I wonder if players will feel much impact from ability damage, in general. Since the bonuses are more 'spread out' than they are in straight-up 3e, you could go from a 15 down to a 9 and not feel too impaired. In DCC, that's only a change of 1 to the modifier; in 3e, it would be a change of 3.
Since I‘m running my campaign through DCC #1… the game mechanics for diseases & poisons is a subject of keen interest for me. I was planning on using the 3.x style “poison does XdX stat damage,” but after reading this thread and seeing the good ideas here, I changed my mind.
One of the remarkable things about the design of the DCC RPG system is that by not defining things too specifically the DM has the ability to: “write it like they need it.” There really isn’t a need for lists of animals, venoms, poisons, & diseases when you can go on-line and look up the real thing, and then describe it using game mechanics. This system lets us write the rules for effects as part of the Monster entries. So…
Here’s the design principles I might use when crafting venoms, poisons & diseases based on the documentaries I’ve seen and some light reading @ Wikipedia…
Venoms can have some seriously nasty affects, but are made by some creature and delivered via injury; while pollutants are a broad range of chemicals (artificial or natural) that affect the character because of inhalation, ingestion or simple contact. I’m still not sure how I want to emulate diseases. Most venoms fall into 3 categories [listed most to least lethal] - paralytics, hemorrhagics, & pain inducers.
1. Paralytic venoms are not the same as a “Hold Person” spell or the touch of a Ghoul or Lacedon, which only affect voluntary muscles. These venoms affect all systems, so they can stop the heart & lungs. These venoms usually block the nerves from communicating and spread quickly. Example: the “King Cobra” (Ophiophagus Hannah) can be over 5m long & delivers 380-600mg doses of venom and a man-sized victim dies within 15-45 min.
2. Hemorragic venoms quite literally shred the walls of the blood vessels & surrounding tissues. If left untreated the victim could die from internal or external bleeding from the interrupted clotting process. The onset of symptoms can be quite slow and unnoticeable unless there are multiple bites. Worst cast scenario is that the creature strikes a vein and the venom goes straight to the heart. Example: (Dispholidus typus) or “Boomslang” A small African tree snake delivers 1.6 to 8 mg doses. A man sized bite victim usually doesn’t notice the danger, as they only feel nauseous or have headaches for a few hours… then fall dead from shock and blood loss.
3. Pain inducing venoms are not intended to kill or subdue prey; they are usually intended to discourage attacking predators. They cause pain that is so intense it incapacitates the attacker and allows the prey to escape. The humble male Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) is a good example. Its spurs can deliver venom that causes severe swelling and crippling pain sufficient to kill small mammals from system shock. In a man sized victim the platypus venom won’t kill you, but the pain lingers for days and can last for months.
Based on that I came up with the following ideas, which are probably too codified for some, but I think they might work.
1. Paralytic venom game mechanics: On a failed Fortitude Save, a creature with this type of venom would give the victim 15 +3d10 minutes to receive anti-venom. During this time the growing numbness means the victim gets a universal -2 penalty during the first 5 minutes, then an additional -2 penalty for each 5 minutes or fraction thereof. The character makes a Fortitude Save every 5 minutes; and, the application of anti-venom grants a +5 to save rolls. Success means no further rolls necessary because the character produced the antibody needed to get rid of the venom; but, the character functions @ -2 on all actions until they have rested a full day or receive 2pts magical healing. Failure of any of these saves means instant death because the characters heart stopped.
2. Hemorrhagic venom game mechanics: a creature with venom similar to the Boomslang would need a different structure. In this case: if the creature roles a critical success; or, the victim fumbles their initial Fortitude Save [rolled at the time of the bite] then the venom is traveling up a vein towards the victims heart. The victim then has 1d10 minutes to administer anti-venom. If attacker gets a critical success & the victim fumbles their initial Fort Save, they are also allergic to the venom and suffer those additional affects. The victim suffers a -2 on all actions and abilities. The victim makes an additional fortitude save at 1 minute, & then makes an additional save every 5 minutes or fraction thereof with a cumulative -2 penalty. The application of anti-venom grants a +5 to save rolls. Success means the character has made an antibody to neutralize the poison, but they continue to suffer a -2 penalty until they can get enough rest or magical healing to eliminate the venoms damage.
