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D&D 5E Vitality [homebrew] playtest

EDIT: updated PDF version (1 page) here.

Our group has been playtesting a modified UA vitality points rule, replacing death saves (as written the UA version appears messy). As a baseline, I only implement homebrew rules if I think they make the game more exciting for everyone and fix a problem.

Goals

Resolve what Hit Points actually represent. Can the human body really survive the bite of a 30,000 pound T-Rex, perhaps more than once? Or are they fully, 100%, a representation of the ability to avoid lethal damage, a mixture of experience, luck, and resilience?
2) Do something interesting with death saves. They don't make sense. When unconscious, if someone slits your throat, that's 2 failures, but you could bounce back up on a Natural 20 next round. And then you could get hit down, and back up.
3) Fix "whack a mole"

Vitality Points

Vitality only comes into play when a character hits 0 hit points at which point the player opts to become Unconscious or Staggered. The rules on hit points are unchanged.

A character's Vitality is equal to their starting hit points.
This never changes unless your CON modifier changes. This represents the actual physical damage you can survive. A dagger to the heart is going to kill a 10th level human just as well as a 1st level one. The 10th level one has just gotten better at avoiding the lethal hit, not better at "soaking" up hits by giant's clubs, dragon's teeth, etc.

Any damage taken after 0 hit points is taken off Vitality. If you're out of Vitality, you're dead. The rules on reaching 0 hp are unchanged. The extra damage that brought you to 0 hp is ignored unless it instantly killed you. If you have even 1 hit point, Vitality does not come into play.

At 0 hit points, the player, unless knocked unconscious on purpose by the enemy, chooses whether to go Unconscious or become Staggered.

Unconscious.
Make a Death Save or while unconscious you take 1 Vitality damage at the start of your turns until stabilized. A natural 1 and you take 1d4 instead. You become conscious if you receive any healing at all because you'll gain hit points.

Staggered.
A condition when you're at 0 hit points where you can take 1 Action on your turn, no movement (you must use a Dash Action to move). Anything you do is with Disadvantage; any saves enemies make from your abilities are made with Advantage. Gain 1 Death Point. At 3 Death Points, you die. An abstract from being on Death's Door too often. Death Points are removed at a rate of 1 per long rest. Any damage taken in this condition goes to Vitality.

Healing Vitality.
Vitality naturally heals at 1 + CON modifier per long rest. It can be magically healed if the character is already at full hit points. Even then, you need potent magic. For every 10 points of magical healing (calculated as if the healing did maximum, so a 2d4+2 Potion of Healing is counted as 10), you heal 1 Vitality Point. Regeneration effects always count as at least minimum 10. You don't round up, so 11 points of healing from a single source only gets you 1 Vitality, and 29 gets you 2.

In Play

This gives players some control, and something to do, at 0 hit points. Given the Death Points system (which solves whack-a-mole), hitting 0 hit points becomes a major deal with risk, so players will gamble if they want to continue to present a viable target. And, at higher levels, avoiding damage is even more paramount because 1 hit from a T-Rex will likely erase all your Vitality and kill you.

In our last session,
a player opted to draw upon her resilience and keep fighting at 0hp. As a Tempest Cleric, she knew if she got hit, she could retaliate with a blast of thunder, and she could, on her turn, perhaps end the battle. We were using variable initiative, so it wasn't a guarantee things would play out in the order she'd want. She has 10 Vitality, so one good hit might kill her, might not, at low levels. In theory-craft, played with the idea of increasing Vitality over time, but that's what hit points are for, and in other systems where DMs tried a version of this, they discouraged it. If we're going to increase Vitality too, we're not addressing our goals. This resembles moreso the AD&D down and dying (-10) rule, as well as the 3rd edition "diehard" feat (keep acting when in negative hit points).

So far, and the sample is only a few months of gaming, I've observed no abuse or problems, but we might see some at higher levels, when that T-Rex example in the spoiler comes into play. But, if you reach 0 hp, you should be on death's door, extremely close to dying, one hit away, not just "sorta there."

I have concern the Unconscious state doesn't alleviate "whack a mole." Healing word for 4 hit points, smashed for 20, extra damage goes away, unconscious. Healing word, smashed for 20 damage.... you get the point. Effectively, whack a mole is allowing us to soak up big hits (beyond 1st level where it might outright kill you).

So, I've thought about Unconscious, perhaps you take 1 point of Vitality damage immediately, then make your save. You don't get Death Points, as normal. That would alleviate whack a mole a bit by providing a negative each time. Anyhow, for those gamers who have the time to crunch and analyze, appreciate any insight into what I might expect down the road.
 
