In this post, I want to discuss Hit Points and how they function in my game. Some assumptions:
HP: Hit Points are not wounds or injuries. They are an approximation of a character’s luck, skill, experience, and will to survive. Most characters have 10 HP, as per ICRPG standards.
Injuries: Are not accounted for by tracking HP. They are separate.
Weapon Damage: Weapons deal d4, d6, or d8 damage in my games. A dagger might be d4 normally, but d8 in a grappling situation. A halberd might be d8 normally, but only 1 point in a grappling situation. A mace might do double damage against skeletons.
With that out of the way, I’ll present my take on HP.
What are Hit Points? Given that most weapons can bring a character to 0 HP with between 1 and 3 blows, that means that characters can narrowly avoid death between 1 and 3 times before their composure, position, and ability to intelligently defend themselves is diminished. We describe damage that does not bring a character to 0 HP as near misses (That would have killed you, but you …), a flurry of blows that send you to the ground (horrible position), an ogre’s club that throws you across the battlefield (forced movement and horrible position), or an acid ray that gives you a glimpse at death (your composure is broken).
This helps my group and me understand, in-game, why a “hit” from dragon’s breath didn’t immediately kill your character. Let’s be honest, a gout of flame from Smaug and you’re dead. So, a “hit” must not actually be a real hit unless you’re reduced to 0 HP. In this sort of very special case, when they are reduced to 0 HP, I might ask the character to make a Save or Die roll - dragon’s breath isn’t a broken shoulder. The player’s job, knowing that, is to utilize the environment to avoid facing the dragon’s breath. I do well to telegraph this sort of thing when I pops up.
When do characters actually get hit? When a character reaches 0 HP, they have been solidly hit. Bones are broken, organs are pierced, a limb is hanging on by a thread. They roll d4 or d6 for Dying, accrue an Injury appropriate to the description, and are room temperature when the timer ends (dead).
What does Magical healing do, then? Magical Healing almost always is dealing with bumps, bruises, minor scrapes or cuts, soreness, exhaustion, hopelessness, and despair. As such, a bard’s singing can realistically “heal Hit Points”. Other, more powerful magical healing (true healing) can actually affect Injuries. For example, the Cure Wounds spell in my games actually affects injuries, sewing flesh and restructuring bone, and is as such a higher level spell. Low level “healing magic” might be conjuring enchanted water to treat minor burns, a bard’s song to raise spirits, a rallying cry from the commander to refocus the party, or an infusion of natural energy to reverse bruising. Or, a hearty leg of mutton!
What do Injuries do? Injuries, simply put, threaten the life of a character. A sucking chest wound, a spurting artery, a crushed arm, a nearly severed leg. Being Stabilized, as per the CORE rules, merely means you’re no longer dying. The wound is packed, the leg is bandaged, a soothing word keeps your spirit from breaking, and so on. We do not use the “on a NAT20 recovery roll, it was just a flesh wound” rule.
Can characters do anything to subvert death or damage? Yes! Characters can elect to have their shield take the blow, reducing it’s armor by 1 point and subtracting d6 damage from the hit. Most shields are 1 point, but some, like tower shields, could be 2 or 3. Some magical effects, like a redesigned Shield spell, can also do things like this.
However, characters can also ELECT to incur an non-lethal injury instead of taking HP damage. They will likely do this to avoid being reduced to 0 HP - and receiving a worse injury and risking death. You accept this in-game debility to keep on fighting (and keep on playing!). Nonlethal Injuries have variable tiers. A minor injury may just give -1 to -3 (Hard) to a specific set of tasks. A moderate injury might reduce the effectiveness of any successful task, such as -1 to -3 for a type of Effort. More severe injuries inhibit movement, restrict weapon use and spellcasting, and so on.
Although it might seem counterintuitive for a player to choose an injury, it makes for some amazing scenes like Boromir vs the Uruk-Hai. Unfortunately, getting too many Injuries ultimately leads to death as well. The nitty-gritty of that is unimportant, just pick a number. 1 minor, 1 moderate, 1 severe, then you’re dead (DEAD, not unconscious).
How do Injuries heal? Long term rest, or magical healing. Long term rest is in days, weeks, or months depending on the story. I might say that a Severed Arm will be functional in 8 weeks (d8 timer) of proper care. Proper care is bed rest and medical supervision (a cleric, druid, NPC, etc.).
Magical healing specifically designed for Injuries (Cure Wounds) can affect certain levels of Injury. Cure Wounds might be able to handle a sprained ankle, concussion, or laceration, but it can’t put your arm back on. You need Regeneration for that. It might take several successful casts of the spell, also, but that’s still far quicker than having a character out of action for weeks or months. It’s a brutal world.
Although this might seem very unwieldy and slow at the table, it’s easy and fast.
- Roll to hit and damage like normal. Damage is, broadly, anything negative that happens to a character as the result of an attack or spell that does not include an Injury. Description variety abound.
- Players can opt to have their shield take the hit, or acquire a nonlethal injury, to keep fighting when they would otherwise be reduced to 0 HP. The Boromir Rule.
- At 0 HP, the characters have been solidly hit and are Injured. In d4 or d6 rounds, they are dead. DEAD.
I’d love to hear what you guys think, how you handle HP, and what this all means to you!