Posted by: Sean | November 18, 2008

Pain, injury and death

How much pain should your character be feeling?

It’s one of those things as role-players we tend to look over. Our characters are bashed, cut, slammed and even killed on a regular basis. And yet how often do we have them feel it? Hell, my characters only tend to even notice an injury unless they’ve been killed, and even then they seem to be just a bit groggy, fine in a few moments, thanks.

It’s just not good enough, right? Or is it?

Really, the amount of pain you should be exhibiting depends upon the tone of your role-play and what kind of character you are. This will require a table. Edited at Sagaril’s suggestion: All values were raised by one, to make room for the Undertaker level of pain.

(God, it’s been ages since I’ve drawn up a table in HTML.)

“Combat” character “Magical” character
Heroic Fantasy 2 3
Gritty realism 3 4, then 3

OK. Check the level of your role-play. If you’re in a ‘heroic fantasy’ (which kind of includes comedic fantasy, I suppose) where valiant heroes fight against dangerous monsters, where the lines between good and evil are firmly drawn (if not always in straight lines when it comes to the Horde and Alliance) and such, use the top line. If, by contrast, you’re shooting for a darker game, filled with moral ambiguity, where your heroes are basically people with swords who kill things rather than courageous heroes, use the bottom line.

Next, what kind of character are you playing? Really, there are only three types of characters. “Combat” characters (death knights, warriors, hunters, rogues, paladins, feral druids) and “magical” characters (mages, priests, warlocks, restoration druids) and shamans. If you’re playing a shaman, look deep within yourself. Find your inner combatant or magician. What you decide says volumes about you and where you sit in the world. You will be enlightened by this introspection.

Now, where was I? Oh yeah. Edited at Sargaril’s suggestion: Finally, deduct 1 if you’re Forsaken. (Which means Forsaken can drop down to 1.) Look up on the chart what number you fit, and then consult this handy list below!

  1. The Undertaker. What’s pain? Seriously, you stopped feeling pain when you died. The nerves don’t work anymore, and pain no longer really connects with you. At most, you notice when someone slices your arm off.

    You have three pain triggers, but none of them are exactly electric to you. If you are surprised or take a critical hit, you should look down at part of your body, and note for a second that it’s damaged. Then, stare back at your opponent. Underplay like crazy. If you lose most of your health and go into the red then you should stagger back, looking angry or impressed with your foe. You may or may not react after dying, it depends on your character.

    Thanks Sagaril, for the suggestion.

  2. Hurt is what other people feel! Pain isn’t for you. Arrows may pierce your flesh, and you’ll merely grit your teeth and return fire. Clubs may batter your body, and you’ll step right back up and ask if that’s all they’ve got. Most of the time, you shouldn’t even blink when playing this sort of character. Regular hits and damage are going to not be noticed, and you shouldn’t react to them.

    There are only four scenarios that should see you react at all. A surprise attack will elicit a surprised yelp of pain, but then immediately thereafter you’ll forget about it. Use a nice exclamation or a /gasp but otherwise just start fighting. A critical hit on you might get an astonished, “Nice hit, rookie!” followed by the biggest hitting move you have in reply. Going into the red (very little health yet) could see you either groaning, or perhaps going Captain Kirk on us. (“No! I will… not die! Not today!”) Finally, if it is today, you should probably emerge from death gasping, clutching your side, and otherwise unable to believe you’re not dead.

  3. Hurt is part of the job. If you’re a mage or similar class in a heroic theme, or anyone in a more realistic one, you’re going to have to face facts that pain hurts. While I guess you could play a really macho mage, it makes more sense that someone who spent their life nose deep in books is going to feel more pain than someone who spent it in street brawls. Hence, everything hurts. But you can deal with it.

    You have five pain triggers. The first is on being hit at all; you should at least grit your teeth if this happens, and potentially cry out. You should definitely cry out if you’re surprised, but you should then probably fire back with a spell and maybe a quip. A critical hit is going to make you groan, grunt or scream. Going into the red is likely to produce cries for help from your comrades. And finally, death could either be played like a type 1 (dying is going to affect anyone badly) or could reduce you to a gibbering mess. Speaking of gibbering messes…

  4. Oh god, it hurts! It hurts so much. Why does it have to hurt this much? You never expected the pain. You knew it existed. But you never knew it would be like this. In short, this is what it would be like if you or I got shot. You know what we’d do? We’d curl up in a ball and start crying, that’s what we’d do. The same applies to your character here.

    Your character also has five pain triggers. Being hit at all is going to make you cry out in pain, but you might be able to keep fighting back. Being surprised, however, is going to see you run for your life, even at the expense of your group. (Note: This should only be done if your group will be OK without you. Don’t piss off your fellow players just to hold character!) Taking a critical hit is going to see you /lay down and whimper. Going into the red will have you pleading for mercy. And woe betide everyone if you die, because your constant whining and blubbering about it would make a few people want to kill you again, if they didn’t think it wouldn’t just extend matters.Harsh? Yes. But you know what? That’s what happens when you get badly hurt. Adrenaline can do wonders, but pain receptors do more. The good news is, sooner or later you have to get used to it, and should graduate to a type 2. It’s up to you to work out the pacing of this. But if you do it well, your character won’t just be heroic, but they’ll have a story of how they became heroic.

As a side note, this suggests a really nifty role-play addon: Something that tells you when you’ve taken a ‘pain trigger’ and perhaps tells you where you got hit. (Randomly selected.) It wouldn’t role-play for you, it would simply give you advice on how to role-play pain, injury and hurt.



  1. Personally, I’d suggest playing death knights and Forsaken as somewhat lower on the scale since, gameplay-and-story segregation aside, they’re undead. I mean, do they even have the equipment to feel pain properly anymore?

  2. … forehead slap.

    That’s so incredibly sensible and obvious I can’t believe I missed it. I’m adding that in.

  3. There, fixed.

    And for those curious, yes, that’s a WWE reference, and a very good one. You could do a lot worse than study the Undertaker’s carefully managed non-selling of blows and pain; his whole character was based around the idea of him being half dead.

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