Character Death Variant

hawkeyefan

Legend
I was thinking about how to possibly make 5E a bit more dangerous as it relates to PC death. I think I came up with a decent option. I’ve not yet tried it in play, but I wanted to run it by folks here for feedback, suggested changes, and unnecessarily harsh criticism!

We start by removing death saves. PCs will now die at 0 HP like in early editions. However, they’ll also get starting HP equal to their CON score. That’s their “Base HP”. In addition, they’ll accumulate HP by class and CON bonus per level as normal.

So the PCs will have more HP to start. The Base HP are the last they willlose. Anytime the PC takes damage that leaves them within their Base HP amount, they are considered “at death’s door”. This means the player has the option to have the PC fall unconscious or to press on.

This gives players a little more control on if they want to press their luck, or be cautious and go down. It also serves as a clear daner zone....when they’re near their Base HP, they know they’re going to be at risk.

I like that it puts the decision to go down or not in the players’ hands. I like that it removes the safety net of HP loss stopping once a PC is at 0 HP. I think this idea or something similar would help inject some lethality into the game and do so in a way that was very clear to players.

I hope that‘s clear. What do you guys think? Are there implications from other rules that I’ve missed? Does this sound horrible to you as a player? As a DM?
 

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5ekyu

Hero
I was thinking about how to possibly make 5E a bit more dangerous as it relates to PC death. I think I came up with a decent option. I’ve not yet tried it in play, but I wanted to run it by folks here for feedback, suggested changes, and unnecessarily harsh criticism!

We start by removing death saves. PCs will now die at 0 HP like in early editions. However, they’ll also get starting HP equal to their CON score. That’s their “Base HP”. In addition, they’ll accumulate HP by class and CON bonus per level as normal.

So the PCs will have more HP to start. The Base HP are the last they willlose. Anytime the PC takes damage that leaves them within their Base HP amount, they are considered “at death’s door”. This means the player has the option to have the PC fall unconscious or to press on.

This gives players a little more control on if they want to press their luck, or be cautious and go down. It also serves as a clear daner zone....when they’re near their Base HP, they know they’re going to be at risk.

I like that it puts the decision to go down or not in the players’ hands. I like that it removes the safety net of HP loss stopping once a PC is at 0 HP. I think this idea or something similar would help inject some lethality into the game and do so in a way that was very clear to players.

I hope that‘s clear. What do you guys think? Are there implications from other rules that I’ve missed? Does this sound horrible to you as a player? As a DM?
So a warlock with 12 con starts with 12 hp rather than 9 but 0 equals dead and he can choose to go unconscioys, risking auto-crits, on any hit?

Without death saves any,crit can just kill them. Since there is no stabilize spare the dying, healers kit etc all go to useless and the only resources that matter then are healing.



That seems to make survival at low levels extremely difficult and at higher levels the "extra hp" are lost in the shuffle and since the monster attacks might be instantly lethal they effectively have less.

Heck first level guiding bolt crits - 8d6 dmg - that puts an average of 28hp or less just dead.

You are effectively reducing their hp, not increasing them and adding insta-dead from lucky shots. Is thos the game your players ask for?
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
I was thinking about how to possibly make 5E a bit more dangerous as it relates to PC death. I think I came up with a decent option. I’ve not yet tried it in play, but I wanted to run it by folks here for feedback, suggested changes, and unnecessarily harsh criticism!

We start by removing death saves. PCs will now die at 0 HP like in early editions. However, they’ll also get starting HP equal to their CON score. That’s their “Base HP”. In addition, they’ll accumulate HP by class and CON bonus per level as normal.

So the PCs will have more HP to start. The Base HP are the last they willlose. Anytime the PC takes damage that leaves them within their Base HP amount, they are considered “at death’s door”. This means the player has the option to have the PC fall unconscious or to press on.

This gives players a little more control on if they want to press their luck, or be cautious and go down. It also serves as a clear daner zone....when they’re near their Base HP, they know they’re going to be at risk.

I like that it puts the decision to go down or not in the players’ hands. I like that it removes the safety net of HP loss stopping once a PC is at 0 HP. I think this idea or something similar would help inject some lethality into the game and do so in a way that was very clear to players.

I hope that‘s clear. What do you guys think? Are there implications from other rules that I’ve missed? Does this sound horrible to you as a player? As a DM?

