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Wounded and Weary

by Michael Rudge & Crispin Bateman

In the never ending search for ways to make an AD&D game better, a lot of rules find themselves undergoing revisions of differing degrees. One of the systems of AD&D that has often been the cause of complaint & adjustment is that of hit points.

It cannot be said that the HP system doesn't work well in the game; it delivers the necessary detail to run the game & decide upon the state of the characters but it can find itself in compromising positions in some situations. To give an example: In a tavern in the centre of a small town, Arag the warrior decides to get drunk. He is a 7th level fighter with 68 HP. In walks Tomas - a 1st level fighter with a mere 8 HP - who sits with Arag. As the evening progresses, Arag spends his time insulting Tomas who becomes more & more angry. Eventually, Tomas is pushed too far & in a state of fury, he draws his longsword & impales the older fighter. Due to Arag's surprise & drunken stupor he counts as a prone target. He is wearing no armour & thus Tomas finds it very easy to hit him. After rolling his 1d8, Tomas manages to cause Arag 7 HP of damage. The more experienced warrior with HP lowered to 61 then draws his two-handed sword in retaliation & hits Tomas back easily, rolling a 9 on his damage roll & killing the younger man instantly. The point becomes obvious: surely, in this situation, Arag should be dead & Tomas the victor & yet, due to his high HP, the aggressive Arag lives & the more realistic situation is reversed.

So the need makes itself clear for a rule which compensates for such a situation. The first thing to decide is what we think of by hit points. Originally, these are understood as a measure of the characters health & energy, combining how he is wounded with his weariness. It becomes obvious that to make a rule which is more realistic & accurate, the concept of wounding needs to be separated from that of energy. As the HP scale is already a very good way of determining character energy; as a character becomes more experienced & older, his stamina increases & he can fight for more prolonged periods (although this system may need to be revised for old aged characters) & so we can immediately look upon HP as being character energy & stamina.

With the stamina scale decided, the next step is to set an amount for the character's wounds score, this should be a constant number for, as the character becomes more experienced & knowledgeable, he does not suddenly become more resistant to sword blows & mace strikes. As the character already has a statistic to show his constitution, this can easily be translated into his body's physical fitness & so we can now give him a wounds score - that equal to his constitution; as he is cut & wounded, so this score decreases.

It remains to decide the rules upon which these two scores can be put to use. It makes total sense for the following to be true:

Death & Unconsciousness

But how is it we differentiate between his being wounded & his losing energy? In battle, any really good hit should cut into his wounds score, as a sharp blade is plunged into his skin, but the small nicks & close calls should merely drain his energy. A good rule to apply this is to impose that all attacks which hit the character's AC by five or better damage him, whilst those which only just hit his AC (between 0 & 4 better than his AC) merely take HP away. After extensively testing this rule, it was found that the following works best, keeping the realism whilst making the game balance work & the battles fun & exciting, rather than an almost suicidal situation to get into:

Melee Combat

Continuing the rules for battle, it is important not to forget that there are other types of damage which occur other than normal melee weapons. This group includes missile fire (which is assumed to wound an opponent), magic (which may have many different effects), backstabs (which, as missile fire, always score damage to wounds) & many varied types of natural monster attacks. With missile fire & backstabs, a simple rule can be written which is just a variation on those above. The following rules apply for missile fire, backstabs & any other attacks which the victim can take no preventative action against (such as the tavern scenario above, collapsing ceiling etc.), both in & out of battle situations:

Missile Attacks, Special Melee Attacks & Unanticipated Situations

For magic, the DM has to be prepared to make decisions ad lib. For ease of use, any spells which have a definite physical effect (such as Fireball & Melf's Acid Arrow) can be seen as making physical wounds & those which have only indefinite magical effects (including Magic Missile & Vampiric Touch) drain stamina but have no physical consequence. With spells that have a definite physical effect, a rule must be created to restore game balance & order, for otherwise, any Fireball casting mage can, with ease, kill any party of sixteenth level characters! Again, many rules have been tried & tested, & a very simple system covers the problem with ease. It is to take the characters AC into account, for his wearing armour can often save him from the, otherwise fatal, effects of the spells. The rules are as follows:

Magic Attacks with a Definite Physical Effect / Breath Weapon Attacks

To show these rules in an example, Frigard the Wizard casts Fireball upon two evil priests. He rolls 28 damage, the DM rolls saving throws for the two priests; 19 & 5, the first saves, the other fails. With HP 20 & Wounds 14, the first priest leaps aside & manages to continue his assault, now on 6 HP but in full physical health. The second, with HP 26, Wounds 15 & leather armour, granting an AC bonus of 2, falls unconscious (0 HP) & is badly burnt, taking 7 (9 minus 2) damage to Wounds, leaving him on Wounds 8.

With monsters' different & varied special attacks, it is up to the DM to use hs common sense & judgement. With breath weapon attacks, the rules for magic with definite physical effects should be applied however, it would be futile to try & make exact rules for all special attacks & defences of the creatures which roam in the AD&D world. It should be noted that any poisons that are used by both monsters & characters should be incapable of causing Wounds damage, the varying types that exist only affecting HP or causing some other special event. After all, no poison or similar effect will ever open up a gash in an adventurer's side!

