Reducing the Deadliness of D&D

Old School D&D is extremely deadly, especially at first level.  There have been a lot of systems out there to address this.  The most common I think is a house rule that became standard in later editions that 0 hp marked unconsciousness and not death, and a player reduced to below 0 started bleeding 1 hp per round until he died at -10.  My problem with this system is that players still didn’t tend to see it coming.  More often then not running around with less than 10 hp is perhaps frightening, but OK, and then suddenly on the next hit the player is lying on the ground and there’s nothing he can do about it.

I much more enjoyed Warhammer’s system where 0 hp merely meant that you were now exposed to critical hits, which could do much more permanent damage such as limb loss or even death.  I liked that it gave the player a distinct moment in the game where he could realize he was in serious trouble and maybe do something about it (like run away).  However, I think this system was still a bit flawed, as the critical effects were still completely random, and the severity range was extreme, from a simple armor point loss or stunning all the way to instant death.  It was very possible to see a character take critical hit after critical hit and keep on fighting.

So here’s what I’m using now in my current Labyrinth Lord game.  The charts are borrowed from Denis Tetreault, but the rules are my own.  The rules are pretty simple actually:

When a player reaches 0 hp, the DM rolls on the critical hit chart to determine what extra effect the hit causes.  If he survives the critical hit, continues to fight, and then takes another hit, he is dead.

The critical hit chart is really two charts, one for location and one for severity.  They can still cause death, so it’s not a complete out, but in our game so far the injuries have tended to be fairly light.  The players have been lucky I guess.  Here are the charts:

Location

Roll (d100) Location
01-02 Foot
03-07 Shin
08-10 Knee
11-20 Thigh
21-22 Groin (a)
23-33 Gut (b)
34-40 Hip
41-50 Shoulder
51-70 Chest (c)
71-73 Hand
74-78 Lower Arm
79-81 Elbow
82-91 Upper Arm
92-93 Neck (d)
94-96 Face (e)
97-00 Head (f)

Severity Special Notes
a b c d e f

1-3

Broken – will heal in d4+2 weeks S B P D I U

4-5

Maimed – can only be completely healed magically I O L X D D

6

Severed I D D X X X

Special notes:
S – Stunned
I – Incapacitated, effectively unconscious
U – Unconscious
P – Pain from broken ribs, -2 to hit and damage
L – Punctured Lung, severe pain, -4 to hit and damage, extreme difficulty breathing
B – Massive Bleeding, Death in d6 turns without magical aid
O – Ruptured Organs, internal bleeding, Death in d3 turns
D – Death in d6 rounds
X – Instant Death

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4 Comments

  1. After some use in play I’ve found that the severed severity result is still very deadly and comes up a little too often for my tastes. I’ve changed the die roll in that chart to a d8, using 1-4 for broken, 5-7 for maimed, and 8 for severed.

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