Magagumo’s Vitality/Wound House Rules and Suggestions

After my article on Wounds and Vitality, a fellow by the name of Magagumo asked me to post his house rules for the system here. This is the first article on the site that someone other than myself has written - be warned, it’s even longer than my own typical writing!

Given recent discussions of the Vitality/Wound system on several threads I’ve decided, on request, to present the following list of house rules and caveats that I and my friends have developed during our use of the Vitality/Wound system, as presented in Unearthed Arcana. All information provided here is biased by my own personal experiences, and yours may vary, but I hope each concept will help to enhance your experience with this inventive alternate to the D&D Core rules.

I will first note that the Vitality/Wound system has a tendency to reduce player death for two main reasons: First, while a player retains their basic hp (known as Vitality), they have an additional “subpool�? of hit points (known as Wound) which allows them to continue fighting/surviving, albeit in a fatigued state and with a risk of stunning. Secondly, even death can be prevented by a Fort save (base 10) which means even the most crippling blow has a chance of being offset by a low-level character, and higher-level PCs can often make this roll automatically {depending on group treatment of natural 1s}.

With this in mind, I now present five major issues that have evolved in my games, with helpful warnings or house rules to cope with these issues in the next post.

1. While Wd damage from a critical hit is not multiplied, it nevertheless is completely immitigable, as it ignores all DR and deals damage solely to the Wd pool, regardless of current Vitality. Critical hits retain their deadly nature at all levels of the game, with the swashbuckler’s rapier being as potentially deadly as the wizard’s finger of death.

1a. A single point of Wd damage is sufficient to fatigue a creature, regardless of its total Wd pool size- whether it is the avg of 10 for a human, or the colossal 320 of a great gold wyrm.

2. In the RAW [Rules As Written], NPCs are not given Vitality points, leaving them far weaker than PCs. In a campaign where NPC cases are used more liberally (Eberron) high level NPCs are potentially more frail than normal.

3. While a single hit may reduce an opponent from full Wd to 0, leaving them disabled, it is possible to maintain this disabled state for an immense amount of rounds, given a sufficiently high Fort save- enough to perhaps even allow the foe to survive if the PCs are driven off by allies. Exacerbating this scenario, is the factor that any damage beyond that which drives a foe to 0 Wd has no effect on their continued ability to remain disabled or go unconscious.

3a. Critical hits inflicted upon a foe with only Wd points remaining (No Vitality) have no appreciable effect.

3b. While a 200 pt critical hit with a scythe sends most high level PCs reeling or dead, a 50 damage crit in Vit/Wd is no more impressive than the 1 damage dagger thrust that removes a foe’s last remaining Wd point- neither will kill the target if the Fort 10 is made.

4. While nonlethal damage was omitted from Vitality/Wound for sake of ease, it renders such effects as the merciful weapon as unusable or overpowered (vicious w/o the drawbacks) and leaves paladins and monks w/o a method of safely detaining their foes (or upholding a Vow of Peace, ala BoED). This is also a difficulty with regard to creatures/character classes which are easier to defeat when knocked unconscious (see Frenzied Berserker).

5. While Vit/Wd alters Regeneration to be more than “fast healing lite�? or “Surprise! You don’t know its still alive and will be back in 20 rounds,�? it forces the DM to make a tremendous number of Fort save rolls and can actually weaken Regenerators. More specifically, high CR creatures with unusual susceptibilities are at risk from “weak�? characters of base classes- ex. A CR 20 Pit Fiend, which cannot regenerate from good damage, has 38 Wd. If struck by a 14th level paladin’s smite evil, w/ a 2-handed holy weapon, avg. damage forces the Pit Fiend to make a Fort 10+ damage dealt or generally be reduced to 0 Wd in a single strike- End Fight.

These ideas, as mentioned before, are subjective to my own campaigns, but have held true to low (1st-5th), high (13th-14th) and near epic (18th-20th) adventures, in what I would term magic-heavy parties, and “low-magic�? games.

I hope these thoughts will encourage you to try out the system, try altering it if you already do, or even make comments and suggestions for what I have here. Thanks.

Critical hits

1. “While Wd damage from a critical hit is not multiplied, it nevertheless is completely immitigable, as it ignores all DR and deals damage solely to the Wd pool, regardless of current Vitality. Critical hits retain their deadly nature at all levels of the game, with the swashbuckler’s rapier being as potentially deadly as the wizard’s finger of death.”

Caveat: Personally, I’ve found that the Vitality/Wound system does become incredibly potent at high levels, where a player with a strong attack bonus can potentially deal Wd damage on 1/4 of their attacks w/ a keen scimitar or rapier.

Their is no true “solution” as this aspect is critical to the system and honestly, is one of its strong suits- when did a 16th level fighter scare you as much as a 16th level mage?

However, I’ve found that there are two ways to deal with the potential of going from full Wd to 0 in one shot:

First, encourage players to explore the Fortification armor enhancements (all but monks can use this ability, as even arcane casters can enchant mithral bucklers). One might regard this as “cheating,” but critical hits are already deadly at high levels, esp. w/ regards to the swashbuckler class (Complete Warrior) which deals Strength and Constitution damage with each critical hit. If you feel critical hits should be preserved, simply eliminate the Heavy Fortification option.

