Roleplayer #16, October 1989

I'm Not Dead Yet!

An Optional Wound System for GURPS

by John M. Ford

In most roleplaying Systems, including GURPS, all the wounds that a character suffers are subtracted against a single damage-point total. Then, except for a few special hits (blinding, say, or a severed limb) they cease to exist as separate wounds.

This is not, however, what happens to real people. A graze to the shoulder (1 HT), a flesh wound to the arm (2 HT) and a deep thrust to the chest (7 HT) do not homogenize into 10 HT of generalized injury. They remain a scratch, a minor cut, and a serious wound.

Keeping wounds separate would be extremely tedious in RPGs where characters may have dozens, even hundreds of hit points and can absorb dozens of wounds. In GURPS, however, where the "average" person has only 10 HT, and even extremely tough characters have no more than 20, it becomes quite practical.

The suggested rule changes to use this system are:

Specific Injuries

Each wound a character suffers is recorded separately. If using the Hit Location rules, the location of the wound should also be noted.

Under this system, wounds do not "add" for purposes of treatment and healing. However, the effects of total HT loss (determining unconsciousness, saving vs. death at negative HT levels) are unchanged.

A "wound" is defined as the result of one weapon blow or non-weapon attack. Each attack produces a separate wound. (Use common sense. A dragon's paw may have five claws, but it doesn't roll five separate attacks, or do five separate wounds when it hits.)

Damage from falls or falling objects is generally a single wound. A more detailed way to handle it is:

a) First roll the total damage. If you die, stop now.
b) If you survive, roll one die:
1: All damage to one location
2, 3: Divide damage equally among two locations (drop fractions)
4, 5: Ditto, three locations
6: Four locations

Determine the locations in the usual way. If the same location comes up more than once, it gets multiple shares. In this way, you may survive a fall with two broken legs, a broken arm and crushed ribs, or a multiple compound fracture to one leg (the Crippling Injury rules, B127, apply).

Two forms of damage are still additive:

1) Maltreatment, deliberate or accidental, of an existing wound, enlarges the original wound rather than creating a new one. (See below.)

2) Whole-body damage, as from fire, exposure, disease, or poison, adds into a single total as long as the victim is exposed to the fire, in the hostile environment, suffering from the disease, or the poison remains active. Again, apply common sense. A burn from a torch or a hot iron is localized, not whole-body burning. It's up to the GM whether to treat multiple magic attacks, fireballs for instance, as separate injuries or a single worsening burn. The latter is more realistic but considerably harder on the players. RPGs have always underrated the effects of injury on PCs, and nowhere more so than large-scale burns: until very recently, anyone with second-degree or worse burns over half or more of the skin surface was almost certainly doomed.

Healing System, Mk II Mod 1

The system that follows is experimental, absolutely optional, and considerably more complex than the original. It was designed to make medicine, particularly low-tech field healing by unskilled persons, a much riskier proposition than it now is, with hazards rising drastically as the severity of the wound increases. If you don't want those effects, don't use these rules.

First Aid

In the rules to follow, a Light Wound is defined as one of 3 points or less, a Serious Wound as one of 4 to 8 points, and a Critical Wound as one of 9 or more points. 1-point wounds are also referred to as Superficial Wounds.

Bandaging by an unskilled person will reduce one point of damage from any one Light Wound. If the victim's wounds are all larger than 3 points, the bandaging will still prevent bleeding and other complications, but it will restore no lost HT.

The simpler way to handle First Aid is to use the table on p. B128 as is; the points restored may be divided among the wounds as the medic chooses.

The more complicated way takes into account the rapidly increasing difficulty of treating more severe wounds in the field, and allows more options in treatment, especially where time/materials are limited. Under this system:

per point
Hits restored
05 min-21, Light Wounds only
15 min-11, Light or Serious Wounds
2,35 min-11d-4
45 min01d-3
54 min01d-3
6,73 min+11d-2
82 min+31d-1

It is possible to treat some wounds and not others, but "partial" treatment has no effect.

A separate First Aid roll is required for each wound treated. The roll is modified by the "success modifier" for TL, and by the severity of the wound:

Superficial: + 2
Light: +1
Serious: 0
Critical: -2
Victim's HT is negative: -1 additional
Victim's HT is fully negative: -2 additional

An ordinary success restores points as per the die roll. A critical success restores the maximum possible points (any excess is not applicable to other wounds).

An ordinary failure has no effect on Light or Serious Wounds; it increases a Critical Wound by 1 point. A critical failure, except a natural 18, increases the severity of a Light Wound by 1, a Serious by 2, and a Critical by 3.

A natural 18 doubles the severity of the wound. (Unskilled people shouldn't fool around in other peoples' viscera unless there's really no other hope.)

