How messy is your messy?

How messy is your messy?

How messy is your messy?

It’s one of the more open-ended tags in the game, and it’s applied to monsters ranging from the Apocalypse Dragon to the humble Cave Rat.  Do you ramp into it with soft moves like NPC slaughter, environmental destruction, or just a description of how nasty those teeth look? Do you pull it out as a surprise to emphasize how sudden things can go south? Do you start small and ease into the devastation (degrade armor -> break armor -> sorry about your legs)?

I don’t like starting thought discussions like this with my personal anecdotes, but I was struck by it when I threw some sahuagin at my PCs last session and was confronted with the combined might of messy and one of their main attacks being “bite off a limb.” To a certain extent it mirrors the old issue with using fumble rules in D&D — it’s fine for monsters because most only exist for one battle, but surprise PC death or disfigurement is a long-term deal. I ended up massacring & de-limb-ing some companion NPCs, playing up bleeding wounds and useless limbs, applying conditions like Weak, and relieving the Wizard of some of his fingers. But it was an interesting line to toe between respecting both the principle of “Think Dangerous” and the monster’s actual move, while also understanding that this was intended to be a harbinger of things to come rather than a TPK/PC retirement party.

14 thoughts on “How messy is your messy?”

  1. I’ve only had this once, with the same move “bite off a limb”, though in my case it was giant frogs without the possible complication of barbed spear/harpoons.

    It was all in the lead up. Loud croaking at night, an NPC who’d recently been saved from a frog attack with the loss of his leg, sinister shapes in the water. So when it came to the Ranger in the water fending off a frog and rolling a 6-, biting off his arm, short sword and all, was the natural thing to do. No complaint from the player. His archery suffered for a while thereafter, even after getting a hook (you cant hold a bow with a hook). No weakness or game effects; just the fiction of have a missing hand.

    The Ranger was subsequently abducted by a (literally) Demonic Surgeon, and was rescued from a Vat by the rest of the party with the missing appendage having been replaced with a tentacle, so this tale has a happy ending.

    Simply; make it obvious loss of limbs is a distinct possibility, then just do it at the appropriate time. Then, be generous when finding a means of replacing it.

  2. We played Death Frost Doom. Ghouls are openly swarming across the land. Signs of approaching threat have been shown. They are not adventuring at Keep on the Sunny Side. “Messy” damage leaves gruesome injuries.

    The walking dead are not messing around. Our Ranger took a bite to the bone, tearing off flesh on one arm; before she had a chance to catch her breath, much less tend to the wound, a ghoul ripped her arm off. It was a 7–9 result, but it was building on a previous messy injury.

    In another confrontation, our Barbarian was chopping ghouls down left and right—”messy” damage goes both ways. Later, he had a ghoul pull out some of his intestines in tight combat. Luckily, the Cleric was able to offer healing immediately, while he held his guts in. We’re not sure yet if there will be any lasting damage—but we’re playing to find out.

     The Ranger is drawing and shooting with her teeth now. No mechanical penalty, she just wears her quiver on the front and needs a little more time than before. She’s level 6, which is a badass accomplishment by itself, all things considered. She’s thought of having the hand replaced by a tinsmith or something, but they’re kind of preoccupied with basic survival stuff.

  3. Bard lost the lower half of his leg to a shark. Now has a peg leg. First encounter after gaining his prosthetic he had -1 ongoing as he tried to get use to it. After that he was fine.

    The roll that lead to it was simply “Roll STR to get to the boat.” He rolled a 6-. So chomp chomp there went his foot. 

  4. Messy, in my mind’s eye, doesn’t always have to be about limb amputation. I’ve always imagined it like those really bloody, but cheesy, kung fu and action films from the 70s and 80s where there’s like gallons of fake blood flying everywhere. Messy+Forceful is usually where I start subtracting body parts and flinging people through walls, ceilings, windows, etc.

  5. I, well, not personally, pulled out a player’s eyeball.

    Later on, a djinn gave her a glowing yellow orb for an eye, which can be pulled out and commanded to spy on things, which she will still see.

    It all works out. I guess it depends if your players think scars are cool or not.

  6. One of the things I miss from some of my old gaming experiences in other systems are the critical hit or grievous injury charts, but I think allowing the narrative to fill those voids is smoother than taking time out of flowing combat to roll your crit. 

  7. I read messy as bloody and difficult to contain more than I read it as amputation. Your kills are super gross. Your non-killing hits are probably just really bloody and such.

    You want guaranteed amputation, look to the Barbarian’s move “Smash!”, which is explicitly oriented on causing item and limb loss on a 12+, despite the fact that the Barbarian’s attacks ALWAYS have messy & forceful (“Musclebound”, basic move of the class), so one must assume that Smash is a step up from what forceful & messy get you as a baseline.

    To an extent, I think I regard messy as a tag more in the vein of loud — the results of messy attacks are hard to conceal and can’t be minimized.

  8. Thanks all! This has been informative, and like a few people have mentioned, “messy is not vorpal” is a good rule of thumb I’ll need to keep in mind. “Bite off a limb” is still a little annoyingly specific as a primary attack, but I feel like I’ve got at least a little better hang of how to approach it.

  9. Just because you can bite off a limb, doesn’t mean you did, basically.

    Maybe the wound is just a horrid gash with bone showing through, maybe it’s a compound fracture, maybe the limb is only hanging on by some scraps of tendon and muscle…

    But yeah, Messy = gross.

  10. Our fighter asked once if she could apply her messy tag to her carouse move back at town. Oh HELL YES! was the resounding reply from the group.

    When in doubt disclaim to the gang – they’ll usually come up with the goods.

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