Designing PbtA without Harm or HP


I am working on a WoD/PbtA hack that can be played easily by blind or sight impaired players. One of my design goals is to eliminate as much of character sheet/playbook as possible, but especially get rid of checking and adjusting numbers. in a perfect world, the game could be played without help of sighted players and/or screen readers.

The game is still in active development/testing. Currently we are using aspects/traits vs numeric attributes (although this has its own issues) and one core move like in WoD (although there are rules for adding more moves as the game progresses, as moves created during play are easier to remember than those established by the game like classes in DW for example).

I want the system to support OSR-ish / adventure style play, which means combat that can get deadly. This is where I am stuck and could use some help from the community.

What we have tried so far:

  • HP (like in DW) - Keeping track of numbers is less then perfect, especially between encounters players would need to check their HP. For the blind player it means either using a screen reader to keep track of it, or asking a sighted player to do it for them. Far from perfect.
  • Harm clocks (like in standard AW) - This ends up working like HP, but on a lesser scale.
  • ** Paul_T’s descriptive harm moves - this flows well, but goes against the “one core move” mentality and can be pretty limiting.

Currently we are not tracking harm per se, but we do note descriptive wounds (akin to statuses from other games, but we don’t have a set list. Stuff like: bleeding, broken arm, short of breath etc.). If a player’s total of a roll is equal or less to the amount of those wounds, they are incapacitated (so having 3 wounds and rolling 3 or less after modifiers takes the character out of action). This seems easier to remember than a number value, as the “wounds” are referenced during play (because they will have impact on narrative positioning). This works relatively well, but you still need to remember multiple things to know the total, and I can see it getting pretty messy with more than just few wounds.

So I am looking for a better approach. One that could be explained to more trad players relatively easily, and would not just rely on GM’s fiat (I had some push back against just pure narrative positioning).

Any help is greatly appreciated!


I think it’s interesting when characters in gritty OSR games may be only one or two blows from death. With that in mind, you could make a “clock” with two or three “segments” and give them titles that you might use in natural conversation as ritual phrases. For example, “on the ropes” and “in deep trouble”. Fail in the right situation, and now, “You’re on the ropes.” Fail again, “Now you’re in deep trouble.” Fail again, you’re dead.

The tricky thing then is to add ways characters can beef themselves up. Maybe as “armor” they can add an additional ritual phrase before things get worse. You fail but “Your shield weathers the blow…” You fail but “You’re tougher than you look.” These are things that the numbers and mechanics are simulating any way.


I feel there can be practcial workarounds for keeping track of stats like harm or HP.
For exapmle, bring a pile of poker chips to the table to keep track of these.


I was going to agree with you - I think that you could have a pile of tokens to represent your HP. Physically giving those token away would have a certain viscerality to it which might work well in any game to be honest!


@Michael_G_Barford Making few descriptive segments is an interesting idea, one that I think would work (we will give it a spin soon to see how it flows). I still feel it is basically a low-hp solution (which is not bad, but I am really curious about alternatives).

@beepeegee I don’t know why I haven’t thought about using physical counters before. This would solve any number tracking issues (as long as we are tracking only 1 number per person).

I am still really curious about alternative approaches where you don’t really have to track any numbers. Even if we end up using one of the workarounds for the game, I still feel like there might be some good solution for HP-less, fiat-less approach…


I’m working on a diceless game where PCs each potentially track multiple currencies, and my take at this point is that it will probably work as long as each currency is an obviously different shape. So much the better if the counter is somehow symbolic of what it tracks (e.g., using something shaped like food – or heck, actual cookies or cereal pieces, if you like – to track rations).


You could just track all wounds descriptively, and indicate clearly that some are “potentially deadly” and others are not. It may sound too close to fiat for your purposes, though.

I wonder how Amber Diceless RPG handles this…


I should check out some diceless games (usually not my jam) to see how they deal with damage. There might be some clever solutions out there.

