Thursday, April 29, 2010

Damaged Characters, A Question

This blog is counter intuitive to an old school train of thought, but I've been thinking about damaged characters and how it would affect them. How would a fighter with half his hit points still be able to function as if he were at full hit points? I'm not a fan of making things complicated, but I do like simple rules that reflect some realism. A damaged character is not reflected in any of the Old School various system rules. At least I couldn't find much.

The only rules I've found on the matter are characters that are at 0 hit points or below and varying levels of death; the almost dead, mostly dead and the dead, dead categories. Rufus the fighter is second level and has ten hit points get hit by an orc spear for 5 points of damage. Rufus's hit points are halved. Does he suffer no effects from the strike? Should he have a temporary penalty or one that lasts until he is healed?

I pose this is a question because I am interested in knowing if DMs would use this rule and if players would want it included. I am thinking of a simple version where a character suffers some sort of penalty at half hit points and then a second level of penalties if reduced below a quarter of their hit points. I have nothing developed just throwing it out there to see what sticks or to see if it gets thrown back at me.


  1. I've never thought that hit points really represented wounds. Being that combat in D&D is so abstract, especially in OD&D, that taking 1/2 your hit points in "damage" wasn't really wounds, but rather a reduction in your luck, stamina, etc. that keeps you in the fight.

  2. Penalties for wounds is a topic players love and hate. Foes getting weaker is something the players love, the PCs getting weaker...not much liked.

    An easy and non-constant effect of being wounded could be using fumbles if you normally don't or doubling the chance if you do. That way there is some risk to getting clobbered but it isn't constant and denying heroic action.

  3. The best solution for D&Dish games would be a vitality system and wound points in place of hit points.

    You can read up on it here

    Basically Hit Points are now called Vitality points. You start off with a little more but it works pretty much the way hit points do now.

    The differences comes with the addition of Wound Points. If you get a critical hit (a nat 20) or you lose all your vitality you start taking wound points. The number of which is based on your Constitution and your size. (larger creatures get more).

    Now the d20 version boosts up hit points and requires everything to have a Constitution score.

    Perhaps a variant could be created that better suited for OD&D/1E. But the basic idea would still be that you have two pools of hit points. One of which represents bodily damage.

  4. Dragon magazine had something about Pain. I lifted it wholesale and slapped it into my campaign - and the party loved it - that was almost 20 years ago.

    HP's are abstract - but sometimes if your character takes a massive amount of damage - they should reflect that by getting painful wounds. 5 levels of them (5th level is pretty much cripple).

    Dragon Magazine #118 - page 38-42. Take a look!


  5. The trouble with damaging characters from a game balance standpoint is that it makes a fight that's going bad keep going bad. Whichever side gets the upper hand first and starts doing some damage will have a major advantage.

    It also adds complexity - yet another modifier to remember.

    For games heavy on simulation/realism, it works well, but for games emphasizing heroism and ease-of-play, leave it out.

  6. I use a knockback rule in my campaign.

    If anyone is smacked for 50% of their remaining hitpoint total, they are instantly knocked off their feet five feet backwards by the force of the blow. They must then save vs breath weapon (a sort of dodge) to roll with the blow and regain their footing, or are considered prone.

    Anybody who attacks a prone enemy gains +4 to hit, and the poor victim must spend its next action merely finding its feet again.

    I find this works very well in simulating how the tide of battle turns against the loser in a fight and can create some dramatic moments where the party close ranks around a floored character to prevent what might be a killing blow from occurring.

    Nice and simple.

  7. D&D is built around using Hit Points as an abstraction, nothing more than how close you are to defeat. You can't really shift that to any concrete representation of actual wounds without causing a lot of knock-on effects. It's not just that you're introducing a "death spiral", it's also the way the players react to the death spiral. If you want the players to flee more often, spend more time turtled and healing up, have shorter adventures, then tying current HP to effectiveness is a good way to accomplish that. If that's not the direction you want to push the game, then you have to tweak other things to compensate.

  8. @Vanadorn - I remember that article. It was called "AAARRGGHH! A Painful Subject".

    @Jamused - Except that HP are lost an gained in situations outside of defeat in combat. Healing potions, disease, falling, etc. In those situations Hit Points seem to be a measure of wounds, not combat advantage/disadvantage.

  9. Lots of great input. I know hit points are supposed to be an abstract, but anytime a DM describes it when a character gets struck blood plies. And when you run out of abstract hit points you have a very real death. But I understand and appreciate both sides of this arguement. Thanks everyone.

  10. I've toyed around with having each wound of more than a couple points granting a -1 penalty to things. Each wound hurts, so it should weaken both the players and the monsters. Maybe a single wound dealing more than the player's level would cause them to take a "wound" and then suffer a -1 to hit, or some such.

    It's a difficult thing to satisfyingly connect abstract health with concrete penalties, but I think its doable.

  11. The thing is that in real fights, people do not whittle each-other down, each time they're hit slowing down. You usually get a heap of blows landing which cause pain but no impairment and then... flomp, someone falls over and they're out.

    If the blow doesn't break a bone or something, you stay standing and fighting. And if it does break something, then you fall down however staunch you are.

    Of course, the many less serious blows they received but which didn't knock them down instantly really were injuries, and will have longer-term effects. But they often don't disable the person straight away.

    One way to simulate this is a "toughness" check - roll under current hit points, if you do you stay standing, if you fail you fall down, a second failure and you're unconscious. That's why a heavy slap could knock you down today while a kick in the guts leaves you standing tomorrow.

    But you can get the same kind of effect with random damage.

    In this respect, hit points are realistic. The unrealism comes in with their escalating through the levels.