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5E Wound Levels instead of Death Saves house rule

Uller

Explorer
We've been playing with a house rule where death save failures result in levels of exhaustion being applied and they can only be recovered by the rules for removing levels of exhaustion. This has the effect of being dropped to 0 hp having some lasting consequences and my players seem to enjoy it. They get much more careful about being dropped to 0 hp and if they get beaten down badly enough they have to take a few days to recover completely regardless of getting back HP and HD with a long rest.

But I want to expand it a bit. I think being at 0 hp and unable to act other than just making a death save is a bit boring and I want to add ways of removing levels of exhaustion in the short term at some cost in resources. I enjoy the Death's Door Mechanic in the CRPG Darkest Dungeon where, as long as you have HP, you basically are immune to dying, but as soon as you are at 0 hp, you are now in danger but can still act.

So I'm thinking of going with the following but I'd love to hear the thoughts of others. Tbis is a very rough first cut and is completely unplay tested.

When a characters reaches 0 hp they are "On Death's Door" and can now gain Wounds. Each Wound adds to the characters level of exhaustion by one. If the amount of damage taken minus the character's hp at the time the damage was taken is greater than the character's maximum HP the character immediately gains 1 wound.

If a character "On Death's Door" receives hp through any means they lose the On Death's Door condition. (as long as you are above 0 hp you cannot be wounded except from massive damage)

Wound Saves: Whenever a character On Death's Door takes damage, they must make a "wound save" vs a DC of 10 or half the damage taken, whichever is greater. Nothing can modify this roll. A roll of a 20 automatically succeeds and restores 1 hp to the character.

Healer's kits can only be used during a short rest and only give the second benefit.

During a short rest a wound may be removed in the following manner:

1) Expend 1 HD
2) Receive magical healing. 1 wound is removed per level of healing spell cast or per 5 hp of healing recieved.
3) Expend one use of a healer's kit and make a DC 15 Medicine check. If the character performing the check has the Healer feat the check is made at advantage and (once per short or long rest) restores hp according to the Healer feat. Only one check can be made per Wound. If the check fails, the Wound becomes a level of exhaustion.

After completing a short rest, any character that is On Death's Door automatically receives 1 hp.

Any wounds that are not removed by the start of a long rest immediately become levels of exhaustion (note: I always apply short rest benefits before a long rest is started...we assume that a group of exhausted/wounded PCs will spend some time eating, binding wounds, etc early in the rest)

Levels of exhaustion can be removed in the following ways:

To remove 1 level or exhaustion:
1) Complete a long rest while having adequate food and water
2) lesser restoration

Remove all levels of exhaustion:
1) Greater Restoration
2) Heal

Dying: At the start of a dying character's turn they make a death saving throw vs DC 10. After three successful death saves or if a 20 is rolled on any death save the character stablizes and is no longer dying.

When a character makes a death save at the start of their turn they may opt to remove the incapacitated condition in exchange for an automatically failing the death save and losing all successes that have been accumulated so far.

Each failed death save results in gaining one level of exhaustion.

Grim-dark alternative:

For an even grittier level of play apply the following two changes:

PCs only gain HP up to 3rd level. After that they only gain HD.

Expanded Exhaustion Table:

1 Disadvantage on Initiative
2 Disadvantage on Ability Checks
3 Speed halved
4 No Reactions or Bonus Actions (or bonus action in lew of action)
5 Disadvantage on Attack rolls and Saving Throws
6 Attacks against you have advantage
7 Hit point maximum halved
8 Can move or act but not both
9 Speed reduced to 5 and cannot stand, cannot cast spells
10 Death

With this, PCs start making wound saves earlier and use up HD faster to stave off the effects of being wounded.
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
When a characters reaches 0 hp they are "On Death's Door" and can now gain Wounds. Each Wound adds to the characters level of exhaustion by one. If the amount of damage taken minus the character's hp at the time the damage was taken is greater than the character's maximum HP the character immediately gains 1 wound.
Isn’t that insta-death in the regular rules? I would argue that every time they drop to 0 they should gain a wound. i really like Eric Pommer’s Wounds pdf which now only exists on scribd it seems: wound doc | Wound | Role Playing Games
 

Flamestrike

Explorer
My problem with these kinds of rules, is they further enforce the 5MWD.

