One of the early concepts I wanted to work into Freehold was a longer term downside to combat. My design goal is to make combat something players enter into only with great consideration; violence is something you use to solve problems when nothing else will do, not something you use casually to solve problems because mechanically you suffer no drawbacks for doing so after sleeping it off for eight hours. Thus far, this design goal took two main mechanical forms, changing the rest mechanics and introducing a more persistent wounding system. The changes to the rest system I think are more straightforward, so here those are:
RestsTo take a long rest, characters must make a Survival check to successfully complete the long rest (alternately could do it as individual Con saves). If they are in a group one character can make the roll for everyone. The difficulty is generally 15. Characters get advantage on this check for any of the following reasons:
Characters get disadvantage on this check for any of the following reasons:
- Staying in a maintained building like an inn or house.
- Magically enhanced food or water (lembas bread).
- A ranger is making your party’s roll and you are in that ranger’s favored terrain.
Alternately some things may provide bonuses instead of flat advantage/disadvantage in order to make more things important (since advantage cancels out any amount of disadvantage), but that seems to be getting away from the design of 5E.
- Lack of food, water, or shelter.
- Staying in hostile territory (sleeping in a dungeon).
- Severe weather.
- The Majority of the party is sleeping in medium or heavy armor.
If this check is failed the party does not complete a long rest and gains none of the benefits for doing so (though they are considered to have carried out a short rest). If the party does complete the long rest they gain the normal benefits of a long rest except they do not regain all their hit points (but they do regain their hit dice). Thus players will have to be more careful about expending resources and picking fights as their recovery from these fights is far less certain.
Short rests remain the same.
That all seems relatively straight forward.
Originally I had planned on something for wounds where if you ever were reduced to 0 hit points, you had a chance of suffering a wound, maybe with a Con save to resist. Wounds would be things like permanently losing a hit point off your total or maybe a roll on some table like in the DMG for specific injuries. This works in that in makes injuries something to be feared and a reason to avoid combat, but I also fear it makes them too punitive and random. In thinking about this I was reminded of how much I like the Health/Injury/Wound system from the Song of Ice and Fire RPG, where effectively Health = Hit Points and players can take Injuries and Wounds when they choose to reduce the damage of an incoming attack at the cost of taking a long term injury that penalizes all their rolls. Thus players do take long term injuries (not permanent though, Injuries generally require days to heal and Wounds weeks), but only when the player decides they need to really stay in a fight at the cost of long term effectiveness as opposed to random chance.
Along those lines, I worked on the following system where players could choose to suffer wounds to heal damage.
Whenever a character is struck in combat they can choose to take a wound, reducing the damage from the attack that just hit them by their Constitution+Level. If a character is already at 0 hit points or below, they can take a wound to heal a number of hit points equal to their Constitution+Level. Each time the character takes a wound, the player may select one of the following effects of the wound; each time the same option is taken the effects get worse, so characters over time will want to spread their wounds around. Each additional wound effect is cumulative, so if you take a Dexterity penalty from two wounds you suffer -3 Dexterity total.
A character can take at most four wounds per combat. Taking a fifth wound is automatically a lethal wound (see below).
1st Wound 2nd Wound 3rd Wound 4th Wound -5 Movement -5 Movement -10 Movement Retirement -1 Strength -2 Strength -3 Strength Retirement -1 Dexterity -2 Dexterity -3 Dexterity Retirement -1 Constitution -2 Constitution -3 Constitution Retirement -1 Intelligence -2 Intelligence -3 Intelligence Retirement -1 Wisdom -2 Wisdom -3 Wisdom Retirement -1 Charisma -2 Charisma -3 Charisma Retirement Injured Hand* Injured Arm* Injured Hand* Retirement -1 Hit Point -2 Hit Points -3 Hit Points -4 Hit Points*
Hit Points: You can always choose to lose more hit points and the loss continues at one additional hit point per wound.
Injured Arm: You lose of one of your arms. You cannot use any items with that arm. Injured Hand: You lose use of one of your hands. You cannot use two-handed items, but you can use one-handed items of you strap them to your arm.
If the wound is not healed before the character next takes a long rest, the losses become permanent.
At any point a character can choose to suffer a lethal wound and go out with a blaze of glory. He immediately regains full hit points and any Glory spent in the combat is not considered lost when determining the Glory of the character’s heir. At the end of the combat the character immediately dies if he is not dead already.
The idea would be that players take on wounds over the course of the campaign as they encounter battles that are important and difficult enough to make sacrifices to win, and characters would eventually get a point where they would retire because they can no longer function as adventurers. I went with ability score damage instead of specific injuries (aside from the Injured Hand/Arm options) as those seemed simpler than saying "Head wound, disadvantage on some skill checks" and it used mechanics that were already part of 5E.
I like the idea of wounds being a player instigated sacrifice rather than a randomly inflicted punishment, but I also worry that without a significant change in the encounter design of 5E it would never happen. Part of my plan for Freehold was to scale fights towards the hard side of things, having lots of valiant stands against overwhelming odds and such. I also want to make most of the major, difficult fights be situations where there is something majorly important to the players at stake aside from their lives, such as defending their village, saving a relic of their faith, etc. I really want minimize the "combat for loot" incentive and focus more on combat for self defense, territory control, religious/cultural conflict, taking prisoners for ransom (and thus minimize looting corpses as a income stream), etc.
I also worry that without the forced taking of wounds via a system without player control, I can't make the wounds punishing enough to be impactful while also making them an attractive option in battle. Given the above mechanics, a wizard could take a bunch of Strength wounds, representing muscle damage or some such, and not really suffer much loss of effectiveness. I could group things, such that any wound comes with a hit point loss in addition to ability score loss, and losing hit points permanently is a fast route to retirement.
I've come up with some additional mechanics so players can choose to expend other resources to get advantages (Weapon and Armor Damage Mechanics), in addition to mechanics to encourage players to take on more dangerous odds than they normally would (Glory), but I will post those later this week so avoid having one massively long blog post for the week.