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Level Up (A5E) Deadlier combat

Giauz

Explorer
@Imaculata : So, simplifying the two types of HP system... Perhaps there is one type of HP like basic 5e. The difference is a player uses their Constitution Modifier to determine how many pairs of d% and d10 they have in their HP pool. In addition, (AC×Con Score) is added to the total HP.

At the start of combat players roll their d%s and d10s to get HP=(nd%+nd10 at advantage)+(AC×Con Score). The players with the higher HP get their turns before players with lower HP (roll d20 for tie-breakers, higher results going first).

Attacking involves the standard dice rolls, but instead of d20 to hit, the player rolls a d% and d10. Damage dice + (d%+d10)= HP damage dealt. If HP damage dealt = 100, a chronic or permanent penalty to the target is also applied. If the HP damage dealt exceeds 100 then target loses no HP. Instead, thin air, scenery, a nearby ally/enemy, etc receives the difference of the damage - 100. However, scenery can fall and hit the original target if they are unlucky as one example of how the target could still receive damage from a missed attack.

I am kind of tired, but I hope I was thorough and that this is simpler. I don't perceive too many changes to how damage dealing and healing are handled. This also gets rid of the 5MWD for HP healing. I just really like the idea of using d% & d10 in generating HP.
 

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In the videogame Left 4 Dead, each player can only be revived a limited number of times. After that, the next time you are downed, you are instantly killed. Something similar could work for 5E.
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
One thing that each DM probably wants to decide, on vague terms at least, is a rough idea of expected lethality in your game both short-term and long-term.

Short-term: out of a starting party of x, where x is the usual number of characters (PC and NPC both) in the party, (1) how many do you expect will die in the first adventure? (or the first ten sessions if you're running either non-episodic or the campaign is a single great big adventure) This gives you an idea of how much character turnover to expect, particularly in the early days.

Long-term: out of a starting party of x, as above, (2) how many do you expect to finish the campaign and of those, (3) how many will have died and been revived at least once?

Once you've determined this, it's not a huge amount of work to dial things up or down to suit.

For me the answers are about (1) - 25-50%; (2) maybe one; (3) all.
I believe being intentional about lethality is a helpful tool for a DM. It is not so much that one can say what the chance of death per encounter should be, but more - as you describe - that one can be mindful of overall death rates.

I tracked (in my campaigns, and against anecdotes from other DMs) and then calibrated toward party+level characters being needed to have party-characters survive to that level. With a 50% revival rate (i.e. only half of deaths turn out to be permanent). Note that in my campaign, replacement characters are generated at the bottom of the level below that of the lowest levelled survivor.

For example, for a party of 4 in a campaign that will cap out at level 12, up to 16 characters will need to be generated. A dozen will die permanently, and there will be about the same number of non-permanent deaths (i.e. revivals using raise dead or similar).

Part of what this is addressing is the matter of tolerance, and the feeling of danger. I find players will tolerate that degree of mortality, and it inspires a decent sense of danger. Tolerance no doubt varies per player as normalised by their group. By which I mean that Jill could be more okay about losing characters than Jack, and both their feelings on the matter are influenced by their group.

I think I run a fairly lethal campaign, against the average. A group might well prefer much lower lethality. I dislike the whack-a-mole gameplay of Healing Word. I'm not sure what the fix is. I quite like the suggestion (from a poster above) of counting a heal received when down as a passed death save. Or maybe one pass per die would feel fairer.
 
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clearstream

Be just and fear not...
@clearstream : Could you clarify that last sentence? It might be typoed.
It was indeed! I was commenting on an earlier post that suggested counting heals when down not as restored HP, but as passed death saves.

So say I am at 0 and receive a Healing Word - that gives me one passed save - I suppose making me stable at 0 HP if it would be my third such. Looking again at that, possibly healing dice should be consumed, one at a time, to do that.
 

It might not be necessary, because while you are negative you are also making death saving throws. You die when those run out, as usual. Were you (or should you become) negative equal your HP max, you die per the normal rules anyway. So that's a hard floor.


