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D&D 5E Dropping to 0 HP - Alternate Rule

OB1

Jedi Master
I’ve been thinking about an alternate rule for dropping to 0 HP for a while and think I’m nearly there.

The goal here is to create a fun system that presents interesting choices for the players while making the line between 1HP and 0 HP a little blurrier and adding longer lasting consequences for dropping to 0 HP.

Would love feedback from the community!

Alternate Rule - Dropping to 0 HP
This rule completely replaces the rules for dropping to 0 HP as presented in the PHB

Your HP can never be lower than 0

Whenever you drop to 0HP, make a Death Saving Throw. On a failure, gain 1 level of Exhaustion. Once resolved, you can use your reaction to immediately take the dodge action.

While at 0 HP, you make an additional Death Saving Throw when any of the following occurs. You take damage, you take the attack action, you use your action to cast a spell, or you take a reaction. On a failed save, you gain 1 level of exhaustion.

If you suffer a critical hit while at 0 HP, you automatically gain one level of exhaustion and also make a Death Saving Throw, gaining another level of exhaustion on a failure.

The DC for a Death Saving Throw is 10 or 1/2 the damage taken from the triggering attack, whichever is higher. You may add your Con modifier to the roll.

That’s it. A few other things I’m considering.

- Make each failed death save 1/2 level of exhaustion

- Cap Death Saving Throw DC at 20

- Make Death Saving Throw a Constitution Saving Throw

- Remove option to take dodge as a reaction when you drop to 0 HP

- Have rule apply to all NPCs as well
 

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Do I understand correctly that with this proposed system a character can never be merely unconscious? The character who looses all HP remains conscious, but debilitated, as more and more exhaustion levels accrue, until Level 6 = death?
 
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OB1

Jedi Master
Do I understand correctly that with this proposed system a character can never be merely unconscious? The character who looses all HP remains conscious, but debilitated, as more and more exhaustion levels accrue, until Level 6 = death?

Correct, and that actually make me think of another possibility, making Level 6 exhaustion be unconsciousness and then level 7 death.
 



OB1

Jedi Master
So there's no way to actually kill someone in one blow under this system?

Not PCs (and possibly NPCs). My biggest concern about implementing this for NPCs is the removal of the ability to assassinate an NPC in one blow.

One thing I did consider was to add a level of exhaustion for each 5 points under the death Save DC you rolled. This would allow for powerful single attacks to kill in one blow.

But I’m on the fence with this. If I end up implementing the rule for NPCs I would probably add that rule as well.
 

It seems pretty complicated. I'm not sure that the benefit of additional granularity within the "downed" condition would outweigh the complexity cost.

I'm also not a fan of using the fatigue system as a measurement of how close to dying you are. It ties a lot of importance into a subsystem that is designed for other tasks, and makes those other tasks unnecessarily punishing since they bring you closer to death.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Whenever you drop to 0HP, make a Death Saving Throw. On a failure, gain 1 level of Exhaustion. Once resolved, you can use your reaction to immediately take the dodge action.

Pardon me if the following reaction seems a bit extreme.

NO!

Okay, now onto a slightly more nuanced evaluation.

Shadowrun had a Death Spiral, where taking damage made you less able to resist damage, which made you take more damage, which made you ineffective and unfun to play, and then it killed you.

Exhaustion does the same.

At the first it starts to make you less fun to play. Like violently less fun to play. Almost every single roll in every pillar of play outside combat is an ability check. (All skill checks are ability checks.) So the first thing you have is that you take disadvantage on every single thing you do except combat. So combat makes you suck at non-combat.

The people who will take the most hits (on purpose) are the front line combatants. The second level of exhaustion, halving speed, will harm them them most. So now they suck out of combat and are greatly harmed within it.

The third is the start of the death spiral in teams of making it harder to resist. You now have disadvantage on all attacks and all saves. Including death saves to avoid more levels of exhaustion.

So at this point you've got disadvantage on anything you can roll a d20 for, including avoiding more levels of exhaustion.

And it gets even worse with more levels.

And you only recover a single level of it on a long rest. It takes a 4th level spell to also regain also a single level. It sticks around. So one day of bad dice luck can make your character unfun (and potentially ultimately dead) for an entire adventure. Or longer if you don't play with downtime between adventures to rest up.

The rule doesn't sound all that bad, but the net effect is one I've seen in other game systems and it does not lead to "good tension". It just isn't fun, and made even worse by how exhaustion sticks around.

This is the antithesis of fun.
 
