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D&D General Houserule: Variant Natural Healing - Still Uses Hit Points (Feedback Wanted)

JohnSnow

Hero
Okay, so I was kicking around an idea of trying to strike a balance between the lethality of games like the various OSR systems, Shadowdark or early editions of D&D with the more durable characters of 4e, 5e and the like, and I kinda hit on an idea that preserves the simplicity of hit points, but adjusts the dial for recovery rate based on how many hit points the character has remaining.

The first question I usually get is: "What problem does this solve?" For me, it solves the problem of aligning the abstract nature of what hit points represent with how they are recovered. I have always had trouble with hit points as just "the actual physical ability of the character to withstand damage," and always aligned myself with what Gygax wrote way back in the 1e DMG that a good percentage of them represented "skill, luck, and sixth sense." But the natural hit point recovery system was never remotely in line with this definition until the last couple editions. Now we come to 5e, and characters can recover some hit points from combat to combat, and all of them with a night's rest, regardless of how badly hurt you get.

I know that opinions on this vary, but I think there's an interesting middle ground here.

The preamble out of the way, my first cut at the system goes like this:

Natural Healing Rate (By HP remaining):
0 hp: Magical healing or 1d4 weeks to recover 1 hp. (1)
1 hp -> 25% total hp: Complete a Rest to recover hit points. (2)
25%+ hit points = Recover hit points equal to LV x HD after 15 minutes.(3)

(1) Almost dying should suck, so try not to do it. This is where magic is useful. AD&D characters could recover 1 hp/day of rest, but needed a week to recover from 0 (if they could), but would recover all their hit points if they rested for 4 weeks.
(2) Shadowdark's default level of healing. A Rest consists of food and sleep - what 5e calls a "Long Rest."
(3) This plus the above is where 5e lives, and its primary purpose is to let characters retain more combat durability from fight to fight.

Obviously, the different D&D-adjacent systems extend the various recovery rates outside of the ranges to which I have confined them, but I think there's a virtue in merging them. And before anyone asks the obvious: "Since this is sort of two separate pools with different recovery rates, why not track them separately, like VP and WP from d20 Star Wars?" I guess you could call them different things if you want, but I'm just after general feedback on the concept, not the semantics, and I don't see any particular reason to give them different names.

So, what do people think?
 

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UngainlyTitan

Legend
Supporter
I am afraid that my first response is "What problem does this solve". I mean that if you like it go for it. It works as well as any other attempt.

The chief difference I see from early D&D (and probably replicated in OSR and games designed to evoke the fragility of earlier characters) was that there was not much organic magical healing available to the party outside of potions and wands.

In modern D&D there is plenty of magical healing available and the chief complaint I see with regards to 5e is that the action economy punishes healing before a character drops to zero.
In that the healing output of a spell cannot match the incoming damage so it is better for the potential healer to do some damage and then when their ally drops bring them up again before their turn starts so as not to loose action.
This is narratively unsatisfying to pretty much everybody, but your rule changes will have no effect on that.

This was essentially fixed in 4e because the amount headed was determined by the healing surge value and the number of daily healing surges tended to dictate the adventuring day rather than the available combat resources.
You cannot go from where we are in 5e to a 4e healing surge resource since everything would have to be reworked to the point where the existing materials would be obsoleted.
 

JohnSnow

Hero
I am afraid that my first response is "What problem does this solve". I mean that if you like it go for it. It works as well as any other attempt.

The chief difference I see from early D&D (and probably replicated in OSR and games designed to evoke the fragility of earlier characters) was that there was not much organic magical healing available to the party outside of potions and wands.

In modern D&D there is plenty of magical healing available
I think you either don't see, or misunderstand the problem that I see, am attempting to solve.

Hit points in D&D have never been entirely "the actual physical ability of the character to withstand damage," but rather also included "a commensurate increase in combat skill, sheer luck, sixth sense and...(other) fantastical provisions."

However, in older editions, natural healing always treated hit point recovery as if it were entirely the former, because for some reason, skill, luck and sixth sense don't refresh without magical help, except over the course of weeks.

With 5e, the game now treats hit points as if they are entirely the latter, but mysteriously only to a point from encounter to encounter, and relying greatly on the magical power of sleep.

and the chief complaint I see with regards to 5e is that the action economy punishes healing before a character drops to zero.
In that the healing output of a spell cannot match the incoming damage so it is better for the potential healer to do some damage and then when their ally drops bring them up again before their turn starts so as not to loose action.
This is narratively unsatisfying to pretty much everybody, but your rule changes will have no effect on that.
I think magical healing is a marginal bandaid on the system at best, and I think it would be better if characters didn't go down as readily in combat, but that most of those who go down in combat stay down until it's over. To my way of thinking, Boromir's last stand is cool, video-game recovery much less so. YMMV.

This was essentially fixed in 4e because the amount headed was determined by the healing surge value and the number of daily healing surges tended to dictate the adventuring day rather than the available combat resources.
You cannot go from where we are in 5e to a 4e healing surge resource since everything would have to be reworked to the point where the existing materials would be obsoleted.
Yeah, I actually thought 4e got character durability about right in a lot of ways with the implementation of both the Bloodied condition and the healing surge mechanic.