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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
This is very cool! I especially like that you clearly lay out your design goals. I think this rules revision will suit your goals very well.
 

aco175

Legend
I'm not sure how much this would come up in my play. Not many PCs get knocked to 0 as opposed to something negative. I tend to have the monsters focus on other targets that are still attacking them rather than try to kill off the ones that are down. Sometimes a beast or giant insect may try to steal the unconscious body, but most monsters are trying to kill the rest of the party.

I could see something where you are staggered until something negative, maybe 1/4 your HP and then unconscious to negative 1/2 when you die. This might allow the player something to do and make the monsters take notice of someone crawling away from them.

I would be interested to see more.
 

To clarify, going to 0hp works as normal; all the excess damage is ignored (unless of course it would've outright killed you rule). Otherwise, it'd be mathematically unusual to land exactly at 0hp, which is what 3rd and Pathfinder had a rarely used rule for. But as I was reviewing our last sessions, one player opted to go Unconscious in battle because of the dislike of Death Points. It sounds weird at first, but it turns control of the narrative over to my players. Do you draw upon those heroic reserves, or collapse (as most would in this situation)? However, as noted, I've realized the Unconscious condition simply is the same, whack a mole still occurs.
 

6ENow!

The Game Is Over
Interesting OP. I look forward to your updates. We play a similar variant but your "Vitality" is our "Wounds", but same concept.
 


Fanaelialae

Legend
It seems reasonably well thought out, but there are two things that jumped out at me.

I'm not sure Death Points serve much of a purpose. I understand in principle that it's to discourage whack a mole, but this requires the PC to go to 0 HP three times (in roughly one day). If a PC is getting reduced to 0 multiple times in a day without blowing through their extremely limited Vitality, something weird is going on IMO. Additionally, no one would ever reasonably choose to take a third DP (since they would immediately die), so that rule is a bit odd. I think the following is more straight-forward conceptually:

Heroic Surge (2 charges)
You can continue fighting after being reduced to 0 HP. You are Staggered. Recover one charge of Heroic Surge after a long rest.

If the third DP allowed you to make an awesome berserking final strike or something, then I could see a reason for it.

The other thing is that (I suspect) that this will be an option that is rarely utilized at higher levels. Even at low levels there's a very real chance of a single attack reducing you to 0 VP. At high levels, it's virtually guaranteed, since VP are essentially static but damage scales dramatically. It just seems odd to me that high level characters (who if anything ought to be more heroic than their low level counterparts) are less inventivized to choose staggered over unconscious.
 

6ENow!

The Game Is Over
Wounds would be a good word too for it.

Did you ever play Star Wars Sage Edition? That was the into of the d20 Vitality/Wounds system to replace HP and the basis for the UA variant. I loved it and wish they had gone that route for D&D.
 


I have thought sometime about a system where vampire PCs could use a pool of blood points. And also like the shield and the health pools from Fortnite.

Have you seen the system of stamina and hit points by Starfinder?

My idea of health levels is like a subzero pool. The life-drainer powers what steal Con ability score are replaced with losing level of health. If you lose health levels then to be subzero hitpoints is more dangerous and nearest of the ultimate death. Other idea is health levels are like ordinary hit points, but when they are lost, to recover them need more time and/or powerful healing, like consumption of Con ability score by life-drainer undeads' attacks
 

I'm not sure Death Points serve much of a purpose...

If the third DP allowed you to make an awesome berserking final strike or something, then I could see a reason for it.

They're purely for whack-a-mole and to create a risk or disincentive for choosing staggered over unconscious. I originally had the 2nd death point leaving a DMG "Lingering Injury" to further elevate the risk. In the middle of battle, a potion or healing spell easily puts a staggered character back in action, and Death Points can quickly build up in that event.

Of course, looking at the design, Unconscious has little disincentive, hence the thought of at least 1 Vitality damage taken.

On the 3rd death point, yeah, no one would ever choose it. That would be an interesting take, though, to allow the PC to do one final heroic thing then die. To avoid abuse, it might have to be simple, like Inspiration to an ally, lasting for one round or until used. I wouldn't want to impact Action Economy too much.

The other thing is that (I suspect) that this will be an option that is rarely utilized at higher levels... It just seems odd to me that high level characters (who if anything ought to be more heroic than their low level counterparts) are less incentivized to choose staggered over unconscious.

