I use an obscure optional rule in 1e about described damage, essentially the DM has the option to tell the PC’s their HP or not, if you don’t, you are supposed to describe the damage instead.
The point of this is to add some “fuzziness” or uncertainty to the process, so the PC doesn’t know exactly how many HP they have, this mimics the fuzziness of real world combat, where you don’t always know how bad you are hurt. It also keeps combat more uncertain and thus less predictable and boring. It adds possible lingering damage options as well. But it also means the players can have a better idea how badly monsters are damaged, which helps them out.
There are two parts to the system, the first is the described damage, the second is location of hit rules that determine where the hit lands. The purpose of these is to help specify the effect if you are wounded badly. I like the idea of damage having game mechanical effects outside of strict HP loss. 1e eschews this kind of thing, I like it.
You can ignore the location of hit tables if you want, and just use the described damage to add uncertainty without the specificity of hit locations and the possibility of “lingering damage”, but I will present both then walk through an example.
Described Damage Rules
All damage to PCs is described. PC’s divide their HP into quarters. For the first quarter damage taken (from 100% to 75%) nothing touches the PC (all luck, favor of the gods, etc.), from three quarters to one half damage is small nicks and cuts, from one half to one quarter, serious gashes and blunt force damage, from one quarter to zero permanent damage such as broken bones that carry “to hit” penalties, below 0 HP severed limbs, etc.
Targeted Hit System
100%-75% of HP – No contact
75%-50% of HP – Minor contact (cuts, bruises)
50%-25% of HP – Serious contact (deep cuts, crushing bruises)
25%-0% of HP – Critical contact (save versus paralysis or effect based on location of hit)
0-[-10] HP – Lethal Contact (save versus death magic or effect based on location of hit)
Location of Hit Rules
All hits are given a location by rolling two d20, one dice determines the hit, the other the location. I usually have the players roll a solid and a transparent dice to distinguish them, or a dark and light dice, just to keep it obvious. If your “to hit” roll is successful you check the “location” roll to see where it lands. Effects (e.g. broken bones) only happen when the players reach the 1/4hp and lower range, when this happens a save is made to determine the possibility of a “lingering damage” effect.
Hit Location * (d20) – [1/4HP-0HP – save vrs. paralysis]/[Below 0 HP–save vrs. death magic]
1–Right Foot - [fail save vrs paralysis - broken/cut foot, ½ move]/[fail save versus death - foot severed]
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]
*When reduced below ¼ HP by an attack the target must save versus paralysis, dexterity defensive adjustment applies, or suffer additional effect (d20). When reduced below 0 HP roll a save versus death magic (dexterity defensive adjustment does not apply, but hit point adjustment works as a bonus on the save), or suffer additional effect (d20). PCs may go to -10 HP, once below 0 HP they lose an additional 1 HP per round if their wounds are not bound and the bleeding stopped.
Viodar the Virtuous has 20 hp, he wades into a fight with an ogre at full HP.
The ogre swings and gets a successful to hit roll of 17, rolling for 3 hp of damage, this puts Viodar at 17 hp, above the ¾ mark, so technically the attack doesn’t touch him. I would describe this in one of a few ways, “The spear barely misses your shoulder as you twist to the side” or “The spear gets snagged in a tree branch and misses you”. The idea in the range from full to ¾ HP is to describe a near miss through luck, dexterity, etc. My players know that if I describe a near miss of any kind, they are somewhere above ¾ HP.
The next time the Ogre hits Viodar is reduced to 12 hp, between ¾ and ½, so a hit actually contacts him, so we roll for location and get chest, I will then describe the damage. As Viodar is above ½ hp there is no need to roll for a special effect, so I just describe a minor wound. IMC we call this being ‘blooded’, the first solid hit the player takes, so I would describe it as, “The ogre’s spear stings your chest”, or “the ogre scrapes you with the blade of his spear”. In the ¾ to ½ range the goal is to describe a minor hit, if I call it “small” or “insignificant”, or whatever, they know they are above half, but because they have had contact they know they are below ¾.
Then the ogre hits again and drops Viodar down to 8 hp, in the range between ¼ and ½. The location roll gets left leg, and I describe it as a severe wound, e.g. “The Ogre’s spear slashes open your leg, spraying a crescent of blood”, or “The ogre’s mace smashes into your leg, a blossom of pain follows”. The descriptive goal here is to describe a serious hit, so the player knows they are in the ¼ to ½ range.
Say that the ogre hits again and drops Viodar to 2 hp, below the ¼ range, now he has to save, say he fails. The location of hit result is left arm. I would describe a very serious hit with consequences, e.g. “The ogre’s spear slashes open your arm, leaving it numb and hard to move”. Viodar would now be -3 to hit with that arm until healed. I allow any healing potion or spell to heal a broken/severely cut limb as long as it give you back enough HP to get back above half.
Finally, say Viodar is hit and reduced to -2 hp, he rolls a save vrs death magic and fails, location of hit is “left hand”. So Viodar loses his left hand. They know they have dropped below 0 as they fall unconscious at this point.
I would recommend recording player HP as follows:
Viodar the Virtuous: HP: 20 [15/10/5], so you know the ¾, ½, ¼ break points. Feel free to round up if you have a PC with an odd HP total.
Once you get a feel for this it is quite a bit of fun, you get to describe the consequences of violent attacks, which is a blast, the players tend to hang on these, so have fun. Once you have been doing it for a bit they get to know exactly what range they are in based on your descriptions, if you have a particularly stressed player who NEEDS to know which quarter they are in, you can always just tell them, e.g., “The hit takes you below ½ hp”, but none of my players want that.
Also keep in mind that it applies to monsters too, so you get to describe the impact of THEIR damage on monsters, that is ALWAYS a cause for celebration, players love to hear described damage to monsters.