I've never fully followed the - it's only fun if I can hit things - line of thought. When I play a character with healing, I find it fun to keep my party alive.
Sure, but the issue is that in the vast majority of circumstances, you will not fail three death saves before someone can apply the tiny amount of effort required to revive you. As for the instant death rule, by 3rd level or so the chance of anything doing enough damage at a crack to hit that hard floor is near nonexistent. These are my reasons for wanting deadlier combat.
 


Asisreo

Fiendish Attorney
Simple modifiers to Death Saves that increase deadliness without turning it into a massacre:

+2 to Death Save DC if CR of creature that dealt damage is higher than character level.
+4 to Death Save DC if CR of creature that dealt damage is twice or greater than character level.
+2 to Death Save DC if damage dealt was a critical.
If we're modifying death saves, they could work like concentration checks where if it's larger than 20, the death save DC (maybe minus the remaining health before the takedown) is the damage divided by 2.

So, if you're a wizard that has 5 hp left and get hit with a 40damage attack, your death saves are (40-5)/2=17.5 (rounded to) 17.
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Sure, but the issue is that in the vast majority of circumstances, you will not fail three death saves before someone can apply the tiny amount of effort required to revive you. As for the instant death rule, by 3rd level or so the chance of anything doing enough damage at a crack to hit that hard floor is near nonexistent. These are my reasons for wanting deadlier combat.
What I've observed is that Healing Word is the primary reason 5e combats are not considerably more lethal. Especially in tiers 1 and 2. One cast effectively grants three death saving throw successes plus a few HP on top. It might also be that scaling HP less by level would make a difference in tiers 2 and 3. The rest rules also play a part.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I don't think these ideas will work, broadly speaking, because they fall under the same trap that hinders other "gritty" suggestion: They are solely and exclusively negatives for the players.
That's the flippin' point!!!

5e as designed is too easy on the characters, and thus the players. The purpose of this whole discussion is to turn this around.

If the players don't like it, tough.

One critical factor is turn order. If no enemy can act between the time the party member falls and the person who can heal him can act, then it's kinda pointless. Legendary actions are great for pounding on death saves. Is there a way to make combat move more like that even without a legendary monster enemy?
Rerolling initiative every round might solve a bit of this. And sometimes yes, sheer luck would have it that the healer is right there ready to go when the fighter drops at his feet.

And what about death saves without needing to drop to 0 HP? (A poison that can be applied to a bloodied character?) Or at least, unconsciousness, which is nearly as good.
Good. Could be applied to a bunch of other effects as well. Like it.

I had an idea for a sap weapon that does 'virtual' damage. That is, the physical damage is still the standard 1d4 of a club, but it would do 2x-3x that damage to determine whether it knocked a person unconscious.

For example, Str 14 thug hits your level 1 fighter (12 HP) on the back of the head with a sap. He rolls a 3, for 5 total damage. You take 5 real damage, but 15 'knockout' damage. Since 15 damage is enough to drop you to 0 HP, you're out, even though you're then lying unconscious with 7 HP left.
Another good one. I might just even swipe this for my game. :)

Now what happens when your cleric comes along and heals you? Well, you're still unconscious, until someone slaps you awake. The healing doesn't make you "not dead", and thus able to resume fighting.
If the Cleric's paying attention and realizes you're merely knocked out she could slap you awake without curing you, I'd think - which works fine too. The point is she still has to be within reach of you (and thus perhaps at risk) and can't do it at range.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I believe being intentional about lethality is a helpful tool for a DM. It is not so much that one can say what the chance of death per encounter should be, but more - as you describe - that one can be mindful of overall death rates.

I tracked (in my campaigns, and against anecdotes from other DMs) and then calibrated toward party+level characters being needed to have party-characters survive to that level. With a 50% revival rate (i.e. only half of deaths turn out to be permanent). Note that in my campaign, replacement characters are generated at the bottom of the level below that of the lowest levelled survivor.
I do a "floor level" model, largely because of a bad experience with the method you use. Example of what happened: a party of 5th-levels lose a character. Replacement comes in at 4th. A while later, party lose another 5th - thus by the rule the replacement comes in at 3rd because the 4th-level guy has set the bar lower. Lather rinse repeat - I had a party go backward several levels once until I finally just put a floor on it.

Now what I do is that as the average level of the party increases the floor increases with it, such that if the party are all 5th level the floor where all replacements come in might be at 4th, to prevent the backslide.

