Thoughts on the Anthology: Injury & Recovery and Fighting Arts

I was late getting my hands on a copy of the Anthology. We were nearing the end of a Torchbearer campaign when it finally arrived, and after a first reading my passion for BW re-ignited. We decided to start a new campaign at once.

Scheduling conflicts and internal party turmoil meant we only played three sessions of a game set in Colonial India. I’ve posted several of the Fighting Arts I designed for that world to the forums already. Afterward we moved back in a high fantasy direction, deciding to play all Elves while using the Anthology’s rules closer to as-written to see what we thought of them. I created Arts for several Orc LPs and every Elf martial LP and we set off.

We played our fourth session last night (and the seventh since starting to use the Anthology). This new campaign is going very well and I expect it to have a long and healthy life–but I’ve decided my mind has been more or less made up on the Anthology. I thought I might therefore provide some of my thoughts for Luke and Co. here on the forums.

Treatment & Injury
My group has always had a lot of frustrations with Gold’s normal injury rules. My gripes as a GM were that Sup and Li wounds were so easily subdued and removed that they were basically useless as failure consequences or as a complication for a messy Fight!, while Midis and above were likely to be fatal if delivered in combat–but often felt too serious and long-lasting to deliver outside a subsystem’s use.

I was excited then when I saw the Anthology includes one of the house rules we’d long-since adopted: Li wounds now require treatment. They can also now degrade, so they’re much more interesting than Gold RaW as complications for failed tests. There seemed to be some potential issues in the abstract as I looked the rules over: burns are effectively impossible to treat, which I’m not sure I’m in favor of, but I still thought this would be a general improvement.

And maybe the rules are, when employed properly. Over the last seven sessions we haven’t been able to stomach making it that far.

In our first session set in India, a servant PC was ordered to be beaten by the bodyguard (also a PC) of the princess (also also a PC). This was to teach him respect and send a message to his master, the prince. The servant wasn’t fighting back and I decided it made the most sense to simply inflict a Midi wound; the princess’ bodyguard intentionally used his fists so as not to do as much damage as he might otherwise. Once the wound was inflicted the princess called for her doctor, and we sat down to treat the servant.

Then we found out that apparently the princess had made a horrible mistake. Had the bodyguard used his sword to inflict this Midi wound–you know, a lethal, deadly weapon–the Ob to treat the Midi would have only been 2. A lowly two! But because he had opted for the actively non-lethal tool, his hands, the Ob was at +3: treatment was five because the wound was delivered via blunt force.

This was so absurd that none of us could believe it. It made no sense fictionally, and it didn’t even make sense in the rules. Had we rolled to Strike the servant again and again until a sufficient wound was dealt, first with our fists and then with our sword, a FATAL INJURY would have only been Ob 5 to treat with Surgery–the same as a Midi delivered with fists.

Uh. What?

I decided to keep the Ob at 2. Treatment and recovery was a success.

We didn’t encounter the Injury rules again until our first elf session, whereupon our Sword Singer PC was dealt a Li wound by a spear from a goblin (two of them, actually). Our Soother went to treat him. Ob 1, but because it’s a Puncture wound, +2Ob, so Ob 3 total.

We didn’t have tools for Song of Soothing. That meant it was actually Ob 6. Ob 6, twice, for Li wounds, that were now guaranteed to get worse in minutes.

I decided to go back to the old Injury rules.

Some Li wounds degrading could be cool. The systems further into the new rules seem interesting, and perhaps a general improvement. I like more codified direction for what a GM should do when inflicting permanent stat reduction on a PC. I dislike not having clear guidelines to follow, like TB has, when the consequences are so severe.

But we never made it that far. The Ob modifiers from injury type are obscene. They’re so high and they don’t make any sense; they feel completely arbitrary.

I don’t like these new rules at all.

Fighting Arts
So I was disappointed with the Injury section, but it was FAs that had me really excited to GM BW again. I’ve spent hours and hours writing them for our campaigns. There are 20+ of them in my various documents now. They remind me of Torchbearer classes and they’re just as fun to come up with. I thought the idea of restricting certain actions–like Lock–was extremely interesting, and a potential way to fix some of my issues with Fight! as a whole. But above all I was ecstatic that there was finally some workaround for BW’s flatly nonsensical weapon skill rules, where a greatsword–despite being used more like a spear historically–falls under Sword because…it looks like a sword.

