Saturday, April 10, 2010

Healing and Psychic Damage

Sorry for the lack of posting. I've been working on some other projects including my master's, getting another blog running, planning a hunting trip, and so on. And while I have lots of ideas floating around for an RPG, I am not sure when I will be able to play again.

But here's some quick food for thought.

I was watching a Band of Brothers episode on DVD the other day, "The Breaking Point." The drama centers on a young medic -- Roe -- from Louisiana who has a knack for healing. In many ways you might call him a modern paladin -- there are certainly allusions to the laying on of hands. Here's a discussion between Roe and one of his fellow soldiers about the somewhat mystical aspects of healing in his family.
Spina: "Hey, what do you call those people again? Those Cajun healers?"
Roe: "Traiteurs."
Roe: "You know, my grandma was a traiteuse."
Spina: "Your grandmother? No shit?"
Roe: "No, she was. Laid her hands on people and cured them. Took away sickness, cancer, you name it."
Spina: "Your grandma did that? You're shitting me."
Roe: "I remember she used to pray a lot."
Spina: "Yeah, I guess she had to."
Roe: "Talked to God about the pain she pulled out. Asked him to carry it away."
Roe: "That's what she did."
Roe also has a discussion with a French nurse:
Renée: "What?"
Roe: "You hands."
Renée: "My hands?"
Roe: "You're a good nurse."
Renée: "No. I never want to treat another wounded man again. I'd rather work in a butcher's shop."
Roe: "But your touch calms people. That's a gift from God."
Renée: "No, it's not a gift. God would never give such a painful thing."
Anonymous soldier: "Nurse! Nurse! We need some help over here!"
Anonymous soldier: "Got shrapnel through the stomach."
Renée: "How bad is it? Okay, get this one in first."
Another example of this sort of healing from fiction would be John Coffee in the Green Mile .


Anyways, I thought both were potentially good examples for how healing could work in any sort of gaming system or genre. The characters by laying on of hands can remove another's physical wounds -- but only at the cost of incurring their own psychic trauma. Clearly the laying on of hands is painful, something that can be borne only with great faith or innate goodness.

For example, say you have HP for physical damage and a Cthulu-style insanity meter. A healer could lay on hands (perhaps with minor first aid supplies to increase the chance of success) but risks incurring some sort of damage to their sanity. In WOD, perhaps healing physical damage costs sanity or willpower.

I can see this system working the other way too. Maybe psychic damage could be relieved by incurring a stigmata, exhaustion/fatigue or other physical damage. An example might be a priest doing an exorcism to heal a victim infested by a malign spirit: the victim's psychic wounds will be alleviated but the priest may be fatigued or even bodily injured in the attempt.


From a game design point of view such trades cannot be "frictionless" at 1:1. Otherwise players will use it all the time. There should be some degree of loss or friction. Perhaps relieving one physical wound risks losing two mental points, for example. Here's an example in play:

Maximus the warrior has sustained grievous injuries. He hopes that Percival the Paladin can help him. Percival attempts to do so, with standard odds of success (perhaps 1/3 if untrained, 2/3 if trained, bonus for using equipment?). If he is succesful, then Maximus regains 1 wound point (whatever that is in your system).

Regardless of success, Percival must make a resistance check to prevent being overwhelmed by the horror. Again, the odds of success are 1/3 and 2/3 for untrained/trained respectively.

There are four outcomes. Let's assume Percy is an awesome healer and trained in both:

Maximus Healed / Percy Unscathed: 44%
Maximus Not Healed / Percy Unscathed: 22%
Maximus Healed / Percy Traumatized: 22%
Maximus Not Healed / Percy Traumatized: 12%

On average, Maximus regains .66 HP and Percy takes .33 damage.

This system clearly does not have enough friction. Players will be gaming it all the time to convert damage willy-nilly. There are several possible fixes:
  • Arbitrarily limit the number of times per day this can occur
  • Increase Percy's risk to be 2 x the amount healed (this creates an exactly equivalent exchange)
  • Increase Percy's risk to be 3 x the amount healed (this creates inefficiency)
  • Require Percy to expend one sanity point right up front, no save, to even make the attempt (this also creates efficiency, and makes it less likely that people who suck at healing will even try -- may be good, may be bad)

Anyways, just a sketch of a thought!