Limb Loss

The current major quest in my campaign centers around regaining lost limbs.  The party is quite invested in the pursuit, which makes sense given that 3 of the 7 PCs are missing an appendage.  How did this come about?  Well, it’s this critical system I’m using.  The gist is that when a PC should normally die (0 hp), I instead give him a critical effect which is a set of die rolls on two tables, one for location and one for severity.  Lest you think I’m being soft, this only belays death for a moment, as anyone suffering from a critical that gets hit for more damage is immediately killed, and some of results on the critical chart also end in death anyway.  The severity boils down to three possibilities: broken, maimed, or severed.  Originally this was a d6 roll, but I’ve since changed it to a d8, reducing the likelihood of severed down to 1-in-8.

The thing is, severed is the only really lasting result.  Broken bones will heal in time, as will maiming (a result that requires some interpretation based on location) though the latter may leave scars.  Waiting weeks for these to heal was becoming a logistical pain in early testing, so I ruled that a Cure Light Wounds spell could be used to completely heal a break or maiming instead of healing hit points of damage (riffing off the idea that it could already cure paralysis according to the ghoul entry).  Anyway, this has worked pretty well and adds an interesting dimension to the lowly cure light wounds spell.  However it does not restore lost limbs, which means over time the party has accumulated a fair number of lost limbs, and they’ve been quite intent on finding a cure for it.  There’s no spell in the game that really applies to this, so I’ve invented a rather interesting adventure that involves a certain mage with a crazy idea about building parts of golems and fusing them to people.

That said, I can’t help but wonder if I’ve gone too far with this system.  Having all these characters running (or limping) around with missing limbs skews the visual of the party just a bit from what feels like a traditional D&D game to me. It seems inevitable that with this system no high level party could possibly exist without a fair number of prosthetics.  Which I grant you is actually kind of cool (look what it did for pirates), but still is also just a little off from what my inner 12-year-old wants in his D&D games.  Finally, one can’t help but wonder why a spell exists on the standard cleric spell list for bringing the dead back to life but they can’t reattach a missing digit.

One thought I’ve had is to latch onto cure serious wounds as I have cure light wounds.  In B/X it’s the only other cure spell, and it’s conveniently 4th level, one level lower than raise dead.  I’m thinking something like it can be used to re-attach a severed limb if cast within a few hours (much as raise dead is time limited in days since death), and obviously the limb must be available for reattachment.  It’s got a nice symmetry with the cure light use, and while it doesn’t completely eliminate the potential for limb loss it does at least allow for higher level parties who actually have all their limbs.

I think I’ll let that one simmer for a while.  Even if I do eventually adopt it, I don’t want to do anything to undermine the excitement of the current party’s quest.  Perhaps once that’s resolved I can re-evaluate if this is a ruling I’d like to introduce.

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7 Comments

  1. I still think you should allow ’em to cast Animate Dead on a limb and just strap it on, with the only drawback being an occasional bout of random, murderous kicking or attempted strangulation, depending on the limb in question

    All quasi-joshing aside, I think the Cure Serious Wounds idea is a solid one.

  2. I cap all cleric spells at 5th (and magic-user spells at 6th), as per B/X. I really don’t want to inflate the spell lists in level or number, as I think they’re very well balanced as is and reflect the power level I want in my campaign.

  3. Uggh, Bazil the (One-Armed) Dancing Sorcerer is one of the aforementioned handicapped…

    One thing I noticed recently was that the blue book has rules for the research of new spells for both clerics and magic-users. I don’t know how you personally feel about adding spells; but I felt that even if we didn’t accomplish what we set out to do originally, this may be our next avenue of restoring the limbs.

    From my perspective it IS a bit frustrating that there’s ways to restore the dead but not regrow/reattach a limb. As you pointed out it is the only permanent side effect and I’d be a fan of moving some of the CLW healable crits into CSW territory (like horrible scars/disfigurement) if it also meant that CSW could reattach limbs.

    Thinking it a bit further however it still means that most parties that begin at level 1 are likely to reach level 7 (the level where a party cleric reachese Cure Serious Wounds) with an assortment of missing limbs. This is in response to ‘can be used to re-attach a severed limb if cast within a few hours’, which I interpret as a maximum of about a day from your wording.

    That all being said, Bazil’s ability to read scrolls un-aided will be restored! If not through the research and experiments discarded by the Plated Mage, then maybe by being partially polymorphed into a troll…

  4. I will allow research of new magic-user spells, but I’m a little weary of adding to the cleric spell list as all clerics get all spells for free with no learning rolls or need to track down sources.

    As far as lower level guys not having access to CSW, I was envisioning them heading back to town to pay for a CSW when required, or possibly purchasing a CSW scroll to bring along with them (keeping in mind you can cast spells usually too high level for you off a scroll). I don’t want to completely rule out permanent limb loss, I’d just like to to be a little less common. Essentially, I’d see low level characters saving up and stashing CSW scrolls much like I’d expect higher level characters to do with Raise Dead.

    It’s a shame though that CSW is 4th not 3rd level, as 3rd feels a bit more appropriate in the power scale. Perhaps Cure Disease would be a good substitute, though it’s harder to rationalize limb loss as a disease than a serious wound.

  5. Yeah I’m a fan of the CSW solution overall, especially if the effective window is similar to Raise Dead. When you called out ‘hours’ that makes it near impossible without a scroll (which was my main concern). The party might have 1-2 fewer missing limbs had the solution been available and it raises a pretty interesting player choice: ‘Our barbarian just lost their sword-arm, do we leave immediately to try to get it reattached or do we stay in the dungeon?’

    Overall I really like your solution from a design perspective, adding the complexity of crits (especially permanent ones) adds an interesting depth to how to resolve them and CSW keeps it simple. Having permanent limbs lost and epic adventures to resolve it (such as the one we’re on now) is badass also.

    As for researching, what if the prayers were god themed and it actually did require more legwork than the magic-user method of research? We already saw a cleric version of animate dead within the Iron God’s monastery.

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