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Wound Systems and Progressive Punishment

by Jae
Wound Systems and Progressive Punishment

Does your party play recklessly? Do you play with a vetran group who wants a bit more challenge? Do you have players who run characters with no regard for getting wounded, hurt, or otherwise suffering? If you answered yes to any of these questions then adding a wounds mechanic might be for you.

These are optional rules and they are absolutely brutal. These are not a good fit for new players and they really should only be used with players who are comfortable with the game. With this warning out of the way, let’s explore wound systems for your game.

What is a Wound System?

A wound system is a set of mechanics that enforces lasting damage of some kind to characters that drop to or below 0 HP. This can range from a permanent scar to the loss of limb. There are multiple ways to handle wound systems, but the one we’ll be talking about is a table-based, roll-for-result kind of system.

How this wound system works is that when a character hits 0 HP through combat damage they make a roll on the wound table. The wound table ranges in severity, with bruises and scars on one end of the spectrum to dismemberment and lasting organ damage at the other. The lower the roll, the worse the result. These wounds are also something considered outside the range of normal healing. A scar is the result of healing a severe injury, so each of these that the player gets has a lasting effect that would require a restoration spell to remove.

Later on we’ll show a sample wound table that illustrates this and it can easily be adapted for use in your own game.

Why Use Wounds?

Wounds add a degree of punishment to the game that the traditional healing system almost completely removes. While you can certainly use healing magic to remove a lot of damage, the biggest damage nullifier is typically resting. A long rest cures most things in DnD to an extent that makes progressive difficulty impossible if your players are in a situation where they can rest between every combat.

What makes matters worse is that without a wound system most players will wield their characters with a sort of reckless abandon. Combat hurts, but a lot of players are not at all afraid of letting their character take nearly lethal damage. Players often don’t run from situations that are extremely dangerous and this is partly because there is no real punishment if they win the fight. No matter how bad things are, if the characters end up anything other than dead, they can be healed right back up with no consequences.

While this might be fine for some games, for others it’s less than ideal.

How Wound Systems Change the Game

A wound system changes the game in a few ways. First and foremost, it punishes players who run their characters recklessly. This should not be the primary reason you would use a wound system, but it is one of the behaviors that it seeks to curb. In addition to this lasting punishment, the game also gets new mechanics that establish limitations to healing.

Hit Points are often looked at as a measure of how many times a player can suffer visceral wounds, but it would be more accurate to look at HP as an amount of stamina that the player can expend before they simply can’t dodge a sword or block a mace. When your HP is at zero your luck runs out and only then do you actually get hit and become wounded.

This reinterpretation of HP makes the long rest scenario make more sense. The more HP you have, the better you are at avoiding being wounded. The less HP you have, the faster you become exhausted and get stabbed in the gut. This also tracks much better with the HP system distributed across the classes and more realistically ties Constitution to endurance than to physical brawn.

The next big change that comes from incorporating the wound system is that players who embrace the system care much more about medical skills and healing. Now things that restore HP are essentially reinvigorating you. Stab wounds, on the other hand, still require bandages.

Lastly, with wounds in place players will be very careful with their HP. Every roll on the wound table is scary. This fear of permanent character damage can encourage more stealth or roleplay to avoid combat and might be perfect for the game you’re running.

A Sample Wounds Table

At 0 HP roll on the Wounds Table Below:

  • 1 – Loss of a limb (DMs discretion) and fail a Death Save
  • 2 – Loss of a limb (DMs discretion)
  • 3 – Loss of a limb (Players choice)
  • 4 – Loss of an Eye or Ear (DMs Choice)
  • 5 – Severe Limb damage (Disabled/Broken)
  • 6 – Severe Torso damage (Disadvantage on all attack rolls and saving throws for 1d10 days, requires tending, leaves scars, exertion causes bleeding)
  • 7-10 – Major Laceration (Requires tending for 1d4 days, leaves scars, combat causes bleeding)
  • 11-14 – Lacerations (Requires tending 1d4 days)
  • 15-17 – Large Bruises (Painful and visible for 1d4 days)
  • 18 – Minor lacerations
  • 19 – Painful Bruises
  • 20 – Lucky, no lasting wounds

In our sample we’ve introduced a few concepts. On the low rolls we have some pretty bad options where the character loses a limb or suffers severe damage. In the worst case they even get a step closer to death! All wounds from a roll under 18 require some sort of tending.

What this means is you can’t just walk it off. You need to bandage the wound, spend time treating it, and replace bandages each day. It slows the party down a lot. Beyond the time spent tending wounds, they also can grant a variety of restrictions. In cases where there is limb loss the restrictions are obvious. But other wounds might open up with exertion or combat and the blood loss can lower their HP. 

For our games we adopted bleeding rules that read as follows:

A bleeding creature must make a DC 13 Constitution save at the end of each of its turns. On a failure the creature takes 1d4 damage, on a success the effect ends.

This is pretty bad on its own, but it is much worse for caster class characters who will likely not be able to hold concentration at all for the duration of this effect. Overall, the wound system here tends towards the heavily punishing side, so it’s not for everyone. It can also be modified in a lot of ways depending on the level of severity you want for your game. We like a harder wound system when we use it because our players are experienced and the challenge of adding wounds for us is fun. That being said, we don’t use this for most of our games and we almost never put it on our years-long campaigns. 

For newer players the wound system might be a bit extreme. They’re likely going to make a few more combat blunders than a veteran and will roll on the table more often. While the wound table can provide interesting results and shake up stale gameplay for experienced individuals, it simply isn’t fun to roll on this frequently when you’re just trying to figure out the game for the first time.

If you want to get even more specific about the injuries your players get based on the type of damage they received, we recommend using the Lingering Injuries table by Farlandworld.com.

Go On, Hurt Your Players

A wound system is not for everyone and it isn’t a good fit for every game, but it might be just the thing you’ve been missing for your table. So take your normal HP system and throw it out the window. With a wound system you can put real consequences in place for making missteps in combat and your players can feel a bit more tense about their characters taking damage. 

Wound systems are a brutal but fun optional rule that ramps up difficulty through lasting punishment systems and rewards a more careful and methodical system of play. If it’s something that your players might like then have a discussion about how to fit wounds into your next game.

As always, happy DMing.

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