Sunday, May 24, 2020

Blood, Sweat, and Tears

This is my attempt at a comprehensive system for HP, Sanity, Death and Dismemberment.  All that good stuff.


HP stands for Heroic Poise.  This is your ability to survive the world's cruelties, both mental and physical without impact.  HP turns potentially deadly blows into bruises, exhaustion.  It also includes some intangibles such as luck and divine favor.  HP are "don't get hit points" but they are also "keep it together points".

Your HP is a reservoir.  They soak up bodily injury and emotional trauma similarly.  Once you are out of HP, enemy blades start to carve up your belly, and panic begins constricting your brain.  You no longer stand like a hero; you stand like someone in fear of their imminent death.


Anything that could reasonably kill a person deals at least 1 HP of damage.  Cats don't deal any damage, because cats have never killed a human (except through infection, or that one cat that I assume smothered a baby somewhere.  Babies have 1/2 a point of HP.)


When the world tries to kill you, you take damage, which subtracts from your HP.

Damage works the way that it always does, except that it includes emotional damage as well.  Your HP can be reduced all the way down to 0 without any ill effect, but any damage that your HP cannot soak up will Overflow and cause something bad.

Additionally, exhaustion can deplete your HP as well.  Run some sprints and I guarantee that you will not be able to defend yourself as effectively as if you were fully rested.  (Exhaustion counts as non-lethal damage.)
  • Non-lethal Overflow merely knocks you out for 1d6 + Overflow rounds.
  • Lethal Overflow will cause Wounds, and may kill you.
  • Emotional Overflow will cause Stress, and may have additional effects depending on the emotion.  For example, fear damage causes you to flee or stand there gibbering (player's choice).
There's no penalty for being at 0 HP (except that you are very easy to kill).


Emotional damage is something that I've flip-flopped on many times.  It does make intuitive sense--once you realize that HP is not meat-points, you realize that it can be worn down by fear, depression, and despair.  I guarantee that soldiers do not become better fighters when they are panicked.

Emotional damage will be something rare, though.  You won't see it often.


Any lethal damage that is not soaked up by your HP overflows into your Wounds.  So if you had 3 HP and then took 5 damage from an arrow , you now have 2 Wounds.

Wounds subtract from your Max HP, but cannot reduce it below 0. (Damage, Wounds, and Stress actually all subtract from your Max HP, which is why they're linked in the image above.)

When you gain Wounds, you start Dying.  :(

Dying characters fall unconscious and drop whatever they were holding.

Dying characters make a Stabilization check at the end of each round.  This is a Constitution check against a DC of 15 + Wounds.  Every person attempting to stop the bleeding (max 2) gives you +2 to this check.  Certain things (bandages) can give an additional +2.
  • Natural 1 = You die.
  • Fail = You gain another Wound.
  • DC 16 = No change.
  • DC 24 (or Natural 20) = You stabilize.
Once you stabilize, you wake up in 10 minutes.  You have gained a scar and you feel like absolute shit.

If you gained Wounds from a critical hit, you gain a Disfigurement (e.g. a missing arm, but more on this later).  (See Disfigurement Table below.)

Disfigurements are permanent, and most will make your character weaker in some way.  Perhaps its time to retire?

So our example adventurer might wake up with 5 Wounds.  Their Max HP, formerly 3, is now 0.  They cannot gain HP until they remove the Wounds (since the Wounds are greater than the HP).

If they woke up with 1 Wound, their effective Max HP would be 2.

Wounds are removed by spending time in a safe place with medical care.  Once the player spends a session playing a different character, the Wounds are removed.  (It is not enough that a character spends a session unplayed--the player must actually play a different character for a session.)


Character death is one of the more severe punishments the game can dish out to a player.  It's a Failure condition: you fucked up and now you don't get to play your character anymore.  Consider Wound removal a similar punishment on a smaller scale: you fucked up a little and now you don't get to play your character for a session.

"Take a session off to heal Wounds" also serves another purpose: encouraging troupe play.  A player gets to experience another level 1 character, which could be a nice change of pace, plus it gives you someone to fall back on if your primary character dies.

