Crit and death saves mean automatic ability score damage - Too gritty?
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  1. #1

    Crit and death saves mean automatic ability score damage - Too gritty?

    One aspect of 5E I hate is full hitpoints after a long rest.

    My 15th level fighter is beaten down by a Balor, he is unconcious with two failed death saves when a party healer hits him just enough to bring him to 1 hp. No more healing is available so I go to bed at 1 hp. Assuming no one attacks us in the night and we get a long rest "BOOM" I am suddenly at full health and in perfect condition.

    Hate it hate it hate it.

    An idea, just an idea is this. Every time you take a critical hit you take one point of Constitution damage. You are physically injured in a way beyond just get a bruise or cut. But this is not it, My super barbarian with 185hp can get knocked unconcious and almost die without a single crit in a long battle. So this is the other part. Making a death save (whether you succeed it or fail it) is a point of Con damage. You are unconscious, you are bleeding out, you may be face down in the mud not breathing, etc, etc. Basically your body had been badly injured and even if you are brought back there will be fairly long term consequences until you can spend a couple weeks back at home resting and recuperating or the party healer uses something more than a cure wounds to get you back on your feet.

    What do you think? Would this be too rough? It makes combat more dangerous, it makes it more realistic as you cannot get crisped by red dragon breath today and be sweet as a daisy tomorrow just by sleeping. You might also have to add a spell or two, low level ones that have too long for combat casting time, and a high level ones you can cast in combat that can heal ability score damage.

  2. #2
    It depends on what you and your players want out of the game. Some players might like that extra level of realism and others might find that it hinders the momentum of the story.

    Personally, i get what you're going for but it doesn't work for the the kind of stories i'd want to tell. Do you want it to run more like real-life, but with magic, or do you want it to be paced like a movie or comic? I used to run d20 modern, and serious injuries potentially meant weeks of recovery. The problem from a story-telling standpoint is that this can completely derail the plot, especially if you're on time constraints. Imagine an action movie where they're spending the entire time pursuing a criminal/villain, but due to a fight in act 2, they decided to completely sit things out for a month to heal up in a believable way. It's an issue that gets swept away easily when a writer has complete narrative control, but becomes an issue once you add the variable outcomes involved with telling a story through a game system.
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  3. #3
    I think the loss of a point on a successful death save is a bit much, but I generally avoid ability score damage in general. 5e is balanced on damage and hit points, and adjusting a creature's hit points directly affects its ability to survive an adventuring day. The barbarian in your example needs those hit points to tank.

    Realistically, it places how much Constitution damage the PCs take directly in the hands of the DM. If the DM loads up on deadly encounters, the party will take Con damage because PCs will go unconscious here and there. Players may slow down how much adventuring they do and retreat when they are less than full hit points, causing a recurrence of the 5-minute workday.

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Tormyr View Post
    I think the loss of a point on a successful death save is a bit much, but I generally avoid ability score damage in general. 5e is balanced on damage and hit points, and adjusting a creature's hit points directly affects its ability to survive an adventuring day. The barbarian in your example needs those hit points to tank.

    Realistically, it places how much Constitution damage the PCs take directly in the hands of the DM. If the DM loads up on deadly encounters, the party will take Con damage because PCs will go unconscious here and there. Players may slow down how much adventuring they do and retreat when they are less than full hit points, causing a recurrence of the 5-minute workday.
    Possibly, but I find that the 5 minute work day is as much a function of having players who shoot their load at every battle or lots of players running character who regain a lot at every short rest like warlocks and monks.

    Both of you are right it can change the feel of combat, it makes it more dangerous and makes players act less reckless. Oh and everything that happens to players is in the hands of the DM, unless it is in the hands of the dice if your are a DM that lets the dice lay as they fall and doesn't fudge them on occasion.

    In the end I just really really dislike going to bed with 1hp and waking up with 198hp the next morning.

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    Unless you have time pressures, it seems like when someone takes Con damage, a reasonable choice would be to just opt to let time pass for a couple weeks before getting back to adventuring. The only cost presumably would be lifestyle expenses which can be effectively minimized so that the cost is negligible. So if you define "gritty" as "laying around a lot for basically no cost," then yeah, it's gritty.
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  6. #6
    I have a different approach. First, I look at hit points more like combat fatigue and not actual damage. Basically, as a combat wears on a character's ability to block/parry/dodge incoming attacks is diminished, until finally they take that last hit point or two and take real damage.

    I don't like that a character can instantly stand back up with a little healing and be good to go. So what I do is assign a level of temporary fatigue that stays with the character until they have a short rest. If they actually take death saving throws, I assign long term fatigue for each failed saving throw. These are recovered as normal, one per long rest.

    This simulates recovering from injuries and uses the existing mechanics.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JacktheRabbit View Post
    An idea, just an idea is this. Every time you take a critical hit you take one point of Constitution damage. You are physically injured in a way beyond just get a bruise or cut. But this is not it, My super barbarian with 185hp can get knocked unconcious and almost die without a single crit in a long battle. So this is the other part. Making a death save (whether you succeed it or fail it) is a point of Con damage.
    Shadowrun is one of the well know examples of death spirals. Taking damage makes it harder to resist damage makes you take more damage (and start to suck in other ways) and if it continues, you die.

    Death spirals just aren't fun to play. You get one character who has a few unlucky rolls and they are at a whole reduced level of survivability that makes them a lot less fun to play when it happens regularly.

    Taking CON damage means less max HPs means more death saves means less CON mean less max HPs ... I hope the spiral is obvious.

    I'm nto against longer term consequences, though D&D isn't the system I would use if I was trying to model them. But this type of solution isn't the way to go.

    This leaves the PC fine for plenty of time, then starts penalizing the as those close to dying and make it easier to die. This is actually the exact opposite of what I want as a DM because it makes it hard to build tension - either you're fine or your in really deep ...mud with lasting penalities. I want easy ways to build tension, make you feel like you're dying quickly but have what seems like the last 10% really be just as long as the first 90% so I can push you hard and get you worried without the slightest variation of chance meanign I've actually killed you.

    Okay, that's my main thrust. I'm going to go onto secondary thrusts, but if you are going to address anything talk about the above.

    First, ability damage isn't very 5e in design nature. Refiguring your saves and ability checks is something the intentionally moved away from.

    Second, front line melee characters are much more likely to get knocked down to 0 HPs just doing their normal contribution to the party dynamic. Something which happens just on that as a trigger unfairly targets them. AND since they are attacked more they also have a greater need for HPs so the result of CON loss also affects them out of line. Two fighters of the same level and same CON, but one standing in melee blocking attackers from the wizard and the other an archer will see a drastically different personal impact of that rule during the course of a campaign.

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    Hiya!

    Quote Originally Posted by JacktheRabbit View Post
    One aspect of 5E I hate is full hitpoints after a long rest.

    My 15th level fighter is beaten down by a Balor, he is unconcious with two failed death saves when a party healer hits him just enough to bring him to 1 hp. No more healing is available so I go to bed at 1 hp. Assuming no one attacks us in the night and we get a long rest "BOOM" I am suddenly at full health and in perfect condition.

    Hate it hate it hate it.
    Ditto. In fact, I think it took me all of about 20 minutes from the moment I started running my very first 5e Starter Set game session, to read that this is how natural healing worked. I said "Ok, well...POOF! You are all healed in the morning I guess... ... but I'm going to change that next session. Lets keep it as-is for this session". Every one of my players agreed with me so it wasn't just my take on it. I came up with a method right then and there and we all discussed it. We agreed on how healing was going to work for next session and every session we've done since. This is it...

    "A creature gets 1/2 of his Maximum HD, rounding up, upon waking the next day after a good nights rest. This HD roll does NOT count towards the normal use of HD for healing. It's 'free' HD. A PC may spend actual HD, as per normal, if they want"

    So a 5th level fighter would get to roll 3d10 upon waking in the morning after a safe, comfortable rest.

    I note "safe, comfortable rest" because if it's not, then I reduce healing by using a negative adjustment per HD; -1 if it was safe but uncomfortable (in a rainstorm in a tent but no fire), perhaps a -2 if its actually unsafe at the same time, dropping it down to -3 if it's unsafe, uncomfortable, and un-sanitary (no bandages or worse; say on a barely-afloat raft in a lake in a swamp during a rainstorm. I do give a bonus of +1 if someone with the skill Medicine is looking after them, +2 if the person makes a DC 15 Medicine check in the morning AND has access to clean water, sheets, bandages, etc.

    It works well and gives incentive to find an actual safe, comfortable place to rest...and gives those with Medicine a nice reason to have it.

    ^_^

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    Quote Originally Posted by JacktheRabbit View Post
    One aspect of 5E I hate is full hitpoints after a long rest.
    It seems funny to me to say "I hate X! So I'm changing Y, do you think that will work?" Why not just get rid of full healing after a long rest?

    If you change the healing rules to something you like, and then still want to impose some debilitation from crits and death saves, that's another question. From that POV, I don't so much like your approach, first it is too common (people get critted on all the time, probably every adventuring day?) and second ability score damage is kind of a pain to account for. I might lean toward a system where wounding effects are less common, but perhaps more debilitating in exchange.
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  10. #10
    I think that it might be more helpful to re-evaluate how you envision hit points, what what they actually mean. As an article pointed out way back when, hit points aren't meant to represent the ability of a character to withstand damage. The example they used was something to the tune of this:

    A first level character can be killed by a single blow from a longsword. If we envision hit points as literal damage capacity, this would imply that running a 1st level character through with a sword kills them. But by implication, a higher-level character can be run through with a sword multiple to dozens of times (taking the same amount of damage from a single blow as it took to kill the 1st-level character), and that idea is patently absurd. It doesn't matter how tough you are, a sword through the liver or heart is going to kill you.

    So hit points don't mean that. They represent the ability to not be seriously hurt. The best attack the longsword wielder could manage - 8 points of damage - kills an inexperienced character but is barely an inconvenience for a more seasoned adventurer.

    So I agree with you: effectively "sleeping off" a giant hole in one's stomach where a villain impaled you on a sword is ridiculous. But that's not what happens unless that's how the DM describes it - and while it is entirely within a DM's power to be ridiculous in that fashion, they can just as easily describe the attack differently. The best swing or thrust the swordsman could manage is easily parried/deflected/dodged by the skilled adventurer.

    Play how you want. It's your game. But I'll add to the chorus here that ability damage isn't very 5e, and unless you and your entire group prefers to play Hack-ups and Hospitals, I don't know that it would make anybody's game more fun.

    A simpler solution might simply be to remove magical healing, or even full casters altogether, from the game. In my experience, that one decision handles 80% or more of the legwork in making a campaign feel grittier and more dangerous.

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