Wounds II: Where the Blow Falls

Having previously created some combat skills for the Langobard RPG and tentatively outlined the first parts of a health trait with varying degrees of injury from minor bruising and scratches through breaking bones, severing limbs, gouging eyes, to instant fatality. This is still very much a work in progress, but for today I want today to focus on how to determine where on the victim’s body an injury occurs. Other gaming systems out there in the world have approached this problem from a variety of angles. These can be split into four main approaches, I think:

  1. Each character simply has an arbitrary, numerical health trait. If enough points of damage are accumulated the character dies, but specific location on the body are not taken into account.
  2. The attacking player states the specific details of the attack their character will make,
  3. The Host narrates the damage based on the story circumstances
  4. A random outcome is determine by rolling dice (or similar) against a pre-determined table.

 In practice these are not exclusive, and a given approach might combine any or even all of them. The injury tariffs of the Edictus Rothari appear to make the first option an unsuitable approach for the gamification of the laws. After all, the injuries in the laws are detailed enough to give a specific composition for severing even the little toe (two solidi for a freeman, one solidus for an aldius (the elusive Lombard social class of the ‘half free’) or an enslaved domestic worker, or else half a solidus for an enslaved agricultural worker, see Rothari Nos 73, 100 and 124, respectively). However, these are serious wounds when the digit (or sensory organ, limb, etc), are actually severed. Wounds that will probably heal are not given in relation to a specific location on the body. For example, broken bones are not mentioned with the sole exception of the skull (Rothari No. 47, in the case of a freeman), and, although it is not mentioned explicitly in the law-code, this singling out may reflect the potential for inflicting brain damage. Other lesser injuries on the head are also mentioned, with the preceding clause, Rothari No. 46, having outlined blows to the scalp in which the skin is cut. Other clauses address injuries in a non-localised fashion, and I think it is worth quoting Rothari Nos 43 in full here (per Fischer-Drew’s translation, The Lombard Laws, pp. 60-61).

  1. “He who, in the course of a sudden quarrel, strikes a freeman and causes him some injury or wound, shall pay to him three solidi as composition for one blow, six solidi for two blows, nine solidi for three blows, twelve solidi for four blows. If, however, more blows were suffered, the blows [in excess of four] are not to be counted and the injured man must be content”.

As an aside, the fact that the Lombard laws count only up to four non-specific wounds., might justify an argument that each character should only have four health slots. The argument is a bit tenuous, however, as the clause does imagine that a person might be hit more than that, but only that further composition isn’t given for them. Likewise, if the health is limited to four such wounds, would the game mechanics imply that the character died on receiving a fifth? Much to consider.

Some of the content of Rothari No. 43 is then reiterated in the following clause, although the direction changes to emphasise the specific location of an injury. Again quoting from Fischer Drew’s translation in The Lombard Laws in full (p. 61):

  1. “He who hits another man with his fist shall pay him three solidi as composition. He who strikes another on the ear shall pay six solidi”.

The clause following this, Rothari No. 45, demands that once composition has been paid the faida, that is the ‘feud’, between the two parties is to end, before leading into the specific head wounds mentioned previously. In gamifying the laws, these clauses suggest the validity of a general health trait when the injury is at a level that can feasibly be healed. Depending on the degree of damage we only need to know the localisation of the wound to the following extent:

Minor (bruising)               head, ear, arm or generally elsewhere on the body

Ordinary (cuts)                 scalp or (not explicitly stated) generally elsewhere on the body. Some other cuts which heal are also mentioned, in particular the face, nose, ear, arms

Severe (broken bones)       head (skull), or (not explicitly stated) generally elsewhere on the body

Permanent (amputation)    specific area of body (some parts not mentioned, e.g. no mention of back, genitals, buttocks, neck, or internal organs)

Note that the injuries listed here aren’t exhaustive, especially in terms of severity. that’s for another post (in the near future, I hope). That said, the Edictus also legislates for blows that knock out one or more teeth, and distinguishes between the front teeth ‘those that appear when smiling’ and the jaw teeth (at twenty solidi and sixteen solidi, respectively for a freeman, Rothari Nos 52 and 53). while the injury is undeniably permanent, I find it hard to equate the knocking out of a tooth as a permanent wound like severing a hand or gouging out an eye. I assume that in terms of force, knocking out a tooth might be closer to breaking a bone, and that for the Severe wound knowing if the blow landed on the mouth might also be applicable. Could the Jaw Teeth, Front Teeth and Lips, all covered in different clauses, be grouped together as the mouth, and the actual area injured then be determined from the severity of the damage inflicted?