If you stop here, and don't incorporate Stress (the next section) you basically have the same amount of bookkeeping as your average D&D version.  (Wounds are no more complex than death saves, for example.)

Here's a scrap of a character sheet I drew to illustrate it.  (It doesn't include Stress.)

Stress-Free Version

Any emotional damage that is not soaked up by your HP overflows into your Stress.  Stress causes Breakdowns (short-term badness) and Derangements (semi-permanent badness).

Stress subtracts from your max HP, but cannot reduce it below 0.

If you have any amount of Stress at all, your Derangement becomes active (see below).

Whenever you gain Stress, you need to make a Stress check.  This is a simple check against a DC of 5 + Stress.  (Roll a d20 without any modifier.)

If you fail this roll, you have a Breakdown.

Every character has a random Breakdown and a random Derangement.  These are rolled the first time that the character has a Breakdown.  Once rolled, they are permanent.  (Think of it as a delayed facet of character creation.)

Whenever that character has a Breakdown, it is always the same one.

On future failed Stress checks, the character merely has a Breakdown (since the Derangement is already active).

Once your Derangement is active, you perform the bad behavior described.

When a character spends time in a safe place that is peaceful, Stress is removed and the Derangement is inactivated.  Once the player spends a session playing a different character, the Wounds are removed.


Since emotion damage is rarer than physical damage, we can assume that characters walking around with Stress will also be rarer.  However, the Derangements are pretty shitty, so it balances it out.

Some characters will have worse Breakdowns and Derangements than others.  These are the ones that will probably be asked to read the Latin.  This is as it should be.

The full pain homunculus

Bypassing HP

Emotional and physical damage are ablated by HP, but there are ways to sidestep this buffer.

Horrific Lovecraftian shit will bypass your HP and deal you Stress automatically.

Similarly, an attack against a helpless character (asleep, tied up) reduces their current HP to 0 and deals its damage entirely as Wounds.

Places of Recovery

An army hospital is safe and has medical care, but it is not peaceful.

A farm is safe and peaceful, but does not have medical care.

A monastery is all three.  So is a town, if you know where to look.


If your Stress + Wounds ever equal 10 or more, you cease to be a playable character.

If Wounds brought you here, you are merely dead.

If Stress brought you here, you go insane (or some equivalent).  You can be dragged back to civilization (while exhibiting the worst of your Breakdown + Derangement) and rehabilitated, gaining all of the benefits of Retirement, but you can never again be a playable character.


This is a buff that you gain when you are in town, and it is gained by having FUN.

Race your horses on the beach.  Cook a big feast for some NPCs.  Host a dance on the village green.

When a party is Cheered, the party gains 3 temporary HP.  These are shared HP.  The first person who would lose HP, instead removes poker chips from a bowl on the center of the table.

It's not hard to get Cheered, but you have to do something different every time (or at least party with different people).


Look at the example above.

We have a character that currently has 9 damage.  They're in trouble, because they're effectively at 0 HP.  If they take any more damage, it'll go straight to Stress or Wounds.

Their Max HP is 9, but if the character recuperated in a monastery while the player used a sidekick for a session, their Max HP would be back up to 12.

They don't have any Disfigurements, but if they gain any Stress, they have a chance to vomit.  They're currently Abusive, and will remain so until their Stress is brought back down to 0.


Disfigurement Table [d6]
Note: Common sense overrides this table. Falls are unlikely to knock out your eye, for example.  Psychic damage might only put people in comas, or it might roll a d6 like normal (missing leg = all the nerves in your leg die), depending on the DM.
1 Arm Missing/Useless Lose 1 point of Str.
2 Hand Missing/Useless Lose 1 point of Dex.
3 Crushed Ribs Lose 1 point of Con. Cannot speak louder than a whisper.
4 Leg Missing/Useless Lose 1 point of Str. -4 Movement (assuming you have a crutch).
5 Coma Lose 1 point of Int. Wake up in 1d20*1d20 days (if either of those dice show a 1, you will never wake up) assuming prompt, competent medical care. 50% chance of waking up with a new skill: Spirits at Rank 1.
6 Missing Eye Lose 1 point of Wis. -2 Ranged Attacks.

Random Breakdown Table [d8]
Note: No Breakdown lasts longer than 10 minutes (except Alter Ego). When you are panicked, all you can do is move, cry, whimper, and hyperventilate.
1 Fight You attack the the source of your Stress until it is removed or destroyed.
2 Flight You flee from the source of your Stress until it is removed or at least 3 rooms distant.
3 Faint Fall unconscious. At the start of each round, you have a 1-in-6 chance to wake.
4 Vomit You vomit (free action) and drop to 0 HP.
5 Scream You start screaming, once per round. Each scream incurs an Encounter check. You cannot stop yourself from screaming, but other people can. Lasts until the source of your Stress is removed or destroyed.
6 Cling You grapple a random adjacent PC and refuse to move. Lasts until the source of your Stress is removed or destroyed.
7 Self-destruction The DM chooses 1 action for you to perform. It is always the worst possible action (throwing away your magic sword). If you cast a harmful spell on yourself, you get a Save.
8 Alter Ego Roll a new set of mental statistics, personality, goals, etc. You are now a new level 0 character with a new name. Whenever this Breakdown occurs again, you switch back. Your alter ego levels up separately.

Random Derangement [d20]
1-5 Proximal phobia Phobia for whatever gave you the most recent point of Stress. If nothing seems applicable, pick one of the other phobias randomly. Use 6-10 for inspiration.
6 Claustrophobia You panic in small spaces. Gain 1 Stress each time you end a round in a small space.
7 Acrophobia You panic within 5' of a fall (at least 10' high). Gain 1 Stress each time you fall.
8 Thalassophobia You panic in or above water that is deep (5' or more) or murky. Gain 1 Stress each time you end a turn in deep or murky water, or if you fall in.
9 Nyctophobia You panic when you are without a light source. Gain 1 Stress each time you end a round in the dark.
10 Thanatophobia You panic when you see a corpse (including the undead), or when a person starts Dying. Gain 1 Stress each time you touch a corpse, are affected by the undead, or if a PC or hireling dies.
11 Talking to Yourself Never surprise enemies. Enemies surprise the party 1-in-6.
12 Disenchanted Whenever you are supposed to leave town (or a safe campsite) for some dangerous location, there is a 50% chance that you retire instead. When this Derangement is removed, there is a 1-in-6 chance you decide to retire anyway.
13 Escapism Automatically fail Initiative rolls.
14 Guilt Cannot level up.
15 Abusive Whenever someone rolls a critical failure, you will verbally abuse them, dealing them 2 emotional damage (anger).
16 Pacifist Whenever you attempt lethal harm, you take 2 points of emotional damage (despair). You can still trip enemies so that your warrior friend can kill them, you just can't trip them off a cliff.
17 Depression You cannot benefit from Cheer, and neither can the people around you. If the other PCs go get Cheered without you, you have a 50% chance of abandoning the party, fleeing into the night, because fuck those guys.
18 Comfort Object Pick an item in your inventory. Whenever it is out of your possession, gain 1 Stress. You panic until it is returned to you. (This object doesn't change when this Neurosis is inactive.)
19 Sadist Once you attempt lethal harm, you cannot take combat actions that don't include attempting to kill your target. (No fleeing, no healing, etc.) If you level up with this Derangement active, you can only take levels in Slayer.
20 Morbid Curiosity When encountering something that is weird and potentially dangerous, the DM can ask to you to make a Cha Save to resist investigating it ("reading the Latin out loud, picking up the glowing sword, etc.) When you level up, you can only take levels in Warlock. (If you lack a familiar, one will be provided.)


Negative traits are fun, but they shouldn't be something that is picked at character creation.  (Balance issues, synergy/powergaming issues) but it works well if they are generated randomly the first time that they become relevant.  (DELAY ROLLS AS LONG AS POSSIBLE).

