Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Some Final Thoughts On Fatigue In DnD

I'm sensing more than a little exasperation from certain quarters regarding my plea for fatigue to be a recognized component of DnD combat.

For those "in the know", it will be plain that I'm no game designer.  I don't have the critical mind for it.  Nor the patience for endless stress-testing, to ensure a game component or system is sound.

I leave it the rest of you in the OSR community (the ones who possess real creativity and intelligence) to come up with novel solutions.

As mentioned earlier, hit points were re-purposed by Gygax to encapsulate many disparate elements of combat effectiveness, not to simply represent the capacity to absorb wounds.  Luck, fate, skill, endurance, willpower, concentration, and stamina are just a few elements encapsulated by the hit point pool, in addition to physical damage.  Despite that, very few, if any DnD, players utilize the hit point pool to its full potential.

In traditional DnD combat, the only way that your hit point pool can be diminished is if you absorb an attack from an opponent.  But it is acknowledged that this pool represents skill, endurance, concentration and strength of will, in addition to fate, luck (the avoidance of otherwise damaging blows) and capacity to absorb damage. 

If the hit point point pool represents skill and endurance, why can a player not exhaust some of that hit point pool to inflict additional damage on an opponent?  Effectively, the player would be expending some of their skill, and/or accepting some combat fatigue, in exchange for inflicting additional damage.

This sort of approach would not require any additional book-keeping, other than the book-keeping that every player already accepts, ie. tracking their remaining hit points.  It would also not contribute to that nay-sayer phantom, called "the death spiral," since the expenditure of the hit points would not affect the character's combat effectiveness, merely reduce her endurance (hit point) pool.

I leave it to brighter minds than mine to come up with a way to implement this, although off the top of my head, here is one approach.

During every round of combat, each player can declare, after a successful roll to hit, whether they wish to expend points from their hit point pool (become fatigued) in order to inflict additional damage.  The amount the player can expend from the character's hit point pool, in any round, is tied to the character's level and class. 

For example, Magic-users can expend a maximum of 1d4 hit points, per level, from their hit point pool.  So a 5th level Magic-user could expend a maximum of 5d4 hit points from her hit point pool.  In exchange for the assumption of that fatigue, she can inflict double the number of dice of extra damage. 

So if a 5th level Magic-User accepted 5d4 of hit points of fatigue from her hit point pool, she would inflict 10d4 of additional damage on her opponent.

Similarly, Thieves would use a d6, Clerics, a d8, and Fighters a d10.  In every instance, whatever number of dice was chosen (to a maximum of that character's level) for the assumption of fatigue to their hit point pool, twice that could be inflicted on one's opponent.

It should be obvious the potential effects of such a rule.  First, character heroics: that a character can "go down fighting" by selecting an assumption of fatigue damage that would take them to 0 hit points or below.  For example, a 5th level fighter, with only 8 hit points remaining, might select 5d10 of additional fatigue, in order to do 10d10 damage to her opponent, knowing that, while she might take out the monster, she will likely die in the attempt.

Second, there is a possibility that the number of hit points lost to fatigue will be greater than the damage inflicted.  That's the risk the player takes, in choosing to make this fatiguing attack.

Third, in order to make this sort of rule palatable to the players, the recovery of hit points needs to be increased.  I like the idea mentioned elsewhere of 1 hit point per round or per hour, rather than day, with, say higher recovery rates for sleeping, eating and drinking strong drinks.

That is a amateur's stab at the idea of combat fatigue.  I'm sure others have better approaches to this problem.  The point is, there is a way to recognize and account for combat fatigue, without adding significant complexity to DnD battles.


UWS guy said...

How about a simple 1hp per level that adds 2 dmg. Hit points are also morale, as when monsters at low hit points make morale checks in addition to ho being luck, endurance, skill, and divine favor. A cure light wounds spell can be viewed simply as a morale boost and not an actual mending of wounds.

DrBargle said...

I'm liking this approach. If you go down this route, it can also be the means by which D&D can deal with sanity-sapping horror without extra book-keeping. In fact, by using HP explicitly as fatigue and psychological resilience, and everything else it is meant to be, we'd stress, through simple mechanics, that 8HP worth of damage isn't always the physical equivalent of being hit with a sword.

Niccodaemus said...

I like the direction this is going. However, I don't think a fully healthy (full hit point) character should be able to exhaust themselves with a single blow.

I would say that a magic user or thief could exhaust 1 voluntary hp/level/attack. A cleric or figher 2 hp/level/attack. So, a 5th level fighter could exhaust 10 hp.

A character at full hit points is likely then to fatigue themselves down to zero in 3 or 4 attacks.

I wouldn't allow a character to spend more fatigue than their existing hit points... they could never bring themselves below zero.

I'm not so sure about the doubling the fatigue into damage. This seems a bit too powerful. I might keep it at a one to one. The character is already getting weapon/strength/misc damage bonuses.

If it were one to one, the choice to take fatigue becomes more important. Only done in dire or the most extreme circumstances.

blake said...