Personally, favoring low-magic settings for this system (more on that later), I prefer the AC/DR system also outlined in Unearthed Arcana. In brief, a portion of an individual’s armor or natural armor bonus is reduced in order to grant a non-magic “all-stacking” Damage Reduction (#/—, like an elemental or barbarian). While DR is ignored in the RAW (more in a moment), retaining this form of DR helps to weaken the deadliness of a critical hit. Also, the 1 pt critical hit (say from a familiar) can potentially be ignored, saving a player from fearing that flock of 20 hawks ;).

In my own campaigns, I have allowed players to select two forms of armor (unalterable after construction) that either provide a full AC bonus or the AC/DR- some people prefer the higher AC as it helps prevent all but the natural 20 critical hits. However, I consistently follow the rule that Natural Armor be converted to DR (every 5 pts of Nat AC become 4 AC & DR 1/-). So far, this has emphasized the thickness of a creature’s hide (like a giant crocodile’s) well.

One final caveat on the above idea- lowering an individual’s AC makes them more susceptible to 2-handed Power Attack (trading 1 attack bonus for 2 damage). I have not developed a solution for this issue, but you may decide that only half the bonus effects Wd (on a critical hit) or that even all Power Attack is ignored on critical hits {Warning: untested and potentially overwhelming if used with the next house rule).

Last house rule: While the RAW suggest all DR be ignored on a critical, (this includes those creatures which cannot be critted, as you are still theoretically finding a weak point) you may find this leads to an ignoring of DR in favor of crits. The swashbuckler remains my prime example, as they are notorious for using rapiers, have a full attack bonus, and even add their Intelligence as bonus damage. Personally, I suggest the use of the AC/DR rule, coupled with a halving of the creature’s natural DR.

While one would generally not permit both forms of DR to stack, the creature’s AC is being lowered in order to augment its DR, which is often then ignored in the case of outsiders, dragons, or constructs. As noted above, this permits a canny player to use more Power Attack then normal, with no appreciable benefit to the creature. Thus, by halving the creature’s preexisting DR and adding the extra bonus, one should see a still appreciable effect from a critical hit (esp. since it directly affects Wound) without the critical hit overwhelming the creature’s CR- using weapons designed to beat a foe’s DR will remain a viable tactic and a smart player using Power Attack is still rewarded.

As this system involves a great deal of math, I suggest a DM include the creature’s DR and natural AC calculations directly into its stat blocks for his game. Also, until one is familiar with the halving of the DR for crits, you may wish to note what the DR would be for both a normal strike and a critical hit.

I have examples of a stat block and calculating a creature’s DR below.

No DR from Nat AC:
AC 15, touch 10, flat-footed 15
hp 59 Vit; 11 Wd (7 HD)

DR from Nat AC but no pre-existing DR:
AC 20, touch 11, flat-footed 18
hp 91 Vit, 18 Wd (9 HD); DR 1/-
[Natural Armor +7 —> Natural Armor +6 & DR 1/-]

DR from Nat AC and pre-existing DR:
AC 22, touch 14, flat-footed 18
hp 118 Vit, 20 Wd (10 HD);
Vs Normal Hits: DR 15/good and piercing or 1/-
Vs. Critical Hits: DR 7/good and piercing + 1/-
[Natural Armor +9—> Natural Armor +8 & DR 1/-]

Calculating DR:

A Troglodyte Zombie a natural AC of +8. By AC/DR, the zombie’s AC is reduced by 1 (8/5=1.6—> 1; 8-1= +7 nat AC & DR 1/-).

A Great Gold Wyrm has natural AC of +40 By AC/DR, the dragon’s AC is reduced by 8 (40/5= 8= +32 nat AC & DR 8/-)

In summary, a DM may decide that the ability of a critical hit to floor an opponent is quite acceptable- this is a perfectly reasonable decision.

They may also decide that magical means can be used to prevent critical hits (as normal) or that DR (pre-existing or from Armor/Natural Armor) should lessen the potential damage.

All are good decisions, though I personally recommend ameliorating the damage through the above means- critical hits will still be important, but won’t have quite the same disruptive effect on high CR monsters.

Dealing with NPCs

"2. In the RAW, NPCs are not given Vitality points, leaving them far weaker than PCs. In a campaign where NPC cases are used more liberally (Eberron) high level NPCs are potentially more frail than normal."

House Rule: Quite simply, give the NPCs their due and let them have all of the Vitality points. Personally, I’ve found that 2 NPC levels equal one PC level with regards to CR (as per the appendix of the MM) but some regard should be given to the effects of a PC (w/ duly following elite stats) that then takes primarily NPC class levels- a Fighter’s bonus feats and stronger hit dice (d10) should certainly be worth more than a Warrior’s flat base attack and extra hit dice, but the fighter’s superior stats are also a critical factor.

This point aside, an NPC w/o Vitality points is going to die very, very quickly, and will prove no great challenge, esp. at high levels. Additionally, this leaves one wondering how a 14th level aristocrat (CR 7 or 8 w/ elite stats) has survived long when sword stroke or two would leave them disabled or dying. They’re frail enough, don’t make them useless.

