the system
Four glaring problems eventually make themselves obvious to most Hero Games GMs: Killing attacks are either too lethal or not lethal enough; Killing attacks can inflict too much Stun damage; The Stun Multiplier is not granular enough; and Normal attacks are not lethal enough.
Killing Attacks Too Lethal
Other parts of the system permit an attacker to increase the lethality of their killing attacks, but that’s neither here nor there. Let’s look at a fairly typical 3d6 Killing firearm for a second: the average Joe has 10 body. The average shot from such a firearm is going to inflict 10.5 points of body damage. So an average shot puts the character into a dying condition instantly. The average character then has 20 actions to be saved. But if the initial attack did better than average, that twenty-round margin can be quickly eaten into – doing the maximum 18 points of body damage to a 10-body normal person puts them at -8, so they have already lost 8 of that 20-action margin. Three average hits is immediately lethal to the average person, and two average hits gives them only a few seconds – perhaps half-a-minute – to live.
But 3d6 doesn’t leave a lot of room for nuancing the differences between firearms. You can’t reduce the lethality much without making them all the same.
Depending on the genre of game you are running, this can be way too lethal. Of course, most PCs will be superior to the average-Joe Body capacity – but they can still be killed instantly by a single lucky shot.
This effect is due to a systems compromise to make the system more playable. Combat in the hero system is already slow, dividing the effect of a weapon into damage inflicted immediately and damage inflicted over time that might be prevented with appropriate medical treatment would slow it to the point of unplayability.
One solution is to give characters more Body, and that’s the approach that I employed when first creating my superhero rules. One problem with this approach is that this so diminishes the physical damage inflicted by Normal attacks that you may as well not record it. As I’ve said before in other articles, House Rules breed House Rules.
Killing Attacks Not Lethal Enough
As soon as you get into superheroic territory, especially high-end super-heroics, you quickly discover that they suffer from the opposite problem – most Killing attacks simply aren’t lethal enough. The characters are relatively invulnerable, and an arms race soon develops between characters increasing the lethality of their attacks and characters boosting their defenses. But that’s not an issue in a pulp campaign, so I’ll politely ignore that problem within this article.
Killing Attacks do too much Stun
The average Joe is going to have 10 stun. This is absolutely fine when it comes to Normal attacks. But let’s take a typical 3d6 killing attack: 10.5 body, times an average 2.5 stun multiplier, is 26.25 stun, on average. The actual range, as stated earlier is 0-90. So one shot is enough to knock the average person out cold.
The average PC, with a Stun of 15-20, is not really any better off.
One shot and a PC is out of the fight, with a player sitting around twiddling his thumbs.
The problem is infinitely worse in superhero campaigns, because the scale of the attacks increases faster than the typical STUN available.
There are lots of solutions available to this problem. You can increase the amount of Stun people get. You can rule that the character’s defense applies to the stun component of killing attacks. You can lower the variability of the stun multiplier. I employ all these techniques in my supers campaigns. Once again, it’s very easy to get into an arms-race situation, or need to inflate a villain’s capacities beyond something reasonable for their character concept just to make them viable enemies. KOing your villains with one shot is not much of a challenge.
At the same time, it’s easy to go too far.
The Stun Multiplier is not granular enough
If you have a killing attack that inflicts 10 points of body damage, the outcomes from your stun multiplier are 0, 10, 20, 30, 40, or 50. A lot of GMs inadvertently make things worse when using the hit location system by adding the stun multiplier from the hit location to whatever is rolled instead of replacing it – but doing it properly leads to no variation at all.
In a superhero campaign, where an average killing attack might do anywhere from 20 to 50 points (depending on the power scale of the campaign), this problem only gets worse.
One solution that has been employed successfully is to use 1/2 x (d12-1) instead of d6-1. This introduces half-way points – so the 10 points of body damage now has the potential to inflict 0. 5. 10. 15. 20. 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, or 55 points of stun. This makes the “too much stun from killing attacks” problem marginally worse, but provides a lot more granularity to the system. An even better solution for a pulp campaign is to use 1/2 x (d6-1) for the stun multiplier. This not only gives greater granularity, it solves the too-much-stun problem – the possible outcomes from a 10-body killing attack become 0. 5. 10. 15. 20, 25, 30. And an average result becomes 12.5 stun. If you also permit the “defense reduces stun from killing attacks” house rule, you reach the point where an average gunshot will knock a character out for one round by reducing them to exactly zero Stun, and force them to rest for a few more once they awaken, but won’t take them completely out of the game – and it will take a couple of hits to knock a PC out for a similar time frame.