For example, for a party of 4 in a campaign that will cap out at level 12, up to 16 characters will need to be generated. A dozen will die permanently, and there will be about the same number of non-permanent deaths (i.e. revivals using raise dead or similar).

Part of what this is addressing is the matter of tolerance, and the feeling of danger. I find players will tolerate that degree of mortality, and it inspires a decent sense of danger. Tolerance no doubt varies per player as normalised by their group. By which I mean that Jill could be more okay about losing characters than Jack, and both their feelings on the matter are influenced by their group.
Another factor to consider is intended length of campaign. Planning for an 8-month 6-adventure no-deviations path is going to be much different than planning for a 5+-year open-ended sandbox-style campaign.
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
I do a "floor level" model, largely because of a bad experience with the method you use. Example of what happened: a party of 5th-levels lose a character. Replacement comes in at 4th. A while later, party lose another 5th - thus by the rule the replacement comes in at 3rd because the 4th-level guy has set the bar lower. Lather rinse repeat - I had a party go backward several levels once until I finally just put a floor on it.

Now what I do is that as the average level of the party increases the floor increases with it, such that if the party are all 5th level the floor where all replacements come in might be at 4th, to prevent the backslide.
I don't mind floor. My motive for using regression is to be punitive. Player characters that die fall behind those that do not. If multiple characters die in quick succession, the party loses ground. A TPK resets to zero, and for a save-the-world campaign arc that can amount to a fail state. (For an open-world, myriad-arc campaign, character level is less of a factor anyway.)

Another factor to consider is intended length of campaign. Planning for an 8-month 6-adventure no-deviations path is going to be much different than planning for a 5+-year open-ended sandbox-style campaign.
Maybe so. I value level loss in sessions, because that is what players wager. Their stake in the game, so to speak - is the number of sessions invested in their character. Near the end of the DMG there is a guide to sessions per level. If you use that (and mutatis mutandis whatever you do use) staking a level 2 character on a combat outcome risks 1 to 2 sessions, while staking a level 6 character risks about 12 sessions. That's if replacements come in at level 1.

Past level 2, my system flattens that stake to 4-6 sessions, assuming you will fall back one or two levels. (Data: In my last - 75 session - campaign, we had exactly one session where the level difference from highest to lowest in the party was three; in all other sessions that gap was zero, one or two... and usually one.) This is key, I believe: flatten the stake so that players don't risk their cumulative sessions, but only the last few to several.

However you accomplish that seems okay to me, just so long as you do!
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I don't mind floor. My motive for using regression is to be punitive. Player characters that die fall behind those that do not. If multiple characters die in quick succession, the party loses ground. A TPK resets to zero, and for a save-the-world campaign arc that can amount to a fail state. (For an open-world, myriad-arc campaign, character level is less of a factor anyway.)
I used to think along the 'punitive' lines until that regression happened. Then I re-thought. :)

Maybe so. I value level loss in sessions, because that is what players wager. Their stake in the game, so to speak - is the number of sessions invested in their character. Near the end of the DMG there is a guide to sessions per level. If you use that (and mutatis mutandis whatever you do use) staking a level 2 character on a combat outcome risks 1 to 2 sessions, while staking a level 6 character risks about 12 sessions. That's if replacements come in at level 1.
Gotcha.

Round here it can sometimes take 4-6 real-world months to bump, playing more or less weekly. That way, along with cycling in and out different parties etc., a campaign can last for a good long time (i.e. 10+ years) without the levels getting insane. That said, the power curve isn't all that steep, thus a character who's a level lower than the party average is still quite likely to be able to keep up and then some.
 

There are so many variables here: HP bloat at higher levels, the definition of damage, healing spells, range, death saves, short and long rests, the variability of hit dice, conditions, exhaustion, and the biggest - the DM.

If you want things more complex and deadlier, I suggest adding a crit table. Adds to the variability of dice rolls, can swing the combat quickly, and allows the DM to add permanent injuries that affect stats.
 

Kinematics

Explorer
On the issue of the yo-yo healing, some have suggested exhaustion levels when it happens, or long-term lingering injuries, or similar mechanics.

