D&D 5E Slowed instead of Unconscious at 0 HP House Rule - Play Report

OB1

Jedi Master
A little over a year ago, I start toying with a new 0 HP rule variant in this thread Original 0 HP Concept and continued to tweak while finishing up an existing campaign. Last month, during session 0 of our new campaign, I proposed the below version of that concept, and the players decided to adopt it. Last week, we had it come into play for the first time, and everyone agreed that the rule was fun and worked great, so we'll be keeping it.

Dropping to 0 HP
  • When a character drops to 0 HP, they are Slowed, as per the spell, but remain conscious. All other effects of being at 0 HP remain the same (death saves at start of turn, failed death saves for taking damage)
  • When a character regains HP, the period of Slow continues for 1 minute, or until a spell such as Lesser Restoration is cast to end the effect.
  • When a character is brought back from the dead, the period of Slow lasts until after completing a short or long rest, or until a spell such as Greater Restoration is cast to end the effect.

In the session last week, we had 3 PCs drop to 0 HP, two in two different combats, and another after springing a trap out of combat (PCs are all level 3). In the first, the PC (an Artificer) was flying, and because he was slowed, didn't suffer a failed death save from falling to the ground. On his next turn (after succeeding on a death save) he was going to disengage and retreat, but instead pressed his attack when he realized that he would only be able to move 15' away and wouldn't have a bonus action to take a healing potion (I allow bonus action potion drinking). And because he would have to roll to see if a spell would go off this round or next, decided to make an attack instead and ended up killing the monster next to him, then moved 15' away.

The second PC (a rogue) found himself in a bit of serious trouble, surrounded by 3 monsters and fearing the auto death save fails from attacks, did use his action to disengage and move towards the rest of the party, who got between him and the monsters to protect him (along with the bard healing him above 0HP).

For the PC (a bard) who dropped to 0 from the sprung trap, she got to have a fun little RP moment as she failed her first death save, then tried to heal herself but rolled for the spell to go off the next round, then failed another death save before the spell took effect and brought her above 0 HP.

Ultimately, everyone felt like the change to the rule added a perfect amount of tension to the fight, enjoyed the change in tactics that it forced, and the PCs who fell liked the trade off of being able to keep their turn while having the increased danger of enemies still coming after them.

The only change I'm thinking about at this point is whether to apply this to monsters as well, either by giving them the same rule, or simply starting the effect when they drop to less than 15% HP. I may use the former option for humanoids and the latter for all other monster types.
 

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Interesting! I would have the duration of the penalties be significantly longer, but I like the concept.

How is concentration affected? I presume that as long as you make your concentration check you can maintain it despite your mortally wounded status, seeing that the Artificer was able to land safely.

Is there ever a time when a PC, or anyone else, be unconscious and not dead?
 

OB1

Jedi Master
Interesting! I would have the duration of the penalties be significantly longer, but I like the concept.

How is concentration affected? I presume that as long as you make your concentration check you can maintain it despite your mortally wounded status, seeing that the Artificer was able to land safely.

Is there ever a time when a PC, or anyone else, be unconscious and not dead?
I thought about longer durations, but ultimately felt like all that would do would be to encourage 5MWDs. That said, I think needing a short rest to end the slow after hitting 0HP and a long rest to end the slow after being resurrected could also work.

Hadn't thought about how this effects concentration spells, so thanks for that! Think I will apply disadvantage to concentration checks while at 0HP going forward (using the circumstantial disadvantage rule). But I'm also tempted to see if the group would agree to concentration being automatically broken when hitting 0HP, which seems reasonable to me. The Artificer get's his flight from his race, so that wasn't the issue there.
The sleep spell and certain monster effects (such as the Chasme's Drone ability) can still cause unconsciousness without being dead.
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
It is a nice idea, but I have found imposing a level of exhaustion when going to 0 hp and then using a few house-rules works well. The impact is similar to what you are doing in many ways, so it is a nice way to summarize it.
 

OB1

Jedi Master
It is a nice idea, but I have found imposing a level of exhaustion when going to 0 hp and then using a few house-rules works well. The impact is similar to what you are doing in many ways, so it is a nice way to summarize it.
I toyed with various exhaustion based rules for 0hp, but ultimately landed on using Slow instead because it felt more cinematic to me. It's also a great trade off between players getting to do something on their turn besides roll a death saving throw and the increased danger of still being seen as a viable threat by the enemies. Being at 0hp is way more terrifying when you are conscious and requires much more immediate action by your teammates :)
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Interesting! I would have the duration of the penalties be significantly longer, but I like the concept.