Just poking holes at it for testings sake- if parties manage to come upon say a dragon whilst still near full HP, aren't the two 6th level fighters with 35 HP going to spend 3d10 each straight away & end up inflicting 33HP (average) EXTRA on top of normal damage?

Why be a mage without armour when a fighter can nuke things?

Niccodaemus said...


Exactly. Now.. if those 6th level fighters had say, 36 hit points each, and if the most damage one could add were 12 points (2 per level), and if those same 12 points were lost in fatigue, a fighter could only execute three such attacks before dropping.

The heroic attack becomes a last resort, not a first.

UWS guy said...

Or give a fatigue score equal to your con+str/2+level score.

Str 12
Con 12
Level 4

Fatigue: 16.

A mu at level 4 has a FA of 2, so he would have 14 fatigue. Fatigue is depleated by running, power attacks, and charging.

Zenopus Archives said...

Monsters should be able to do the same thing to players. As DM, you'd have to decide when the monsters are going to expend some extra hit points to take out a PC.

Theodric the Obscure said...

I favor a simpler approach. Here's my attempt: http://mythopoeicrambling.blogspot.com/2012/03/possible-fatigue-rule-in-constitution.html

ZA: True. So now I need a Dex score AND a Con score for every monster. ;-)

edowarsblog said...

I like this idea better than a seperate fatigue system. It works within the existing stats, is abstract and requires no additional book keeping.

Only thing I'd change is to go with UWS idea of a straight HP to damage conversion on a one-for-one basis, instead of rolling dice.

-Ed Green

biopunk said...


Where is the verisimilitude in it?

If you are fatigued in combat, why wouldn't you use a CON based modifier to negate any STR/INT/WIS/DEX/CHA bonuses and inflict 'TO HIT' and 'DAMAGE' penalties?

Being fatigued or tired doesn't mean you are dying, it means you are weakening...

...a fighter isn't strong enough to properly swing a sword and hold up a shield;

...a wizard can't remember the right spell component or it's correct sequence;

...a cleric becomes overwhelmed by the stress of the situation, loses their composure, and flubs the proper recitation of a prayer;

...a thief misjudges the distance between themselves and an attacker or target and leaves their flank open to retaliation...


JB said...

@ Pal:

My first thought was "excellent idea;" just allow characters to spend up to 1 hit point per level to add extra damage to (successful) melee attacks.

Then I thought about it: it's just too much of a crap shoot. I mean, it will probably lead to a lot of unnecessary PC deaths (or a lot of unnecessary DM "fudging" to prevent those deaths). Even saying, 'you can't spend enough to reduce yourself to zero,' players will still spend themselves down into danger levels and get hit and creamed by a lucky monster attack.

I'm afraid I can't support it.
: (

DrBargle said...


Well, if you want a system where every 'hit' is a physical hit and also has a distinct fatigue system, there are various flavours of BRP about.

But in D&D, every 'hit' is not a physical hit, thanks to the way that HP increase. A 3rd level fighter has three times as many HP as a 1st level fighter. Sure, you could say that he really can be stabbed three times as much before he drops, but that doesn't meet your verisimilitude test. Alternatively, those 'hits' causing 8HP worth of 'damage' to a 3rd level fighter might well be physical hits, but 8HP of damage to a level three fighter is a flesh wound that doesn't lead to any drop in capacity, while the 'same' hit on the 1st level fighter cleaves his skull in two. Which, even though you're saying that HP are physical damage, they are actually a measure of luck, fighting wiles, and stamina - the sort of things that allow an experienced adventurer turn a head-cleaving blow into a flesh wound.

For two of your examples - the thief and the fighter - HP as stamina works just fine, so long as you remember just how abstract D&D combat ought be understood at.

If, on the other hand, each dice roll represents a real blow, each hit a real sword stroke to the body, etc., then a BRP derived system works far better.

I like them both, but they do different things. Having a whole bunch of 'fighting capabilities' bundled together as HP works for a particular level of abstracted combat.

Bruce Heard said...

If you allow this ability for player characters, then do NPC's have it to? If so, it's a very easy way for DM's to kill off player characters. Ditto if you allow monsters to use it too. It's the same problem as "critical hits" -- if players can benefit from it, so can monsters & such. Is it really such a good idea? What about undead, constructs, and magical beings who just don't get "fatigued"? Etc.

biopunk said...

@DrBargle, not being familiar with the BRP system I can't comment, but I'm not arguing for another rule set.

4E's A/E/D/U mechanic, that Paladin (unfortunately) dismissed out-of-hand in his previous post, emulated fatigue, but the inclusion of the concept of "healing surges" certainly did not work for me.

The making of an already abstract concept like 'Hit Points' even *more* of abstraction is a recipe for game failure. (Or, yet another OSR vanity-project/house-ruled retro-clone...)

The "combat fatigue emulation as a feature" of D&D combat is what Paladin wanted.

That *is* a request for verisimilitude in combat.

johnmorrow said...

You might find this interesting with respect to modeling fatigue in combat: