Question: How do you handle specific wounds to Player Characters?

Question: How do you handle specific wounds to Player Characters?

Question: How do you handle specific wounds to Player Characters? In most RPGs you just hand wave wounds as superficial until you hit 0 HP. How do you handle it in DW? Do you say… damage the arm of a PC and then say it hangs limp? Damage the leg of the PC, indicating they will be slowed down? 

Do you only do this on messy attacks? Only on 6- or also on 7-9?

Just trying to get a feel for how others do this. It seems the spirit of DW is that you can make the attack move do whatever you want more or less (disarm, knock down, trip, grapple, destroy equipment, etc) All feedback, suggestions, or advice welcomed. Thanks!

29 thoughts on “Question: How do you handle specific wounds to Player Characters?”

  1. I’m interested as well. In my last session I had a giant badger clamp down on a player’s arm. I was very tempted to have it bitten off, but didn’t think that would be fair.

  2. Unless you feel it is appropriate to apply a Debility, the only consequence is fictional.

    Which is insanely powerful.

    If, for example, David Benson had said the PC’s arm was bitten off by that giant badger, in addition to rolling for damage, the character now has one arm. Even after they heal, it is now impossible for them to do anything that requires two hands. Are you a sword & board Fighter? How are you holding a shield and a weapon with only one hand? Forget about using a greatsword or a bow. Forget about tying your boots without help. You have one arm.

    You can abstract general damage in Dungeon World with hit points (that’s the standard after all). But if something speficic gets damaged, you simply do what is fictionally appropriate.

  3. I guess my question remains…when is it appropriate and fair to do something line remove an arm? In my case it would have ruined the character, an archer. I want to stress the players but I don’t want to screw them over.

  4. I don’t think there’s a right answer here, David Benson. When would it be appropriate to ruin a character? That really depends on both you and your group, and several other factors. Is the player in question someone who would enjoy role playing a one-armed archer? Did the fight feel epic enough for someone to lose an arm? Had you shown just how dangerous this giant badger was? Are you playing a gritty game where “heroes” can die from a knife in the back?

    It didn’t feel all that helpful when I first started playing AW-based games, but the more you play the more you’ll see that the only “correct” answer is the one that feels correct for you and your table.

  5. Christopher Stone-Bush  has it right, I think.

    In your example, David Benson, on the first 6- I might skip the damage and instead describe the white-hot pain of the deep gashes left by its teeth and claws, and say something like “another hit like that, and you’re pretty sure you could lose a limb!” When you’ve let the players know exactly what the stakes are or how dangerous the situation is, I think it’s fair to really bring the hammer down if they decide to step up. 

    To be fair, though, I also think that losing a limb (or at least losing the use of it) is extremely interesting from a character development standpoint, and I’d really want to see how they dealt with and overcame the loss. Maybe the Wizard can perform a Ritual to create a magical replacement limb, or maybe in your world there are Artificers who could build a mechanical prosthesis? Or maybe there are rumors of a Necromancer in the Southern Wastes who’s said to be skilled with a needle and thread (just don’t ask where the new limb came from)?

  6. It’s also a matter of being able to read your players, and the group. I know some people would flip the fuck out if their archer PC lost an arm, regardless if they could get a replacement.

    Traveling Haberdasher did a good job of showing the difference between a soft move and a hard move as well. A soft move sets up a hard move, or allows the characters to react before things get really bad. So telling the players straight up that another hit like that will cost them a limb is a soft move. They can react, make preparations, take precautions, and basically try to avoid losing an arm.

    Having a monster pop out from behind a corner and simply lop off a limb without the player being able to do anything about it is a hard move. As is having that badger chomp off a limb after you’ve shown them that’s a possible result. But that’s a slightly softer hard move, as you’ve at least warned them of that possibility.

  7. I use lots of wounds and injuries, perhaps half of the damage inflicted on PC’s are wounds instead of HP. Just this past weekend a ranger had all of his fingers broken on one hand (trap), a paladin took a blowgun dart into the eye and lost it (ninja), and a thief had his ribs shattered on one side (troll). I especially like using wounds and injuries as the results for traps.

    I rarely just jump right to an injury. I like to build up a bit through the fiction; the ogre’s club smashes a brick column, his kick completely destroys the oak door etc. Letting the players know just how powerful the creature is so when they choose to go toe to toe they should realize what could happen. 

