That Terminal Breath

How many gaming groups out there are bold enough to let all creatures, monsters and PCs alike, die at 0 HP? Not many, I’d guess – most OSR systems also seem to incorporate some sort of rule for negative Hit Points, or at least present a number of common rules variants for this.

For my own game, as usual we started with the LotFP rules:

When hit points reach 0, the character becomes unable to take any action, and in most cases falls completely unconscious. The character becomes mortally wounded at –3 hit points and will die in d10 minutes. No healing, magical or otherwise, can prevent death at this point. Death is instantaneous at -4hp.

For later sessions, I’ve expanded this rule slightly; I do think these kinds of games should be deadly and I didn’t want to take the edge of suffering damage, but I also like the idea of mortally wounded characters surviving to fight another day – almost intact.

The current House Rule for my group is as follows:

As per the normal rules, a character reduced to 0 Hit Points or below falls unconscious and cannot be revived until after the combat. A character that falls below -2 Hit Points has been mortally wounded; he/she stands little chance of surviving, and must follow the steps below.

  • The character will bleed and lose 1 extra Hit Point at the end of each Combat Round following the one where he/she fell below -2 Hit Points.
  • If the character is healed up to -2 Hit Points or above by any means, a Save vs Poison must be made immediately in order to survive the shock to the system; failure means the character dies.
  • If this Save vs Poison is successful, the character will still suffer some sort of traumatizing and permanent injury; determine an ability score randomly by rolling a D6, and permanently lower that ability by D3.
  • If the character reaches -10 Hit Points or below, all hope for him/her is lost.

These special circumstances only apply when a character has fallen due to Hit Point loss. Poison, magical effects and similar things causing instant Death are exempt from these rules.

The permanent injury suffered should of course be given a suitable description. My suggestion is to leave this up to the player, subject to the GMs approval. Lost Charisma might indicate horrible scarring or slurred speech, a drop in Intelligence a brain injury, lost Strength perhaps a twisted arm not healed quite right.

Note that the Save vs Poison used in this case is the one most suitable in LotFP; for other systems, I’d recommend either some sort of Body/Toughness Save or the classic Save vs Death.


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