Classic Dungeons and Dragons and Old School Gaming

D&D etc.

"Heir to a crumbling summit: to a sea of nettles: to an empire of rust: to rituals' footprints ankle-deep in stone."

-Mervyn Peake

"...and that, my liege, is how we know the Earth to be banana shaped."

-Sir Bedevere in Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Friday, March 16, 2012

Mostly Dead is Slightly Alive; Hit Points, Injury and Recovery

Fellow bloggers at Aeons and Auguries and the Fighting Fantasist have gotten me thinking about Hit Points.

I've mentioned this in passing before.

After playing D&D for a long time I've fairly recently decided to take Mr. Gygax at his word and rule that HP are abstract and not actual wounds. Here is what I've started doing:


When characters reach 0 HP they roll on this:

I was inspired by this and this. Like Aos, I wanted the table to be generic, that is I wanted it to make sense for an injury made by tooth and claw as well as blade or bazooka.  Like Trollsmyth I wanted things like knockdown and buff to be possible and I wanted helms to be important.  I also wanted the super simple hit locations to play a role.  This table's label is a bit of a misnomer, I don't use this when a Natural 20 is rolled, only when characters are dropped to zero HP.  I suppose I meant it that way when I made the chart and maybe I would use it that way if I was playing a game with high level characters.  Zero HP is the worst a PC can be, I don't track negative HP.  Depending on how they roll on the crit. chart, a PC with zero Hit Points might be walking around just fine, or they might be on the ground dying.  This could also be used in a pinch for fumbles: roll a D4 as if the D6 rolled a 2.


HD are rolled every morning.  If you've spent the night in the wilderness or in a dungeon, then your HP can go down when you make this roll.  I've thought about also making them roll an extra die and dropping the highest in wilderness/dungeons, but I haven't tried that yet.  If the character is in civilization (as in a house, castle or inn, crashing in a haystack or barn counts as camping) then if a lower number than the character's current HP is rolled it can be disregarded. 

If characters take a short rest (1 turn) then they can add 1d6 to their HP, but their HP cannot be raised over their max for the day.  They can rest as much as they like, consecutively or not, but their HP won't exceed the max for the day. If a character has been reduced to zero and is wounded or dying, then they stay at zero until fully healed, resting won't help.

I have only used this a few times and I haven't used this at all in a game with a Cleric but this is how I would deal with their healing spells: Cure Light Wounds would eliminate one Light Wound, or make a serious wound a Light wound, or make a dying character merely seriously wounded.  A character healed this way would not loose the limb, and would be only faintly scarred.  The Cure Serious Wound spell would eliminate completely a light wound or a serious wound and would make a dying character only lightly wounded.

If the Character is dead and there are no high level miracle workers around, there's only one thing you can do: go through their clothes and look for loose change.


  1. This is a very interesting system. I like the HD rerolled every morning variation (I've been doing it per adventure) and the distinction between wilderness and civilization. I would probably not do the extra die/drop highest roll thing as that takes away some of the simplicity.

    Recovering 1d6 HP per turn is quite generous. This is sort of an old school healing surge mechanic. You might also be interested in this article if you have not already read it:

    I also really like the literal style of the cure light wounds and cure serious wounds spells. It makes them both more useful and less useful, and certainly stops the cleric from being an "HP battery" medic.

  2. Thanks for the link Brendan. You always bring well thought out points to the discussion! I knew this would get compared to the dreaded healing surge, but c'est la vie. This maybe oughta be another post, but here's why this doesn't turn the game into a videogame or 4e: long range strategy is still important. XP=GP not killing monsters so the resource being used when characters stop to rest is TIME, and that means risk of wandering monsters, and PCs want to avoid those at all costs, or more specifically they want to avoid combat with WMs at all costs.

  3. I'm actually playing 4E right now with GP = XP. The incentives have had some effect on the players, but I still find them often seeking out fights rather than trying to avoid them.

    I'm not sure if this is due entirely to all the extra HP hidden in healing surges or to other game aspects (there are no save or die effects, for example). I don't balance encounters, and they have run from several situations (for example, as first level characters they encountered a raiding party of frost elves with a white dragon; they almost tried to fight actually, but reason prevailed). I have changed the death rules to follow AD&D (dead at -10, lose one HP per round when negative) to increase the danger of combat.

    There are, of course, other aspects of the game that reward a focus on combat, such as all the whiz-bang powers. Also, I have been giving out monster XP at the end of every session but treasure XP only when they return treasure to civilization, which is probably a mistake because they get positive reinforcement for killing monsters much more frequently than they get positive reinforcement for recovering treasure, even if the magnitude of the XP from treasure is greater.

  4. I understand the argument for gp=xp. It's to avoid everything being combat. But I still fail to see how this makes sense over a system that awards xp for overcoming challenges by any means. If you give xp for acheiving quests and goals and dealing with challenges (monsters, hazards, traps, etc) by any method (including stealth, parley, trickery, misdirection as well as combat), that makes sense. There are two cases where gp=xp fails for me. 1) Somebody finds a big wheelbarrow full of money without any defenders. 2) A dragon steals a maiden from a poor village. The party crosses the swamp of twenty perils, climbs the mountain of icy death, and sneaks into the dragon's lair. The wizard draws the dragon into it's trasure chamber with an illusion. The rogue sneaks the maiden out, the cleric and fighter take down the supports, trapping the dragon in it's treasure chamber. They party gets no treasure. Explain why the adventurer in #1 gets lots of xp and the adventurers in #2 don't get as much.

  5. The problem for me with quests is that I think they subvert player autonomy. Players just go looking for the next quest. It can work, and I've used it before, but in my experience there is not as much freedom in a reward system built around quests. You could have your players engineer their own quests, but that requires a level of setting engagement that I rarely see, especially at the lower levels when players are not very familiar with the setting. There is an objectivity and impartiality to one GP treasure value that is very hard to replicate with other incentive schemes.

    1) Is a straw man, because one is not supposed to get XP for money in general, one gets XP for recovering treasure from the underworld or the chaotic wilderness (i.e., from danger). PCs don't get XP for starting up a business and making a profit either (at least that's how I interpret it). I believe Gary has a section in the original DMG with a similar point, though I'm not next to my DMG right now to find the reference.

    2) This example is a little bit more reasonable, but still misses the point. If the princess is not worth XP, why do the PCs care? If morality is enough, they don't need XP. If you want to incentivize rescues, then reward rescue in general (as opposed to quests in particular). Or give kidnap victims a bounty value (then the victim is just another kind of treasure).

  6. GP=XP (where XP is awarded for GP that is brought out of dungeon) isn't the be all end all, but it works for me. What it does is incentivise going into dungeons, and coming out of them alive (and it leaves it up to the players to figure out that the non-combat methods that you mention are easier). I think awarding XP for quests or for getting to certain locations or one mile travelled=1 XP or anything else would work, but that changes the flavor of the game. Personally, I like dungeons. I believe in at least one of the older versions of D&D it is explicitly stated that xp=gp will average out, and that individual adventures may result in smaller or larger hauls, and that's ok.