Players with PCs that get a level of exhaustion, or wound levels or whatever at 0 HP will not want to push on and deal with more encounters; they will be more inclined to fall back, long rest and nova stuff.

Id make any penalty gained last 'until the end of the session' (removes long rest temptation) or use a different mechanic (each failed death save by a PC grants a death token to the DM; each death token [reduces earnt XP by 5 percent/ grants the DM 1 re-roll/ whatever]; or something similar).

Maybe even have a failed death save by a PC lead to advantage to all monster attack rolls, skill checks and saving throws till the start of that PC's next turn.

That last one wires in an incentive for the PCs to keep each other in the fight, and to avoid getting dropped to zero HP.
 

dnd4vr

Explorer
While I completely understand your drive for something like this, to me this is too complex. We have some simpler house-rules, but are even thinking for removing those.

So, my question to you would be this: how can you simplify this and stream-line it?
 

Flamestrike

Explorer
While I completely understand your drive for something like this, to me this is too complex. We have some simpler house-rules, but are even thinking for removing those.

So, my question to you would be this: how can you simplify this and stream-line it?
The more approppriate question is what is the effect of these rules.

The answer is 'push the players into long resting and the 5MWD'. Accordingly I would avoid them like the plague.
 

dnd4vr

Explorer
The more approppriate question is what is the effect of these rules.

The answer is 'push the players into long resting and the 5MWD'. Accordingly I would avoid them like the plague.
Yeah, our table had a lengthy discussion once about what hit points really mean to us. In the end, we decided on a more cinematic approach. This mirrors more the SWSE idea of Vitality. It also makes more sense to us when a brief rest can recover the expended energy represented by hit points.
 

Uller

Explorer
The more approppriate question is what is the effect of these rules.

The answer is 'push the players into long resting and the 5MWD'. Accordingly I would avoid them like the plague.
Noted. But 5MWDs has not been a problem at my table ever, really. Two reasons I think:

1) I think my players seem to stick to an unspoken compact that their PCs aren't really all that interested in just resting all the time and as long as their are plausible story based consequences to taking too long they will push on.

2) We have other house rules that addresses this. Short rests only take 15 minutes or so but you can only benefit from them 3 times between long rests and long rests take 24 hours and require a place that is safe, comfortable and well supplied. There is no such thing as a long rest on the dungeon floor while monsters are actively lurking about or on the side of a frozen mounting during an overland journey.

Also, long rests are not as beneficial for us as the PCs recover -no- hp during a long rest but instead regain their full HD, which they can spend at the end to recover some HP if they like. So if they are low on HP but still have most of their spells and other powers and some HD available there is not that much point in taking a long rest. I have observed that my players will tend to press on as long as they have at 25% or more of their powers and slots available.

The reason this has come up is my players have found the "whack-a-mole" combat encouraged by RAW to be silly. Part of that is a consequence of the Good Berry spell I suppose...we have a Druid and a Ranger so every time someone goes down it basically just costs the party an action or at most two to restore that PC to fighting with no other real consequences. So we implemented that exhaustion thing and they really like it. I am just considering taking it this one step further to entirely remove the "whack-a-mole" effect but then that will make gaining exhaustion that much more common...so I want to give them a resource trade off for that...sure you can stay in the fight but it will cost you wounds and that will cost you HD
 

Uller

Explorer
While I completely understand your drive for something like this, to me this is too complex. We have some simpler house-rules, but are even thinking for removing those.

So, my question to you would be this: how can you simplify this and stream-line it?
If you have any ideas on streamlining it I am all ears. That's why I posted it. As with any house rule we will play with it for a session or two before we fully adopt it AND house rules can always be abandoned if they become tedious.

With our current rule (which my players like so far) the only complication is we have to track exhaustion. We play on Roll20 so we solve this by just adding colored dots to the PC's icon so everyone can see how wounded/exhausted everyone is.

