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I'm looking for adjectives to describe incremental degrees of injuries of various body parts for an RPG system. They should be both intuitively understandable and rankable to an average English speaker. That is, if the list of injury terms was given out of order to different people, they would consistently order them the same way. It's fine if they don't anatomically make sense for every kind of body part, e.g. a sprained head or a broken eye, so long as they establish a general degree of injury.

Injury levels are meant to represent a distinct degree of functional impairment, not the actual nature of the injury. A "broken" limb means a limb that is as impaired in its primary function as a partially broken arm would be, even if it happens to be some alien limb without bones at all.

I'm going to need about half a dozen injury levels in total, from superficial (currently named "bruised") to "might as well not be there" (currently named "crippled"). Right now I have:

  1. Bruised
  2. Sprained
  3. Injured
  4. Broken
  5. Mangled
  6. Crippled.

I'm the least happy with "crippled" as it could easily be mistaken for permanent impairment and is also often used as a term to describe disabilities.

These would be prefixed to body parts when describing injured characters, e.g. a mangled right arm or a sprained leg, but still accompanied by the numerical injury level. These terms aren't meant to replace the numerical system, but rather flavor it and provide intuitive guidelines for what ballpark of injuries a given level represents.

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  • You shouldn't use terms in your scale that refer to some specific type of injury, such as bruised, sprained, broken, and mangled, because they will confuse users (as it confused me in the first version of my answer).
    – user55858
    Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 20:09

2 Answers 2

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The Abbreviated Injury Scale classifies the severity of injuries using the following adjectives:

  • minor
  • moderate
  • serious
  • severe
  • critical
  • maximal (= untreatable)

The severity is combined with codes for the injury type (whole area, vessels, nerves etc.) and location (head, face, neck etc.). See the linked Wikipedia article (or numerous other web resources) for more detail.

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  • I think you misunderstood the intent of these terms, I have updated my question for clarification. They're not meant to represent a specific kind of injury like a cut vs a break, but represent a ballpark degree of functional impairment. E.g. an injury level of "broken" means as impaired as a broken arm, not necessarily literally broken.
    – Wingblade
    Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 9:25
  • @Wingblade Edited.
    – user55858
    Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 9:52
  • Ooh, while these aren't all that "flavorful" they are nicely incremental and based on a standard used in the real world! Good find.
    – Wingblade
    Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 20:10
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Frame challenge

I can see what you’re trying to do, but I don’t think a rankable, intuitive, ballpark level will be easy to achieve:

  • Average English speakers don’t necessarily agree on what injuries are more severe (because they don’t have the medical knowledge). For example, for me, ‘injured’ is an umbrella term that covers everything up to long-term disability. You obviously thought differently when you made your scale.

  • One type of injury can be more or less severe and lead to different levels of functional impairment: if I’m bruised all over after a fall, I’ll be in more pain than if I’ve got a single bruise on my arm, and I would likely experience difficulty with movement, whereas a single bruise to the leg would have no impact.

  • It’s not possible to have a single scale that covers levels of functional impairment across all parts of the body: a broken finger is nowhere near as serious as a broken pelvis; a sprained ankle isn’t as serious as a bruised kidney.

  • You talk about wanting flavour. Although you say that it doesn’t matter if the adjective doesn’t go with the body part, as a role player I would be put off by a description of a broken eye or a sprained head. I just wouldn’t know what you meant. I’m not even a particularly literal kind of person, but injuries are specific things: if you say I have a broken arm, that’s the kind of pain I’m going to imagine and I would expect appropriate limitations on what I can do.

Alternative solution

Perhaps instead of an injury scale, you could consider using a descriptive pain scale like the one here (from the Hand Center's website).

0-10 scale of pain severity: text version below

Severity Description of Experience
10: Unable to move I am in bed and can't move due to my pain. I need someone to take me to the emergency room to get help for my pain.
9: Severe My pain is all that I can think about. I can barely talk or move because of the pain.
8: Intense My pain is so severe that it is hard to think of anything else. Talking and listening are difficult.
7: Unmanageable I am in pain all the time. It keeps me from doing most activites.
6: Distressing I think about my pain all of the time. It keeps me from doing most activies.
5: Distracting I think about my pain most of the time. I cannot do some of the activities I need to do each day because of the pain.
4: Moderate I am constantly aware of my pain but I can continue most activities.
3: Uncomfortable My pain bothers me but I can ignore it most of the time.
2: Mild I have a low level of pain. I am aware of my pain only when I pay attention to it.
1: Minimal My pain is hardly noticeable.
0: No Pain I have no pain.

The levels give a pretty good indication of functional impairment based on the amount of pain experienced, and can be applied to whatever body part was injured. This would be great for players, who immediately know how much they can do and how much to complain.

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  • +1 I was going to suggest something like a numerical scale, but I did not have this good example to provide.
    – Boba Fit
    Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 12:37

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