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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Bugbear in the Playground
    Greywander's Avatar

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    Nov 2017

    Default Wound Tracks, a hypothesis (and viable at-will healing)


    This ended up being a lot longer than I thought it would. I'm not exactly here to present a finished working system. Rather, I just wanted to explore some ideas and get feedback. I'd love for someone to take this for a spin and report back their experiences.

    Please, do leave a comment if you have any kind of feedback at all. I'll probably think this over some more and return in a week/month/tomorrow with a more complete and concise system.

    Introduction, RE; at-will healing

    If you don't care about at-will spellcasting and are just here to hear about wound systems, go ahead and skip to the next section.

    Part of the inspiration to write this came from considering at-will spellcasting. I like having at-will spells, which is probably why I like having a lot of cantrips. I think part of it has to do with being a bit of a hoarder; I don't want to "waste" a spell slot, I might run out later. Another aspect is that being able to cast a spell at-will opens up a lot of new tactical options (just look at all the creative ways people can use cantrips to get an edge).

    Now, D&D 5e isn't really designed with at-will spellcasting in mind. But that doesn't mean it couldn't work. Cantrips, of course, exist. But even for leveled spells, there are a few ways to get at-will casting. The wizard's 18th level feature, Spell Mastery, is one. There's also the similar Boon of Spell Mastery, available to sorcerers and warlocks as well as wizards. Both of these come very late, so that's the cost you're paying for at-will spells. Warlocks can get select at-will spells much earlier, but this comes at the cost of overall casting power.

    Generally, what I've noticed is that most 1st and 2nd level spells would work fine to get at-will, eventually. There are a few higher level spells that might work at-will as well, but we'll need to be more selective. However, out of all the possible spells (damage, support, utility, etc.), there is one group of spells that really breaks things if you allow them to be at-will: healing spells. This is entirely a product of the way the damage and healing system works: Cure Wounds, even at 1st level, can eventually restore you to full HP if you cast it enough times. Thus, allowing any healing spell to be at-will means that the party can heal up to full HP between each fight.

    And oh by the way, you actually can get at-will healing, RAW. Be a Divine Soul sorcerer or Celestial warlock, and get the Boon of Spell Mastery. Now, granted, this requires you to be at 20th level and have an Epic Boon. But still.

    I've played with the idea of homebrew classes built around at-will spellcasting. In these cases, I can carefully curate their spell list to exclude spells that break down when at-will. However, where this really becomes a problem is when you start to introduce new magic systems to the game. For example, I've been working on a homebrew wild magic system that allows infinite spellcasting, but spells can fail, and each casting carries a risk of a wild magic surge. Unless it doesn't. Unintentionally, because of the way the math works out, you can eventually cast 1st and 2nd level spells with no risk of a wild magic surge. Granted, the spell is highly likely to fail, so it's not combat-viable, so it's more like ritual casting. The thing is, wild magic isn't restricted to any class, so nothing is stopping you from making a wild magic cleric or druid. Ritual (and pseudo-ritual) healing spells have most of the same problems as at-will healing.


    What if it didn't have to be this way?

    Wound Tracks

    The major problem with at-will healing is the single HP track. To remedy this, we can switch to using a wound system. Now, there's a lot of different ways we could implement this, so first I'll present two key points that will help direct our implementation:

    (a) We need to have multiple wound level, where low level healing magic can only heal the lowest level wounds. Thus, even at will, we can't heal up to full health using just low level spells. This, by itself, solves the problem almost entirely. It also solves the problem of yoyo-healing, if that's something you care about.

    (b) Optional, but we can use a finite wound track, where once a wound track is full, all subsequent wounds of that type get upgraded to the next level of severity. For example, if we've sustained the maximum number of light wounds, then any more light wounds we receive will upgrade to moderate wounds.
    Now, as stated, this is more optional. The alternative is to allow wounds to pile up ad infinitum, with each one stacking some kind of penalty to create a death spiral. However, that's a bit more complicated, and it means that every wound must have a penalty (hard to do in 5e, where even a -1 has a substantial impact). Limited wound tracks also feel a bit closer to traditional HP systems, so they'll be more familiar to players. It also allows for Death of a Thousand Cuts, which allows for bosses that can be defeated eventually as long as you can hit them. We still get a death spiral effect, but it's not quite as severe as it would need to be for infinite wounds.
    To put it another way, a finite wound track will motivate you to heal the more minor wounds so that you don't fill the track up. It makes low level healing actually worthwhile, and a lot more efficient against weaker enemies.

