I'm playing with the idea of adding a new house-rule to my sandbox-style game.

The rule is as follows:

If you succeed on a saving throw against an effect, that effect cannot make you drop below 1 hp.

I am hoping this will eliminate situations where an injured player rolls a 20 against a Dragon's breath weapon and then just goes down anyway because the half-damage eliminates them. In more extreme situations, it makes it so you don't instantly die with no chance if you anger a creature too powerful to defeat because the half damage might instantly kill you.

I also hope it encourages tactics both for monsters and players when dealing with a group of weaker enemies. According to the design principles, a large group of weaker creatures should remain a credible threat, but when a lightning bolt 100% takes out a whole line of them, regardless of their rolls or their cover (which is supposed to protect you from just that spell) that just isn't true anymore. With this rule, Goblins behind cover or who have advantage on the roll actually have a chance of surviving (with 1 hp, but at least they'll remain a threat). It will make these spells potent but not certain death.

However, I'd like to hear if anyone has tried this rule before, or sees any situations where this would be exploitable, broken, or "not fun".

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    How would this rule work for someone currently at 1 HP that makes their save? Would they take no damage? – Rubiksmoose Sep 20 at 14:43
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    What problem are you trying to solve using this new rule? Can this problem be solved using existing rules? – enkryptor Sep 20 at 15:30
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    @enkryptor the problems are the two listed after the rule: eliminating the absolute certainty that a spell with a save for half will destroy any weak minion in its area and players being knocked out despite rolling well on their saves. – Erik Sep 20 at 16:51
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    Why this is a problem? Seems pretty normal to me. Do players complain? – enkryptor Sep 20 at 17:14
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    The game rules work as intended. If you want to change them for some reason, perhaps you should talk to the players first. There might be an XY problem, or maybe there is no real problem at all. "me being annoyed when planning interesting encounters" — maybe you should ask a separate question about the problem situation, something like "how to make this encounter not to be prone to aoe spells". This might be a problem of the encounter design itself, not the rules. – enkryptor Sep 20 at 18:31
up vote 78 down vote accepted

This is going to be a poor idea

As other answers point out, this is going to make save-targetting spells significantly weaker, but there's also another problem you might not have thought about.

Being at 1 HP is more dangerous than being downed against big threats

This is going to leave a lot of players in combat running around with exactly 1 HP, which is prime instant-death territory. Most monsters are perfectly okay with letting a character make death saving throws to stabilize themselves, but they're not quite so okay with being stabbed in the back. (citation needed). Simply put, while downed, you are not a threat. When you're still standing at 1 HP, you're a threat and need to be taken out.

Example:

Bob the Dragon does his breath attack on Billy. Billy has a max HP of 35. The dragon deals 60 damage, but Billy succeeded on his save, so he only takes 30. That's still enough to down Billy who already took a beating from a Goblin earlier, but instead of going down, he's now at 1 HP.

That won't do, so the next turn Bob swipes at him and gets a crit. He deals 38 damage in one hit, enough to instantly kill Billy.

This will be even more obvious at lower levels, where succeeding your save against a spell might leave you standing at 1 HP next to an ogre who can one-shot kill you now even without a crit.

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    How is being downed better than 1hp? – Mazura Sep 20 at 17:55
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    @Mazura Because when down, you're not typically a target because you're not a threat. This gives you time and chances be stabilized (hopefully when the threat is neutralized or farther away). You're a lot more likely to be targeted and potentially 1-hit killed at 1hp than you are at 0hp. – Mwr247 Sep 20 at 17:59
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    @MarkWells yes you can (roll a deception check) – RedTera Sep 21 at 3:09
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    I think that this answer could be improved by incorporating @Mwr247's comment above to explain in more detail why being downed is better than 1 HP. I also think it might be really good to talk about the fact that as currently written 1HP characters who make a save take no damage at all which is 1) really weird considering that at any other HP they would take damage and 2) essentially makes any strong AOE a save or die spell with instadeath. – Rubiksmoose Sep 21 at 12:45
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    @MarkWells the argument as made by Mwr247 and every table I've played at is that monsters attack threats. Once a player is unconscious they are no longer a threat greater than the other healthy and active threats stabbing them with swords. They can either spend valuable actions making sure a threat is super dead or they can stop other creatures from killing them in the meantime. Most creatures would logically choose the latter. However, I do think Theik should flesh out their answer to include explicitly the rationale they are using since it is key to their argument. – Rubiksmoose Sep 21 at 15:11

It'll significantly weaken save-targeting spells

The difference between zero hit points and one hit point is huge, far greater than the difference between one and two hit points. For every monster that survives with one hit point, your PCs need to hit it with a normal attack (or gamble again with a save-able spell) to kill it, and before one of your PCs succeeds, the enemies will fight back with full-powered attacks. You'll be facing longer combats, especially when fighting monsters who have poor HP but high AC (at low levels, hobgoblins are a typical example).

It's noteworthy that this change introduces new weirdness of its own: characters at 1 hp not dying to a repeated casting of a powerful area-effect spell is, in my opinion, worse than cover or advantage not mattering.

