'Dropping Total HP' Houserule

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
I've been bandying about ideas for tweaking the hit points / healing / unconsciousness / death saves concepts for a potential new 4E campaign and I was wondering if perhaps anyone has done any of the following ideas and if so, how did they work? I'm thinking about these rules in order to make the game deadlier... to make falling Unconscious actually somewhat onerous... and to change the "resource" of actual injury from the Total Healing Surges back to HP.

Please bear in mind that these are just house-rules I'm thinking about. I've played the standard 4E rules for this stuff plenty of times and they've worked well for me. So these ideas are not because I think the actual rules don't work... but merely because I want to try something a bit different for the new game (along with all the adjustments I'd need to make towards encounter-design and the like).

PCs have 4 Wound Levels of hit points/injury. When they are Unhurt, they are at their max total number of hit points. One level down from that is Bruised, which is 75% of their total HP. Next level down is Bloodied, which is 50% of a PC hit points like normal. Third level down is Injured, 25% of total HP. Final level is Dead. So for example, a PC with a max hit point total of 40 HP (Unhurt), has a Bruised value of 30 HP, Bloodied value of 20 HP, Injured value of 10 HP, Dead value of 0 HP (like everyone has).

Each time a PC falls Unconscious (0 HP or less), their Wound Level immediately drops by 1. Thus, their new Max HP level is whatever their Bruised value is. Any healing the PC might now get after this point can only take them up to their Bruised value, rather than their Total (Unhurt) HP value. So should combat end, the PC can spend Healing Surges as normal to regain HP... but he can only recover up to his Bruised wound level (in our example, 30 HP).

Now, in addition, while the PC is Unconscious (below 0 HP), he still has to make Death Saves. And on each failed Death Save, the PC's Wound Level drops again. So the first failed save would drop him to his Bloodied wound level (meaning that his Max HP he can be healed to is 50% his normal total amount), his second failed save would drop him to his Injured wound level (so now he can only be healed to 25% total), and the third failed save would drop him to Dead.

Pretty self-explanatory. Three failed Death Saves and you're dead... but now the reason is that your Max HP has dropped to 0 as well. But not only that... falling Unconscious three times also makes you Dead, since each time going below 0 can drop your Wound Level too. This makes combat very deadly, and it makes falling Unconscious truly onerous. You now have a definite reason to NOT want to fall Unconscious, since you won't able able to be healed to full following the end of combat. Yes, I realize this is a classic example of the "Death Spiral"... but I've played enough higher level games with huge hit point and healing pools and constant hit point attrition that a bit of a death spiral might not be such a bad thing.

Here are a couple adds/changes/clarifications I'd make to help facilitate these rules:

- The mechanics of spending Healing Surges does not change at all. You can still be triggered to spend a surge via Healing Word and the like, and can still spend as many as you want during Short Rests. It's just that your Max HP level you can heal up to has dropped the more times you've fallen Unconscious or failed Death Saves.

- Your failed Death Saves (and as an extension, your Max HP level) do not clear following a Short Rest, but rather an Extended Rest. You've been hurt. You aren't clearing that up with just a 5 minute break. Whatever the duration or requirements are that I feel like using to determine what an Extended Rest means (whether that's just 8 hours of downtime, or an overnight sleep, or a full rest in a comfortable environment)... that's the only way to clear your Wound Levels back to Unhurt.

- Because the drop of Wound Level would take the place of showing us how injured the PC has become over time, I'd no longer ask players to track how many Healing Surges they spend, or what their Total Healing Surges count is. If the party fights extremely smart, and can keep each other on their feet during subsequent combats (never dropping below 0 HP or failing Death Saves), they theoretically can thus continue on their adventure indefinitely (because they'll never "run out" of Healing Surges, since that's not a resource I'd bother counting anymore). I figure Wound Level attrition will more than make up for that.

- Traps would now use as an additional damaging mechanism "Automatic Death Saves", where the PC wouldn't necessarily need to be below 0 HP to be forced to make one. The trap might not only cause damage, but would also force the PC to make a Death Save, which if failed... would drop their Wound Level as usual. To me, this makes traps have much more of an impact on a PC than just causing him to lose Healing Surges (as is normally the case).

