Yes, I know that hit points are not meat points. They aren’t even anything resembling something close to reality. They’re a resource that is consumed–some might say *involuntarily spent*–to stave off character death. Problem is, new school D&D (NSD&D) doesn’t want character death on the table in the same way that old school D&D (OSD&D) did. In OSD&D, if you fucked up, you ingloriously perished and grabbed a handful of d6s to try again. In NSD&D, you aren’t supposed to die.
Yes, there are rules for death and dying. Character death *can* occur, but the system discourages it mechanically (with buffers like death saves, healing from 0 HP, etc.). The system also disincentivizes character death for both player and DM. Players are supposed to come up with a character concept beforehand, selecting a combination of race and class and background, writing up character traits like flaws and ideals. That’s a lot more work than what it takes in OSD&D. That means character death negatively impacts the player worse than it did in OSD&D: the player comes to the table somewhat attached to his character, and he has to spend more time *not playing* the game if he bites the bullet. Plus, there’s an emphasis on plots rather than exploration and dungeon crawling. This discourages the DM from killing characters because, well, who wants to force their players to write up a new character and then figure out how to incorporate him into the plot-heavy campaign you’ve been running for three months?
Taking Death Off the Table. Mostly.
Maybe then death is off the table. For the most part. Maybe your hit points are your *conflict points* rather than your *please don’t kill me* points. And once your hit points are reduced to 0, whomever reduced you to 0 HP gets to decide what happens to you. Maybe that’s death, but maybe instead the giant spider’s venom paralyzes you and your hobbit buddy has to bear your +1 sword of spider-slaying to bear against that spider while you’re webbed up and helpless.
Let’s take it a step further, though. What if you had one pool of “conflict points” that you used when you were fighting non-lethally. Once those were depleted, you, as a player, had two options before you:
- Flee. If you choose this options, you remove your mini from the battle board–hey, this *is* D&D–and . You cannot be killed *in that moment*. Character death is off the table. For now. Unless you choose to stay and fight, that is. If you stay and fight, you’re taking a calculated risk, which brings us to option #2.
- Fight On! If you choose this path, death is back on the table. Sorta. You replenish your pool of hit / conflict points. This secondary pool works just like the rest of your conflict points, except when it’s depleted, things sour for you.
You’re presented with two options once again:
- Surrender. You acquiesce to your adversary’s demands. He gets what he wants; you don’t get jack shit. Except you for certain *will not die*. Death is back off the table, but your opponent If he wants to capture you, knock you out, gouge out one of your eyes, or do something even more horrific and gruesome, he gets what he wants. The only rule is that he *can’t kill you*, not yet anyways. Dungeon-related homicide can only occur if he wants to kill you badly enough, or if you opt to fight…
- To The Death! Oh, yes, you want this to get gory, don’t you? You want to make this to the death. And so you shall. Now you call upon a tertiary reserve of conflict points, the third and final pool of them. The last of your strength. The last barrier between you and death. It’s all for keeps now. You can *try* to run away here, and you can *try* to surrender, but it’s no guarantee. After all, you’re the one who forced your opponent’s hand. You fought until you saw you were about to lose, didn’t you? Whomever depletes this pool gets to straight-up murderize you. That ogre licking his chops, swinging that meat cleaver, howling for your blood because you killed his one true love, the 400-lb. woman that birthed all thirty-seven of his children? He’s going to enjoy carving each and every last conflict point of you.
Naturally, such an idea requires systemic changes to compensate for it. I would think a reduction in hit points to compensate, perhaps a division of three. I’m going to start basic with this in the next D&D game I run. I’ll probably just have 0 HP mean that the attacker decides your fate, and gradually up the complexity of the system for appropriate tweaking.