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C Series • #15

How dangerous do you like your Dungeons & Dragons? I might be in the minority but I fall on the grittier, deadlier side of the fence when it comes to dangerous (and potentially lethal) play. I did not play 4th Edition at all, so some of 5th Edition’s changes to healing and recovery came as quite a shock to me. And while I enjoy 5e very much, I feel it is missing that aspect of grittiness as a lot of the danger in the previous editions seem to be missing.

The 5th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide has some options to make your game a bit more realistic and/or gritty. Let’s look at those, specifically, in a little more detail and I’ll weigh in with some of my thoughts and whether I think they’re viable in play. All of these can be found on pages 266-267 of the DMG.

Healer’s Kit Dependency — This option states that no Hit Dice can be used during a short Rest unless someone expends the use of a healer’s kit. This adds a little bit of flavor to the game, associating the use of Hit Dice with bandaging wounds and treating injuries.
Slow Natural Healing — Basically, you don’t regain hit points after a Long Rest. You spend more Hit Dice like in a short rest to regain hit points. The text doesn’t explicitly say, but I also assume you regain Hit Dice, too. That seems a little confusing. I use a variant of this wherein I add an element of hit point recovery and make the spending and regaining of Hit Dice clearer, which I will explain below.
Gritty Realism — This option really stretches things out by making a short rest equate to eight hours and making a long rest take a week! This really makes players decide on how they want to use their abilities, especially the ones what reset on a long rest. I don’t particularly like this one, at least for my style of play, because it restricts a player’s use of their abilities. Part of the fun in D&D is being able to use your cool powers and abilities. If you use one, then have to wait a day (or a week) before you can use it again, that’s a bummer. But if you’re playing a game that isn’t focused (even remotely) on combat, then this option might appeal to you.
Lingering Injuries — This one is not in the above-mentioned section, but on pages 272-273 of the DMG. This option gives the DM — when a PC suffers a critical hit, drops to 0 hit points, or fails a death save by 5 or more — the option to apply a lingering injury. This could be anything from losing an appendage to gaining scars or even a limp. These have appropriate in-game effects, and all can be remedied with magical healing.

There are some gems in there if you want to add some realism to your game. I am using some of these, either in their original or modified form. I also use some not listed here that you may find interesting as well.

Exhaustion at 0 hit points — I found this one long ago. I can’t remember where, but thought it was fantastic. With this option, a PC gains one exhaustion level every time he or she drops to 0 hit points. If the last level of exhaustion (level 6) is gained this way, the character dies as per the normal exhaustion rule. I think it really makes a player think about their character when they drop down to 0 hit points too many times in a short amount of time. Do they get back into the melee or change attack tactics? Do they hang back a round or two and try to heal up? Do they run? Personally, I believe that characters jumping back up and into the fray after being beaten down to 0 is a bit … excessive. The exhaustion mechanic is a good way to deal with this by making combat a bit more deadly and dropping down to 0 to have a lingering effect.
Not-Quite-As-Slow Natural Healing — I like the idea of not regaining all one’s hit points on a long rest, but that’s me. So, here’s what I do. First, At the beginning of the long rest, PCs may spend any remaining Hit Dice on healing, per the normal rules. Second, at the end of the long rest, PCs regain spent Hit Dice per the normal rules (half their level, minimum 1). First off, this option allows for some decent healing to occur, especially if a PC is sitting at more than half their Hit Dice. An 8th level fighter, with 6 Hit Dice of healing left can spend those two “extra” Hit Dice at the start of the long rest because up to four will be regained after the long rest is over, bringing his/her total Hit Dice back to full. But what if you don’t have too many, or any, Hit Dice left? If you have any left, and need healing, obviously spend them at the beginning of the rest because you’re getting half of them back, at least. With this variant, you’re only in hot water if you need healing and go down to no Hit Dice left at the start of the long rest (because the lack of the full hit point reset). But remember, these variants are about grittiness and realism, so it’s possible — especially if you’ve been beaten on all day — that you character might not get healing over the long rest. But there are options, of course, as potions and healing spells can help mitigate this.
Total Failed Death Saves — This is an interesting variant but one I have not implemented yet. With his option, a PC can only fail on death saves an amount equal to their Constitution score. That wizard with an 11 Constitution can fail 11 death saves over his lifetime. That 12th failed save, even if it doesn’t result in death in that particular instance, kills the character. Like with individual instances, a 1 counts as two failed lifetime failures. If a PCs Constitution score increases (or decreases!) the total allowed death save failures also change.
Long Rests in a Safe Haven — I cannot recall where I saw this first, but I think it was in the Adventures in Middle-Earth Player’s Guide. Since then, I’ve seen variations of it all over the Internet. The version I’ve seen often and would most likely use is this: PCs can only benefit from a long rest if they are safe from harm and have a modicum of comfort. This usually translates to the safety of an inn, or another protective structure, with food and comfortable accommodations. The logic to this variant is that ample resting cannot occur lying on the hard, cold ground and/or someplace where the threat of attack looms large. I like it.

Personally, I use the Healer’s Kit Dependency, Lingering injuries, the Not-Quite-As-Slow Natural Healing, and Exhaustion at 0 Hit Points. I think that Long Rests in a Safe Haven sounds really good, too, and may add that in at some point.

Whether or not you are a long-time role player, or you’ve just jumped into the hobby, if you feel like D&D 5th Edition is a little too forgiving, try some of these options and variants. I have and I can attest that they add a new, dangerous dimension to the game that was lacking. My players have to think about combat and the lasting effects it may have. Proper planning and tactics make for multi-dimensional and exciting battles that have been known to be tense and thrilling. If any of these options sound intriguing, give them a trial run and see if they work at your table!

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