Too tough at high level?

"3. While a single hit may reduce an opponent from full Wd to 0, leaving them disabled, it is possible to maintain this disabled state for an immense amount of rounds, given a sufficiently high Fort save- enough to perhaps even allow the foe to survive if the PCs are driven off by allies. Exacerbating this scenario, is the factor that any damage beyond that which drives a foe to 0 Wd has no effect on their continued ability to remain disabled or go unconscious.

3a. Critical hits inflicted upon a foe with only Wd points remaining (No Vitality) have no appreciable effect.

3b. While a 200 pt critical hit with a scythe sends most high level PCs reeling or dead, a 50 damage crit in Vit/Wd is no more impressive than the 1 damage dagger thrust that removes a foe’s last remaining Wd point- neither will kill the target if the Fort 10 is made.”

House Rule: In order to die in the Vitality/Wound system, a character must undergo a series of steps: First, by either losing all Vitality points and suffering additional damage equal or greater than their Wound pool (dropping them to 0) or by suffering a critical hit that drops them to 0 Wd, a player enters “disabled” status (one std or move action/rd; move at half speed; any strenuous move action or standard action reduces one to “dying”). Once at disabled, the character must succeed on a Fort 15 or be rendered dying. They must then make a single Fort save with four possible outcomes based on their level of success: <10 (plus rounds spent in dying status)- dead; 10-14 (plus rounds spent in dying status)- unconscious and dying; 15-24 (plus rounds spent in dying status)- unconscious and stable; 25+ (plus rounds spent in dying status)- disabled.

Once the character is @ 0 Wound points, this process repeats as necessary until they reach 1 Wound (through natural or magical healing). With the RAW, it is possible for a character with a tremendous Fort save to either outlast his foes (as their actions don’t impact his Fort saves, though they may stun him for 1d4 rds if a Fort 5+damage dealt is failed) until he has escaped or his allies chase them off, or to never even reach dying status (a potential automatic success depending on your treatment of natural 1s). No matter his foe’s actions, his rolls control his life or death.

My solution is outlined as follows:
First, eliminate the Fort 15 roll @ disabled status and eliminate the base line saves for survival based on time.

Instead, when a character reaches 0 Wound, they must immediately make a Fort save roll, with a DC based on the following factors: Damage that exceeded the player’s current Wound pool (ie. Damage past 0 Wound) + number of rounds spent at 0 Wound.

If the player fails the DC, they are dead.

If they meet the DC or exceed it by up to 4 pts, they are unconscious and dying (reroll Fort save on following round with the same DC+1 {accounting for the round spent @ 0 Wound})

If they exceed the DC by 5-9 pts, they are unconscious and stable.

If they exceed the DC by 15 or more pts, they remain standing (and are still disabled).

Note: any additional attacks suffered by the player must be rolled for (until dead or attacks end) and have the potential of shifting a disabled player to dying, and a stable player to dying- a player may not shift from being unconscious (dying or stable) to disabled- only healing can bring a character back to “active” status.

The theory behind this house rule is that when one has been disabled, you are still more likely to die from an axe blow to the sternum (20 pts of damage) than a small dagger wound (2 pts of damage) but even a small stab may drop an individual who has been struggling to remain conscious for several rounds/minutes with a grievous & disabling wound.

Ex. Thor the dwarf barbarian is fighting two savage ogres- he has 2 Vitality left and a Wound pool (full) of 20. One ogre slams him savagely for 26 damage, dropping him to 0 Wound.

Thor must now succeed on a Fort 4 or die (26 damage- 2 Vitality- 20 current Wound + 0 rounds spent @ 0 Wound). He achieves a 19, just barely remaining disabled. However, he also must succeed on a Fort 29 (5+24 Wd damage) or be stunned- Thor’s in great trouble, as he fails the Fort 29 with a 22.

The second ogre, weakened by Thor’s dead allies, still manages to strike the beleaguered (and stunned) dwarf, but only succeeds in dealing 8 damage. Thor must now make his first save Fort 8 or die (8 damage + 0 rounds spent @ 0 wound)- he succeeds, but only with a 16- Thor’s unconscious and thus doesn’t need to make the Fort 13 stun check (he could potentially be stunned for a longer time, if he was stunned for <4 rds by the first failure).

The next round, Thor is stable and his allies arrive, but the first ogre (deprived of the CDG opportunity) still spitefully smashes Thor w/ its club before it flees- 24 damage this time. Thor must now make a Fort 25 (24 damage + 1 round spent @ 0 wound)- he gets a mere 17 and dies just as help arrives.

ex #2. Thor (now resurrected & full healed) faces a single yuan-ti swashbuckler (brilliant and deadly). In the first round of combat, the snakewoman slips past his defenses, and deals a nasty crit for 20 Wd, dropping Thor to disabled status, and forcing him to succeed on a Fort 25 or be stunned- by the blessings of Moradin, Thor achieves a 25, but is still not willing to risk a riposte, lest he fall unconscious and helpless. Instead he (slowly) begins to retreat and call for aid- he must succeed on a Fort 1 (1 round of being disabled + 0 damage) or fall- he makes it easily. The snakewoman strikes again, but her critical threat is defeated by Thor’s massive tower shield- he suffers 15 Vitality (out of 70) but does not need to make a Fort save in reaction to the strike as it deals no Wound damage. Thor can continue retreating until he fails the 1/rd save vs. the rds he has been disabled, or until the yuan-ti scores a critical hit or finally chews through his Vitality. Thor’s in bad shape, either way, but he isn’t dead yet.

