D&D 5E D&D Next Blog - A Close Call with Negative Hit Points

I've liked this kind of wound/vitality system (with your Con subbing in for a separate pool of "would points") aesthetically. The side effect of this is that you end up with two tracks of healing magic: proper healing magic that heals Con and light "hp-only" magic that improves stamina.

But maybe this is a good thing? Cure Light Wound might heal 1d8+x hit points and a single point of Con damage. That would actually be a "light" wound!

All of a sudden you have my attention. I like this, quite a bit.

And for all of you worried about the cascading math of Con modifier throughout your sheet, I gather it's a lot less extreme in Next. You've just got your Con - that's it. What used to be a Fort save? Con score. And so on.

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One behavior of mine as DM I noticed that changed when we went to 4e from 3e was that I no longer saw attacking fallen characters as a "dick move" on my part. Since the characters could go to negative [half max HP] before dying, I could have a monster do all the fun stuff like kick them while down, chew on them, blast them in AOEs, and so on without too much concern.

It really put the fear of god into them when that happened, and even striker and controller types would go out of their way to protect the fallen PC much moreso than in 3e where everybody knew that you died at -10 and a single hit by any enemy would kill any fallen character.

Edit: Give the players incentive to protect a fallen PC. Don't kill them at 0 HP, and don't make in-combat healing of a fallen character overly onerous. Give players the opportunity to get their buddies back in the fight and you will see a lot of heroic actions in combat.

Whether that involves healing starting at zero (and retaining the negative-HP rule) or going to some other type of wound system, it doesn't matter to me.
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A combination of lack of negative hit points and death saves isn't new.

The rules I use in BECMI are the optional ones from the back of the Rules Cyclopedia.

* Hit points cannot go negative
* Anyone taken down to 0 hit point must make a Save vs Death at the end of each round or die (after one failed save). The saves continue each round until the character is healed or bandaged (or dies).
* The Save vs Death gets a cumulative -1 penalty each round.

I prefer that to the "fail 3 saves" method because there's never the option of just leaving someone on the floor and bleeding because you know they're safe for a couple of rounds.

Because of the initiative system in BECMI, it's possible for someone to go down in a round and be unlucky enough to fail their first save and therefore die at the end of that round without anyone having a chance to save them. I see that as a feature rather than a bug, but your mileage may vary.

If you don't like the possibility of instant death, you can always start the saves the round after the character goes down.


Whatever system is adopted, I hope it is fairly simple.

What I hate is when a game has a subsystem that comes up regularly, but infrequently, and which requires opening rule books, re-reading, and so forth, in the middle of a combat.

There was a time, when I had a bit of a superiority complex about complex 1e rules, that I relished every table, subtable, and footnote. Now, I just want the game to run smoothly.


First Post
I've always thought it was a waste that the 0 hp situation of 3e (disabled) didn't come into play very often.

My preference would be something like:

  • If you would go down to less than 0, you go to 0 and make a Con check. On a success you are disabled. On a fail you are dying.
  • If you are dying, you roll a Con check each round. On a success you stabilize. On a fail you go one step closer to death. On a natural 20 you become conscious and go back to disabled. On a natural 1 you go two steps toward death.
  • Death checks would be three strikes (easy to houserule a different number). The check that takes you to dying would not count. The number of strikes would only reset once you are healed back to full hp or after you've slept a night.
  • When taking a standard action as disabled, you would have to make a new check to not fall to dying, instead of automatically failing.
  • Check DC 10. On taking damage DC is e.g. 5 + damage, if higher.

I'm assuming persistent hit point loss. If there is an injury track, failed checks would also interact with that.


I like the 4E "three saves" method, but I agree with "simpler" and I also have some sympathy for the "4E has no longer term consequences" complaint. My suggestion (on the blog comments, but I'll repeat it for discussion here) is this:

When a creature reaches 0 hit points it is down and out. There are no "negative hit points", but you must make a saving throw each round; being hit while down means an automatic fail on the next save.

A creature that is reduced to 0 hp and healed suffers some ongoing effects. These may be different for "gritty" or "heroic" games; here are suggestions:

"Heroic" game:

- 0 failed saves = take a penalty until the next short rest

- 1 failed save = take a penalty until the next extended rest

- 2 failed saves = take a penalty until a suitable ritual magic 'cure' is applied as part of an extended rest

- 3 failed saves = dead (which, in D&D, is not all that different from the case for 2 failed saves, above!)

"Penalties" could be chosen or rolled for; things like -2 to all attack rolls, -2 to all defences or -1 speed.

For a "Gritty" game:

- 0 failed saves = take a penalty from shock and pain until a healing roll is made during a rest

- 1 failed save = take a penalty from a serious wound until a healing roll is made during an extended rest

- 2 failed saves = lose a limb or similar type of wound (possibly fixable with a "Regrow Limb" ritual)

- 3 failed saves = dead (possibly with no 'back from the dead' rituals in the game...)

Keeps it flexible, fairly simple and with incentives to heal before a PC gets to 0 hp or as soon as possible after s/he does so.


A house rule I like is: Once you hit 0 hp, you start taking damage to your Con. This damage doesn't effect your bonus or penalty, but if you hit 0, you're dead.

If you are healed, you heal from 0, because your hp never drops below 0, but you don't get your Con back, except by resting (or Spell X).

I've liked this kind of wound/vitality system (with your Con subbing in for a separate pool of "would points") aesthetically. The side effect of this is that you end up with two tracks of healing magic: proper healing magic that heals Con and light "hp-only" magic that improves stamina.

I forgot to mention that one of the benefits of dividing proper healing magic from "hp-only" healing magic is that you can have martial healing that heals hit points but doesn't heal con damage (and maybe only works on conscious people). You can also have a healing skill that focuses almost entirely on Con damage, thus making it a useful ability for those lacking clerical magic without excessively effecting the hit point economy.


Crazy Jerome

First Post
As an aside: while I like the idea of slow recovery (1 wound per day), it seems to me the math should be such that an 18 con character recovers faster from 10 points of wound damage than his 10 con counterpart. Ergo, I would propose the following...

When the character has received wound damage, it recovers at the rate of 1 point plus one half of the character's CON bonus per day of rest. Thus a 10 con character recovers 1 WP per day (recovering from 1 WP to full health in 9 days, whereas his 18 con counterpart recovers from the same 1 WP in 6 days).

There's still a little wonkiness from the formula, in that a character with low scores recovers faster and those with an 11, 12, or 13 con take longer to recover than someone with a 10 con. Call it a work in progress...

Give every character a fixed number of Con rolls (at original mod, like all the rest, naturally), per day, per week, or whatever fits the preferred rate of recovery. Higher Con characters will make more of these, and thus recover faster. If you are in the relatively fast mode (say 3 rolls per day), and the extremely banged up party holes up in town for a week, either handwave it as statistically insignificant, let everyone take 10 that can get away with it, or grab up a big handful of d20s and roll them at once. :)

Very good or bad conditions (e.g. bed rest, on the march in a swamp) can be modifiers to these rolls, and thus scale gracefully, instead of the rather coarse granularity of most long-term D&D healing (e.g. +1 "point" if bed rest, which is huge for someone getting 1 normally, not so much for someone getting 3 already).
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I think negative hit points are a convenient way to represent the "dying" part of dying... that period where you're unconscious and potentially bleeding out, and something I see as essential to combat. It adds tension to the battlefield since it raises encounters into a "things are getting really bad here guys" state in a way that hit point ablation does not. It's also a recoverable state where heroics on the part of your companions, or sheer blind luck, can get you back on your feet and into the fight: a small victory over the bad guys in itself. These are all, IMO, vital parts of making RPG combat interesting and dynamic.

4E, with its sub-zero death save and "dead at negative bloodied" mechanics pretty much nail all of these for me. The only thing I've never been comfortable with is the "heal as if at zero" rule; we play it by the book and even for me as a proponent of gamey rules, it's always seemed a bit too much. I can certainly see BRC's point in the blog post, that healing someone for one Hit Point when they're dying is a horrible disappointment, but since in 4E you normally heal by at least a Healing Surge, the chances of this being a problem are minimal.

Having said that I expect healing in 5E to return to a dice-roll+bonus so the issue does rear its head once again.


So far the two winning options are essentially the same. Either healing always starts from zero or hit points never go below zero (therefore healing always starts at zero).

Is this a commentary on mathematics? Negative numbers are annoying?

Note: I voted to remove negative hit points from the game.

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