Friday, May 20, 2011

Discussion: Which Is Worse?

Some gaming systems leave the effects of called shots up to the GM. Others, code in the damage that is done to a limb, head, or other part of the body that is specifically hit. This can come in to some interesting reactions when you get to the amount of damage that can permanently, or even just semi-permanently, maim or cripple a character.

I've been wondering lately though, which is worse (if one even is?). Do you feel worse about the situation when it is a simple GM ruling that it happens? Or do you feel worse when it is some arbitrary rule in the book?

On the one hand, when it is the GM's call, it is their call. They are actively deciding to maim your character. They have thought in their head, "Oh, Sarah took 45 damage to her left arm. So off it goes!" and seemingly without remorse that without her left arm, than Sarah's two weapon fighter is damn near useless. Granted, the GM could feel constrained by previous rulings, or lots of other things, but that doesn't tend to factor in to the feeling of persecution now does it?

On the other had, if the system has a rule that upon taking X damage to a limb, the limb is permanently crippled/lost, then at least the Gm is blameless. After all, they are just following the rules in the book, right? However, there is still the arbitrariness of it. Few systems count damage to individual limbs, so the threshold could just be crossed accidentally. There are also lots of other factors that can go into making a book ruling feel weird and awkward with the game, which is one of the core reasons that the GM is the final arbitrator of the rules.

So, which would you rather play in? Which makes you feel better about the outcome? As both a player, and as a GM, which game would you rather be in? Or would you rather GM where the system denotes maiming, and play where the GM makes the call - or vice versa?

Sound off in the comments below!


  1. I side with the GM. Most likely to have the best ability to be fair compared to pre-written rules.

  2. As a GM I almost never explicitly maim a character. On the other hand (if it hasn't been removed) I sort of do. I offer a way for my players to avoid dying when they've reached 0 HP. They randomly roll one attribute and then roll to see how much that attribute is reduced. If any attribute is reduced to zero the character dies anyway.

    I had one character almost die from being too ugly (Beauty reduced to almost 0).

    The explanation for this is that the character was maimed by the severe damage they took.

    That said this rule is both optional for the GM and optional to the players when I GM. I offer it as a last chance to keep a character they want. In about half the instances they choose to let the character go.

  3. Interesting way of doing it Emmet. Dark Heresy/Rogue Trader/Deathwatch has something of a similar function. Players have fate points, and they can burn (permanently lose) a fate point to avoid dying when they should die. This then basically goes into the old TV "no body, no death" as the person miraculously escapes death. However, they still suffer heavy injuries and can be heavily physically scarred from it.

  4. I like fate point mechanics but they give a very different feeling. If you have fate points, you expect to use them. They have very little other function so in that sense the character is given multiple lives. By reducing an attribute, players have a very acute sense of loss. That may not be what you want for your players dependent on the tone of your games. It does create a lot of emotional context in the player. A lot of times that emotional reaction to loss is too much for a player to handle (which is why I make it optional).

    If you give your players an option of spending a fate point or loosing some ability that their character had, my guess is they'd almost always choose the fate point because otherwise in a very tangible way the player is being maimed. So, as you asked, which is worse? In this case giving the players the choice of being maimed or dead has been about a 50 / 50 split. A lot of times the players will roll for the "save vs. death" rule (as we call it) and then decide that the player should die anyway.