Using Scars in Your Game
An old, heavily scarred grizzled war veteran stands menacingly before you in heavily battered armor wielding an axe. These scars tell the story of his many battles. The outline of a wickedly clawed hand can be seen burned onto his face. Another puckered scar can be seen underneath his helmet at his brow. His hands are so scarred from blades that even his scars have scars. A scar that goes more than halfway around his heavily muscled forearm was at one point haphazardly stitched together.
A character’s scars are typically just a part of the background, something to be mentioned in passing in order to add visual interest, separate one as a tougher foe than the rest, or act as a weather barometer. But if used properly, they can add interest and plot to your games. To help DMs create scars and plots “on the fly,” this article will also include a random generator.
To begin, let’s define a scar as a
physical, mental/ emotional, or magical/ divinely caused mark that changes the character in some definite way – most of the time for the worse. A character that originally had wings and those wings were violently removed would have a scar.
10 Ways to Make Scars Interesting to Gameplay
1 Cursed by the divine
This is a trope that is old as mankind itself. Genesis talks about Cain being marked for killing his brother. Someone has done something to offend the gods and thus they are marked in some way as penance for their wrong. As in Genesis, this mark may give them some sort of immunity, but with it, comes a heavy price.
This idea could be further expanded to say that due to the actions of a few members of a race could be cursed by a god to carry the mark(s) of their disobedience throughout time, thus making a new race or a section of society that is discriminated against due to this mark of their heritage.
2 Scars to change race
In Tolkien mythology, the orcs were originally Elves that had been tortured, the process warped their bodies and minds into something bestial, but it was later changed to suggest that they were corrupted men.
Similarly, in your game Dark Elves might have been caused by unseen emotional scars or physical scars of the original founding members, and the reason why it keeps being that race is because those selfsame scars keep being passed on generation to generation.
3 Scars of the soul
may result from intense psychological or spiritual trauma that makes the character or NPC feel betrayed. There are several monsters that come about by such a situation, including, most notably ghosts, phantoms, liches (rarely), revernant, amongst others.
Other types trauma that can happen may cause a character or NPC to abandon the ideals that they once held forefront in their lives, thus causing them to either no longer be able to advance in a certain class or access certain class abilities.
4 Symbols of secret societies, cults or political parties
A secret society of assassins could have the first joint of the pinkies of their left hands removed.
Or the Iron Heart Cult dedicated to the return of the Pale King as in Mark Anthony’s “The Last Rune” series, which had a scar in their chest, indicating that their heart had been removed from their bodies.
Maybe there was a group of detractors who fought against the king. While they aren’t a threat to the public at large, perhaps they were all similarly marked so that everyone would know who they are and they had the audacity to stand up to the king.
5. Scars Caused by Medical Problems/ Procedures
- Caused by surgery: In real life many surgeries cause scars. Most of the time these scars are for some sort of medical emergency like having open heart surgery or a C-section. But sometimes a person can try to use surgery to improve their appearance, as what Michael Jackson did, ending up looking worse for the repeated corrective surgeries.
- Caused by accidents: In Batman, Two-Face’s face is horribly scarred by an explosion or acid, depending on the specific villain creation story you want to go by. The scar was both physical and mental, causing him to create the Two-Face personality.
- Caused by disease: Many things that are no longer a health hazard due to the advent of vaccines used to scar children for life. Further, certain STDs may cause scars. In a fantasy world, not all diseases are caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites or the ravages of aging– they may be caused by magic, curses, or divine intervention.
In Star Trek, Voyager the Vidiians are fighting a disease called the phage, a debilitating disease so bad that they have resorted to harvesting organs of other sentient species in order to survive. In your game if such a thing were to happen to one of the races, the players would need to try to find a cure for this malady… or be seen as a source of organs.
- Caused by Birth Defects: In real life some medical conditions a baby may be born with horrible scars or physical deformities which make their lives more difficult. In the X-men the mutant society of the Morlocks had an entire society of such people living in the sewers, hidden from human eyes.
In your game, it could have become popular to dispose of children with birth defects by leaving them exposed to the elements to die. A secret society of those who have been saved from such a cruel fate exists and is determined to enact revenge on those that left them there to die.
- To Prove How Badass They Are: In Kung Fu TV series, Caine brands himself with the marks of the dragon and the tiger by lifting a giant pot of burning coals to signify his passing into a monkhood, and also exiting the temple.
In your game, you might have an enemy deliberately stab themselves to prove how invulnerable they are, even in an area that would normally be fatal or cut off a limb only to reattach it a moment later.
- To Prove How Dedicated They Are To A Cause: A group of elves might cut off the tips of their ears in order to denounce what is going on in the Elven homeland and attempt to separate themselves from the race altogether. Similarly a dwarf might cut his beard off and burn his face to the point that he can no longer grow a new one to object to his race’s ideals, which he no longer can be a part of.
- To Improve In Skill: an assassin may purposely blind himself in order to be able to not be affected by light magic, increase his other senses, or so that he doesn’t see his victims.