If you wish to traumatize your players or NPCs alike, you may also decide to add one additional modifier to the Fort save- for every attack that dealt at least 1 Wd dmg while the character was disabled add +1 to the survival save. This house rule emulates the idea of haranguing a powerful foe with numerous small attacks- none of them alone are nearly enough damage to kill the creature w/o several rounds of disabled status [potentially allowing the beast to escape or be healed], but the 20th successful attack in the round, even only dealing 1 damage, still has a base DC of 21! Large groups remain deadly, even against well-armored foes.

Personally, I feel the above house rule nicely allows for a party to effectively kill an opponent w/o the need for endless (and timely) CDGs, or even for a player to die from a massive attack- A critical hit that deals 50 damage to a player with 15 Wound is going to force a Fort 35; nasty business indeed, but that damage would be much higher if multiplied by 2, 3 or even 4 (and could very well kill the player normally). In the end, the system still protects the player, if they’re lucky enough :).

Lastly, regarding the inefficiency of critical hits when a foe is reduced to Wound alone- this scenario becomes more common when players face Gargantuan or Colossal foes, whose Wound equals 4x or 8x their Constitution score (and results in an automatic +1 to their CR). When the Gold wyrm w/ 320 Wd total has 200 left, a player likes to think their lucky strike should count for something.

As the Wound pools tend to be generally small in proportion to a player/creature’s CR, I recommend multiplying the base damage by 2, as the Vit/Wd system adjusts all weapon crit multipliers into higher threat ranges- a Greataxe and Greatsword are considered identical with a 19-20 threat, and so each should deal x2 damage when critting vs. a Wound-only foe. By doubling the damage, the player may be able to better overcome the creature’s latent DR (see Issue #1) or simply force a high enough Fort save to stun or kill it- in the end, they feel their efforts at depriving their foe of its entire Vitality {which normally indicates death in Core D&D} were well worth it.

In summary, this house rule enables players to deal with high-level foes w/o resorting to endless low DC Fort saves, and are similarly deprived of this “over-protection.” They also will see success in eliminating a foe’s Vitality, as this will strengthen the effects of their critical hits.

Nonlethal damage

"4. While nonlethal damage was omitted from Vitality/Wound for sake of ease, it renders such effects as the merciful weapon as unusable or overpowered (vicious w/o the drawbacks) and leaves paladins and monks w/o a method of safely detaining their foes (or upholding a Vow of Peace, ala BoED). This is also a difficulty with regard to creatures/character classes which are easier to defeat when knocked unconscious (see Frenzied Berserker).”

House Rule: Some players actually think to knock foes unconscious so they can be intimidated, beguiled, or convinced to provide useful information re: their (or their master’s) plans. Vitality/Wound as written forces a DM to choose surrender over death, as only with the right Fort Save for survival (nestled b/t dying and still disabled) can a foe be knocked straight into unconsciousness. In my experience, even disabled status doesn’t show up much, as the blow that drops them to 0 Wound often takes them into death.

Also, as stated above, certain feat/magic item selections become invalid if nonlethal damage doesn’t exist.

For those DMs interested in preserving nonlethal damage (which also proves useful in dealing with the otherwise very durable Regenerators; See Issue #5), a bit of bookkeeping is needed.

First: Keep track of nonlethal damage by Nonlethal Vitality and Nonlethal Wound- these values will be compared to the creature’s Vitality and Wound scores, and will determine how close it is to unconsciousness. Once a creature’s Nonlethal Vitality exceeds its Vitality score, all remaining nonlethal damage begins to add to its Nonlethal Wound score. (note: if the creature’s Vitality climbs, say due to healing, any imbalance between its Vitality & Nonlethal Vitality should be deducted from its Nonlethal Wound- if an imbalance remains, the players simply need to deal more Vitality {or Nonlethal Vitality} to start increasing its Nonlethal Wound once again).

Once a creature reaches Nonlethal Wound, it does not suffer any negative status effects (only actual Wound damage can inflict fatigue), though A DM may decide to inflict a -2 to attack rolls (due to blurry eyes, etc.) but such a concept has not been tested by my group. Additionally, a creature can be temporarily taken out of a fight by a solid nonlethal blow- Whenever Nonlethal Wound is suffered, a Fort DC 5+dmg must be made or the character will be dazed for 1d4 rounds.

Instead, once a creature is suffering from Nonlethal Wound, it must succeed on a Fort Save 5+current Nonlethal Wound score or fall unconscious. When the creature’s Nonlethal Wound score exceeds its current Wound score, the save rises to (15+current Nonlethal Wound score + 1/rd where Nonlethal Wound exceeds Wound) and is now considered staggered {if the players are combining lethal and nonlethal damage, they will force a creature to a higher threshold more quickly}. The creature’s Nonlethal Wound score cannot exceed 3x its total Wound pool and any additional nonlethal damage will inflict lethal damage {in the rarest of epic scenarios, this may actually produce a character who can succeed on saves at this max, but the built-in “timer” should eventually lead to the downfall of these beasts; Additionally, this cap is arbitrary and has yet to be reached in my games- it simply exists to prevent too much nonlethal damage from accumulating}

Nonlethal Vitality is healed at a rate of 1 Nonlethal Vitality dmg/character level/5 min. & 1 Nonlethal Wound dmg/character level/hr. Characters will recover very quickly from nonlethal damage, and are permitted a Fort save (DCs as above for falling unconscious) to regain consciousness once per “healing time” {i.e. once every 5 minutes if only suffering Nonlethal Vitality- Fort 5; and once every hour if suffering Nonlethal Wound- Base 15 or 5 plus Nonlethal Wound score, depending on Wound:Nonlethal Wound ratio}

ex. Moya, the 3rd level bard w/ Con 10 and 13 Vit is knocked to unconsciousness by kidnappers and Nonlethal CDGd to 30 Nonlethal Wound w/o suffering any Vitality/Wound damage. One hour later, her Nonlethal Wound is 27 & her Nonlethal Vitality is fully healed, and she may make a Fort 15+27 (NL Wd dmg)-10 (Wd pool)= 32; She remains unconscious. Her saves decrease by 3 for the next 4 hrs (@ 5th hour- Fort 15+12-10= 17). After six total hours, her Nonlethal Wound is 9, and her Fort Save to reawaken is 5+9 (NL Wd dmg)= 14. After 10 hours have passed, Moya’s Nonlethal Wd will be 0, and the save will drop to base 5.

ex. 2 Theseus, the 20th level barbarian (Con 20, 230 Vit) is overcome by a savage devil horde- they capture him for torture w/ remarkable skill, but end up dealing him 10 Wd in the process. In the end his Nonlethal Wound is 60 and his Wd pool is 10. One hour later, Theseus has recovered 20 Nonlethal Wd, bringing him to a Fort of 15+60-10=65, he isn’t awake yet. One additional hour later, Theseus has only 20 Nonlethal Wd and a Fort of 15+20-10=25, he’s likely to wake up, but there’s a small chance he might not. If the devils hadn’t dealt him 10 Wound dmg, the save would have remained at 25, but two hours is still a fast recovery time- they better act fast to keep him tied up. Disabling the barbarian would at least have bought them a day, though his rage complicates matters (See Issue #6)

Important Notes: As the Vitality/Wound system allows for accelerated healing of damage (1 Vit/hr/character level and 1 Wd/day/character level), these nonlethal rules should not be utilized for dangerous environmental factors (such as heat, suffocation, etc.)- the enhanced healing levels would quickly overtake the damage of the environment.

For comparison, a Core D&D character heals 1 Nonlethal dmg/hr/Char. level and 1 hp/day/char level, so the standard nonlethal healing rates are identical to Vitality healing rates.

Regeneration

"5. While Vit/Wd alters Regeneration to be more than "fast healing lite�? or "Surprise! You don’t know its still alive and will be back in 20 rounds,�? it forces the DM to make a tremendous number of Fort save rolls and can actually weaken Regenerators. More specifically, high CR creatures with unusual susceptibilities are at risk from "weak�? characters of base classes- ex. A CR 20 Pit Fiend, which cannot regenerate from good damage, has 38 Wd. If struck by a 14th level paladin’s smite evil, w/ a 2-handed holy weapon, avg. damage forces the Pit Fiend to make a Fort 10+ damage dealt or generally be reduced to 0 Wd in a single strike= End of Fight."

House Rule: Ah, Regeneration- caught halfway between making a creature truly invulnerable/feared and being prey for metagamers and solid Knowledge rolls.

Note: Damage types able to defeat a creature’s regeneration will be referred to as “lethal�? while other forms will be called “nonlethal�?- do not confuse these terms with Nonlethal Vitality/Wound damage (as described in Issue #4)- I simply don’t have better terms for how regeneration functions.

In Vitality/Wound, a Regenerator has the capacity to be truly invincible- by RAW, any damage form that the creature is not weak to (i.e. fire & acid for a troll) can only deal Vitality damage. Thus, if a party faces a troll w/o fire and acid they will only be able to reduce it to a fatigued state when its Vitality pool is 0- its Wound is untouchable.

In contrast, any form of damage that beats the creature’s regeneration immediately effects only Wound- the creature has the option of making a Fort DC 10+”lethal” damage dealt to negate all of it, transforming it into Vitality damage.

