Ezekiel's Connections

Eric Lis

For much of 2012, I was in a campaign called The Devil Made Me Do It. The campaign used a lot of house rules, among them a variant rule for broken bones. In the storyteller's setting, a character who sustained blunt force trauma was at risk of suffering a fracture, and if this injury was healed with ordinary healing magic, then although the visible wound would close, the bone would repair itself in whatever position and shape it was at the time that the spell was cast, generally resulting in a misshapen limb and corresponding penalties. This had no impact on any of the player characters during the campaign, but I do recall that we found one or two NPCs who'd had bones broken, and our party healer had to think a bit outside the box to fix them up on days when he hadn't bothered to memorize Mending, the spell which would repair a bone correctly.

I had mixed feelings about this game mechanic. On the one hand, it was quite clever. Under this rule, an ordinary injury could  be used to add a wrinkle to an otherwise easily-resolved situation. Does the cleric heal the NPC badly, or leave them injured until proper healing can be done? Broken bones were never used to advance the story, but they forced the players to think for an extra few seconds during seemingly routine encounters. Players had to juggle their resources a little bit differently. On the other hand, I had some objection to requiring the Mending spell, specifically. In the most popular SRDs, Mending specifically states that it has no effect on creatures, so some people in the group thought it was inappropriate for it to have an effect on broken bones at all. The party's cleric objected to having to memorize an additional spell which, on most days, would prove totally useless...  a valid argument, except that it's a zero-level spell available to all major spellcasting classes, and could be cheaply bought in the form of a wand, so it ought to be easy for a party to have it ready once per day. In the end, we all deferred to the storyteller, because it was his game and thus his rules, and the game worked more often than not.

For my part, I was a little bit surprised that for the duration of the campaign, neither the party (which had some non-good characters) nor any NPCs took advantage of the major evil application of this broken bone rule, which would be to deliberately and irreparably cripple one's prisoners by misaligning their limbs. I never suggested it, because I was playing a neutral good character who would be understandably opposed to that sort of thing. This was just as well; if you're a storyteller, there are always uses and misuses of game mechanics that you hope your players won't stumble across.

In Insults & Injuries, broken bones can be healed by normal Cure spells, but there's another disorder that we said could be fixed by Mending: hernias. Hernias, after all, essentially result from tears in the body's lining, and Mending is very good for fixing ripped cloth. Just as my storyteller did, we politely ignored the "does not affect creatures" bit in the spell description. We made one choice differently from my storyteller, though, which I thought was very appropriate: whereas broken bones could conceivably be very common in a campaign, it's quite rare for PCs to come across someone who needs an urgent hernia repair. I much prefer saying that a rarer spell is needed to fix a rarer disease, and I prefer that more common spells serve to fix more common diseases. Of course, the fun of role-playing games is seeing what variations and tweaks different people come up with. 

A little more than four years ago, Dr. Eris Lis, M.D., began writing a series of brilliant and informative posts on RPGs through the eyes of a medical professional, and this is the one that appeared here on April 6, 2013. Lis is a physician, gamer, and author of the Skirmisher Publishing LLC OGL sourcebook Insults & Injuries, which is also available for the Pathfinder RPG system