Currently, I am leaning towards the AW vanilla style harm clock, but tracking it with counters. The sword the crown and the unspeakable power uses fingers of your hand to track damage. While that solution is not blind friendly (you “slash” your finger with a pen), I like the idea of using one’s hand as you don’t need to try to find where the counters are on the table. I am thinking some rings or stickers could be used.

Using the clock will take away a bit from the very minimal approach of basically a single move being the whole game, but this was really just my idea of seeing how much I can distill pbta, not really related to the issue at hand :stuck_out_tongue:


I’ve been thinking about more simple harm tracks like 1,2,3 your dead or taken out of action. I have various ways for describing them but I think you have that part down.

What strikes me when thinking about sight impaired players or any for that matter is how to make that feeling of character harm more visceral.

Tokens such as poker chips were suggested and are obviously very functional but they essentially work as HP. What if you used some sort of item placed on the players body to indicate harm? My first thought was elastic band around the wrist, 1st wrist is minor wound second wrist is major wound and any more damage after that is death. The players would be brushing their wrists before actions constantly monitoring their own body to aware of their characters stats.

This could possibly be taken further, for example you could use items placed on parts of the body to indicate certain wounds. An elastic around the wrist means a hand injury, but placed further up could mean an arm injury. You could use button pins attached to clothing to indicate a wound in that area. Pin on the abdomen? Gut wound, etc.

Could you imagine a fighter going into battle with an arm injury? They would likely be consciously or unconsciously touching and protecting that arm. The players at the table would likely do the same thing. Always reaching to that injury area, is it still there? Can I make it through this next challenge?

You have my brain working overtime on this, I like where it is going.


I really like the descriptors as wound or stress track indicators.


I also dig descriptors or tags as a HP-substitute. But yeah, they might get messy if they’re getting stacked.

Here’s another idea:

  1. Have a very unlikely outcome (e.g. lower than 3) set the character to unconscious.
  2. Now define some MC-moves, that provide an effective setback regarding the narrative positioning of the PC.

So on an “ordinary” miss (2 to 6) - you might for example:

  • Be only allowed to react (think: step down the initiative order)
  • Get under pressure (take -1 forward)
  • Face a wound, that’s behaving like an additional opponent
  • Become the slowest opponent in the scene (Uhm, that is a tag, isn’t it?)

Oh, you could also try to steal from PDQ and directly reduce a stat (choosen by the player). But that would be HP in disguise, I guess…


I like how Masks does it very much, by just using the conditions as your wound track. When all conditions are filled, you are KOd.

In the game I am currently working on, I use a pyramid of six wound boxes where the bottom three are just close calls (no mechanical effect), the middle two are wounds (-1 to all rolls), and the top one is KO. This gives stakes to combat actions but allows flexibility and cinematic action. We also have conditions.


What if you used legos. Each player builds their “character” using X lego pieces to start. Each time they take harm, depending on severity they remove one, two or three lego pieces. As they heal, they get to add the same (or different) pieces back. Depending on your advancement system, perhaps they can add more pieces to get buff.


While I don’t think I will use this approach (the lego bricks do not fit with the theme of the game), it is a good idea and a great starting point to build a game around. I can see a mech game that building and destroying of a lego structure as HP system, but I bet there are even cooler themes that can be built around it!


The system of scarring in The Warren always seemed like a good fit for the theme. It has a clear mechanical effect, though does require perhaps more bookkeeping than you intend. Here’s a paragraph from the book that explains it succinctly:

When a PC gains a scar, they must pick one Basic or Character move (but not a Special move) that they may no longer make, based on the nature of the wound. They should cross the lost move off of their rabbit playbook and describe how the injury relates to the lost move.

One thing that distinguishes The Warren is that it’s meant to span generations of rabbits, so removing a move from their playbook isn’t quite as dire as it sounds.

Maybe it’s as simple as, if you’re wounded, you don’t get to use your one core move. If you’re seriously wounded, you can’t use basic moves.


