Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Damage as Wounds, not Hit Points

Now up until now in this blog I've given rules /suggestions which may be used in many games: stat generationheight and weightsopen diceinitiativemapping dungeons, and sizing things up. These rules may be used piecemeal and are easy to try out. Today's rule is a departure from this as it's a fairly major game changer; you can't drop this rule into the middle of an ongoing campaign!

After playing D&D for a couple of years as a family our first campaign came to an end, and we turned to Star Frontiers and Marvel Super Heroes for a change of scene. As we were already playing a heavily house ruled game I asked if there were any rules that the players wanted changing for the next D&D campaign. My eldest son said that he didn't like having lots of hit points at high level - he wanted there to always be a chance that a sword hit could kill you - and he didn't like armour reducing the chance to hit.

The system described below is the end result, and we've been using it for the last nine months. It aims to be simple, short, and fast; scalable for larger monsters and higher level PCs; keep the lethality of Old School play but not be so lethal that you can never progress.

Parry / Attack / Kill / Wounds
Everyone has three main fighting stats - Parry (the number needed to hit you), Attack (the bonus on your attack roll), and Kill (the bonus on your kill roll).

When you are hit you can suffer a Minor (W1), Moderate (W2), Major (W3), or Severe (W4) wound, or Incapacitation.
You have thresholds for these different types of wounds. Your armour adds on to each threshold.

For example, here are the values for a character with Incap 14, Armour 5:


For short we can write for example:
Sword+Shield: P15/A5/K4;
7/10/13/16 (19);
Mail & Steel Cap:5

Attack Roll
Attack rolls are pretty standard. You roll a 2d10 (open) attack roll, adding an attack bonus, and need to match the defender's parry.
Note that parry includes your shield, but does not include armour.

Kill Roll
When you hit something, you make a 2d10 (open) "Kill" roll, adding your Kill bonus, and see how wounded your opponent is.

Note that you always roll the same dice for every attack, even a dragon. Dragons just get a BIG kill bonus.

Tracking Wounds
You track the total amount of wounds, not individual wounds. For example if you have a minor (W1) wound followed by a severe (W4) wound, then you are wounded 5.

We track these wound values during combat by putting a red d6 against wounded PCs and a green d6 against wounded Monsters (on account of me having boxes of small red & green d6!). If anyone's wounded by more than 6... you find a bigger dice.

You only need to make a note of the final wound values at the end of the combat.

Effect of Wounds
The effect of a wound is to give your opponents a bonus on both their attack roll and their kill roll.

Wounds themselves never kill you, they make it easier for someone to incapacitate you.
By using dice to record wounds, you don't have to ask what the bonus is, since you can see it.
Being wounded does not affect how dangerous your attacks are, it just makes your opponent more likely to hit you, and more likely to kill you if they do hit you.
Hence being wounded moves the combat towards a conclusion, but it is never a foregone conclusion, there is no "death spiral".

Note that wounds are relative to the creature - a W3 is as bad for a dragon as a W3 is for a giant rat. W4 is the worst possible wound from a single attack in either case.

No fight is a foregone conclusion: although a high level fighter is much, much better than a first level fighter just starting out, a lucky hit from that first level fighter might win the fight in the first round, so don't get complacent!
When you are hit, all your opponents get a bonus on to hit and to kill. Even being wounded 1 has an effect.
One consequence we've found is that a high level party meeting a bunch of Orcs becomes a much more meaningful encounter.


  1. Looks interesting. You did not mention how you are incapacitated or killed. You said a wound never kills, so if I roll 16 + 4 =20 kill against the person in the example armored to 16 for w4 and 19 for incapacitation, what happens? It seems extremely deadly, more so even that say runequest.

    1. Incapacitation = dead unless someone intervenes. Due to who my players are I'm rather lenient in that capacity!
      In the example given, a hit is roll 10+, so 62% of the time, but incapacitation is 15+, so 22% of the time. That's reasonable odds for a new PC.
      A 10th level fighter might have +9 extra on attack and parry, and +9 on incapacitation, also they'll have full armour so an extra +4. Hence in the same attack they'd need to roll 19+ to hit, so 6% of the time, and need a 28+ to incapacitate, so 1%.

  2. "Incapacitation = dead unless someone intervenes. Due to who my players are I'm rather lenient in that capacity!
    In the example given, a hit is roll 10+, so 62% of the time, but incapacitation is 15+, so 22% of the time. That's reasonable odds for a new PC."
    That means nearly a 15% chance of being one shot, so a party of 6 should face around 1 death in the first round of combat.

    1. If you go head to head with an identical party of assailants then that's a 50/50 chance of a TPK in any game!

      In Moldvay Basic D&D, if you have chain & shield you have AC 4, so an Orc needs 15 to hit (30% chance), and the Orc needs to roll equal to or better than your hit points so that's 36/64 (52%) so chance of death is 17%. So it's about as lethal as Old School D&D.

      At first level I'd advise either taking on fewer opponents so you outnumber them, or weaker opponents.

      Also remember that it isn't dead, it's down and bleeding to death. I did have a +10 more means actual death, but in the end I discarded that rule from our game.

  3. I'm curious as to the rates characters progress their parry, attack, kill and incapacitated values as they level up. Also is there any other effects for accumulated wounds at the end of the combat?

    1. I've covered effects for accumulated wounds in the latest post, and I'm going to cover progress for values in the one after that.