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The Impossible Dream

#7: Assessing Damage

by Hunter Logan
Jun 19,2003

 

Last installment, I claimed this installment would be about play samples. I changed my mind. I think people who read this column know that play samples are scripts of a play session and that play samples are good for demonstrating how a game works. Going on about that for a whole installment seems like overkill, so let me sum up: Use play samples because they're good and helpful. Now, on to something infinitely more interesting: Assessing damage in game terms.

Practical Considerations
A designer has at least four practical considerations that should underlie decisions about damage in a game system.
Damage and Play Flow
Like any other aspect of an rpg, the rules and mechanical processes for handling damage can be expressed through play flow. A lot of this overlaps with rules for combat, but I've decided not to approach combat as a subset of game rules for two reasons. First, I think most people have their own ideas about how combat should run. I don't really know what I could add to that. Second, combat is not the only time characters give or receive damage. So, I want to concentrate on the ways and means for assessing damage. Here is an example:

Two Specific Issues
I want to address two specific issues related to damage: Armor and the death spiral.

Armor: Designers decide how armor will protect a character. I have seen three common methods for treating armor. The methods can be combined as desired.
The Death Spiral: Each time a character takes damage, the character becomes weaker and easier to kill. Death spirals are often enforced with loss of character ability and penalties to the die roll. As a designer, you have to decide for yourself whether or not a death spiral is appropriate for your game.

The Deal with Damage
Damage is a universal phenomenon in rpgs. Most every game has rules for hurting PCs, smashing monsters, and destroying stuff. The means for doing that are part of the game's rules. The best way to figure things out is to answer questions. Damage Types
Not all damage is the same. The sword slash that hurts the body is different from the bad news that damages the psyche or the blast of ghostly energy that pierces the character's very soul. In the end, I think designers choose from four types of damage:
Means of Inflicting Damage
There are plenty of ways to inflict damage, but most of them fit in four categories. Quantifying Damage
Once the means for inflicting damage are decided, a designer needs means for quantifying damage. Here are some possibilities.
Damage Effects
Once the damage is measured, it usually has some mechanical effect. Here are some possibilities.

Avoiding and Reducing Damage
In game terms, damage is usually best avoided. If a character can't avoid taking damage, the player can at least take steps to reduce the amount of damage. Of course, a lot of this is up to you as the designer. You can provide the means for reducing or avoiding damage as part of your game design. Here are some possibilities.
Repairing Damage
Once characters take damage, players will want some way to make repairs. This might also extend to pets, vehicles and other important equipment, because a player may consider a character's pet, vehicle, or equipment as an important aspect of the character. Thus, when any of these take damage, the player will want to repair them, as well.

End Note
Designers can really tweak game play by choosing appropriate methods of assessing damage. This is an important part of an rpg design; and good design is a matter of conscious thought, logical choices, and deliberate decisions. I can't tell you how you should design your games; that's up to you. All I can do is offer a way of thinking about design. I'm interested in your opinions about this article; so don't be shy about posting. Next time, I'll go one step further and talk about designing death into a game. Thanks for reading. TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg

What do you think?

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