What is a good term to describe a characteristic of wounding ones self in order to heighten your damage inflicting abilities?

Side note: I need this character mainly as a foil to another character who is more "standard" in that it does not have this trait and has damage output unaffected, or even lowered in some cases, when hurt, as per usual.

I used to use the term "reaver", but I believe this is a misnomer now.

Some examples off the top of my head are from videogames, namely Lady Maria in Bloodborne and Dharok the Wretched in Runescape. There is also the concept of "equivalent exchange" from Fullmetal Alchemist, but that's more pertaining to the method (of alchemy) than the character (the alchemist). Some Bloodborne spoilers follow, so be cautious.

Lady Maria is a clockworker in a DLC in Bloodborne that has grown sick of "the curse" spread by the old blood which gives the infected a kind of immortality. She brandishes a katana which she uses in a boss battle against the player. In what concerns my post, at two points during the battle, which vary depending on how much damage the player has done to her, she impales herself with her katana, dealing some damage, but also giving her much stronger abilities which she uses in the fight right after. In effect, she becomes much stronger after she wounds herself in this "ceremonial fashion".

Dharok the Wretched is a type of wraith in Runescape who fought in crusades a long time ago, but can be encountered by the player and fought along his brothers in hopes of possibly obtaining his armor set. Dharok's ability is that his damage output scales inversely with his health, so he becomes much stronger if he is low on health. While he does not wound himself specifically, his armor set grants the player this ability, and so the player would actually be the example to which I refer. Elaborating, the armor set allows for an "alternative method" of combat where the player self inflicts damage in order to have suitably low health (and then somehow maintain this health at a low but nonzero amount) in order to achieve this heightened damage output granted by the armor's ability. There are many methods to self inflict damage in the game, but the concept is the same.

Good answers will address the following:

  1. Is there a general name for this sort of behavior/ a term that describes a creature for which this behavior is standard?
  2. Is there a creature that is a canonical example of this behavior in mythology/other stories to which I can refer back to?

Any and all help towards pinning down a term/example is appreciated.

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    $\begingroup$ A parallel may also be kind of drawn to Hidan in Naruto. He uses a special curse to kill people that involves drawing a circle in his own blood, then ingesting the blood of the one he's trying to kill. naruto.fandom.com/wiki/… $\endgroup$ – Jorgomli Mar 5 at 16:57
  • $\begingroup$ This example is quite good, but it seems as though, once the curse is active, his damaging of himself is equal to his damaging others. It does not heighten his ability to inflict damage outside of the curse's effect. Thanks very much for your input, nevertheless, as it adds to the pool of examples from which I can draw intuition. $\endgroup$ – BigSocks Mar 5 at 17:04
  • $\begingroup$ You're right. It heightens his ability insomuch that he can hurt himself, but not die. So he can kill without dying -- effectively making him immortal, which is interesting but doesn't sound like what you're looking for. :) $\endgroup$ – Jorgomli Mar 5 at 17:07
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    $\begingroup$ It's not self inflicted harm but the hydra fits the bit about getting damaged making something more effective. Bersarks would cause themselves pain to get their anger hot, but the point was the anger and shift in physical form, not building strength from harm. Harm weakened them, just not as much as your normal, sane people. Can't think of an example from myth or legend. If there is, it's going to be purely magical. It's illogical and unnatural to have harm, which intrinsically weakens, strengthen, even briefly. A sacrifice to some cruel god might be rewarded, though. $\endgroup$ – The Nate Mar 5 at 17:32
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    $\begingroup$ outside of video game logic, why would you need to inflict self-harm? If you are in a fight and losing you would taking damage from your opponent already and if you're winning the fight there's no need to harm yourself. $\endgroup$ – BKlassen Mar 5 at 18:36
  1. This kind of ability is usually called Wrath or Berserk in most games. Berserk is usually some sort of trigger, like I'm below 50% health, now I go into a rage where I am stronger. Wrath is more incremental, with every blow that I take, I get stronger.

An alternative to this is to call it instantaneous physical adaptation. The creatures body has the ability to adapt to the fact that it is being damaged, adapting to the circumstances to make itself tougher and stronger to meet the demands that it has.

  1. Examples:

Mythological: The Hydra (cut of one head, two grow back)

From Worm: Lung (the longer he's in a fight the stronger he gets)

From SuperPowereds/Corpies: Titan, what doesn't kill him makes him stronger.

  • $\begingroup$ Wrath and Berserk are good terms I had not considered, thanks. I think I can use them somehow. Also, I looked up your characters and your descriptions are apt. However, I feel like they slightly miss the mark because none of them will self inflict damage. Also adaptation is good, but one crucial element is that my character ought not lose his ability to take damage, so adapting would hinder that, in a sense. $\endgroup$ – BigSocks Mar 5 at 17:30
  • $\begingroup$ Also from Worm: Crawler (becomes resistant to any kind of damage he takes, so he hurts himself all the time, slowly warping his body). $\endgroup$ – Bert Haddad Mar 5 at 18:29
  • $\begingroup$ @BigSocks Titan does actually self inflict to grow, however he is stronger permanently afterward, even after he heals. So you could use a faster but less permanent version of the ability if you like. $\endgroup$ – Mathaddict Mar 5 at 18:59

How about some of the words that describe groups which actually were known for this (or similar) intimidation tactics, one video game/psychology theory, and a common troupe. The first and last are very common terms/legends used for this while the second provides some names used for this behavior based on a psycho-analyst model:

úlfheðnar and berserkir & the Kaikusi Yumu

Though originally two groups these are now both more commonly lumped together and referred to as Berserkers. These were two shamanic groups which were known to invoke an animal totem/spirit (the wolf and bear) to intimidate their enemies and build themselves into a rage state which helped to dehumanize themselves (making brutality easier and lessening the effects of fear) and creating an altered-state which allowed them to ignore pain easier 1 & 2. To do this they would perform rituals which included biting their shields and howling or roaring at the enemies3 (some say it included drinking blood or other self-harm events) before and while heading into battle. It's actually the inspiration for a TV trope known as the screaming warrior which has been used in numerous shows and video games. It was also effective as these warriors became legends which were said to be immune to damage from fire or iron 1 & 2 & 3.

