Biblyon the Great

This zine is dedicated to articles about the fantasy role-playing game Gods & Monsters, and other random musings.

Gods & Monsters Fantasy Role-Playing

Beyond here lie dragons

Survival, Deep Survival, and Negative Survival

Jerry Stratton, March 7, 2004

The survival point system is designed to very simply mimic the effects of getting hurt in a pulp fiction setting. A character with many survival points is likely to survive to the end of the story. The more survival points they have, the harder it is for even massive harm to take them out of the story. A fall from a hundred feet is unlikely to harm a seventh level warrior, if that warrior has not already lost survival points.

The high level character is “deeply embedded” into the story. A single massive fall isn’t going to be enough to take them out of the story. Multiple massive falls will. Surviving too many falls without being seriously hurt “breaks the story” more than losing the character would. It is perfectly reasonable in pulp fiction for a character to fall once from a hundred feet and manage to contrive a soft landing. But the more often it happens, the more problematic it is. The more the story--and game--suffers.

Further, while we use the concept of a written or filmed adventure as one analogy for what role-playing is like, role-playing is not a written adventure. It is like a written adventure in some ways, and not like a written adventure in others. The analogy is useful only as long as we understand that it is an analogy and not a definition.

Saving Rolls and the Survival Point Model

Because survival points model survivability within the story, we also have saving rolls for certain attacks. In some cases, we need to know not just whether or not the character survived an attack, but whether or not the attack actually hit enough to carry further harm. Loss of survival points does not mean that a character was actually hit by a dart. But if that dart was poisoned, we need to know if the poison should take effect. We need to know if the character was hit “enough to transfer the carried attack”.

Saving rolls against poison (or against other attacks) do this for us. If the player fails their character’s saving roll, the poison also has the opportunity to take the character out of the story.

Survival Points and Negative Survival Points

Survival points and negative survival points really measure completely different things. Survival points measure the character’s ability to keep the story going. Negative survival points measure the “true damage” that the character has taken: the likelihood that the character is going to die.

When we only have survivability within the story and death to measure, it makes sense to combine the two scores, so that negative survival points measure the likelihood that a character will die, and positive survival points measure the likelihood that the character can stay in the story. The character isn’t going to die unless they lose all of their survival points anyway.

Light Survival and Deep Survival

If you’ve read the Adventure Guide’s Handbook, you might have seen the optional rules for light survival and deep survival. This rule makes healing spirits less necessary by separating out light survival loss, which returns quickly, and deep survival loss, which returns slowly (as all survival points do in the stock game).

While deep survival is not “true damage“, it is closer to it than light survival. Using the optional rules, only deep survival can go negative. When light survival goes to zero, any further harm reduces the character’s deep survival score.

Deadly Damage

It might make sense to separate negative survival from deep survival. Once deep survival goes to zero, any further harm increases the character’s deadly damage total. The more deadly damage the character takes, the more likely they are to die.

Deadly damage would be just like negative survival, without having to work with negative numbers. Under certain circumstances, it might make sense to add to deadly damage without first going through light survival and deep survival. For example, a fall from a great height might require a saving roll against the character’s best score; if unsuccessful, the character gains some deadly damage.

Such a system would probably be more complicated than the simple survival point system in the rule book, but less complicated than the light/deep survival system in the Guide’s handbook.

At least, I think it would. What do you think?

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