So many design tweaks
At its root, all these problems result from the fact that the Hero system was designed to facilitate low-level superhero combats. The combat system needs to be tweaked to handle anything outside of those bounds. Batman, Green Arrow, Captain America, Black Widow, Daredevil – these characters work well when being simulated by the system. Even the early X-men and Fantastic Four (as depicted in the comics). Don’t try running Iron Man, or Thor, or Superman without changing the system.
And, to a somewhat lesser extent, the same is true of Pulp campaigns. Killing attacks are too lethal, and inflict too much stun, while normal attacks don’t do enough damage, to correctly simulate the genre.
One advantage of the complexity of the combat system is that there is a lot of capacity to tweak one element or aspect of it independently. You can introduce one primary change and easily manipulate away undesirable side effects from that change. The simpler a combat system, the fewer levers you have to change the settings of.
One disadvantage is that you don’t get one change to the combat system, you get a raft of them at the same time.
The Adventurer’s Club Campaign
Which brings me to the Adventurer’s Club campaign. For the most part, this is run using unmodified combat rules. I would like to introduce the reduced stun multiplier House Rule described above, and permit a character’s defense to reduce Stun from Killing attacks, but that’s a subject for future discussion with my co-GM. For the most part, we employ a more cinematic “go around the table” approach to combat rather than tracking each character’s specific opportunities to act, but in terms of the actual mechanics of hitting a target with an attack and inflicting damage, the rules are pretty much as written.
Healing & Recovery in the Hero System
With two types of damage comes two healing/recovery sub-systems.
STUN is recovered quickly. Characters have a separate stat call Recovery, which is how much Stun they get back in a turn. For the average character, this is 10. Heroes and superheros will have more. What’s more, so long as they aren’t stunned or unconscious, the character can rest for a phase instead of acting, and get an extra recovery. Provided the problem of Killing attacks doing too much stun has been addressed in some way, characters tend to be in an all-or-nothing STUN state – they are either at full capacity or close to it, at worst losing a little over time (provided they can rest when they need to), or they have virtually nothing left and need to rest immediately. Giving up a couple of actions is enough to get them back close to maximum capacity again. The only way to prevent this is to inflict a lot of STUN damage at the same time, in multiple attacks if necessary.
BODY is a different story. You get your Recovery in BODY back in a month. This is doubled if the character is resting in a hospital and receiving appropriate care. So the average person will get one body back every 3 days, while the average PC will get one back every 2 days. If you came very close to death – say to -18 body for a normal person, or perhaps -28 for a heroic PC – you will not get back to full capacity for 84 and 86 days, respectively – halved in a hospital setting. This not only takes you out of the current adventure, it may take you out of several adventures to come. These are quite reasonable results.
Even boosting recovery rates to 1 per day, 2 in a hospital setting, it is still slow enough that running out of BODY to any degree sidelines a character for entirely too long – for a PC. I would argue that in a pulp campaign, the rates should be REC every week or perhaps every 5 days – reducing those time frames from 84 and 86 to 20 and 21 days (7-day recovery) or 14 and 15 (5-day recovery), respectively. Instead of three months, we’re talking either 3 weeks or 2 weeks – and that’s resting at home, not receiving Hospital Treatment. I would even happily argue in favor of PCs and NPC Pulp Heroes & Villains getting the 5-day rate and ordinary people getting the 7-day rate. Or perhaps 7-days and 15-days would be more appropriate, or 10 and 15 – the exact numbers will be specific to each type of campaign and how quickly the GM wants a PC to be back to normal and back on his feet.
(NB: These numbers all assume that the average person has BODY 10 and REC 10, while the average Pulp Hero has BODY 15 and REC 15.)
But there’s something missing from the system: Surgical intervention and repair. Inflicting damage to speed the recovery process. Unless you assume that this is the reason for the more rapid recovery. Do stitches help a cut heal faster? Absolutely – and they also reduce the chance of infection of the wound. Can a surgeon repair internal damage, even if they inflict a little more damage in the process, boosting the recovery rate? Absolutely. Do these skills exist in the Hero System? Absolutely. Do they have any such benefit? Not on your Nelly.
