Wizard World - an Ars Magica hack by Jared Hunt

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Wizard World - an Ars Magica hack by Jared Hunt
« on: January 11, 2014, 06:27:00 PM »
Not sure if Vincent will move this to its own forum or not, but I thought I'd get started :)

I've been working on this hack for a while now. It's very much a love letter to Ars Magica - you know, like those love letters you wrote in high school to the person you were never going to get. The ones with the crappy poetry and gag-inducing metaphors. Well, at least it started like that, but (to continue the analogy) I cribbed some language from much smarter people (thanks Sage, Adam, Joe and Gregor!) and I used a copy of the letter that scored with the prom queen as my outline (thanks Vincent!)

I think the analogy has probably fallen apart, so I'll get to the point. Wizard World is my attempt to take the comprehensive beauty of Ars Magica and distill out the homework parts, hopefully leaving some belly-warming goodness that won't make you go blind (remember what I said about metaphors?) Rest assured that any original thoughts you see in the work are entirely accidental, but I'm very proud of some of them and I hope they help you realize all your wizardly dreams.

The first thing I wanted this hack to capture was the completely wide open nature of magic through the forms and techniques:

Open Magic System
Rather than a list of spells and a somewhat Vancian casting system, Wizard World magi divide their spell casting into two categories. The first category is Spontaneous magic, which is governed by the Arcane Moves. At their heart, the Arcane Moves are just ways of making the Basic Moves but using magic to "do it". Unpacking them a bit reveals a number of differences, including considerably wider application in the fiction as well as some mechanical differences that increase their overall power level. Arcane Moves also typically have a harsher down-side than the Basic Moves to reflect the risk inherent in magic.

The other category of magic is Formulaic or Spellbook magic. Each formulaic spell must be fully detailed and can only be used in exactly the way it was written. Within that limitation, however, Formulaic magic is only bound by the player’s imagination (and the GM’s interpretation of the Limitations of Hermetic Magic).

Magi in ArM World increase their power in a granular fashion by improving their mastery of the 15 hermetic arts. Each art has a score ranging from -1 to +3 and the control a maga has over her magic is determined by the lower of the scores she is using to create an effect. While this inserts more stats than a typical AW hack, it also allows a high degree of differentiation and helps create meaningful character-advancement decision trees. It was also very well received by the play testers ;)


I've got a few more sneak peaks available and I'll have a nicely cross-linked PDF for people to peruse in the next day or two - if you're interested...

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Jeremy

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Re: Wizard World - an Ars Magica hack by Jared Hunt
« Reply #1 on: January 12, 2014, 11:59:03 AM »
So freaking interested.

Re: Wizard World - an Ars Magica hack by Jared Hunt
« Reply #2 on: January 13, 2014, 10:42:53 PM »
Here's a little more sales pitch for Wizard World:

Lab Work
The laboratory rules in Wizard World are a remix of the AW Savvyhead’s workshop with some additional mechanical elements to support Ars Magica style item creation and spell research. Included in the lab rules are systems for training your apprentice and binding a familiar.

Humours
Rather than hit points or a harm countdown, Wizard World fully embraces the medieval paradigm by tracking harm through its impact on the humours. Different types of harm impact different humours and poor health is a result of imbalances. Each humour has an associated debility and a character with multiple debilities is in immediate danger of dying. The system preserves the AW concept of not allowing a PC to be killed in a single shot while instilling a reasonable fear of damage in the players.

Covenant
Another substantial addition to Wizard World is a shared playbook for the covenant. In some ways, the covenant rules are a remix of the AW Operator’s jobs, the Chopper’s gang and the Hardholder. Rather than each character controlling one aspect, the group shares responsibility for contributing and distributing resources. The covenant playbook tracks those shared resources including raw vis, money, skilled craftspeople, soldiers and grunt labourers (grogs). It also tracks the covenant library which dictates several lab work options.

Council
Each magi in the covenant has a role on the covenant council. Each role has an area of responsibility and a move that adds mechanical weight to their fictional position.

Shared Companion Characters
Each magi has an exceptional mundane ally who, while not able to use magic, is still a hero in their own right. Companions range from bandit to courtier to mendicant priest, and each makes a unique contribution to the covenant. With permission, any player can choose to play any companion character instead of their magus (allowing the magus to focus on lab work during the session).