A person with acrophobia could walk along the top of a tall wall, they'd just be panicked the whole time. They wouldn't be able to attack an enemy or even shout a warning to their allies.

You'll also notice that Sadist and Morbid Curiosity both force characters into choosing a character class that they might not want.  I think this is wonderful.  Why should players always get to choose their next character class?  (ATTACK ALL PARTS OF THE CHARACTER SHEET.)

Disenchanted is a potentially disruptive Derangement, since it can force a player to retire a character that they don't want to.  To that I say "better than being dead".  I almost named this one as Sanity (because what sane person would go into a dungeon) or Family Man.


  1. Love it overall, but consider: instead of horrible Lovecraftian shit bypassing HP to cause direct emotional damage (which is the exact thing emotional HP should be there to protect you from!) emotional HP is instead bypassed by personal emotional attacks-- shit that can "get past your emotional defenses," so to speak. your long-lost brother turns up and makes a horribly convincing case that your mother's death was your fault. that sort of shit. shit that could feasibily make even a grizzled vet who's seen everything break down and cry. a Lovecraftian horror isn't gonna do it unless it takes the form of your stillborn son and starts taunting you about how you couldn't save him.

    1. Things that I envision as dealing emotional damage:
      Martyr angels that make you feel bad when you kill them.
      Dragons flexing.
      Visions of hell.
      Being possessed.
      The nymph trying to convince you to stay with her for a few decades.
      Lovecraftian shit (there are no gods and everyone goes to hell when they die).

      There is absolutely room on that list for personal attacks from people you care about. You could even make up a weird social combat system, if you were inclinded.

  2. Am I parsing correctly that you only get a 5% chance to stabilize regardless of how much help you get (i.e. the help only decreases the chances your condition getting worse)?

    1. I saw the same thing, and it quite threw me off- all help does is decrease the number of wounds you are likely to have if you survive, but as written, taking wounds is a 50/50 chance of death regardless of how much help you get. I'd probably add a 'pass 3 in a row and stabilize' or something to that effect.

    2. My bad. I wrote this thing from two different piles of notes and didn't quite stitch them together properly.

      Corrected version: Recover on a DC 24 Stabilization check (rolling a natural 20 is always a success).

  3. The comment about “waking up” after you Stabilize implies that you lost consciousness at some point. That doesn’t seem to be addressed anywhere.

  4. All praise the PAIN HOMUNCULUS.

    This seems pretty neat. I like having Breakdowns and Derangements be a fixed part of your character from then-on, I think I might have more things like that show up. Also, Slayer class? And keen to see the rest of the classes now that i've gone through Lamb!

    1. I'm sort of splitting the Fighter into Fighter (good all-arounder, good at surviving) and the Slayer (dedicated entirely to killing things and nothing else).

  5. I love most of this, but I would probably replace the effects of 'Guilt' and 'Disenchanted' for my games- Guilt is too easy to circumvent (by leveling up as soon as your Stress is cleared) and Disenchanted just seems like it would be frustrating.

  6. Yes, please adapt it to your games and your group. What do you think you were replace it with?

    Also, I was assuming popcorn leveling. In most games Guilt could be replaced with "You do not gain XP".

  7. "It's not hard to get Cheered, but you have to do something different every time (or at least party with different people)."

    This seems unrealistic (but this might just be the introvert in me talking). If getting "Cheered" is based on "having fun", why does it have to be different or with different people. We're gamers...we "have fun" by doing only slight variations on the same thing every week with the same people. Why can't characters get the same benefit...hang out with their favorite people and sharing their favorite hobby every time they go back to town?

    1. 1. Better for storytelling purposes. Otherwise players would just say "I smoke space meth until I'm cheered."

      2. I might have fun playing video games and reading books, but I have more fun when I discover a new book, or play a really good game through for the first time.

    2. 3. It also drives players to explore the city, and to set goals for fun things. "What else is there to do in this city? Dire eel racing? Okay, I'm interested. Also the festival of the owl god is next week, let's try to be in town for it."

      Because how else are you going to get your players to drink overpriced moon wine and play the traditional mouse-baked-in-a-loaf-of-bread game?