But I’ll come back to that in a moment.
The Psychology of Woundings: Why change the rules?
Players are well aware of their character’s vulnerability to death, and how slow BODY recovery is. Becoming helpless on the battlefield is an open invitation to a quick termination of life-signs, usually with extreme prejudice. So, when a character is reduced to a low amount of remaining BODY, they will want to pull back, or even pull out of the adventure. That’s not especially heroic, and it’s a long way from being Pulp, where the assumption is that you will keep going – which implies the underlying assumption that you CAN keep going.
Take Indiana Jones in Raiders Of The Lost Ark. No matter how badly beat up he is, he is not only able but is willing to keep going.
Take John McClane in Die Hard. He’s like a Terminator – he won’t let anything stop him until he gets the job done.
Both of these roles are very, very Pulp in outlook.
The last thing you want in a Pulp Campaign is a PC deciding the risks are too great to continue. And that requires the players to have confidence that their characters can survive and can contribute – without taking away the risks of death and danger entirely.
Reducing the damage done, as a general principle, reduces the danger, but also reduces the sense of danger within the game (reducing the Stun Damage done is a special case relating to keeping a PC active and able to act instead of sitting at the table unable to do anything). An alternative is needed, and the place to look for it is in the untapped potential of Medicine that I mentioned in the preceding section.
Beyond the Doctor
There are all sorts of medical skills available through the Hero System. None of them are adequately defined in terms of the abilities they confer on the character who has them.
We ended up listing four, and getting specific about what they do, adding in abilities as necessary. Note that one or more PCs within the game had these skills already, and that the Doctor PC within the group had already operated on a character to save his life – requiring us to ad-hoc a game subsystem on the spot.
Types Of Medical Assistance
The four are: First Aid, Paramedic, Professional Skill: Doctor, and Professional Skill: Surgeon. And the only one that the official rules mention and give game mechanics for is Paramedic.
- “First Aid” is cleaning cuts and abrasions and applying bandages. It may extend to applying stitches to close a wound.
- “Paramedic” is stabilizing a dying patient and emergency surgery to delay death by applying makeshift repairs. It includes temporary setting of bones, providing blood to offset internal bleeding, and definitely includes applying stitches. It also includes applying anti-venom and such emergency treatments. The official rules lump both First Aid and Paramedic together; we broke them apart again.
- “Professional Skill: Doctor” is actually specified as a Science Skill in the game system and is useful for diagnosis and treatment with medications only. The Hero System assigns it no practical applications or benefits. We considered the skill to the equivalent of GP training, and gives the character the expertise to do anything that a GP can do that is not explicitly covered under Paramedic, and also permits the permanent setting of simple fractures and so on. Both Doctor and Paramedic permit the application of CPR if that technique has been invented (Modern CPR techniques begin in 1962, but precursors go back as far as 1767 – see The History Of CPR at Wikipedia). Simple surgical procedures are also covered, such as operating to remove an ingrown toenail.
- “Professional Skill: Surgeon” deals with anything more invasive. We apply a general knowledge as to the state of the art in terms of what can be achieved. In a modern-day campaign, we may require more specific definition, e.g. “Professional Skill: Cardiovascular Surgeon”. As a general rule of thumb, the dividing line between non-specific “surgeon” and a mandatory specialist designation is completely arbitrarily placed somewhere in the 1950s.
One outstanding point of indecision is whether or not paramedic is sufficient to permit successful amputations, or whether that should be a capability of Surgeons. Since an amputation might well mandate the retirement of a PC, we hope never to actually reach the point of having to decide.
In almost all cases, despite the absence of realism in terms of practices and outcomes, we treat medical procedures as they would normally be depicted in television and media.
The Additional Healing Rules
The actual rules we have put in place are:
House Rules for Medical Treatment:
- Successful use of Paramedic Skill to stabilize a dying patient may halt the decline in BODY of the patient, restore the character to zero BODY, or do something in-between, at the discretion of the GMs, based on the nature of the injury.
- Treatment by a Doctor will restore up to 7 HP per adventure to a character without requiring a skill roll.
