Vomit Checks

Is there a good way to deal with vomiting in game?

I've been watching the Goblin Slayer anime, and I love it. As far as I'm concerned, it's some of the most OSR anime I've ever seen. In the Episode 4 (the most recent episode as of this moment), the characters enter a goblin waste heap at one point. The smell is apparently overwhelming, and a torture victim is in the room as well. The elf in the party is overcome and pukes.

It may have been the smell that put her over the edge. Or it may have been the torture victim (also an elf). Or it may have been a combination. Regardless, it works well for visual storytelling. The viewer can't smell what's going on in the imaginary world, but we can react to the visceral visual reaction to what's happening in the room.

In the past I've tried to incorporate things like this into the games I run, but it's always fallen flat. It may be the people I play with (e.g., "What? My heroic dude wouldn't do that, he's got a super high constitution this doesn't make sense to me!"), but mechanically it's a pretty unexciting, uninteresting thing in play.

"Your character is overcome by the stench and vomits."

"So what?"

A good question. So what? If it's during combat it's probably going to take them out of combat for a turn (or a round in the real old school right?). I've never been a fan of straight up "lose a turn" mechanics especially if the other players are slow and indecisive and it takes a good 5+ real minutes before you can go again. So anything where your character is overcome by something and loses control for a short while (e.g., laughter, vomiting, itching, dancing, diarrhea, etc) is something I normally avoid using. I like the idea, but the execution never feels good.

Joshua Macy, over on G+, had a brilliantly simple insight: Why not use it as a carrot instead of a stick?

So now it becomes: "The stench in this place is absolutely overwhelming. It smells like a stillborn vinegar soaked shit demon that was left in the sun for 3 days" Roll some constitution checks, and the fighter fails.

"Ok fighter. You feel bad. Real bad. Your guts are absolutely killing you, and you can taste the bile in your throat. You need to puke, but it's probably going to come out your nose too. You have a -1 on all your rolls right now."


"Yeah man. But you know, if you went ahead and puked you'd probably feel a whole lot better (and would no longer have that penalty)."

Now the failed constitution check isn't an immediate "lost your turn" situation. The player can make a choice. Depending on the situation, the penalties could escalate.

"The satyr keeps playing his pipes. You reallllllly want to dance. You've got a -3 penalty to everything 'cause you keep tapping your fingers in a rhythm that matches the song."

Draper - Ulysses and the Sirens
The failure becomes granular. The player is given the option to give in and lose their turn(s) but now they also have a more mechanical idea of the scope of the threat and can potentially get creative to get out of it. It can encourage a retreat, or digging into their pack for wax to block their ears, or get the party to change tactics based on who saved and who didn't. It seems like it would greatly promote player agency and reward cleverness and player skill.

Marty B. had another good idea, inspired by Delta Green and Red Markets, and probably best for more horror focused games. When the game starts, players are presented with the 4(or 5) Fs: Freeze, Flight/Faint, Fight, and Freak Out. Freak Out is very much up to interpretation and can incorporate any of these, but it must be loud. When confronted by a supernatural horror from beyond the stars, the player must choose one of these reactions, and they cannot pick that reaction again until they've gone through each one. So you can only pick Fight in one out of every 4 horrific encounters. Again, there's some good player agency and player skill here because it enables them (forces them even) to make clever and interesting choices, "Do I freeze now? Or fight? But the next monster may be worse and it feels like we're getting close to the thing we actually seek. Ugh what to do?!"

I will definitely miss the good conversations that happen on G+ when it dies in 2019, but I'm glad it's still here for now, because after this conversation I'm looking forward to adding more "gross outs" and potential "lose your turn" type situations to my games.