How is concentration affected? I presume that as long as you make your concentration check you can maintain it despite your mortally wounded status, seeing that the Artificer was able to land safely.

Is there ever a time when a PC, or anyone else, be unconscious and not dead?
Since there are no negative hit points, I would not make the slowing effect automatic. Perhaps a DC 10 or 12 con check to stay conscious and slowed, and unconscious if the con check is failed. Otherwise you've created a situation where PCs can't ever be knocked unconscious.
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
Sure, I agree with most of what you are saying anyway. Quick summary:

1652917537002.png


Your maximum levels of exhaustion is equal to 6 (we made 6 unconscious so 7 levels is death) + your CON modifier (acts as "free" levels of exhaustion).

We don't do death saves anymore.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
A friend of mine who is starting up a new campaign is planning to use this variant by ThinkDM: Death Saves Revived


And I like it so much I plan to suggest to my current group that we use it.
  • 0 Failed Death Saves: Prone (Cannot Stand)
  • 1 Failed Death Save: Incapacitated
  • 3 Failed Death Saves: Dead
  • More Fails than Saves: Unconscious
Falling prone at zero HP signals that you do not have any more energy to fight. You have collapsed from the toll the battle has taken on you. While you cannot stand, your speed does not become 0, so you can still crawl around and take actions and make attacks at disadvantage in a last-ditch effort to defend yourself from the onslaught of death. You may also want to have casters drop concentration at zero HP.
On your first failed save, you become incapacitated. You have lost the power to fight. You can no longer impact the battle in a meaningful way, but you can still crawl around, grab McGuffins, and tell your teammates how you really feel about them before your dying breath.

Any time you have more failed death saves than successful saves, you are unconscious. Your unresponsiveness serves as a mechanical signal to your team that you’re not doing so hot, whereas under the current system they have no idea how many death saves you’ve passed or failed without metagaming. This also adds additional drama to each roll, since you can slip in and out of consciousness. Imagine you’ve fallen unconscious, and you revive with one last gasp of air to take your final act. On the flip side of the narrative, bad guys now have a legitimate reason to ignore an unconscious creature, who is surely slipping towards death, compared with the usual 60% survival rate for a creature in death saves.

I plan to have concentrating characters who fall to 0 hps have to make concentration check at disadvantage and will move the death save to the end of your turn, instead of the beginning.
 

OB1

Jedi Master
Since there are no negative hit points, I would not make the slowing effect automatic. Perhaps a DC 10 or 12 con check to stay conscious and slowed, and unconscious if the con check is failed. Otherwise you've created a situation where PCs can't ever be knocked unconscious.

Not a bad thought, and I like that this gives higher con characters a better chance to stay conscious. I also like @el-remmen 's concept that you fall unconscious when you have more fails than saves. I'll suggest both ideas to the group on Friday and see if they want to make a change to the house rule.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Another possible route for unconsciousness would be to put it in the hands of the players. Fall unconscious = death save as normal. Stay conscious = death save at disadvantage. (Or the even stricter, two normal death saves.)
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
A friend of mine who is starting up a new campaign is planning to use this variant by ThinkDM: Death Saves Revived


And I like it so much I plan to suggest to my current group that we use it.



I plan to have concentrating characters who fall to 0 hps have to make concentration check at disadvantage and will move the death save to the end of your turn, instead of the beginning.
Very nice. I might see if our group wants to try it.

I would do death saves at DC 15, but make them CON checks so the modifier would apply and going to 0 hp is a level of exhaustion regardless of what happens with the death saves. ;)
 


DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
So, this is the draft based on the ideas suggested above. The idea of gaining exhaustion with a failed death save is still up for debate. If anything is unclear, please let me know and thanks.

1653255360697.png
 
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OB1

Jedi Master
Update: Just had our 7th session with the house rule I outlined in the OP and the results have been a rousing success at the table. This last weekend, we had a combat where all 5 PCs were dropped to 0 HP at some point (they are level 4), and had three players on 2 failed death saves at one point (with one who rolled successfully on what would have been their 3rd). The slowed effect is proving to be just the right amount of challenge, and with PCs still up and drawing enemy fire, they have to quickly change tactics when they start getting low on HP or fall to 0. I've also found that disadvantage on Concentration checks while at 0HP strikes a good balance.