While this system certainly makes Regeneration a much larger threat to the party (and permits Undead regenerators, ala the Atrophal or certain vampiric monstrous humanoids to not require “Undead Nonlethal Damage”), it becomes much more a hit-or-miss fight; If the troll-fighting party only has alchemist fire and acid flasks, a tough troll may simply shrug off each hit, leaving the party to eventually fall or flee. Otherwise, the standard troll, which can be nastily scorched by a 5th level wizard’s fireball (avg. 17 fire damage) but still keep fighting, must now succeed on a Fort 27 or lose all but 4 of its Wound points- that’s instant fatigue and likely a stunning blow, ending the fight in the single round.

While the result for the troll is similar, it is now based on two die rolls, and it effectively has far less hp vs. fire and acid than a standard hit.

This example is more extreme when one regards the Pit Fiend from above- a single melee strike from an overmatched paladin (or any wielder of a holy weapon) can nearly annihilate the fiend. Considering good weapons are needed to defeat its DR, nearly any weapon that swings its way has this potential for a single-strike kill. In fact, this weakness is especially glaring when compared to the Balor, which does not have Regeneration- both fiends must be struck w/ good weapons to hurt them efficiently, but the Pit Fiend has effectively ~1/5 the hp vs. said weapons.

Finally, a critical hit has no influence vs. a Regenerator, as “lethal�? damage always hits wound and “nonlethal�? damage always affects Vitality.

Solution:

While I make no promises, this house rule has aided me in my campaigns, allowing Regenerators to retain their dangerous status (and making Knowledge rolls truly important), while also allowing critical hits to count for something and allowing the non-mages to make a real impact in the fight. While this set-up does not require one to implement Nonlethal Vitality/Wound rules (see Issue #4), doing so may allow the players to temporarily disable a Regenerator in the absence of “lethal�? damage forms.

The key revision to this system is quite simple- ignore the concept of “lethal�? damage forms directly targeting a creature’s Wound pool. Instead, damage is inflicted as follows:

"Nonlethal�? damage will reduce a creature’s Vitality pool in std. fashion, reducing it to a minimum of 0 Vitality. While at 0 Vitality, the creature becomes fatigued, and it heals its std. of Vitality points each round rate (ex. 5 Vit/rd for a troll) - it does not cease being fatigued until its Vitality rises to its current maximum (see below). "Nonlethal�? damage cannot be used to deal Wound damage, and critical hits instead deal 2x Vitality damage (while a critical hit still would not kill a Regenerator, the well-placed blow inflicts massive superficial damage that still must be repaired by its natural defenses).

"Lethal�? damage first affects a creature’s Vitality pool, like "nonlethal�? damage, but any such damage inflicted lowers the creature’s maximum Vitality pool by the damage amount (until it is healed naturally or by magic, like a non-Regenerator). A critical hit with "lethal�? damage either affects Wound directly (if the creature has Vitality remaining) or deals 2x damage if its Vitality is 0.

Once the creature is reduced to 0 Vitality (by “Nonlethal�? damage, “Lethal�? damage, or a mix of both), any “lethal damage�? inflicted upon it will now strike the creature’s Wound pool (with the standard risk of Stunning). The creature’s regeneration cannot heal any Wound damage or any Vitality damage inflicted by “lethal�? means- again, only natural or magical healing can repair this damage. A Regenerator suffering from Wound damage is fatigued, even if its Vitality reaches its maximum amount.

{Note: Fast Healing does heal Wd damage first, making it hard to swiftly disable such foes with critical hits, but leaving them more susceptible to lucky strikes than their regenerating “cousins�?}

Once a Regenerator reaches 0 Wound, it must make the same saves as a normal creature, with “lethal�? damage forms raising the chances of it falling unconscious or dying.

While this may seem convoluted and confusing, just remember these basic principles:
-A Regenerator may only be killed by “lethal�? damage, as only this damage form can deal Wound.

-“Nonlethal�? damage is still very useful in fighting a Regenerator, as it allows “Lethal�? damage to go directly into Wound (if the creature’s Vitality is dropped to 0) and permits “lethal�? critical hits to deal 2x damage. Also, “Nonlethal�? critical hits drop a Regenerator’s Vitality very quickly.

-If a party has no “lethal�? forms of damage, they can still work to reduce the creature to a fatigued state (and keep it at that level with continued damage), permitting them to either escape, or potentially implement the Nonlethal Vitality/Wound House Rules (Issue #4) to put the creature temporarily out of commission- CDG w/ “Lethal�? damage at that point works in the same fashion as the Core Rules.

-If the party has access to “lethal�? damage, the DM must remember to track this damage’s effects on the creature’s maximum Vitality, but no Fort saves need accompany each hit.

The end result is that while a party can potentially burn through a Regenerator’s Vitality/Wound with a barrage of “lethal�? damage (making it easier to engage in a hit-and-run battle, or even knock the creature unconscious), the ability of other party members to inflict Vitality damage will speed the fight up greatly and conserve precious spells/resources.

Ex. Serena the elf fighter and Thor the dwarf fighter encounter a troll, with their halfling wizard, Yoma, a few rounds behind. Thor and Serena launch into battle with the giant, taking its Vitality down to 0 and leaving it fatigued. When Yoma arrives, Thor and Serena continue to keep the troll’s Vitality at 0 with harrying strikes, and Yoma’s Scorching Rays burn directly through its Wound, leaving it stunned and “permanently�? fatigued. It dies a few rounds later from the festering burns as Yoma slaps on a Melf’s Acid Arrow to keep the monster down.