At high levels I think we'll see use because the variety of options for Actions increases exponentially relative to starter characters who may have only 1 or two things they realistically can do, but remains for playtesting. Being at death's door in prior editions, 0hp and below, meant you're 1, maybe 2, hits away from death. This keeps it the same. But, will have to see.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
They're purely for whack-a-mole and to create a risk or disincentive for choosing staggered over unconscious. I originally had the 2nd death point leaving a DMG "Lingering Injury" to further elevate the risk. In the middle of battle, a potion or healing spell easily puts a staggered character back in action, and Death Points can quickly build up in that event.

Of course, looking at the design, Unconscious has little disincentive, hence the thought of at least 1 Vitality damage taken.

On the 3rd death point, yeah, no one would ever choose it. That would be an interesting take, though, to allow the PC to do one final heroic thing then die. To avoid abuse, it might have to be simple, like Inspiration to an ally, lasting for one round or until used. I wouldn't want to impact Action Economy too much.

What I was trying to point out in the section that you snipped is that DP only really counter a very particular type of whack a mole. Self healing. There's nothing that I see that disincentivizes unconscious whack a mole. You'd be pretty much crazy not to go unconscious if you have no way to heal yourself, unless you're maintaining an effect or gambling on a special ability (like your player did). The best reason to choose Staggered currently is to heal yourself, renew your HP buffer, in order to be able to act on your turn without imminent risk of death. And for that to occur three times in (roughly) one day seems to me like it would be an outlier.

Keep in mind that DP doesn't address traditional whack a mole at all. You can still go unconscious and be healed pretty much as often as desired.

At high levels I think we'll see use because the variety of options for Actions increases exponentially relative to starter characters who may have only 1 or two things they realistically can do, but remains for playtesting. Being at death's door in prior editions, 0hp and below, meant you're 1, maybe 2, hits away from death. This keeps it the same. But, will have to see.
I'd say that a major factor in the institution of the 0 HP rule that 5e uses was to eliminate the factor of the earlier edition 20th level character, down to 20 HP, who was virtually guaranteed insta-death from the next attack (because it would do over 30 damage).

You've essentially brought that back, though admittedly as an opt-in mechanic. That makes it very weird at high levels IMO. In many cases it is basically a trap option, which basically assures that your character will die to the next attack that hits them. If you have a healer going soon, in most cases there's little incentive not to go the traditional whack a mole route of going unconscious and waiting to be healed. Again, it's only in the case of self healing (where you know you won't be attacked before you can act) that there's really a strong incentive to choose to be staggered.
 

We're going to playtest the following modifications, based on feedback and reflection:

1. If a player opts to take a 3rd Death Point, that player may describe to the DM a heroic "last gasp" act, allowing the player to either affect the next d20 roll someone makes or simply get in that heroic "last speech" that in the movies everyone pauses to hear, subject to DM approval. Previously, there is no incentive or reason to take a 3rd Death Point, and this acts in conjunction with modification #2.

2. When a character goes Unconscious, they take 1d4 Vitality damage before making the Death Save to see if they're stabilized (if the enemy opts to knock them unconscious, there is no choice and they are automatically stabilized with no Vitality damage). This is designed to eliminate "whack a mole" situations and provide some tension with characters who are lower on Vitality.

Because this is dependent on characters hitting 0 hit points, it may be awhile before we build a sufficient body of evidence as to whether this works, but in theorycraft, I think it solves some of the troubleshooting noted by this excellent community. Thanks all.
 

I'm bumping my own post back up for an update and attaching a GM Binder version of the Vitality system. More feedback:

  • Seeing that having even 1 Death Point to begin with is changing player choices on resting and conservation of healing options. Players are acting much more cautious about finding safe spots than before, and they spend more time talking about it, planning for it, and planning on protecting anyone who has a Death Point. Those people don't look so good...
  • Changed 1d4 vitality damage when going unconscious to 1. If the death save is failed, they take another 1 and, like normal, are "bleeding out" until stabilized or dead. This discourages "whack-a-mole" as designed, but the 1d4 was too brutal given a wizard might only have 6-8 vitality to start with.
    • And we had our wizard drop unconscious to hammer in this point. This parallels the original "down and dying" rules from AD&D 2E (optional) and 3rd edition.
  • Not having death saves "soak" up any amount of damage has boosted the drama. The last 2 sessions have been combat heavy, and we've had Vitality come into play a few times.
    • Cleric player took 7/10 vitality damage when she opted to stay on her feet and take 1 death point. If she went down again, it's virtually assured the next hit will kill her, and the party was facing enemies that exploded into acid upon death. Rather than risk her getting hit in a subsequent battle, the Druid player (bear) "shoved" the foe away from her. Had we been relying on death saves, we would've lost this tension and that heroic gesture.
    • Under the normal rules, we could see: cleric goes down, goblin slits her throat (2 death failures), healing word from druid gets her back up. Cleric again goes down, goblin slits her throat (2 death failures), healing word from druid gets her back up. We could keep this up all day until the spells ran out. It was a silly design that I saw with an old group when we began 5E. It removed the tension that the party was facing above. You know that the next hit won't kill you.
 