The players are enjoying being able to do something while at 0HP, and I like that dropping someone to 0 doesn't lead to an immediate death spiral for the party, but that it does have lasting consequences through the encounter. I am curious as to how much bigger an effect the Slow will be as PCs reach 5th level, but I think that will be balanced by then having access to resurrection magic should a party member actually die.

Will keep reporting in as the party progresses, but so far, it's working as I intended and everyone is having a great time with the rule.
 


Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
@OB1 I was thinking about this, and I was wondering about the possibility of a party death spiral.

Basically, this grants less "full turns" than standard death saves. While characters do not have a chance to lose an a turn due to being unconscious, with normal death save that's often just the chance for a single lost turn. With the 1 minute duration of the slow, it seems like there are up to ten (but likely very much fewer) chances for losing an action because of needing a bonux action or because half speed isn't sufficient, and definitely losing all reactions for the rest of the combat.

With this increased loss of action economy (without sacrificing actions for Restoration spells, which in itself is a loss of actions for doing other things), and the duration, have you had issues where half or more of the party are in this soft denial state and crafty foes could kite or otherwise take advantage of it?

But it's entirely possible I'm overthinking this without seeing actual play, that this isn't really an issue. Do you have issues where a good chunk of the party is Slowed? Does it seem to accelerate once two or more are Slowed?
 

OB1

Jedi Master
@Blue so far in Tier I, it hasn't really been an issue (even with the entire party being slowed in the last encounter) though it does require a major change in tactics from the party. I'll also say that the party made some smart choices with their known spells at level 4 to help counteract the slow effects (such as the Ranger taking Zephyr Strike and using it once he was bloodied).

Tier II it could get interesting, and an encounter against a highly mobile enemy like a Dragon might get extremely difficult if one ore more of the party hits 0 HP during the fight, but that said, they'll also start gaining ways to overcome the slow effect during the encounter.

One of the behaviors I'm trying to encourage with this rule is for the party to seriously consider retreat when several party members reach the bloodied stage. I'm running an open world sandbox type game, and retreating from an encounter or even a mission from time to time should happen if they try and tackle something (knowingly or not) that is beyond their current capability. At the same time, if something is important to them and they want to press, this rule gives them a chance to pull a victory out of near disaster. The encounter last weekend, where they were defending their place of employment from a rival gang, was a perfect example of that. They didn't want to run from a superior opponent, and were able to fight them off in the end, while almost losing 2 party members.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Cool, I'm glad it has been working out well. Like I said, I was likely overthinking it - looking for any flaw as opposed to what normally happens.

One of the behaviors I'm trying to encourage with this rule is for the party to seriously consider retreat when several party members reach the bloodied stage. I'm running an open world sandbox type game, and retreating from an encounter or even a mission from time to time should happen if they try and tackle something (knowingly or not) that is beyond their current capability.
It seems though that a single bad hit which reduces someone to 0 and therefore half speed takes retreat completely off the table unless they are willing to abandon a party member, and that rarely happens from my perspective.
 

Quartz

Hero
When a character drops to 0 HP, they are Slowed, as per the spell, but remain conscious. All other effects of being at 0 HP remain the same (death saves at start of turn, failed death saves for taking damage)

This is pretty much what the Borderlands games do and it works really well. I dislike applying levels of Exhaustion as they result in a death spiral.

I dislike your idea of being Slowed afterwards, however, as that too looks like it could result in a death spiral. To prevent whack-a-mole healing how about reducing the 3 rounds of death saves to 2 rounds until after a Short or Long Rest? Again, this channels the Borderlands idea of being in danger of dying more quickly after you get back up.
 

OB1

Jedi Master
Thinking about making a slight change to the rule, by giving PCs a chance to save from the Slow effect at the end of their turns. Goal is to slightly lessen the impact of this rule on front line fighters. Debating on where between 15 and 20 I want to set the DC at...
  • When a character regains HP, the period of Slow continues for 1 minute, or until a spell such as Lesser Restoration is cast to end the effect. Characters also can make a DC15 Con Save at the end of each of their turns to end this effect early.
or to simplify even more
  • When a character regains HP, players make a DC19 Con save at the end of each of their turns to end the Slow effect. A spell such as Lesser Restoration can also end the effect.
 

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