Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Damage in the Tapestry

Quick word of introduction: I’m working on a system with minimal complexity (no classes, stats or levels) and no damage rolls. This is why you won’t get much in the way of concrete numbers or anything d20-based here.


It’s a wound, a poison or some other effect that weakens your character. You can take up to 3 of it, after which you roll a death save.

There are certain rules to defining harm.

  1. It must be narratively described.
    It’s not a “you got hit by a sword” but rather a “the sword sliced through your arm, opening a large vessel” or “the arrow is stuck in your thigh”, etc.
    The reason for that is because it allows for the next point.
  2. It must be fixable.
    If an arrow is stuck in your thigh, you must surgically remove it.
    If you lost an arm, you must replace it with prosthetic (preferably a magical one)
    If there’s poison in your blood, you must find an antidote, etc.
  3. It must be the result of a failure.
    Most obvious thing - you don’t get harmed by doing things you should or when things go your way.
I believe this produces a cool system that makes health more gameable and the role of a healer significantly more enjoyable than in D&D-style hit-point systems. The answer to harm shouldn’t be “go rest up for X days” or “go use a healing spell”, it should be “figure out a way to sew yourself up” or “find a blood donor”.

There are three ways of interacting with harm:

  1. Ignoring
  2. Worsening
  3. Healing
I will describe healing separately.


You can roll without factoring the harm in if you take an action where harm wouldn’t affect you.
Let me give you an example:
Joe got hit on the thigh with an arrow.
He wants to ignore his wound. To that end, he hunkers down in a corner and uses his hand crossbow to shoot at opponents.
Because the referee decides his thigh wound is irrelevant to this tactic - he doesn’t factor in the harm into his rolls.


Change the nature of a wound, usually for worse.
Let’s say Joe got an arrow in the thigh again. This time he immediately pulled the arrow out and kept on going.
Now, instead of an arrow wound, he would have blood loss. A more ruthless referee may add blood loss on top of his arrow wound as another harm.
In order to fix them, he must first sew up the wound, then do something about the blood loss.


Instead of relying on healing potions and poultices, I’ve decided to expand the range of medicaments and herbal remedies.


They heal postoperative sepsis, and let you ignore common infections.

The surgeon rolled low on sewing you up? Drank from a standing water source without boiling first? Had some other stupid idea that didn’t end up with you dying? Antipyretics are your friend.


Pain meds. Allow you to ignore pain-based harm. Come in two forms:

  • Ointments - require time to apply.
  • Pills/fluids - can be applied immediately, but worsen the harm in the long run by turning it from a pain into a poisoning.(The referee may decide they only do that in case of overdosing)

Specific/Healing Medication
All the specific medications for ailments. Your antibiotics and antineoplastics (magic gives you cancer in my setting, don’t ask) go here.
Their purpose is treating the cause rather than the symptoms, so they rarely give any immediate effect, but can speed up the healing process from “multiple days” to “overnight”.


Not a medicament, but a healing method.
It’s a means of healing wound-based harm and preventing blood loss or contamination.
Usually boils down to sewing things together and/or cauterizing them. An incorrectly performed surgery (unsterile environment/tools) results in post-operative sepsis.


To take harm and interacting with it a tad further, I’ve introduced very basic alchemy into the mix. You can obviously use the stuff above and completely ignore what’s in this section, but if you want to delve a tad deeper, I won’t stop you.

There are 4 basic humours: blood, phlegm, yellow bile, black bile. I will get to the last one later.


Colour: red
Association: vitality, strength, physicality
Potion ingredient: sanguinic


Colours: colourless, grey, blue (not in human body)
Association: mind, mental capacity, memory
Potion ingredient: phlegmatic

Yellow Bile

Colours: yellow
Association: strength of will, influence upon others or resistance against such influence
Potion ingredient: choleric

You can see this is a bastardized version of the humour theory. I changed a couple of the meanings for the purpose of making this more gameable.

Now let’s see what happens if you drink a potion of either ingredient.


If you’ve lost blood, you are weakened, your strength is lowered, etc.
Drinking a red potion heals you in that case.
(generally you still want to rest for a bit, though)
This is analogical for other colours. Failed a will save? Yellow potion! Ran outta spell slots? Blue/Grey potion!

Imagine you’ve got all your blood and drink a red potion:

  • Your willpower and mental capacity are lowered due to humour imbalance. 
  • Your vitality, strength or physicality are enhanced.

Again, analogical for other colours.

Blue weakens your strength and willpower.
Yellow weakens your strength and mental capacity, etc.


You can have pathological humour excess caused by a disease - it carries only negative effects of the imbalance.

Let’s say your proverbial tuberculosis or COPD fills your lungs with phlegm, maybe it makes pus-filled blisters pop out all over your body.

That means you have pathological excess of phlegm. You don’t get any smarter, only weaker and have less willpower.


Your healer can fix the symptoms:

  • Drain the excess with a needle.
  • The measure is temporary - seek means of fixing the cause.
  • The resulting drained humour is a contaminated disease vector. It has no use in alchemy. Have fun infecting village wells or something.

Black Humour

The black bile is poison - plain and simple. Instead of having an effect of its own, it corrupts another humours. Human body produces it as it ages, but it is impossible to distill out of a living human. Might work for a corpse, though.

It works on the strongest or the weakest humour, depending on whether others are in balance.

If one of the humours is low, the black bile corrupts it. For example

  • If you’re low on blood, you might die if poison is applied to you.
  • If you’re low on willpower, poison will make you break down completely.
  • If you’re low on mental capacity, the poison will drive you into madness.

If all humours are in balance or one of them is higher than others, the black bile turns the dominant humour into a twisted version of itself.

  • If you’re high on blood, the bile makes it tougher for you to control your body and adjust strength to the task.
  • If you’re high on willpower, the bile will drive you to rage and ruthless greed or ambition.
  • If you’re high on mental capacity, the bile will make you consider all the possible outcomes and introduce choice paralysis.


The above humour system makes potioncraft limited, (which is suitable for my low-magic game) but far simpler and easier to mess around with for your own use.

Knowing if something is an alchemical ingredient or not requires alchemical training. Treat it as you will for your system.

Historically, alchemists did not teach one another, but instead used deeply symbolic (i.e. hermetic) texts to transfer their teachings.

Alchemical ingredients are separated into four types (as with humours):

  • Sanguinic - red
  • Choleric - yellow
  • Phlegmatic - grey/blue/colourless
  • Melancholic - black

They allow you to produce corresponding potions/poison.


Mixing two of the three base potions (red, yellow, blue) produces a potion with both of the base effects, and double the aftereffects.
For example, an orange (red + yellow) potion:

  • increases both your strength and willpower
  • lowers your mental capacity twice as much
  • this level of damage might force you to roll for things you normally wouldn’t.

Other potions

I might one day make a detailed potion making system for spell-like magical effects. For now, though, I’d leave it at this.

If you kill and properly butcher a magical creature, you may grind the body part responsible for the magic (such as a fairy/dragon’s wings) into a magical ingredient, then cook it into one or more doses of potion.

Such a potion will poison you in the long run, but will give you the sought-after effect for its duration.

For nonmagical ingredients, you must mix them with a magical ingredient that doesn’t produce any effect on its own.

For example, to achieve flight, mix a crow’s feather (nonmagical) with aetherite (magical, no effect of its own).
After the effect wears off, you can proceed to enjoy your cancer.

Thanks to Gaptooth for previewing this.

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