With the Sword & Sanity Dissected tagged posts I have covered many of the house rules I use to bring a sword & sorcery (S&S) feel to my current Castles & Crusades game. The game is basically a mix of sword & sorcery adventure with cosmic Lovecraftian horror (a genre I have dubbed sword & sanity), and to capture the proper feel I have had to make a few changes to the rule system. My goal was to tweak things here and there without altering the core rules too drastically. So far I feel pretty good about what I have presented, and I think I have kept close to my original goal. Now I will share my rules on how to handle hit points and healing in a sword & sanity game.
The game mechanics discussed can be used for any edition of Dungeons & Dragons, but are specifically written for Castles & Crusades. As with most game materials I will present, this article is considered Open Game License (OGL).
I should talk about healing first, as this will be the biggest change to the baseline C&C ruleset I will present in this article. In a S&S setting the availability of magical healing should be very minimal. The world needs to be grim and perilous, and death should hover on the edge of the battlefield at all times.
In my game I do not generally award any kind of healing potions, balms or salves. Also, the availability of the Resurrection spell is almost nonexistent. It would be a major undertaking to bring a character back from the dead. I would even go so far as to say it would require a pact with an Outsider (demon, angel, a god, etc.) to accomplish.
Clerics and Druids do have access to healing spells, but at a higher cost than normally seen in fantasy gaming. The healing spell has been ritualized to reflect its importance in this type of setting. A blood sacrifice to the priest’s deity is required to successfully cast a healing spell. At lower levels (Cure Light Wounds spell) the sacrifice would be minor – a small animal would be sufficient (bird, rabbit, dog, etc.). A major healing spell (Cure Serious Wounds, Healing Circle, etc.) would require a larger animal to be sacrificed (livestock, stag, etc.) in exchange for spiritual healing.
Magical healing aside, there should be other ways for the characters to obtain the healing they need. The trick is to balance the need for healing with the deadliness of the setting. The types of healing that can be offered will not be realistic from a medical standpoint, but they will keep the flavor required for a S&S game.
Here are ways a character can find healing in my game:
- Adrenaline Surge – once per battle a character can dig deep and find a way to push through the pain of the wounds they have suffered. This will allow a character to shrug off damage and regain 1d8 Hit Points / 5 levels (i.e. 1-5 = 1d8, 6-10 = 2d8, 11-15 = 3d8, etc.)
- Rest – for each hour a character rests (see C&C Players Handbook for definition of rest) they can gain 1 Hit Point back. This doubles after level 5, and triples after level 10 (i.e. a 5th level character gains 8 Hit Points after eight hours of rest, while a 6th level character gains 8 Hit Points back after four hours rest)
- Grog – once every eight hours a character can drink a shot of grog (alcoholic beverage of choice) to “ease the pain”. A Constitution check is required, and if successful the grog will bestow 1d4 Hit Points to the character. If the CON check fails then the grog is ineffective. The effects of the grog are doubled after level 5, and tripled after level 10.
Heroes in any sword & sorcery setting are tough as nails. They can take a lot of abuse and still seem to walk away to battle another day. In my opinion the way hit points are handled in the Castles & Crusades rules (and Dungeons & Dragons of course) perfectly captures the feel that is required for sword & sorcery gaming. These rules are not simulationist, and rightly so. Combat should be narrative, and hit points abstract. In my opinion this just adds to the flavor of the game, allowing the game master to build excitement at the game table, while allowing enough room for players to envision combat in their own way.
To reflect the toughness of the characters in the game I would suggest allowing players to take the maximum number of hit points available to their class for several levels. In my game I allow them to do this all the way to level 5. With the scarcity of healing in the setting this will help keep them alive at low levels. At level 6 and above Hit Points are rolled as normal.