CyberPunk, Gore, Lists, Millenium's End, Promised Sands, RoleMaster, RPG, Top 5, Violent, Warhammer
Splattered blood and hewn sinew. Blades cutting through skin and muscle, lodged in bone. Dismemberment, bloodloss, screaming victims clutching at their wounds…
This week’s top 5 is about gore. While classic D&D handles damage through a simple hit point system that reflects stamina, luck, dodging and skill as well as sheer toughness, many other games went for more graphic carnage in their rules systems for handling violent conflict.
So here are my top 5 picks for games with a visceral damage system, out of the games I’ve played in the last 30 years.
Warhammer Fantasy RolePlay
In just about any review of the WHFRP game there will be a reference to the incredibly nasty critical hit tables in the game. Of course, those same reviews fail to point out that unlike most games, critical hits in Warhammer only occur once you are out of hit points. Effectively, these tables are rolled on instead of just killing or knocking a character unconscious like in D&D. But the tables ARE brutal – you’ve got decapitations, finger and hand removal, and so on. Every time you slay a foe, there’s a nice gory descriptor of the death blow piercing through the opponents ribs, disemboweling them, caving their skulls in, or tearing them to shreds.
No discussion of critical hits can be had without discussing the Rolemaster (aka Tablemaster) system. Every attack can critical, and the critical tables are specific to piercing, crushing, slashing and energy attacks, and exist in five “levels” of critical, each with nastier results, and each level broken up into a percentage chart of different results. You can be nicked in the armpit, resulting in serious blood loss, you can be knocked off your feet and winded, or for an E Impact Spell Critical you may require a spatula to pull you back off the ground (really, it actually says “try a spatula”). The criticals aren’t horribly gory, but the groundwork is there and the amount of bloodloss during a prolonged battle can be impressive, leaving the field slick with gore.
CyberPunk had a deadly combat system, particularly for gunfire at short ranges. The original Friday Night FireFight rules (what an awesome name for a combat system!) broke down injuries received into Flesh Wound, Serious, Critical and Mortal. Each specified the chance of broken bones and the results that would have on the character’s activities (ach, shattered a rib and collapsed a lung, I’m frakked choomba!). Further the game had a Stun Save mechanic that you had to roll to avoid being rendered temporarily hors de combat every time you took damage, even a flesh wound. Being stunned wasn’t just about being knocked down or winded, it also included clutching at your wounds, looking around in shock, diving for cover, or the classic response to being shot – falling over for no real reason besides the human conditioning that when shot, we fall over. But don’t worry too much about it, using the 2013 rules odds were you weren’t going to get hit more than once or twice, because you would be dead by then.
This fantasy RPG has two damage resolution systems. The advanced system includes a percentile hit location table with 18 locations, and handles damage in three categories – Blood, Bone & Nerve. Blood damage is the typical damage measured by hit points and when you run out, you bleed out or just die. Bone is exactly that – damage to that body part’s structural integrity as you shatter, break and smash bones. Finally nerve damage is the pinnacle of destroying body parts, because nerve damage doesn’t usually heal at all. The game has serious potential to exploit this system into a true gore fest, but the authors manage to restrain the tendency to go into graphic detail. Not that we had any such compunctions when playing the game.
Charles Ryan’s technothriller classic has such a detailed damage system that it rates each wound on a scale of 1 to 20 (with 25+ being instantly fatal), and the effects of each wound depend on the hit location, type of damage, and severety of wound. Beyond the simple problem of dying from your wounds, the type of damage (concussion, impact, puncture, cut, burn or hydrostatic shock) and location influences the amount of trauma delt, the impairment caused, the possible secondary effects of the wound, heal and decline rates for the wound, and so on. However, the damage system ends up being so complex that it loses the gore and terror, and instead descends into a collection of secondary damage effects and rules minutia. At this point, like in Phoenix Command, the potential for gore is suppressed under the weight of rules. Gore light – all the blood and broken bones, but only 5 calories!
What is your go-to-game for blood and gore? What games have I missed in my years of violent and bloody gaming? Or do you avoid such games?
That’s a really interesting take as a guy who’s been working with a really gritty combat system in a game that’s being designed I never considered the idea of doing a gore-themed game from it. I probably wouldn’t do one anyways because that genre doesn’t appeal to me, but the idea still gives me pause.
Christopher B said:
The hit location charts from Tri Tac’s Bureau 13: Stalking the Night Fantastic aren’t necessarily “gory,” per se. But they provide a level of detail I’ve not seen in any other RPG. Each potential hit area (head, upper chest, etc.) is broken down to a six-by-six grid. When an area is hit (based on the results of a percentile roll on a chart), either 2d6 are rolled (for an x and y result) or only one is rolled – the other axis is predefined. Each point on the grid is a specific hit location, defining physical elements (flesh, bone, arteries, major organs, etc.) in terms of points of damage. By comparing the damage of the attack, you can (once you’re familiar enough with the system) easily determine how far the bullet (or whatever) entered into the body, whether it broke (and if so, how badly) a bone, missed/clipped/severed an artery, etc. But it doesn’t stop there. (Whew!) Each type of bullet does a different dice and/or modifiers for damage, and has a different hydrostatic shock value that is added to the damage total.
All of this results in an injury subsystem that doesn’t just tell you how bad your character’s been maimed, but why – in graphic detail. I used this system for years (Bureau 13 was the go-to game for our group for years) even adding it to our games that we played using the Palladium system. (To which it converted very easily.) Although I ultimately consider Friday Night Firefight to be my favorite combat/injury system, I still have a very soft spot for Bureau 13. It provided levels of detail that resulted in characters sporting permanent injury effects that are still talked about amongst the group to this day. (Just ask Craig about “Ezra.” Ouch – his injuries make men cringe – and he’s not even real.)