    In my games the players are usually hoping that I will simply inflict HP damage to their characters and not something more, interesting…

  8. These are great suggestions. Do you usually only save these for big fights? At one point a bandit shot our cleric in the leg and he had to pull it free (taking a bit more damage) in order to be able to run to save his friend.  Think that was too harsh for generic bandits? I was thinking more for less serious wounds in general. Perhaps just make a move like that when its too easy for them to make things interesting? Or maybe only on a fail roll. Yeah I think I like that.

  9. I was thinking, for monsters with the messy tag. What if you let the players decide what the character loses?

    -1d4 fingers or toes 

    -A hand (roll 1d6, 1-3 left, 4-6 right)

    -A forearm (roll 1d6, 1-3 left, 4-6 right)

    -At the shoulder (roll 1d6, 1-3 left, 4-6 right)

    -A foot (roll 1d6, 1-3 left, 4-6 right)

    -The lower leg (roll 1d6, 1-3 left, 4-6 right)

    -Nearly the whole leg (roll 1d6, 1-3 left, 4-6 right)

    -An eye, gain a scar.

    -An ear, gain a nasty scar and bald spot.

    -Where is your face? -1 ongoing to CHA if face seen

    -Neck, you don’t lose a limb but you’re bleeding uncontrollably and someone is going to have to save you. Stunned and bleeding.

    -Stomach, you don’t lose a limb, but you need to use your hands to keep your guts inside. You will need help very soon or you won’t make it.

    -Chest, you don’t lose a limb, but you are dying. Defy Danger +CON to perform any actions. On a fail, you die. You may want to get some healing quick.

    Thoughts? I think it would be good to have a list where each choice is bad, but feels less bad since you have some control in a meta way. Additionally, if you already lost fingers, you might pick hand, hoping it will land on the same hand that is already disfigured but theres a chance you might lose the healthy one (I thought the roll would keep people from slowly dicing each limb down systematically and avoid limbless heroes.)

  10. I agree with Christopher Stone-Bush , Mike Wice . Your rule isn’t bad, it’s just another rule.

    The goal is to capture your players (and get captured) by the fiction. Each time we step out of the fiction to consult the rules we lose a little of the magic. 

    In fact, consider this: When someone rolls a 6- whats the first thing you say? If you’re like me, “mark xp” would be your montra. But what if we went straight into an epic description of the pain of losing an arm, the sound of meat tearing, the overwhelming sense of shock. If we do it right, our players might forget to mark xp, and they might thank us for it.

  11. Christopher Stone-Bush Matt Smith Thanks for the feedback. It isn’t for everyone for certain. It’s not intended as a rule that adds complexity. Probably removing the roll for left/right would make it a lot cleaner. It’s more a “where do you want it?” quick thing so there is less GM fiat. I play long term campaigns mostly, and most of the people I play with would probably not like it much if I just arbitrarily decided to maim their characters in specific ways.

    I feel like adding the choice makes them a bit more accepting of the danger of messy attacks, and still allows me to include them in the game without people calling foul. Some groups would be totally OK with the GM doing whatever with the characters.  I worry greatly that it would make my players very upset and that it would possibly even lead to some leaving the campaign altogether if used too bluntly.

    Does that make more sense to get an idea where I am coming from?

  12. Mike Wice Because there’s a Paladin advanced move that lets them choose to take any debility they don’t already have instead of taking damage, I think letting every class choose the consequences of a Messy attack might step on the Paladin’s toes a bit, even if there isn’t a Paladin in play.

    I completely understand where you’re coming from, but removing a limb on a Messy attack isn’t (or shouldn’t be) arbitrary – it should be the logical consequence of their failure. I feel like this is why it’s so important for both the players and the GM to be really descriptive of their actions; one of the Principles of the game is to “make a move that follows”, and to do that you need details. The more clearly the scene is laid out, the less room there is for anyone to say “hang on, what? how did that happen? I wasn’t imagining things that way at all!”

    I read something about DW recently that I’ve been trying to put into practice: Dungeon World isn’t a game where the GM should try to keep information hidden from the players. Any time you feel like the natural consequences of a failed roll would be so severe that your players won’t be okay with the result, just honestly tell them what they’re in for.

    GM: You want to charge the ogre head-on? Well, you’re the Fighter, so you’d be the best person for the job, but your lifetime of battle experience tells you that there’s a good chance this fight could go very poorly if you make a mistake; this ogre looks like it could rip you in half if it got a solid grip on you, or shatter your bones if it even clips you with that tree trunk it’s swinging around! Still want to take him on?

    But, like several people have pointed out, if your group just isn’t okay with losing limbs or being seriously injured, then I wouldn’t try to force it on them.

