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Level Up (A5E) Injury and Death

p_johnston

Explorer
So the DMG has a really interesting rule on page 272, Injuries. In short whenever a PC gets knocked to 0 hp, takes a critical hit, or fails a death save by 5 or more they get an injury. The problem is that the chart they give in the book basically reads 1,2,3 become crippled 4-20 ignore the injury because it is healed by any magical healing (which is the most likely way you got up from 0hp anyways).

In my game I took this mechanic and adjusted it so that players can receive long term injuries that actually effect gameplay but that won't just immediately cripple them (usually).
1) a character can have a total number of injuries+death saving throw fails = to 1/2 their constitution. So a character with a 12 constitution can have up to 6 injuries + death saving throw fails.
2) death saving throws reset on a long rest and are rolled by the DM behind the screen.
3) whenever a character hits 0 hp, takes an amount of damage greater than their max HP, or is hit while at 0 hp they receive roll on my injury chart and receive an injury.
4) at every long rest a character may opt to receive one less HD back and heal one injury. Otherwise it takes magic of at least Greater Restoration level to heal an injury.

This mechanic seems to make going down actually matter to the players. Normally if a player is knocked to 0 during a dungeon it doesn't matter. They take a short rest, get a couple of cure wounds, chug a potion and it's like nothing ever happened. Hell even during combat half the time the bard uses healing word and the fighter just pops right back up with no effect. Injuries make the players make harder choices. "Do I revive the fighter so he can help us and risk him going down again, possibly dieing?" "I was just brought up. Do I rush back into combat or retreat and try to heal up for a couple of turns first?" "were half way through the dungeon and most of us have some injuries but we still have a fair amount of spells and HD. Do we push on and risk more injuries or stop?"

I have found that it makes combat a lot more intense, interesting, and potentially deadly in my games at least.
 

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CapnZapp

Legend
Just beware the spiral of death phenomenon.

The reason losing your hit points in D&D has few if any consequences is because of this.

An individual group might not have any issues, so I'm not saying it's a bad rule for those who accept the drawbacks.

Only that it isn't for general usage.
 


glass

(he, him)
The death spiral effect could be avoided (or at least greatly reduced) if one only rolls for injuries after combat. And I hate to use the "R-word", but it is probably more realistic that way as well.

_
glass.
 


Minigiant

Legend
I find that death sprials can be aviods if they either are a choice (fail a death saving throw or take an injury to suceed) or the more severe injuries only happen after a threshold of minor injuries are made (it's not a death spiral if you should be dead already).
 


ardoughter

Hero
Supporter
This might suggest that the use of sidekicks and hirelings my be useful so that the player can fall-back or promote one of these when their main character has their knees broken.
 

p_johnston

Explorer
Oddly enough I've never seen this system devolve into a death spiral. In my experience most of the injuries are minor enough that they make combat slightly more difficult while still enabling characters to work. Only if you lose a major body part (about a 1/200 chance) is it actually debilitating. Most characters can function with a -1 to ac and a -1 to hit without becoming useless. I've had characters with 4-5 injuries still participating and effecting combat, just more cautiously.

I've been using it for around 3 years now of weekly sessions and I can say that I've had people actually lose a body part that long term mechanically hurt them less then 5 times. I've had an instant death once.

for the most part the effects I've seen are that it adds an additional decision point to when to take a rest and that people actually treat their HP as important instead of playing the Yo-Yo game of get hit, healing word, get hit, healing word, etc.
 

glass

(he, him)
Oddly enough I've never seen this system devolve into a death spiral. In my experience most of the injuries are minor enough that they make combat slightly more difficult while still enabling characters to work.
That is literally the definition of a death spiral. You take damage, and then combat is "more difficult".

_
glass.
 

For my part, I wouldn't want something that makes almost dying an even greater danger, but consequences I can replace actually dying with. Something kinda like the Shields Shall be Splintered variant. Death is so final, but would people sacrifice a beloved magic item to live another day? Howabout sacrificing a limb or an eye? Magitech prosthetics are already in the game.
 

p_johnston

Explorer
That is literally the definition of a death spiral. You take damage, and then combat is "more difficult".

_
glass.
I don't think that's a very good definition for a death spiral. By that definition a wight's attacks that reduce your max HP, a wolf's tripping attack, etc could probably be considered a death spiral.

