D&D 5E Death saves, Temporary math penalties & Exhaustion

Agametorememberbooks

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My group is testing some house rules and I wanted to share. If anyone has attempted something similar, and has constructive feedback, please share!

#1: Death Saves
Limit - 3 per long rest. There’s only so much a mortal body can handle before death cannot be reversed.

#2: Temporary math penalties (annoying to track)
For instance, undead attacks that reduce a player‘s strength (shadow) or their hit point maximum (specter, wight, wraith).
Instead, I’ll be dropping levels of exhaustion for each ‘touch’ with the cumulative effect heading towards death.

As a result of using more exhaustion levels, we’re going to allow lesser restoration to remove one level of exhaustion, and greater restoration to remove all levels of exhaustion.
 

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billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
#2: Temporary math penalties (annoying to track)
For instance, undead attacks that reduce a player‘s strength (shadow) or their hit point maximum (specter, wight, wraith).
Instead, I’ll be dropping levels of exhaustion for each ‘touch’ with the cumulative effect heading towards death.
That can get very harsh very fast. I'd consider capping the amount of exhaustion that can be inflicted in this manner. The fourth level of exhaustion, for example, halves hit points. And if it's coming from wraiths, they're already probably losing hit points off their max.
 

My group is testing some house rules and I wanted to share. If anyone has attempted something similar, and has constructive feedback, please share!
I hope you share your results
#1: Death Saves
Limit - 3 per long rest. There’s only so much a mortal body can handle before death cannot be reversed.
I tried something like this a few times over the years. The time I remember it failing the worst was when I combined it with the gritty rules, and the time it worked the best was when I did 3 per short rest instead of long.
#2: Temporary math penalties (annoying to track)
For instance, undead attacks that reduce a player‘s strength (shadow) or their hit point maximum (specter, wight, wraith).
Instead, I’ll be dropping levels of exhaustion for each ‘touch’ with the cumulative effect heading towards death.
the math penalties I am not big on... but I still would love to hear how it works
As a result of using more exhaustion levels, we’re going to allow lesser restoration to remove one level of exhaustion, and greater restoration to remove all levels of exhaustion.
I am pretty sure that is already a common house rule when ever people are useing exhaustion... cause it is a MAJOR pain in the back side to get rid of even with magic
 

That can get very harsh very fast. I'd consider capping the amount of exhaustion that can be inflicted in this manner. The fourth level of exhaustion, for example, halves hit points. And if it's coming from wraiths, they're already probably losing hit points off their max.
ouch... that sounds... like a game I would need to have 3 full character concepts and sheets for.
 

Agametorememberbooks

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That can get very harsh very fast. I'd consider capping the amount of exhaustion that can be inflicted in this manner. The fourth level of exhaustion, for example, halves hit points. And if it's coming from wraiths, they're already probably losing hit points off their max.
This would be in lieu of the HP drain from the traditional monster stats.
 

Agametorememberbooks

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What is the outcome in terms of the play experience you're trying to achieve with these house rules? Knowing the goal helps with judging whether these rules are suitable to that goal.
Grittier play. More thoughtful decision-making from players who take the current system for granted. Most players don’t really think there’s much of a chance that their character can perish in 5e.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Grittier play. More thoughtful decision-making from players who take the current system for granted. Most players don’t really think there’s much of a chance that their character can perish in 5e.
Based on what I can see, you're likely to experience more in-combat healing, spare the dying (which basically means a player is "out" until they receive healing), and long resting to get rid of exhaustion. You might see some more cautious play, but it's likely to be centered around healing and resting than anything else. I would say make sure you include time pressure in your games else they'll just long rest as much as they can. Make it a meaningful choice with trade-offs, I say.
 

Grittier play. More thoughtful decision-making from players who take the current system for granted. Most players don’t really think there’s much of a chance that their character can perish in 5e.
Re: #1

Ok, and you're aware that this is going to specifically target anyone who plays a melee or tank, because as an experienced DM, you're well aware that death saves are absolutely not evenly distributed throughout the party?

