A simple alternative to old-school death

I started a new game of AD&D 1st Edition today, and fully cognizant of the lethality of the early levels (8 HP on a level 1 Fighter versus monsters that roll 1d6 for damage!), I decided to take a page from 13th Age as a means of making near-death hurt, without making it into a complete “you’re dead and done during the first round of the first combat”

Simply put, when the player was about to take a hit that would otherwise reduce them to 0 HP and death, I asked the player to pick an item that the potential killing blow would destroy, and then left the player with 1 HP.

In this case, it was the Assassin player’s leather armor. Their AC worsened from 5 to 7 as a result, and they had to complete the rest of the dungeon effectively unarmored, and I thought it was a neat way to introduce loss without making it irrevocable.

That said, leather armor only costs what, 5 GP? Easily replaced, right? But consider the implications once the character is equipped with a plethora of magical items. Will the Fighter let their Sword+2 melt for the sake of surviving a dragon’s flame breath? Will the Magic-User be willing to de-power their magical ring or tear a page from their spellbook to avoid the next deathtrap? I think this is a more “character building” solution to avoiding unwanted too-early deaths beyond my usual houserule of “add 10 HP” or the likes.

2 thoughts on “A simple alternative to old-school death

  1. Dying in AD&D isn’t that big a deal. In fact, it’s more forgiving than 5e. Recovery, on the other hand, is tougher.

    In AD&D, you have until -10 hp until you die. The blow that reduces you to 0 hp can optionally reduce you to as low as -3 if it’s from the same blow, but at worst, you’re at -3. That means you have at least a 6 rounds (minutes) until you die.

    There are no death saves, so you won’t spontaneously stabilize. You simply lose 1 hp per round. But it ceases as soon as an ally spends a round providing aid. No healer’s kit. No skill, just stops to give you aid.

    But, once returned to 1 hp or more, you are in a coma for 1d6 turns (10-60 minutes), and must rest for a full week, minimum to recover. You can move slowly to a place of rest and eat and sleep. You can’t attack, defend, cast spells, use a magic devices, carry burdens, run, study, research, or anything else. This is true even if cure spells and/or healing potions are given, but a heal spell provides full recovery.

    Reach -6 can indicate scarring or the loss of a member, if you so choose.

    Liked by 1 person

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