    Now, as stated, there are a lot of ways we can implement a wound system, even if we stick to the two principles above. So, I'll present two (incomplete) systems that demonstrate how this could be done in a couple of different ways. Let me start by presenting some things that these two implementations will have in common:

    • Roll damage normally, compare to wound thresholds. If the damage falls within a certain range, it causes a particular type of wound. This is nice because it let's us get away without touching the damage system (which is quite massive). We still need to tweak all healing effects, but there are a lot fewer of those, and we can easily develop a rule of thumb to handle it.
    • We'll also use a five-tier wound system for both implementations: Light, Moderate, Serious, Critical, Lethal. Each type of wound will have its own effects.
    • Light wounds will have no penalty. Their job is to act as a buffer before hitting Moderate wounds.
    • Moderate wounds give a -1 penalty on all ability checks, attack rolls, and saving throws.
    • A Serious wound gives disadvantage on all ability checks, attack rolls, and saving throws.
    • A Critical wound knocks you out, and causes you to start bleeding out.
    • A Lethal wound kills you instantly.

    Because of the specific penalties for Serious and up wounds, you'll only be able to take one of each of those before your tracks for them are full. This means that if you take, say, two Serious wounds, the second one will upgrade to a Critical wound. If you take a second Critical wound, it upgrades to a Lethal wound. This more or less mirrors the rules for instant death due to massive damage (i.e. taking enough damage to knock you unconscious in a single hit, while you're already unconscious, would be enough to instantly kill you). Only Light and Moderate wounds allow for longer tracks. This actually makes things a bit easier for us.

    The two major differences between our two example implementations will be:
    (a) What's the damage threshold for each wound? I.e. how much damage do I need to take in order to suffer that type of wound?
    (b) How many wounds do I have on my wound track? I.e. how many wounds can I take before they start upgrading to more severe types?

    Traditional Implementation

    Want something that feels pretty similar to default 5e? Want to be able to take roughly the same amount of damage as before, but using a wound track instead of HP? This is what we're aiming for here.

    One of the nice things about this is that we can keep hit points as they are. Instead of losing HP when you take damage, though, your HP determines your wound thresholds. This allows us to quickly and easily convert monsters and NPCs over to using a wound system. Here's some of the thresholds we could use, but you could also tweak them if you wished:
    • Damage greater than twice your HP is a Lethal wound (instakill).
    • Damage greater than your HP but less than double your HP is a Critical wound (knockout).
    • Damage greater than half your HP is a Serious wound (disadvantage).
    • Damage greater than 1/10 your HP is a Moderate wound (-1 penalty).
    • Damage less than 1/10 your HP is a Light wound (no effect).

    For comparison, a goblin's thresholds (7 HP) would be 1-3 Moderate, 4-6 Serious, 7-13 Critical, 14+ Lethal.
    For a lich (135 HP), the thresholds are 1-13 Light, 14-67 Moderate, 68-134 Serious, 135-269 Critical, 270+ Lethal.
    For the tarrasque (676 HP), the thresholds are 1-67 Light, 68-337 Moderate, 338-675 Serious, 676-1351 Critical, 1352+ Lethal.

    In this implementation, all characters by default can take the same number of wounds. A stronger character requires more damage to than a weaker character to cause a severe wound. As previously mentioned, the tracks for Serious and up are limited to one wound per track.
    The Moderate wound track can hold up to three wounds.
    The Light wound track can hold up to six wounds.

