Monday, March 8, 2010

2nd Monday of the Month House Rules: Life Beyond Zero Hit Points or The Reaper Threshold


Everyone’s got a theme day these days wherein they address a fixed topic on that day of the week/month/Mayan calendar, and since I’ve got a whole bucketful of home rules lying around and a semi-flaccid commitment to writing this here blog, I’m celebrating the 2nd Monday of every month by writing one up. That said, this rule is one I just thought up over the weekend; it came to me in a flash of brilliance/stupidity—you be the judge.

Today’s homebrew suds-fest involves Constitution and negative hit points. If you use negative hit points in your AD&D-type game, read on. If you believe such is heresy, please disperse, there is nothing for you here.

At some point when I played AD&D back in the day (1980s) we decided that if your character was reduced to 0 or less hit points, s/he was out cold but still alive—though s/he would lose 1HP per round until they hit -10, at which point s/he was no mas. I can’t remember the source from which we derived this rule* but I think it might have come about because of Cavaliers somehow; it’s usually safe to blame game unbalancing rules on the cavalier. The -10 HP rule, sadly, relegated our super-cool “swansong” house rule to the dustbin. The swansong rule allowed characters reduced to 0 HPs (or slightly less, I don’t remember a hard and fast limit but at some point it was assumed that you were just too dead to do anything) to make one last-gasp action as long as it did not directly cause damage; you could warn your friends of something or fall in front of a spear that was about to perforate a colleague, that sort of thing.


*As the literate among you have already realized, the source was, of course, the AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide. (insert shame-faced emoticon)

In case I haven’t said so before, I am forever on a quest to make AD&D ability scores somehow more pertinent to game mechanics. Recently, I was looking over the ol’ Constitution table in the PHB and marveled at the System Shock stat; something that was never once ever used in my playing days, even on those rare occasions when someone managed to get themselves polymorphed or petrified or something. With this proposed house rule I hope to expand the scope of System Shock to include surviving a death blow. Here’s how it would work:

Polvo the Dwarf has 8 HP when he walks into an ambush. Punctured by 4 arrows, he takes 13 points of dmg and is reduced to -5 HP; not quite -10, so he is not yet permanently dead. Polvo’s player then rolls his system shock deal; if he passes, his character is still out cold and appears for all intents and purposes to be dead—no pulse can be felt—but is actually in stable condition, ie. not losing hit points.

Even while the brigands are picking over his presumed corpse, Polvo will actually begin to heal at a rate of 1 HP every [1d6] hour(s) for a period of up to a maximum of [Con + d12] hours or until he reaches 1 HP. At that point he regains consciousness and may crawl/slither to safety. If food and water is achievable, he may rest, eat and recuperate, recovering hit points at the normal rate for such activity.

If, however, he does not find food and water—and shelter if exposure is an issue—within [2 x CON + d12] hours of regaining consciousness he will lapse into a coma and begin to drop HPs at a rate of [1hp / 1d6] hours until he finally reaches -10 and is dead.

official 2nd monday of the month house rules Evaluation Form:

Stated Goal: Bring some minor relevancy to a rarely used statistic, provide “back from the dead” type occurrences a la Jason Voorhees, et al.

Convolution Factor scale of 1[simple] to 10 [Byzantine]: 7

Game Balance Issue(s): Makes folks with high constitution much harder to kill

Cool Outcome Potential: Favorite henchman who was presumed dead crawls into town 3 days later; merriment ensues

Lame Outcome Potential: extra bookkeeping and monitoring for DMs when applying this rule to “slain” monsters/NPCs; grumbling ensues

Avoid this rule: If you just want that sucker dead already

Final Analysis: Without even submitting this rule to playtesting I don’t think I would implement it in a game as is. After reviewing system shock scores in the PHB, characters w/ a Con of 13 or better are looking at 90+% success rate, even a 9 Con provides a 65% success rate. The “left for dead” survival effect that I’m looking for suddenly seems pretty commonplace. But then it’s pretty silly to think that a stat designed for one thing—determining if your body survived the shock of being turned into a pumpkin—can be so easily transferred to a different, more commonly occurring event. I still like the idea, but it needs a different means of determining success.

So: let’s try it out with another system: Castles & Crusades

To ‘port this rule to C&C, I’d use a Constitution check to replace the system shock roll. I’m thinking someone with an 18 should have ~45% chance of success or so. Let’s check it out: a C&C character w/ Con 18 would roll his Con check and add his +3 bonus: he'd need a 15 (30% successful) if his Constitution is not a prime ability, or a 9 (60%) if he is constitution primed--for an average of 45%! And I swear I did not figure this out before I laid out my target of 45% success rate.

But wait—I’m thinking as I type here—just to make things more dramatic and situationally driven, let's subtract the negative value of his current HP. To look back at Polvo’s dilemma above: he was reduced to -5 HP and so would subtract 5 from his ability check roll. Let’s say that Polvo is 1st level with a 16 Con so he has a +2 bonus, +1 more for being first level, but -5 for his current HP total for a bonus/penalty of [2 + 1 – 5 =] -2. He’ll need a 20 (5%) if he is not Con-primed, 14 (35%) if he is. Most likely ol’ Polvo is on the slippery slope to the great beyond. I like these odds a lot better than the system shock idea.

Addendum: Reaper Threshold
Rather than a standard issue -10 HPs before you die, I'd prefer a value--which I've just decided to call the Reaper Threshold--that is somehow influenced by one's constitution. I think I’d set the negative hp barrier at -6, and then modify it by subtracting the character’s Con bonus or penalty:

Reaper Threshold = -6 - Cons bonus/penalty

Polvo would have [-6 – 2 =] -8 HP before the reaper takes hold. Someone with a 4 con would have a [-6 - -2 =] -4 HP Reaper Threshold. Now this is a rule I might actually bring to my game… If I were playing C&C. I’ll give the Troll Lords credit here, it’s a lot easier to mess with the system than with AD&D.

Thanks all, for allowing me to think out loud. If anyone has used such a rule or is inspired to use something similar in their game, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how it turned out.

3 comments:

Thiles Targon said...

How about reaper threshold equal to -Con.

Josh Tiscareno said...

Intriguing...

I like this but it's a bit much for every single encounter. It might be wiser to only use this for PCs and their henchmen.

For monsters and enemies, any that drop below zero HP are considered "dead" for purposes of gaining XP, but might actually just be seriously wounded and may come back at the DMs discretion. This should be used sparingly for dramatic effect.

NOTE: If the PCs decide to butcher the "mostly" dead to make sure that they're "entirely" dead (ie, stabs each "corpse" a dozen times) they probably shouldn't come back unless they're raised properly.

Timrod said...

Oh yeah, the Reaper Threshold. I'd forgotten about this rule. Don't tell anyone but I never use the house rules that I write about here on the ol' blog. Though I really do like the idea behind this one. Maybe I'll revisit this.