Classic D&D has characters die at 0 hit points, where later editions only render a character “hors de combat” (out of the fight) from 0 to -10 hit points (or more with some house rules). Personally I much prefer the lower hit points of a classic D&D character, but understand the desire for some survivability at low levels.
I also love the carnage of the Warhammer Critical Hits system. Instead of handling critical hits like most RPGs (where they occur on a very effective attack roll), Warhammer has criticals occur when a character is struck to below 0 wounds (hit points).
Adapting this to D&D is pretty simple, and both increases the survivability of characters while making combat damage seem “more serious” because the players are more aware of the damage they receive. Instead of being rendered unconscious at 0 hit points, a critical hit is rolled every time the character takes damage that brings him to zero or fewer hit points. Also, unconsciousness does not occur at zero hit points, only happening when the result of the critical hit chart says so.
This system doesn’t work all that well when combined with other systems designed to simulate more specific forms of damage than the standard hit point system from Dungeons & Dragons – for instance it doesn’t mesh all that well with the Wounds and Pain rules I use in most of my campaigns (which are also included in issue one of the Dodecahedron). So pick one and run with it, but don’t try for too much detail in combat, that route only leads to madness and Phoenix Command.
Whenever a character is dealt damage bringing him to zero hit points or less, roll 1d20 and add the amount of hit points the character is below zero. For example, if Zurgon the Mighty is struck from 5 hit points with a blow for 6 damage, he would be at -1 hit points and would roll d20+1 on the table. If struck again for a further 8 damage, he would now be at -9, and would roll d20+9.
For monsters and NPCs, just make a simple save versus death when reduced to damage from 0 to -5. If the save is successful, then the critter remains conscious but fights at -2. If the save fails, the critter is unconscious, if the save is a 1, the critter dies. If struck to -6 to -10, the critter is unconscious and dies if it fails a save versus death. At -11 and below, just kill the critter.
Effects of Mighty Blows (d20)
1-4: Merely a flesh wound! Continue fighting with a -2 penalty on attacks and saves.
5-7: Oof! Strike to the groin, head or other painful blow stuns the character for 1d3 rounds, and suffers a flesh wound as above
8-10: Crushing Blow! Character is stunned for 1d6 rounds, suffers a flesh wound, and must save versus petrification / paralysis or be rendered out of the fight – unconscious or otherwise crippled until healed.
11-14: Incapacitating Strike! Character is rendered unconscious or otherwise crippled and out of the fight until healed. Further, a saving throw versus death is required to prevent the obvious side effect of permanent and immediate death.
15-18: Deadly Blow! The character is dead.
19-20: Mangled! The character is dead, and body parts are missing, thrown around and otherwise mangled.
21+: Splatterfest! The character is not only dead, but is grossly dismembered and mangled beyond recognition.
This is the third post in the A to Z Blogging Challenge – C is for Criticals, Carnage and Character Abuse.