Here's a link to the full PDF: https://www.dropbox.com/s/aefq6ggar4jf1yh/Wizard%20World.pdf

and here's a link to the playbooks and reference sheets: https://www.dropbox.com/s/n9g5jg65inxdy1q/Wizard%20World%20Playbooks%20and%20Sheets.pdf

Re: Wizard World - an Ars Magica hack by Jared Hunt
« Reply #3 on: January 14, 2014, 08:51:24 AM »
Also interested!

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Munin

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Re: Wizard World - an Ars Magica hack by Jared Hunt
« Reply #4 on: January 14, 2014, 10:43:24 AM »
I love the bit about companions.  Having more characters in the mix is always good.

Re: Wizard World - an Ars Magica hack by Jared Hunt
« Reply #5 on: January 15, 2014, 05:41:17 AM »
Read this last night, it's great! I don't know if I have the logistical capacity to playtest since it seems to call for at least 3 players + MC, and a pretty long-running set of sessions (to get all that magical research going). But I really love the ideas (not having played Ars Magica, I realize that not all the ideas are yours, but I will happily give you credit for bringing them to my attention regardless :-D ).

I plan to steal liberally from it for Shtetl World, which, after all, is also set in Mythic Europe, just with a different candidate for the True Faith. :-) Certain things I was delighted to find we had come up with in parallel, most importantly the idea of emergent magic (also the "we draw a map together" first session intro, though I guess that came mostly from Monsterheart's class seating chart in my case...)

Maybe I can find some way to playtest it at least for a few sessions...

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Munin

  • 401
Re: Wizard World - an Ars Magica hack by Jared Hunt
« Reply #6 on: January 15, 2014, 09:24:42 AM »
Aside: If you like "we draw the map together" conceptually, then you should check out The Quiet Year.

Re: Wizard World - an Ars Magica hack by Jared Hunt
« Reply #7 on: January 15, 2014, 08:33:24 PM »
Glad you liked it!

Yeah, the 3 player minimum can be tough and you're absolutely right that it's intended for a longer campaign.

Please steal away! Do keep in mind that while I based all the rules on AW and DW, many of the specific terms (hermetic magic, covenant, the names of the houses) are trademarks, so be sure to come up with your own names if you're hoping to dodge potential conflict. From what I've seen of Shtetl World that shouldn't be a problem.

The "we draw a map together" idea solidified for me when I read another hack on these forums called 'hood. Highly recommend checking it out - many interesting takes on the AW rules.

I've done a fair bit of playtesting of my own, but I'd love to hear how things play out for someone else. I spent a lot of time on the 'Running Wizard World' chapter - hopefully I was able to communicate both my intent and what I learned from my playtests.

Re: Wizard World - an Ars Magica hack by Jared Hunt
« Reply #8 on: January 22, 2014, 11:23:49 PM »
Cross-posted from the PbtA Google+ community:

What do you think of these moves as a replacement for Hack and Slash?

Enter melee:
When you enter melee combat, roll+Body.
On a 10+ you secure a decisive advantage. Unless they are seriously badass, your enemy is either fleeing or down within the first moments of the fight.
On a 7-9 you secure an advantage but it will cost you: an imbalanced humour or other resource. A skilled or disciplined foe will still be in the fight, but most enemies will be down or fleeing.
On a 6- The enemy gains the upper hand. You’ll probably suffer an imbalanced humour (and possibly worse at the GM’s discretion).

Press the attack:
When you continue fighting in an ongoing melee, roll+Body.
On a 10+ you press your advantage (if you had it) or manage to turn the tables on your enemy if they had the upper hand. In either case, they’re either fleeing or down.
On a 7-9 if the enemy had the upper hand, you have a hard choice: either suffer serious consequences and win or you can retreat (or yield). If the you had the advantage, you can press it now to finish them off, but it will cost you something minor (the GM will tell you what).
On a 6- If the enemy had the upper hand, you are in serious trouble: you’re either down or captured - the GM will let you know. If you had the advantage, things have taken a nasty turn, you can either yield or attempt to withdraw, but it’s going to cost you - the GM will tell you how much.

Re: Wizard World - an Ars Magica hack by Jared Hunt
« Reply #9 on: January 23, 2014, 07:00:36 AM »
I think this is interesting, and that the direction you're going in is a better fit for WW than the standard DW hack & slash. Since you've got humours rather than hp, DW's hp-centric approach (particularly the "take damage yourself to do +1d6" option) isn't going to work well, and I like the idea, in the draft I saw, of the PCs not being by default very combat-capable.

However, it seems to me this needs some work. Mostly, the trouble is that you are hanging the mechanics onto fictional elements that seem subjective and muddily defined. What is "seriously badass"? What is "skilled or disciplined"? What happens to a variety of foes, of varying degrees of skill and discipline, on a 7-9? Is it really irrelevant to the mechanics if you're facing one foe or twenty? There's also a great deal left to the GM's discretion. This is fine, of course; the hard choice on the 7-9 and the hard move on the 6- are always ultimately the GM's call. But part of what specialized moves bring to the table is a quantification of costs, so that players quickly and intuitively know what they're risking when they roll. This can aid drama; the stakes being known only to the GM can feel arbitrary.

In AW, combat move downsides are usually some flavor of "harm as established", meaning you know going in what weapons, and thus what damage, you're going up against. In DW, the focus is on your enemies "attack" -- it lands on below 9, and lands if you go for the extra die on a 10 up, and thus how well you understand the stakes has to do with what the enemies attack is. This allows great flexibility, too, with different monsters being different, but also some clarity: a giant tentacle might just bind you, or do squeezing damage. The GM has time and a specific prompt, to reflect, when drawing up the monster, on what it's attacks are and what they do. Here, the issue seems a bit muddied: "an imbalanced humour or other resource". Also, what if you're humours are already imbalanced? Do you get to imbalance a different one? Or is it a feature of the monster, like something with a heat attack is going to imbalance one humor, something that cuts and bleeds you will imbalance another? Seems like a place there could be some crunchiness to the mechanics, giving both player and MC some clarity.

Similarly, as a GM I could use a little guidance in distinguishing between "serious consequences" and "something minor" -- it seems like I need here as crisp a distinction as hard vs soft moves, or "success at a cost" (7-9) and "failure" (6-). These are intuitively understood, so we know what's at stake when the dice roll. I need a succinct intuitive way of understanding what advantage "advantage" concretely confers.

For clarity, I might split it into three moves: "when you enter melee", "when you have the advantage and press the attack", and "when your enemy has the advantage, and you fight on".

What happens if you enter melée, but then decide to withdraw and not press the attack? Is there a move for that, or is it just defy danger?

What happens if you get a 7-9 on press with advantage and decide not to finish them off (because you don't want to pay the minor cost)? Does the battle go on? Do you retain advantage? Have you dealt any damage at all?

On a 7-9 on press without advantage, if you don't want the consequences, who decides whether you retreat or yield? Is it "retreat if possible, but the GM may tell you that you'll have to yield instead"? In which case, when does the GM have to tell you this? Before you begin combat in the first place, when you lose the advantage, or when? What about an enemy that wants to kill you -- in which case "yield" is a non-choice? Then a 7-9 just feels like a failure -- "you take serious consequences, or else accept being killed" -- which doesn't feel like a 7-9.

"You can either yield or attempt to withdraw" seems to invade the PCs' agency a bit too much. What if my character would NEVER yield or withdraw? What if he's bloody Conan, or he's declared he's going to fight to the death? Perhaps the advantage is simply no use to me then, and I am down or captured.  Or does combat just continue, with me having taken some kind of damage? That's not in the text.

If I'm unwilling to yield/retreat, having advantage actually makes no difference when pressing except on a 7-9. On a 10+ it's irrelevant because I win regardless. On a 6- I lose regardless. On a 7-9 the only difference it makes is the cost of the price I pay to win.

Since there are various ways in which combat can continue past the first press (for instance, i don't pay the price to retreat), what happens on the subsequent round? Is it the same move? It seems odd that advantage stays static -- that there's no cost called "lose the advantage".