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Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I'm not sure I'd be quite as ... adamant ... as [MENTION=20564]Blue[/MENTION] but this doesn't appeal to me either. You could discuss it with your players, try a play test, etc but while I don't think the current rules are fantastic, they're still better than the alternatives from previous editions.

I would keep unconscious and potentially dying. If I wanted more "realism" (not sure I do) I'd probably add some kind of injured state, perhaps using the same options as exhaustion that kicks in once you get to 25% of your total hit points. You could even have a staggering option where you drop below 0 (to say 10% of your total HP) and can continue to take actions but it causes you to fail death saves and have a chance of spell failure.

So I'd go back to the drawing board. What are you trying to accomplish? What issue do you have with the current rules? Want to make death riskier? More realistic with people being negatively affected by being badly injured? Chance to heroically risk death by pushing beyond normal limits?
 

Lalato

Explorer
Seems overly complicated... and keeps characters alive way longer than necessary. If you really want to use Exhaustion to represent near death... perhaps it would be better to have each failed Death Save = two (2) levels of Exhaustion. That way characters still only get three Death Saves before dropping, but they can still act until the very last Death Save hits them.
 

the Jester

Legend
Not PCs (and possibly NPCs).

Okay.

This is definitely not to my taste for multiple reasons, the above being one. Another is that it seems like a lot of complication for no real pay-off. A third is an echo of what Blue said- death spirals totally suck, at least to me and in my experience. From your OP:

The goal here is to create a fun system that presents interesting choices for the players while making the line between 1HP and 0 HP a little blurrier and adding longer lasting consequences for dropping to 0 HP.

This does what you want except for the "fun system" part. The thing is, under this system, every truly challenging encounter is going to lay exhaustion on your pcs. I think you're more likely to find that you've created a system that forces your pcs toward an extremely cautious approach that is rather at odds with heroic styles of play. If that's what your after, cool- this will probably do the job- but I'd definitely survey your players about this before imposing it.

Now, this does make the line between 1 and 0 blurrier. But part of the way it does that is by inflicting some of the "0 hit points" penalty on pcs with 1 or more hps, in the form of exhaustion penalties. Again, that's cool if that's what your after, but it sounds like a lot less fun than "I can function properly" in play.

This does also enforce longer term consequences on creatures that drop. However, I'd go deeper here- why is it that you want that to happen? Do your players treat 0 hit points as no big deal? If that is the real issue, I'd suggest a more elegant strategy- sometimes, the monsters should hit them while they're down. If this happens even once, it makes the players in your game treat falling to 0 hit points with far more trepidation than otherwise, especially if you actually kill a pc like that. Now, it sounds like your playstyle is far more forgiving than mine, and it might not support going that far, but you might find another solution to the problem you're trying to address with these consequences.

Anyway, good luck with whatever you decide on- I hope you find something that works for your group.
 

pming

Hero
Hiya!

One of the first home-rules I implemented (about 2nd game I think), was a MUCH simpler, be similar, thing. Anyone who got to 0 was unconscious. They then AUTOMATICALLY gained one level of exhaustion if/when brought back up to 1hp (Exhaustion gained from this was only removable via normal, comfortable, time-consuming rest; so no "spell/ability" that just erases it). This simply made the Players more aware of REALLY trying to not get to 0hp. It also made the "healing word" type whack-a-mole spells a bit less...effective I guess. Sure, you had your HP's back, but you still had Exhaustion.

Besides, going to more than your HP "under 0" in one hit still kills you, iirc (can't remember the exact rule). It's just that once a PC gets 30 or more hp's, that chance becomes pretty much nil. Of course, if you are like me, any situation that should "kill you", well, "kills you". I don't care if your PC or the Monster has 100hp...if a 14-ton slab of marble falls on you, you're dead (failing your Save; I almost always give a Save to avoid 'instant death'). But then again, I am a "killer DM", so that's par for the course.

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 

How would this interact with healing spells? Also, do you still keep the same rate of exhaustion recovery (one level per long rest)?

It also make characters with high CON and proficiency with CON saves nearly unkillable against opponents dealing low damage, on top of their high amount of hp due to high CON. Assuming they make their save, one healing word and they’re up again without penalties, which does not remove the whack-a-mole syndrome of 5e.

Personally, I’m not against a system of death spiral, or using exhaustion to mimicking the otherwise missing injury element of fighting. Your proposition allows for someone to be dying yet conscious, which is cool and cinematic, but if that person is not taking any action, it’s state cannot deteriorate, so no last words on your dying breath either.

Like other posters above, I’m wondering what is the goal of that rule and what is the perceived issue with RAW before I can’t comment further.
 