Hello! Thanks for linking to my “descriptive harm” moves.

What is the purpose of tracking harm, in your game? What do you want it to do?

Here’s a simple alternative I really like:

Design two moves, one for how bad things are when you get hurt or overcome, and another for trying to recover from that. It covers the gamut from “deadly wound, need to be hospitalized” to “you can get up and keep going, but it stung”.

I used it in this game:

And here’s my harm hack for Monsterhearts, which has you choose from a list of options, suited to that game:

There are two, quite different approaches to this problem.


Here are two other ideas to consider:

  1. One thing I would try if I were to play a “simpler” Apocalypse World would be to use the harm countdown clock exactly like the way other clocks work. Disregard all references to harm and armour; instead, when you get hurt, mark one segment. When you get seriously wounded, you immediately go to 9:00. After 9:00, it progresses on its own, unless you are treated. I think it would work well.

  2. A hack in progress called “Black Stars Rise” (link below) has moves written on cards, with a “worse” version of each move on the back of the card. When you get hurt, you flip over one of your basic moves cards. It’s a more tangible and easier-to-track version of tracking conditions or penalties. I like it.


What about Roleplaying the wound? Meaning that if your character gets a wound on their arm, you as a player make a gesture with the other to represent how you stop the bleeding. Or if it´s in the leg you mimic how your character limps. Nothing too heavy, you shouldn’t even stand from your chair, but you need to roleplay the wound and describe the rest of your actions as if you were wounded. It naturally changes the way players think on how their characters do things, so there’s no real need for penalized actions. You can make it gritty by stating that with three wounds you fall unconscious and the fouth kills the character.



I agree that my “descriptive harm” rules can have all kinds of possible downsides - no question there. Still, @Von_Bednar I’m curious what particular trouble you ran into when you were playing: what do you mean by the “one core move” mentality, and how can it be limiting?

Another alternative I’ve considered specifically for a “simplified” D&D is a basic rule where you roll a d6 to see if you kill someone. They have a number which determines how high a roll could kill them, and a (lower) number which determines how high a roll can wound them.

For instance, maybe because you’re a Warrior you get a “Dead” number of 6, and because you’re wearing some medium armour, you get a “Wounded” number of 3.

When someone attacks you, they roll a d6. On a 6, you’re dead. On a 1-2, your armour protects you. On a 3-5, you’re “wounded”: this means that your “Dead” number drops by 1.

Simple and very “OSR-like”. You can track your “number” with a six-sided die in front of you, or a stack of chips.


@Paul_T I will answer your questions about my constrains, but first…

Thanks for responding to this topic! I have been using a lot of your stuff I found on storygames in my home games. I really enjoy your stuff. You rock!

So, the project I am working on is inspired by OSR ideas, but it is not a straight OSR. It is still a fantasy adventure game, but with focus on discovery, both in the narrative and in the mechanics. This means, the game starts pretty much a clone of World of Dungeons (one single move - do something risky), and new moves are created and added by the GM and players as the game progresses. You can read a bit more about it in this post.
Even that the game is centered around discovery, it is still an adventure game (one with grimdark elements - more Warhammer Fantasy RPG than D&D), so the threat of harm, injury and death should still be present. My aim is to convey the feeling of “mud and blood” much more than one of heroic fantasy. Player characters are everyday people, not heroes, who try to make sense in a weird, changed world.
I am also aiming for the game to be blind and sight impaired player friendly. To do that, I want to eliminate (or at least drastically minimize) the amount of numbers anyone at the table has to track (so HP, clocks, stat changes, etc.) as this can slow down the game if you are unable to simply glance at your character sheet.

If that doesn’t answer your questions, I am happy to elaborate.

With all that in mind, I have been using something similar to your “simplified” D&D with a WoDu die of fate. It works pretty well, but it felt a little “too loose.” I think you pointed me in the right direction with those levels, but I will check out your other links first :slight_smile: