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This is a homebrew review request for the "dying"-condition, but the different exhaustion plays a part in that.

Exhaustion: There are 10 levels of exhaustion, each level of exhaustion a character has gives a stacking -1 penalty to all of their D20 rolls(So at level 1 you get -1, at level 5 you get -5 etc.). At exhaustion level 10 the character dies. A short Rest recovers 2 levels of exhaustion, a long Rest recovers 5 levels of exhaustion.

Dying: A Character that gets knocked down to 0 HP is now considered dying. A dying character is prone and cannot stand up. At the start of their turn, a dying character loses concentration and has to make a death saving throw. A dying character can perform one action, one bonusaction or take their movement. Taking an action while dying inflicts 3 levels of exhaustion, taking a bonusaction inflicts 2 levels of exhaustion. Taking your movement while dying does not inflict exhaustion. A dying character can not take reactions and therefor can not ready an action.

My goal is to give a dying character something meaningful to do other than rolling death saves and waiting to be healed/stabilized or die.

What do you think?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Was thinking of using the UA exhaustion levels myself in my next campaign (but not the other stuff). TBH, this question may be a bit too open-ended for this forum. Maybe the question would be better off as "What effects would this have on a game? Would it make players too powerful?" or something. \$\endgroup\$
    – PJRZ
    Jul 7, 2023 at 10:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 not because I like this rules, but because I believe you described them, and rationale behind them, clearly. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Jul 7, 2023 at 22:26

3 Answers 3

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This is too complicated

Your new rule achieves what it sets out to do: it lets players act when at zero other than rolling death saves. But I'm not sure that design is an improvement, and it also is complicated and will create more questions.

Being down sucks for a reason

In original D&D, when you fell to 0 hp, you died. Period. No stabilizing rolls, no death saves.

In the more modern editions of the game, being reduced to zero has been made more forgiving. You are still out of the action and might die, but there is a little time for your allies to save you (and, a tiny 5% chance you will come back to 1 hp if rolling a natural 20 on your death save.)

But in general, being down and out sucks, and that is not necessarily bad. It makes it so players will try to avoid it. It is pretty simple. Your version waters this down, so you can still act. Maybe also not bad for heroics, but a lot more administration. Now you not only have to track death saves but also exhaustion levels.

Complexity means questions

For example, can you take a Reaction? You apparently still can act but the text does not address it.

My main qualm with this is that you replaced an existing system in exhaustion to do so. This will create many questions, as there are other effects that cause exhaustion on a six point scale. How do these translate? If you are running and gain a level of exhaustion, how many do you gain now? Just 1, too? This would severely weaken many effects that cause exhaustion, or strengthen Path of the Berserker barbarians that pay for their Frenzy feature with exhaustion.

I'd recommend that if you want to do this with exhaustion, you just use normal levels of exhaustion, and have any action, reaction or bonus action cost 1 level.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Actually, in 1st AD&D, you could go down to -10 hp. At 0 hp, or a negative number, you were unconscious. Then every round on your turn you lost 1 more hp. Then once you reach -10 you were completely dead. See this answer for a complete breakdown of how hit points worked across the editions. \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Jul 7, 2023 at 17:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ ...no-one has mentioned Barbarians yet! Won't anyone think of the Barbarians?! Namely: Path of the Berserker. \$\endgroup\$
    – Senmurv
    Jul 7, 2023 at 21:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MivaScott Thanks for pointing out the inaccuracy. I misremembered this as a second edition thing. Fixed it to OD&D. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 7, 2023 at 22:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Senmurv Good point added. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 7, 2023 at 22:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for your answer. I'm gonna talk with my players, which exhaustion system they prefer. Also Reactions while Dying are not allowed, I will add that to my post. \$\endgroup\$
    – fraenzz
    Jul 10, 2023 at 7:10
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The rules would accomplish your goal of allowing actions at 0 hit points. It has precedent in the 3e rules on Injury and Death. Specifically, if a character falls to exactly 0 hp, they would be Disabled, which imposed some limits on what they could do, but they were still conscious. Performing actions other than self-healing would cause them to lose 1 hp and become Dying. You died at -10 hit points. Unearthed Arcana 3e would create optional rules bringing this into play in a wider set of circumstances (how often does someone take exactly as much damage as their remaining hit points?). In particular, their Wound Point system, which also allowed actions while Disabled, now added Fortitude saving throws to the Dying condition (the equivalent of a Constitution save throw in 5e). You died after failing a Fortitude saving throw, and the concept of negative hit points—around since AD&D—went away. You can see how this presages the death saving throws of 5e.

