Monday, March 30, 2015

Narrative Wounds and Fast HP Refreshment

I've experimented with different types of healing in my games.  Over time, I've been gravitating towards fast HP refresh, coupled with a wound system.  This has two advantages:

  • It mitigates the need for a healer.
  • It allows players to adventure longer without needing to sleep (a restriction which sometimes feels crudely artificial)

So here's my current system:

  1. HP can be thought of as "don't get hit" points.
  2. HPs recover to full with a full lunch (takes an hour) or a good night's rest (takes 8 hours).
  3. Any damage in excess of 0 incurs a roll on the death and dismemberment table, which is sprinkled with injuries that may take days or months to heal.

And that works pretty good.  I've also experimented with an even looser version, where HP refill to full with every short rest, but that feels a bit too loose to me, since fights often have no lasting impact.

So here's the system that I'm going to try next.  It's the same as the above system except for #2:

2. HPs optionally recover to full during a short rest (10 minutes / an exploration turn) while the character binds their wounds and picks the rocks out of their shoe.  If the character chooses to recover HP this way, they must also assign themselves a narrative injury.  This injury has no mechanical effect except to reduce their maximum HP by 1 point per HD.  (So a level 3 character would have their maximum HP reduced by 3 points).  This minor injury lasts for the rest of the day.

I like this because:

  • It gives players a chance to describe how their character has been injured (scrapes?  exhaustion?  demoralization?) and how they recover from it (rub some dirt in the wound? quaff some booze?  lighten the mood with some jokes?).
  • It creates a tactical decision point.  Should they play conservative and heal now?  Or should they press their luck, trying not to reduce their maximum HP too much with too many refreshments?
In play, it might feel a little artificial (since some players will be refreshing mechanically while others won't be) but I hope that the narrative side of things will alleviate some of that.


  1. Nice. My thinking is almost identical on this. Hit Points as "combat fatigue" rather than physical injury pairs really well with a Death & Dismemberment table. You can retain the sense of risk but not get bogged down in overblown hole-up-and-heal sessions after a really tough fight. Getting the balance with #2 is the key, or as you say fights risk having no lasting impact. Also once PC's get out of lower levels HP attrition tends to become about resource management and balancing risk vs reward rather than straight up survival - if HP recovery becomes too easy at this point you lose an interesting aspect of old school play.

    I've been leaning towards a short rest (1 hour) recovering 1HP/level (max twice a day) and an overnighter giving back 2HP/level, for a maximum of 4HP/day - significant compared to old school D&D but it still takes 2 full day to recover from 0 HP. Alongside this would be an option to take a devil's bargain if quicker healing is required - "burn" a hit die and you get to reroll HP with your remaining Hit Dice. The catch would be that recovering burnt HD wouldn't occur until you get an extended period of R&R, at which point you reroll your full HD. Different to what you are suggesting but similar ethos I think.

  2. Several years ago I devised a quite similar solution (visible at

    Basically, most injuries reduce your "hard to kill". A punch in the nose can be a big "hard to kill" injury (your face is full of pain and you're suddenly, if temporarily, blinded -- dodging the next shot is going to be a challenge) that actually doesn't do that much physical trauma. Taking a rest lets you recover your hard to kill as you catch your breath, bind wounds, straighten your now-broken nose so you can breathe properly again, and so on.

    Trauma (critical hits) and systemic damage (poison, death magic, anything that requires a Fortitude save basically) don't recover this way. Eventually you will get worn down.

    And taking a rest causes effects like buff spells to expire, so there's a trade-off involved too. Do you push on while damaged (but buffed), or do you recover your hard to kill but let your buffs expire?

  3. I second Keith's point about buffs expiring and so on. I'd think you could encourage players to "push forward" instead of resting after every fight if you provide proper counter-incentives: wandering monster rolls, certainly, but also maybe an automatic buff after a successful fight that goes away if you rest. Say:+1 to hit after a victory due to increased morale / spirit / adrenaline / whatever, expires if you rest.

  4. Chris McDowall made something very similar for his game "Into The Odd" (

  5. I assume pretty much the same basis in my current raygun fantasy project, and have been working on similar solutions to emphasize the non-injury nature of hit points. I want recovery to be tied to number of hit dice - probably 1 hp per hit die at each recovery interval.

  6. I would be very interested in seeing your Death and Dismemberment table!

    1. It's on the blog but if you don't want to hunt it out I've linked to it on my "honour roll" of Death & Dismemberment tables

    2. Lloyd Neill: Those are some pretty excellent links you've got in those three posts. Your "One Table" looks pretty good, too. Thanks!