So you specifically want the players who play to tanks and melees to "feel the grit", but not the players who play other classes?

The reason 90% of "make it grittier" stuff focuses on HP regen is that all classes lose HP, but not all classes end up making lots of death saves.

Also, are you talking three failed, or three rolls at all? These are very different scenarios. Three rolls at all means you're going to get 5MWD syndrome if your players value their PCs, because no-one in their right mind would continue after even making one death save. Three failed has a bit more flexibility, because players are willing to gamble with RNG, but not so dumb they'll mess with a sure thing.

If your problem is solely overconfident melees get whackamole'd, then go ahead (though I'd say failed rather than all). Also be aware that this will be "solved" at level 5 when Revivify kicks in. If you feel like it's not just melees, or you don't want to single them out and punish them for playing those classes/specs, then drop this and go with something that makes it harder to regain HP (very much including HP from magic).

Re: #2

This is also going to impact melees and tanks far more than others. They're up front and will catch far more in the way of touches, won't they? So you'll have the Fighter, Barbarian, Paladin and Rogue limping around on various levels of Exhaustion, whilst the Wizard, Sorcerer, etc. stand smugly at the back with none - and who also aren't having to worry about death saves much (I've literally never seen either class have to make 3 death saves before a long rest).

However, with the restoration changes this isn't killer and I honestly think they should have used Exhaustion in a lot of cases with these monsters.

Based on what I can see, you're likely to experience more in-combat healing, spare the dying (which basically means a player is "out" until they receive healing), and long resting to get rid of exhaustion. You might see some more cautious play, but it's likely to be centered around healing and resting than anything else. I would say make sure you include time pressure in your games else they'll just long rest as much as they can. Make it a meaningful choice with trade-offs, I say.

Exactly right. And if you just time pressure them and do this, in the long run the only PCs will die will be ones who play melees and tanks, and that's likely to mean your players just move away from playing those, rather than being "cautious". Caution is hard in a game as RNG-heavy and DM-strategy-dependent as D&D - particularly as an awful lot of caution relies on casters buffing/protecting the people up front, and they're not the ones who will be suffering here.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
My group is testing some house rules and I wanted to share. If anyone has attempted something similar, and has constructive feedback, please share!

#1: Death Saves
Limit - 3 per long rest. There’s only so much a mortal body can handle before death cannot be reversed.

#2: Temporary math penalties (annoying to track)
For instance, undead attacks that reduce a player‘s strength (shadow) or their hit point maximum (specter, wight, wraith).
Instead, I’ll be dropping levels of exhaustion for each ‘touch’ with the cumulative effect heading towards death.

As a result of using more exhaustion levels, we’re going to allow lesser restoration to remove one level of exhaustion, and greater restoration to remove all levels of exhaustion.

I am all for using exhaustion levels more often. The only issue I have is that as-written the earlier penalty on ability checks, which might seem lesser than the combat penalties, is actually a bigger deal for many characters. I'd rather randomize the exhaustion levels effects instead of keeping the default progression.

That said, I absolutely do not think that ability damage is annoying to track, in fact 5e is the easiest edition to handle ability damage, and I wish there were more than just shadow attacks using ability damage.
 

Agametorememberbooks

Explorer
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I can absolutely see that it would look like ‘tanks’ are going to be affected by these ideas more than caster types who hang back. Generally, I design combats that are dynamic and casters don’t just get to sit back and camp out.

I can also see how it could end up turning sessions into ‘let us wait and rest up so that we don’t risk death’. We’ll give it a try and see how it goes.
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
#1: Death Saves
Limit - 3 per long rest. There’s only so much a mortal body can handle before death cannot be reversed.
When we used death saves we did this, but found it a bit too harsh, and ended up changing it to short rests. That worked fairly well IMO, so if you find the long rests too punishing, I would suggest short rests.