This expansion will add having to track wounds for the day which might be the point at which it is too much.
 

Flamestrike

Explorer
Yeah, our table had a lengthy discussion once about what hit points really mean to us. In the end, we decided on a more cinematic approach. This mirrors more the SWSE idea of Vitality. It also makes more sense to us when a brief rest can recover the expended energy represented by hit points.
Thats what they are in the core rules.

Hit points are expressly luck, the will to live, fighting/ parrying/ dodging skill (why fighters and martials get more) experience (you get more as you advance in level) and health.
 

dnd4vr

Explorer
The reason this has come up is my players have found the "whack-a-mole" combat encouraged by RAW to be silly. Part of that is a consequence of the Good Berry spell I suppose...we have a Druid and a Ranger so every time someone goes down it basically just costs the party an action or at most two to restore that PC to fighting with no other real consequences. So we implemented that exhaustion thing and they really like it. I am just considering taking it this one step further to entirely remove the "whack-a-mole" effect but then that will make gaining exhaustion that much more common...so I want to give them a resource trade off for that...sure you can stay in the fight but it will cost you wounds and that will cost you HD
Our current house-rule is this:

When you reach 0 hp, you make a CON check (DC 10 or half damage, whichever is greater), or fall unconscious for 1d4 hours. If you remain conscious, you suffer a -2 penalty to your armor class and saving throws. You may make reactions and move normally, but you may only make an action or bonus action on your turn.

You have Wound Points equal to your CON score + character level. This represents your "meat body" and experience to deal with the pain of injury. High level characters with good CON can have scores well over 30.

1. A critical hit results in one WP lost.
2. Any damage (critical or not) greater than your current WP is one WP lost.
3. Going to 0 hp results in one WP lost.
4. Each round (except the first due to #3) making death saves is one WP lost.

#1, 2, and 3 can all be combined for a potential loss of 3 WP at once.

When your WP is 0, you die.

WP are recovered 1 point via Long Rest (24 hours for our table). Spells restore 1 WP per die of healing, but no HP if used to heal WP. Heal restores all WP. Potions only restore HP and do not help with WP.

Since you are still making death saves, you can die from those as well. We allow successes and failures to cancel each other out, so it can last longer than 5 rounds max to die or stabilize. If you are stabilized in some other way with death save failures, they stay with you until a Long Rest (removes one per rest).

While I like all this, it is still a bit too complex and we are working on it as well. :)
 
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dnd4vr

Explorer
Thats what they are in the core rules.

Hit points are expressly luck, the will to live, fighting/ parrying/ dodging skill (why fighters and martials get more) experience (you get more as you advance in level) and health.
Yeah, it is pretty close. We removed some of the health aspect (see post on Wound Points above).
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
While I completely understand your drive for something like this, to me this is too complex. We have some simpler house-rules, but are even thinking for removing those.

So, my question to you would be this: how can you simplify this and stream-line it?
Some points I will make...

Dropping to zero vs staying up is usually not anything close to something the player controls. Most characters cannot heal themselves enough to offset incoming dsmage and do its either the effort of multiple PCs needed or somehow avoiding critical hits which are pretty random.

So this seems to be punishing the PCs for stuff they dont conttol.

IMO the single biggest changes a GM can make to reduce zero-n-back-up would be to remove NPC crits from the game and use the success at cost rule that allows PCs to take a setback to make a narrowly missed save. I think those open up a lot of options and put the flow of combat a lot more in the arena of choice than adding more severe penalties for unlucky breaks.

One level of exhaustion is definitely going to lead to many more cases of Retreat. Its disadvantage on initiatives, its disadvantage on perception, on escapes from grapples etc - it's very risky to proceed with such.

Maybe try something simple first, like "going to zero hp costs you an unspent HD and do foes each failed death save."
 

Shiroiken

Explorer
A similar, but simpler wound system I worked out a while back might be better for you. It basically turns HP into stamina and adds a Wounds system on top of it. Wounds don't have a penalty attached to them like exhaustion does, because that creates the death spiral, but they do make combat more lethal, even at higher levels. If using this, I'd recommend fully restoring HD after a Long Rest, rather than only half.

