Described Damage in D&D

HP in D&D are abstract, and after first level they are primarily non-physical, as the average 0-level person has 1-6HP. A 30HP fighter has 5x the HP of your average mercenary, they can’t all be physical.

LIke many things in 1e the precise way you handle the physical/non-physical HP is left up to the individual DM. I decided to use described damage, I don’t tell the PCs how many HP damage they take, I describe the damage instead. This is an option mentioned in the PHB:



What is the point of doing this? If you use descriptions then the PCs don’t know their exact HP at all times, this creates some tension and excitement in the game, a bit of uncertainty. However, if damage is described they have some idea of their HP, and some idea of the HP of monsters they are fighting. 

This balance, where the PCs get *some* knowledge, but not exact knowledge, is the sweet spot for my game. It emulates the fantasy literature perfectly, heroes always have some idea of how badly they are hurt, and some idea of how badly their enemies are hurt, but not exact knowledge.

There are lots of ways to do this, I decided to divide the PC’s HP’s into quarters, and as you do more damage the results become increasingly physical. At first level with low HP it doesn’t change much, but by even 2nd or 3rd level you start to notice a difference.


Hit Point Divisions
100%-76% of HP – No physical contact
75%-51% of HP – Minor contact (cuts, bruises)
50%-26% of HP – Serious contact (deep cuts, crushing bruises)
25%-0% of HP – Critical contact (save versus paralysis or effect*)
0-[-10] HP – Lethal Contact (save versus death magic or effect*)
* rolled on a table
**note a single blow that takes you below -4 hp is deadly, no save


So take an example:
Bruzneir the Bloody has 40 HP, that are broken down as follows:

40/30/20/10

Bruzneir enters in to combat with an ogre.

In round 1 the ogre swings and rolls a 2 to hit, missing.

I would describe it as a total miss so the players know they have lost no HP:

“The ogre stabs at you with his spear in a blind rage and misses you completely.”

Then next round it rolls to hit and does 8 hp damage. This takes Bruzneir down to 32 HP, but as this does not take him down below ¾ it doesn’t actually hit him. This is the part that takes the most getting used to, that ¼ of your HP are completely non-physical. At low levels it isn’t really noticeable, as most hits exceed the ¼, but it can happen.

Any hit that does HP damage but doesn’t get below ¾ HPI would describe as a miss based on luck or dexterity:

“The ogre’s spear whistles by your head, only missing you as you ducked enough that the sun glared in his eyes as he thrust ”

Or 

“Your sword thrust put you in the ogre’s reach, but a last second twist of your body narrowly avoided his spearhead”

If I describe it as a blow that *almost* hit you rather than one that completely missed, the signal is that you are between ¾ and full HP, as your dodging or your luck saved you.

The next attack does 5 hp of damage, taking the fighter down to 27 HP, this is below ¾ so he is now “bloodied”, and I would describe it as a minor wound:

“The ogre’s spear catches your arm and grazes it, drawing a thin red line of blood.”

Or

“The ogre swings around the butt of his spear and catches you on the arm, dealing a glancing but painful blow”

My PC’s know whenever I describe the first actual hit on their PC since they started with full HP that they have been “bloodied” and are now below ¾ HP. They also know the first time they actually physically hit the monster, their blow must have reduced it below ¾.

This one small fact is a “tell” for the players that a monster is “touchable”, and can in principle be killed, Conan was always narrating this, “It can bleed so I can kill it!” kind of thing, so I really like this part of the system. It emulates the fantasy literature perfectly.

Say the next hit by the ogre is a doozy and he does 10 HP damage, now Bruzneir is down to 17 hp, just below half, I would describe a serious wound:

“The ogre’s spear jabs into your left leg, a lancing pain shoots up into your body and blood sprays everywhere.”

When the next hit arrives and does 10 HP damage again our fighter is down to 7 hp, below 1/4 , so I would describe this as a critical wound:

“The ogre’s spear stabs your chest, first blossoming in pain then numbing your torso as you see blood flow freely down your body.”

When the hits take the PCs below ¼ HP or below 0, I roll for special effects (paralysis save for below ¼, death save for below 0) or what is sometimes called lingering damage, e.g. damage that will stick around long term. I will address this next.


Lingering Damage
IMC, when a PC rolls “to hit”, they roll a solid d20 and a crystal d20. The solid d20 is the “to hit” die, and the crystal d20 is the “location of hit” die. If the hit lands, the player consults the crystal die to determine location of hit, according to the following table:

Hit Location * (d20) – [1/4HP-0HP – save vrs. paralysis]/[Below 0 HP–save vrs. death magic]
1–Right Foot - [broken/cut foot, ½ move]/[sever foot]
2–Left Foot - [broken/cut foot, ½ move]/[sever foot]
3-4–Right Leg - [broken/cut leg, move 3”]/[sever limb]
5-6–Left Leg - [broken/cut leg, move 3”] /[sever limb]
7–Right hand -[broken/cut hand, – 5 to hit]/[sever hand]
8–Left hand - [broken/cut hand, – 5 to hit]/[sever hand]
9- Right hand finger – [broken/cut finger, -3 to hit]/[sever finger]
10– Left hand finger – [broken/cut finger, -3 to hit]/[sever finger]
11 - Right arm - [broken/cut arm, – 3 to hit]/[sever limb]
12- –Left arm- [broken/cut arm, – 3 to hit]/[sever limb]
13-Chest -[broken/cut rib – 3 to strength] /[vital organ crushed/pierced - death]
14 - Upper back - [broken/cut rib – 3 to strength]/[vital organ crushed/pierced - death]
15 – Stomach – [internal damage/cut muscles – 5 to str]/[disembowelment - death 1-4 rounds]
16– Lower back - [broken bones/cut muscles – 5 to strength]/[permanent paralysis]
17–Neck - [1 hp/rd lost to bleeding]/ [broken neck/decapitation - death]
18–Face - [– 3 charisma,33% blind/33% mute/33% deaf]/[-5 to chr,50% blind/50% mute]
19-20–Head - [concussion (unconscious 1-8rds,-2 to hit/1 day)] /[coma 1-2 weeks]



So back to Bruzneir the Bloody. That hit that took him to 7HP was a hit to the chest, because that’s below ¼ HP he rolls a save versus paralyzation, say he fails, he now has a broken rib and takes a -3 to his strength until healed.

Now say the ogre hits him for an additional 9 HP damage, taking him to -2 HP. Say the location of hit roll was an 18, Face, he would then roll a saving throw versus death, say he failed and rolled a 35%, I would describe this as follows:

“The ogre’s final attack was to swing the spear in an arc, it catches Bruzneir in the face, just above the nose, slashing his eyes and blinding him”

That sort of thing.

That’s the system. 

It means players have some uncertainty about their health and the health of monsters they fight, they get a small buffer (¼ of their HP) against touch attacks, they can gauge damage to monsters by how it is described (so they know when they have “bloodied” the monster for example), and there are special lingering damage effects for attacks that bring the target below ¼ hp or below 0 hp.


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