#2: Temporary math penalties (annoying to track)
For instance, undead attacks that reduce a player‘s strength (shadow) or their hit point maximum (specter, wight, wraith).
Instead, I’ll be dropping levels of exhaustion for each ‘touch’ with the cumulative effect heading towards death.
I never found the tracking of such things too bad, but I've suggested and have used the level(s) of exhaustion akin to level draining in AD&D for powerful undead, finding it very--um, "satisfying" as a DM to bring back the terror of such monsters. :devilish:
 

Generally, I design combats that are dynamic and casters don’t just get to sit back and camp out.
Sure, but if you're going to trial this, I strongly suggest you open up Excel or Google sheets, and track how many Death saves each character makes, noting their class and spec (i.e. melee vs ranged etc.). Also note actual deaths of course lol.

If you don't see that melee characters make 2-3x as many death saves as non-melees (assuming a decent sized sample set), I'll be extremely surprised, even with "dynamic" combats. It's just a lot easier to avoid losing those last few HP if you're not in melee (indeed, it's rare for casters/archers to go below 50% in my experience, unless the melees are down).
 

NotAYakk

Legend
Exhaustion mechanic can be shoe-horned into this, but I think it might best be reserved for, well, exhaustion. Like going days and days without a break in a harsh environment.

For a life-draining type effect, you want something that is more dangerous to fragile PCs than to front-line PCs, or you run the risk of punishing front-line PCs, while it being a trivial problem for "fragile" characters.

And I get it, it should be scary for front-line PCs. But I'm saying per unit it should be even scarier for back-line PCs.

That way when the undead ambushes the back line, it isn't "yawn", it is "omg run away", while the front line remains credibly able to fight them and keep them off the back line.

And to be explicit, this is an advantage that both Strength Drain and max HP drain have over exhaustion; front line PCs have higher strength and more max HP typically.

In addition, your change has a side effect of making Strength matter even less than it does.

---

So, I might suggest combining your two mechanics -- death saves and life drain -- into one. And making a mechanic that merges them.

Every death save failure can cause the same effect as an undead "vitality drain". And we design the mechanic to care about both HP and Strength.

One option is to give you (Max HP/10 + Strength Bonus) vitality drain before you die.

Enervation: When you fail a death saving throw you gain a point of Enervation.

If you have at least 1 point of Enervation, you suffer from 1 additional level of Exhaustion (if you have no Exhaustion, it acts as if you have 1, etc). This can kill you.

If you have more Enervation than you have Strength bonus, for each extra point your max HP is reduced by 10. If you have a strength penalty, the first point of Enervation reduces your max HP by an additional 10 for every point of penalty. (Ie, max HP reduced by 10*(enervation-strength mod) if enervation> 0, and never increased).

At the end of a long rest, you recover 1d4 plus your Strength modifier (min 0) levels of enervation. Lesser Restoration recovers 1 level of enervation, and Greater Restoration acts like a long rest.
 
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jgsugden

Legend
That can get very harsh very fast. I'd consider capping the amount of exhaustion that can be inflicted in this manner. The fourth level of exhaustion, for example, halves hit points. And if it's coming from wraiths, they're already probably losing hit points off their max.
You can also soften the issue by having 'lesser exhaustion' that heal by itself at the rate of 1 level per hour, but is otherwise cumulative with normal exhaustion.
 

#1: Death Saves
Limit - 3 per long rest. There’s only so much a mortal body can handle before death cannot be reversed.
Our current variation on this (for CoS/Ravenloft West Marchesque style campaign):

Death Save failures only reset with the following:

3 successfully rolled Death Saves
Nat 20 on a Death Save
Stabilization with a Healer's Kit
Long Rest

In other words, magical healing doesn't wipe the slate clean. Your post does give me some thoughts about making allowances in our campaign for Lesser Restoration and Greater Restoration possibly having an effect on eliminating D.S. failures... so thanks for that!
 

Agametorememberbooks

Explorer
Publisher
You can also soften the issue by having 'lesser exhaustion' that heal by itself at the rate of 1 level per hour, but is otherwise cumulative with normal exhaustion.
I like the addition of that idea as well as the post above with the additional sources of ‘cleaning the slate’ with things like the healer’s kit, etc.
 

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