- Environmental concerns (like starvation, drowning, getting lost) could also trigger Endurance checks that would result in a loss of Wound Level rather than just losing Healing Surges.

So that's that. I'm still playing around with the ideas and do not know just how deadly this might become... but it does solve a dilemma that our group has always found, which is that it was more economical for PCs to wait until they fell Unconscious before getting healed... because the "start counting from 0" rule meant the PCs would get a whole bunch of "free HP" out of it. But of cours,e that can counter to the Story aspect that you were popping up and down, in and out on consciousness with little to no effect. So I wanted to make going to 0 HP a big deal.

Anyone who has played around with concepts along these lines, please let me know what your experiences were. I'd love to hear them.
 

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Ferghis

First Post
A simpler version of what you've described is what I used in a short campaign. I'm still a big fan of it. It lets players ham up their roleplaying skills, and makes death saves terrifying.

Characters who fail one death save in an encounter receive a wound. The player picks a penalty (and associated fluff) that the character suffers for the next week (can be shortened with heal or endurance checks). A small scar is left afterwards.

Characters who fail two death saves in an encounter receive a serious wound (and no light wound for that encounter). The player picks a permanent penalty (and associated fluff) that the character suffers until it is removed by an appropriate ritual. Some permanent sign of the injury remains after it is removed.

Penalties include penalties to a skill check or movement, or a particular type of save.
 

aurance

Explorer
We played around with Wounds, but eventually ditched it as we felt it just added unnecessary complexity. So we eventually ended up limiting the # surges recovered per day as a simulation of long-term wounds. Also, there is no automatic recovery of hit points at the end of an extended rest; the only way to regain hp would be to spend surges.

You could perhaps tie the number of surges a PC has at any given moment to a certain penalty. We don't do this, but I think this might be a simpler way to go than adding a whole new point system.
 

Jhaelen

First Post
So we eventually ended up limiting the # surges recovered per day as a simulation of long-term wounds. Also, there is no automatic recovery of hit points at the end of an extended rest; the only way to regain hp would be to spend surges.
That's similar to what I've been doing from time to time:
During extended skill challenges (i.e. covering a period of several days), extended rests do not allow the pcs to recover healing surges. It's only after the skill challenge ends that an extended rest works as normal again. I use it mainly for overland travel, but it can be useful in other situations as well.
 

Rechan

Adventurer
Awhile ago I had this idea to make things more lethal:

Forget failing 3 death saves: you get 1. If you fail it, you die. If you pass it but don't hit 20, you roll again next round.

If you take damage while you're unconscious, you die.

Every time you have been rendered unconscious, you receive a -1 to your death save roll. This penalty stays with you your entire career.

Reason I drew this up is because I dislike how blase players are with going unconscious. 3 failed death saves typically turn into x number of 'no change' successes and maybe 1 failed save. When a PC goes down, others should be rushing to their aid, heedless of monsters.
 
Last edited:

Argyle King

Legend
I've been bandying about ideas for tweaking the hit points / healing / unconsciousness / death saves concepts for a potential new 4E campaign and I was wondering if perhaps anyone has done any of the following ideas and if so, how did they work? I'm thinking about these rules in order to make the game deadlier... to make falling Unconscious actually somewhat onerous... and to change the "resource" of actual injury from the Total Healing Surges back to HP.

Please bear in mind that these are just house-rules I'm thinking about. I've played the standard 4E rules for this stuff plenty of times and they've worked well for me. So these ideas are not because I think the actual rules don't work... but merely because I want to try something a bit different for the new game (along with all the adjustments I'd need to make towards encounter-design and the like).

PCs have 4 Wound Levels of hit points/injury. When they are Unhurt, they are at their max total number of hit points. One level down from that is Bruised, which is 75% of their total HP. Next level down is Bloodied, which is 50% of a PC hit points like normal. Third level down is Injured, 25% of total HP. Final level is Dead. So for example, a PC with a max hit point total of 40 HP (Unhurt), has a Bruised value of 30 HP, Bloodied value of 20 HP, Injured value of 10 HP, Dead value of 0 HP (like everyone has).

