Coldforge: The Injury Charts

I continue rushing headlong into the second year of writing Coldforged material, and this year I hope to cover enough topics in preparation to print as is possible. We’re in the home stretch, I can feel it 19 months in that there is only a little left to accomplish before beginning the editing process! Today, I take another look at the Injury charts I made back in the Before Times, and see how I can hone it to a more appropriate form.

Lasting Injuries

Before I even talk about the chart, I want to make sure we have context for what the chart is, why I want it in the game, and how it accomplishes the goals I have set for it, in order to make sure we get the most out of the tool here.

What the Chart is

The lasting injury chart is a set of consequences for dire situations during the game. The DMG gives a few possibilities for triggering a lasting injury roll, but in Coldforged, I’ve decided that there are two reasons one should roll for injury: Critical Hits and hitting 0 HP. I believe that both of these instances need a little more heft when they happen, something to add to the drama of the instance without collapsing the game.

Why I want it in the game

First, and easiest, is the Critical Hit. While doing double damage is great, sometimes it results in some small damage rolls and a bit of disappointment on both sides. When the DM rolls a 20 and then announces 7 damage, its a bit of a letdown. Having to make a lasting injury roll adds tension no matter if they are crit by a lowly goblin or the God of the Sun, as there is always the chance the character can suffer some form of lasting injury, one that may define their character, if they want. Additionally, it allows for players to have fantastic moments on their critical hits, as the monsters make their Injury check, and possibly suffer injuries, sometimes in dramatic ways. In no way is this going to auto-kill them, but it can create surprising and intense moments during the fight.

The second instance, in my opinion, is the most important. Dropping to 0 in the game should be a dire circumstance, and in this respect, I feel that 5e really suffers from the absolute lack of dread for dropping to 0. Now, the consequences are extremely dire – three saves can kill your character, and you automatically fail saves against damage taken while unconscious. However, healing resets those saving throws (It didn’t in Playtest, and I thought that was amazing if a bit of overkill) so the simple healing word or cure wounds can create a version of conscious-to-unconscious ping-pong that really feels upsetting. Now, many DM’s can address this by being ruthless to player characters with their monsters and NPC’s, and I can absolutely get this – we see it in fantasy movies and books all of the time, but the disparity between what happens to an NPC and a PC is pretty high: A PC character has to have a villain take a couple of actions to slay them, but the NPC is simply dead at 0. I understand the need for two separate systems, but I don’t really like it.

Enter the Injury Chart. Each time the character drops to 0 they need to roll for an injury, and the DC isn’t extremely high, but it isn’t trivial either. This means that over a long timeline, Characters are bound, even tough characters, to fail this save and suffer lasting injuries. This makes preventative healing and ensuring that characters stay standing instead of bouncing up and down imperative in order to keep a character from suffering compounding injuries that can reduce their capacity to fight over the long term, and perhaps for the rest of the day or longer. I feel that the tension of having to roll on the injury chart for each instance of dropping to 0 is enough of a deterrent and the consequences for failing are not overburdensome. It’s a choice that I think players make more consciously when the rule is around.

The Rules

When a creature suffers a critical hit or is reduced to 0 hit points, they must make a DC 13 Constitution check, called a Lasting Injury Check. If they fail the roll, they must then roll on the injury chart to determine the lasting injury that they suffer.

2d10
2 Arm destroyed or severed (Critical, Permanent)
3 Leg Destroyed or Severed (Critical, Permanent)
4 Hand Destroyed or Severed (Critical, Permanent)
5-6 Fingers (d4) Destroyed or Severed (Mild, Permanent)
7-8 Internal Trauma (Severe, Temporary)
9-11 Broken Ribs (Mild, Temporary)
12-13 Hideous Wounds (Mild, Temporary)
14-15 Crippled Leg (Severe, Permanent)
16-17 Crippled Arm (Severe, Permanent)
18 Massive Concussion (Severe, Temporary)
19 Hideous Facial Wound (Mild, Permanent)
20 Destroyed Eye (Mild, Permanent)
* If there is an option for left or right, there is a 50% chance for either

How I want the chart to work

Each of the results will have its own callout for what happens, which is self-contained and hopefully won’t reference other rules. There are a few options, however, where I create additional rules that are then referenced, but I don’t know how much time I want a character who has just suffered injuries to be dwelling on how bad that injury could be – I want them to be able to quickly take stock of the injury and move forward.

The chart is 2d10, which creates a bell curve of injuries, which I appreciate. While many of the injuries sustained will be fairly mild, a swing roll can provide drama. A low swing roll (a “bad” roll) will provide the character with bad results that need to be addressed right away – Severed limbs, most likely, and internal trauma. A high swing roll (a “good” roll) will provide the character with either mild or “cool” injuries – Missing an eye, Scars on the face, or a concussion (aside: I won’t get into real-life concussion results being not-mild here, and of collective continuous concussions causing devastating damage). This gives the characters another point of tension and the possibility of interesting injuries.

Critical Injuries are those that are going to need to be dealt with right away, or the character may simply die outright and will have rules in the description to indicate that. Severe Injuries are ones that are going to affect the character in a meaningful way but won’t cause the character to immediately perish. Mild injuries are going to prove problematic over the long term, but are not immediately life-threatening.

Permanent injuries are exactly that, permanent, and will have lasting effects on the character unless specific actions are taken. Temporary injuries will resolve themselves, provided rest and recuperation are taken.

I’ve also tried to make the injury chart as damage type agnostic as possible, so that it can make sense no matter what damage type causes the injury, making it play equally with all monsters and effects.