No longer!

Even in the abstract I began to encounter problems with action restriction. How, for example, did an Art restrict access to Avoid, when Avoid tests a stat–not a skill? How did we determine when certain bonuses to engage were in effect, when a player had multiple bonuses in multiple Arts? The Anthology gives alarmingly little guidance on what Arts actually look like in play.

To get around these issues I ruled that, when engaging, a character must declare what Art he’s fighting in: it can be one he has or one he doesn’t, but he’s limited to that set of basic actions for the following Exchange, until positioning is re-tested.

That worked fairly well. Onward we continued.

In the first Elf session, one of my players discovered a way around his Captain LP Art’s lack of Feint: Change Stance - Neutral. Change Stance - Neutral counts as a Feint.

My cheese detector went on high alert. But at the same time, Arts grant universal access to stance actions, and the rules are clear: Change Stance - Neutral counts as a Feint. It didn’t make sense for Neutral to become nothing, and ultimately this seemed a fair-ish way to get around Block and Counterstrike spam. So we let it stand.

That was just the beginning of wonkiness with Arts. A group of goblins got into Shortest with a Sword Singer; they wanted to charge him down, grab him, lock him, and claw and fang him. Unfortunately they had neither Charge nor Lock, because it wasn’t available in their fairly shit Art–and even if they’d had it listed as a Technique, they wouldn’t have had the skillpoints required to buy those actions anyway.

Call me crazy, but it’s probably within the powers of a horde of untrained goblins to charge someone down while screaming murder. I also think it’s within their power to grab at his arms and restrain him when acting as a group. I do not think training would be required for either of these things.

Maybe if you do a good enough job designing Arts there are ways around this. “Snotling Swarm: You can Lock with your Anvil of the Black Legion skill when acting as a group.” But I’m not mentally equipped to do that much design for every single Art, for every LP, in an entire campaign.

Issues like this came up every session. I gave one Art potent offensive abilities but took away access to Push–but, like, why can’t the character push? It doesn’t make sense. The same can be said for Charge. I noted that Charge was one of the actions in the Anthology’s sample Arts, along with Feint, that seemed heavily restricted; I carried this through into my own.

But…just charge? Does that really require training? Really?

All this reached a head last night, when I decided I’d had enough. A pair of orcs doubleteamed our Captain PC. He used defensive actions very well and had some insane rolls…

…and tanked them while he waited for his companion to return. It was an awesome Fight!, except for my poor Orcs’ armor:

Anyway, having my orcs Strike into Block and CS over and over and over again was well enough for two or three exchanges, but there eventually came a point where the lack of Feint in their Art became seriously befuddling. Neither Orc could Feint, neither Orc could Lock (the most realistic thing to do, once one of them got into Hands with Fangs and Claws), and while both had Charge, they had no way around the Captain’s shield with their actual weapons.

So I had to get creative. To make a point to the Captain, since he was the one who first tried the Change Stance cheese, I did the same to him. From Aggressive Stance I scripted Change Stance - Neutral - > Change Stance - Aggressive → Strike → Change Stance - Neutral.

This was ridiculous. I mean I felt absurd putting that script down. It’s stupid and I can’t possibly explain it ficitonally. What is this Orc even doing? I don’t know how to narrate it. But this is the sort of thing that action restrictions were forcing me toward, and had been for everyone at my table since we started using FAs.

Techniques are really cool, especially for an Elf campaign. My Sword Singer Fighting Art is tremendously overtuned and it’s a lot of fun to watch it in play. They make Fight! more interesting; they give it more depth, especially for a group like ours that has played a lot of BW and had a lot of Fight!s over the years.

The condensing of weapon skills was also desperately overdue. I’ll never forget a moment from one of my first sessions of BW: my character knew the Cudgel skill from Burning, or maybe had gotten the equivalent from Brawling, but upon picking up a haunch of bone off the ground, I was informed by the GM that I had to Beginner’s Luck the Mace skill instead. This, he informed me, was a mace, not a cudgel.

“Can’t I use it like a cudgel?” I asked. “Can’t I cudgel someone with it?”

“Nope,” he replied. “That there is a mace, not a cudgel. Roll Beginner’s Luck.”

Fighting Arts put a stop to that BS. In reality a master swordsman will be a master spearman–swords are harder to use than spears, and the fundamentals carry over (largely, if not entirely).

I like the new rules for training skills, too. They’re much more interesting than before, and I like that you can create FAs that are specifically armored or unarmored. That adds more depth.

But action restriction introduces way more problems than it solves. Maybe BWHQ has some way around the issues I identified, like how you prevent someone from rolling a stat during BL from an FA he doesn’t have, but when combined with my fix–still the best option IMO–the whole system basically crumbles. It’s confusing and contrived and it’s a pain in the ass to keep your Arts separate and we can never remember which actions we have access to, and when a PC finds himself in a position where the only mechanically and fictionally logical option would be to Charge, it sucks for me as a GM to say, “No, sorry, you can’t Charge; Luke says it’s not allowed.”

After last night I’ve made up my mind to ditch the system. Maybe for future Arts I’ll restrict specific actions, but I won’t positively affirm which can be used. We’ll continue using Arts for Forms and Techniques, but the rest of the subsystem is more trouble than I think it’s worth.

(My players, incidentally, have been telling me this all along, but I wanted to get a good feel for rules before making up my mind. Five Fight!s in five sessions feels like enough playtesting at this point.)

Conclusory Note
We haven’t made it to War yet. I haven’t bothered using the Faction rules, because we haven’t needed them. I can’t comment on the rest of the Anthology. Concerning the new Injury & Recovery and Fighting Arts rules, though, I feel like I’ve seen enough at this point to say that I find them pretty frustrating. They’re working to address problems I and my group have always had with the game, but after about two months of testing I’m ready to keep only bits and pieces and otherwise go back to Gold RaW (or, at least, our version of Gold, which certainly has its fair share of hacks–and may have even more in the immediate future).

This was just our experience. Maybe we’re doing something wrong. It feels that way sometimes. But at this point, I’m pretty sure we weren’t.

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I’d like to examine your first example with the Treatment and Injury rules, if you don’t mind; something smells off about it.

“Midi wounds are broken arms, ribs, and legs; yanked muscles, twisted ligaments, missing digits, and massive cuts.” (BWGR 485)

So, in the fiction, this person was beaten until his bones were broken, like big bones, like ribs and stuff. One reason cuts are easier to treat than bludgeoning wounds is that the damage to tissue and bone tends to be cleaner. If a bone is separated by being cut through, there are going to be fewer pieces, which fit back together more easily. If a bone is separated by being broken, it’s more likely to splinter and break into irregular pieces. I expect you can imagine how that would make things more difficult to operate on. Much of the damage can also happen internally, making it hard to access to repair. Sometimes you have to cut a person open just to get to the damn wound.

Out of interest, let’s imagine that Ob2 Surgery test had failed. What trait do you think would have been appropriate? How did you imagione the injury?

Any kind of blunt force injury is going to be more distributed and involve more tissue (assuming the same severity, of course). It seemed like your situation involved a prolonged beating, yeah? It seems to me like many fractures and/or broken bones distributed across a person’s body is going to be harder for a surgeon to treat. I don’t see how the Obs were non-sensical for your situation. Could you explain it to me?

Out of interest, did the bodyguard take an injury to his hands for beating them against bone ober and over?

I’m gonna be real with you. Your take here makes as little sense to me as, perhaps, the rules in this instance make to you.

If the bodyguard had cut his victim, as repeatedly and intently as he had struck him, his victim would be dead. Because the sword is a deadly weapon. A prolonged, savage beating and a single cut with a sword are not equivalent. The idea of saying, “Yeah, I beat this man to within an inch of his life, where his ribs are broken and he’s bleeding internally… But I only used my ‘Non-Lethal’ fists, so it should be easier to patch up,” just doesn’t scan at all to me. You had to make the treatment process way more messy and complicated to even get to that point with your fists.