- Use of a skill roll may restore additional hit points on a successful skill roll but will inflict additional damage on a failed roll:
- First Aid: 1/2 d6 round up
- Paramedic: 1/2 d8 round up
- Medicine/Doctor: 1/2 d10 round up
- Surgeon: (1/2 d12)+1 round up
- Which skill is employed is up to the treating character. A +2 skill bonus will be applied if the skill and corresponding treatment is appropriate to the description and cause of the injury.
- Some injuries may be specified by the GMs as requiring treatment with a specific skill or series of Skills e.g. Paramedic to stabilize a patient before surgery can commence. One character can only apply one Healing skill to a patient for one injury other than using Paramedic to stabilize a dying patient.
- Skill penalties may be applied for procedures carried out in hostile circumstances, difficult conditions, and/or using inadequate or improvised tools.
- Multiple healers may work on a single character, resulting in multiple rolls for additional healing, but a single healer cannot repair more than the 7 BODY per adventure healing to a single character. A single character cannot apply multiple healing rolls from different skills to treat one injury.
e.g.: Character #1 has Paramedic. Character #2 has Surgeon. Character #3 has taken 12 points of BODY and has 2 BODY remaining.
Character #1 succeeds in his Paramedic roll and rolls a 6 on the d8, repairing 4 points of damage. He can, on a subsequent occasion within the same adventure, use Paramedic skill again to repair an additional 3 points of damage before reaching the cap of 7 points for the adventure.
Character #2 succeeds in his Surgeon roll and rolls a 9 on the d12, healing a further 6 points of damage. He can, on a subsequent occasion within the same adventure, use Surgeon skill again to repair an additional 1 point of damage before reaching the cap of 7 points for the adventure.
Character #3 now has 2 + 4 + 6 = 12 BODY out of his normal total of 14.
These can be downloaded as a PDF by clicking on the icon above.
A Note to players Of The Adventurer’s Club Campaign:
This draws together house rules from several different adventures, and expands slightly on the existing rules, which is why they are a little more extensive than the version furnished in your last adventure. See Below.
Discussion & Notes
The first thing that will be noticed is that these are pretty short and sweet, as House Rules go. They are very simple, and designed to get characters back on their feet quickly. But there are a few subtle nuances that are worth noting.
Rule 1: Up From Zero
This lets us distinguish between serious wounds resulting in internal damage and a succession of smaller wounds that cumulatively have carried a character below the zero BODY threshold, or some combination. If all a character has received is “minor” wounds, stabilization will bring the patient back to zero BODY; if the damage all results from one major wound like a gunshot or impaling, stabilization will simply stop the losses, freezing the character’s BODY at whatever level it had deteriorated to; and if the result is somewhere in between, we can choose to ignore the minor injuries to evaluate what the character’s BODY level is actually restored to.
This means that the healing benefits from Rule 3 aren’t all used up getting the patient back up to zero BODY.
Rule 2: Back On Your Feet, Soldier!
Before you have to start worrying about the fancy stuff like skill rolls, you get to use this quick-and-dirty resuscitation. With some characters who are only moderately injured, this is enough to restore them to full health, but more often it will simply give them enough to get back on their feet, or increase the benefits that can be obtained from more serious intervention. If not still in a combat situation, it can often be better to save this quick “shot in the arm” against later need.
Rules 2 & 3: Delaying The Inevitable
This healing isn’t like “Cure” spells in D&D/Pathfinder. There’s a limit to how much healing one character can get, and a limit to how much healing one character can provide. This delays the danger of death or convalescence, enabling the character to continue in play, but doesn’t remove the danger of death or serious injury, especially if the patient takes foolhardy risks.
Rule 3: The Healing Rates
This is one of the more clever parts of these House Rules. First Aid doesn’t give much healing, and hence will take a long time to reach the 7-point cap. Paramedic does more, and hence will reach the cap more quickly. Doctor is still better – and reaches the cap more quickly as well. Surgeon is the most beneficial skill to apply – but can use up the entire cap in a single stroke. What’s more, all these skills come off a single cap – you can use 4 points from Doctor and 3 points from First Aid and that’s the entire 7 points gone for the adventure, for that character.
