January 22, 2010


One day, on a warm afternoon last August, I found myself exiting a friend's car after going out for lunch. As I cornered the sidewalk, I turned back to give a fast wave to his departing vehicle, and my left foot strayed about three inches beyond the sidewalk and snagged on a sprinkler head—you know, the small black pop-up type. Except this one never popped back down. Suddenly I found myself flying toward the pavement, headfirst. (Critical failure on a DC 8 Athletics check!) My immediate thoughts, in order, were basically:

Oh hell.
And I'm wearing my good trousers.
Guess I better protect my face.

Luckily, my vaunted (ha!) reflexes nearly match my clumsiness and I got one hand out. It wasn't enough to completely break the fall however, and there wasn't time to roll—I was simply falling too fast. My palm skidded across the pavement (that move always makes me feel like I'm about 8 years old when I do it) soon followed by my head. My chin struck the concrete hard enough to roughly slap my teeth together and my head snapped upwards. I rolled off to one side, feebly clutching my cranium while my ears dimly registered out a woman screaming "Oh my God!" It took a few more seconds to realize she was talking about yours truly.

I spent the next minute or two seeing stars—whole constellations in fact—before I forced myself to my feet. (Add spiraling cartoon stars above head with tweety bird sound accompaniment.) Several people assisted me into the building, and I flopped wearily down into one of the waiting room chairs.

The incident—from which I was unmarked and unimpaired 48 hours later—made me think about D&D game play. It made me think about how characters take staggering wounds only to leap back into the fray without a moment's pause. Highly unrealistic. But how realistic need the game play get? How much realism is worth the extra rules work? The PCs are meant to represent heroes, after all; Conan wouldn't sit clutching his head for several minutes if he took a similar tumble, I'm quite sure. On a more practical note, adding in rules for the pain characters feel is much like adding on to-hit or movement penalties because of wounds or fatigue, in the end it only penalizes the PCs when the chips are already down. Likewise, it adds yet another thing for the poor DM to track. The advent of Third Edition did introduce standard rules for stunning and dazing and the like, so I suppose a DM could add those on. But when to do it? Which wounds cause more pain than others? One could apply such effects only to criticals, but again that only pours extra salt in the wound (so to speak).

I feel in the end it's better to let the PCs truly be heroic figures, greater and stronger than those puny mortals that play them. Of course, a DM might add a few descriptive words about the pain caused by a particularly nasty wound every so often. That gets the player's mind working, which is always a good thing. And as far as added DM work, it's quite, ahem, painless.

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