Injury and Death

Go to the Pathfinder: The New Deal index

Two things to mention here. Nothing particularly controversial… the first is a qualification, but the other is a house rule that modifies the existing Pathfinder rules for Injury and Death. If you’re not sure what the official rules are then they start on p189 of the Core Rules (2009) or you can take a gander at the Pathfinder PRD instead.

Massive Damage

In the rules as written if your character takes either 50 points of damage or half your maximum hit points (whichever is higher) in one blow then, assuming you aren’t already dead, you are judged to have taken Massive Damage. This means you must succeed at a DC 15 Fortitude saving throw. If you fail, then you die. The reason I’m mentioning this is because we’ve only ever used this rule sporadically in the past. I’d just like to underline that I want to fully incorporate it into the game and use it all the time.

I was toying with modifying it. There aren’t any further means within the Pathfinder rules to do it, but the old third edition Unearthed Arcana (2004) had some sensible sounding rules for alternative Massive Damage Thresholds. They basically increase the damage threshold depending on how large your character is. However, your total hit points is already a very good way of doing this… and by saying that the massive damage threshold is either 50 or half your maximum hit points, I think Pathfinder has its bases covered pretty well.


In the official rules, a character starts dying when the are reduced to negative hit points. They remain in the ‘Dying’ state and can be easily revived as long as they hit points doesn’t fall to a number equal to or greater than their negative Constitution score. This replaces the flat -10 hit point rule that existed in third edition, and in fact we’ve been using the ‘Minus Con’ rule in the game since long before Pathfinder was even thought of. It’s a pretty obvious rule.

However, what I’ve noticed while GMing is that ‘Minus Con’ isn’t always a large enough negative hit-point buffer. When your character reaches mid to high levels he dreads being almost killed by a blow, as it’s obvious that the next blow will undoubtedly kill him outright. Therefore I instigated a new rule that said this negative hit point buffer increases as you gain levels. I’ve never used as generous a buffer as 4e, but I think it’s been helpful in keeping the game on track and avoiding unnecessary PC deaths.

The rule is that characters die when their hit points are reduced to a negative number equal to or greater than their Constitution score, or 25% of their total hit points, whichever is greater. So a 20th level fighter with 200 hit points wouldn’t die until he was reduced to -50 hit points. That’s far more in balance with the threats he would be facing and the damage he would be taking at his experience level.

D&D Next have a different approach. Their negative hit point buffer is a negative number equal to the character’s Con Score + their character level. Is that a better way of doing it? Not quite as fiddlesome as having to work out 25% of your total hit points. Also not quite as powerful.


Go to the Pathfinder: The New Deal index

9 thoughts on “Injury and Death

  1. Neil – you need to be careful here.
    You will potentially end up slowing down combat – as every critical strike by high level characters *might* break the 50 pt rule – so they’ll be no “total the damage and tell me the number” you’ll have to take each strike discretely.

    Caveat Emptor.

  2. True enough, Jon. I hadn’t really thought of that. I guess we could play the rule and see if it’s a problem? One round after Elias declares smite on a target should be enough…

  3. In my Weird Wars game (using 3.5d&d) we have adjusted the Massive Damage Threshold down from 50 to 25. Otherwise the characters (averaging 10th) were nearly ready to storm the Normandy Beaches on their own! Atleast now they are slightly concerned by hand grenades … it has certainly made things a bit more ‘gritty’ and hasn’t really slowed combat down that much as its just one extra roll occasionally.

  4. Regarding dying, if you want more than negative con (and I’d personnally stick with that), then negative con + level sounds much easier to work out.

  5. Good to know. I was wondering how brutal the Massive Damage rules were making Weird Wars.

    Negative Con + Level is easier to work out. It makes lower levels relatively easier to survive than higher levels though. It doesn’t scale proportionately as the character advances, which a 25% of total hit points would do. I’m still torn.

  6. I think the massive damage rules will work fine with a 50 hp limit. I don’t think it will slow things down too much. If the limit is set at 25, at high levels, we’ll be making saves all the time.

    Negative Con + level works for me. We don’t want to set it too high as it would lessen the sense of jeopardy.

    Just to throw in another idea, in my campaign (PC levels 6-7) we’re using the optional rules for wounds and vigour

    After a bit of getting used to, they are working very well. The concept of hit points makes more sense. Vigour represents your ability to get out of the way, take a few minor blows and not get tired (part of how hit points are usually described). It is lost first and is regained very easily. Wounds represent real injuries. They are much harder to recover from, even with magic. When PCs suffer them, there is a real sense of proper injury and concern for their lives. Which is obviously a good thing to invoke in a battle, which everyone knows, hit points are not great at.

    Just throwing it out there.

  7. Okay, negative Con + Level is easier to remember. Let’s go with that.

    The Wounds and vigour rules seem to be based on similar rules from the old Unearthed Arcana, although simplified a wee bit.

    Even so, I’m not in a hurry to move a system like that into Iourn.

  8. Yeah, I’m not seriously suggesting we adopt those rules. I can imagine having to explain it to INdran every session for the rest of our lives…

    It’s just something that I’m liking at the moment. I think it could be developed even further, to have people reeling when they are low on hit points. Bringing in new rules is not really in the current spirit of the times, though.

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