Rules 4, 5, and 6: Appropriate Course Of Treatment
Healers are more likely to succeed if they use the correct course of treatment according to the nature of the injury. For certain injuries, the GM can dictate what is needed, or state that a certain skill is not appropriate. This stops people from treating a gunshot with a band-aid and expecting to get any benefit from it. Finally, it isn’t stated explicitly, but it’s a reasonable assumption that the more invasive the course of treatment, the more strictly the GMs will look at adverse circumstances. Applying first aid in a fast-moving vehicle traveling over rough terrain is not as difficult or dangerous as attempting surgery under those conditions.
Rules 5 & 7: Many Hands
Not part of the original rules, but something that has subsequently been identified as needing to be addressed was the subject of multiple characters working together to heal one patient. So one character can use surgeon and another can use something else, but both can’t use surgeon; and one healer can’t use both First Aid and Surgeon to heal the same injury. Each character gets one shot at the healing.
A standard rule permits multiple characters to assist another, giving the assisted character a greater chance of success, so that’s how a surgical team works – one lead surgeon and one or more assistants.
Rule 7: Skill Justification
The final point worth emphasizing is that characters need to justify the skills that they have. It’s easy to get First Aid, just about anyone can take that. It requires professional training to have the Paramedic Skill. Our Spy might be able to justify it, and maybe the Ship Captain; the Priest and Engineer PCs certainly can’t. It takes even more education to become a Doctor, and still more to become a Surgeon. No PC except the Doctor can justify those.
The Captain’s Cook NPC is also the on-board medic, and a specialist in Chinese Medicine; he could justify both Paramedic and Doctor, but not Surgeon, because traditional Chinese medicine is non-invasive. We might let the character have a limited amount of Surgeon though, for the setting of badly-broken bones and the like, with the caveat that they would not heal perfectly.
Sidebar: The Irony Of Application
The first (and so far only) character to have been seriously injured since these rules were introduced was, ironically, the Doctor, who was shot through the hand. We permitted him to assist the character who was treating him sufficiently to protect his ability to perform surgery – stretching the rules – and between prescribing himself a painkiller and antibiotic, and the first aid/paramedic ability of the other character (I forget which was used) he recovered enough to continue in the adventure, and take part in the subsequent battle with the Tong “Ninjas”.
But it’s still ironic. Doctor, Heal Thyself…!
The Clerical Problem: healing in other game systems
Graham McDonald, a player, GM, and Friend who passed away a few years ago – I commemorated his passing in the unexpectedly appropriate Missing In Action: Maintaining a campaign in the face of player absence – could rail for hours about the “Holy Drip-Bottle” as he termed Clerics whose primary party function was to cast Cure spells all day. In a nutshell, the problem is that every other contribution that the class could make is either overshadowed by this ability, or the cleric is thrust into greater prominence than any other character if both aspects of the class are given prominence. The Cleric is supposed to be a Warrior Of God (or of ‘a’ God, or of a Pantheon, however your game world works it) while the Healing role demands the character operate from a protected back line for maximum tactical benefit – i.e. making sure that the Healer is alive to do his job at the end of Combat.
It doesn’t help matters that the Paladin & Blackguard classes frequently intrude into the non-Healing part of the Clerical Domain, further minimizing the Spiritual Guide & Guardian aspects of the class.
This problem existed through all versions of the D&D system and its offshoots until the release of 4e, which – I am told – finally succeeded in addressing it by spreading healing capacities amongst the other characters while limiting the healing that the cleric could provide. Earlier attempts to solve it in Second Edition AD&D and 3.x were only partially successful at best.
The Clerical Straitjacket
To some extent, this problem exists in most game systems – the healer has to be protected for practical reasons, and hence has limited engagement in any other aspect of the game. I’ve seen it in Star Trek The Roleplaying Game, I’ve seen it in Traveller, and I’ve seen it in Paranoia! It isn’t quite as significant in Call Of Cthulhu because the predominant damage form is to Sanity, which isn’t conducive to medical intervention; physical harm is usually a very secondary consideration. And it didn’t matter as much in the Klingons campaign I once played in, because the warrior ethos of the Klingons didn’t place the same emphasis on character healing and survival.
Nor does it impact on my superhero campaigns much, purely because I deliberately introduced a technological means of quick healing – or, more accurately, not only didn’t make it difficult for one of the PCs to come up with the gadget, I deliberately refrained from doing anywhere near as much with the idea plot-wise as I could have. I wanted characters to be able to rely on it, and the long-term benefits of doing so far outweighed any short-term benefits from exploiting flaws in the concept for plot purposes the way I did with just about every other convenience they came up with.
