Monday, May 20, 2013

The Hit Point Stopwatch and No Saving Throws (mechanical musings)

I've been taking the month off of this blog and G+ gaming, to recharge and take care of some real life stuff like finding a place to live over the summer. While I haven't been thinking about gaming much at all (most of my home game players are out of town on weekends right now or otherwise engaged), a few idle thoughts have gained some traction and I want to toss these ideas out there and see what other people think.

Hit Points are at best an elegant handwaving of the combination of robustness and luck that keeps anyone mobile after being wounded - as has been pointed out by many greater philosophers of the game before me. The sameness of having full HP, half HP, and 2 HP has frustrated me the in past, though - the fight ends, and if healing is rare in your game, people are trudging around for days at half mast with no ill effects. There are a lot of ways to improve this, here's one I thought of this weekend.

Like normal, HP doesn't really matter until you get hit. Then, your remaining HP is how many rounds you are active in the fight - when that many rounds is up, you're too busy staying conscious (or not) to be an active participant. Getting hit again, thus reducing you more HP, means you'll be dropping even sooner even if you don't get hit again. If the fight ends before your HP clock runs out, it resets - out of combat you're counting turns. Sleeping 1-6 hours gets you 1HP and sleeping 6 hours stops the clock until your next fight - but unless you're at full, the clock starts when you're doing any stressful activity - fighting, climbing, lifting heavy things, etc.

For example: Bruce the Fighter has 7 HP total, and Morty the Wizard has 4. They are bum-rushing a patrol of enemy warriors who have cover and a guy mounted on a Roc. Bruce and Morty are both hit with arrows for 3 points of damage by the ground troops. Bruce has 4 rounds until that wound temporarily gets the better of him, while Morty only has 1 round. Morty's player has to make some quick decisions. He casts Sleep on the Roc before Morty is down for the count. The flying mount lands on some of the ground guys, and Bruce manages to get some good blows in on the remaining in the next 2 rounds. Now Bruce has 2 rounds to act. He leaves the guys under the Roc and drags Morty to cover. They hide successfully and so are no longer in combat. The clock resets - since Morty wasn't actually at 0 HP, he's conscious, and since the clock has reset, that's a turn of regular action. If they don't get to a safe resting place in that time, Bruce will have to carry him after a turn - Bruce has 4 turns of mobility total, 3 more than Morty.

This requires players to keep track and be honest, etc, which won't fit all groups. It's an attempt to mash a kind of wound system into an HP-based system. You can tack all sorts of other things onto it - the amount of HP you're down is a penalty to all rolls, etc. It makes being hurt scarier, and moves toward the feeling of Grot some of us want in our games. 


I was listening to a podcast that brought up Odysseus and the Sirens, and how he knew that hearing them meant you crashed your ship and died but wanted to hear them anyway. If you forgot or haven't read The Odyssey: he has his crew stuff their ears with beeswax and tie him to the mast. He gets to hear the sirens, his crew doesn't and aren't affected - and also can't hear him begging them to crash the fucking ship to be nearer to the sirens. And I thought, well, that's a lot more interesting because he had to figure a thing out and come up with a strategy rather than leave his fate to, uh, fate. That motherfucker didn't get a Saving Throw.

So, like, in a world where at least some of the supernatural elements are known and information can be actively and successfully sought before encountering them, do we need saving throws? As a player, I love investigating shit and then seeing if my strategy works based on the information I get. As a DM, I love seeing the players work things out based on the amount of info they actively seek. If they want it random and are tired of investigation, they can still charge in and leave it to improvisation and dice.
Anyway, Odysseus - that motherfucker didn't get a saving throw, he seduced a witch who gave him the what's what and had to use his brains to make use of the information. And me? I, too, want to know what the sirens sing.

(A later thought - neither of these seem suitable for introducing to a game already in progress, they'd have to be well-thought-out integrations to a one off or new campaign. If you try either one or have thoughts or modifications, I'd love to hear about it.)


  1. To be honest I didn't like Stopwatch at all when I first read it, but came back to it when Pearce Shea brought it up again.
    I think it adds a really interesting post-combat element, but if I was to use it I'd likely only have it kick in when they're down to half their class HD (I already have them die outright at minus half class HD, and have fairly low hp for actual physical harm) or if they take a serious wound. It just seems a bit harsh for my burly Fighter to take 1 point of damage and slowly succumb to it for the rest of the combat and beyond unless he was fighting in a cesspool.

    Having a limited amount of time to find somewhere to rest is nice though, I'd rule that for every round you try to push on after you've reached your limit you actually lose another hp, bringing yourself closer to passing out in the dark.
    The more I think about it the more I like it. I have things in place that make combat a lot more interesting but makes characters fairly durable, so I'm looking forward to making actual physical harm even more terrifying.

    As for saving throws I wholeheartedly agree that some things just shouldn't have a save, even without having forewarning and being able to investigate, sometimes shit just happens.

    1. Right on!
      I was leafing through Stormbringer! 3rd ed (the Games Workshop hardback) last night, and it turns out that there's a similar rule for HP in there - when you're at half, you drop in that many rounds.
      I really dig the "push past your limits at the cost of hp/time" idea, it ups the drama nicely.

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  3. I'm all about the drama.
    I'm looking forward to watching players dance around losing their restorable hp rather than being hurt physically, and coming up with interesting explanations for why attacks destroy a Significant Item instead of stabbing them, then later dragging themselves weeping through the dark trying to hold their intestines in while they bleed out.

  4. Been working on something similar to this recently based on my reading revealing the stunning resilience of the human body (available here -

    What I've been thinking is that each time you get hit it reduces your "bleed-out time" - i.e. the point at which your blood pressure gets so low you're totally useless/passed out. Something like first wound 2 hours, second 1 hour, etc.

    But what you've got here does that much more elegantly, and with much the same effect - thanks for the food for thought!