Less Dice, More Decisions: Houserules in OSR and D&D (Part 4)

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


The Problem

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.

My Fix:

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

The Problem

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.”

My Fix:

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 conscious. If the character remains conscious 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.

Magic Points

The Problem

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.

My Fix:

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.


3 thoughts on “Less Dice, More Decisions: Houserules in OSR and D&D (Part 4)

  1. HP recovery: regaining half per night is good; it keeps you on your toes, and can be reasoned as feeling stiff and tired from yesterday (in no way life threatening, but definitely makes think twice about getting off the sofa). But it’s not so much impact that everyone is sitting round waiting for one person to get back up to full. I definitely don’t want total recovery in one night, but I don’t want to have to wait weeks either.

    Of course having access to a magical healer makes a lot of this irrelevant, I’d be tempted to find some way to make it more interesting.

  2. I had another system where each character was given a recovery dice based on their level. Players would roll it to recover that many HP and they could roll it whenever a healing event occurred. Everyone could roll it in the evening if they had a meal and a rest, then another with a night’s sleep. Fighters could, once per day, roll immediately after combat. I was also going to allow a recovery roll when a PC drank a healing potion or received a Cure Light Wounds or similar. The dice were sized so that it would take about five rolls (or two days) to return to full health from 1 HP.

    Ultimately I decided that rather than all that faffing around, it would be simpler if I just gave everyone half their HPs back every night, rather than a convoluted series of dice and tables intended to result in the recovery of about half your HP each day.

  3. Negative HP: I’ve found this one number can make a huge difference as to how the game feels. Too few and your character tends to die quickly, too many and it’s hard to kill characters before they’re healed.

    Gygax softened in later years and allowed you to reach -Level HP. 3e gave you -10 HP, which was great at low levels but hardly useful as a buffer at high levels. 4e gave you -1/2 max HP, which I think I like best, but it also added in death saves (straight 50-50 test), which you couldn’t fail more than 3 in a day (which would be a factor if you find yourself yo-yoing between life and death). 5e has done something similar too I think.

    I think this is one thing that, in the same way that HP increases in a questionable fashion, should also increase in a questionable fashion, otherwise you end up with high level characters who can go toe to toe with big monsters, but suddenly end up going splat when they reach 0 HP, so I’d be tempted to lose the -Con cap.

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