But this “Clerical Straitjacket” is not the only problem to be addressed within the context of the Healing System.
Realism vs Player Confidence
The other major difficulty that persists to some extent in all games is the old one of realism vs playability. Specifically, in order to make a good game, you want the characters to be willing to take chances and say yes to adventure when it knocks on the door. This is at odds with the principle of realistic inflicting of damage and the psychology that it inflicts on players. This is one respect in which you can be realistic or you can be fun, and it’s extraordinarily difficult to be both at the same time.
The result is a continual stress on the GM to get the balance right between these two elements – the potential damage to be done, and the ability of the PCs to heal and recover from it.
There are no universal “right answers” to this conundrum. Most GMs who become aware of the problem consider themselves lucky if there is a temporarily right answer for any one encounter that doesn’t have to be ringed with conditional elements.
As already indicated, solving this issue in the Adventurer’s Club campaign was the direct cause of these House Rules being introduced. And where it works for one, it will work for other genres of campaign.
Applying The Healing Rules To Other Systems
There are benefits and some practical problems involved in applying the Healing Rules to other game systems. Since the skill checks yield a simple succeed-or-fail result, it doesn’t matter what the skill mechanics of the system are, but that’s where the easy answers stop.
Simply spreading the Healing Capacity around to other characters automatically de-emphasizes it for the Spiritual Guide, leaving him free to explore the religious and theological elements of the game world. The tactical problem becomes less significant when other PCs can use their Healing ability to get the Cleric back on his feet. So the system will automatically confer all the benefits to any game system to which it is adapted.
The first real problem that has to be considered is the application of the technique to alternative anatomies. Aliens and non-human races abound in games – does the one skill cover all? Is Veterinary Medicine more applicable (a dodge that has been used any number of times in Science Fiction). Do you need additional House Rules to cover this situation?
I can think of several forms that such additional rules might take, but none of them are especially compelling. There is no universal “right answer” to the question, and each GM should decide for themselves in their own campaigns, if and when it becomes a problem.
The Inflatable Hit Points Problem
But the biggest problem to be overcome when adapting this system to other game systems is the dichotomy between fixed and inflatable hit point measures. In the Hero System, and many other game systems, the number of hit points that a character has is relatively fixed and won’t change much over the life of a character. In other game systems, increased capacity to absorb damage is a fundamental part of character growth, and poses an additional hurdle to be overcome if the system is to be adapted.
I have two alternatives for consideration, either of which would work with 3.x/Pathfinder/d20 game systems, who are the leading proponents of the Inflatable Hit Points game mechanic structure.
Scaling Recovery: Method 1: Multipliers & Skill-based Caps
The first option is to multiply the Hit Points recovered through these healing methods by 1, +1 for every 2nd character level possessed by the Healer. At level 2, the character heals twice as much as shown for the Hero Games system; at level 4, three times; at level 6, four times; and so on. This means that the capacity for healing is inflating at roughly half the progression in hit points.
The Cap also has to inflate from its initial seven points, and possibly be given a smaller starting value. I would drop the initial level to 3, and then increase it by one for every skill rank devoted to the healing skill in question. Four ranks – possible at 2nd level – would lift it back to 7. Eight ranks – possible at 4th level – takes it up to 11.
This results in a very tight cap, which may be less effective than desired. This is a problem because the increase is linear, while everything else is going up in geometric progression. I would solve this by applying a geometric factor, say x1 +1 for every 3rd level. This means that not only does the cap scale with healing expertise, but the cap also scales with the number of character levels – but at a slower rate than the deliverable healing, requiring the character to keep putting skill points into their healing skill as they advance in levels.
While indexing the cap to skill level results in a degree of realism, it also produces a more complex subsystem. If you wanted to, you could simply multiply the starting cap of 3 by the same factor as you apply to the healing method, or even simply by character level or – restoring the indexing – by total skill rank.
Scaling Recovery: Method 2: Percentage Of Harm and Healer Level-based Caps
The second approach I have to offer is even simpler, in many respects. Multiply the Cap (with an initial value of 3) by the Healer’s Character level or by his total healing skill, and multiply the healing shown by the rolls as given by 5 or 10 and call the result the % of the total hit points inflicted that are recovered.
