Topic: Maiming Your Players' Characters

Do you? If so, how? Why?

I'm sure we've all cooked up or come across something like this before. My first experience with such a contrivance was back in the days of AD&D 2nd Ed., right after our DM purchased some nifty new screens with what amounted to a number of tables that charted out hit locations and critical effects. He ran out and purchased Combat & Tactics shortly after, and the game session after that my fighter was down a few IQ points (brain damage is a bitch). Definitely added something to the game, but it resulted in quite a few more dice being rolled.

Anyway, the wife and I were discussing some of the art in the Grindhouse boxed set (and in one of the upcoming supplements), and the Flame Princess' encounter with the slime came up, so we got to discussing possible reasons for tearing a player character a new one. I brought up the classic slime dropping from the roof, and mentioned that I'd have no problem taking a couple of points off a character's charisma score due to poor/sloppy dungeoneering on the behalf of the player. The wife sees it a little differently, but that's because she's a very kind-hearted lady. So, yeah, I think maiming a player character in any game is perfectly acceptable given the right reasons, doubly so if your group is engaged in a campaign with darker, more horrific aspects, but how do you gents go about handling this? What's your opinion on the matter?

Re: Maiming Your Players' Characters

Welcome to the forum Planar. The flame princess is now painted with a long peg leg. Both Warhammer FRPG and Hackmaster featured crippling injuries. Characters seem to lose ability and power as fast as they gain it in some games. I personally love that environment; it is much more suited to gritty low-fantasy and the anti-hero.

High-fantasy PC's turning into super heroes as the game progresses just seems contrived and theme-park to me, like sugary cartoons for little kids. I like savory beef reduction and burnt onions with bourbon myself, like Valhalla Rising, The Seventh Seal, or No Country For Old Men. Just a matter of taste I guess =-)

Re: Maiming Your Players' Characters

Thanks for the welcome!

Yep, the Peg-legged Princess was the piece from the upcoming supplement that I mentioned earlier. A fantastic piece of artwork, truly.

Anyway, WFRP was exactly what I had in mind when I started this topic. In fact, the lil' lady and myself were just discussing that particular system a few minutes ago. I actually ran across another mention of that system on... Paul's Blog, I believe, along with an adaptation for Labyrinth Lord. I was thinking, basically, that once a character hits 0 hit points he or she would then have to roll on a table to determine possible injuries or auto-kill (just like in WFRP). Additional damage suffered would result in a penalty to the roll, thus making it very likely that a character would be maimed or simply killed if he or she stayed to continue the fight. Also, larger monsters or monsters with a higher damage output would likely just auto-kill the character due to the penalties imposed on the player's roll. Could be applied to traps or... anything, really. I wouldn't want to clutter the system with needless junk, but I think this could add something.

As for high fantasy... yeah, I'm somewhat partial to the zaniness of the Known World (Mystara), but I do love me some grimdark, too!

Edit: Still, I'm very much partial to the slightly more arbitrary but equally effective "You done goofed" method. Player gets careless, slime falls, terrible burns, reaction penalty, done. A blend of the two would be effective, I believe, but I think some referees would be uncomfortable maiming a character without a table or die roll to back them up.

Last edited by PlanarRambler (2013-06-24 05:20:50)

Re: Maiming Your Players' Characters

About half the posts here are about potential house rules, I am far from innocent myself. I always wonder what James thinks as he reads through them. I sometimes picture him smashing random household objects with a giant foam mace =-P

Lamentations is clean enough that its very easy to bolt on rules, the 0 hp cripple roll would fit right in. Alternatively you could give the players the option of rolling on the table to get out of a tight spot, those cursed candles lit on both ends and dripping hot wax between ones toes make for some good game moments.

Re: Maiming Your Players' Characters

Does James often comment on house rules or offer referee advice? I haven't been through the whole forum, but I haven't seen much from him when it comes to that, but again I haven't been through the whole forum so...

Anyway, does anyone have any additional insights on the topic?

Re: Maiming Your Players' Characters

PlanarRambler wrote:

Does James often comment on house rules or offer referee advice? I haven't been through the whole forum, but I haven't seen much from him when it comes to that, but again I haven't been through the whole forum so...

When people are talking about house rules or "non-official" ideas like that I try to stay out of it and not discourage such things by injecting anything that might be interpreted as "official" into the conversation.