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    Honestly, I think you might want to stress your second paragraph a bit more. The fact that this rule would make players at 1 HP invincible against AOEs if they keep making their saves is a really big deal IMO. – Rubiksmoose Sep 21 at 12:38
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    I think you'd just about have to make an exception such that this rule doesn't apply to entities already at 1 HP. – Timbo Sep 21 at 21:25

This would make damaging spells even weaker on higher levels

A 11th level Fighter with Great Weapon Master can do more damage every round than a 13th level wizard once per day with Finger of Death.
On those levels Magic Resistance, Legendary saves, condition immunities and resistances to damage types are quite common, so casters are even further behind than they seem by the numbers.

What casters have left beside buffing their own party is being effective against larger groups of weaker monsters, and your house rule would take even that away from them.

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    As a 14th level wizard picking 6th level spells, I assume all monsters can pass my saves almost every time. I consider doing half damage the norm, and I think of doing full damage as scoring a "critical hit". Not being able to finish a monster with my spells would be a huge nerf. – Luke Sep 21 at 20:00
  • They also still have 'altering the fabric of reality', so there's that. e.g. Stone Shape, which allows no save and is available from 9th level on. – the dark wanderer Sep 22 at 20:45
  • @thedarkwanderer not really useful in combat – András Sep 24 at 5:19

This is not a complete answer, but I'm adding it anyway in the hopes that someone will add it into their more complete answer.

This rule, as written, makes a character at 1 HP immune to damage from save-based effects as long as they can keep saving. This is, at best, kinda ridiculous.

Consider adding a clause that says "If you have more than 1 HP" so that a character who has survived by virtue of this rule once doesn't get to survive AGAIN.

  • 1
    Answers should stand on their own. You can summarize quote the relevant portion of another answer to help it do that. That said, your answer does answer the question as asked - though it's already addressed in kviiri's answer besides your suggested change. – V2Blast Sep 21 at 20:49
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    ...However, if you merely want to add it onto someone else's answer, you should leave it as a comment on that answer rather than posting it as a separate answer. – V2Blast Sep 21 at 20:52
  • @V2Blast: This is a big enough problem with the proposed rule that it's worth a whole answer. It's not a complete critique, but it is sufficient to be a StackExchange answer. – Peter Cordes Sep 23 at 13:19
  • @PeterCordes: I agree that it's enough to stand on its own, which is why I said it did answer the question as asked. It's just that Airk didn't seem to think it was enough of an answer. – V2Blast Sep 23 at 17:17
  • I feel like the last time I tried to add something that would've been good to have someone else include, I got chided for answering in comments. – Airk Sep 24 at 14:57

In addition to what others have said, I can see this being "unfun" because it takes away from the classes that get Evasion. This rule would give everyone a weird form of that class feature.

It is stronger than Evasion because:

  • It applies against every type of saving throw.
  • It doesn't use up a class feature.

It is weaker than Evasion because:

  • Failed saves still cause full damage.
  • Successful saves still cause a reduction in HP (unless at 1 HP already).

Also, it would also cause any spells that improve saving throws much more powerful.

In addition to the other answers that cover why this makes the spells weaker, I would like to add the reason why spells still do half damage when evaded.

AOE spells/abilities are meant to do a fair amount of damage to a large group of enemies. If half damage is enough to kill those enemies from full health, they should die. Almost by definition, they are too weak to be an actual threat. By giving them the ability to randomly survive an otherwise lethal attack, you aren't making the combat harder, you are making it drag on needlessly, and forcing the spell caster to possibly burn more spells than they otherwise would need to in order to eliminate everything.

On the players, this is less of a problem, as long as you also implement other rules to prevent 1hp instant kills (like adding their max health to damage required to kill-in-one-hit). However, this is largely unnecessary because if the party needs additional protection from AOE damage to not die, by definition the CR of the encounter is too high. Because if a success means they are at 1hp, a fail usually means they die. And players should never be in a fight they clearly have no hope of winning without a clear "out". If the CR is not too high, than they should be planning around the danger of the AOE attack, instead of relying on their saves to protect them.

I would suggest modifying the rule to, let's say: No damage if save exceeds DC + 5.

Otherwise, I see 2 problems:

  • Shield Master feat becomes less powerful. With it, you can use a reaction to negate damage from dex save where you would have received only half damage.
  • These spells would have a very different impact on whether the character has 1 or many HPs.

Alternatively, you could say that the damage on save must exceed characters constitution + remaining hp to get them to 0hp.

For example, our character has 4hp and +3 con bonus and gets hit with a spell for 10 total damage. He succeeds the save so he should only receive 5 damage. It is more than our remaining hp but less than remaining hp + con bonus (4+3=7) so character remains alive with 1hp. On the next hit, he again succeeds and again gets hit with 10/2 damage. This time, remaining hp + con bonus is 4, which is less than 5 so the character does fall unconscious.

This approach would be less OP, but zombies with undead resilience would feel cheated :D

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    This seems considerably more complex than my original idea. And it's not going to help very often. – Erik Sep 20 at 11:47
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    I think the first line of this is a good idea provided it's restricted to occurring only when you're at 1 HP as it's pretty straightforward to implement. I concur with Erik that you might be making things very complicated with the second proposal. – Pyrotechnical Sep 20 at 13:00
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    Andris, have you tried this or are you brainstorming here? – KorvinStarmast Sep 20 at 13:51
  • @KorvinStarmast Brainstorming mostly. It's hard enough to kill my party without these house rules :D. Also, I agree with everyone that the second approach is too complex. – Andris Bremanis Sep 21 at 7:51
  • While we're brainstorming, how about "miraculously escape even half damage on a natural 20"? – mattdm Sep 21 at 17:24

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