So, first aid – nominally 1/2 d6 round up according to the rules – becomes 5x(1/2 d6), round up, per cent, or 5d6 per cent respectively, of the hit point damage the patient has suffered.
Setting The Boundaries
In addition to the specific controls incorporated into the system for the GM to use, there is one other that deserves some specific attention: the rather loaded phrase “per adventure”. Exactly what constitutes a discrete adventure? Is it a single game session? Can it be less? Or is it More? Is it every time the GM hands out experience points? Or every time a party returns to home base to replenish their stores?
Every GM will have his own thinking on the subject, and doesn’t have to explain how he reaches his decisions to anyone. However, if he is not at least consistent in his approach, he may face a player rebellion.
We use the term to refer to a single narrative plotline. When our PCs went to China to rescue some archaeologists, there were actually four separate adventures along the way in addition to the main plot. The adventure synopsized in the first part of this series, “Heir To The Throne” (Who murdered M and who would be his successor) has led to an entirely new adventure, “Infernal Gambit”, in which the PCs pursue the Demon responsible into Hell itself.
You may use a different definition. This gives you great control over how frequently the caps refresh.
Other Healing/Damage Variants For PFRPG/3.x:
Of course, this is not the only variant damage system that has been presented here at Campaign Mastery. GMs might also be interested in these entries (excepted from the Blogdex):
- Too Much Life for The Living: March 2011 Blog Carnival – My second contribution to the March 2011 Blog Carnival asks if Healing is too easy in D&D, which leads to proposing an alternative combat system for 3.x / hPathfinder Based on concepts within the TORG game system. It was quite well received at the time. There are additional suggestions and clarifications in the comments. If you want to make your combats more life-and-death dramatic, this might be worth your time.
- All Wounds Are Not Alike – Part 1: Alternative Damage rules for 3.x – What are “Hit Points”? I have encountered many different definitions, and each – carried to its logical conclusion – is best exemplified by a different set of house/variant rules for Damage and Healing. Each part of the “All Wounds Are Not Alike” series examines one in detail, from game theory through to implementation and consequences for game play. I didn’t actually gather them as a series because I wanted them to stand alone – you don’t need this article to understand/use the next in the series. This first one defines Hit Points as “a numeric index of the gap between healthy and helpless”. The results are great for bringing a High-Fantasy game back to earth, grounding it in realism. Don’t skip the comments for some perspective on the possible pitfalls.
- All Wounds Are Not Alike Part 2: Bone-breaking damage for 3.x – The second definition that I consider for the concept of “Hit Points” is “An index of soft-tissue damage” which requires a rules extension to deal with broken bones. The results are interesting, to say the least, and offer lots of potential for new magic items, for differentiating between Paladin laying-on of hands and clerical magic, and for reinventing selected monsters with a slightly tweaked flavor. This option strikes a balance between high- and low-fantasy.
- All wounds are not alike, part 3a: The Healing Imperative (Now Updated!) – An unmistakably high-fantasy approach, and the first variant offered that I actually use in one of my campaigns. Instead of making the differential between different wound types a function of the character’s total hit point capacity, it distinguishes types of injury by the amount of damage inflicted in a single blow, with thresholds based on the efficacy of Healing Spells. More variants and some really interesting discussion in the comments, which were unusually voluminous for this post – but read them in conjunction with the second half of the article, which was simply too big to finish in time.
- All wounds are not alike, part 3b: The Healing Imperative (cont) – I finish the unfinished variation – with five sub-variants for users to contemplate. There’s some clarification in the comments.
Genre and Style
The healing rules presented in this article rules work for Pulp because they better facilitate the simulation of a reality that matches the Genre and Style of a Pulp serial, which is essentially part of the action-adventure family. They distance the campaign from “Grim & Gritty” and move it closer to the “non-stop frying-pan-to-fire action” flavor that we are trying to encourage. If that’s the direction you want your campaign to head in, I would urge you to consider adapting them to whatever game system you are using.
- House Rules – For Pulp (and other RPGs)
- A strong wind blows: Environmental effects for RPGs
- ‘I Can Do That’ – Everyman Skills For Pulp
- On the binding of Wounds – Everyday Healing For Pulp