Player Damage and Defeat in 5e DnD

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BearofBadNews
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Player Damage and Defeat in 5e DnD

Postby BearofBadNews » Sun Feb 26, 2017 8:06 pm

Hello, all! I'm still pretty new to this forum, so please forgive any unintended transgressions.

I am a very long-time player of dungeons and dragons, from the AD&D 2e days-- and I think that 5e is by far the best iteration yet.

One issue I've been running into lately as both a player and DM has to do with the way players take damage. It's probably the most abstracted part of the whole system for obvious reasons, but in many ways it fails to represent elements of source fiction well. In most adventure tales, the heroes fight valiantly throughout their lives, but at various points they may be rendered unconscious by a glancing blow, or succumb to weakness brought on by wounds and awake dazed and captured. This is exciting, and it still promises real danger, but also introduces interesting narrative possibilities for the DM.

It is my opinion that the standard method of handling <0 HP is failing to represent this very common trope well. As I understand the rules, dropping below 0 HP automatically takes you into the do-or-die death save zone, a 3-round high-stakes game of over-under. Non-lethal damage is the only way you would be naturally rendered unconscious instead of risking death, and this requires certain conditions and/or the cooperation of hostile creatures.

I'd like a variation on the existing system that allows for less lethal combat while expanding the options for the DM to render the players unconscious. An early idea I had would be giving the players a cushion below 0 HP equaling a max hit die or perhaps their Constitution score? There might need to be a way to expand that over time, or higher levels would blow past the cushion with much higher damage numbers.

A great benefit of this would be decreasing the lethality of 1st level play, which has long been a weird mistake of the rules.

I'd be interested in any thoughts you all might have.
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Re: Player Damage and Defeat in 5e DnD

Postby rudyred34 » Wed Apr 26, 2017 10:01 pm

I think the source material already has a solution for you, actually! On pg 198-ish of the PHB, it says:

When an attacker reduces a creature to 0 hit points with a melee attack, the attacker can knock the creature out. The attacker can make this choice the instant damage is dealt.


There's nothing in there saying that the "attacker" can only be a player. Just have the baddies choose to knock out the players when they're reduced to 0 HP.

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Re: Player Damage and Defeat in 5e DnD

Postby BearofBadNews » Sun May 14, 2017 9:01 pm

Thanks for the response!

"Non-lethal" attacks at the last minute are a fine workaround for some situations-- but in practice it means that hostile enemies must essentially choose to spare your life.

Do I have every single hostile creature pull their punches at the end? There are many scenarios that make this unlikely, and this is a choice that is totally transparent to the other people at the table, so there will need to be a reason. It also takes death completely off the table as a possibility, which has its own effects on a game.

As they exist now, death saves are a great part of the game for campaigns and players that want the high stakes and unpredictability of simulation-esque play, but it's so unforgiving and arbitrary that I'm personally not a big fan. There is no fudging a death save.

Hit point damage has only one consequence in this game, and that can be a problem because it leads to the all-or-nothing behavior familiar to many groups. Every character is as effective at 100 HP as they are at 1, but the second they cross the line, things are instantly dire. The DM must choose between fudging damage (keeping characters in the game and players none-the-wiser) and killing characters in ways that are boring and lack dramatic tension. If unconsciousness (or even injury) was a more common consequence, then better, more interesting stories might result?

So, it is this perceived "problem" that I'm trying to "fix" for my own games (obviously it works fine for lots of people as is).
One possibility would be a cushion of damage below zero equal to a player's maximum hit die + their constitution bonus. That negative range would simply reduce them to unconsciousness (just as if you succeeded on your death saves), while damage beyond that point would work as normal. This is the simplest rules change I can think of (that I think will be effective), but I'm wondering if anyone else has either thought about this or come up with their own ideas.

(Oh, and I think anyone who DMs 1st level games has come up against this once or twice-- when one character has 6 HP, it's very hard to have monsters that pose a meaningful challenge to the fighter-types with 12-15 HP while avoiding the possibility of an unintended lethal encounter.)
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Re: Player Damage and Defeat in 5e DnD

Postby NoThankYouPlease » Sat Sep 09, 2017 5:04 am

I like your idea, it makes sense to me, I might try it out sometime!
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Re: Player Damage and Defeat in 5e DnD

Postby Gaul » Tue Nov 07, 2017 4:55 am

What I've done a few times when that happens accidentally is to "knock them out" and steal some of their gear. Turns into a side quest to retrieve their objects. I've also toyed with the idea of creating a list of scars? Where each time they are downed creating some scar or another. Some of them cool looking/sounding others marring beauty. Obviously depending on the damage type and situation. Then for the lethal encounters adding in the death saving throws or what ever system you want to use.


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