Health rolls are a special kind of success roll. These come into the story when exterior forces directly threaten your character's physical well-being or even his very life. Whether bullets or flying knuckles or drowning, the rules for dealing with them are the same. If your character is hit by such a force, the Storyteller may ask for a health roll, designating a target number based on the damage potential.
The average punch or kick might have a target of 6, while a high powered rifle blast to the chest would be a 1 or so. This is not a set number according to the weapon: it is up to the Storyteller to assign an appropriate number according to who's making the attack, where it hits your character, and so on. Like always, it depends most on the context of the story. The Storyteller should be thinking about the Third Precept, and the actor should be thinking about the Second.
If you roll the target number or less, you succeed. A successful health roll means that your character is able to resist the effects of the damage, at least for a while. (The Storyteller may well call for another health roll later, after the adrenaline wears off or if you try to do something too physical.)
A failed health roll, on the other hand, can mean several things, depending on the situation. It might only mean that your character is stunned for a moment until he gets his bearings. It could mean that he's knocked out or goes into shock (this is a common one). Or, it could kill him instantly. (That would have to be be a pretty interesting scene.)
The Storyteller can also rule that a failed health roll will result in your character's health trait dropping down a rung on the competency ladder. (It would go from above average to below average, very high to high, and so on.) This reflects your character's weakening ability to deal with mounting wounds. Only after a period of rest and healing will she get it back. (See the Healing section below.)
If the damage is particularly serious, the Storyteller may also
deem that more than one health roll in a row is necessary, with
each failure meaning a step down the ladder. In such a case, you
must attempt these rolls until you've either made one successfully
or your health trait falls so far that it goes completely off
the competency ladder (i.e. lower than a D30.) In such a case,
your character is effectively dead...
Should your character's health fall completely off the competency ladder, he is at best in a coma and at worst very, very dead.
Anytime the plot reaches this point, it's up to both you and the Storyteller to determine whether it's time for your character to pass on and depart from the story as an active participant.
For good roleplayers, death is not necessarily a bad thing. On the contrary, it can often be one of the most powerful and memorable plot devices open to the Storyteller and the actors. There is nothing more beautiful than that hero who guards the way from the bad guys as the others escape, thus sacrificing his own life to save the story... There is nothing more memorable than a heroine whose light is extinguished tragically and early.
Besides, after losing a character, you can always build a new one, and in the act of sacrifice or tragedy your character will be remembered and can even play on in the story through the legacy of her actions.
The Window can be the deadliest roleplaying system imaginable,
or it can be extremely merciful. It all depends on what you want
it to be and exactly what sort of setting you're exploring.
If your character's health trait is dropped a rung on the competency ladder, don't fret; it can be recovered. The following guidelines are here to give you an idea of what your loss in health actually translates into.
However, keep in mind that the Storyteller can and will modify these to fit the story. The Storyteller can at any time grant you back a rung if it makes sense to. As with everything in the Window, the best way to determine how and when these levels are regained is by intelligently considering the situation and its context in the story.
One Rung Down. Your character has suffered a relatively minor amount of damage--a flesh wound or something similar. He can recover after a day of rest and basic treatment, or sometimes after receiving first aid.
Two Rungs Down. Your character has just has a very serious brush with the end, and she's very shaken up. This type of damage probably is accompanied by a lot of blood and shock. Healing something like this requires medical attention and several days of recuperation.
Three Rungs Down. Your character took some serious damage, and she considers this one of the most harrowing experiences in her life. This may involve shattered bones and gaping wounds. Basic recovery is going to require at least a month of serious care.
Four or more Rungs Down. The only way your character came through this is through fate,
extreme luck, or divine intervention. Expect him to be in traction
or a coma, because that's probably where he's going to be. In
a case as serious as this, you and the Storyteller will need to
have a frank discussion about the future of your character. Recovery
is totally dependent upon finding a realistic way not to drop
him out of the story.
Elysia turned and swung her Dicessio wildly. It smashed into the cheekbone of the lunging Locura and shattered through to brain. The creature fell. But there were so many...
Dancing like a dervish of flashing steel, Elysia waded through them each in each, breaking bones and ending their trapped, pathetic lives. Her muscles were weary and her reflexes grew numb... One of the young ones at the edge of the melee held a gun, and he fired.
Elysia felt a chilling pain rip through into her side. "Make a Health roll, target of 4," said the Storyteller.
Elysia blinked as the pain bled into her. She was quite healthy (D10), but she knew it was bad. The die was tossed: a 6. The Storyteller carefully considered the grim situation. "Everything begins to wash as your health is sapped by the pain. Make another save, same target."
Elysia was weakened now, though her health was still decent (D12). She rolled a 3.
The Storyteller nodded. "With a rush of panicked adrenaline, you fight through the pain, just as the final three Locura approach..."