Ex 2. Yoma is caught off guard by the troll- all alone and with one Empowered fireball to his name, he launches the spell while calling for help. The troll fails the Reflex save, and suffers sufficient damage to drop its Vitality to 0 and deal 5 Wound- it makes the stun Fort save and launches toward Yoma. Next round, Thor and Serena find the troll lurking over their (now unconscious) friend- seeing its terrible wounds {it cannot heal the fire damage, and so is stuck at 0 Vitality) but lacking any fire or acid, they assault the beast with the flats of their blades- driving it to unconsciousness.

{All forms of damage can deal both Nonlethal Vitality & Wound to a Regenerator for balance’s sake. In the above scenario, any Nonlethal damage would directly build up the creature’s Nonlethal Wound pool, as it has no Vitality left. Thus, the Nonlethal Wound would quickly overtake its Wound and the Fort save to remain conscious raises quickly. The creature’s regeneration does not heal Nonlethal Wound, though Nonlethal Vitality is healed regularly, which in turn lowers the Nonlethal Wound pool. Again, by obliterating the troll’s Vitality with “lethal�? damage, Yoma has ensured that it won’t be waking up for at least a few hours}

After knocking the beast unconscious, the pair revives Yoma with a healing potion. Seeing that the troll is going to be unconscious for several hours, Yoma nevertheless CDGs it with a series of acid splashes.

Summary: While this system may seem mathematically daunting, fights with Regenerators are guaranteed to be more memorable, with the possibility of knocking the creature out requiring far more effort. Those individuals who, through spells or items, can deal “lethal�? damage to a Regenerator remain critical for its eternal defeat (i.e. slaughter), but high CR monsters will not be as susceptible to their weaknesses as set out in the RAW.

P.S. Undead Regenerators, being immune to fatigue and lacking Vitality, remain wholly (unholy? ;)) invincible, as only “lethal�? damage can harm them; their Regeneration values, however, mean little, since they cannot heal this damage. Those undead who also have Fast Healing can restore this “lethal�? damage, though. Regardless, as only the Atrophal fills the role of the fast healing, regenerating undead monster, few players/DMs need fear this complication.

Diehard feat

The last (theoretically) in my House Rule/Caveat series for Vitality/Wound.

"6. What use is Diehard in the Vitality/Wound system? And how does a barbarian’s rage factor in?"

House Rule: As neither of these topics are directly addressed in the RAW, I hope to do so here.

In the Core rules, Diehard allows a player to keep fighting beyond 0 hp, and furthermore permits them to act as if disabled (not unconscious) until -10 hp, when they perish.

So how does this work in Vit/Wd, where a player already gains an extended lease on life via Wound? Certainly, we shouldn’t allow them to ignore the disabled status of 0 Wd, as that may overpower the feat, allowing one to fight perfectly until death. (Ferocity, ala the Dire Boar, would likely allow this trait to come into play)

Instead I offer the follow possibility: A character with the Diehard feat is not treated as fatigued when they suffer Wound damage, and furthermore gains a +5 to their saves to avoid stunning and their saves to survive (i.e. when at 0 Wound). In this fashion, the character functions quite well while in Wound and is less affected by the first-round critical hit; also, they are harder to knock out of a fight or even outright kill, but being at 0 Wound still leaves them disabled and unable to fight effectively.

While this house rule may need some fine-tuning, you won’t see the “invincible berserker�? pop-up, but these folks will truly be hard to actually kill.

In regards to a barbarian’s rage, it should be fairly clear that the additional hp are added to Vitality, and that a person’s Wound score also increases by 4. However, those GMs that prefer this system for low magic may note that a high-level barbarian is in grave risk of dying every time his rage ends- the 20th level barbarian loses 80 hp at the end of rage, but the presence of Wound makes them far less useful; w/o the fear of falling unconscious at -1 hp, the extra hp risk becoming a grave danger when there is no form of powerful healing magic, like a Heal spell, to raise the barbarian out of the “danger zone.�?

An untested House Rule:

Instead of treating the lost Vitality as a damaging blow (i.e. if Fenor the 20th level barbarian has 30 Vitality and 20 Wd during the end of his rage, he would then lose 80 Vit, dropping him to 0 Vit, 0 Wd, and effectively dealing a 30 Wd dmg extra, forcing a high Fort save), the extra Vitality points can, instead, be removed in the following fashion:

{Note: The extra Wound points are removed from the Wd score, but incur no Stun saving throw, though they can provoke a survival save if this drops the barbarian to 0 Wd or less}

First, the lost Vitality points are subtracted from the barbarian’s current Vitality pool, until it reaches 0. Then, the remaining Vitality dividend is dealt as Nonlethal damage (see Issue #4) to the barbarian (since the barbarian has no Vitality remaining, this damage is automatically Nonlethal Wound) until it has been paid in full, or Nonlethal Wound damage equal to 3x the barbarian’s Con score has been dealt. If, after these steps, a dividend remains, this remainder is dealt as Wound damage to the barbarian until he reaches 0 Wd- the remainder (if any) is then treated as a damaging blow. The Fort save to remain conscious with Nonlethal Wound is made after the dividend is paid, which may increase the save if the barbarian also suffers Wd damage.

