Welcome Back to the Labyrinth

"We have been away far too long, my friends," Ashoka declared, his face lit by the eldritch green glow of his staff. "But we have finally returned to the labyrinth whence our adventures first began."

"Just imagine the treasures that lie within," said Yun Tai, flexing his mighty muscles. "Wealth enough to live in luxury the rest of our days."

"And arcane artifacts of great power," added Ashoka his words dripping with avarice. "All ours for the taking!"

"Umm...guys?" Nysa interrupted. "Do you hear something dripping?"

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Hit Points Revisited

Over the last couple of years, I've been tinkering with the Swords & Wizardry rules to create a system for running Sword & Sorcery campaigns. While, of course, D&D was heavily influenced by the Sword & Sorcery genre, it is a mish-mash that has borrowed from a wide variety of literary sources. Accordingly, D&D is kind of its own thing; a fantasy style bordering on a sub-genre that has, itself, influenced the fantasy genre. But what I'm interested in is pulp sword & sorcery and I wanted to re-imagine D&D not just as a game partially influenced by that genre, but as an actual sword & sorcery game.

 I realize that there are dedicated sword & sorcery roleplaying games, but none of them scratch my itch in quite the right way. What I really wanted was to adapt old-school D&D to sword & sorcery to create the game that I've always wanted to play. It has been a relatively easy process, because D&D was heavily influenced by sword & sorcery from its inception. Also, Swords & Wizardry is an excellent system for tinkering with; its bare-bones minimalism makes it very easy to add to. Over the last couple of years of tinkering and campaigning, my house-ruled S&W game has 'speciated' into its own game, which I have named Jeweled Thrones and Sandaled Feet, and over the next few posts I want to share some of the changes that I've adopted for my City States of Lemuria campaign.

 One of my design goals has been to develop rules that are not only true to the sword & sorcery genre, but also to the philosophical intent of D&D. One of the first rules changes I made was to the rules for hit points and healing, which I originally discussed a couple of years ago.  I've long thought that wounds and fatigue needed to be separated and, while I was on the right track with that first post, it was still a bit cumbersome.  I've been playing with the current hit point and healing system for about a year now, and I've got it just where I want it now: it embraces Gary's concept of hit points as part of an abstract combat system that represents skill and endurance, and it emulates the sword & sorcery just the way I want it.

I've always found the rate of natural healing in D&D to be at odds with the concept that a player character's hit points are more a measure of fighting skill, endurance, and luck than capacity to withstand physical damage.  And sometimes it is necessary to know just how much damage a character can sustain, when skill and fitness do not avail you, like when an assassin has a dagger pressed to your throat.  So, I've separated skill and endurance from physical damage.  Hit points are, as always, generated by the hit dice for your class, and increasing hit point totals reflect the character's growing fighting skill and canniness.  As hit points are lost in combat, the character is not being wounded, just worn down.  As his hit point total approaches zero, he is becoming more and more fatigued and less able to parry and dodge incoming attacks.

Once the character's hit point total has reached zero, any further damage now represents physical injury and is subtracted from his wound point total.  A character's wound points are equal to one-half his Constitution score, rounded up and, unlike hit points, a character's wound point total usually never increases beyond this amount (though, obviously, magical increases to Constitution would also increase wound points).

Because wound points represent physical damage, each time a character loses wound points in combat, he might be injured.  Roll 1d8 on the chart below to determine the injury, and the character makes a saving throw.  If the saving throw fails, the resulting injury is sustained in addition to wound point loss.

Injury (d8)
Critical Effect
1. Head
2. Right Eye
-2 to hit
Lost eye
3. Left Eye
-2 to hit
Lost eye
4. Torso
Internal bleeding
Double damage
5. Right Arm
6. Left Arm
7. Right Leg
8. Left Leg

I normally don't use critical hits in my game, except on the injury table.  If the wounding hit was a natural '20' the Critical Effect column is consulted, instead, which results in a permanent injury rather than a temporary one and can result in characters with eye patches, peg legs, and hooks.  Arrr!

Furthermore, helmets bestow a +2 bonus to save against hits to the head and eyes, which gives one a strong incentive to protect his noggin.  Common sense is needed when using the chart; not all damage will result in an injury.  Being bitten by vermin, like rats or snakes, is unlikely to sever a limb and, likewise, being exsanguinated by a stirge or giant tick might kill you but you won't sustain any injuries.

Once a character's wound point total reaches zero there is only one thing to do: go through his pockets and look for loose change.

Hit points and wound points heal at different rates.  Because hit points are merely a measure of fatigue, they can be quickly recovered.  A character will normally recover one hit point per hour of rest, but if the character is recovering in an inn with a soft bed and plenty of cold ale and warm wenches, he recovers four hit points per hour.  So a good night of drinking and wenching will usually put a tired adventurer back to rights.  Wound points, on the other hand, take much longer to heal, and recover at a rate of 1 point per two days of rest and any temporary injuries that have been sustained persist until the character's wound point total has healed up to full.

Magical healing is rare in my campaign.  I've done away with the cleric class and while sorcerers do have limited healing spells, they come at a cost.  The first level sorcerer spell Renewal of Vigour invigorates the recipient, healing 1d6 +1/level hit points, but this healing is only temporary and lasts but one turn per level of the caster, after which time the character crashes, losing double the healed hit points.  If this loss takes him below zero hit points he loses consciousness for one hour per point below zero.  It's sort of like magical Red Bull.

Wound points can be restored by sorcerer who casts the second level spell, Sympathetic Healing of the Martyr, which will heal 1d6 wound points, but the caster suffers a like amount of wound points as he transfers the damage to himself.

Restoration draughts can also be purchased for 50 gp each.  These are alchemical infusions made using the root of the Iracunda plant, which grows in the Kurgan Highlands and is chewed by kurgani tribesmen to induce states of berserk rage.  The restoration draught rejuvenates the drinker, restoring 1d6 hit points.

Healing potions are magical concoctions that cost 100 gp each and heal 1d6 wound points.

This damage and healing system has worked really well for me, and as far as I'm concerned there is no going back.  It offers a great deal of flexibility for dealing with different types of attacks.  In almost all cases, hit points must be reduced to zero before wound points are lost.  Even sneak attacks or other such threats that catch a character unawares reduce hit points first, because in most such cases I rule that 'sixth sense' warns the character in time to twist away enough to avoid a fatal blow.  But some special attacks, like an assassin's death strike, could be resolved by applying the weapon damage directly to wound points, bypassing the hit points entirely.  So, an assassin could potentially kill any character with a single hit, depending on the character's Constitution score and the amount of damage rolled.


Trey said...

Your post is timely. I was thinking about this issue just yesterday. What you've come up with seems like a good solution.

Sean Robson said...

Thanks, Trey. I've been playing with it for quite a while and I'm very happy with it.

Dan said...

Yeah Sean this method has worked really well. Theres a fair bit of dramatic tension involved in reaching the wound point threshold too. "Oh oh, S&^t is getting real now!" :-)