Just to be perfectly clear, a 14 con barbarian and a 14 con wizard are going to start with the same hp?
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
So a warlock with 12 con starts with 12 hp rather than 9 but 0 equals dead and he can choose to go unconscioys, risking auto-crits, on any hit?

Without death saves any,crit can just kill them. Since there is no stabilize spare the dying, healers kit etc all go to useless and the only resources that matter then are healing.



That seems to make survival at low levels extremely difficult and at higher levels the "extra hp" are lost in the shuffle and since the monster attacks might be instantly lethal they effectively have less.

Heck first level guiding bolt crits - 8d6 dmg - that puts an average of 28hp or less just dead.

You are effectively reducing their hp, not increasing them and adding insta-dead from lucky shots. Is thos the game your players ask for?

Sorry...I meant to put an example in my initial post.

At first level, your Warlock would get 12 Base HP (his CON score). Then he’d also get 9 based on his d8 hit die (maxed for 1st level) and 1 bonus HP from his CON. So he’d have 21 HP. Anytime he dropped to 12 or less, he’d have to choose to go unconscious or keep going.

Yes, low level characters would be at risk of instant death due to a crit, that’s true. I’m not exactly happy about that, but I’m also not totally against it. I’m not sure if there’s a way to prevent it in this method. Any ideas?
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
Just to be perfectly clear, a 14 con barbarian and a 14 con wizard are going to start with the same hp?

No, sorry that wasn’t clearer. I just clarified in my last post, but just to be sure....each of them would have their normal starting HP PLUS 14 for their CON score. Barb would have 28 and wiz would have 22.
 

I hope that‘s clear. What do you guys think? Are there implications from other rules that I’ve missed? Does this sound horrible to you as a player? As a DM?
It sounds extremely similar to 3.x, or Pathfinder more specifically, where you went unconscious at zero and died at -Con score.

It's hard to describe the psychological process of a player being presented with a choice of whether they want to stay conscious. I think we're all aware of how staying down can be safer, because you aren't considered a threat and so the enemies will stop attacking you. I'm not sure how to acknowledge that, as a player, without drawing attention to the courtesy that monsters normally perform by not finishing you off. As a player, I would rather that it not be my decision.

Additionally, as mentioned, an HP buffer is not as effective as a death save buffer. Characters are much more likely to be killed from a 40-point dragon breath, where they are currently immune to insta-death past level 5 or so. That could be a positive or a negative, depending on your perspective.

Personally, I wouldn't like this rule, because it's an obvious difference between PCs and NPCs. With the default dying rules in 5E, the only difference between an important character and an unimportant one is that we assume the unimportant character eventually bleeds out (which is a reasonable assumption, given that Team Monster doesn't usually have healing magic). With this change in effect, suddenly the difference between the party winning and losing may come down to whether or not the DM decides that the enemies are important. It's a little bit more fiat power than I like to force upon the DM. (And of course, giving every NPC an extra ~10hp would cause combat to bog way down, as we all remember from 4E).
 

As Saelorn says, it's just like 3.5 except, instead of negative hit points, you are giving them the hit points in advance.

The difference is, in 3.5, unless you had a feat, Diehard, you automatically went unconscious.

There's nothing wrong with the method your describing other than it's a bit harsher than 5e where you can get smashed for 30 damage when you are at 5 hit points and still live. It's more like previous editions and it works.

It was always very tense when you got down to low double digit Hit points in 3.5 because a crit could drop you dead. Personally, since I started playing 5e, I don't ever get woried when my Hit Points get in the single digits because, you can't actually die from a hit...

...You can only die from failing 3 saves.

The exception is Massive damage: a Crit at first level can kill you anyways because you can easily be hit for double your hit points, so there's that. You're squishy at first no matter what.

Here's a question: What happens if you decide to go unconscious? Do you make Death Saves or are you out for the encounter.

Here's my beef with 3e unconsciousness and, probably, one of the reasons 5e changed it to 3 death saves: It sucks to be unconscious for the whole fight. The advantage of never going below 0 and never dying at 0 is you can always be healed up and fight some more. It was painful in 3.5 watching people fight while you made a death save to stabilize and, even if you did get healed, it might not be enough to put you over 0...so you just sat there, turn after turn, waiting. Once you were up? You got the hell out of dodge...unless a tpk was imminent. In which case you risked death again.

