This post will have to be expanded on as each of these areas probably needs its own article, but what follows is a quick introduction to my ideas around hit points and healing.
Hit points and Bloodied
Hit points should be regarded as the fourth defense and doing so gives each ability a defensive purpose. From a flavor perspective, the loss of hit points can represent a range of different things from getting winded, scrapes, bruises, cuts, or even just the loss of momentum; all very much temporary. When inflicted they certainly matter, but once battle ends, you are most of the way back to full form.
Hit points are equal to vitality score + some amount from race + 5 per level (including first level). If people are inclined to roll for HP, d8 (reroll all 1s) and 2d4 both average to 5. The d8 method introduces more variability with each result 2-8 being equally likely while the 2d4 method has a much tighter variance while still allowing for some differences among characters. Additional variability amongst characters is introduced through stock skills which provide additional hit points in different ways. The Barbarian gets +5 hp (and +10 every time it is subsequently taken), the fighter gets additional HP equal to fighter prowess (so starts slow and builds), the knight gets +2 hp and a surge, etc. Since each class has its own approach and each character will accrue his or her own blend of HP granting stocks (even including foregoing them), there will be a lot of variety in HP.
Characters have a bloodied value equal to one half their hit point total (round down). When hit points are reduced to or below the bloodied value, the character gains the Bloodied condition. Some higher level healing powers are triggered upon becoming Bloodied such that it doesn’t require the expenditure of an action.
Surges and Healing
All characters begin with three surges but there are many ways to gain more through class powers. In addition, each character has a surge value equal to Vitality. There are many ways to increase the surge value through class powers. Many powers allow a character to spend a surge to regain HP equal to the surge value.
This surge value is substantially lower than in 4e and for good purpose. One of the things that bogged 4e down (and, to a lesser extent, 3e) is the abundance of healing. If we look at the history of D&D healing has always been an issue. In 2e, healing is all the cleric did and many saw the class as a punishment. In 3e, clerics could do more, but healing still chewed up a lot of actions during combat and that was seen as boring. In 4e, healing became ancillary to an action; you attack and help an ally heal. A simpler solution is to just reduce the need for healing during combat by (a) making it less attractive by healing smaller amounts, (b) letting important healing trigger when appropriate, and (c) adjusting the math to make it all work. We still want healing. Healing smooths out fluke die rolls that get a character in trouble; we just don’t want it to become a required part of the strategy when it isn’t that fun and causes already long combats to get even longer.
Healing is often triggered but it can also be actively pursued. Some classes are better healers than others and it might be worth spending the action to return, say 2x surge value. Other healing comes in the form of small amounts of temporary hit points gained each turn to offset damage or its equivalent. There will still be healing and different classes will pursue it in different ways.
The second big change is that you only have three surges to start. One of 4e’s design flaws (again, IMO) is that it presumed resource management over unrealistic time scales. The 4e healing surge model intended you to use some surges during combat and more outside of combat to heal back to full. But because you had access to all of your surges during combat, there was incentive to find mechanisms to spend them all in one go. After all, healing surges are a resource and the more resources we can spend in a finite amount of time, the more power we probably manifest during that same span of time. Of course, this also meant that there were no surges left to heal once combat was done, thereby necessitating a rest. Hark, the 15-minute adventuring day is born!
Characters receive only three surges and all HP return to full after the encounter ends (or after a short rest or whatever). This plays how 4e was intended to play. You have a handful of resources to power things during combat and you heal to full when combat is done so that you enter the next combat refreshed. It is just less exploitable.
Wounds and Damage Threshold
Larger injuries are represented by a wound (although the existence of a wound in the game sense doesn’t mandate the existence of an injury in the role play sense). Wounds are a bigger deal and do not heal normally. Wounds heal during downtime (usually longer than can be taken mid-adventure), from magic, or from higher level class powers.
Wounds are intentionally harsh. When a wound is suffered, the character immediately loses a surge. If possible, the surge may be spent instead of being lost, typically through a triggered healing power. Wounds also reduce your maximum surges, so that if you rest you will regain your normal maximum number of surges less your number of wounds. If a wound reduces a character’s maximum surges to zero, the character enters death throes (basically dies next turn unless something big happens).
Wounds are commonly suffered in two ways:
- Failing a dying saving throw (unconscious from negative HP)
- Taking damage from a single source that exceeds your damage threshold
The damage threshold is equal to 5 + Vitality + Character Level + a host of modifiers gained throughout play. As a result, throughout play, the damage threshold is mostly only triggered by big hits from higher level monsters/solos or critical hits. However, when Bloodied, you stop adding character level to your damage threshold. Once this happens, a big hit from a level appropriate monster might trip the damage threshold and deal a wound. The result is that a new point of tension is created not around 0 hp but around ½ hp. Players are incented to get their bloodied character to safety because hits can deal wounds and wounds reduce your effectiveness in subsequent fights. This is better than tension around 0 hp because that tension is swingy—if it goes wrong, suddenly you lost combatants and the only way to save them is to spend *more* actions dragging them to safety. The primary economy of combat is actions and so having to drag a fallen companion to safety (two sets of actions) is just too costly. Moving the tension up to ½ hp means that when things go wrong you are losing much less.
As a double perk, since monsters can also suffer wounds, the tension exists for them as well at ½ HP. Monsters also have fewer wounds in general, which gives players more and more exciting routes to defeat opponents other than the grind of chopping away on the HP of a monster that you know you already defeated. There is actually a lot more to say about wounds with regards to monsters that will have to wait for its own article.