    This means it takes about 11 individual attacks, each causing Light wound damage, to knock a creature out. You might feel that's too few (especially for a boss) or too many (although lower HP means lower thresholds and higher chances of skipping past Light wounds). In particular, the tarrasque is noticeably susceptible to Death of a Thousand Cuts. While this is somewhat intentional, it's a little bit ridiculous that you can kill a tarrasque by dealing a total of 12 damage to it (over 12 different attacks). You could either give a creature extra wounds on their track so they can take more punishment, or you could add a lower limit on damage for Light wounds. For example, if you deal less than 1/25 of a creature's HP in damage, then it gets ignored entirely. This would mean you'd need to deal at least 28 damage to even inflict a Light wound on the tarrasque.

    Constitution Implementation

    Wasn't really sure what to name this implementation, but this works. This implementation eschews any attempt to give a similar experience to vanilla 5e in favor of being a bit easier and more clear to understand. In contrast to the above, in this implementation, wound thresholds are determined solely by Constitution scores, and higher level creatures get longer wound tracks.

    Again, here's some thresholds we could use:
    • Damage greater than eight times your CON score is a Lethal wound (instakill).
    • Damage greater than four times your CON score is a Critical wound (knockout).
    • Damage greater than twice your CON score is a Serious wound (disadvantage).
    • Damage greater than your CON score is a Moderate wound (-1 penalty).
    • Damage less than your CON score is a Light wound (no effect).
    • Damage less than or equal to your CON modifier is completely ignored. You're basically so buff that the attack just bounces off of you.

    For reference, for a creature with a CON of 10, the thresholds are 1-10 Light, 11-20 Moderate, 21-40 Serious, 41-80 Critical, 81+ Lethal.
    For a creature with a CON of 20, the thresholds are 1-5 ignored, 6-20 Light, 21-40 Moderate, 41-80 Serious, 81-160 Critical, 161+ Lethal.
    For a creature with a CON of 30, the thresholds are 1-10 ignored, 11-30 Light, 31-60 Moderate, 61-120 Serious, 121-240 Critical, 241+ Lethal.

    The specific number of wounds per track would then depend on level. Likely, they'd have to be folded into each class as a class feature, but we might be able to come up with a general rule for d8 hit die classes.
    For example, initially at 1st level, a PC would have only one wound on their Moderate track, and nothing on the Light track. Thus, a Light wound would automatically upgrade to a Moderate wound. Every even level, they gain one Light wound, and each tier (5th, 11th, and 17th levels) they gain an extra Moderate wound. Thus, at 20, you'd end up with 10 Light wounds and 4 Moderate wounds. Classes with greater or lesser hit dice would get more or fewer wounds in each track. Likewise for monsters with greater or smaller hit dice.

    In contrast with the above implementation, the thresholds are a bit easier to understand and calculate, but it becomes more difficult to figure out how many wounds each monster or class has on their tracks. CON is probably more important here than in the previous implementation, but ability scores are hard capped at 30. If you're able to cause enough damage with a single attack, you can knock out even the strongest monsters in one hit, but Death of a Thousand Cuts isn't as effective.

    Effects of a Wound Track

    Obviously, healing spells would need to be changed. I won't speculate exactly how just yet. Maybe later. Not sure what to do about Cure Wounds vs. Healing Word.

    Resting rules would also need to change. A sensible implementation might be that a short rest heals all Light wounds, and allows you to downgrade one wound. So, you could downgrade a Moderate wound to a Light wound. Enough short rests eventually allow you to return to full health. More interestingly, if you have a Critical wound (knocked unconscious, equivalent to 0 HP), you could downgrade it to a Serious wound, but only if you didn't already have a Serious wound. As such, it might take as long as three short rests to return a downed PC to consciousness: the first wipes out their Light wounds and downgrades a Moderate wound to Light, the second downgrades a Serious wound to Moderate (now that they've freed up a spot), and the third downgrades a Critical wound to Serious.
    Or maybe short rests only take care of Light wounds, and you need to long rest to heal Moderate and up wounds.

    Another effect of handling damage and injury this way is that it creates a stark contrast between classes that deal a lot of damage with one attack (rogue, paladin, blast mages) and classes that make a lot of attacks (fighter, monk), even though the overall damage might be similar. Obviously, dealing more damage in a single attack is better, but making more attacks is more reliable.

