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:
|1||Minor Wound||Slight cut, bruise, etc.|
|2||Major Wound||Broken bone, lost limb, etc.|
|3||Mortal Wound||Fall unconscious, bleed out in [Level]d6 Turns|
|4+||Instant Death||Decapitation, 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.
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
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