Death to HP – Long Live HD

One of the unique quirks about my games is that I don’t track Hit Points at all. I’ve described my system a few times on the OSR Discord Server, but I felt it was time to just make a blogpost about it once and for all.

It’s worth saying that this system is not something I invented whole cloth, it’s inspired by a whole bunch of different things I’ve read and been suggested by people online. For all I know this already exists in published form somewhere else. Nonetheless I think there’s a few quirks in here I haven’t seen elsewhere.

Hit Dice and Wounds

In my system, you have a number of Hit Dice equal to your Level and 4 Wounds. Hit Dice are d6s for all classes. Damage is dealt as normal by all weapons, but instead of subtracting HP, you take Wounds as follows:

1Minor WoundSlight cut, bruise, etc.
2Major WoundBroken bone, lost limb, etc.
3Mortal WoundFall unconscious, bleed out in [Level]d6 Turns
4+Instant DeathDecapitation, major artery severed, etc.

If you take a Minor Wound and then take 1 further damage, you now have a Major Wound, and if you take 2 more damage from there, you die.

The Hit Dice may be spent to “soak” damage. In fiction, this means something like knowing how to shift your weight just enough to have your armor take the brunt of the damage rather than your flesh. Once a HD is spent, it takes 3 Days to recover it. This means that leveling up represents getting more combat awareness, enabling you to better apply your experiences.

In some circumstances, creatures will not be able to use their HD to soak damage due. For example, if a halfling sneaks up on a bugbear and jabs it in the throat with a dagger, the bugbear is not able to use their combat experience to redirect the blow, so the damage bypasses HD and goes straight to Wounds. This is incredibly powerful and should incentivize your players to sneak around more, while also being careful not to get flanked.

Additionally, I allow Fighters the option to spend HD to deal extra damage. In fiction this is like twisting the blade impaling the enemy.

To illustrate how this works in play, here is an example of how this might work:


  • 1 HD Goblin hits Level 2 Cleric, dealing 5 damage (Instant Death)
  • Cleric spends 1 HD, rolling 3, soaking it down to 2 (Major Wound)
  • Cleric chooses to spend their last HD, rolling 5, negating all damage. The Cleric is now unable to soak further damage
  • Cleric hits Goblin for 4 damage (Instant Death)
  • Goblin spends its only HD, soaking 6, negating all damage
  • Goblin hits Cleric for 3 damage (Mortal Wound), knocking Cleric unconscious
  • Cleric rolls to determine how many Turns it will be until they bleed out. Since they are level 2, they roll 2d6. They have 8 Turns (80 Minutes)
  • Level 1 Fighter hits Goblin for 1 damage (Minor Wound)
  • Fighter wants revenge, chooses to spend their only HD to “twist the blade”. Deals an additional 3 damage, 4 total (Instant Death)
  • Goblin dies instantly
  • Fighter helps Cleric get to safety, tends to wounds

Why the Hit Die?

I think my system provides a few advantages to the standard Hit Point system. When I started testing this system, I was dissatisfied with how the Hit Point system abstracted health. My problems with it were twofold: I didn’t like how players had a hard time conceptualizing just how close they were to death and I didn’t like how leveling up meant longer combat.

Now I do have to give the caveat that mathematically, my system is not much different from the RAW system, you’re just rolling HP when you get hit rather than before. The average character in my system does have 3 HP more than the average character RAW (due to the Wounds). The difference is more conceptual.

The first problem is somewhat simple – players see “16 HP” on their sheet and have a hard time knowing how many more scrapes they can get into before they die. Keeping the numbers smaller helps players conceptualize the risk a little better, as well as size up enemies. In my system, they just see “1 HD” and they know they need to be extremely careful, they only have one left. One good swing of an axe could kill them instantly. Or they can see a bugbear and guess “hmm… maybe 3 HD? We can take him”

The second problem is more complex. RAW, HP increases while damage is stagnant. This means whenever you level up, you increase combat by about one more round on average. A monster with 6 HP could be dispatched in 2 average axe hits. Increase that to 9 HP and it now takes 3 axe hits to kill on average. Unless damage is scaling alongside HP somehow, combat just takes longer without as much risk. The way I see it, there are two ways to solve this problem: either they both scale or they both don’t. My solution kind of mixes the two.

On the one hand, as I said before, my system mathematically works out to be almost identical to the RAW system in terms of damage and points and all. So my system still has this problem. However, the option to spend HD for extra damage solves it. I find that players rarely choose that option, however. Giving up defenses for a little extra damage isn’t appealing to enough players. Nonetheless, this option sort of allows the damage to scale with the health.

On the other hand, my thing about bypassing HD by sneaking goes the other direction such that neither damage nor health scale. A peasant can kill a seasoned warrior if they can just outsmart him. None of this nonsense where you might sneak into the Champion’s room at night while he sleeps, bury your dagger in his throat, and he wakes up with 3 HP subtracted from his 38.

Other Ideas

I have some ideas I’ve thought of using with this system, but I haven’t tested them all, or some I don’t prefer for one reason or another. If any of these strike your fancy, feel free to steal it:

  • Give different size HD to different classes
  • Give different size HD to all or some monsters
  • Give “boss” type monsters extra Wounds
  • Make small, 0 HD monsters that only have Wounds

3 responses to “Death to HP – Long Live HD”

  1. Really interesting, how do you handle fall damage?
    I assume you don’t use HD to reduce those so it probably becomes 1 damage per 10ft or something simple (with no way to mitigate).

    Also, how do you handle healing? Can wounds be healed? How do you translate healed HP to healed wounds?

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is a really good question, leaving it out was an oversight on my part, I’ll add this in a revision. So for some things like fall damage or situations where minor damage is received, I have it count as 1 Wound OR I go for a more creative approach and give them some sort of physical penalty. For example, maybe fall damage gives a Minor Wound, but maybe it gives them broken legs (NOT counting as a Wound). This way they don’t accidentally step on a pressure plate with 3 Wounds and instantly dying to stink bubbles or something.

      As far as healing, I usually make them heal it diegetically (such as finding a doctor or healer in town to fix their broken legs), or with time. Sometimes I say you heal 1 Wound per Day or something, some Major Wounds (like a broken arm) I say take 3 Months or something, some take only a few weeks (like a deep cut), some things like a severed arm are permanent, while others still give an in-game penalty (like breaking all your teeth and losing the ability to speak with them or having your eye shot out).

      For a more simple, universal approach, I would say 1 Wound per Day and 1 HD per 3 Days


  2. So on the length of combat with this system, your system(possibly ignoring the 2 bonus health your injury system provides) should actually be slightly faster on average than base because when you use the normal hp system, you have remainders, while with your system you spend entire die increments.

    Example, you roll a 1 then a 6 on two consecutive hit die and get hit for 4
    The normal hp system you would still have 3 health left from these two hit die after subtracting the damage.
    Your system you would have spent both hit die and have nothing left.

    I wish I knew how to model that mathematically to calculate the difference but I don’t even have a guess how.


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