An interesting game mechanic

I was talking about RPG combat mechanics with my friend Dave Stark earlier. We came up with the outline of a reasonably satisfying one that fit his constraints. That’s not what this post is about.

After thinking about it for a bit I came up with a fairly different mechanic. It doesn’t work for the game Dave is planning, but I think it might be an interesting basis for some sort of dungeon crawl game.

The mechanic is as follows:

Characters have hitpoints which behave fairly normally in the sense that they go down over time and when they run out you die. However they have a much smaller number of them than is usual: 5 would probably be as many as makes sense. They also serve a much more integral role in the game mechanic than just a countdown to death.

The real core mechanic is the injury deck. It is a deck of cards which contain things like:

  • Lucky escape – nothing happens
  • Leg wound – You suffer a -1 penalty to movement
  • Arm wound – You suffer -1 to strength
  • A hit! You lose 1 HP

When injured you draw as many cards as you have hit points remaining, possibly modified positively or negatively by the source of the injury. You then choose one and put it in front of you, applying any effects (You put it in front of you even if it has no ongoing effect). The remaining cards are put into a discard pile to be shuffled back as the deck when the deck runs out.

Thing to note: As your hit points run out you become more and more vulnerable to a bad draw. When you’re drawing 5 cards chances are pretty good one of them will be at worst minor. When you’re drawing 1 card the odds are not with you.

Things I like about this mechanic:

  • Injury is more interesting than just “I am x% dead”
  • Combat becomes increasingly lethal as you get more injured
  • Combat becomes increasingly lethal as the game goes on – because you’re mostly choosing the less lethal cards, the deck will become increasingly stacked against you as you pull them out of play
  • There are a lot of strategic considerations in how you choose your injuries – do you take the HP loss now or the serious penalty? The HP loss has fewer short term consequences but can potentially screw you over later
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3 thoughts on “An interesting game mechanic

  1. Alaric Snell-Pym

    That’s rather fun. You could have different decks for different species, too, with appropriate body-type-specific injuries… A game world with extensive body modification (eg, cyborgs and the like) could even have each player have to assemble their own deck from sets of cards for each “component” they are made of. What a money-spinner for the printing company :-D

    In my RPG design days I designed a system where being hurt earns you direct damage to your stamina and also “blood loss points” which reflect how much you’re bleeding thereafter; you lose that many stamina points per combat turn. First aid supplies take away blood loss points, but don’t regain you the stamina (unless you have more advance things like blood transfusions available!). And you can slowly heal blood loss points away and regain stamina; rather than expect players to work this out in real time during combat, I assumed that took long timespans than the average gunfight, and just made tables of blood loss over time so after a battle the GM can work out who will subsequently die of blood loss unless treated, and how long the survivors will take to recuperate, etc.

    Different attacks could do different amounts of blood loss versus direct damage, so the concussion from an explosion might damage your stamina without making you bleed much at all.

    It was kinda neat, but the amount of arithmetic involved was annoying at times.

    1. Zarkonnen

      I like the idea of having different decks. They could actually also get modified by equipment or skills. So a shield would give you an extra five “blocked with shield” plus one “blocked with shield, which breaks” card.

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