First off, I'm proud to announce that we're now a member of the RPG Bloggers Network. If you're visiting this site for the first time, please check out some of our older posts; two of my favorites were about kobold spartans and pan-fried frost worm.
Now, onto the meat of the article.
I've never been satisfied with hit points. Maybe it's because I started off playing the old Star Wars RPG, which used the vitality/wounds system, but I don't think it's just that. Whenever I play D&D, even when I'm the DM, successful attacks are nearly always described as having some immediate, devastating effect. PCs are constantly having flesh shredded, limbs frozen, and arteries torn for the sake of dramatic flair. This is fun sometimes, in climactic battles, but once you get used to this mode of description, it's hard to break out of it, so that any random run-in with a pack of dire rats quickly dissolves into an inexplicable bloodbath.
Thus, I'm considering implementing the following houserule into my next (3.5 or Pathfinder) game. It's essentially a vitality/wounds system with a few modifications. I simply feel that, with a stronger separation of the "close-calls" and "how are you still standing" zones on the ol' hp-o-meter, you can still have bloody fights without having every fight be that way. What used to be "wound points" I call "health points," because that just makes more sense to me, and I've mixed in some 4e with the death saving throws, but it's pretty much the same idea. The only thing I'm really not sure about is have PCs effectively regen their Con modifier in vitality every 5 minutes; I want a way to reflect catching your breath after a fight, but I'm not sure whether that's the best way to do it. (Also, I'm on the fence about having critical hits go straight to health rather than deal extra damage, any thoughts on that?)
Vitality Points/Health Points
Each character has a number of health points equal to 10 plus her Constitution modifier and a number of vitality points equal to the number of hit points that character would normally have. Damage is subtracted from vitality points first, and then, when a character’s vitality points are depleted, from health points. When a character’s health points are depleted, she falls unconscious and must begin making death saving throws if she has not begun doing so already.
When a character takes health point damage, she becomes staggered until she takes a short rest and may suffer an additional effect, determined by a d20 roll. On a roll of 1–10, the character falls unconscious and begins making death saving throws immediately. On 11–19, the character remains conscious but bleeds, taking 1d4 additional points of damage (this does not incur another d20 roll). On a roll of 20, the character remains conscious and suffers no additional effect.
To make a death saving throw, roll a d20. On a roll of 1–10, the character slips closer to death, suffering 1d4 points of damage or accruing 1 death point if she is already at 0 health points. On 11–19, the character remains unconscious but suffers no additional effect. On a roll of 20, the character regains consciousness and vitality points equal to one-quarter her maximum vitality point total (and 1 health point if she had been reduced to 0 health points).
Death points remain until the character has had an extended rest or is healed to maximum health points, whichever occurs first. If, at any time, a character has three death points, she dies.
Effects that would heal hit points heal vitality points instead, except as follows (these effects are in addition to each spell's normal effects).
- The caster of breath of life can choose to remove death points before applying the spell’s healing to the target’s vitality points. Removing 1 death point consumes 10 points of "normal" healing. If the target has died within 1 round and the spell reduces its death point total to 0, it is restored to life as described in the spell’s description.
- Greater restoration restores all health points and removes all death points.
- Heal and mass heal both remove all death points and the target regains 1 health point per caster level.
- Lesser restoration can be used to restore 1d4 health points or removes 1 death point.
- Restoration restores 1d4 health points per caster level and removes 1 death point.
Additionally, any spell that restores any amount of vitality points to a target who has been reduced to 0 health points also restores that creature to 1 health point.
Nonlethal damage reduces vitality points in same manner as lethal damage. However, once a character’s vitality points have been depleted, each time the character would take damage from a nonlethal source, she must succeed on a Fortitude save (DC 10 + the amount of nonlethal damage that would have been dealt) or fall unconscious for 1d4 minutes.
There are two types of rests: A short rest and an extended rest.
A short rest is a 5-minute break in which no seriously stressful or strenuous activity takes place. By taking a short rest, a character can regain vitality points equal to her Constitution bonus.
An extended rest is the 6- to 8-hour period a character must sleep each night to function effectively during her waking hours. An extended rest renews all of the character’s vitality points, heals 1 health point, and removes 1 point of temporary ability damage to each damaged ability score.