It's a pity it bricked so much else.
 

UngainlyTitan

Legend
Supporter
I think you either don't see, or misunderstand the problem that I see, am attempting to solve.

Hit points in D&D have never been entirely "the actual physical ability of the character to withstand damage," but rather also included "a commensurate increase in combat skill, sheer luck, sixth sense and...(other) fantastical provisions."

However, in older editions, natural healing always treated hit point recovery as if it were entirely the former, because for some reason, skill, luck and sixth sense don't refresh without magical help, except over the course of weeks.

With 5e, the game now treats hit points as if they are entirely the latter, but mysteriously only to a point from encounter to encounter, and relying greatly on the magical power of sleep.
Ok, I understand you better. You would need something like the bloodied condition and magical healing would be a lot more effective before bloodied. That is before, actual physical trauma is being inflicted, where it becomes less effective and virtually nullified at hp = 0 where the effect is going in to stabilisation rather than hit point recovery.

You have implemented a sort of death spiral, or a situation where bloodied becomes the new zero.

I would think that you could do this but would still have to rework monster damage to make the game satisfying.
If would give you space to use the better armours as adding damage Reduction than making the target just difficult to hit.
 

I certainly think you could make that work. I would probably not describe it as using the same pool of hit points. I'd probably describe it as hit points and stamina points. That would just ease play at the table. You can also say things like, "when you're out of stamina, you're bloodied."

There are some oddball issues like Champion Fighter's Survivor and Life Cleric's Preserve Life and deciding how effects that increase max HP work, but they're really not that difficult to handle.

The first real issue I see is that it's not really clear what's magical and what isn't. Is a 50gp healing potion magical? How about the Healer feat? Paladin Lay-On-Hands? Bard's Song of Rest? Fighter's Second Wind? The game as written doesn't care if it's magical or mundane. It only cares about magnitude. You can decide which is which as you want, but I don't think it's clear.

But it goes deeper than just that. I think "magical healing" becomes a more significant issue. Magic is too powerful if a single Goodberry or Healing Word can eliminate four weeks of bedrest. (Especially given that OneDND's Spare the Dying literally just heals 1 hp if you're at 0 hp.) You're actually just making access to magical healing a de facto adventuring requirement, and I don't think that's your goal. There are a lot of knock-on effects to changing HP recovery, too. I remember seeing someone post an alternative recovery system, and one of the first comments was that it was easier to kill a creature and restore them with Revivify than the alternatives. Part of that is that Revivify is kind of a dumb spell for level 3, but the point stands.

Years ago we did play a similar rule. I'm trying to remember it because it was just a horror one-shot in 3e in basically Ravenloft.

PCs had HP as normal, but they also got a Body Point pool equal to their Con score plus their max starting hit die (e.g., a Ranger with Con 14 would have 10 + 14 = 24 body points). Or maybe it was twice Con or twice your HD. After you lost HP, any further damage was BP damage. If you ran out of BP, you were dead. As long as you had any BP damage, you were considered "injured". The exact effects were left up to the DM, but injured characters were basically unable to participate in combat beyond short movement. If they tried to do anything productive very often, they had to save or spend a round in pain or take HP damage doing it (and maybe fall unconscious). BP would recover naturally at a slow rate like 1 per day. Magical healing of BP was very difficult. It would always stop bleeding or similar, but magical BP recovery required at least level 3 (4?) magic, and it would only recover like 1 BP. I think you were limited to doing it once a day, too, but that might be something else.

The purpose of it was to make hurt characters real liabilities. That's why it made PCs more durable than the core -10 hp = dead rule. You were supposed to drag the other PCs down. It ended up not coming up because the only characters who got injured died pretty quickly. As I recall, they would've died even without these rules, though. We were using some flavor of sanity rules, too, and I remember one of the PCs got badly injured and then went insane like in the next room after being stabilized.

Going back to the original topic, maybe you do something similar and rename Revivify to "Heal Mortal Injury." Making injuries cost 300 bucks a pop to heal on short notice certainly changes things, and if Revivify gets around the system then Revivify should be changed anyways.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
I often use an HP-dependent recovery house rule, and I quite like it. Mine is a bit simpler though; if you’re at less than half HP, you don’t recover any HP on a long rest (but you still recover hit dice as normal) and need to expend a use of a healer’s kit to spend hit dice during a short or long rest.
 

JohnSnow

Hero
Thank you all for the feedback and thoughts. It gives me a lot to ponder.

It has definitely occurred to me that 5e has a lot of kludges to tackle how hit points, recovery, and death work in the system that that they would have to be reworked/rethought if recover worked like this. I’d start with chucking revivify and then think about how what spells do.

At the present, I’m mostly considering this system as a way to make something like Shadowdark (and similar) a little more heroic rather than as a way to make 5e more lethal. And in that system, spells aren’t guaranteed to work, which solves a lot of the “why not just use magic?” problem. 😈
 

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