I want a character that suffers a lasting injury to have to deal with the injury for a time, and that injury to mean something beyond a single roll. That means that the results of the injury chart have to be balanced so that the effects are devastating to the character every time, but is something that will cause thought but won’t evoke despair. To that end, each injury is two-part: A long term and a short term effect. The short term effect can be dealt with via simple healing magic, rest, and time. The long term effects almost all require specific conditions to be met in order to alleviate the issues and return the character to normal.

I want the characters to have choices when it comes to the injuries – if they get their arm cut off, maybe they decide they want to train the other arm, or they want to simply continue on, for instance. Let’s go through the chart.

Arm destroyed or severed: Your arm has been completely removed, and you no longer have use of it. It falls to the ground at your feet, if applicable. Any items held completely in that arm will fall with it. You are bleeding out and will die if unattended (A character that is bleeding out can remain conscious a number of rounds equal to their Constitution modifier (Min 0), after which time they will fall unconscious and begin making death saving throws. If the character receives any healing, be it a successful medicine check or magical healing, They will no longer be bleeding out).
– The long term effect is that you no longer have a limb. The short term effect is that you are bleeding out.

Leg Destroyed or severed: Your leg has been completely removed, and you no longer have use of it. It falls to the ground at your other foot, if applicable. You must make a DC 20 Athletics check to remain standing. If you fail, you fall to the ground and are prone. You may stand as normal. Your movement is reduced to 5 feet, and you may not take the dash or disengage action. You are bleeding out and will die if unattended (A character that is bleeding out can remain conscious a number of rounds equal to their Constitution modifier (Min 0), after which time they will fall unconscious and begin making death saving throws. If the character receives any healing, be it a successful medicine check or magical healing, They will no longer be bleeding out).
The long term effect is that you have lost the use of your leg. The short term effect is that you are bleeding out.

Hand Destroyed or Severed: Your Hand has been completely removed, and it falls to the ground at your feet, if applicable, along with anything held in that hand. You will continue to bleed, taking 2d6 damage per round until you receive any healing, be it successful medicine check or magical healing.
– The long term effect is that you have lost the use of your hand. The Short term is continuous damage

Fingers severed or destroyed. A few of your fingers have been destroyed or severed, and fall to the ground at your feet, if applicable. Any attacks made with that hand suffer disadvantage until the injury is cared for, spending at least an hour of rest and casting of lesser restoration. As long as the fingers are severed, you have a disadvantage on any skill or save that requires fine dexterity with the hand that is missing fingers.
Long term effect is the loss of manual dexterity. The short term effect attacks with disadvantage.

Internal Trauma. You have suffered a great injury, yet one that can appear to be mild based on outer physical indications. You have a disadvantage on all St, Dx, and Cn saving throws until the injury is cared for, spending at least an hour of rest and casting of lesser restoration. Additionally, you regain half of the hit dice you would normally for a number of weeks equal to 5 minus your Constitution modifier. Resting will speed up this process, with a full day of rest counting as a full week.
– The long term effect is Hit Die Loss, with the short term effect being saving throw penalties.

Broken Ribs. Your ribs have been struck so hard that they have cracked and broken. You have a disadvantage on all constitution ability checks and saving throws until the injury is addressed with at least an hour of rest and the casting of lesser restoration. Additionally, if you take the dash action, you suffer a level of exhaustion at the end of your turn. This lasts for a number of weeks equal to 5 minus your Constitution modifier. Resting will speed up this process, with a full day of rest counting as a full week.
the long term effect is exhaustion for running, and the short term effect is CN ability disadvantage.

Hideous body Wounds: The damage you have sustained has rent wounds in your flesh that are extremely painful and difficult to heal, after which time you will have permanent scars where the wounds once were. As long as the wounds, or their scars, are visible, you will have disadvantage on all Charisma ability checks. The scars can be removed via Regeneration. Your Hit Points maximum is reduced by 1d10, to a minimum of 1, until the wounds are addressed, requiring at least an hour of rest and the casting of lesser restoration.
the long term effect is disadvantage on charisma checks, and the short term is the loss of Hit Points.

Crippled Leg: You have been dealt severe damage to your leg, and though it can support your weight, it cannot be used to maximum. You have disadvantage on Dexterity ability checks and saves until the wound is addressed, requiring at least an hour of rest and the casting of Lesser Restoration. Your movement speed is reduced by 5 feet. This penalty can be removed by casting regeneration.
– The long term effect is movement speed reduction and the short term effect is Dexterity disadvantage.

Crippled Arm: You have been dealt severe damage to your arm, and though it can still function, it cannot be used to maximum. You have disadvantage on Strength ability checks and saves until the wound is addressed, requiring at least an hour of rest and the casting of Lesser Restoration. All attack rolls made with this arm are at disadvantage. This penalty can be removed by casting regeneration.

Severe Concussion: Your head has suffered trauma, and your brain is unable to function at its fullest. You have disadvantage on Wisdom ability checks and saving throws until the trauma is addressed, requiring at least an hour of rest and the casting of lesser restoration. Additionally, you must make a concentration check each time you go to cast a spell (DC equal to 8+ spell level) or be unable to cast the spell. It is not lost, and you are able to take a different action, as long as it is not casting a spell. This lasts for a number of weeks equal to 5 minus your intelligence modifier. Resting will speed up this process, with a full day of rest counting as a full week.

Hideous Facial Wound: The damage you have sustained has rent wounds in your flesh that are extremely painful and difficult to heal, after which time you will have permanent scars on your face. You will have disadvantage on all Charisma ability checks, either because the scars are visible, or because they are covered with a mask or other contrivance. The scars can be removed via Regeneration.
-The long term effect is that of disadvantage on Charisma ability checks. There is no short term effect

Loss of an Eye: Your eye has been damaged beyond repair, and you are now blind in it. Your ranged attacks suffer disadvantage as long as you only have one eye.
-The long term effect is that of disadvantage on ranged attack rolls. There is no short term effect.