Stalker0

Legend
I like what you are going for here. Basically you are somewhat giving us back the old -10 hp and your dead, but in a way that is more 5eish...especially the notion that a single blow is not going to knock you to dead.

I think you could streamline this even further, and remove death saves entirely. Here is the adjustment to your core idea.

1) Staggered: A character at 0 hitpoints. They have disadvantage to all attacks, checks, and saves, and any further damage is applied to vitality.

2) Unconscious: A character is unconscious when they have taken any vitality damage. On their turn, they take 1d4 - 1 vitality damage. If any vitality is healed, the character becomes stable and stops losing vitality, unless further damage is done.

(no death saves, add some variance but not too great. Your weakest character is probably going to have 6 hp, so can last 1 round, almost any other character will last at least 2...which is pretty dramatic).

3) Healing: Healing is halved when applied to vitality damage. If all vitality damage is healed, the character is Staggered. All additional healing is lost.

(just as damage cannot really kill you when you have 1 hp, no amount of healing can bring you up to "full action" once you have taken vitality damage. So a healing word can still heal vitality as compared to your core version, but it can never bring a person back into fighting form, they would be staggered.)


So these are some ideas to add some "5e ish" concepts into your mechanic.
 

6ENow!

The Game Is Over
I'm bumping my own post back up for an update and attaching a GM Binder version of the Vitality system. More feedback:

  • Seeing that having even 1 Death Point to begin with is changing player choices on resting and conservation of healing options. Players are acting much more cautious about finding safe spots than before, and they spend more time talking about it, planning for it, and planning on protecting anyone who has a Death Point. Those people don't look so good...
  • Changed 1d4 vitality damage when going unconscious to 1. If the death save is failed, they take another 1 and, like normal, are "bleeding out" until stabilized or dead. This discourages "whack-a-mole" as designed, but the 1d4 was too brutal given a wizard might only have 6-8 vitality to start with.
    • And we had our wizard drop unconscious to hammer in this point. This parallels the original "down and dying" rules from AD&D 2E (optional) and 3rd edition.
  • Not having death saves "soak" up any amount of damage has boosted the drama. The last 2 sessions have been combat heavy, and we've had Vitality come into play a few times.
    • Cleric player took 7/10 vitality damage when she opted to stay on her feet and take 1 death point. If she went down again, it's virtually assured the next hit will kill her, and the party was facing enemies that exploded into acid upon death. Rather than risk her getting hit in a subsequent battle, the Druid player (bear) "shoved" the foe away from her. Had we been relying on death saves, we would've lost this tension and that heroic gesture.
    • Under the normal rules, we could see: cleric goes down, goblin slits her throat (2 death failures), healing word from druid gets her back up. Cleric again goes down, goblin slits her throat (2 death failures), healing word from druid gets her back up. We could keep this up all day until the spells ran out. It was a silly design that I saw with an old group when we began 5E. It removed the tension that the party was facing above. You know that the next hit won't kill you.
Hmm... Well, I am glad it is working well for you. I've read over your pdf but honestly there is too much going on for me. This is the same reason why we dropped our system. Sure, it is more realistic to a point, but we just decided it wasn't worth the extra hassle, rules, bookkeeping, etc.

But, as I said, kudos and hope it continues to work well and makes your game better. :)
 

Yeah, it depends on the gamers and I'm a huge believer in do whatever makes your games better. Not all that works with one table will work with another. D&D has been great at getting back to its roots by making a large portion of the rules "optional" and encouraging Gary Gygax's original emphasis on "if you don't like the rules, change them."

The pdf sheet is for DMs. At my current table we've got 3 players who started D&D this year +1 veteran. Knowledge of D&D is spotty and I don't expect anyone to have the PHB memorized, much less this. I only expect them to know their sheets and I take care of the rest. If they want to run between a giant's legs, push the high priest into his own sacrificial lava pit, or fight on staggered, I'll know the rules so they don't have to. In the event an optional rule is really key to know, I have a customized DM screen with front inserts for graphics, maps, etc., Until I think it's common knowledge, I have a single paragraph blurb for being staggered. Had the same planned for a Dark Sun campaign (food and water rules).