I would define a death spiral as a negative effect gained when losing an encounter that makes it impossible to then win the encounter. I've played games with these and agree they aren't fun. I have seen multiple times that my players have proceeded to win encounters while injured. In gameplay injuries end up being something like an anti-resource. Do we take a long rest? well lets look at how many spell slots everyone has, how much hp, and how many injuries.
 

p_johnston

Explorer
For my part, I wouldn't want something that makes almost dying an even greater danger, but consequences I can replace actually dying with. Something kinda like the Shields Shall be Splintered variant. Death is so final, but would people sacrifice a beloved magic item to live another day? Howabout sacrificing a limb or an eye? Magitech prosthetics are already in the game.

Like I said I've been using it for three years at least and only seen an instant death once. That was also in an encounter that ended in a party wipe anyways.

On a mildly related note I have found it very, very rare to kill only one or two characters. Typically even with these rules it ends up being either everyone lives or everyone dies. I can only think of perhaps two instances where an I ended up killing characters without wiping the group. One of those was because the player wanted it. The other involved two people delibritaly blowing themselves up against an enemy that was trying to knock the party out. This might be because with my system they end up getting more death saving throw failures that they can acquire before death. Even a con of ten you end up having one more failure you can receive before death.
 

I've only had one character death at my table since I started running 5e. It was early on, and the whole party went down to making death saves. It was part poor adventure design on my part, part poor player decisions. All but one of them ended up stabilizing on their own.

Other than that, we've had some very close calls, but most groups I've run for have been very good at prioritizing healing downed party members.

Oh, and there was the one con Epic I played in where the game ended in a TPK. We got better, sort of, but that was definitely an an outlier, and a deliberately tough adventure on the whole.

On a mildly related note I have found it very, very rare to kill only one or two characters. Typically even with these rules it ends up being either everyone lives or everyone dies. I can only think of perhaps two instances where an I ended up killing characters without wiping the group. One of those was because the player wanted it. The other involved two people delibritaly blowing themselves up against an enemy that was trying to knock the party out. This might be because with my system they end up getting more death saving throw failures that they can acquire before death. Even a con of ten you end up having one more failure you can receive before death.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
So the DMG has a really interesting rule on page 272, Injuries. In short whenever a PC gets knocked to 0 hp, takes a critical hit, or fails a death save by 5 or more they get an injury. The problem is that the chart they give in the book basically reads 1,2,3 become crippled 4-20 ignore the injury because it is healed by any magical healing (which is the most likely way you got up from 0hp anyways).

In my game I took this mechanic and adjusted it so that players can receive long term injuries that actually effect gameplay but that won't just immediately cripple them (usually).
1) a character can have a total number of injuries+death saving throw fails = to 1/2 their constitution. So a character with a 12 constitution can have up to 6 injuries + death saving throw fails.
2) death saving throws reset on a long rest and are rolled by the DM behind the screen.
3) whenever a character hits 0 hp, takes an amount of damage greater than their max HP, or is hit while at 0 hp they receive roll on my injury chart and receive an injury.
4) at every long rest a character may opt to receive one less HD back and heal one injury. Otherwise it takes magic of at least Greater Restoration level to heal an injury.

This mechanic seems to make going down actually matter to the players. Normally if a player is knocked to 0 during a dungeon it doesn't matter. They take a short rest, get a couple of cure wounds, chug a potion and it's like nothing ever happened. Hell even during combat half the time the bard uses healing word and the fighter just pops right back up with no effect. Injuries make the players make harder choices. "Do I revive the fighter so he can help us and risk him going down again, possibly dieing?" "I was just brought up. Do I rush back into combat or retreat and try to heal up for a couple of turns first?" "were half way through the dungeon and most of us have some injuries but we still have a fair amount of spells and HD. Do we push on and risk more injuries or stop?"

I have found that it makes combat a lot more intense, interesting, and potentially deadly in my games at least.
Is there a reason you changed auto death and turned it into an injury instead?
 

p_johnston

Explorer
Is there a reason you changed auto death and turned it into an injury instead?

To be honest I never used massive damage as written. I don't want mechanics that just kill players, I want mechanics that encourage players to make difficult choices about managing their resources.

Also just instant killing characters isn't much fun for me or them. For example If the assassin shoots Bob and Bob instantly dies then now Bob's player has to make a new character, I have to incorporate said character, and likely the player is feeling kinda annoyed that I just instantly killed his character. If instead bob is on the ground bleeding with two injuries it turns into a tense scene of the party trying to save Bob while tracking down the assassin.

I will also note that while my injury system does have the chance for instant death it is very small. Even smaller if you take into consideration the fact that I let players use inspiration to reroll any die they choose and give out at least one inspiration a session.
 

To be honest I never used massive damage as written. I don't want mechanics that just kill players, I want mechanics that encourage players to make difficult choices about managing their resources.