AW-hack combat (and other) moves usually scale so that you can decide if "one roll for the whole battle" or "blow-by-blow" is more dramatically appropriate. Here, it seems like you've tied it to a 2-move combat every time, whether I'm just trying to show my brother who's boss down by the creek, or fighting singlehandedly to escape from belowdecks of a pirate ship against its  entire 30-pirate crew, or (does it work for gangs?) trying to take an entire castle with my siege engines and leigionnaires.


Re: Wizard World - an Ars Magica hack by Jared Hunt
« Reply #10 on: January 23, 2014, 11:46:00 PM »
First off, thanks for the detailed response! I was hoping for exactly this kind of feedback.

However, it seems to me this needs some work. Mostly, the trouble is that you are hanging the mechanics onto fictional elements that seem subjective and muddily defined.

I agree; it definitely needs some work, and for exactly the reasons you've pointed out.

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There's also a great deal left to the GM's discretion. This is fine, of course; the hard choice on the 7-9 and the hard move on the 6- are always ultimately the GM's call. But part of what specialized moves bring to the table is a quantification of costs, so that players quickly and intuitively know what they're risking when they roll. This can aid drama; the stakes being known only to the GM can feel arbitrary.

Totally in agreement.

Quote
In AW, combat move downsides are usually some flavor of "harm as established", meaning you know going in what weapons, and thus what damage, you're going up against.

I partially agree here. I'd argue that players often have no concrete mechanical sense of how much damage their opponent can do until they get hit, but your point is still valid.

Quote
In DW, the focus is on your enemies "attack" -- it lands on below 9, and lands if you go for the extra die on a 10 up, and thus how well you understand the stakes has to do with what the enemies attack is. This allows great flexibility, too, with different monsters being different, but also some clarity: a giant tentacle might just bind you, or do squeezing damage. The GM has time and a specific prompt, to reflect, when drawing up the monster, on what it's attacks are and what they do. Here, the issue seems a bit muddied: "an imbalanced humour or other resource". Also, what if you're humours are already imbalanced? Do you get to imbalance a different one? Or is it a feature of the monster, like something with a heat attack is going to imbalance one humor, something that cuts and bleeds you will imbalance another? Seems like a place there could be some crunchiness to the mechanics, giving both player and MC some clarity.

More good points. A lot of the guidelines for the humours are in a different section - for example the rule that a second imbalance on the same humour leads to a debility. The "other resource" provision is a bit of an invitation to the "use up their resources" move. I thought of it along the lines of the "hard bargain or ugly choice" from Defy Danger.

Quote
Similarly, as a GM I could use a little guidance in distinguishing between "serious consequences" and "something minor" -- it seems like I need here as crisp a distinction as hard vs soft moves, or "success at a cost" (7-9) and "failure" (6-). These are intuitively understood, so we know what's at stake when the dice roll. I need a succinct intuitive way of understanding what advantage "advantage" concretely confers.

For clarity, I might split it into three moves: "when you enter melee", "when you have the advantage and press the attack", and "when your enemy has the advantage, and you fight on".

What happens if you enter melée, but then decide to withdraw and not press the attack? Is there a move for that, or is it just defy danger?

What happens if you get a 7-9 on press with advantage and decide not to finish them off (because you don't want to pay the minor cost)? Does the battle go on? Do you retain advantage? Have you dealt any damage at all?

On a 7-9 on press without advantage, if you don't want the consequences, who decides whether you retreat or yield? Is it "retreat if possible, but the GM may tell you that you'll have to yield instead"? In which case, when does the GM have to tell you this? Before you begin combat in the first place, when you lose the advantage, or when? What about an enemy that wants to kill you -- in which case "yield" is a non-choice? Then a 7-9 just feels like a failure -- "you take serious consequences, or else accept being killed" -- which doesn't feel like a 7-9.

"You can either yield or attempt to withdraw" seems to invade the PCs' agency a bit too much. What if my character would NEVER yield or withdraw? What if he's bloody Conan, or he's declared he's going to fight to the death? Perhaps the advantage is simply no use to me then, and I am down or captured.  Or does combat just continue, with me having taken some kind of damage? That's not in the text.

If I'm unwilling to yield/retreat, having advantage actually makes no difference when pressing except on a 7-9. On a 10+ it's irrelevant because I win regardless. On a 6- I lose regardless. On a 7-9 the only difference it makes is the cost of the price I pay to win.

