Being in the Main the Mouth of Olde House Rules

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

We've Been Sick, and So Can You...

So the Norovirus (AKA stomach flu) ran roughshod through our family, graciously extending the dubious privilege of projectile vomiting and diarrhea. Fun. Luckily it came in waves, leaving me much improved when Robyn had her time and needed my help. It really makes you appreciate being well; and once I could think of anything more than a merciful death, gaming sprung to mind as it often does. Namely, how to introduce illness to a game, and how do we keep it simple? Sickness is terrible, but so's combat. Here goes... 

The AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide had a table for illness (pages 13-14), suggesting the referee check monthly. My younger self thought this was canon, but quickly realized rolling on a dizzying array of tables each game month wasn't my style. Now I'm sure some hard-liners might actually do this (good for them); but these days, I'm sure most only hit 'em up when convenient and/or mine the charts for ideas. This alone makes it well worth the price; but we miss some good opportunities unless we can simplify for practical convenience. 

So first, the WHEN. Instead of rolling once (per character) per (game) month, just define specific locations where infection might occur. Perhaps a filthy pool in a dungeon, not every one, but specific pools even when the possibility exists elsewhere. Now assign a nominal probability (say, 1-2 in 1d6) standing in its fetid waters, raising this further if open wounds are so exposed. Ditto for comparable surface areas. This is realistic and convenient, delivering rational consequences that drive future actions by the player characters.

Next, the WHAT. Instead of more random charts, just define exactly what illness awaits the unfortunate victims and their relevant impacts. The pool in room #12 has a 1-2 in 1d6 chance of giving you the shits - or worse, with consequences beyond comic relief. At a minimum, I suggest that sickness precludes all adventuring activities, with saving dice required to prevent unconsciousness and 1d6-ish damage (perhaps more from fainting and bashing your head, which I've done). Of course, normal/non-magical healing should be impossible...

Until the sickness has run its course, which leads to HOW LONG. 1d6 game days for the nastiness to germinate, followed by 1d6+1 days suffering seems reasonable; and while some afflictions last longer in the real world, this is complaint proof. Diarrhea and vomiting should cause dehydration and possibly additional damage, although in a simpler game serve largely to justify limits on strenuous activity. Divine and/or magical healing restores hits, and cures immediately reverse the illness. Otherwise, afflictions must run their course.   

Of course, house rules are encouraged; and if you like the deep and crunchy, homebrew charts can be as detailed as your medical imagination allows. But for those opposed to random calculations ad nauseum, intriguing possibilities still await without feeling arbitrary or artificially imposed. Your players will know to avoid wading in stagnant pools and learn to cover any open wounds, adding realistic threats and underscoring the power of consequence in a world otherwise given to whimsy. Sage advice in this and any fantastical world.


  1. IMG a disease is a result of breaking some taboo or angering some supernatural creature. It is the job of a physician, a specialist sage, to determine the exact nature of the taboo you broke or the creature that you angered, and then suggesting the appropriate method of appeasement to break this dis-ease curse.

    For example lung rot is often an affliction developed by those who break into tombs holding the dead (especially if they contain mummies). Obviously one must appease the Guardian of the Dead to remove the curse.

    Although if efforts aren't made to appease the curse early enough, then of course it may spread. Usually to the family first, but if nothing is yet done the punishment may be extended to the whole settlement ... or even nation if the offended being is powerful enough. Of course a minor swamp spirit that curses you with gut spasm for drinking swamp water won't generally be able to inflict their curse on more than yourself.

    Such disease curses may come up on my seasonal events chart which details events that may happen during each season which may affect players (although players themselves may always invoke divine retribution through their own actions). These are more common in Winter because people are more inherently lazy and generally more willing to take short-cuts without properly appeasing the spirits or gods and incur the resulting spiritual retribution.

    You may have heard a certain deranged group of so-called philosophers propose that this is not in fact the case and that diseases are actually caused by creatures that are too small to be seen. After a moments thought, it is easy to dismiss this entire conjecture as utter bosh.

    1. Tiny creatures? Preposterous! And heretical...

    2. Or is it just a votive offering to Yorghul the God of Projective Vomiting?

    3. Hard to tell. I attract the ire of the spirits...