I think there is room for improvement, and offer some suggestions. Big picture, the loss and recovery of different levels of exhaustion for different actions is quite complicated. I would seek to simplify that. Also, it is not clear to me whether this is replacing or supplementing death saves. They could easily work together, and I assume that is what is intended. As a variant rule, you should state clearly whether this is replacing death saves.

Here are some suggestions:

  • As a minor point, have death come at 11 levels of exhaustion, not 10. You may have been inspired by the One D&D playtest which simplifies the exhaustion rules, and specifies that "You die if your exhaustion level exceeds 10." I think there's an advantage to hewing to those rules to some extent, and if you were going to make a change, why tweak it by 1 level? (It would be different if you choosing something wildly different from 11, like 5 levels of exhaustion, or 20.)
  • Don't impose the Prone condition. There are many cinematic examples of dying characters still on their feet and fighting, with varying degrees of effectiveness.
  • If you remove the Prone condition, consider cutting movement in half (part of UA 3e Disabled condition).
  • Allowing an action or bonus action, but not both, was a good choice on your part. Again, it mimics 3e rules.
  • Make the cost the same for using an action or bonus action. Have them inflict 1 level of exhaustion, rather than different costs. Even with the increase from dying at 6 levels of exhaustion to dying at 11 levels of exhaustion, exhaustion is still an incredibly dangerous condition. If you make the cost of an action be 3 levels of exhaustion, I think a lot of characters are going to just sit there, which undermines your goals.
  • I see no reason to eliminate Reactions or Ready Actions. It is complicated and eliminates some cinematic possibilities, such as the character who stays behind to spring a trap on a pursuer, at the cost of their own life. I would charge 1 level of exhaustion for any Reaction, such as an Opportunity Attack. I would charge 0 levels of exhaustion for the Ready Action (which probably doesn't take much effort) and 1 level of exhaustion for the Reaction (which may not even be triggered). If the trigger doesn't occur, so the character doesn't use their reaction for the readied action, there is no change in exhaustion.
  • Consider sticking to standard rules of recovering 1 level of exhaustion per long rest.
  • Alternatively, if you want characters to recover some exhaustion during short rests (which is itself a major rule change) and multiple levels during any single (short or long) rest, charge them 1 hit die for each level of exhaustion they recover. I think is a little more interesting and a little more comprehensible than the varying levels of recovery. Remember also that if characters have time, they can take multiple short rests. Most features linked to short rests are such that you gain no benefit from multiple rests (e.g., a cleric regains all uses of Channel Divinity, a second short rest adds nothing to that), so if you don't want characters resting for 5 hours to recover the maximum 10 levels of exhaustion, you either need to stick with the current rules that short rests don't reduce exhaustion, or you need to limit it somehow, like with hit dice.

On the whole I think this homebrew is interesting and workable.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for your answer. Your suggestions are great and I am gonna discuss with my players what they think would be best. \$\endgroup\$
    – fraenzz
    Jul 12, 2023 at 8:00
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Eh, it's okay

As mentioned by another answer, it's a bit complex, redesigning exhaustion. To change exhaustion, you have to change a lot of rules around it. I do like the idea of providing more things to do while dying, but it's a lot of extra bookkeeping.

Personally, I would take inspraration from a rule from another edition, allowing you to go down to -5 hit points, as long as you go prone and lose 1 hit point a turn. After your negative hit points run out, you start making death saving throws.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you. That rule is interesting, I will discuss with my players, which one they like more. \$\endgroup\$
    – fraenzz
    Jul 10, 2023 at 7:01

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