Re: Maiming Your Players' Characters

I remember those DM screens and tables. They were used extensivly by the dm of the first 2nd edition game I ever played in. The theif lost his hand. I think maiming would be good for a gritty skin of your teeth type game. Im thinking of trying to work out a system with exploding criticals. Crit on natural 20(max damage) reroll the d20 on a second 20 maiming and double damage instead then roll the 20 a third time and a third consecutive 20 results in an insta-kill.

On second thought that may be overly complicated. Perhapse just implement crits on a natural 20 for max damage and a chance for maiming, which would require another table and die roll but less than the previouse method. I'd have to work out the tables. Though this may depend on the form of attack and will likely not affect the gammut of foes likely encountered(unless they favor huminoid types).

Re: Maiming Your Players' Characters

Alright, so I recall Dungeons and Dragons had a 'Death from Massive Damage' rule that never came up, though the D20 Call of Cthulhu had one at a much lower level (something like 20 damage and you made a fortitude roll or died) did have some effect.

It would be easy and neat to do a Maiming from Massive Damage rule, in my opinion.  Something like 'any damage in excess of 20 is added to a D6 roll.  IE. you take 23 damage in a single hit, you roll 1D6+3.  Make a simple chart like

1-2:  Nothing.  Lucky you.
3-5:  Lose 1d4 from a random stat (roll another D6 to determine which.  results caused by broken bones, scaring, head trauma, etc)
6+ :  Serious injury causes a loss of 1D6 in a random stat as above.

Simple, quick, deadly.

Re: Maiming Your Players' Characters

For some reason thinking about maiming characters reminded me of the Black Knight from Monty Python's Quest for the Holy Grail. And with combat and hit points being abstract and all I could see some of my players quote the entire scene, ala "It's just a scratch!"
"But your arms gone!"
"So! Have at thee!" 

Thus any actual maiming will have to have some seriouse detremental effects to prevent these types of antics.

And by detremental it would have to be much much more than the loss of a couple of ability score points.

Last edited by Xid (2013-07-04 07:36:41)

Re: Maiming Your Players' Characters

I agree...  however I do think "Well, you broke an arm.  You lose 1d4 strength" is a quick and simple penalty, I would also certainly follow up with things like "No, you don't swing your sword.  You arm is broken, remember?" or whatever else.

I mean, by all means, embellish on the injury.  Leaving it a loss of a few stat points and carrying on would be an injustice (!!).

Of course, if you wanted to make up a more complex chart with all sorts of fun things on it, that would be sweet too.  It's always been, however, one of my biggest issues with the D&D system however.

Joe Blow gets shot by a cannon and takes 39 damage out of his 40 health.  He fights on as if nothing has happened because there is no penalty or issue in the loss of HP (by the numbers).  I've seen all sorts of pain systems and maim systems and a balance is tough between making things -too- deadly vs too much like a game of Final Fantasy.  I think the ST making up things works well, but a touch of guidance never hurt, right?

Just my two cents anyways.

Re: Maiming Your Players' Characters

This is a very good discussion which I find refreshingly common in this forum.  The level a civility and quality of comments is refreshing.
As for the matter at hand I would go as rules light as possible.  After reading through the rules I to found a lot of gaps if you will.   Occupational skills are an example - you just can't play a blacksmith in this game.  When I'm confronted with this sort of thing I'm going to handle it with just roleplaying and a judgement call.

If the PC hits 0 HP they will have to pay a price.  The players and I will look at the circumstances and decide if stat loss, the loss of a limb, hideous scarring, etc are appropriate.  A character is important to the player and the group as a whole so roleplaying it out is going to be my goal.  I've never tried this approach before but I want to give it a go as part of my Lamentations project.

Hopefully it won't blow up in my face.  Thanks to everyone for providing a good discussion I like a lot of what I've read so far and look forward to more.

Re: Maiming Your Players' Characters

Apart from specific circumstances (sticking your arm into a steel jaws trap will cut it off, regardless of game mechanics)

I do maiming if a character is felled in combat. Instead of dead at -3 HP or less, I allow a save vs Death; on a pass, you survive but lose D3 from a suitable stat (which is then described appropriately, as a limp or brain damage etc). On a failure, you are indeed dead. If you are brought to low HP from other things, common sense dictates if you can save (drowning, not so much, for example).

Blogging about OSR at Deep Delving

Re: Maiming Your Players' Characters

When monsters crit against characters, I roll a d30, which is a list of areas of the body (weighted toward arms/hands wielding weapons and torso area).  If there's no armor or protection in that area, then that body part is maimed (and healing won't bring it back). 

