Designing PbtA without Harm or HP


@Warriormonk Roleplaying the wounds and incorporating them into the narrative is a given (at least in my games).

What I am looking for is a simple system that will remove the basic GM’s fiat in deciding when the character is wounded or dead (of course fiat will still exist even with a crunchy and/or tight system, but that’s not the time or place to discuss that :stuck_out_tongue: )


Thanks! That’s nice to hear. I look forward to hearing more about what you think of these different options.

If you feel committed to using the “one move” approach, you could also try to work in terms of “MC principles” or “MC moves”. Under what circumstances does getting wounded mean you might roll? Is it to overcome the shock of the wound? If you try something strenuous and difficult while wounded, might you pass out?

You can come up with guidelines for yourself - when you ask the players to roll or make a certain move - rather than having codified player-facing move.

For example:

  • A monster, trap, or danger which attacks a PC will wound them in an appropriate way. Describe it appropriately, but only as a wound.
  • The PC can try to do something desperate and/or risky to get out of the way (if it makes sense to be able to do so), but then, on a miss, it will be worse, and you get to make another move. Under these circumstances, describe the harm as more severe and choose 1:
    -The harm is so serious that it will eventually kill the PC (if medical care isn’t available).
    -The harm is incapacitating.
  • If a PC is incapacitated, unconscious, or otherwise unable to defend themselves, describe the incoming harm to be as serious as it could reasonably be, up to and including death.

Alternatively, you can mechanize the description of harm/death on the MC side, too:

  • Assign any threat a “threat level”, from 1 to 5. When a PC suffers a wound, look at their last roll (or roll yourself, if you’re OK with the MC occasionally rolling). For each die which shows a number equal to the “threat level” or lower, choose one:
    -The harm is potentially lethal, and will get worse without care.
    -The PC is incapacitated.
    -A limb or other important organ is permanently damaged or destroyed.
    -Something important is destroyed.

So, for instance, the ogre brings down a giant mace against the PC, who rolls to get out of the way and leap over the side of the boat, and gets a 9, with a 2 and a 7. If the ogre’s threat level is 2 or higher, instead of just narrating a wound, you can pick one of the above.


I’ve recently been working on a one shot thing and trying to tackle a similar problem. I ended up going with single-roll combat. Basically it’s Hack and Slash, you roll +Toughness, subtract your opponent’s toughness. From there you choose beneficial outcomes from a list (3 on a 10+, 2 on a 7-9) and the GM chooses undesirable ones (1 and 2, respectively). They’re things like: the enemy is defeated, disabled or at your mercy, you suffered no serious injury, nothing got hurt or destroyed, you attracted no unwanted attention and so forth.

I’m not sure exactly what should be in each list (or if there should only be one, a list of drawbacks, and you automatically have the enemy at your mercy on any hit).

It’s worth noting that the game is not combat-centric and very much abides by Disney-logic (no one should die).


Thanks Paul, those are some awesome pointers.

I really like the threat level approach, I think there is something really good there. It’s like a nugget, I know that if I will keep poking at it, some real gold can come out. So, I will keep poking at it :wink:

Even the idea that being wounded makes the threat greater for this character is making my gears spin. It is such a clean and simple mechanic and fits very well with the feel of the game I am shooting for.

I will mull it over for a bit and try to write up something concrete. The GM move/principle approach will be the best course of action. It still lets me claim: “the game begins with a single move” but still lets me have a little more rules there. Anyway, I am not trying to make it just a clean cut PbtA hack, so I don’t think I should even worry about that :stuck_out_tongue:

Again, you rock!


(e.g., using something shaped like food – or heck, actual cookies or cereal pieces, if you like – to track rations)

I remember playtesting a game with @Jmstar years and years ago that did this. (Open Boat? In maybe like 2005?) Characters were castaways on a life raft. Rations were represented by goldfish crackers or something like that. If we decided to eat one of the other castaways, those rations were represented by beef jerky.

If we at the table absentmindedly snacked on the ration counters, so did the poor castaways, IIRC.

Lego figures were brought up above… I’m a hobby ceramicist, so my mind immediately went to little clay dummies in a super-similar way. Make a little doll out of play-dough or whatever. Mangle it up as it gets injured!


Just a quick update on my progress after playing with my f2f group.

My group seemed to enjoy the Threat system. It definitely helped the player who was against a strong GM bias deal with the consequences. I haven’t written it down properly yet, but here it is in a nutshell:

Characters can be either fine, disadvantaged (wounded), incapacitated or dying.
I assign a threat rating to things that can cause harm the character on the fly. Things like narrative positioning, being wounded or wearing armor adjusts the threat level for the character. When the narrative the and dice decide, we check the dice values of last roll and compare each die with the threat rating. If it was a “hard move” if any of the dice is equal or less than rating than the character gets wounded. For soft moves both dice have to show values equal or less to count as a wound.

If a wounded character gets wounded again, they get to choose if they are incapacitated or are still standing but dying. If they are dying, next wound means death.

It reads very fiddly, but plays smooth. Hopefully I can streamline the text more.

I know I am probably catering to much to a single player in my group (others are fine with letting being wounded, dying based on a hard move as a result of a roll). I guess it is not bad to have a fail safe…

Also, @Paul_T I finally got to read the whole of The Silver Dragon’s Tear and I am so stealing really inspired by the tragedy/incursion idea. It fits so well with my game!


That sounds great! Nicely done.

I’m glad the threat level idea is working for you.

I also think the “survive a calamity/recover from a calamity” concept could work pretty well as a GM-facing principle with a single roll system, for what it’s worth. You know, if you decide to experiment with other approaches.


I am planning on giving survive a calamity/recover from a calamity a go our next session. After reading the whole Story Games topic and your math behind it, I think I can use it to convince my “GM-bias averse” player to it.

This would be my preferred approach, as it is cleaner and I can turn it into GM’s advice on how to use the standard move to resolve those two situations.


Groovy! I think it’s much cleaner/smoother, as you say, but somehow it looks/sounds scarier (everyone has this reaction to it, it seems!).

Personally, I think the way it’s “scary” adds to the charm - nothing wrong with being scared of a terrible death when you’re playing a game like this!

The threat level concept is cool, too, but sometimes it can lead to weird “non-events”, if a character is hit by something dangerous but it doesn’t “qualify” as a wound, and it’s impossible for someone to be killed unless they’re hit three times. (This could, of course, be a plus or a minus for your group!)