  13. Good point Traveling Haberdasher !!!

    How awesome is it to say that to your player and then when something goes amiss follow up saying “The Ogre has a solid hold of you” or “You’ve been clipped by the tree trunk.”

    At that point, as a player, I’d be disappointed if I wasn’t ripped in half, or wheezing from broken ribs!

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  14. Personally, I think outright removing limbs is a bit too much. Do that too often and you’re just left with a torso. I’d personally go with temporary debilities. That shot in the leg? Yeah, that’ll give you a -1 DEX. Badger nearly chewed your arm off? Whoops, there goes your STR bonus! Also, explain in the fiction what happens, the guy shot in the leg can’t run for a while, arm dude either loses his shield bonus or a -1 to STR (depending if his shield arm or his sword arm was hit). All heals with a successful Cure, but it’s still a debility people will remember, without the permanency of limbs left behind.

  15. Kwinten Koeter , I totally agree. There should be no removing limbs all willy nilly. But when the danger is high, the threat is clear, and the reward outweighs the cost, I think most players would jump at the chance to have something so interesting happen to their character.

    Random goblin fight: Throw around debilities.

    Throwing the One Ring into the fiery mountain: Take fingers, eyes, and arms as needed. 

  16. Kwinten Koeter Yeah, permanent amputation is something I might save for an appropriately noteworthy foe (ex. a full-grown dragon, or the Great White Wolf, or the legendary Blade-Master of Stonetalon Pass), but because one of Dungeon World’s principles is “think dangerous”, I don’t know if those types of injuries should be off-limits.

    I wouldn’t want to run or play a game where EVERY 6- resulted in a severed hand or a gaping hole through the torso, but I wouldn’t be interested in a game where that would NEVER happen, either.

    I don’t use debilities often enough, though – I’ll have to use some of the examples you gave!

    Matt Smith Aw, shucks 🙂

  17. Traveling Haberdasher I think having the paladin move gives the paladin player the choice of debility, but should not exclude giving debilities to other characters on attacks. 

    While I wouldn’t mind taking limbs and things on every messy attack (or losing them if I were a player) most of my players simply will not enjoy turning into this 

    I don’t want to take messy tags out completely, but I also don’t want to force my players to do something that isn’t fun for them either. I thought this idea would be a good compromise.

  18. Mike Wice I hope I haven’t given the impression that I don’t think giving other players debilities is an okay thing to do – it definitely is! My position was just that letting the players choose their own consequences could lessen the impact of something that makes the Paladin special. The Paladin is an imaginary character, though, and if no one is playing that class and you as the GM are fine with letting your players choose their own consequences and injuries, then have fun with it! The Paladin won’t be offended.

    I’m also not advocating removing limbs on every attack, because I wouldn’t want to end up as a torso either. My point was just that if causing serious injury is something a monster could do, and more importantly is something it WOULD do, then that should remain a possible outcome in the players’ minds. You don’t even have to follow through on it, especially if the players would hate it, but the players hating it is almost the point – nothing makes a satisfying victory like spending the entire encounter afraid that you’re going to lose a limb, an eye, or even your life!

    Not every monster needs to be capable of causing (or willing/intending to cause) serious injuries, though; a Goblin Mad Scientist carrying experimental black-powder bombs might have the Messy tag, but it’s because he’s literally going to make a mess! The scenery is probably going to be in the biggest danger from him. An Orc Warchief wielding a nasty ax might have the Messy tag, but maybe it’s because he leaves horrific gashes that bleed so heavily the player feels like they might pass out.

    This reply kind of got out of hand, sorry – I think about the Messy tag a lot, because my players are fascinated by it (and I’m a big fan, too).

  19. Traveling Haberdasher No worries! I think I understand what you meant about the Paladin and we don’t have one in the group currently so it should be ok.

    I think its better by default myself, and like the threat of a monster doing serious damage (and will keep this in for major monsters like dragons and demons and things) but my players were actually upset about it when they learned of the existence of the tag at all.

    I don’t want to give the impression that I want to change how anyone else does things, just sharing my ideas on making it work for groups like mine who are a little skittish about this sort of thing happening to their characters. For my group it would have been a deal breaker most likely. After having explained that there are ways in the game to get limbs back (through Ritual and other ways) they also calmed down a bit about it. 

  20. Mike Wice Yeah, your group definitely sounds like they’re looking for a “softer” DW experience, which is fine! If you’re looking for ways to keep the Messy tag in the game, I’d just direct its effects towards things that aren’t the PCs’ bodies – have it destroy shields, armor, weapons, scenery, Hirelings, NPCs, treasure, etc. instead! Threaten the things they care about, but won’t throw an out-of-game fit about losing.

    In any event, best of luck finding that balance!

  21. Sometimes I’ll give a player a choice between a wound or some HP damage. That being said however, wounds and injuries are great material for players to roleplay and the people at my table really like that.

    The trick is to really describe the injury and continually bring it up: “Fighter, you can barely stand as pain from your shattered ankle shoots up your leg and nearly causes you to pass out. The crazed orc warlord sees you attempting to stay upright, grins, and charges you! What do you do?”

    You don’t need to remove a limb to really make a player feel like their character is seriously hurt. Just keep up the descriptive narrative and players will begin to wince at the thought of the injury. 

    Possible injuries: torn ligaments, broken bones, crushed limbs, bleeding wounds, air knocked out of lungs, partial concussion, smashed fingers or toes, road rash, burns, dislocated shoulder, shattered kneecap, crushed groin, broken nose, knocked out teeth, eye swollen shut, ringing ears, severed ear etc.

  22. You were a lot nicer describing Mike Wice’s players than I would have been, Traveling Haberdasher.  Being upset at the existence of the Messy tag? I would have called them all babies. 😉

    Kidding. Really. 😉

    In all honesty though, I have never taken a character’s limb. Even after they suffered an attack from something with that had the Messy tag. I’ve knocked them across the room with the Forceful tag. I’ve described nasty, bloody wounds from the Messy tag, but never loped off a limb. That’s because the fights and challenges my players have gone up against  haven’t felt like they were dangerous enough to cause limb removal.

    Maybe more importantly, none of the monsters have been smart enough to try and go for a limb, and none of the characters have been in a situation where losing a limb would make sense.

  23. This past weekend while running a game at a con a character had all the skin off his right hand removed by the rope he had wrapped around it essentially rendering the ranger’s hand useless. He resorted to using a dagger in his off-hand during the encounter and struggled to stay conscious through the unbearable pain.

    After the encounter the wizard (who had a cure light wounds spell) rolled a 6- while attempting to heal him. [There was no HP damage but he asked if the spell could restore the skin; sure, why not?] I described all of the muscle tissue, tendons and cartridge rapidly rotting away and falling off leaving the ranger with a skeletal, albeit a fully functioning hand.

    Afterward, even though mechanically there was nothing wrong with the hand, the ranger took great pains to cover it up and was extremely nervous about using it (he was afraid of what would happen on a 6-). In addition no one else excepted healing from the necromancer, I mean wizard.

  24. John Lewis So you usually give a choice between a wound or hp damage? Do you ever do both hp damage and a wound? Just curious what your general consistency is for that with your group. I was thinking for my group I might do on a 6- you take damage and a wound of some kind. On a 7-9 you could pick a wound instead of damage if you are close to death. For the wounds, do you require rest or do they generally heal up well enough with a cure spell? How do you abstract HP if a wound isn’t hp damage?  I definitely want damage to feel like it sticks and isn’t just numbers, on every fight. Sorry for so many questions. I am very intrigued.

  25. First of all I usually “build up” to doing wounds, describing the power or skill of an opponent and “telegraphing” that this enemy (or situation) is capable of bringing some serious hurt. Then the first time I use a wound I tend to make it kind of “soft”, such as hurt knee or shoulder. Nothing permenate or dibilitating just a “weak spot” on the character. Next I begin describing how the enemy is now targeting the weak area. This sets up a more serious wound when the player doesn’t role well. It also gives the player the opportunity to do something else to put himself less at risk.

    As far as “wound or HPs” I don’t have a specific formula. If the fiction seems to indicate that the damage should be more general I inflict HP, if there is a great opportunity for a some visereal bloodshed I go for that.

    As for healing I tend to look at “minor wounds” as going away in a little while (next scene, after a breather). More severe wounds are handled like Debilities (couple days or healing potion). I’ll also sometimes allow healing magic to remove a wound in lieu of HP recovery. Of course using magic can produce some “interesting” results on a 6-. A lot of this is dependant on the “feel” we’re invoking for the adventur/campaign.

    Ultimately though effectively using wounds requires players that will roleplay an injury and trust the GM. If your players won’t respond to the wound or think you’re just jerking their characters around it won’t work. As a side note this is a great way to manage flow and pacing in DW; if you have a hero low on HP and want to keep him around a bit longer, wound him. If you want to edge closer to a Last Breath roll, inflict HP. If you want an enemy to seem less threatening, do HP damage. If it’s a big bad, throw in some wounds. If it’s really baddass, do both.

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