The Hit Dice Wounds System

Here’s an offering for you, D&D DMs, adventure game masters, old school referees: a wounds system where your hit dice are a pool to roll from every time you get hit. Use it, hack it, mock it. It’s your call!

I’ve used these rules for a few months in Lunchtime Dungeons, but they don’t gel with my audience. Most of my players are casual gamers – they love our sessions, but they don’t interact with the mechanics as much as gaming nerds would.

This is one of the challenges of this gig: I have to constantly remind myself than, even if I want an engaging game, I’m running Dungeons & Dragons in offices for team building purposes. I’m not designing for fantasy enthusiasts and practicing gamers. Maybe I need to frame that above my desk.

Bugbears wanna hit you. (Art by Dave Trampier.)

Hit Dice Pool and Wounds

But you aren’t reading this to listen to me whine about game design. Here’s how the HDW system works.

Fixed damage

For fluidity’s sake, these rules do away with damage rolls. (You can keep them if you don’t mind an extra roll, it’s really no big deal.) Below are the numbers I use, along with some weapons traits.

A modified attack roll of 20 or more is always a critical hit, and the damage is doubled. This makes even a knife a threat to moderately experienced characters, which I think if more interesting (i.e. lethal).

Arming sword (versatile) 6
Arquebus (2H, reload d4 turns, loud) 10
Bastard sword (2H optionally) 6/7
Blunderbuss (2H, area, reload d6 turns, loud) 7
Club 4
Crossbow (2H, reload 1 turn) 6
Dagger 4
Dane axe (2H, easy attacks vs shields) 9
Dart (small) 3
Flail (easy attacks vs shields) 8
Grenade (area, loud) 6
Halberd (2H, reach) 8
Hand crossbow (reload 1 turn) 4
Horse pistol (reload d4 turns, loud) 10
Javelin 5
Knife (small) 3
Long bow (2H) 7
Longsword (2H, versatile) 8
Mace, battle axe 7
Main gauche 4 (+1 to Defence)
Maul (2H) 8
Pistol (reload d4 turns, loud) 9
Polearm (2H, reach) 7
Quarterstaff (2H, fast) 5
Rapier (+1 to Defence) 6
Repeating crossbow (2H, reload d4 turns after 6 shots) 5
Short bow 5
Short sword, scimitar, axe 5
Siege crossbow (2H, reload 1 turn) 8
Sling 4
Spear (reach) 6
Throwing axe 4
Unharmed 2
Unharmed, monk 4+
Warhammer (easy attacks vs plate) 7
Whip (reach, strangling) 3

Hit Dice

Your hit dice are a pool. For example, using ‘classic’ B/X D&D rules, a 3rd level fighter keeps 3d8 on their character sheet; a 7th level thief has 7d4.

Optionally, hit dice can be spent and added to attack or damage rolls. (I’ve never used this rule or fear of confusing newbies but I would with gamers.)

Bugbears gonna wound you. (Art by Dave Trampier.)

Taking damage

When you are hit, spend as many HD from your pool as you want. Roll them, add their scores, and subtract the total from the damage: if the result is more than zero, read the result on the wounds table below. Meaning: you want to beat the damage with the total of the hit dice you choose to roll.
(Props to Emmy for inspiring the early version of this table with her horrible wounds rules.)

1-2: You will keep an ugly scar.
3-4: Painful blow. Save to avoid falling unconscious for 1d4 rounds.
5: Bleeding out. Roll one of your HD: you will lose it in that many turns.
Keep doing this until bandaged or healed or out of HD (in which case, you die).
6-7: Lose something. Roll d6: 1. Fingers (d4); 2. Hand; 3. Nose; 4. Ear; 5. Eye; 6. Looks.
Some rolls may be at a disadvantage.
8: Leg useless. Save to keep it when healed. Can’t run. Disadvantage to agility tasks.
9: Arm useless. Save to keep it when healed.
Disadvantage if needing both arms or if it was the dominant hand.
10-11: Head wound. Disadvantage to all rolls. Save or lose 1 memorised spell/spell slot.
12: Dead man walking, 1 + Constitution modifier rounds to live.
13+: Vital organs destroyed, instant death.

All the HD rolled are lost until you rest or get healed (see below).
When you are out of HD, read the damage directly on the table. Whatever the result, you must also save with Constitution or Wisdom or die.

Example: Holka is a 4th level dwarf. In a scuffle with a hobgoblin guard, she’s hit by a halberd and takes 8 damage. The player could roll three of her dice and have an excellent chance of shrugging the blow (the average roll for 3d8 is 13.5) but she decides to keep two in case she gets hit again.
Bad idea: she rolls 2d8 and gets a total result of 3. The referee subtracts the roll from the damage (8 minus 3 is 5) and looks at the corresponding entry on the wounds table. Holka is now bleeding out. This fight had better end soon.