Creatures have a wound threshold based on their size category (feel free to modify the amounts, I never actually got a chance to playtest this). If your wounds ever meet this threshold, you die. When you reach 0 HP, or whenever you take damage while at 0 HP, you may choose to remain conscious and active or fall unconscious (Stabilized). If hit with a subdue attack that would put you at 0 HP, after taking any wounds you must make a Con save DC: half damage (minimum 10) or fall unconscious (Stabilized). While at 0 HP and active, you must make a Death Saving Throw at the end of your Turn, but if you took no action other than Dash or Withdraw, you do not gain any wounds by failing this save (you may still gain 1 HP if you roll a 20).

Wound Thresholds
Tiny: 3 wounds
Small: 4 Wounds
Medium: 5 Wounds
Large: 6 Wounds
Huge: 8 Wounds
Gigantic: 10 Wounds

Gaining Wounds
Being Critically Hit (not cumulative with % of Max HP wounds)
Taking damage from a single source more than 25% your Max HP
Taking damage from a single source more than 50% your Max HP
Taking damage from a single source more than 75% your Max HP
Taking damage from a single source more than 100% your Max HP
Taking damage while at 0 HP
Failing a Death Save
Rolling a 1 on a Death Save

Removing Wounds
Healing HP from a single source equal to 25% of your Max HP
Healing HP from a single source equal to 50% of your Max HP
Healing HP from a single source equal to 75% of your Max HP
Healing HP from a single source equal to 100% of your Max HP
Lesser Restoration option
Greater Restoration option removes 1d4+1 wounds
 

dnd4vr

Explorer
Some points I will make...

Dropping to zero vs staying up is usually not anything close to something the player controls. Most characters cannot heal themselves enough to offset incoming dsmage and do its either the effort of multiple PCs needed or somehow avoiding critical hits which are pretty random.

So this seems to be punishing the PCs for stuff they dont conttol.

IMO the single biggest changes a GM can make to reduce zero-n-back-up would be to remove NPC crits from the game and use the success at cost rule that allows PCs to take a setback to make a narrowly missed save. I think those open up a lot of options and put the flow of combat a lot more in the arena of choice than adding more severe penalties for unlucky breaks.

One level of exhaustion is definitely going to lead to many more cases of Retreat. Its disadvantage on initiatives, its disadvantage on perception, on escapes from grapples etc - it's very risky to proceed with such.

Maybe try something simple first, like "going to zero hp costs you an unspent HD and do foes each failed death save."
Ok, so I have no idea why you quoted me for your post, and frankly don't follow some of it or the point you are trying to make. Also, yeah, I know you love the "success at a cost rule", but I really don't. The control the players have is in developing their character, not (often) once the dice start rolling. ;)
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
I would consider lifting Pathfinder 2's Death and Dying rules if you want to make going down more than once more dangerous.

  • When you first go down you gain Dying 1 if it was a normal hit or Dying 2 if it was a critical hit.
  • Every round on your turn you make a flat check (Straight d20) against 10 + Dying value. If you succeed reduce Dying by 1. If you fail increase Dying by 1. If Dying reaches 4 you die. If it reaches 0 you stabilize and gain Wounded 1 if you are not already wounded or increase your wounded condition if you are wounded, but are still Unconscious.
  • Healing brings you back up and you lose the Dying Condition, but increase your Wounded value by 1.
  • Any time you go down to 0 hit points while wounded increase your Dying value by your Wounded condition. So if you are Wounded 1 and go down to a Critical Hit you would start at Dying 3.
  • Removing the Wounded condition requires a successful Medicine roll that takes 10 minutes.


    What this does is make the first time you go down in combat not a very big deal, but makes going down multiple times very dangerous. It also makes the recovery check more tenuous over time.
 

Blue

Orcus on a bad hair day
Just to get it out of the way, I think some characters put themselves at the a higher risk of dropping to zero for the good of the party. Picture a front line fighter vs. an archer fighter. So I think any rule that penalizes characters for helping protect the party is a disincentive to how I want to play. But that's my table, and yours in enjoying it so let me try to be directly helpful.