The characters having become wounded & weary, it remains to decide upon rules which regain their energy & heal their bodies. There are two main ways for the healing to occur; natural healing & rest, & magical healing. It is easiest to deal with the latter first, as any magical healing should regain both wounds & HP by the same amount, so a Cure Light Wounds spell would restore 1d8+1 points of wounds & HP to the character & a Potion of Healing will cure 2d4+2 points of both wounds & HP. It is also important to note that the reverse spells & spell-like effects (Cause Light Wounds & similar) drain both wounds & HP, making the whole are of magical healing a lot more significant.

Natural healing is more complicated. HP are regained at speed, granting 1d3 HP plus any bonus granted for high constitution to be restored for every hour of rest, but regaining wounds is a slow process, for these things do not heal up speed, especially when untended.

To decide the rate that wounds points are cured, it is necessary to look at each character's constitution score, for those with a higher constitution will heal faster than those without. A character should regain one wound point for long periods of rest or inactivity, the period decided by their constitution score as shown by the following chart:

Cure Rate by Constitution

ConstitutionCure Rate (Hours)
253 Turns

NB: Going into battle or doing any, otherwise strenuous activity, will reopen the character's healing wounds & thus make him begin his healing once more, resetting his current cure rate, also, if a character with a healing non-weapon proficiency tends to a wounded comrade as he rests, the wounded character's cure rate is increased by one quarter of the difference between his normal cure rate & that of the next higher boundary. A character with herbalism & healing, if his herbs are to hand, can raise a wounded characters cure rate by one half of the difference between his normal & that of the next boundary. To grant this bonus, the healer must stay by the side of the wounded character for the whole time of his regaining the wound point.


One strange inconsistency in this system is that a character can be wounded to a huge degree & yet rest & regain his HP to full & walk around normally. This problem can be alleviate by one simple & effective set of rules which adjust his ability to fight & cast spells by his current health:

Balance Between Wounds & HP

Any character who falls below 1/4 of his maximum HP & has a currently low wounds score (1/4 max or lower) has a chance of opening his wounds & thus dropping in wounds points. The rules for determining how these wounds points are lost are:

Losing Wounds due to Physical Weakness

The bonus to the checks granted for being tended are +2 for anyone tending (no healing proficiency required), +4 if the character tending has healing proficiency & succeeds in his ability check, & +6 if the healer has both healing & herbalism proficiency, succeeds in his healing ability check & has managed to make an ointment by having the required herbs to hand & succeeding in his herbalism ability check. The ability checks must be made whenever the patients Wounds score is at stake.

These rules may seem the most complicated of all, but are easily understood with an example; Jero the Thief has a constitution score of 11, 14 HP & 11 maximum Wounds. After a battle with some werewolves he falls to 3 Wounds points & 3 HP; he must start making his checks. With his friend Nulas tending (a character with healing proficiency) he needs a roll of 12 or less (8 for his 3/4 constitution & 4 for Nulas's tending). His first roll is a 4, he must make one an hour later but for now he survives. One hour later, Jero must roll his second check (the party has managed to find no priest to heal him) he rolls a 19, dropping him to 2 Wounds points & forcing him to make a further two checks (for fulfilling the criteria described above once more). Nulas must also make another check to make sure that he is still tending to Jero well. He fails & now his presence is only worth 2 points bonus to Jero's roll. The DM rolls 1d3 to determine whether Jero keeps awake; a 2, Jero falls to 0 HP & unconsciousness.

Another hour passes & still the friends have not managed to find magical aid. Jero makes another check (this time he must roll a 10 of less, as Nulas failed his healing roll). He rolls a 11, forcing him to relapse & placing him on 1 Wounds point, dangerously close to death. Three checks to go, all of which have to be made if Jero is to survive. For the first two he rolls an 8 & a 3, spirits rise & the chance of him pulling through looks better, however, on the third check (rolled due to his low Wounds score of 1) he rolls a 17 & begins the slip to death; his only chance now a save vs. death. A 16, he pulls himself back to life & now he has survived the three hours since he slipped to 1 Wounds originally, he is safe until he has rested enough to heal a Wound point, after which he will, once more, fill the criteria described in the rules & will have to make two checks to keep that Wounds point. Luckily, within the hour, a priest appears & the thief is saved.

The only thing that remains is to make the distinction between wounds points for monsters & constitution for monsters. The easiest way to discern monster wounds is by simple DMs discretion, a dragon will have many (perhaps more than it does HP) whereas a goblin will have few. With regenerating monsters, it is again totally up to the DM to decide whether the creature regenerates HP, Wounds or both. Use your sense of judgement & it will soon become second nature.

Used correctly, these new rules can add a lot of realism & excitement into your games, & it is always very satisfying to see the first level character kill the seventh level veteran warrior in the tavern. Just remember not to start pushing around those little novice adventurers when you're not wearing any armour - you could be an easy target.

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Last Updated Sat Aug 11, 2007