Also just instant killing characters isn't much fun for me or them. For example If the assassin shoots Bob and Bob instantly dies then now Bob's player has to make a new character, I have to incorporate said character, and likely the player is feeling kinda annoyed that I just instantly killed his character. If instead bob is on the ground bleeding with two injuries it turns into a tense scene of the party trying to save Bob while tracking down the assassin.

I will also note that while my injury system does have the chance for instant death it is very small. Even smaller if you take into consideration the fact that I let players use inspiration to reroll any die they choose and give out at least one inspiration a session.

I'm going to second that instant death is useless in a campaign. Sure they might be scary like a slasher flick, but they tend to be anticlimactic or just kill the fun because now everyone is watching bob trying to make a new PC... even old wizard guides from the days of LFQW were less than enthusiastic of save or die spells over save or suck & save or lose. I've thrown multiple beholders at my PCs over the years but the one I made that flatly terrified them into "nuke it from orbit" levels of paranoia* & left an impression that was so horrifying they were still checking for it two years after I last used it requires failing multiple dc10 con saves with one of them at advantage :D
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Lasting save or suck & save or lose effects are much more scary, you only need to look at how the presence of a ghoul or wraith affected parties of nearly any level back in the 3.5 days where simply making their way onto the field made everyone shift gears from massacre to survive before it even did anything.


* They knowingly burned a lot of (magical)treasure to ash with firebolt on that adventure.:devilish:
 

Asisreo

Fiendish Attorney
If instead bob is on the ground bleeding with two injuries it turns into a tense scene of the party trying to save Bob while tracking down the assassin.
Or it devolves into a situation where Bob can't do anything worth a damn for the party and there's no tension after all because it's painfully obvious that Bob was either going to get healed anyways or he was doomed to die anyways so Bob is ready to get their new character going.

I don't like being in a slow-ish death spiral since it usually becomes that situation. I respect people that are okay with death spirals but I'd rather insta-death attacks than death spirals since they don't come with a sense of "what's the point in waiting?"
 

I'm not fond of death spirals. To clarify, what I mean is the concept of being so weakened by injuries, that victory seems less and less likely. It discourages players to fight on when they take a severe injury, and makes them more likely to flee.

If that is what you want in your game (a horror campaign for example), it is a different story. But I think in most D&D campaigns, you want the players to fight on. You want them to feel like they still have a chance and win by the skin of their teeth, rather than to beat a hasty retreat after a minor set back.

However roleplaying wise, injuries can certainly add to the game. I like the idea of injuries leaving some lasting effect on the player characters. So perhaps we should lean more to the roleplaying side and less to the mechanical side.

So I would like to propose an alternate idea from what the OP suggested. Rather than having each type of injury have a specific debilitating effect, what if the manner by which you got the injury has an effect when you incur the same kind of injury again?

Say for example, you got injured in the leg; it doesn't affect your movement speed. But maybe the DC of checks for things that involve your legs are higher, and the next time you take an injury to the legs, you take more damage than you would usually take. A fumble on a jump check may result in even more severe injuries, simply because of the weakness that was already there. Falling damage could also be more severe. This would reduce the amount of nitpicky rules, and keep the rules more general and easy to remember.
 
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Li Shenron

Legend
That is literally the definition of a death spiral. You take damage, and then combat is "more difficult".

_
glass.

It should be noted however that the same can be expected to happen to the enemy too.

On average, considering a hypothetical fair fight between equal sides, both sides get wounded, therefore weaker. What weakness, it might be random: maybe one side gets weaker in attack, the other in defense. In that case, perhaps nothing changes substantially. If both get weaker in defense, combat speeds up, if both get weaker in attack, combat slows down.

But D&D combats aren't fair, each combat is stacked in favour of the PC because they have MANY combats to face. So the most frequent outcome of a single combat should be a death spiral for the monsters.

OTOH the injury can carry over to the next encounter (depending on the rules and the possibility of rests, of course). So rather than a death spiral during a single encounter, the expected effect is consecutive encounters becoming more difficult, until resting is available.

Does this sound bad? Well, aren't we commonly already designing encounters of escalating difficulty in each adventure? :)

An injury system will steep'en the difficulty curve of the encounter sequence, so it will require some attention not to feature too hard BBEG at the end.

Nevertheless, beyond average/long-term considerations, we should not disregard the possibility of a short-term risk. If the injury penalties are too large, getting injured first can in fact doom the whole encounter. This is less of a problem for the PCs who are rarely alone, but if injuries are also too frequent then the chance that multiple PCs are affected increases.

These considerations lead me to be generally skeptic that injury systems last for long in most gaming groups. Because if you use an injury system you probably want to see people getting injured and significantly so, but for the system to be most stable they should be instead relatively rare and mild.
 

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