The main issue with those mechanics are that they're long term, and generally outside the scope of the immediate fight. They're also things that you can address "later". Most of the time they have limited, if any, effect on the ongoing fight.

I think a more immediate penalty would be more useful, and it has to be easily inserted into the existing 5E mechanics. Combat is the thing that is most easily slowed down and made worse by extra mechanics.

So the simple problem is: If a character drops to 0 HP, and is healed before his next turn, within the current combat system there is almost no downside. The only loss was the action of the player who healed the downed fighter, and that's something the healer was probably going to do anyway. Some classes can even do that as a bonus action, which means it doesn't really interrupt them at all.

The main issue on the fighter side is that when the fighter drops to 0, it doesn't happen on his turn; it's some sort of enemy attack. Assuming the healer heals him at the next available opportunity, about half the time it will get him back on his feet before his next turn, and half the time he'll lose one turn waiting for the heal.

So the yo-yo effect is most prominent when the fighter is downed, and then healed, between two adjacent turns, and when the healer doesn't have to spend any effort (action time) restoring the fighter to active ability. The fighter loses no combat time, and the healer loses no significant action time.

From that perspective, you want to penalize either the fighter's combat time, or the healer's action time. Changing the healer's action time is undesirable, as there are so many different ways to heal. Changing the fighter's combat time, however, is much easier. It's also more in line with players' expectations, as seen in the suggestions for exhaustion and the like.

So, from that perspective, I'd propose an extremely simple change that doesn't add new mechanics, and doesn't slow down combat: [[ If you are cured back up from 0 HP into the positives, you are stunned for 1 round. ]] The shock of being knocked out and being brought back from the brink of death is not so easily shaken off.

That means you're guaranteed the loss of one action round (aside from any rounds you were sitting at 0 HP), and can't just continue to attack uninterrupted. It also puts you in a vulnerable state during that time (attackers have advantage, you auto-fail Str and Dex saves, you can't move or act), which should certainly be the case after being taken down. It makes a party's position shakier when trying to recover from a dangerous situation.

This would not be a change to make things deadlier directly, but it's designed to address the issue that there is no consequence for dropping to 0 HP. So it prevents the most extreme form of yo-yo'ing, hopefully reducing the amount of aggravation it causes, and dialing back the need to kill characters just to prevent it.
 

On the issue of the yo-yo healing, some have suggested exhaustion levels when it happens, or long-term lingering injuries, or similar mechanics.

The main issue with those mechanics are that they're long term, and generally outside the scope of the immediate fight. They're also things that you can address "later". Most of the time they have limited, if any, effect on the ongoing fight.

I think a more immediate penalty would be more useful, and it has to be easily inserted into the existing 5E mechanics. Combat is the thing that is most easily slowed down and made worse by extra mechanics.

So the simple problem is: If a character drops to 0 HP, and is healed before his next turn, within the current combat system there is almost no downside. The only loss was the action of the player who healed the downed fighter, and that's something the healer was probably going to do anyway. Some classes can even do that as a bonus action, which means it doesn't really interrupt them at all.

The main issue on the fighter side is that when the fighter drops to 0, it doesn't happen on his turn; it's some sort of enemy attack. Assuming the healer heals him at the next available opportunity, about half the time it will get him back on his feet before his next turn, and half the time he'll lose one turn waiting for the heal.

So the yo-yo effect is most prominent when the fighter is downed, and then healed, between two adjacent turns, and when the healer doesn't have to spend any effort (action time) restoring the fighter to active ability. The fighter loses no combat time, and the healer loses no significant action time.

From that perspective, you want to penalize either the fighter's combat time, or the healer's action time. Changing the healer's action time is undesirable, as there are so many different ways to heal. Changing the fighter's combat time, however, is much easier. It's also more in line with players' expectations, as seen in the suggestions for exhaustion and the like.

So, from that perspective, I'd propose an extremely simple change that doesn't add new mechanics, and doesn't slow down combat: [[ If you are cured back up from 0 HP into the positives, you are stunned for 1 round. ]] The shock of being knocked out and being brought back from the brink of death is not so easily shaken off.

That means you're guaranteed the loss of one action round (aside from any rounds you were sitting at 0 HP), and can't just continue to attack uninterrupted. It also puts you in a vulnerable state during that time (attackers have advantage, you auto-fail Str and Dex saves, you can't move or act), which should certainly be the case after being taken down. It makes a party's position shakier when trying to recover from a dangerous situation.

