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After fumbling with the idea of death and dismemberment, I figure it’d be a good idea to take stock of rules and changes to life, death, and hit points in my system so far. But first, a few objectives to keep in mind.

Level one should not be a death sentence. I think a 1st-level character should have a fair chance of surviving to 2nd level. I think it’s a more interesting when a higher-level character dies anyway.

Low probability for stupid random deaths. While I loathe the idea of a PC surviving multiple crossbow bolts to the head at point blank range, I think it’s lame for a PC to die from a typical random encounter.

Low probability for random pointless deaths. Similar to the above, I think it’s a more fun when PCs die dramatically — whether it’s in battle with a big, bad monster, or from taking risks while knowing the consequences for failure.

Now, here’s a summary of effects related to life and death.

Characters use an ability score for base hit points. For PCs, this means between 3-18 hit points before they add a character class, and nameless NPCs generally have 3-18 hit points. PCs add 10-15 hp at 1st, then 4-6 per level.

Creatures and characters become “bloodied” at half their max hp. Mechanically and flavor-wise, the first 50% of a creature’s hit points reflect their ability to avoid injury. Once they’re at half health, stuff gets real.

Character race determines base healing rate. 4e uses half a character’s bloodied value to determine “surge value,” which means higher-level PCs and creatures with more hp heal faster — which is kind of weird. Instead…

Healing rate remains the same throughout a PC’s career. While it can be modified by powers and options during advancement, a PC will generally recover the same number of hit points every time they heal. Math stress reduction.

Healing is healing, regardless of life or unlife. Because there is a broad variety of healing types, it would be way too complicated for healing to hurt undead creatures. Also, there will be more undead PCs (more on this later).

Total defense is a recovery combat maneuver. 3e and 4e both have “total defense” options of varying effectiveness. You could compare total defense to “second wind” from 4e — it heals a little hp and grants a defense bonus.

PCs have a pool of action points for healing. This unifies the healing surge mechanic from 4e with the 4e action point system. Every PC gets the exact same number of action points per day, from 1st level. However…

A short rest recovers hit points for free. Comparable to “regenerating shields” found in the current generation of video games, this is a tremendous boon to managing encounter balance. PCs can run out of AP because…

Action points are used for combat healing. The 4e “action point” is instead an encounter power, and balanced by the fact that…

Characters recover encounter powers after two fights. PCs can rest after every fight, but recover powers after two fights. This makes it possible to fight all day without consequence — but possible doesn’t mean likely.

Critical hits deal maximum damage. There will likely be some riders based on race or class, but this is to save everyone time during combat. There are no multipliers, no weird other effects — just maximum damage. It works.

PCs remain conscious but begin dying at 0 hp. Forget negative hit points, negative hit points are stupid. I think death at 0 hit points is weird for PCs but for unimportant monsters and nameless NPCs, it’s pretty much the norm.

PCs at 0 hit points must save against death. Three strikes and you’re out. You save at the end of your turn, giving you time to use total defense. Unless you’ve run out of action points, in which case you’re probably going down.

Each failed death save renders a PC unconscious. I’m not a big fan of the PCs bouncing up and down off the ground when they’re hovering around 0 hp, which happens in 4e. The 1 hit point divide between consciousness is weird.

An extended rest restores death saves, hp, and action points. Failed death saves persist throughout the day, and action points can only be recovered by taking an extended rest — which is generally 4 hours for PCs.

That’s what came to mind. PCs will have a stronger chance for a survival. In total, we have several numbers easily calculated and a few that rarely change…

  • Max hit points – fixed at 1st, rises predictably
  • Current hit points – recovered for free with short rest
  • Healing rate – fixed at 1st, rarely changes
  • Max action points – pretty much the same for all PCs
  • Current action points – recovered with an extended rest
  • Failed death saves – persist; recovered with extended rest