Avoiding Death Spirals WHILE making damage count

The better angle to take is the old Legend of Zelda "your sword shoots when you're at full health" approach. Have some special things characters can do when they are above whatever threshold and make topping up have rewards rather than penalizing low health.
Hmmmm. But at that point, aren't you actually liable to run into the problem that GM's complain about, the 15 minute day? Only now, it's more like 3 minute day. Nobody will want to advance or do anything because they're down a few hit points and so they've lost their special bennie. If anything, by shifting the focus like that, you're effectively penalizing characters for taking minimal damage. People hate it when you take away their toys and they'll react better to a negative condition because it's been "earned" so to speak, than having a GM constantly taking away their cool special benefit/power/whatever.
 

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Hmmmm. But at that point, aren't you actually liable to run into the problem that GM's complain about, the 15 minute day? Only now, it's more like 3 minute day. Nobody will want to advance or do anything because they're down a few hit points and so they've lost their special bennie. If anything, by shifting the focus like that, you're effectively penalizing characters for taking minimal damage. People hate it when you take away their toys and they'll react better to a negative condition because it's been "earned" so to speak, than having a GM constantly taking away their cool special benefit/power/whatever.
I mean, I take the point, but I don't die on purpose in legend of zelda as soon as I lose the shooting sword. Other people's mileage perhaps varies. But there must be some level of benefit that both makes a character above x threshold feel extra cool, but doesn't overly incentivize never pushing on when you lose it for the average player.

And there's nothing wrong with having 15 minute adventuring days, sometimes. If the characters go into encounter one and get wrecked, it makes perfect narrative sense that they aren't then charging off to more adventure if they can avoid it. Injured people usually rest and relax when they have the opportunity, even with pretty minor injuries. 15 minute adventuring days are a problem when GMs let them happen all the time by never having any narrative incentive for characters to soldier on, or by letting players take improbable rests without consequences.

But really my main point is simply that penalties for injuries tend to be conceptualized as an afterthought in games, and sold as something players have to endure for the sake of being hardcore or realistic, and that designing in such things from the beginning in a system with both sticks and carrots based on health level would probably be the basis on which someone might hope to possibly crack the conundrum.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
After giving this a lot of thought, and talking with some folks, I think I've found a solution. Or at least an acceptable compromise.

So here's the important parts:
  • HP shouldn't be just bags of numbers where you're just as effective at 1000 hp as you are at 1 hp
  • Death spirals are bad
  • When possible, all resources should have multiple uses (adding choice and flexibility to players)

Here's how it looks
Each PC has Vigor and Health. Vigor is a lot like traditional hit points. Health is much less, being around 1 point per level (not really, but for simplicity of argument)
When your current vigor gets to zero or less, reduce health by 1, take a desperation point, reduce your Action Point pool by 1, and recover some vigor.
There are two statuses: Rested and Wounded. Rested = full vigor and health with no negative statuses. Gain a benefit based on class description while in a rested status. Wounded = 1/2 or less of your health. When wounded, you can spend your desperation points on things once per turn (like boosting speed, gaining a bonus to your rolls, etc.).
Some classes have abilities you can choose that keep you from reducing AP when you take health damage, so you as the player have a choice to avoid a death spiral if you want.

Avoiding the 5 minute workday
The players certainly can’t be blamed in wanting to be at full rest all the time. A way to mitigate this is to ensure you’re running the game as a living world. That is, the NPCs, monsters, and the clock don’t stop because the PCs are resting. Oftentimes the PCs may not have an opportunity to get that rest in, because they are being hunted, or there is a tight timeline in place.
 


GMMichael

Guide of Modos
Here's how it looks
Each PC has Vigor and Health. Vigor is a lot like traditional hit points. Health is much less, being around 1 point per level (not really, but for simplicity of argument)
When your current vigor gets to zero or less, reduce health by 1, take a desperation point, reduce your Action Point pool by 1, and recover some vigor.
There are two statuses: Rested and Wounded. Rested = full vigor and health with no negative statuses. Gain a benefit based on class description while in a rested status. Wounded = 1/2 or less of your health. When wounded, you can spend your desperation points on things once per turn (like boosting speed, gaining a bonus to your rolls, etc.).
Some classes have abilities you can choose that keep you from reducing AP when you take health damage, so you as the player have a choice to avoid a death spiral if you want.
That'll probably work. Too many new rules for me though, assuming a little bulk involved in the combat rules of your game of choice.

What about a stamina rule that applies to opponents as well as PCs? Not equally of course, since not everyone has the same amount of stamina. But enough to avoid the "death spiral," since some opponents slow down as you do. ( Others will be happy to keep whooping you as you tire or get injured.) I'm thinking the opposite of the 13th Age Escalation Die. Sort of a De-Escalation die. Make a roll after each round, and failing it means you obey the de-escalation die that round (and deal less damage to others, probably). Pass the roll and you can ignore the Die in the next round. And maybe kick some butt!

