Thursday, March 8, 2012

Finish this Chart

I found the One-Page Disease chart I'd been working on months ago.  I don't have the mental juice to finish it now.  I will later, but in the mean time thought I'd just give you what I have.  Here is a Word doc.

The idea was to try and capture the biggest archetypal diseases like leprosy and the plague without getting too scientific.  So, what having a disease entails is pretty straightforward for both players and DM, but the catching of them is still kind of spooky-- just being on a ship for a session means you have a chance of catching Ship Fever.

I also divided the diseases into categories because a) it seems like we tend to do that ourselves, treating some diseases as familiar threats to deal with around home and some as fearful exotic things, and b) felt it would help players better know when they might be at risk.

The symptoms are all picked from the standardized list here and try to all have some specific in-game mechanical effect.

What is lacking is symptoms for the diseases of the Wilderness and Underworld and the virulence and lethality numbers (which is really the hardest and most important part- and thus undone).

The disease section of Small But Vicious Dog by Chris Hogan was the starting point for this, so if handling disease interests you you might want to go take a look at his take.


  1. I figure that, in game terms, disease is a lot like poison, but instead of killing you straight away it does nasty things to you for a while. Instead of trying to be simulatory, I just came up with a D20 table of diseases I thought would complicate gameplay in entertaining ways: "Leprosy", "Mindworms", "Mutagenic 'Flu" and so on. Roll percentage chance whenever the PCs are exposed to a vector, but don't tell them they're infected until they start showing symptoms, which hopefully should keep some of the spookiness (and give them a disincentive to go rooting around in filth). Anything more complicated I feel would probably be lost on my players.

  2. I'm absolutely for weird additions to the kinds of disease in a game world. I just think most campaigns would benefit from having a base DMs could build from that includes things players know about like STDs and gangrene.

    The "don't tell them until symptoms start showing" idea makes perfect sense, but what I've found from experience is that in a fantasy game players will have no idea what the symptoms are from. Did the NPC we beat up curse me? Is it that weird throne we sat on? So, in essence it becomes some random effect and misses the whole dread aspect of disease.

    I think, while counter-intuitive, telling players who just caught a disease from a rat bite immediately will make it feel more like a disease in game-- i.e. trying to avoid filthy rats, feeling anxious every time they bite you, etc.

  3. How about a stand-in for Creutzfeldt-Jakobs, scrapie, or mad cow? Not that they were big plagues in ancient times, but you never know what adventures might be running into (or doing).

    Also, there are also poisonings that might appear more like diseases. Ergotism, for instance.

  4. Well, I haven't tested the new table yet, but in the past I've made it clear the PCs were sick and they've always seemed to make the connection. But you're right, that probably won't be the case now that I've added more fantastical diseases to the list.

    The reason I'm not keen on realistic treatment of disease is that in my experience, unless it's handled carefully it tends to make the game less rather than more interesting. Or I had trouble, at least. The realistic effect of most diseases is to make you miserable and unable to do the things you want to do. That's difficult to incorporate into a game in an entertaining way. My list includes a lot of real diseases, but since I wrote it primarily as something to inflict on tropical dungeon-delving PCs rather than as support for an immersive gameworld, I found it a lot easier not to worry about realistic symptoms or capturing all the major archetypes. You may have different priorities.

  5. @Trey: Certainly. You could have Brain Rot or Mad Cap or something, but what would be the "vector"? Maybe reading magical tomes above your ability? As for the ergotism, yeah I'd just treat it as a disease, that's what I meant by not worrying about being too scientific. As long as there is a loose idea of a way to catch it (eating at little villages far from the capital?) and amusing symptoms (dance all night and . . .?) then I'm not worried whether it was caused by a bacteria, virus, prion or just vapours.

    @John: I don't think we have different priorities. I tried with the list of symptoms to make them have an in-game effect that could have amusing consequences (we can't go back into the dungeon until Billy is over the runs because he keeps attracting rats).

    I certainly don't see my goal as simulating because I don't see this abstract system as realistic at all. You can catch leprosy from ancient scrolls! :)

    Now, there may be too many overlapping chances to catch disease (drinking water *and* being in the crowded city). I'm not sure because I haven't implemented this yet in my game (and you could partially adress this with the probabilities of getting the disease-- 1 on a d6 is only 17% chance). I did have a character who would have a seizure every time she rolled a 7 because of a rat bite. And that was pretty hilarious and interesting. I want more of that.