View Full Version : 5e the meaning of 0 hit points

2019-09-29, 11:40 PM
So kind of a what if/rules hack for more narrative play.

What if 0 hp meant “unable to continue fighting” giving players the option to determine if that means they fled, are taken captive, or slain?

Doing the same thing for NPCs would allow for more readily recurring enemies and so on.

Just wondering if that would have a significant mechanical impact if it were baked in.

2019-09-30, 02:46 AM
In 5e 0 means 'unconscious' and then differentiates between 'stable' and 'dying'. It's also important to note that NPCs don't follow the same rules a PCs by default.

In some games it's just means defeat in the context of the encounter, which means it based on the stakes rather than the rules. Sometimes its simply a matter of declaring whether the attacker intends to destroy or knock out the target. I'll usually just pick what best serves the drama, story, or narrative. Goblins will growel, wolves will flee, bandits will cease-fire and welcome the heroes to a feast for battling well, liches will attempt to teleport away and monstrosities get the mortal-kombat treatment. This helps a lot, since it doesn't always make sense that every single enemy the PCs face will fight to their death. In video game terms, 0 triggers a cut scene. (although you should never use cut scenes in pen and paper rpgs!)

I even created a completely new dying mechanic for PCs to better serve the general narrative in my game, to invoke similar feelings as you described. You get mega-vulnerable at 0 in my game, but not always unconscious. This means there's a new decision to be made, since continuing fighting in that vulnerable state is almost certain-death. This pushes players to DO something when they get to 0, instead of just fall flat on their face. Now it's their turn to try to flee, negotiate for their lives, plead for mercy, or make one last heroic effort.

2019-10-03, 12:24 AM
I'm strongly of the opinion than if a player wishes to surrender or flee they should use those options at any number of health above 0.

If I were a player in that game, I would prefer not to just hit 0 health & suddenly have the option to flee or be captured instead of unconscious/dying. Not sure it makes sense & it would also devalue every choice made in any combat encounter.

That being stated, if you think it would give opportunity to make your campaign into a better story, go for it. However, I would caution against announcing that rule to your players. Do it more by fiat than by hard rule, & probably only do it sparingly, not every time.

Definitely don't let it be a player choice between capture/flee/unconscious, player lost & is at mercy of opponent; DM makes the choice for the sake of the narrative, unless you narratively insert the bad guy as boastingly declaring victory & offering in-story choices to the PC.

2019-10-03, 07:58 AM
The RPG system that Grod published has a similar concept - when you run out of Grace (the equivalent to HP), you can choose to either allow your opponent to choose what to do with you or you can take an Injury - they could kill, capture, or knock you out, or you could allow them to instead chop off your hand, say, or slice a hamstring. Depending on the setting and the exact wound you take, Injuries stick around for varying amounts of time.

2019-10-03, 06:04 PM
I'm strongly of the opinion than if a player wishes to surrender or flee they should use those options at any number of health above 0.

There's one person who would disagree with that.

The Black Knight, of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

That's it. At 0 hp you're lucky to be alive, but you're not talking.