So, back to that question: what will players do once they are unconcious? How will they get revived? And how will you make it not suck to sit, round after round, waiting while you wait for someone to do enough healing to get you back over that threshold? Because, I think, that's just as important as the whole death thing.
 
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Mort

Legend
Supporter
Yes, low level characters would be at risk of instant death due to a crit, that’s true. I’m not exactly happy about that, but I’m also not totally against it. I’m not sure if there’s a way to prevent it in this method. Any ideas?

This is much scarier for high level characters!

Low level characters (especially 1st level) are already prone to instant death from a lucky crit (as my group's wizard found out in the very first 5e session we ever played and an encounter with a heavy crossbow).

Mid-High level characters under the current rules have a very low level chance of instant death (though if the monster has multi-attack or there are multiples the character can still be toast).

Under your house rule, a high level character low on hit points is just as prone to immediate death, and since high level foes do more damage actually much more so.

Also I don't like how disproportionately your rule affects melee characters. The already dangerous role becomes even more deadly - to the point of discouraging such characters.
 

Mort

Legend
Supporter
I was thinking about how to possibly make 5E a bit more dangerous as it relates to PC death. I think I came up with a decent option. I’ve not yet tried it in play, but I wanted to run it by folks here for feedback, suggested changes, and unnecessarily harsh criticism!

We start by removing death saves. PCs will now die at 0 HP like in early editions. However, they’ll also get starting HP equal to their CON score. That’s their “Base HP”. In addition, they’ll accumulate HP by class and CON bonus per level as normal.

Your way will work (as stated above) but seems, a bit inelegant?

Why not keep death saves, but not have them reset as easily. Instead of resetting upon going above 0, they don't reset until a short or even long rest.

When we first started 5e (at the playtest) that's how we played it (can't remember if that was the rule at the time or if we just misread the rules). Players played their characters much more cautiously and carefully!
 

Quickleaf

Legend
I was thinking about how to possibly make 5E a bit more dangerous as it relates to PC death. I think I came up with a decent option. I’ve not yet tried it in play, but I wanted to run it by folks here for feedback, suggested changes, and unnecessarily harsh criticism!

We start by removing death saves. PCs will now die at 0 HP like in early editions. However, they’ll also get starting HP equal to their CON score. That’s their “Base HP”. In addition, they’ll accumulate HP by class and CON bonus per level as normal.

So the PCs will have more HP to start. The Base HP are the last they willlose. Anytime the PC takes damage that leaves them within their Base HP amount, they are considered “at death’s door”. This means the player has the option to have the PC fall unconscious or to press on.

This gives players a little more control on if they want to press their luck, or be cautious and go down. It also serves as a clear daner zone....when they’re near their Base HP, they know they’re going to be at risk.

I like that it puts the decision to go down or not in the players’ hands. I like that it removes the safety net of HP loss stopping once a PC is at 0 HP. I think this idea or something similar would help inject some lethality into the game and do so in a way that was very clear to players.

I hope that‘s clear. What do you guys think? Are there implications from other rules that I’ve missed? Does this sound horrible to you as a player? As a DM?

Implications for greater PC hit points mean the PCs will be more resistant to spells like sleep, color spray, power word kill, etc. Those spells target a certain # of HP or a creature with X or less HP.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
Sorry...I meant to put an example in my initial post.

At first level, your Warlock would get 12 Base HP (his CON score). Then he’d also get 9 based on his d8 hit die (maxed for 1st level) and 1 bonus HP from his CON. So he’d have 21 HP. Anytime he dropped to 12 or less, he’d have to choose to go unconscious or keep going.

Yes, low level characters would be at risk of instant death due to a crit, that’s true. I’m not exactly happy about that, but I’m also not totally against it. I’m not sure if there’s a way to prevent it in this method. Any ideas?

Thanks. I play in a death at 0 game with increased level 1 hp. It's very fun. Honestly, it's the most fun 5e campaign I've played in. I wouldn't worry about crits causing death at 0. I think it's came up once in my game and it wasn't even at level 1 when it happened. Basically, being able to die haphazardly to things such as crits or a couple of unlucky attacks from an enemy or whatever really adds to the tone of the game, in a good way IMO. All battles, no matter how easy they seem now have a risk. Players will be less apt to murder hobo. They will take other options around combat when presented with them. Encounters don't have to be as hard as even with the easier ones there is always a chance for a character death. TPK's then become less likely, etc. Personally I think taking away the chance for critical hit deaths detracts from this amazing mood and experience that death at 0 helps create.