OB1

Jedi Master
Appreciate everyone’s thoughts even if I am beginning to understand a little better why [MENTION=12731]CapnZapp[/MENTION] gets frustrated sometimes. I get that this rule may not be for everyone or every campaign [MENTION=20564]Blue[/MENTION] but I’d still like feedback on how this would work. Are there hidden interactions that I haven’t accounted for?

But looking back I realize I didn’t clearly articulate my goals with this system, so let me go back a step.

First off, please note that I don’t have a problem with the rules as they are. They are fun, and encourage a heroic play style.

That said, for the next campaign I’m running, I’m looking for a slightly grittier style, with the heroes constantly pushed to their limits and having to constantly compromise their goals just to stay alive.

To this end, I’m looking for rules that encourage finding other solutions to encounters than combat. Retreat from combat that isn’t going overwhelmingly well except when the stakes are worth the risk. And when they do engage? Go hard and fast to minimize the chance of anyone dropping to zero. And make getting into the next combat all the more risky.

I want to make combat feel risky and dangerous.

At the same time, I hate the mechanic of unconsciousness, as the only lever I have to make that dangerous is to hit PCs when they are down. Which means not a death spiral, but pretty much instant death. I want this rule to allow players to take risks to be heroic when they want to or retreat when they need to. I want to give them increased agency over the zero HP condition.
[MENTION=67296]Laurefindel[/MENTION] same rate of exhaustion recovery, though I was considering allowing a player to spend half their level in hit dice after a long rest to recover an additional level of exhaustion. Also, strongly thinking about making level 6 exhaustion unconsciousness, and if at 0HP requiring a death save every round and if above 0 a death save every hour to mimic the action trope of clinging to life with grievous injury. I probably won’t turn this into a Con save, to keep those proficient at a max of 75% success rate. I do like the idea that a barbarian or fighter can risk continuing to fight while at 0 HP.
[MENTION=6775031]Saelorn[/MENTION] - what do you see as the complicated part of this? Seems straightforward to me but perhaps I’m missing something or not articulating the rule correctly.

Again, appreciate the feedback everyone! I know this isn’t to everyone’s taste, but I think/hope it encourages a style of play and change in tactics that can be interesting for certain types of campaigns.
 


Li Shenron

Legend
Pardon me if the following reaction seems a bit extreme.

NO!

Okay, now onto a slightly more nuanced evaluation.

Shadowrun had a Death Spiral, where taking damage made you less able to resist damage, which made you take more damage, which made you ineffective and unfun to play, and then it killed you.

Exhaustion does the same.

At the first it starts to make you less fun to play. Like violently less fun to play. Almost every single roll in every pillar of play outside combat is an ability check. (All skill checks are ability checks.) So the first thing you have is that you take disadvantage on every single thing you do except combat. So combat makes you suck at non-combat.

The people who will take the most hits (on purpose) are the front line combatants. The second level of exhaustion, halving speed, will harm them them most. So now they suck out of combat and are greatly harmed within it.

The third is the start of the death spiral in teams of making it harder to resist. You now have disadvantage on all attacks and all saves. Including death saves to avoid more levels of exhaustion.

So at this point you've got disadvantage on anything you can roll a d20 for, including avoiding more levels of exhaustion.

And it gets even worse with more levels.

And you only recover a single level of it on a long rest. It takes a 4th level spell to also regain also a single level. It sticks around. So one day of bad dice luck can make your character unfun (and potentially ultimately dead) for an entire adventure. Or longer if you don't play with downtime between adventures to rest up.

The rule doesn't sound all that bad, but the net effect is one I've seen in other game systems and it does not lead to "good tension". It just isn't fun, and made even worse by how exhaustion sticks around.

This is the antithesis of fun.

I am not a fan of this house rule either, but I think you're taking it too hard...
[MENTION=6796241]OB1[/MENTION] is going to use exhaustion levels as an alternative to simply dropping unconscious (i.e. unable to act). How is being unable to act more fun than still having a few rounds of action worth to change the tide of the battle? Sure, with the exhaustion penalties it won't be easy to do so, but you still have a larger amount worth of actions to reach your goal (win the fight, or flee) compared to the standard rules.