Avoiding the 5 minute workday
The players certainly can’t be blamed in wanting to be at full rest all the time. . .
They can't? Tell them to go run around the building. Then don't let them nap when they get back.
 

Bagpuss

Legend
A very simple explanation of the problem:
Right now it feels like to make damage feel like it counts, then you would suffer effects other than HP loss when you take damage. The argument of "funny how you have 100% your fighting capacity even at 1 hp, but then 1 tiny wound later and you're unconscious." Right now it feels like monsters and many PCs are just bags of hit points where they don't really mean anything until that last shot.
Yes that's intentional.

I think Gygax even mentioned hit points are meant to model the sort of fighting you would see in a Erol Flynn movie (kids you might want to google that), where there is a lot of back and forth as the fight continues until one party lands a fatal blow (taking that last hp). So until you lose that last hit point you've not suffered any actual physical damage, besides perhaps a nick or two and some bruising, you are just running out of luck or stamina.

Of course then calling your hp restoring spell Cure Wounds, does really fit.
 

When your current vigor gets to zero or less, reduce health by 1, take a desperation point, reduce your Action Point pool by 1, and recover some vigor.
There are two statuses: Rested and Wounded. Rested = full vigor and health with no negative statuses. Gain a benefit based on class description while in a rested status. Wounded = 1/2 or less of your health. When wounded, you can spend your desperation points on things once per turn (like boosting speed, gaining a bonus to your rolls, etc.).
I like the concept, just some balancing issues.
When you lose a Health (or gain a Wound level) you
* Reduce your Action Points by 1
*Gain 1 Desperation Point which can be used once per turn (I'm assuming you can earn multiples of these)

So what is the significance of 1 Action Point?
How does that compare to the abilities afforded to you by expending a Desperation Point?
i.e. If 1 Action Point = 1 Desperation Point, then this is just an exercise in record keeping with no real benefit.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
That'll probably work. Too many new rules for me though, assuming a little bulk involved in the combat rules of your game of choice.

What about a stamina rule that applies to opponents as well as PCs? Not equally of course, since not everyone has the same amount of stamina. But enough to avoid the "death spiral," since some opponents slow down as you do. ( Others will be happy to keep whooping you as you tire or get injured.) I'm thinking the opposite of the 13th Age Escalation Die. Sort of a De-Escalation die. Make a roll after each round, and failing it means you obey the de-escalation die that round (and deal less damage to others, probably). Pass the roll and you can ignore the Die in the next round. And maybe kick some butt!

Monsters don't generally use both vigor and health. I want to keep the GM work down, so in most cases it's easier to just have one or the other. However, there are some PC abilities that can replicate the effect of losing Action Points when they hit the monsters.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
I like the concept, just some balancing issues.
When you lose a Health (or gain a Wound level) you
* Reduce your Action Points by 1
*Gain 1 Desperation Point which can be used once per turn (I'm assuming you can earn multiples of these)

So what is the significance of 1 Action Point?
How does that compare to the abilities afforded to you by expending a Desperation Point?
i.e. If 1 Action Point = 1 Desperation Point, then this is just an exercise in record keeping with no real benefit.

Some examples: Most PCs have between 6 and 10 AP, depending on class and level. Doing anything costs an AP, such as:
  • Most medium-sized humanoids can move 15 feet per AP spent (smaller sized might have a rate of 10 feet, while something like a horse might have 30).*
  • Attacking with light-rated weapons costs 3, medium 4, and heavy weapons 5*
  • Spells costs between 3 and 6, depending on complexity
  • Dodging costs 5
  • Disengaging costs 4
  • Disarming a trap costs 6
  • Drinking a potion costs 4
  • Using a response (like reaction in 5e) costs 1 or 2 if you have them available

* This varies, as there are class abilities you can take to increase movement or reduce the weapon cost (like the swashbuckler specialty)

Desperation actions are:
  • Damage Resistance: Gain Damage Reduction of 2 points until the end of your next turn.
  • Burst: Increase your movement rate by 20 feet until the end of your next turn.
  • Focus: Gain a bonus die level equal to your Chapter level+1 when you attempt any Challenge roll.
  • Recovery: End a negative status on you.
  • Arcane Boost: Spells cost 1 spell point per your Chapter level less than normal until the end of your next turn.
  • Desperate Strike: Gain a bonus WD per your Chapter level. Apply this as bonus damage to an attack roll you have successfully landed. Use this trait after landing the attack.


So desperation points are much more impactful than a single or two loss of AP. They are to represent that "the fight is going really hard, you’re beaten down, and in desperation, you are able to tap into resources to achieve extraordinary tasks."
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
I talked about Chapter levels, which may seem confusing because I didn't put that into context. There are tier levels, which are pretty much the same as regular levels, and there are chapter levels, which are more like D&D tiers of play. I used the term "chapter" because each time you advance a chapter level, it's a significant change in gameplay, similar to how a chapter in a book represents a significant break in the narrative.

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