Since there are various ways in which combat can continue past the first press (for instance, i don't pay the price to retreat), what happens on the subsequent round? Is it the same move? It seems odd that advantage stays static -- that there's no cost called "lose the advantage".

AW-hack combat (and other) moves usually scale so that you can decide if "one roll for the whole battle" or "blow-by-blow" is more dramatically appropriate. Here, it seems like you've tied it to a 2-move combat every time, whether I'm just trying to show my brother who's boss down by the creek, or fighting singlehandedly to escape from belowdecks of a pirate ship against its  entire 30-pirate crew, or (does it work for gangs?) trying to take an entire castle with my siege engines and leigionnaires.

My instinct is to get much closer to "Seize By Force"...

Thanks again for the feedback. You've given me a lot to ponder.

Re: Wizard World - an Ars Magica hack by Jared Hunt
« Reply #11 on: January 24, 2014, 08:00:32 AM »
I think "seize by force" is a good direction. DW has very detailed, hit-point-by-hit-point combat mechanics compared to AW; with the humours, you've gone in the other direction, so it makes sense to use something more like seize. Might be worth looking at some other hacks' combat mechanics -- did you see Companions, the Dr. Who hack? That one had very interesting harm rules, focussed not as much on physical injury as on your fate and destiny; that's probably too far, but I can imagine something like that being interesting in WW.

Whether you get to pick what humour gets imbalanced, or whether it depends on the kind of attack, is going to make a big mechanical difference. If you get to pick, you've essentially got an 8-wedge harm clock, with debilities mounting after the 4th wedge. But in that case, the fictional difference between the humours is downplayed -- they've got different names, but function more or less identically, at least in combat. If, on the other hand, cutting damage always imbalances your sanguine humour, that's really cool in a fictional sense -- but mechanically, facing a guy with a sword, you start out 2hp away from debility. That could be totally cool, making damage real and frightening -- but it's going to demand very different mechanics from DW, probably even from AW. (Monsterhearts, with its 4-wedge harm clock, might be closer). Taking harm is going to be bad news, and so the protagonists are going to want to spend other kinds of resources to fend off harm. Something like to the Regiment's rules about stress-harm, maybe? This could work well with the notion of advantage: "take harm or lose the advantage"...

Re: Wizard World - an Ars Magica hack by Jared Hunt
« Reply #12 on: January 24, 2014, 10:47:12 PM »
Here's where I went after a bunch of brainstorming and false starts:


When you resort to violence, roll+Body.
On a hit you inflict your harm on the enemy. On a 10+ choose 3. On a 7-9 choose 2.
  • you take something from the enemy
  • you avoid harm (may be chosen more than once)
  • you inflict extra harm (may be chosen more than once)
  • you move the enemy
Resorting to violence means going toe to toe with an enemy and using whatever weapons you have available to hurt or kill them. In order to trigger Resort to Violence, you must be able to physically reach the enemy with your weapons and be able to both inflict harm and suffer harm from them. If your weapon is incapable of inflicting harm on the target, or if your enemy is a trained combatant and you aren’t, this move will not trigger. Conversely, if your gear and/or training is much greater than your opponent you just dictate the result of the combat - the move is not triggered and no roll is required.
  • Taking something usually refers to disarming them, wrecking a piece of their armour, or grabbing something they are carrying or wearing. It could also mean seizing a critical position they occupied or even taking them hostage (though they can still attempt to escape if they're conscious).
  • Avoiding harm means you take 1 less harm from the enemy than you would otherwise.
  • Inflicting extra harm means adding 1 to the harm your weapon and training usually do.
  • Moving the enemy is about pushing, pulling or luring them from where they started to where you want them to be.

What I realized was that my real complaint was the focus on combat as a means of inflicting damage. What I want from this hack is to present combat as a means to accomplish something - capture it, defend it, escape it, get past it, whatever - but I want to present damage as only one option from a range of interesting choices. The above is obviously very, very close to Seize, but I feel like the nuances are appropriate to WW.