However, if you are really worried, don't try to fix the hp more. Instead change how crits work. Maybe crits don't do extra damage, maybe they cause a status effect. Maybe taking a crit while at max hp can at most only drop a player unconscious as opposed to killing them.

I'm not sold on the idea of giving a player the option to keep fighting or to drop unconscious but I'm not totally against the idea. I'd be curious to see how it plays out. My initial impression is that player decisions that are not in character should be kept at a minimum and that trying to manage the risk associated with PC death solely from a player perspective puts me as a player in an awkward position. There's no glory in continuing to fight. There's no cowardice in falling unconscious. If the goal is to take PC death off the DM's hands I guess this rule does that by instead putting it on the players hands in the form of an arbitrary out of character decision. Personally, I think in-character decisions and dice should be the biggest deciders of a characters ultimate fate in combat. Maybe it will have a different feel in actual play though. Only testing it out can tell I suppose.
 
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FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
Your way will work (as stated above) but seems, a bit inelegant?

Why not keep death saves, but not have them reset as easily. Instead of resetting upon going above 0, they don't reset until a short or even long rest.

When we first started 5e (at the playtest) that's how we played it (can't remember if that was the rule at the time or if we just misread the rules). Players played their characters much more cautiously and carefully!

Presumably because he wants a game where the PC's can die in any given combat as opposed to one where they only really risk death in the last few combats of the day.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
This is much scarier for high level characters!

Low level characters (especially 1st level) are already prone to instant death from a lucky crit (as my group's wizard found out in the very first 5e session we ever played and an encounter with a heavy crossbow).

Mid-High level characters under the current rules have a very low level chance of instant death (though if the monster has multi-attack or there are multiples the character can still be toast).

Under your house rule, a high level character low on hit points is just as prone to immediate death, and since high level foes do more damage actually much more so.

Also I don't like how disproportionately your rule affects melee characters. The already dangerous role becomes even more deadly - to the point of discouraging such characters.

Considering I'm playing in a game very similar to the OP's I can assure you that the rule is not disproportionate to melee PC's, though it could be if the DM only ever really targeted melee PC's.
 

Mort

Legend
Supporter
Considering I'm playing in a game very similar to the OP's I can assure you that the rule is not disproportionate to melee PC's, though it could be if the DM only ever really targeted melee PC's.
I'm not running or playing in such a game so I'll take your word for it.

Though don't the melee PCs in your game try to draw fire away from their likely more squishy companions ( admittedly that's not as easy as task in 5e where making a "sticky" character is not as easy)?

[Edited for typos]
 
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Mort

Legend
Supporter
Presumably because he wants a game where the PC's can die in any given combat as opposed to one where they only really risk death in the last few combats of the day.
I've found combat in 5e can be plenty deadly, first, last or middle of the day, especially at low level. Slowing death save recovery increases that risk well before the "last few encounters."
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
I'm not running or playing on such a game stop I'll take your word for it.

Though don't the melee PCs in your game try to draw fire away from their likely more squishy companions ( admittedly that's not as easy as task in 5e where making a "sticky" character is not as easy)?

Generally, if there are multiple enemies each melee PC may draw 1-2 enemies off, or in the case where nearly all the enemies come at them instead of their allies then the dodge action is wonderful. If there's 1-2 big enemies then those enemies generally attack whatever they take the notion, OA's be durned.
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
As Saelorn says, it's just like 3.5 except, instead of negative hit points, you are giving them the hit points in advance.

The difference is, in 3.5, unless you had a feat, Diehard, you automatically went unconscious.

There's nothing wrong with the method your describing other than it's a bit harsher than 5e where you can get smashed for 30 damage when you are at 5 hit points and still live. It's more like previous editions and it works.

It was always very tense when you got down to low double digit Hit points in 3.5 because a crit could drop you dead. Personally, since I started playing 5e, I don't ever get woried when my Hit Points get in the single digits because, you can't actually die from a hit...

