Blackmarked’s Wound System

This post is going to be me sort of freestyling over a problem I’m currently encountering in one of my games. I find talking about my game design problems to frequently be the best way to solve them, and maybe that’ll still be the case if I’m just talking to a potentially silent internet.

This roadblock is in my tabletop RPG that I’m currently working on, a game called Blackmarked. It’s a low fantasy-ish setting where a politically unstable continent is getting ravaged by holy wars, rampant brigandage, and the Black Scourge, an analog to our Black Plague. The difference is that the Scourge was crafted by a god of chaos known as the King of Rats, and a very select few actually survive the Scourge and gain magic powers as a result. This is the only way to become magic in the setting, and those who gain this power, called Blackmarked, are feared and hunted.

This nails the mood I'm going for pretty squarely.
This nails the mood I’m going for pretty squarely.

Specifically, my issue lies in my combat and damage system. Right now, health is not tracked by a subtractive point system like most games, but an additive Wound system, where every injury translates into a Minor, Major, or Lethal Wound. Minor and Major Wounds provide penalties as they stack up, but Lethal Wounds risk the character’s life.

The actual combat system is extremely simple right now at its base level. Roll the appropriate weapon skill, subtract penalties from the enemy’s armor and dodging ability, see if you hit. If you do, bam, that’s a wound.

What I want, however, is to force players to interact a bit more with the game’s turn system. Blackmarked handles turns by making every combatant queue up an action at the same time, and actions are resolved in order of speed. I want this combat to feel a little bit like Dark Souls: you either need to be fast enough to dodge or parry an attack, strong enough to tank an attack, or sneaky enough to not even present a chance to attack.

If I had to list out my dissatisfaction with these systems right now, they’d be these:

  1. The Wound system is too granular. Right now there are three types of Wounds, each doing slightly different things, even if only one matters.
  2. Every attack feels the same. This is a problem with RPGs in general, but hitting with a sword vs. a knife vs. a club is basically mechanically the same.

Let’s tackle this list one by one. I think the solution to Problem #1 is fairly apparent. Reduce the number of Wounds to two: Lethal and Non-Lethal. Non-Lethal Wounds simply offer a penalty after a certain threshold is reached, while every Lethal Wound incurs a save vs. dying, with the odds getting worse and worse with every Lethal Wound incurred.

I’ve been thinking a bit on Problem #2, and came to the following observations: I think using a bladed weapon, especially against an armored opponent, requires a lot of skill, in order to properly land an attack. Meanwhile, using a blunt weapon seems to sort of just ignore armor, but only if the user has a sufficient amount of strength. For instance, I bet if my weak spaghetti arms picked up a mace and tried to bludgeon someone with it, I don’t know how far I’d get. Better than bare-handed, sure, but not as well as someone with actual strength.

This looks like a literal meat tenderizer
This looks like a literal meat tenderizer

Ooh, how about this? Maybe certain weapons have keywords which modify their properties. We don’t need one for bladed weapons, because the combat system as it stands sort of already simulates using skill to find weak points in enemy armor. Maybe, however, we add one for Blunt, or maybe Bludgeoning. Weapons with this keyword will ignore a single point of armor for every point of Strength the user has. Strength and armor ratings tend to have a similar range, so this might really work.

Cool. Problem #2 solved. I actually really like this system, because it gives the the opportunity to have a nice, modular skeleton to which I can add different weapon conditionals, like Bleeding, or Poison. I may not explore much of those in such a small rendition of this RPG, but I think Blackmarked as a whole just got a little bit better.

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