So that's the other trick for DMs. Take the complex, such as survival rules, and make it simple for the players so they can focus on their characters and the setting.
 

dave2008

Legend
Yeah, it depends on the gamers and I'm a huge believer in do whatever makes your games better. Not all that works with one table will work with another. D&D has been great at getting back to its roots by making a large portion of the rules "optional" and encouraging Gary Gygax's original emphasis on "if you don't like the rules, change them."

The pdf sheet is for DMs. At my current table we've got 3 players who started D&D this year +1 veteran. Knowledge of D&D is spotty and I don't expect anyone to have the PHB memorized, much less this. I only expect them to know their sheets and I take care of the rest. If they want to run between a giant's legs, push the high priest into his own sacrificial lava pit, or fight on staggered, I'll know the rules so they don't have to. In the event an optional rule is really key to know, I have a customized DM screen with front inserts for graphics, maps, etc., Until I think it's common knowledge, I have a single paragraph blurb for being staggered. Had the same planned for a Dark Sun campaign (food and water rules).

So that's the other trick for DMs. Take the complex, such as survival rules, and make it simple for the players so they can focus on their characters and the setting.
We do something similar to what you have here, but we also incorporate armor into it. First we call our vitality points bloodied hit points or BHP (since the idea for us originated in 4e). Here are the basic rules:

  • HP and AC are calculated and used per the standard rules. No change.
  • Additionally, each player gets bloodied hit points (BHP). BHP = [STR mod + CON mod] x Size (Medium = 1). The only way to increase this is with the Tough feat (1 BHP per 5/levels) or through magic or a charm, blessing, or boon.
  • You take damage to BHP after your HP = 0. We have an optional rule to have critical hits apply to BHP, but it was too brutal for our group so we stopped using it.
  • When you would take damage to your BHP, you first reduce the damage by your armor's DR.
    • Armor DR = armor AC-10
  • When you are at 0 BHP you die.
  • You regain BHP at the rate of 1 BHP per extended rest (which is a week in our game) and the use of a healer's kit (for each point of recovery). With a successful medicine check (DC = 25-remaining BHP) you can gain an extra point of BHP or reduce the rest length to a typical long rest. And of course magic works too.
 

We do something similar to what you have here, but we also incorporate armor into it....

Curious system, would magical armor or protections mitigate the hits? Appears to reflect the idea that there's not much damage the body can actually take, like AD&D when it had the "down and dying" rules, death at -10 hit points. I used the goblin example, but we can increase the absurdity by making the monster bigger: a T-Rex or Giant could hit you, take you to 0 hit points, hit you again (2 death saves), and the next round you pop up (whether it be from a healing word spell or a natural 20 on the death save). I know this was probably done to make death harder, because no player likes to see their character die, but making it too easy can have an adverse effect on the game's excitement (in my humble opinion).
 

dave2008

Legend
Curious system, would magical armor or protections mitigate the hits? Appears to reflect the idea that there's not much damage the body can actually take, like AD&D when it had the "down and dying" rules, death at -10 hit points.
Yes, magic armor adds to your AC so it increase the DR the same amount. So a fighter in +3 plate has DR 11, for his BHP.
Yes the idea was to reflect that you cannot really take many significant blows from a lethal weapon. It also makes armor more valuable, which we like.

I used the goblin example, but we can increase the absurdity by making the monster bigger: a T-Rex or Giant could hit you, take you to 0 hit points, hit you again (2 death saves), and the next round you pop up (whether it be from a healing word spell or a natural 20 on the death save). I know this was probably done to make death harder, because no player likes to see their character die, but making it too easy can have an adverse effect on the game's excitement (in my humble opinion).
Not sure what you are saying, our system does not use death saves at all. 0 BHP = death, no save. We don't have anything for being knocked unconscious, but after looking at your system I might ask my group if we want to implement a system to include unconsciousness. I can see a few options:
  1. When player takes BHP damage give them the option to be knocked unconscious or staggered as in your system.
  2. When the player takes BHP damage give them the option to be knocked unconscious or not.
  3. When the player takes BHP damage have them make a saving throw to be knocked unconscious or not.
  4. Some combination of 1-3.
We looked at adding wounds / lingering injuries as well at one point, but it was a little to brutal for my group and a little to much tracking for their tastes as well.
 

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