In Role-Playing Games
, attacks and spells can hinder or weaken a character in a wide variety of ways beyond simply reducing their Hit Points
. These extra secondary effects are commonly known as "status ailments".
Status ailments are an Omnipresent Trope
in the RPG genre; try to think of an RPG system that doesn't
support some kind of negative status effect and we'll still be here when you get back. They can also show up in in other genres, like Real Time Strategy
(to accentuate the "strategy" part) or Shooters, even puzzle games or platformers — especially if RPG Elements
in general are present.
Status ailments can have a variety of mechanical effects on gameplay, including but not limited to:
- Damage Over Time: Usually sapping a character's Hit Points. Arguably the most common effect, to the point where even if a system only defines one status effect, it will probably be this.
- Negatively impacts otherwise fixed traits of a character, such as their statistical prowess (attack or defense power, accuracy or evasion, etc.), Critical Hit rate or Luck Stat, elemental classification, class, or even species.
- Subverting other rules of combat that the player takes for granted (like taking damage from Heal spells).
- Restricts or limits the actions available to a character, typically by disabling access to certain skills (e.g. magic) though the character may still have other actions available. Also includes the inversion where a character loses access to all but a certain action or skill.
- A character's actions are fully disabled; i.e. they lose their turn. If this is a non-temporary condition (like a "knockout") they may also be regarded as functionally dead for purposes of detecting a Game Over. Note that if the character is considered actually "dead", restoring them to normal status may be a more complicated process, or sometimes not even possible at all.
- An Interface Screw that interferes with the player's control over their characters (more common in action-oriented systems than turn-based ones).
- AI control over a character (in systems where the player would normally have direct control over them).
- Allegiance reversal or friendly fire enabled (typically in combination with the above) — nothing is more deadly than watching your own party members turn against you.
- A visible timer that triggers something if can't be dispelled/cured/avoided before it hits zero. (Since this one's kind enough to warn you in advance, the "something" is usually instant death.)
- Ability to go viral and be transmitted from one party member to another in an infectious manner.
Note that while status ailments are in some ways the negative counterpart to the (usually positive) Status Buff
, some systems classify ailments and buffs separately from each other. Indeed, there are typically a number of other practical differences between ailments and buffs as well:
- Status ailments are more prevalent than status buffs. Whereas status buffs tend to be associated explicitly with mages and spellcasting, even common low-level monsters can pack status ailments (e.g. a venomous monster that inflicts Poison) in addition to their usual attacks.
- Status ailments often have more persistence than status buffs, typically lasting until explicitly cured (many status buffs automatically wear off over time or after battle).
- Due to the above two points, one can easily purchase cures for specific status ailments in shops (especially in places where local monsters are known to inflict the ailments in question). Removing a status buff (even negative status buffs) is usually only done via Status Buff Dispel, which removes everything at once.
- In some systems, status ailments are subject to a One Curse Limit and cannot be combined/stacked with other ailments, while status buffs can almost always be combined/stacked.
Now, due to the omnipresence of status ailments in the RPG genre, they are also easily recognized by the labels assigned to them. The following are some of the more common labels you might find in a system, and what to expect from them:
- Baleful Polymorph (actual label varies): Whether they've been turned into a frog, newt, scarecrow, eggplant, etc. this usually means they can't access their magic, special abilities, even their usual weapons and/or armor until cured.
- "Berserk": A frenzy of automatic physical attacks. Not always a bad thing though; sometimes it includes a free boost in their attack power.
- "Blind": Obscured vision lowers a character's accuracy, no doubt annoying the player with a hurricane of "Missed the target!" type messages. But it's typically an easy thing to cure.
- "Burn": A fire-based status effect that may carry a range of penalties, but may also be able to cancel out a Freeze.
- "Charm": Magically ensorcelled into fighting for the other side and deliberately attacking allies. May be more difficult to cure than Confusion.
- "Confusion": A character may select actions at random, or against randomized targets. Or they may just start "accidentally" attacking allies (like Charm, above). Often curable with a good physical whack to the affected victim.
- "Curse": Horrible magical hexes that may impose a variety of negative effects on the character, such as reducing a character's ability scores, nullifying heal spells, etc.
- "Fear": A magically-induced drop in the character's morale that may impose a range of effects like reduced ability scores, losing one's turn, or actually running away.
- "Freeze": An ice-based status effect, typically to the tune of Harmless Freezing. Sometimes cancels out a Burn or vice versa. Physically striking a Frozen character is usually not a good idea.
- "Paralysis": May impede or disable a character's movement and/or actions, usually for a short duration.
- "Petrified": Getting turned to stone is usually second only to an actual death or KO in its severity. The stoned character may or may not be impervious to further damage though.
- "Plague": Sometimes a type of Poison, but may also be infectious.
- "Poison": Damage Over Time. May also come in "light" or "heavy" varieties, depending on the source.
- "Silence": Magically sealed from casting spells. The name originates from classic fantasy where magic requires speaking magic words (sometimes rhyming ones) or shouting the spell's name, but the ailment is often called "Silence" anyway.
- "Sleep": Temporarily prevents a character from taking action, usually for a short duration. In some systems, may be cured by whacking the character with a physical strike.
- "Slow": Bullet Time, weaponized against a character. Some systems classify this separately from a speed-lowering Status Buff.
- "Stop": Time Stands Still. Mechanically similar to Paralysis, but not so easily cured.
- "Zombie": The character is subjected to the same rules of combat as undead creatures. Namely, Revive Kills Zombie, but on the flipside they may also get the contractual immunity to Poison or Death magic.
Finally, note that regardless of the origin, descriptive label, or mechanical effect of a given status ailment, a given status ailment only hinders a character's combat
ability and will rarely prevent them from participating in anything plot-related
, especially cutscenes
. A "Paralyzed" character can still, say, leap across train cars
; a "Silenced" character can still speak to NPC's, and a "Sleeping" character can walk themselves to a Trauma Inn
and rent a room to get a (proper) forty winks. The potential scenarios are endless
, so don't ask how it's possible
See also Stock RPG Spells