Even if you had done it with one blow – a Mark punch rather than an Incindental cut, maybe – it still wouldn’t be as clean and easy to fix up the wound, because blunt force is messy (see above with thr splintering and such).

And, yeah, Surgeons are very good at treating cuts. Not only is their discipline particularly well tailored to those kind of injuries, they even cut people themselves and have to stitch them back up!

Little addendum regarding your second example:

I think you were looking at the Time entry on the table on page 20 (that is, how long it takes to treat a wound) rather than the Deterioration and Blood Loss entry on the table on page 22 (that is, how long it takes for a wound to degrade). Punctures take 2 to 12 hours to degrade, while Light Wounds take 1d6 minutes to treat. The GM can also choose where in the former range the value lies. So there was time to at least try to Forage or Scavenge up some Athelas (I hear it’s pretty pervasive these days), then work carefully.

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Hi. Sorry you had a bad time. The Anthology rules are all a bit experimental, so I truly appreciate you bringing this stuff forward. Difficult feedback can be hard to give!

For injury and treatment, the game master decides on the injury type based on the situation and their judgement. There’s no injury type by weapon. So your GM was feeling real cruel that night. They could have assigned those injuries as abrasions, cuts or whatever.

Thor and I agree that punches and kicks should probably be counted as abrasions. But, uh, sometimes you take a superb shot the to skull from a foot or fist and the internal trauma kills you. So we need to leave that option on the table.

As for fighting arts, I’m not quite following your frustrations. If I’m reading correctly, you find them too restrictive and you developed a few on your own that you don’t like. If that’s true, please post your FAs to the forums so we can take a look. We’ve seen a lot of great feedback given on the ones folks have posted so far.

And, yes, burns are bad. Like untreatably bad. Also puncture wounds. The both cause infections that are beyond the ability of medieval medicine to treat. But in the case of our rules, failure to treat light wounds just fucks you up for a while and gives you cool traits. I could be forgetting something, but they don’t kill you.

And if you’re reluctant to play a wounded character, I would like to state for the record that playing with a wound in BW is a gift.

Also, gotta ask: what equipment did the elf have if not tools for that skill song?

Lastly, I see the scene with the servant as rather poignant. Violence is rarely controlled or neatly bound. The bodyguard did the standard tough guy thing of “I’m going to teach you a lesson by beating you until your bones are broken” perhaps imagining that a broken bone wouldn’t mean too much to himself, so why should this servant be any different? But instead, this petty tyrant destroyed this poor soul’s body. He hit him so hard that he’s bleeding internally. He might die.

That’s a very BW aesthetic to me—and I have presented similar consequences on my players. I tell you this so you can perhaps see how the flexibility in the injury rules give the GM more control, not less. And provides for really excellent treatment scenes now.

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I believe the Anthology features light wounds that degrade a based on the type of wound. A puncture light wound deteriorates to a midi in 2-12 hours, then to a severe 2-12 hours after that. (Anthology pg. 22)

Some of @Chalk’s FA’s (and some of our discussion about them) can be found here: Witcher Fighting Arts: The Schools of the Wolf, Cat, Griffon, Manticore, and Bear.

And here: Fighting Art: Bloodthirst of the Black Destroyer.

And also here: Three Fighting Arts for the Age of Gunpowder

This all has been in-line with my reading, FWIW.

I have less than no desire to argue about my experience using these rules. It merely felt pertinent to report on my experience since I know BWHQ often doesn’t get feedback from their playerbase.

But you’ve also completely misapprehended the point of my example, so I am going to briefly respond: the bodyguard’s intent was to leave a serious, visible injury, that would be a warning but (hopefully) be easily recovered from. A Li wound makes no mechanistic sense because it goes away immediately upon treatment, but if left untreated could get worse–which was not desirable. It had to be a Midi as the least invasive form of injury, that would still send a message to the prince.

