Rarely in D&D do we keep track of where our character is wounded. When he gets hit we just record damage and move on. In order for combat to run smoothly this is a compromise we’ve accepted from day one. Until you PC falls below 0 hit points you just assume he’s got full control over his entire body.
Last week I broke my arm and it got me thinking about how to introduce a system into 4e D&D that represented damage to specific areas of the body. The real trick was to do it in a way that actually added value to the game without just slowing things down or adding unnecessary new rules.
The way I see it, tracking specific damage can be handled in one of two ways: 1) strictly from a role-play perspective; or 2) as an actual mechanic that affects the numbers.
I’ve played in many games where players chose to use the first method. They simply state that their character walks with a limp because of a previous leg injury or wears an eye patch because of a nasty head wound. In these cases it’s more of an affectation than anything else, intended to make a character more memorable. Rarely would anyone choose to give a character an injury from the outset that would affect his numbers. But things happen during an adventuring career and over time PCs will sustain numerous injuries.
So what conditions need to occur before a player is willing to accept that his PC has sustained an injury that will affect the numbers? If there’s only a down side then why even introduce this idea into the game? So with that in mind I found an up side.
By accepting an injury that affects you PC’s numbers in any way he regain hit points during a short rest as if you’ve spent a healing surge without actually spending the surge. For example, let’s say that your character has suffered a broken arm. The down side is that he looses any benefits from an item in his off-hand and arm. This affects his numbers because he can’t use a two-handed weapon and can’t use a shield. By accepting this drawback the PC regains hit points without spending a healing surge and continues on in his wounded condition.
This is not something that I’d expect a lot of players to jump on, however, in my home game and at D&D Encounters we’ve seen a lot of issues where PCs are running out of healing surges after just a couple of fights. Using this new rule allows PCs to keep fighting after they run out of healing surges by accepting that they’ve taken a more serious injury. This injury remains in place until the PC takes an extended rest and is administered first aid or some other medical attention.
There may even be cases where a player will take advantage of this new mechanic and accept a serious injury to his character while he still has a few healing surges remaining. In theory a PC could suffer a broken leg during the second encounter, and rather than blow the last of his healing surges before going into the third encounter he accepts that the leg is broken and advance to the next encounter with the injury and all penalties it entails. The up side is that he still regained some hit points but didn’t expend a healing surge. I’d say the broken leg reduces his speed by 2, he cannot run, jump or charge, and suffers a penalty to Stealth checks.
Determining the exact nature of the injury, and any repercussions that injury carries, is up to the DM. If you group embraces this new mechanic then I’d suggest creating a set of standard injuries, record all of the penalties it imposes, and when a PC is willing to accept something more than a few cuts and bruises you simply roll to determine an injury randomly. That is, of course, unless the role-playing clearly indicates something specific is called for.
I’d rule that a PC can only sustain one injury of this severity before he is just too hurt to continue fighting. So this mechanic will at best proved PCs with the equivalent of one extra healing surge. Considering the down side I see this as a fair and balanced compromise.
Do you see players at you table ever willingly accepting this kind of injury for their characters? Do you think it’s balanced? If not is it too beneficial or too punitive?