A fun alternative to dying.

Holy Grail
The most overused reference in all of tabletop RPG-dom. I went there anyway.

No idea come to being in a vacuum. So before I begin, I’d like to point out that Courtney Campbell did something similar to this, which totally influenced my idea. (Though I was mostly inspired by a post by “Medieval Battlefield Medicine” over at Spells and Steel)

There’s a lot of disagreement about what hit points represent, which isn’t a disagreement I care about. Hit points represent whatever a given GM says they represent, and for the purpose of this post, hit points represent something similar to ‘luck.’ When you take a hit in the game, what is actually happening is that the flat of the blade slaps your arm. The warhammer bounces off your shield and rattles you to the bone. The fireball leaves you with the equivalent of a bad sunburn, but nothing worse.

Until you get to zero hit points.

When a character reaches 0 hp, they are still fine. They can fight and act normally without any penalty. But their luck has completely run out. Successful attacks against the character no longer deal damage. Instead, the GM rolls on the following chart. 2d6

  1. Finger destroyed! Randomly determine which.
  2. Hand destroyed! Randomly determine which.
  3. Arm destroyed! Randomly determine which. (Massive Bleed! See 11)
  4. Foot destroyed! Randomly determine which.
  5. Leg destroyed! Randomly determine which. (Massive Bleed! See 11)
  6. Eye destroyed! Randomly determine which.
  7. Head destroyed! You are dead!
  8. Internal bleeding! Debilitated in 1d4 turns, dead 1d6 turns after that. Can be saved with magical healing.
  9. Kidney destroyed! Save v. poison increased by 1d4. (if this one happens twice, you’re dead!)
  10. Lung destroyed! Reduce CON by 1d6 + 2
  11. Massive Bleed! Debilitated in 1d4 t6urns, dead 1d6 after that. Can be saved if the blood can be stopped. (Successful wisdom check required by whoever makes the attempt. Only one attempt per turn per wound.)
  12. Permanent cosmetic damage. (Ear/nose gone, unable to grow hair. Not simple scars.)

Is this goofy and unrealistic? You bet. It makes absolutely no sense for a character to be hit over and over and over in combat, and take no ill effects from it; then, after crossing an arbitrary threshold, suddenly every hit has an ill effect. That’s ridiculous. But here are the reasons why it is awesome:

  • Increased player survivability over methods where the character is simply dead at 0. I’ve been told that players enjoy surviving.
  • Makes it likely that characters will end up with missing digits or limbs. Those are cool, and the players will have a good story to tell.
  • Realistic stuff is lame anyway.

It’s up to individual GMs to determine what game effects this kind of stuff ought to have, but regardless, I suspect players should be given the opportunity to retire their character and roll a new one if they suffer anything too debilitating. A rogue in a wheelchair, or a magic user without any fingers to cast with, would be rather unpleasant to play. That said, a magic user in a wheelchair, or a monk with no fingers, could still be super interesting.

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3 thoughts on “A fun alternative to dying.”

  1. I actually find this approach extremely believable, especially when you consider that HP are not an insurmountable barrier (as effects that require saving throws can often bypass the HP buffer directly). I mean, it’s just a question of abstraction, right, not realism? At least that’s how I see it.

    I’ve wondered for a while if one could not just use the Warhammer crit tables directly, as they tend to be more appropriate to types of attacks (so claw attacks have different kinds or probably effects, than, say, club attacks).

  2. I’ve learned to look at and use Hit Points as a narrative tool similar to what you describe. Part of the beauty of this is that most wounds you could possibly receive in real life will either kill you (instantly or over time) or could never kill you. The “over time” wounds are the tough ones to adjudicate for me – hence the usefulness of random tables like you made. Thanks!
    A phrase I loved using when a player takes a sizable chunk of damage is “You narrowly dodge the blow, but grimly realize a direct hit would spell instant death.”

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