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.

6 thoughts on “The Hit Dice Wounds System

  1. I really like this. Thank you for sharing. Be interesting to see how it would work if it was separated from D&D expectations by being attached to a fresh system/game.

    1. It’d be interesting to think about it. Maybe the dice pool is one of the core mechanics?

  2. Iiinteresting. I think I grok this and it could play out interestingly.
    I’m wondering if the decision to spend HD corresponds to anything in-world. When a PC decides to spend HD on resisting a blow, what would they say they’ve done?

    I find the way specific damage dealt determines injury and ‘weapons do a flat amount of damage’ interact really interesting. It means that, assuming no HD are spent, a given weapon always does the same ~sort~ of injury. So you can key different values on the wounds table to different effects. Like how by default an arquebus does headshots since it does a flat 10 damage. Tweaking the injury results and damage for different weapons could produce some really cool results.

    so yes. Love this.

    1. Thanks Emmy! The decision has always been out of character, but you have a point – maybe it would be easier for casual players if there was an in-game explanation. Do characters spend their willpower reserves to shrug off the blow? Or is it stamina, which they spend when trying to avoid a blow?

      Tweaking the damage values so that each weapon or weapon type causes a particular kind of wound is a great idea. Wish I’d thought of that!

  3. Would you add constitution bonuses to the wound defense roll? On the one hand, it makes sense, but on the other it lends a lot of certainty to the result. If you have a +2 con modifier and d8 for hit dice, you are much more certain that nothing particularly bad will happen if you spend one die on a dagger hit… This might overvalue the con bonus in a way hit points don’t.

    1. As you said, I think it’d unbalance the system. I guess you could rewrite the table and assume a median CON score, depending of your system of choice? That’d be harsh on characters with low CON though.

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