I have argued in defense of healing in 4E Dungeons & Dragons in the past. It works off of the assumption that most hp damage is minor (e.g., muscle fatigue, shallow cuts, blows mostly absorbed by armor, parries, etc.), up until the hit that kills you.
This works for me, mostly because it is hit points have been an abstraction going all the way back to original D&D. After all, it is not as if a tenth level fighter was physically tough enough to be stabbed in the chest fifteen times in a row. Most of those hit points, even back then, were meant to represent the experience that allowed you to get out of harm’s way.
Still, I think with 4E D&D the pendulum may have swung a little too far the other way. While I don’t mind the majority of wounds being transient, it seems more dramatic to have enemies deliver the occasional telling blow to the heroes.
The Critical Wounds System
The Critical Wounds system is an alternative method of handling critical hits in D&D 4E. It does require a little more bookkeeping than the current system, but I believe the trade off is worth it. I will also admit that this system is in the early stages, and that it has not undergone any play-testing. I will be the first to admit that the system will probably need a little tweaking before it is ready for prime time.
The basic concept behind Critical Wounds is that there are some injuries that are simply harder to heal than others. These injuries are called “wounds”. Unlike normal hit point damage, wound damage on characters cannot be healed by powers or by using healing surges. Wounds can be healed by taking an extended rest or by the use of rituals. However, as these are life-threatening injuries, getting better is not guaranteed. After all, sometimes injuries can become infected, and even heroes can die from internal bleeding.
So enough of the fluff, let’s move on to the crunch.
The current critical hit rules (where critical hits deal maximum damage) are still used for adjudicating critical hits against monsters. In this case, a monster is defined as any creature that dies at 0 hit points. The new critical hit system is only applicable to Player Characters and NPC’s with full character write-ups.
Critical Hits no longer deal maximum damage under the Critical Wounds system. Instead damage is rolled normally, but one-half of the damage (rounded down) is applied to the character’s wound total while the remainder is applied as hit point damage. Any special effects that occur on a critical hit still apply.
Wounds are tracked separately from hit points. While they affect the overall health of the character, they are not hit points and cannot be healed by healing surges, powers, and other effects that can heal hit points. Wound damage does count against the total number of hit points a character has, acting as a cap on the maximum number of hit points they can have.
Characters with wound damage can also suffer additional debilitating effects. When a character has wounds equal to or greater than one-quarter of his hit point total, he suffers a -1 to all defenses, attack rolls, ability checks, and skill checks. When his wounds are equal to or greater than one-half of his hit point total he suffers a -2 to all defenses, attack rolls, ability checks, and skill checks. A character with wounds equal to or greater than three-quarters of his hit point total is truly on his last legs. He suffers a -5 to all defenses, attack rolls, ability checks, and skill checks. In addition, he is only capable of moving at half-speed.
A character can attempt to heal wounds when he takes an extended rest. However, with grave injuries healing is far from assured. When the character takes an extended rest, they must roll an Endurance check (this is subject to any wound penalties the character is suffering).
The DM should then consult the Difficulty Class and Damage by Level chart (DMG p. 42. Note that the target numbers have been updated). If the character makes at least an easy success on the chart, there is no change. If the character makes a moderate success on the chart, he heals a number of wounds equal to a medium normal damage expression. If the character makes a hard success, he heals a number of wounds equal to a high normal damage expression. However, if the character fails to make an easy check, they take an additional number of wounds equal to a low normal damage expression.
It is possible for another character to use the Heal skill in place of the wounded character’s Endurance skill check. There may also be rituals in your campaign which can assist in healing wounds. I will detail one such ritual in an upcoming post.
Example in play
Almirith is a second level eladrin warlord with 27 hit points, a bloodied value of 13, and a healing surge value of 6. His party encounters a group of kobolds. During the battle, he is struck by a critical hit that deals him 11 points of damage. Almirith applies 5 points as wound damage and 6 points as hit point damage. Since 5 wounds is less than his one-quarter of his hit points, Almirith suffers no debilitating effects.
The next round he takes 6 points of additional damage, which are applied to his hit points. He is bloodied because his total hit point damage (12 hp) plus his wound damage (5 wounds) is more than his bloodied value (13). Almirith decides it is prudent to expend a use of inspiring word, which heals him 9 hit points and removes the bloodied condition.
The party dispatches the remaining kobolds and takes a short rest. Almirith takes this opportunity to expend a healing surge, which heals his remaining 3 hit points of damage. However, he is unable to heal his 5 wounds.
After travelling deeper into the dungeon, the party encounters a group of goblins. Almirith gets hit with another critical hit by a goblin hexer, dealing 9 points of damage. He takes 4 points as wound damage and 5 points as hit point damage. Since his wound damage (9 wounds) is now more than one-quarter his hit point total, he suffers a -1 to all defenses, attack rolls, ability checks, and skill checks. He is also bloodied because his wound damage (9 wounds) and hit point damage (4 hp) equals his bloodied value (13).
Almirith goes most of the rest of the battle without taking damage. He thinks his luck is improving when an enraged goblin skullcrusher manages a critical on him and rolls 15 points of damage! He takes 7 points of wounds damage (bringing his total to 16 wounds) and 8 points of hit point damage (bringing his total to 12 hp damage). 16 wounds plus 12 hp exceeds Almirith’s hit point total of 27, so he goes down.
Almirith’s luck finally does change as he rolls a 20 on his death saving throw. He is able to spend a healing surge and stands up. However, he is not in good shape. He still has 16 wounds. Since this is more than one-half his hit point total he suffers a -2 to all defenses, attack rolls, ability checks, and skill checks. Almirith is currently at 6 hit points. He uses another inspiring word and would normally heal 8 hit points. However, because of his 16 wounds his hit point total is capped at 11. This also means until he can heal some of his wounds, he is considered bloodied. Things are not looking good for our hero.
Still, through a combination of luck and skill he manages to survive the encounter. His party sets up camp to take an extended rest. Almirith rolls an Endurance skill check. Almirith is not skilled in Endurance and has no Constitution bonus, so his roll is 1d20 - 1 (+1 from one half his level - 2 from wounds). He rolls a 12, which is a moderate success. Almirith rolls 1d10+3, the medium normal damage expression, for a total of 8. This reduces his remaining wounds from 16 to 8. Not great, but at least he doesn’t start the day bloodied.