This would not be a change to make things deadlier directly, but it's designed to address the issue that there is no consequence for dropping to 0 HP. So it prevents the most extreme form of yo-yo'ing, hopefully reducing the amount of aggravation it causes, and dialing back the need to kill characters just to prevent it.
The way death saves work is a huge part of the problem but addressing that only addresses part of the problem Getting rid of ranged healing would help too, but even touch healing is hindered by needing to carefully scoot around one shift/5 foot step or suffer AoOs because the tactical element is missing from 5e. Back in 3.5/4e every heal hurt because youprepared each spell individually & might only have 2 of this heal 3 of that & 1 of his other across the group or your encounter power(s) worked once per encounter & daily wouldn't be up again till tomorrow once you used it.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
@Kinematics ' idea isn't bad at all in some ways. What it does is push a bit towards what I'd see as a desirable end result: that it somehow be made more useful to cure people before they get to 0 than after.

Right now, sheer arithmetic says it's often better to cure someone after they reach 0 because due to the fact that negative hit points aren't tracked any excess damage done by the foe is wasted (unless it's a crazy amount), thus curing someone up from 3 h.p. to 9 h.p. suddenly becomes a far less efficient use of a spell (you only cure 6 h.p.) than curing the same person up from 0 (-14) to +1 (in effect you're curing 15 h.p.).

And as 5e is already easy enough, the idea of there being some sort of penalty (short-term, long-term, or even both) to healing up from 0 is the way to go. Were it me I'd somehow base it on how much extra damage you took (and yes this would mean tracking negative hit points, deal with it) such that someone who only went to 0 (-1) would take far less of a penalty on curing than someone who went to 0 (-12).
 


And what if you only got to recover from 0 hp once per day? Wouldn't that also solve the healing ping pong issue?
recovering all hit points to give surviving a day of massacre & slaughter less impact on your future well being tomorrow than a night of hard drinking has massive implications. I went into detail on ihow it used to be over in this post. Getting back all health is puts the threshold of "we have this bag of magic healing stuff & will use it when we notice six pit fiends surrounding our tiny hut & one is in the process of casting dispel magic". A big part of why combat in older versions felt more deadly was because recovering was either going to demolish your piggybank restocking that bag of recovery stuff you slowly filled through all these levels of adventuring or it's going to take so long you really need to go back to town. "I think we will be safe here for eight whole hours" is a huge difference from "we are level 7 & get 7 hp back each night of rest but bob the cleric can use his heal skill & forgo the rest himself to bump that up to 2 hit points per level for a full 8 hours of rest in a day, or 4 hit points per level for each full day of complete restfor up o 6 patients if we get to somewhere that bedrest is an option" makes for an entirely different level of risk when you have a couple people down 10-20+hp & it says nothing about the 1 point of ability damage recovery/day out here in the wild vrs 5e where ability damage is not a thing but wraith's & maybe a couple other things target max hp which you don't get back till you sleep for the night no matter how rough the conditions of that long rest.

Edit: It's like the difference between being a quarterback in a tackle football game against a team that has a serious grudge with you & being a quarterback in a game of flag football in PE. In one you have good reason to fear for your life when the defensive line fails & a 200-300 pound wall of muscle is about to crush you in slow motion... In the other you might trip & get a grass stain if your unlucky
 
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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
And what if you only got to recover from 0 hp once per day? Wouldn't that also solve the healing ping pong issue?
Perhaps to the point of overkill: every time someone went to 0 and recovered the adventuring day would stop right there.

If there was a corollary to this that said you risked being knocked out on reaching 10 h.p. or less but could be cured up normally even if unconscious, this would be good-ish to go. (or knock-out risk starts at 0 and death at -10)

I don't mind the idea of someone being knocked out during a battle, patched up afterwards, and more-or-less good to go in the next fight. But 5e (and all of D&D, for that matter) doesn't have much design space between fully-functional and dead; and death saves don't help any - is someone who's at 0 merely knocked out, or dead, or dying? We don't know until after the fact, which plays hell with narration in the moment.
 

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