A bit over a year ago I posted an idea for some alternate mechanics as a substitution for hit points for games using the d20 system. Rarely do I ever DM though, so the odds of getting these mechanics actually play-tested seemed slim. However on Thursday, this past, I actually ran an adventure in which they were tried out.
The results didn’t seem too bad and, as expected, combat was short and deadly. Overall reaction afterward seemed to border on actual enthusiasm though a number of concerns were voiced and a fair bit of discussion and suggestion quickly followed.
A couple of the more persistant issues with the system were:
1) One or more saving throws were made for each attack. Because of this three attacks which each deal 2 points of damage will cause more saving throws (thus more opportunity to have bad things happen) than one attack that deals 9 points of damage.
To some degree this is a problem inherent in the system caused by having to make one saving throw no matter how many points of damage are dealt. A suggestion was made that perhaps rather than having each attack trigger saving throws that all the damage done to a character should be added up over the course of an entire round and the saving throw(s) made immediately before the character’s next turn.
While this solution does solve the problem it was further pointed out that it breaks up the normal flow of play in which the effects of damage are resolved immediately after the damage was dealt and shifts it until later in the round, or even until the next round. This postponement of fate puts the damaged character into a SchrÃ¶dinger’s-cat-like limbo where-in there character becomes a half-healthy and half-comatose (or half-dead) wave-form. In addition to being unsatisfying for the player of the damaged character this also means that the other players don’t know how to react since they don’t know what state the character is in either.
Also it just creates another temporary damage track (damage taken in a given round vs. total damage) to be remembered and taken into account.
So between the original “saving throw per attack” idea and the new “saving throw per round” idea I’ve come up with something of a compromise:
- d20 Alternate Mechanics – Injury & Consequences – Official Revision 1
A save is not made for each attack, but rather each incident of damage. An “incident of damage” could include either damage arising from a specific event (such as falling into a trap) or from a series of closely related events in a brief space of time (such as all the attacks meted out by a particular opponent when casting a spell or during a full attack action).
2) Another issue freqnently mentioned was the “drinking game” aspect (ie. once you start losing your chances of losing again tend to escolate very quickly). This was an aspect that was intentionally included on my part and which the players at once seemed to both like and dis-like.
In part it seemed they liked the idea of the graded decline of character condition due to injury which the system supplied. The main issue with it however seemed to be the fact that the curve from health to death (ie. healthy-staggered-unconscious-dead) is relatively steep. In particular that the “staggered” condition (which causes a -4 to all rolls) doesn’t give the character much leaway to realize they’re losing and withdraw before unconsciousness.
This aspect was in some ways intentional since I wanted the system to be able to simulate both a “quick kill” (ie. someone getting killed from a single highly damaging attack) and a “slow death” (ie. someone struggling along and possibly collapsing at any moment while taking damage over multiple turns).
If you put too many gradations in the scale then the scale becomes so long that it’s nearly impossible for someone to be killed from an attack by certain weapons like a knife, even on a critical hit during a backstab attempt.
Interestingly they liked the way that a potential quick death speeded up combat so I guess there are conflicting impulses on this issue, even within the same player.
Personally I think the whole issue will be resolved when combined with the Armor & Damage Reduction mechanics. However since not everyone may wish to make use of both sets of alternate rules at the same time, and since the Armor & Damage Reduction rules haven’t been play-tested just yet, here is an additional option which might help some resolve the issue to the satisfaction of some:
- d20 Alternate Mechanics – Injury & Consequences – Additional Option
Some classes are just trained to be so tough that they can keep going no matter what.
Characters gain ranks in a “Stamina” quality based on the hit dice their class would gain under the standard rules as indicated in the table below:
As long as a character is not flat-footed they can choose to treat one of their Trauma check Fortitude saves as an automatic success for every 10 ranks of Stamina they posess. These automatic successes are used up over the course of combat as they are applied and can only be regained under one of two conditions:
- If the character has no injuries and has a chance to rest for a few minutes.
- If the character is injured but has been healed of at least half the total damage they’ve sustained.
Over the next couple months it seems likely that other alternate rules ideas mentioned earlier might be brought out and given a playtest. Write-ups of the adventures run may also become available so stay tuned.