To give you some more context for harm, here's the harm move:

When you suffer harm, roll+harm suffered (after armour). On a 10+, the GM can choose either:
•   One of your humours is imbalanced and you gain the debility associated with that humour; or
•   Choose 2 from the 7–9 list below.
On a 7–9, the GM can choose 1:
•   You lose your footing.
•   You lose your grip on whatever you're holding.
•   You lose track of someone or something you should be paying attention to.
•   You miss noticing something important.
•   One of your humours becomes imbalanced. If it was already imbalanced, you gain the debility associated with that humour.
On a miss, the GM can nevertheless choose something from the 7–9 list above. If she does, it won't involve a debility.

And here's the GM advice I provide in the Running Wizard World chapter:

When you choose to imbalance a humour, whether in response to the harm move or because of circumstances in the fiction, choose the humour that best reflects the source of harm. Guidelines for factors that imbalance the humours are found in Harm & Healing.

Re: Wizard World - an Ars Magica hack by Jared Hunt
« Reply #13 on: January 25, 2014, 04:55:11 PM »
That's cool. More interesting parallels to what I'm working on -- in Shtetl World I also went with a "spend your successes to achieve things, only some of which have to do with damage" model. In addition to the ones you list, there were things like "seize hold/take control of them" and "break away from their grasp/control" on the list as well. (You mention "if they're conscious"; will you allow the "something" in "take something from the enemy" to be "their consciousness", i.e. to knock them out with a single choice? So on a 10+ I can choose to knock them out and avoid 2 harm? That will be a very powerful option if so...)

I wonder if "if your enemy is a trained combatant and you aren’t, this move will not trigger" isn't a little harsh -- the trained combatant has absolutely nothing to fear from the untrained combatant? Hmm, perhaps that fits the genre. You might want to articulate what happens if gear and training don't coincide -- i.e. the unarmed Bandit has insulted the Merchant so grievously that the Merchant comes at him with a bastard sword. Does the gear make the Merchant dangerous to the Bandit after all? Or does the Bandit just take the sword away without having to roll?

Does the GM always choose the result of harm, in the harm move? What if a PC harms an NPC? What if a PC harms another PC? Is it still the GM choosing, or can the other PC pick what happens?

I like the model that all actual damage to your humours comes from the harm move, so that more harm is just increasing your chance of debility -- I had forgotten that. If you are already suffering the relevant debility for that kind of damage, and you take more of that damage, what happens? Does it spill over to another humour, or do you die, or what?
 

Re: Wizard World - an Ars Magica hack by Jared Hunt
« Reply #14 on: January 25, 2014, 08:39:26 PM »
Quote
I wonder if "if your enemy is a trained combatant and you aren’t, this move will not trigger" isn't a little harsh -- the trained combatant has absolutely nothing to fear from the untrained combatant? Hmm, perhaps that fits the genre. You might want to articulate what happens if gear and training don't coincide -- i.e. the unarmed Bandit has insulted the Merchant so grievously that the Merchant comes at him with a bastard sword. Does the gear make the Merchant dangerous to the Bandit after all? Or does the Bandit just take the sword away without having to roll?
You're right, I shouldn't have phrased it so absolutely. I added a qualifier: "If your weapon is incapable of inflicting harm on the target, or if your enemy is a trained combatant and you aren’t, this move will not trigger unless you can gain some kind of advantage in the fiction."

The idea being that while training and gear are the most important factors, anyone can potentially be a threat to anyone, depending on the circumstances. The classic situation is the untrained peasant who manages to trip the armoured knight and then drive a dagger through the slit in his visor. In a stand-up melee the peasant is no threat at all, but if he can secure an advantage in the fiction he can still inflict harm.

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Does the GM always choose the result of harm, in the harm move? What if a PC harms an NPC? What if a PC harms another PC? Is it still the GM choosing, or can the other PC pick what happens?
The GM always chooses the harm result. That wouldn't prevent the GM from "Turning the question over to the player or group", but RAW it's always the GM.

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If you are already suffering the relevant debility for that kind of damage, and you take more of that damage, what happens? Does it spill over to another humour, or do you die, or what?
Good point. The intent is for the harm to spill over into a different humour (deep cuts cause bruising which imbalances melancholic; blood loss causes the body to cool which imbalances choleric; and so on). I'll have to do a quick review and make sure that intent is communicated in the harm section.

Thanks again!