Each time a PC falls Unconscious (0 HP or less), their Wound Level immediately drops by 1. Thus, their new Max HP level is whatever their Bruised value is. Any healing the PC might now get after this point can only take them up to their Bruised value, rather than their Total (Unhurt) HP value. So should combat end, the PC can spend Healing Surges as normal to regain HP... but he can only recover up to his Bruised wound level (in our example, 30 HP).

Now, in addition, while the PC is Unconscious (below 0 HP), he still has to make Death Saves. And on each failed Death Save, the PC's Wound Level drops again. So the first failed save would drop him to his Bloodied wound level (meaning that his Max HP he can be healed to is 50% his normal total amount), his second failed save would drop him to his Injured wound level (so now he can only be healed to 25% total), and the third failed save would drop him to Dead.

Pretty self-explanatory. Three failed Death Saves and you're dead... but now the reason is that your Max HP has dropped to 0 as well. But not only that... falling Unconscious three times also makes you Dead, since each time going below 0 can drop your Wound Level too. This makes combat very deadly, and it makes falling Unconscious truly onerous. You now have a definite reason to NOT want to fall Unconscious, since you won't able able to be healed to full following the end of combat. Yes, I realize this is a classic example of the "Death Spiral"... but I've played enough higher level games with huge hit point and healing pools and constant hit point attrition that a bit of a death spiral might not be such a bad thing.

Here are a couple adds/changes/clarifications I'd make to help facilitate these rules:

- The mechanics of spending Healing Surges does not change at all. You can still be triggered to spend a surge via Healing Word and the like, and can still spend as many as you want during Short Rests. It's just that your Max HP level you can heal up to has dropped the more times you've fallen Unconscious or failed Death Saves.

- Your failed Death Saves (and as an extension, your Max HP level) do not clear following a Short Rest, but rather an Extended Rest. You've been hurt. You aren't clearing that up with just a 5 minute break. Whatever the duration or requirements are that I feel like using to determine what an Extended Rest means (whether that's just 8 hours of downtime, or an overnight sleep, or a full rest in a comfortable environment)... that's the only way to clear your Wound Levels back to Unhurt.

- Because the drop of Wound Level would take the place of showing us how injured the PC has become over time, I'd no longer ask players to track how many Healing Surges they spend, or what their Total Healing Surges count is. If the party fights extremely smart, and can keep each other on their feet during subsequent combats (never dropping below 0 HP or failing Death Saves), they theoretically can thus continue on their adventure indefinitely (because they'll never "run out" of Healing Surges, since that's not a resource I'd bother counting anymore). I figure Wound Level attrition will more than make up for that.

- Traps would now use as an additional damaging mechanism "Automatic Death Saves", where the PC wouldn't necessarily need to be below 0 HP to be forced to make one. The trap might not only cause damage, but would also force the PC to make a Death Save, which if failed... would drop their Wound Level as usual. To me, this makes traps have much more of an impact on a PC than just causing him to lose Healing Surges (as is normally the case).

- Environmental concerns (like starvation, drowning, getting lost) could also trigger Endurance checks that would result in a loss of Wound Level rather than just losing Healing Surges.

So that's that. I'm still playing around with the ideas and do not know just how deadly this might become... but it does solve a dilemma that our group has always found, which is that it was more economical for PCs to wait until they fell Unconscious before getting healed... because the "start counting from 0" rule meant the PCs would get a whole bunch of "free HP" out of it. But of cours,e that can counter to the Story aspect that you were popping up and down, in and out on consciousness with little to no effect. So I wanted to make going to 0 HP a big deal.

Anyone who has played around with concepts along these lines, please let me know what your experiences were. I'd love to hear them.

Would this make Warforged immune to traps?
 

pemerton

Legend
During extended skill challenges (i.e. covering a period of several days), extended rests do not allow the pcs to recover healing surges. It's only after the skill challenge ends that an extended rest works as normal again. I use it mainly for overland travel, but it can be useful in other situations as well.
I've done this, and not just in skill challenges.

At present the PCs are in the Underdark. On there first night there they created a Hallowed Temple to rest in. After that, they were unable to benefit from an extended rest (despite sleeping) until they found quarters in a friendly duergar city.

As many people have observed, if you don't do something like this then encounter building can break down a bit unless encounters become implausibly frequent.
 

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