Monday, July 15, 2013

Death & Dying in Pathfinder

I have always hated how character death works in Pathfinder (and 3.5 as well). For those of you who are not familiar with the d20 system and how it handles the death of a character, I'll elaborate.

Once a character has a negative total of hit points, they are considered unconscious and dying. Unless they are stabilized (whether it be through magical healing, a successful DC 10 Fortitude save with a penalty equal to your negative hit point total, or an ally making a DC 15 Heal check), the character loses an additional 1 hit point every round. When his negative hit point total is equal to his Constitution score, the character is dead.

Now, I understand why the injury and death rules work this way. The negative hit points act as a safety net and make it harder for a character to actually die since many players hate seeing the character they've put so much time and effort into kick the bucket. However, I have never found these rules to be fun. On the contrary, I feel like they are just tedious. If you are unconscious and dying, you spend most of your turns making Fortitude checks and slowly raising your negative hit point total if you fail.

So, with that in mind, I've been thinking about different ways to handle injury and death in my Pathfinder games. One solution is to have the characters receive Constitution damage instead of negative hit points and when their Constitution is 0, they die. While this could be an interesting alternative, I feel like I'm just replacing one secondary hit point track with another.

The other solution, which I kind of like, is basically a "Three Strikes and Your Out" rule. For the most part, the rules stay the same. When a character's hit point total drops below 0, they are unconscious and dying. However, instead of going the negative hit point route, the player makes three Fortitude saves with a DC of 10. If he manages to succeed at just one of the saves, his character is stabilized, but still unconscious. However, if he fails all three saves, the character dies. Receiving magical healing or having an ally making a DC 15 Heal check still automatically stabilizes you.

The reason why I like this alternative is that it's rather simple to understand, keeps the game moving, and also makes the game a little more lethal than before. I'm also thinking about adding an additional element where a character receives a -2 penalty each time they fail a check to show their weakening state. However, I'm still a little bit unsure about it and might test it out a little first before fully implementing it.