8. Caused by magic
bhere are many spells that cause damage. Who’s to say that the damage caused by encounters with magic users won’t leave scars? Each type of magic should leave some sort of “signature.” Heat and fire magic should cause burns and blisters. Frost, ice, and extreme cold should cause the skin to peel. If the cold is so sudden and sharp (as compared to the ambient air temperature) it could even cause extremities to break off and shatter. Lightning magic may cause “bolt” shaped scars. Acid magic can cause the flesh to melt. Concussive force or sonic magic could cause bruises and broken bones. Bladed magic causes slashes and piercing damage. In games where certain types of monsters drain levels, this type of magic could leave marks on the soul, which causes them to be raised as minions of the type that killed it.
The scars from the magic could “awaken” bloodline powers that the character would not have access to otherwise. But if the scars get eliminated somehow, so too the additional powers accessed.
Another way that such magic scars could work is that the character has a sensitivity to the type of magic that damaged them being worked in the area, similar to how a scar might ache during a change in the weather.
8 Caused by war/ fighting
War is unpleasant business, to say the least. If one is lucky enough to survive it, physical scarring is the least of the warrior’s worries. The saying “all’s fair in love and war” applies here. The grizzled war veteran may have nightmares from being a prisoner of war, seeing the atrocities of war that was done to him, his friends and loved ones or ruthless tactics that he or others in his unit had to engage in in order to survive.
9. As a punishment for crime
In a day and age with limited prison space and wanted to limit the ability of criminals from repeating the crime, criminals may have been severely whipped, branded with a mark denoting their crime or had an appendage cut off.
10 As a part of commerce
Before you say ‘huh’, think of the Mark of the Beast in St. John’s Revelation:
The beast forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name.
Nowhere does the bible describe what that mark will consist of. But it could very well show up as a scar of some sort.
10 Scar Plots
- Replacement: the PCs get a rumor that someone important has been replaced by something designed to look identical to the original. Unfortunately the likeness is not 100% accurate. In order to pull it off, surgery needed to be done, and there’s a small telltale scar that would give them away on some part of their body. But they may be wearing clothing to hide the scar. In order to get close enough to determine whether or not the person is a replacement or not it would mean partially disrobing them, causing a major political problem if it was not a replacement.
- Location Revealing Scars: The local government has decreed a certain area off-limits due to its dangerous nature. Anyone who goes there ends up getting telltale scars, because it’s impossible to get through the area without getting so injured. The PCs just passed through the area and show up in town with these scars, and are accused of a crime that they didn’t know that they committed. What do they do?
- Escaped Slave: The party is hired to track an escaped slave with a distinctive brand. When they catch up to him, they hear her story that she was never a slave, and was branded falsely. Who do they believe?
- Transformative scars: One of the character’s NPCs friends has been captured and is being tortured. The more time that goes by the closer to an irreversible transformation into a monster. Will the PCs get be able to overcome the obstacles to save him in time?
- PTSD: One of the PCs or NPCs is suffering from what would be called PTSD today from being in a war, It’s up to the other PCs to help them get through it and get their “head back in the game” to be able to fight a powerful monster that they’re facing
- Scars from Healing? An Outsider is healing the populace of a town, but leaving a mark of its hand (claw, wing, or hoof) on those that he heals. The PCs must determine if these scars are merely a byproduct of the healing or something much more sinister.
- Magic Blocking Scars: Surgery is performed on kidnapped magic users. When they are released or somehow escape their magic is either less potent or removed entirely. It’s up to the PCs to get to the bottom of this and find out what’s going on and why.
- Pox Spreader: a person is spreading a pox by visiting all the prostitutes in town. It’s up to the PCs to determine who’s doing it, find out if they’re doing it on purpose or not and stop the disease from spreading before more people get infected.
- Loyalty branding: all those who are loyal to the current king may need to be branded. Anyone not having this brand is considered a traitor to the crown. The PCs show up to the capitol city unbranded. What do they do? Do they take the mark or not?
- Magic Sensitivity: a PC or NPC is sensitive to a certain type of magic due to one of their scars. Thus far they’ve never been wrong before, but to all indications they are wrong this time. What’s going on?
|1||Face/ Head* (roll d8) 1) Right eye 2) Left eye 3) neck 4)nose 5) mouth 6) scalp 7) head 8) reroll 2X||Star||Caused by a monster attack|
|2||Hand||Crescent||Caused by magic|
|3||Arm||Ragged Scar||Assassin’s or Thief’s Guild|
|4||Back||Pockmarks / Weeping Fluids||Branded for a crime|
|5||Shoulder||Burn marks||Caused by a disease or pox|
|6||Leg||Removed Limb||Divine intervention|
|7||Foot||Circle / “no” shape||Political party|
|9||Knee||X shape||Used to block magic|
|10||Groin||Puckered around the edges||Transformative Scar|
|11||Whole body||Punctured skin||Cultural/ Race related Scar|
|12||Soul||V or W Shape||Indicative of Location|
* If you roll removed limb and head comes up, reroll unless the character is able to live without a head for some reason.
As you can see there are a variety of ways to use scars in your games. They can be a seed for adventure, a way of identifying others, or simply a thing that can be in the background ready to have its origins revealed at the right moment. If used properl, they can change the course of your entire game. As always, feel free to like, reshare and comment.