These were not the only warriors to invoke animal spirits and practice rituals to build themselves into a rage. Carib warriors would try and be possessed by the Kaikusi-yumu 4 the tiger spirit or tiger demon. This spirit would stay inside him until he ate the heart or drank the blood of a slain enemies.

Jungian Psychology and Persona

The Persona video games directly borrow from Jungian Psychology and in these games - you must do something painful to activate your powers (like shot yourself in the head or rip a bloody mask off your face). This comes directly from Jung who postulated that an emotional shock or trauma would split off some of our psyche and create a complex 5.

So Jung gives us 4 really cool names based on his archetypes: the Shadow, the Animus and Anima, and the Persona - many of which involve pain (or trauma) to develop further (or more correctly dealing with the trauma). In fact, one of the earliest (no longer followed) of Jung's methods was to have people relive and retell their trauma in order to deal with and grow - a process called Abreaction.

Of Terror Knights, Black Knights, and Sith

Many games and movies/tv, have a class of Knight which use attacks and actions that cause themselves damage in exchange for beneficial or combat effects. Such as Tactics Ogre, Final Fantasy, and Star Wars - they are also used in legends and as a representation of Famine. These groups usually use some form of negative energy (whether derived from demons, blood magic, negative emotions, etc) to fuel their spells and abilities and thus either experience a form of blow back from them or actually have to physically damage themselves to even access them.

1: Speidel, Ancient Germanic Warriors: Warrior Styles from Trajan's Column to Icelandic Sagas, Routledge, Aug 2004, pg.38-40

2: Transforming Warriors: The Ritual Organization of Military Force, Routledge, May 2016, pg.55-57.

3: Liberman, "Bare or Bear, or, the Story of Berserk", 2008.

4: The Anthropology of War, Cambridge University Press, Jul 1990, pg.151-152.

5: "A Review of the Complex Theory," CW 8, par. 204.


I don't think there is a general enough and/or widely enough accepted term for what you are asking. So you might need to just make up one and stick with it.

Here are some common approximate terms that can give you an idea:

  • the power itself is a type of sacrifice. Sometimes this can be described in terms of the sacrifice made and what it results in, e.g.:
    • sacrificial attack - if each strike against an enemy requires self harm to "power it" (either enabling the attack or making a possible attack stronger). In Diablo 2 the paladin character has an attack simply called Sacrifice that takes a relatively small amount of life for a good boost to damage.
    • sacrificial boost or power - if self-harm gives a lasting effect, not just for one attack.
  • in extreme cases - if it requires a lot of harm to one's self, it could be a suicide attack. That's the (unofficial) name of a move of the character Youshimitsu in the Soul Calibur video games, where he can cause great damage at the cost of a great chunk of his life usually killing himself in the process.
  • if the character is particularly religious then a move that involves self harm can be connected with martyrdom. However, as mentioned, that's usually for very devout characters - paladins and priests.
  • another term a devout character may use is offering. It's still connected with the theme of sacrifice and martyrdom but it might be that their religion revolves more around pleasing the god as opposed to self-denial (which martyrdom implies). So the character will offer part of themselves in exchange for power. What they are offering might often be called "blood" figuratively, so a blood offering would be self-harm. An alternative is a flesh or maybe pain offering.
  • similar to the above but without religious connotations is terms like blood-fuelled, or pain-fuelled but rarely flesh-fuelled. And that can be applied to either attacks or ehnancement as a whole - e.g., a "blood-fuelled attack" would be one where self-harm (most likely drawing blood) will accompany strikes, while "pain-fuelled strength" would be a more general about becoming stronger through suffering.
  • according to TV Tropes a self-harm type of power would fall under dangerous forbidden technique, however that would be the parent term. There isn't an exact one for a self-harm strength.
    • again from TV Tropes, probably the closest is cast from hitpoints but that's not usually about becoming stronger but fuelling powers in general by sustaining damage. It's not necessarily spells, although it's also not necessary to self-harm - activating a power/spell might automatically harm the caster.
  • there are also terms about "combat rage" type of states. The term "berserk" is the most common in terms of describing this and one who does it is usually a "berserker" It's not exactly a power and it might not exactly involve self-harm but the general idea is that a warrior would be capable of becoming even more efficient in combat in exchange of their well-being. How exactly that manifests differs between depictions but it's possible that one enters the berserk state from sustaining wounds and it doesn't need to be the enemy who inflicts them. However, do note that a lot of times one can also go berserk without being harmed but in those cases they would be easier to harm because they drop their defences for an all out attack.
    • as a side-note here - I personally quite like the term amok which is very similar to "berserk" as it describes blind murderous rage. It's seldom used in fiction, though.

This is a non-exhaustive list but it could help in choosing or coming up with a term for what you want.


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