Deferred Hit Points

One of the concepts that I have found resonating with me from the 2d6 fantasy game is the idea of the experience die. The experience die is kind of like a hit die, except that you spend it to cancel damage when you get hit rather than roll it at the beginning to see how many hit points you get. In my first conception, an experience die could also be used as a sort of wild card fate point that you could add to any other roll (though note that the outcome of this use is not certain in the way that the use of a fate point is). For now I would just like to consider the idea of deferring hit dice.

What if we were to bolt this concept onto D&D? How would that work? Characters would have no hit points, they would just have hit dice. Every time a character took damage, they would spend some hit dice to cancel out that damage, continuing to spend the dice until either all the damage was cancelled or all the hit dice were exhausted. All hit dice being exhausted is much like being reduced to zero or less HP. The character would be automatically knocked unconscious at that point, and would need to roll a save versus death to test for survival.

This does make hit dice slightly less valuable in a mathematical sense, as “extra” HP per die (compared to a given hit) is wasted. For example, if a character is hit for 2 damage, experience dice must be spent to avoid rolling a saving throw. Assume the character is first level (and thus has only one experience die). If the player rolls a 2 or higher, all the damage is cancelled. If, say, a 5 is rolled though, the die is still fully spent, and the next hit taken will automatically cause either unconsciousness or death (depending on the saving throw result). Perhaps allowing experience dice to not be consumed if a six is rolled would be an interesting variant.

What do you think? Hate it or love it? I confess that I am rather taken with the idea, as it allows characters to benefit from advancement while maintaining the tension of taking damage right up to the point of final resolution (a character with six hit dice could potentially roll six ones and be mortally threatened by 1d6 damage, if the damage die came up 6).

Edit: how would healing work? Maybe by restoring spent hit dice. So cure light wounds would restore one hit die.

16 thoughts on “Deferred Hit Points

  1. Gus L

    I could like this, I think it would work best if you started people out with several hit die, and or it was combined with a wound table. So a Fighter 1 would have 2-3 HD per fight while an MU might have 1.

    When the HD were exhausted (remember even a D8 HD might not cover a D6 attack requiring multiple HD to be used) you roll on a wound table modified by CON and number of wounds. Wounds have negative effects, but the low number ones aren’t that bad. Something like that. It would make for more random combat, but might take a bit more time. I think wound tables are great generally though (cause you can say certain types of attack go right to them…)

    1. Brendan


      Do you think you would prefer this as dice per encounter or dice per session?

      Per encounter would obviously result in many more effective HP than D&D as played commonly. It could still be high tension and dangerous if saving throws and wounds were in play, but my guess is that it would end up more tactical, following the logic of your combat complexity post.

  2. Hedgehobbit

    I’d make it that if you roll more than the damage, the damage is ignored and no dice are lost. This makes extra hit dice more significant since it will increase the likelyhood of rollong a six. If the damage is higher the higest die the character rolls, the character looses his highest hit dice and then you subtract that die from the damage and compare the next value. This makes it possible, on a poor roll, for a high level character to lose more than one die from an attack.

    For example, a character gets hit for 10 points by an ogre. He rolls 6, 4, 3 & 2. He’ll lose the 6 but will subtract 6 points from the damage. Now he compares the remaining 4 points of damage with his next highest dice which is also a 4 so he loses that one as well. If the character had a +1 bonus for a high Con, his first die would count as a 7 and he would only lose one die since the remaining 3 points was lower than the 4.

    This system would let high level fighters ignore piddly damage which is something I like.

    1. Brendan


      That’s an interesting variation, and perhaps more intuitive that what I was considering, which is rolling the dice in order one by one as needed. So the order would matter. In your example of 10 damage, 6 4 3 2 would be better than 6 2 3 4 because in case one two hit dice would be lost and in case two three hit dice would be lost. So your method is also a bit more generous. I like it though. And rolling all the hit dice at once might be quicker, too.

  3. Joshua

    Like various critical hit and exploding damage dice rules, it makes characters more fragile and reduces the player’s ability to judge risk. Some people may like that, but to me one of the only advantages of the abstract ablative hit point systems is making it pretty easy for players to judge when they’re in big trouble. And I’ve never felt that D&D characters were on the whole too robust.

    1. Brendan


      I think combat should always be risky. Risk evaluation comes from things outside of combat. Do these statues mean that there are medusas? Do those scorch marks mean there is a trap? What do those tracks mean? Etc. Diegetic things, really. Numerical buffers rarely play into that.

      I mean, if combat is not risky, what’s the point of including it? At least for the kind of problem solving and exploration focused scenarios that I like to run.

  4. Anthony Casaldi

    What if armor provided an inherent hit die as well? So, light armor provides a d4, medium a d6, and heavy a d8. Then when you take damage you automatically roll your armor hit die first. If it negates the damage, you need not spend an actual hit die. If the armor die fails to negate all damage, you spend hit dice accordingly. This would at least allow a character to always have *some* form of defense, albeit pretty minimal. Once you run out of hit dice and take more damage than the armor die can soak up, you fall unconscious.

    Another thought: what if players treated their character hit dice like a pool and at the start of each combat they chose how many hit dice to use for the encounter. They would then roll those hit dice and that would be their hit points for the encounter.

  5. Psychochild

    Some of the more modern games have had two pools of hit points. One simulates the “dodging” aspect that hit points are supposed to represent, and the second your “core life”. Wondering if you could do the same thing here. Have a core amount of life as a function of Constitution (and maybe level and hit die), then use the hit dice as you describe here. So, if hit leaves 1-2 hit points left, a player could choose to have the points applied to core health rather than potentially “wasting” a hit die.

    In this case, you could have cure spells that heal core health or restore hit dice.

    My gut reaction to this system is to agree with Joshua above: this makes it harder to assess risk. Depends on how you want to run your campaigns, though.

    1. Brendan

      Having some constitution based pool also would work. I would wonder though, does this prevent someone being able to be killed by a good sword blow? If so, that’s problematic for a high-tension game. It depends on how you conceive of the particular abstraction, though.

      Assuming all that works out for the tone that is desired, I think I would like something sort of like this:

      By constitution:

      – 7 or less: 1d6
      – 8 to 12: 2d6
      – 13+: 3d6

      One could also do, for a slightly grittier feel, this:

      – 7 or less: 2d6 take lowest
      – 8 to 12: 1d6
      – 13+: 2d6 take highest

      Regarding tension and risk assessment, this post is also relevant:


Leave a Reply