I rather think that the main problem of this house rule is how slow it is to shrug off the exhaustion levels afterwards (and secondary, it's a bit too complex). Thus, comparing with how healing a single HP brings you back to conscious with the standard rules, I think the OP should consider either adding a general rule that exhaustion levels can be cured by any healing spells, or that they go away more quickly, for example:

- every spell that heals HP also heals 1 level of exhaustion per spell level
- exhaustion levels are regained naturally at the rate of 1 per short rest

Note that normally exhaustion heals slowly because it's most of the times an effect coming from long-term activities such as forced march, prolonged exposure to extreme temperatures etc... mainly stuff related to travelling or downtime. Instead, this near-death exhaustion is quick and occurs in combat. If your campaign normally doesn't feature exhaustion-risk situations, then you don't have much to worry about making exhaustion heal quickly. If it does, then just give this new type of exhaustion another name so that the standard exhaustion is not affected.
 
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TwoSix

Unserious gamer
Supporter
To this end, I’m looking for rules that encourage finding other solutions to encounters than combat. Retreat from combat that isn’t going overwhelmingly well except when the stakes are worth the risk. And when they do engage? Go hard and fast to minimize the chance of anyone dropping to zero. And make getting into the next combat all the more risky.
In general, rules that tend to focus on minimizing combat (and making it "risky and dangerous") tend to have the consequence of making combat less fun, rather than making doing things out of combat more fun. In general, any rule that makes things more dangerous by decreasing effectiveness is particularly not fun.

If you want to make combat more "risky and dangerous" and make the characters approach them warily, you need to make combats less predictable, possibly by doing the following:

1) Increase the offensive effectiveness and swinginess of encounters. Use more glass cannon monsters, where manipulating the battlefield in your favor can ensure a quick kill, but blundering the approach to the encounter means the characters means the enemies might get a free round or two of high damage attacks. Likewise, change damage expressions to be more variable. If a monster's attack does 2d6+4 (average 11), maybe have it do 1d12+4 or just 1d20 damage instead. It's easy to get jaded in combat when the monsters do damage of "9...11...12...8...10". When the monster does "2...7...6...19", the PCs tend to jump. Then you get to tell them, "No, that wasn't even a crit", which is right up there with the scariest things a DM can say. :)

2) Going along with 1, reward the players with more consumables and less fixed items, again in the name of increasing both variability and consequence. One shot scrolls and potions of strong spells can help the players absorb a bad situation or a bad set of dice rolls, but at the cost of losing something they can't gain back after a long rest. It teaches the players that any combat, even one that seems relatively trivial, has the possibility of costing them much more than they bargained for.
 

@OB1: I think it's the save/no save for exhaustion levels that people find fiddly, but I think i better understand the intentions that underline your hourserule now.

Personally, I like tying exhaustion to doing below 0 hp. I find the "fully functional to unconscious and likely to die to fully functional again" in less than 6 seconds to be a mood killer. It has nothing to do with realism (that is not something I aim for), i just find it too gamey and not cinematic enough for the type of game i want to play. Exhaustion-as-injuries (or variations on the theme) at least brings a non-binary element on the state of the characters, but it does change the assumption of how D&D is played (and you acknowledge that when saying that this is not for every group).

I think if you find a way to bring unconsciousness and possible deterioration if left-for-dead into the houserule, you'll get something consistent with what we see in movies and novels. As long as you achieve a good balance between the WFRP "naked dwarf syndrome" (aha, that's the 15th time you try to bring me down with no success!), unconsciousness (sorry Joe, you can't play until someone takes care of you), and the death spiral (oh yeah, you can play, but oh boy will you ever be gimped!) that is right for your group, you should be fine.

good luck!

'findel
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
The original pass felt overly complex, and as others have stated exhaustion can be a pretty harsh penalty. It was also odd that you could take the dodge while at zero (but I may have misunderstood). I get that you want a grittier campaign with combat being more dangerous, that can be a bit difficult with 5E.

Some of the steps I took
  • Use the alternative rest rules. A short rest is overnight, a long rest is several days usually a week or more. This means fewer healing spells are available.
  • The enemy play mean (dependent on creature). Unintelligent creatures may drag away unconscious combatants, intelligent/militaristic types double tap and/or focus on the healer.
  • Death is more permanent. This is partly a campaign thing because of my setting. The spirits of the dead travel through Nifleheim (the ShadowFell) where they are met by a guide to be taken to their final resting place. If they delay, there's a chance of slowly evaporating and becoming an unintelligent undead/ghost with no chance of resurrection. So revivify works, raise dead is iffy.
  • No guarantee of a fair fight. If it's not a fair fight, the party should realize it fairly early on and have an escape route.

If I wanted to make it even worse I'd limit access to healing potions or decrease effectiveness of potions if you drink multiple (reset after a long rest). Another simpler option would be to do something like the raise dead spell. If you fall unconscious, you're at a -n to attacks, saves and ability checks until a long rest.

A lot of what makes a gritty campaign "gritty" though is set dressing, not rules.
 


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