You highlight the severity of Midi wounds, but your own quotation from the book says “yanked muscles” and “twisted ligaments” as potential other examples. In this scene we were imagining a broken nose, a sprained wrist, a black eye–probably nothing much more serious than that. Far worse than a Li wound, a lasting and visible set of wounds, but definitely not Severe. This is the point I’m trying to make.

The servant was not “beat within an inch of his life.” That’s the whole point of the encounter, and the fact that you have to misconstrue what I said in my post in order to justify the way Injury words makes me very alarmed. We could have simply given the servant a Traumatic wound if the goal was to grievously wound him. It clearly wasn’t. The intention was to inflict a Midi wound, regardless of the weapon used. He obviously wouldn’t have slashed him as “repeatedly and intently as he had [beat] him” in that case. Fictionally fists made the most sense as a clearly less lethal weapon.

Obviously it’s possible to kill someone with your fists (in real life. In BW it’s actually mostly impossible, with treatment available). The point is that it makes no sense to send your message to the prince by wounding his servant with a sword, a wound that’s likely to get infected and is clearly delivered with a weapon of war, rather than with your fists–yet the rules are telling us that in this scenario, we should have just cut his torso open with a single slash and sent him off like that. It would have made more sense in the rules to do it that way.

You beat servants. You don’t slash them to bits. A badly sprained wrist and broken bone might lead to a complication, which is why I still wanted to roll for treatment and recovery, but in 1794 it’s a lot less dangerous than a “massive cut.” I don’t care how good your surgeon is at sewing wounds shut. This flatly makes no sense when it comes to the long-term prognosis of how severe different types of injuries are. These wounds might be harder to treat; it does make some sense that internal hemorrhaging after a man finds off a horse is going to be very difficult for a surgeon to deal with, especially in a pre-modern era. But the treatment itself is much less important when the injury is a yanked muscle or twisted ligament. Yanked muscles and twisted ligaments are not going to burst open and cause exsanguination and are not likely to become infected.

I didn’t misconstrue what you said. I created a good-faith interpretation that fell within the broad range of possibilities created by what you said in your post.

This clarification is one reason why I asked you how you imagined the injuries.

Actually, fractures, a broken nose, and broken toes are examples given in BWGR of Light Wounds.

This is incorrect. Light Wounds require recovery and 1 week of rest to go away in the Anthology.

EDIT: I bring these up because it seems like a Light Wound was a better model for what you were looking for, and you had expressed uncertainty about these rules in your earlier post

You okay? You seem a bit hot; I’m not sure if that’s directed at me or…

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Based on the narration of the scene I suppose the wounds could have been counted as abrasions. That would have made that scene seem slightly less ridiculous.

I understand why burns are so severe from a fictional perspective, and I also understand that this plays into the shit-on-the-sidewalk life-is-cheap tone of BW. My frustration with +5Ob or whatever it is, and with the high +Obs in general from these new rules, is that I feel like they make the obstacles so high that realistically no one is ever going to succeed on the tests. I like the grittiness, but I’m also not sure I want to play or GM Henry VIII with a festering wound for the rest of my character’s life either (especially as an elf!). This is why I ultimately think I’d rather just use the game’s normal rules.

As Quincy already said, on p. 22:

“Superficial wounds do not deteriorate. Neither do mortal wounds, since they are the final possible stage of wounds.” My reading is that Li-Traum do. (Which I actually like, since Li wounds are so not-severe otherwise).

He forgot to buy it in Burning and decided to write a belief about finding them in the first session (which he did, after he had been stabbed). He took tools for Elven cooking instead!

And finally, I do agree with you about the scene with the servant. That’s why I wanted to roll for treatment and play it out in the mechanics. But this was the outside chance. If the Ob was 5 just to start out with, it became the most likely outcome–and that I find a lot less interesting.

As for FAs, I like bits and pieces of what I’ve come up with for elf LPs, but I’m not that happy with the Arts overall (at least compared with what I posted here a few weeks ago–there’s a reason I haven’t shared them). My players never give me any feedback on them so I’m left mostly to my own imagination and what little playtesting we can do session to session. If you really want to see them they’re available here, but note that most of them have way too many Techniques and I haven’t bothered filling out Learning Obstacles (since that’s all likely to change still).

