On the Softer Effects of Sickness

I felt rather like this.
I've been sick this week. Heck, my whole family has been sick this week. This sickness wasn't a hard-hitting cold or 24-hour stomach bug. This thing felt like allergies plus headache, dizziness, and nausea. Just a general malaise more than anything.

Here's the thing: We could function, but we didn't want to function. It felt like and acute case of Ennui, but with a physical cause instead of a purely mental one.

So I started thinking: How do we model this feeling in RPGs?

Stats are all well and good, but the issue I have with D&D-style stats involves PCs fighting at 100% right up until the hit points run out. Sure, there's the fear of another round of stat drain before the cure hits, but fundamentally PCs still run full bore right up until they drop. That doesn't lend itself to playing side effects hardly at all, especially since the effects are mechanical. "Nausea only gives a -2 to missile attacks? Hell, I'll take that shot..."

So what about systems with aspects or conditions? I could inflict "Suffers from Lethargy" as a result of this illness. I think this works better because the rest of the world has access to it. Need to go faster than a rival PC? Probably won't happen. Need to show initiative and clean the house? "But the couch is much more my speed right now."

Gallery of Negative Human Traits.
When I had this sickness I could do things, and I doubt I'd suffer any penalties on anything I wanted to try, but talking myself into getting off my ass and trying anything was hard.

For me it comes down to the player embracing the effect as part of the narrative and running with it. If it's not important to the player, it will be treated as an annoyance more than an opportunity to act.

But if the player acts as the PC's advocate and it feels like an annoyance in real life, why would a player want to actively portray their PC as feeling like crap?

This opens a larger question: How do we incentivize players to embrace and play negative traits?

Hm. More on this later.

Thanks for reading!

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