Did any characters almost die during the big boss fight? Anyone have to roll a death save for their character?
Maybe their hit points didn’t drop to zero. How about below half, even? Sure, the system is abstract, but surely a drop like that would take its toll.
How about that preliminary encounter, the one that was unexpectedly tough? Did anyone expend their healing surges or deplete the party’s available magical cures?
What about toxins and poisons? Did any effects manifest?
As a GM, these are narrative opportunities. But not for that immediate moment.
It’s much better if you deal with it the very next day!
(Or, if you are playing D&D, after the next long rest.)
The player characters have just been through the equivalent of a car crash.
Guess what: They may be big darn heroes, but they should still feel the after-effects of their exertions from battle.
Even those whose recovery was aided by divine magic should still have tender spots. (Pain is a blessing, you know; it reminds you that you’re still alive.)
Plus, the odds are the characters (at least those in a fantasy-medieval setting) don’t have access to prescription-strength painkillers or understand the importance of applying/or have access to ice for strained muscles.
So, when the characters wake, let them know how much they are feeling the aches and pains of battle. Appendages are strained, stiff or bruised. Anyone woozy or lightheaded? How about just sore in unexpected places?
I’m not talking about burdening the characters with anything that penalizes them in game terms. One fully expects characters to “walk it off” or stretch stiffening muscles or pop that disjointed limb back into place.
(Most game systems depend on the healing system to work; tacking on additional penalties can unbalance the experience. Besides, adding a -1 or a -2 just because the characters put their lives on the line the previous day would discourage future risk-taking — and what’s the fun in that?)
Still, it’s good every once in a while to remind your players that there are consequences for having their characters engage in battle and other heroic exploits that test them physically. Just do it as narrative prompts.
Having a few random charts at hand is a good way to handle this (mainly, it beats having the GM come up with this descriptors on their own). Remember, this isn’t for every character after every fight. Put this into play only when you want to emphasize the characters’ extraordinary exploits.
“You hurt today because you did something amazing.”
A couple of rolls on these two charts below should be all you need to dramatize the experience for a given player. (Again, assure them there are no in-game effects). But give them a chance to work out the kinks, perhaps apply ointments or massage the affected area as their quest continues.
Here is their chance to say they redon their armor gingerly. Or maybe it takes calisthenics or yoga to get back into the groove. Maybe it’s a good time to say a prayer to a patron deity to provide a balm or additional healing.
A savvy player may run with this information and incorporate it into further roleplay, reminding others of their injury during play. (“My knee is acting up.” “I’ll help lift, but use my good hand.” “I use my shield to protect my bruised chest.”)
Even if the characters just note the description and move on without building on the suggestion, it’s OK. As GM, you’ve given the characters a prompt, which is the most you can do. It’s up to them.
But if the players have their characters suggest they take a detour to the next town for a soak in the hot springs or seek a medical massage or even visit a hedge-wizard for some folk cures — you’ll know you’ve hit a sore spot!
Remember to bring the bandages.
What part hurts (d20)?
1 Skull (or horns)
4 Lower back (or tail)
5 Left arm or elbow
6 Right arm or elbow
7 Left hand-fingers
8 Right hand-fingers
10 Left side
11 Right side
13 Left leg or knee
14 Right leg or knee
15 Left foot-toes
16 Right foot-toes
How does it hurt (d12)?
2 Stiff or tight
3 Pins ’n needles
7 Bruised or Discolored
8 Splotches or rash
11 Light-headed or woozy
12 Twisted or extended