    As far as bookkeeping goes, it should be easier to track wounds than it is to track HP, but figuring out the length of wound tracks and/or the wound thresholds will be a bit of a pain. The PCs can make it easy by keeping all that info on their character sheets, but NPCs will need to be calculated on the spot, or prepared in advance.

  2. - Top - End - #2
    Pixie in the Playground
    Join Date
    Aug 2019

    Default Re: Wound Tracks, a hypothesis (and viable at-will healing)

    It's an interesting concept, but it seems like a very intimidating amount of information to keep track of in-game, let alone during combat; it also seems much less forgiving than the traditional HP healing system. If someone's running a grimdark campaign where it's basically assumed that everyone's going to be at least a little wounded at all times, I can see the potential, but between the number of short rests needed to return to something like functionality and the way that the healing system will need to be changed, it seems like the entire combat/healing system is being overhauled to be more complex than it already is. If you have the patience to revamp all three areas (damage, healing, spells) to get them to work together, then by all means go for it, but at that point you've basically written half (or more) of a completely new system.

  3. - Top - End - #3
    Bugbear in the Playground

    Join Date
    Feb 2019

    Default Re: Wound Tracks, a hypothesis (and viable at-will healing)

    This thread is amazing! I'm subscribing to it so I don't forget to read and reply when I have the time!

    So looking forward to this!

    Before I go, what are your design goals? Are you looking for a simple system you can tack on to the current system, minimizing the amount of bookkeeping and new rules to learn for your players? Or are you thinking about something a bit more substantial, to better allow a HP/Wound to be separated resources? This will drastically change how this thread is viewed. One will create some kind of lingering injury system while the other would change the pool into two parts, like Shock and Wounds from Wrath and Glory. Although this could also be done by lowering max hit points. Like, all attacks reduce your max HP but you can roll a check to have it reduce your remaining hit points instead.

    Anywho, I'll be back when I have more time and have actually read the entire post!
    Last edited by Bjarkmundur; 2019-08-26 at 11:44 AM.

    Spoiler: How to Make Custom Monsters

    The damage column shows total damage output on hit over an entire round, and is modified based on factors like recharge, AoE etc.

  4. - Top - End - #4
    Dwarf in the Playground

    Join Date
    Dec 2018
    NW PA

    Default My Take on the Wound Track Mechanic

    I read your suggestions and would offer this alternate take on Hit Points and Wounds. This has been updated to include 5e mechanics but was first used in an AD&D game I ran about 30 years ago.

    An Alternate Damage System:


    Hit points are figured just like normal but now they represent a combination of shock, fatigue, and minor injuries. When the character reaches 0 hit points they must make a single CON save or be rendered unconscious. Character's who are not unconscious are still unable to fight or run until they regain at least 1 hit point or have a FEAT or special ability to overcome the incapacitation. IF the character is allowed to act, they will be subject to DISADVANTAGE on all rolls, have a -2 on Initiative and move at half speed (rounding down). Characters who are reduced to 0 hit points also now suffer a WOUND (see below) as a result. Hit points can still be replenished by expending hit dice as per the RAW rules and each hit die will replenish hit points according to the normal rules.


    The hit dice continue to do everything they normally would in 5e but now they add a new feature. Whenever a character suffers a number of hit points of damage equal to or greater than the hit die number (D6, D8, D10, or D12), they will suffer a WOUND. For example, if a fighter (D10 HD) is hit for 12 points of damage, that fighter will suffer a WOUND (12/10=1.2 or 1) in addition to the hit points lost. A Wizard (D6 HD) falling off a cliff for 60 hp of damage would suffer 10 WOUNDS (60/6=10)! The Fighter above experiencing the same fall would only suffer 6 WOUNDS (60/10=6) from that fall due to their "superior conditioning." These WOUNDS will be recorded on a separate Wound Track. Hit dice are also expended to cure/heal WOUNDS but 1 hit die only cures 1 WOUND point. That same hit die will also heal lost hit points.