This system (an example will be given below) allows a barbarian who has valiantly fought to the brink of death to not automatically perish for his troubles (Lessened character mortality is a hallmark of Vitality/Wound after all). Instead, the barbarian is likely to suffer tremendous Nonlethal Wound damage, which will heal by the hour, and may or may not be knocked unconscious as a result. If the barbarian is alone, he is still helpless, but a PC may be able to care for his barbarian ally until he awakens.

If the barbarian has depleted his Vitality and Wound pools before his rage ends (akin to a barbarian w/ Diehard fighting at -8 hp), then he/she is clearly working on “borrowed time�?, and is like to die if healing measures are not quickly provided (or if their non-raging Constitution score is far too small to cope with the Vitality dividend they must now pay).

Ex. Wrax, the 10th level barbarian with a Con of 16, has fought off a horde of zombies, their savage slams leaving him with 5 Vitality and 14 Wd before his rage ends. With his battle frenzy ending, he must now pay a 20 Vitality dividend (+4 Constitution score x 10 HD= 20 hp) and loses 4 Wd (+4 Constitution score), dropping him to 10 Wd. Wrax first loses his 5 remaining Vitality (20-5=15 remaining). He then suffers 15 Nonlethal Wound and must make a Fort 15 (exceeds Wound score) + 15 (NL Wd) — 10 Wd= Fort DC 20 or fall unconscious. He makes the save, and ends his rage, exhausted (literally) from both the rage and the grievous wounds he has suffered.

Ex #2. Devon, the hapless 15th level elf barbarian, is in a tough situation. He has been fighting off Dread Wraiths, who have dropped his normally impressive non-raging Con score from 22 down to 6 (costing him 16 Wd)- worse yet, his greater rage is about to end, and he has only 10 Vitality and 12 Wd left. His rage ends, dropping his Wd from 12 to 6 (no penalty), but he must still pay a 45 Vitality dividend (+6 Constitution score x 15 levels). First, he loses his last 10 Vitality (45-10=35). Then, he suffers Nonlethal Wound up to 3x his current Wound Score (6x3=18; 35-18=17). Finally, he loses his last 6 Wd (17-6=11) and suffers as if he had taken a 11 pt Wd blow (Fort 11 or die). While Devon is lucky enough not to be struck dead, he must now succeed on a (15 + 18 — 0) = Fort 33 or be knocked unconscious. He may be alive, but he’s all alone and not likely to wake up soon with his current Fort save….

Summary: While this house rule clearly eliminates most of the danger of a barbarian dying from “system shock,�? he/she will nevertheless be knocked out of the session for several hours without some timely healing magic. This is certainly far less lethal than Core D&D, and DMs may decide to simply inflict the lost Vitality as a damaging attack. However, I will note that the barbarian’s fatigue does stack with the fatigue from Wd damage, leaving the individual quite crippled (i.e. exhausted) if his rage gives out in the middle of a heated battle.

RPGs are unrealistic

Last to come, one more small issue…

"#7 If a great gold wyrm has 320 Wd (Con 40x8 for Colossal creature), why is it automatically fatigued from 1 Wd point of damage?�?

House Rule: While this may seem to be a minute point in the scheme of things, the question may arise how a creature with so many Wound points is instantly fatigued by a single point of damage. While this event can certainly be mitigated by the use of AC/DR (so that “lucky�? 1st level warrior w/ the double natural 20s and max damage of 7 with his magical scimitar still does not effect the dragon), the GM may decide that some small additional benefit be given for a large Wd pool.

In this case, I offer the simple guideline- a creature is only fatigued when it has suffered at least 1/10th of its Wd pool in damage. In this case, the average player (who likely does not have a Con of 20) will still be fatigued by a single point of damage.

In the mid range, a high Constitution player (Dwarf Barbarian w/ a Con of 30 while raging) or one that has taken multiple Toughness feats or even one Improved Toughness (both add directly to the Wd pool) may benefit slightly on the rare chance that a critical hit only deals 1 or 2 points of damage.

Lastly, in the high range, the purple worm or the greater wyrms are going to shrug off multiple critical hits before they actually suffer fatigue, though it certainly does add up.

Ex #1. Brianna, the Con 12 human fighter, needs only 1 pt of Wd (12/10=1.2à 1) to be fatigued.

Ex #2 Raga, the 20th level dwarf berserker with a Con of 30 while raging & Improved Toughness needs 5 pts of Wd damage to be considered fatigued (50/10=5)

Ex #3 The great gold wyrm, beyond its automatic 8/- DR, must suffer 32 Wd damage before being treated as fatigued (40x8=320/10= 32).

This last example should wrap up my personal list of Vitality/Wound House Rules and Caveats. Feel free to share your own experiences, personal disagreements, or even comments on what I’ve outlined here. I do hope what I’ve written will help each and any of you.

Best regards,
Magagumo