In this final post in my OSR house rules series I present a simple way to include the lasting effects of damage, and healing which scales with your character’s level without a ton of bookkeeping. Potentially lethal damage should you want your PCs to have a chance of surviving a dip below 0 HPs. And a Magic Points system as an alternative to memorising spells, which doesn’t require rewriting any of your classes.
Part 4: Healing, Damage Below 0 HP and Magic Points
Most rules for healing don’t scale with level, meaning that a level 1 character will heal from 1 HP to full in a week while a level 10 character won’t be fully healed in a month. More bizarre, characters with a high Constitution bonus take even longer. Some systems simplify the process by saying that characters heal to full HP with a night’s rest, but to me, that trivialises HP loss. I like there to be some consequences for losing a lot of HP.
Characters recover half their lost HP (rounded down) with a meal and a night’s rest. If they manage this two nights in a row, with no further HP loss, then the character is fully restored.
This requires minimal maths and bookkeeping and the same rule applies to all characters at all levels. Players can reasonably easily get their characters back to full health and yet if characters don’t get a day and two night’s downtime then HPs are still a valuable resource which must be looked after. Note that if you want a grittier feel you can cut the recovery down to a third of lost HPs and require three consecutive nights for full recovery. This will ensure that players still appreciate their magical healing.
Zero HP and below
I find it problematic to be describing the PCs in my game having their arms chewed at by demon dogs and their chest slashed open by wicked orc blades, only for them to heal up to full health in a couple days. On the other hand I fully accept that HPs are an abstract representation of how safe a character is, based on their skill, natural ability, luck and general favour of the gods.
I don’t want to start tracking individual wounds or applying action penalties due to pain, but I do want to be able to say, “That one hurt! You’ll need some time or magic to heal it.”
Damage which reduces HPs but leaves you above 0 HP is considered to be minor cuts and scrapes, lucky escaped and glancing blows as appropriate.
If your character drops to 0 HP or less you must pass a recovery check (an Action Test modified by Con) to remain concious. If the character remains concious he can either move or act in a round but all actions are at a disadvantage.
Should a hit cause HPs to drop below 0, continue accumulating that damage as negative HP. Make an additional roll for conciousness each time the character is damaged below 0 HP. The character dies if negative HPs drop to negative Max HP or negative Constitution (whichever comes first).
Negative HP heals slowly. One point heals per day for a successful healing roll, another point for resting for a whole day and a third if the player passes a recovery test. If the character does not spend the day resting he/she gains another point of damage.
This isn’t the simplest of house rules, and it isn’t right for every game, but it is as simple as I can make it while including two levels of damage and two types of healing all of which scale to your character’s level.
You might want to call ‘Negative HP’ ‘Wounds’ instead; I like Negative HP as I can then track them in the same box as HP on the character sheets.
Low level Mages can be pretty rubbish. Having just one or two spells leaves you with few options and a reluctance to use the ones you have in case you need that spell more later on. Meanwhile, high level mages are often seen as being far too powerful.
Mage players should roll for Magic Points each day using their Level’s HD. Spells cost their Level in MP to cast. This gives low level mages more options and casting opportunities while high level Mages can cast fewer spells overall but also gain more options for which spells they cast (as they could spend all their MP on high level spells if they like).
I like this system because it works in just about any OSR game without needing any new data on the level progression tables, it just uses the spell caster’s HD in a new way. I will admit to not having playtested this one yet, but I’m fairly sure this would suit some games better than the usual spell memorising system.