The only ones we’ve used in play are Volley of the Bowyer, Dance of the Blade, Strain of the Commander, and for NPCs He Who Walks, He Who Rides, and He Who Serves. It’s only a 4LP campaign so we haven’t had access to most of the Techniques–they’re theoretical–and so I mostly just have ideas down for what might make sense down the line.

Another frustration with writing these Arts that I didn’t mention in the OP relates particularly to how LPs are organized. I found it easy to delineate with Elven LPs should receive their own arts, but it became much more confusing for Orcs. It quickly began to seem like, realistically, I would need 4-5 mostly identical arts with varying techniques, which I just did not want to sit down to design. That’s the main reason why the Orc Arts are so under-developed right now.

…which is sort of my point. Honestly, I don’t really care what Fighting Arts the mook goblins use. As a GM I want them to have whatever makes the most sense fictionally within a scene, so the granularities of Techniques and action access don’t interest me nearly as much as in PvP or during dramatic duels.

I can only speak from the GM’s perspective because I haven’t played with FAs yet. I’ve had to design all of them for all our campaigns basically on my own.

You’re at the point of utterly splitting hairs when discussing where the line is. How many fractures are sufficient to make it Midi? How severe? Is a Midi from a failed Bloody Versus test a broken rib from a single punch, or can it be narrated as the culminating effect of a broken nose AND a sprained wrist AND a fractured whatever? Is a single wound on the PTGS necessarily, literally, a single wound? I’ve never assumed so. It usually is, but Bloody Versus is a prime example of where you’d only ever deal a single wound but would almost certainly narrate multiple minor injuries being inflicted.

It doesn’t matter anyway, at least in this example, because we started with the mechanics. The players wanted to give each other Midi wounds. They wanted the mechanistic consequences of a Midi, and we figured the fiction out afterward (but before we consulted with the Anthology and saw a sword would’ve made more sense for what we actually wanted, mechanically.)

I’d like to point out now that this is how every wound is dealt in BW. You have to roll to see what the IMS is and whether or not the strike gets through armor before describing the injury, because obviously the narration for a sword slash that’s deflected off the wrists will differ from the narration of a Midi from a spear to the gut will differ from a Mortal to the head or a Li to the leg etc. etc.

Meanwhile, while we’re splitting hairs over what should or shouldn’t be one level of wound or the next based on what the book says, let’s also observe that BW:G (I don’t have my copy of Revised with me right now, but I presume it’s the same) summarizes Midi wounds on p. 486 as:

“…debilitating injuries that are not life-threatening, but still extremely painful.”

In other words…the types of wound you’d give to a misbehaving servant.

Yes, you’re right; it had been a while since I looked that part over. But it also would also leave no permanent record, and while I could keep explaining the rationale–which I really feel was quite reasonable–for a choice my group made almost three months ago, I’m done arguing over this. I merely report my experience trying to wield the new rules.

I want to reiterate that I really appreciate you taking the time to bring this difficult feedback to us.

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Some other tangential thoughts:

Yup! I haven’t done this work yet for two reasons: I wanted to let the FAs simmer a bit to see what issues arose and it’s actually quite a lot of creative lifting to do!

Ugh, we feel this. It’s the same for us at BWHQ!

We feel this, too! Not to be glib, but we had to design a whole game in order to tackle this problem. Mouse Guard (and Torchbearer) bundle “monster” stats in a Nature rating, descriptors and weapons. Nature is a wonderful tool for the game master, though it does bring with it its own set of system and philosophical issues.

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On review and in the cool light of day, I feel like I’ve been tactless and inconsiderate in this thread.

I’m sorry for any further frustration I may have caused you, Joseph.

I put my foot in my mouth, and I regret it.

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Yeah, I’m running a Burning THAC0 game where we’re kind of creating the Fighting Arts as we go, and monsters are basically just using the default rules with me making heavy Avatar-based action selections. It’s not ideal, especially since I quite like PC/NPC-Symmetry. But it’s working pretty well so far, I think.