...You can only die from failing 3 saves.

Right. That lack of feeling worried is one of the things I'd like to change. That's one of the things that led me to this idea. We're considering a grittier game, which I won't be DMing, but which the DM asked for ideas other than those in the DMG on how to achieve that feel.

The exception is Massive damage: a Crit at first level can kill you anyways because you can easily be hit for double your hit points, so there's that. You're squishy at first no matter what.

Right. I figured the boost in starting HP may help that, but ultimately it's probably not as much of a change in this regard. At first level, a Crit could be the end for the character.

Here's a question: What happens if you decide to go unconscious? Do you make Death Saves or are you out for the encounter.

The way I picture it is that you're unconscious until you either receive healing of some sort, or until the encounter is over.

Here's my beef with 3e unconsciousness and, probably, one of the reasons 5e changed it to 3 death saves: It sucks to be unconscious for the whole fight. The advantage of never going below 0 and never dying at 0 is you can always be healed up and fight some more. It was painful in 3.5 watching people fight while you made a death save to stabilize and, even if you did get healed, it might not be enough to put you over 0...so you just sat there, turn after turn, waiting. Once you were up? You got the hell out of dodge...unless a tpk was imminent. In which case you risked death again.

So, back to that question: what will players do once they are unconcious? How will they get revived? And how will you make it not suck to sit, round after round, waiting while you wait for someone to do enough healing to get you back over that threshold? Because, I think, that's just as important as the whole death thing.

Sure, that's all valid. No one likes to sit out. I think that's part of the appeal of staying up when you're in the Base HP range (another name for this would likely be better....maybe Vitality Points or something like that); it's a risk to stay up, but you have that option. Otherwise, you drop and then you're waiting for healing just like you would be under the normal rules.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
I've found combat in 5e can be plenty deadly, first, last or middle of the day, especially at low level. Slowing death save recovery increases that risk well before the "last few encounters."

The point still stands, death at 0 provides increased risk of PC death in all encounters at any point in the day and even for low difficulty fights. I don't think anyone expects daily resetting saving throws to have any noticable impact in the first few encounters of the day.
 

Such as system can work, but may I suggest you offer the "dying" option after ANY hit? The reason for this is that being damaged to just above your Base HP is a death sentence for most characters.

I played in a different RPG (Legend of the Five Rings), where characters took damage that slowly reduced their effectiveness, until they were dropped, possibly unconscious or dead. Players absolutely dreaded taking damage that put them into just above the "Down" condition. As samurai they were expected to continue to fight, but they knew that a single hit would most likely kill them. Being knocked Down or Out was okay, because while you might suffer a small amount of shame, you showed courage, which is honorable.

Extrapolating this to D&D, several mid-level creatures can deal 20+ damage in an average hit, and even most low level creatures can do it on a critical hit. At high level, almost every attack would be enough to kill a PC who's still above their Base HP. If players have the option to go down after any hit, they can choose to do so any time they expect the next attack to be the lethal one. Choosing too early, however, will make the rest of the combat harder for the rest of the party, so it will become a difficult decision.
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
Under your house rule, a high level character low on hit points is just as prone to immediate death, and since high level foes do more damage actually much more so.

Also I don't like how disproportionately your rule affects melee characters. The already dangerous role becomes even more deadly - to the point of discouraging such characters.

The risk of immediate death is kind of the point. Or at least, an increased risk. The idea is for the PCs to consider combat very dangerous to the point where they'll almost always want to consider other options. And when they do get into a fight, they should worry they may not make it. And if they start to get low in HP, then they're at risk. The idea is to do away with the aspect of HP that makes it "I'm fine, I'm fine, I'm fine....I'm down."

About how it affects melee characters more....do you mean just because they're more likely to be in harm's way and so more at risk, or is there another angle that you mean?

Your way will work (as stated above) but seems, a bit inelegant?

Why not keep death saves, but not have them reset as easily. Instead of resetting upon going above 0, they don't reset until a short or even long rest.

When we first started 5e (at the playtest) that's how we played it (can't remember if that was the rule at the time or if we just misread the rules). Players played their characters much more cautiously and carefully!

That's not a bad idea. I think the group is looking to ditch Death Saves altogether, though....but I like the idea of them being a resource and tied to the rest mechanic.
 

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