    The Wound Track has 5 levels of severity and a variable [by character] number of WOUNDS per level. Only FOUR of the levels actually track WOUNDS, however. The 5th level, DEATH, simply requires a CON saving throw. The five Wound Levels are;

    Lightly Wounded: This is basically a "free" level under my house rules too. The only penalty here is a -1 to Initiative Rolls.
    Moderately Wounded: This wound level carries a -2 to Initiative Rolls, a -1 to all tasks and saves, and reduces move by 5'.
    Seriously Wounded: This wound level carries a -4 to Initiative Rolls, a -2 to all tasks and saves, and reduces move by half.
    Critically Wounded: This wound level carries a -8 to initiative Rolls, a -4 to all tasks and saves and reduces move to just 5'.
    Deadly Wound: The character must make a CON save or die. If a character at the deadly wound level receives more WOUNDS than their CON score, death is automatic. The character will fall unconscious upon reaching this level.

    Determining The Number Of Wounds Per Wound Level:

    The number of WOUNDS a character can withstand is equal to their CON score modified by class (see below). These total points are distributed between the Light, Moderate, Serious, and Critical Wound levels. The Deadly Wound Level is excluded from this calculation.
    The WOUNDS are equally distributed among all 4 levels with remaining points being added one per Wound Level until they are all distributed. For example, a character with a CON of 10 would have two WOUND Boxes in the Critical and Serious Wound Levels but THREE Boxes in their Light and Moderate Wound Levels. Another character with a 16 CON would have 4 boxes in each Wound Level. Always add new WOUND Boxes from the lowest Wound Threshold on the Track to the highest one. This gives the characters a "buffer" against penalties until the Lightly Wounded Threshold's Boxes are filled.
    Each time a WOUND occurs, a Wound Box is checked and the damage is cumulative (it climbs to cause higher wound levels). It is possible to die from WOUNDS while still having hit points remaining.

    Bonus Wound Points/Boxes and Increasing Wound Totals:

    Only the Barbarian, the Fighter, the Ranger, and the Monk gain a SINGLE bonus Wound Point/Box at first level. They are all involved in intense physical conditioning (Fighter and Monk) or surviving in the wild (Barbarian & Ranger) so they gain 1 WOUND Point/Box to distribute accordingly. Paladins are excluded from this club because they must split their time in worship to learn their first level ASI (and, of course for reasons of balance). All Classes will gain ONE additional Wound Point/Box to add to their Wound Track at every LEVEL which they gain the Ability/Characteristic Score increase. Increasing CON will also give you an equal number of Wound Points/Boxes to distribute among your Wound Thresholds. FEATS such as Tavern Brawler and Tough will also give ONE additional Wound Point/Box when taken.

    Healing WOUNDS Within The Game:

    Magic will heal ONE WOUND Box for every 6 hit points it heals. This can be done over and over without issue.

    A Healer using the Healing Proficiency and a healer's kit/bag (in my game these have 10 uses) can allow healing to occur if they succeed at a Skill/Proficiency test during a Short Rest. The DC for this test is:

    Lightly Wounded = DC 5
    Moderately Wounded = DC 10
    Seriously Wounded = DC 15
    Critically Wounded = DC 20
    Deadly Wound = DC 25

    If this test is successful, the recipient may expend ONE HIT DIE and recover both hit points and a single WOUND [box]. The character may only recover ONCE from WOUNDS inflicted in a single encounter. They may, however, use this method to treat NEW WOUNDS inflicted in later encounters during that same day. The healer just cannot heal any of the "old" wound. For example, Joe is wounded for three WOUNDS and is Lightly Wounded. He is healed by Kara for one point of Wound Damage. He now has two wounds [points] left and is still Lightly Wounded. He gets bashed in a fight and suffers 8 hp of damage but NO WOUNDS. Kara could treat the 8 hp of damage with her healer's bag but not fix any WOUNDS since she already treated Jim for those. The healer's test to treat a Wound CAN BE REPEATED each new day (after a long rest).

    Natural Healing:

    After every long rest, the character gets to make a CON save. If they succeed, they automatically regain ONE Wound Box. This will reduce the number of Hit Dice they can replenish during a Long Rest by one die as well (I allow full replenishment during a long rest but I use HD exclusively to heal, ie a character MUST have hit dice to heal non-magically).

    That's my old system from AD&D adjusted for the revolutionary use of Hit Dice in 5e.

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