Whether or not a simple health trait is applicable in part, it clearly does not cover all situations that the Lombard laws and the Langobard RPG game engine itself might require. The second option from the list given at the outset, that the player dictate their intentions, works fine and theory, but requires some self-restraint and awareness of the bigger picture on the player’s behalf. Regardless of how good a role-player they might be, it is easy to get carried away in the heat of the moment! It is for this reason, after all, that the game engine is a part of the role play game, otherwise it would simply be improvisational theatre, without the rules for constraining and arbitrating the system. Nevertheless, player input into the storytelling and directing the actions of their characters is vital, it just sometimes needs to be channelled. That leads directly to the third option, although in practice all routes taken in the game should filter through and be synthesised by the Host (or storyteller), if only as a means of narrating the story. I’ll return to this point again, but for now I want to think about the fourth option, randomising the part of the body hit.

The arbitration engine for using skills in Langobard RPG is already based on six-sided dice (or ‘#d6’, where the # denotes the number of dice that are rolled). These have the advantage of being far more easily available than their myriad cousins (from four-sided to twenty-sided and beyond), which might be more accessible for a group of players whose focus is more on historians approaching the Lombard laws from a different perspective, than an experienced, regular roleplay gaming group trying out a new setting. The latter are welcome, of course, I consider myself to be one of them!

Depending on how you approach the injury tariffs, a different number of main areas of the body are addressed in the Edictus. These comprise the Head, Chest, Hips, Arms and Legs. The Hands and Feet might also be included here, if they not considered as subdivisions of arms and legs. As mentioned previously, some of these are further subdivided, some areas of the body are not discussed (genitals, buttocks, back, neck, tongue, internal organs), and no specific distinction is made between left and right for the arms, hands, legs and feet. For gamification purposes, we would probably need to further divide arms and legs to include left and right. Subdivisions of the hands include the Thumb and each Finger, while those of the feet include each of the five Toes. We can probably also include the ‘back’ as part of the Chest, and the buttocks and perhaps also genitals as part of the Hips. Subdivisions of the head that are specifically mentioned include the Ears, Eyes, Face, Front Teeth, Jaw Teeth, Lips, Nose, Scalp and Skull, with wounds of varying degrees of significance. A damage table to include all of the parts listed in this paragraph would therefore need about fifty entries (more if each individual tooth was to be represented) Stepping back to consider the broader areas that were outlined to begin with, but keeping the lefts and rights, that gives eleven areas in total. A random roll of 2d6 (that is the sum of two six-sided dice) gives a value of between ‘2’ and ‘12’, or eleven possible values in total, but with some being more likely to occur than others. That is to say, there are six chances out of thirty-six of rolling a ‘7’, while rolling a ‘12’ or a ‘2’ are equally least-likely with a one in thirty-six chance apiece. This would mean that should the area of the body to be affected be determined in this way, then the body parts may need to be assigned according to their likelihood of being hit, as the largest part of the body, assigning the ‘7’ to the chest would make sense. Alternatively, the significance of the body part might require to be matched qualitatively to the figure in question. As noted, the chances of rolling a ‘2’ or a ‘12’ on 2d6 are identical, but there is something emotive and instinctually positive about rolling two ‘6’s, while rolling a pair of ‘1’s has the inverse feeling. Assigning the ‘12’ to the head, and thus the vaunted ‘headshot’ would therefore make sense. The numbers in parenthesis assigned to each of the areas of the body on the chart, make some attempt to distribute these values. (Note, this isn’t a perfect distribution. I feel that it prioritises the right hand (two in thirty-six chance, with one of the dice having to show a ‘6’) over the left hand (three in thirty-six chance, possible without a ‘6’). This might be fine for those of us who are right-handed, but seems a bit unfair for left-handers. I could change it to ‘Dominant Hand’ and ‘Non-Dominant Hand’, but what about ambidextrous characters? Someone is bound to make such a character, and probably sooner rather than later if the tingling in my ‘min-max sense’ can be trusted. I’ll leave it as left and right for now, but will come back to this).

body-location-table-general-2d6

In the instance that the roll indicated a hand or foot was hit, a further roll of 1d6 could be made to determine exactly where:

(6)        Entire Hand or Foot

(5)        Thumb or Big Toe

(4)        Index Finger or Second Toe

(3)        Middle Finger or Third Toe

(2)        Ring Finger of Fourth Toe

(1)        Little Finger or Little Toe

 A similar sub-division could be considered for the various parts of the head. If lefts and rights for eyes and ears, and upper and lower for lips are taken into account, but scalp and skull are taken as one area differentiated in rules terms by the degree of injury inflicted, then again eleven broad areas are denoted. As such a further 2d6 roll to determine where on the head a blow landed might be a feasible way of determining the exact damage. While the hands and feet had a sixth option to say, the entire piece, I think we can argue that this is not really required for the head. The specific areas cover the entirety of the head (actually, apart from the neck, and the tongue. I’ll go back now and edit those into my lists of exceptions above; it’ll be like you never knew I overlooked them…), and a permanent amputation wound that took the entire head would be a fatal wound anyway (which is the next level of severity up on the damage scale), so is a moot point. These eleven parts can again be organised then according to the likelihood of being hitting, or significance of the wound. Again, the right/left dominant/non-dominant issue will arise, in this case with eyes and ears. The ordering of them for now in relation to the numbers is pretty haphazard, and like with the overall body I will undoubtedly reassess and revise as required. Possibly ordering them on a third axis, in relation to the extent of composition awarded for each. Provisionally, the parts of the head correlated to the sum of 2d6 might comprise:

(12)      right eye

(11)      left eye

(10)      right ear

(9)        left ear

(8)        face

(7)        scalp

(6)        nose

(5)        front teeth

(4)        jaw teeth

(3)        upper lip

(2)        lower lip

 In theory, then, these tables can be rolled against to randomly determine exactly where on the body a successful blow falls. Consider two people caught up in a brawl, a scandalum or disturbance in the laws. The player behind one states that they will punch the other in the nose, while the other attempts and fails to dodge. The blow connects and inflicts a wound, but where on the body? The player rolls 2d6 against the first table, resulting in a pair of ‘1’s, added together that makes ‘2’ or the ‘left foot’. A second roll of 1d6 made on the hands and feet table results in a ‘3’; the intended bop on the nose ultimately connects with… the third toe. This, to me, seems problematic. A punch to the face, no matter how well or badly executed, shouldn’t break a toe, at least not directly, and certainly not as a probable, repeatable outcome. An outcome like that should be the result of atypical quirks of the world. Nevertheless, while some gaming groups prefer to ground these matters in the narrative, and let the Host and logic of the story situation arbitrate the outcome, other groups prefer to leave more in the randomised chance of the game mechanics. My personal preference, as I’m sure is apparent from previous posts, is for the former, but in practice neither is superior to the other. A gamification of the Lombard laws (or any RPG, for that matter) needs to cater to both tastes, and let individual groups find the personal balance between storytelling and game mechanics.

One possible means of uniting the two threads, is the ‘called shot’. That is the rules assume a typical attack is simply a swing at a person, with the attacker happy to hit anywhere. In such a case, if the attack was successful a randomised roll for where the blow actually connects is fairer. The player just wanted to hit their foe, but on success the injury had to occur somewhere. Conversely, in the previous example, the player stated they were going to punch the other character in the face. Through storytelling and player agency the attack has already been aimed. A called shot, basically increases the difficulty of the skill roll, to represent the increased difficulty of what is being attempted. In the game engine being created here for Langobard RPG, increased difficulty is represented by removing d6 from the dicepool for the skill at hand before the roll is made. To aim for a part of the body on the first table, in our example the ‘head’, under ordinary circumstances, might bestow a -1d6 penalty. should the player wish to further refine that through the next table, and specify the nose, then that might require an additional -1d6 penalty, so -2d6 in total. In this way, the sheer number of dice that could theoretically have been rolled is reduced, the players need only detract from the storytelling for the skill roll itself, and the mechanism incorporates and reflects the player choice more closely. Of course, if the victim manages to successfully defend themselves, at least in part, then the Host might determine that the blow still connects but not where the attacker intended. In some cases a randomised roll might still be suitable, in others the situation might present its own solution – if the victim defends from a solid, well-aimed punch to the nose by raising an arm to block the attack, then it seems fairer for the Host to arbitrate that the blow landed on said arm, rather than calling for another set of randomised rolls and risking the absurdity of that punch connecting with a toe or similar.

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