Other sources of damage

Spells and other non-weapon attacks do fixed damage as well. As a rule, I would use the average value: a 5d6 fireball would do 18 damage for example.

In other cases, like with fatigue, life drain, poison, and other non-wounding damage sources, I just make characters lose hit dice from their pool.

Rest and healing

With six hours of uninterrupted rest, you get your spells back and recover a number of HD equal to half your level, rounded up.
In combat, magical healing recovers 1 HD per level of the caster.

Lunchtime Dungeons goes back to hit points

So I’m sticking with good ole HP and damage rolls from my games; the jury is still out about a wounds table vs. a simple roll to stay alive at zero HP. Maybe I’ll use the former in Lunchtime Dungeons and the latter in Dungeonsnack, which I’m trying to keep as minimalistic as I can. (I’m using it for demo purposes rather than full blown “team building with D&D” sessions.)

I really like the wounds system though, so I might use it in another game at some stage. In the meantime, it’s here for you to give your players a meaningful choice in combat – and see their characters lose a limb or two.

Cover for the basic rules of Old School Essentials

Learning from Old-School Essentials

I am currently working on translating part of Gavin Norman’s Old-School Essentials into French. I wasn’t aware when I starting writing this, but OSE is actually on Kickstarter right now! Let me tell you about it and explore some of the reasons why it is such an excellent game for ‘old school’ play, and particularly as a team building exercise.

Cover for the basic rules of Old School Essentials

A short history lesson

If you don’t delve the same internet dungeons as I do, you may not now about OSE (formerly BX Essentials) : it is a masterful rewriting of one of the earliest editions of Dungeons & Dragons. It was released in 1981 as two sold-as-introductory-yet-sufficient-for-a-lifetime boxed sets, the Basic and Expert boxes. These were the work of Tom Moldvay and David ‘Zeb’ Cook, who followed on the steps of the good doctor Holmes and his blue Basic box (another fascinating story – look it up or leave a comment and I’ll tell you). This edition is often called Basic / Expert, B/X Dungeons & Dragons, or sometimes Moldvay D&D (Tom and Dave collaborated on both boxes, but they each got the credits on one of them – and we seem to only remember the author of the Basic game). 

Games history digression over. I have a lot of tenderness for B/X. It was my first ever roleplaying game, the pit trap into the nerdy Wonderland where I’ve been living since I was eleven. But it is also a hell of a great game. Historically speaking, it was the first time D&D that had (mostly) cohesive rules that were (mostly) easy for beginners to understand. As I said above, it was also a self contained game that a lot of people chose over the more complex, more heroic Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, which was on the shelves at the same time. Oops, that was more games history — I’m not even sorry.

Things we can learn from B/X D&D and OSE

 I’ve used BX Essentials as a reference for my lunch break D&D sessions in the office since the beginning, and I have had many an occasion to swoon over the amazing work Gavin has done. Old-School Essentials takes it one step further with better organisation and even more clarified layout. There is a lot of learn from B/X D&D and a few more to learn from Old-School Essentials

The balance is exemplary. The game has enough rules to function out of the box, but it leaves a good few grey areas that the referee and players will have to cover with their own rulings, thus adapting the corpus to their own collective taste. It can easily be played like a board game at the start (with easily followed turns and procedures) while the newcomers ease into the role-playing aspect.
 
If you are a game designer, you probably remember more than one rules writing related headache. We constantly try to make our written rules concise yet detailed, precise yet entertaining. One thing I had never considered was redundancy. If you have worked at or with a publisher, or if you are one yourself, you know that paper costs money, and that some people shy away from rules book that look too think or filled with complex procedures. So concision is your friend, and even if you put in a lot of cross referencing in your work, you try not to repeat yourself, at all.
But going through OSE word by word as I was translating, I found quite a bit of redundancy, which I reckon happened because Gavin spent a lot of time deconstructing and reconstructing the rules to make sure every bit was in the right place. And sometimes, I guess the right place is several places. Because a rulesbook is both a learning tool and a manual — we want people to find the information they’re looking for in a few seconds.
 
From the team building point of view, B/X is a perfect basis for running Dungeons & Dragons as a team exercise. As I said above, it plays like a board game and doesn’t require any gaming chops or taste for the amateur theatrics (as Gary Gygax would have put it). As an old school game, it lets players focus on problem solving in the game world rather than on their character sheet. Most of the time around the table is spent planning, arguing tactics, and trying to convince NPCs to help.
 
Of course, I’ve tried to keep this all in mind when designing Lunchtime Dungeons. But I guess this is a post for another time…