Behold the Master of Contradiction

Well well well well… yesterday, on MeWe, I asked why we’re inventing new rules all the time instead of using the myriad of the ones already in existence. Today, I’m thinking aloud about a way to play without hit point and without damage roll. . . . . (dramatic pause) . . . . No hit points? No damage roll? Why? For several reasons: I, as referee, am much too lazy to keep track of hp. I tried using d20s as hp tracker, but even that is way too much work for me. The fewer numbers all players (including me) have to track at the table, the quicker the game moves. Different options a) I could ref like some of the old grognards: they simply don’t count hp. Instead, they guesstimate and handwave. This is a possibility, and I did that for many, many years in my games. The problem is: it started to feel very arbitrary, kind of like the Great Norbert Show. Nope. b) The most obvious path is to use “hits” instead of hit points. Things like “three strikes and you’re out”. Some old games do this. Apocalypse World does it. This works, but sometimes, it feels a bit… stale. c) The option I favor at the moment is to replace hits with “tags”. A prefect example for that is the pbtA game Legend of the Elements. Its combat move is as follows:

Commit Open Violence (+Hot)When you strike out violently with intent to kill or incapacitate, roll +Hot. On a 10 or greater, your attack is successful; Tag the target appropriately. On a 7, 8, or 9, choose one:~ You don’t Tag them.~ You’re left in a disadvantageous position. ~ You’re left open to their counterattack.

And how does the book define tags?

Tags are small descriptive words or phrases that are applied to characters, and Environment Tags are phrases describing the state of a location (…) In one sense, Tags do nothing on their own (…)All the mechanics in the game flow from the fiction, and Tags are fictionally binding. If a soldier has the Trapped In Ice Tag, just because the numbers haven’t changed doesn’t mean the MC can just describe them breaking free and running. They’re trapped, after all! The MC would need an opportunity to use one of the MC Moves to have that soldier break free.Similarly, with some moves it would make sense to apply lethal Tags. For example, if the Warrior swung his battle-axe and rolled a 10 on their Commit Open Violence roll, it makes perfect sense that they could apply the Mortally Wounded Tag or even the Dead Tag. That’s how MC characters are taken out of the action, not by any loss of a mechanical resource but when they fictionally aren’t participating any more.

If you analyze that move, you’ll find that what it does, basically, is:
it describes the result of an action that might hurt a character. The consequences (for npcs) are free-flowing, a successful ax attack to the face might (or should) result in the death of the character.

On the other hand, player characters are treated better. They can get hit three times; first mildly, then moderately, and finally, severely. They can mitigate the effects by spending Fortune points. I really like that mechanic, and I’ll definitely try it with my players.

5 thoughts on “Behold the Master of Contradiction

  1. I like this! The Indie Hack has something similar (if memory serves, and it often doesn't these days ;)You could set a hard limit for the number of tags anyone can get, like the character's level or monster's hit dice. No matter how fictionally benign the tags my 3rd level fighter takes, they're out of commission when they get their fourth tag.


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