On the other hand, if the victim simply fails the initial save they have 1d10 hours to administer anti-venom. During this time the victim suffers a -1 on all actions and abilities and makes additional fortitude save at 10 minutes, then makes an additional save every hour or fraction thereof with a cumulative -1 penalty. The application of anti-venom grants a +5 to save rolls.
In either case, any time a save is failed, the victim takes 1d3 points of bleeding damage; which may or may not be noticed. Roll Luck vrs. DC=11; success= bleeding is external & may be noticed.
3. Game mechanics for Pain Inducing Venoms: Upon failing an initial Fortitude Save this kind of venom creates a universal penalty. Every time the victim needs to act (including AC & combat) they must roll a Willpower save verses a DC set in the monster/event description. Failure means they are too overcome by pain to do anything. Success means the victim may act, but with a penalty. Each failed Willpower Save raises the DC & the baleful affects of the venom by 1. Each successful save reduces the deleterious affect of the venom & the save DC by 1. The monster entry will have the details for how often the saves are made; the victim must succeed on enough Willpower Saves to reduce the pain penalty to 0. Then the affliction is gone.
In the case of the male Platypus: a victim rolls a Fort Save w/ DC= 12 & must roll this save every 24hrs. If this initial Save succeeds then character has a -1 universal penalty until they can get a nights rest or 2 points of magic healing; failure means victim is racked by pain. While afflicted the victim must roll a Willpower Save w/ DC=15 [pain modifier included] in order to act and success means the action may be attempted with -4 pain penalty; while failure means no action possible. The victim must make the Fortitude Saves w/DC=16 to be rid of the affliction. The application of anti-venom grants a +5 to save roll.
In all three types of venom, the DM can alter the power of the effect by changing the DC values for venom in each monsters description, or the type of damage die, etc. Unless creature description specifies some other effect; when a victim fumbles their initial Fort Save they are allergic to the venom, +1 all further DC’s & suffers 2pts of damage, then +1 point of damage for each failed save.
While studying up on the subject I discovered that the common practice for making anti-venom involves the application of small doses of venom to a sheep or pig then “harvesting” anti-bodies from its blood. Alchemists or Healers could do this just as easily and then become the source for anti-venom. They would also be buyers for the vials of poisons harvested by Thieves and Assassins after an adventure.
Pollutants; from the fumes wafting off a huge pile of bat guano to the strange chemical your character just put his hand into after a messy battle in a Wizards lab, could be handled with a variation on the mechanics of pain venoms. (#3) i.e. Fail an initial save and suffer an ill effect that is only ended when the character makes enough saves, but could get a lot worse before it gets better.
Generally, I agree with the idea that character illnesses & recovery should be handled “off camera” between adventures. In theory diseases could be handled using methods #2 & #3. However, I’m reluctant to get too detailed with the diseases for the same reasons that I don’t like the so-called “campers.” I don’t think folks are interested in “Conan vs. the common cold.” If the rules get things accurate, then common Filth Fever could take the characters out of play for days or weeks right in the middle of an adventure. Somehow I don’t think players are all that keen to have a session or 2 lost because Gragnok “caught” something at the local brothel.
A Judge will need some rules for diseases, especially for things like Mummy Rot, and Lycanthropy; but the list of Magical diseases really isn’t that long and each could be described within specific monster entries: along with the recipes for their cures. There could also be plot specific diseases: the party must track down and defeat the Evil Wizard who created a contagion that is turning people into hamsters, but such things would have their own special mechanics… With this system the Judge has the ability to write rules for each situation as they arise & not have to worry about how to force the monster abilities or story to fit the “Rules Algorithms.”
Alternately, a Judge could make Lycanthropy, Mummy Rot, & Vampirism, etc. into curses and chuck the whole disease concept. In a situation where the characters are fighting against the minions of the Lords of Filth & Disease, the dirty nature of the dungeon combined with Evil emanations render healing magic less effective. The effect would also get stronger as the party goes deeper into the dungeon, but would begin to decrease as the party “deals with things.”
These are just some rough draft ideas that I’ve been mulling over in prepping for my game, now offered up for peer review.