If using the Bleeding rules (B130), Bleeding checks are required for each non-Superficial wound (i.e., 2 or more HT); modifiers are -1 for Serious wounds and -3 for Critical ones. These replace the modifier for total HT loss.

Also, while burns do not usually bleed significantly, the killer in large-area burns is fluid loss: therefore, whole-body burns require treatment for shock (30 minutes, as per the Bleeding rules) or the victim will lose 1 HT every hour for every S points of damage. (Again, this is generous: large burns are deadly.)

Natural Recovery

The victim rolls vs. HT as per p. B128, but rolls separately for each wound. Each successful roll reduces that wound by 1 point. This will, of course, cause much faster healing in characters with many minor wounds. If this bothers you, allow the roll only every second or third day, or impose severe modifiers for any environment other than absolute rest in a quiet and sanitary location.

Medical Care

Physicians may treat multiple wounds simultaneously. For "Patients per doctor" on the table, read "Injuries per doctor."

Remember that this system is intended for PCs and very important NPCs, not masses of people. A quick system for treating large numbers (say, during a plague, or at a field hospital in a military campaign):

1) Determine a "convalescence number" for the condition: this is the number of healing cycles needed to fully recover (weeks at TL1, days at TL8). For warfare, 7 or 8 is appropriate; a plague might have any value.

2) Determine the mortality rate, as a percentage. This should be fairly low for warfare – if you're hurt lightly enough that you can return to the line after treatment, the doctors probably won't kill you. Plagues might have 80%-90% mortality but short convalescence times (if it doesn't kill you in the first few hours, you'll be fine) or low mortality but long periods of recovery before the patient can work/fight again.

3) Each cycle, each attending physician rolls vs. skill, with the GM adding modifiers for conditions, equipment, fatigue, etc. On an ordinary success, the physician loses the mortality percentage from the group he's treating. On a critical success, the percentage is reduced by 20 points. On an ordinary failure, mortality goes up by 10 points; on a critical failure, 20 points. (Note that these changes of percentage are for this cycle only; they do not add from cycle to cycle.)

4) Reduce the convalescence number of the survivors by one. When the number reaches zero, that group of patients may return to service/work.

Healing Spells

The Minor Healing spell (see p. B161) will cure up to 3 points of Light Wounds (three 1-point, a 1 and a 2, or one 3-point). It has no effect on more severe injuries.

The Major Healing spell will reduce one Light or Serious Wound, up to 8 points. It has no effect on more severe wounds, and cannot be spread among multiple wounds.

The new spell Critical Healing (VH, prerequisite Major Healing) will reduce one wound regardless of severity. It is otherwise the same as Major Healing (restores twice Fatigue spent, same risks for multiple castings). The three healing spells may be cast on the same person without risk. The Critical Healing magical device requires Physician skill of 25+ for non-mages, and has an energy cost of 4,000.

Another possible spell: Heal Burns (M/H, prerequisites Minor Healing and Resist Fire). Heals only burn damage (not heat exhaustion or sunstroke). There is no limit on the severity of burn treated, but as with other healing spells, it must be cast separately on each injury, and the same hazards for multiple castings on the same person apply as for the other spells. Restores 2 HT for each Fatigue point.

In playtest, some gamers have disagreed with the idea that small healing spells ("Cure Light Wounds") should have no effect at all on large injuries, suggesting that Minor Healing should be able to partially reduce a major wound. GMs may of course do it that way.

The reason I didn't is that a large wound is not simply a bigger version of a small one. A small, skin-deep sword cut needs mostly to be cleaned and bandaged shut until the flesh knits; better care will reduce pain and scarring, but the medic's contribution is really pretty small. A deep slash, on the other hand, may sever muscles or tendons, cut major blood vessels. Bones may break, usually not cleanly; smashing weapons can pulverize bones. A thrust or cut to the torso may hit an organ, which is real trouble. (Half the Westerns ever made have a scene where "Y'know what happens to a man what's gut-shot." Wounds that penetrated the peritoneum were pretty much a death sentence until the end of the last century.) Serious wounds, in short, require reconstruction, not just closure.

Psionic Healing

Psi-Healers (see p. B175) must make a separate attempt to heal each of the subject's wounds. (Optionally, they may attempt to heal all the subject's Superficial Wounds.) There is, however, no limit to the severity of the wounds they may attempt to reduce, unless this is taken as a power restriction:

Light/Serious wounds only: 1/2 Power cost (-2 restriction in Supers).
Light wounds only: 1/3 Power cost (-4 restriction in Supers).

Option: Psionic Healers who take physical damage as a side effect of Healing receive it in the same location as the subject, and generally in the same form. Thus a psi treating a broken leg would limp; one treating blindness would be temporarily blinded himself.

(Back to Roleplayer #16 Table of Contents)

Copyright © 1997-2023 by Steve Jackson Games. All rights reserved.

Steve Jackson Games | GURPS | Roleplayer Index