It's pretty brutal, and happens frequently enough that characters are being carried out of dungeons by their party, but I'm also "nice" about letting them get prosthetics or developing creative ways of dealing with the injury.

It's fun - the player is happy when a piece of armor saves a body part, me and the other players are happy when it doesn't and an eye or buttock gets eaten, and the attacked player is happy again when they figure out a clever way to deal with it.

(When a monster fumbles against a character, I use those Savage World adventure cards and the players get to draw from the deck.  These are special one shot uses they can use later on.)

Re: Maiming Your Players' Characters

Normally I find players grousing about their characters getting maimed.  The two exceptions being playing Hackmaster and LotFP.  For LotFP I incorporated maiming as an alternative to death (-4 HP).   0 was still unconscious (which is bad enough most times).  If character death occurs, I let them make a Save vs death.  If successful, they are just maimed but still out of the fight until they are healed to 1 hp.  I haven't found a good clean table for LotFP (though I'll look into WFRP thanks to the comments above!) so at this point let the players pick how they are maimed as long as it makes sense.  The best part is no one complains because at least their character isn't dead.

Re: Maiming Your Players' Characters

I think a lot of people don't like having their characters maimed for the same reason that they don't like having their characters tortured or sexually abused - it's profoundly deprotagonizing. Nothing says "you are not the hero of this story" like your arm falling off. That said, "you are not the hero of this story" (or, perhaps "this is a story that doesn't have any heroes") seems to be a theme of LotFP, so...

I still think it's important to get your players' consent before maiming their characters. Make sure you understand their limits and their interests. Maybe get each player to give you a list of the most terrible things that they would be okay with happening to their character, and underline the things that are terrible but also particularly interesting or "in style" for their character (ie. "right now my character is handsome, but I think he would be awesome with some terrible scarring" or "eyepatches are neat" or whatever).

I'd also say that it's a good idea to give players the option: your dude doesn't have to die of dying, but he'll have some consistent problems. Or, alternately, you can give up the character and move on.

I'd also say that it would be most fun to use maiming as the beginning of a plot, rather than the end. Assuming it's stylistically appropriate, consider letting your character go off in search of some kind of prosthesis, or super-intense healing magic, with all the risks and terrible bargains such things entail. I mean, what's more awesome? My character doesn't have a hand anymore and that's it, or my character lost his hand, grappled with it for a while, then beat up a demon and stole his hand, which continues to give me problems and plot hooks forever?

Re: Maiming Your Players' Characters

For what it's worth I can let you in on what I do about maiming players. When a creature crits they get a nasty injury, when they are reduced to zero but survive they have to make a save or take a serious injury based on what happened. Sometimes however it's best to play by ear.

Re: Maiming Your Players' Characters

My maiming system is similar to Akcos.  When players crit or fumble, they roll off the charts provided in GDF (5 I think?)

When monsters crit, I roll on my d30 hit location chart.  If that part's armored, the armor is destroyed, if not, that body part is.

When monsters fumble, players get to draw from a deck of cards that they can use later (these are like one time use powerful effects with either a catch, or a chance for things to go great or bad).

Re: Maiming Your Players' Characters

@ElectricPaladin, I think this depends on what RPG means to you and your party. If you need to discuss consent beforehand, then LotFP might NOT be the right game for you. (That said, my personal opinion is that the only role-playing that needs that should at least involve lots of rope and a single-tail...)

I'd feel uncomfortable refereeing for a party where harm to the characters translates into (unwanted) psychological distress. As for "yea my fighter could really use a manly scar", that's not me either, not even in Conan-esque power trip gaming..

Re: Maiming Your Players' Characters

Maiming PCs is my method for avoiding character death when its really gonna mess with our fun. My setting has a set of callous death goddesses called the Three Sisters that, from time to time, test a hero in Job-like fashion. I go out on this cosmic limb so that I can justify the stuff never being healed outside of a major story event.

So, to avoid disruptive character death (which is something I rarely, rarely do) I will assign the character a mutilation that suits the cause of damage. The players have seen the following list of example permanent injuries so they know what they are getting saddled with if they don't just die.

 Fractured Skull – Intelligence reduced to 5
 Mutilated – Charisma reduced to 5
 Crippled – Movement reduced to 60’
 Traumatized – Fails all fear-related saving throws
 Missing Eye – Ranged Attacks are made with a -4 penalty
 Severed Tongue – Can’t speak clearly and spells have a 50% chance to fail
 Burst Eardrums – Always surprised and can only communicate face to face within 10’
 Shattered Body – Constitution reduced to 5 (adjust HP accordingly)