First, I like your expanded Exhaustion table. One issue I've had about exhaustion being handed out as a combat-based penalty is that the first thing it does is give you disadvantage on ability checks - with is the vast majority of mechanical interaction in other pillars of play. So because of combat you've become bad at everything that isn't combat. Personally, I'd recommend breaking up that when you get it (2nd level of exhaustion) even more - perhaps that gives disadvatnage on STR, DEX and CON ability checks, and a later one for INT, WIS and CHR ability checks.

I notice that you can get rid of wounds by spending HD during a short rest, but during a long rest wounds become exhaustion. This might end up with players wanting mechanically to have a short rest (to spend HD to clear wounds) right before a long rest. Perhaps during a long rest a character MUST spend remaining HD to cure wounds first, and then they become exhaustion. This both cures the problem, but since HD only half refresh it may create other issues that last into the next day.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
Expanded Exhaustion Table:

1 Disadvantage on Initiative
2 Disadvantage on Ability Checks
3 Speed halved
4 No Reactions or Bonus Actions (or bonus action in lew of action)
5 Disadvantage on Attack rolls and Saving Throws
6 Attacks against you have advantage
7 Hit point maximum halved
8 Can move or act but not both
9 Speed reduced to 5 and cannot stand, cannot cast spells
10 Death

With this, PCs start making wound saves earlier and use up HD faster to stave off the effects of being wounded.
In 4e they had a concept called Afflictions which were very much never expanded on. The above sort of reminds me about some of the possible. As well as tricks like accepting an affliction to gain some benefit a bit like running on their blade (your luck is not running out so much as you let it happen).
 
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Coroc

Explorer
The "wound" approach has a serious disadvantage for me. There are other RPG systems where a wound has consequences and is applied at a certain threshold of HP. With D&D some of my players who play this other system to asked me: What does this level of HP mean? Did the char get a wound?
My standard reply to that is, that D&D does not handle it that way, but they are totally free to play out their injuries - or just heavy fatigue from combat - as drastic as they like but it does not have mechanical consequences unless you hit 0.
The same approach goes for the stand-up-in-combat guy who was on dead saves but gets tossed a heal.
Simply play that out as someone passing out for some seconds due to a heavy blow, then it adds to make believe of the scenario.
It is something I really like with D&D because not everybody is the same level when it comes to blood and gore and I do not want to enforce a standard level on my players, while for some it might add to the fun and "realism", for others it does not.
 

Uller

Explorer
I notice that you can get rid of wounds by spending HD during a short rest, but during a long rest wounds become exhaustion. This might end up with players wanting mechanically to have a short rest (to spend HD to clear wounds) right before a long rest.
Yes. I assume at the start of a long rest the PCs gain the benefits of a short rest...so they can spend unused HD, cast ritual spells, us unused spell slots (good berry being the most popular in our game), etc. But I only allow three short rests per long rest...so no spamming Second Wind or other similar short rest poweres.
 

Uller

Explorer
Thanks for the replies all. There is some good stuff here. As of last night we have not changed from our current implementation of this rule (failed death saves equal 1 level of exhaustion).

Two PCs out of 4 went down amd gained 1 level of exhaustion but the party pressed on. After another big fight, a new PC joined the group (a rescued prisoner...on of my players returned after a 4 month absence) and he was dropped to 0 hp in the last fight of the evening. They decided then to seek out a long rest. By this point the party had expended almost all other resources anyway and no new time pressures came up. So I still stand by that my group does not exhibit the 5MWD problem vey much.

However I do agree with the potential death spiral problem. I think before we make any changes I just have to ask them how they feel about playing characters that are temporarily degraded by wounds or who have to expend HD to avoid that. I only introduce house rules if they are more fun for my players...right now I think the whole whackamole thing bothers them the most...so the simplest way to let them avoid it by taking a risk or expending a resource is what I am interested in...the pathfinder approach might carry the day..
 

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