The protagonists of classic ‘swords and sorcery’ tales are a remarkable lot. They are a ‘cut above’ the common stock of humanity, physically and mentally superior to most people, although perhaps sometimes less prudent. Even this occasional lack of prudence, however, is compensated with superior luck and drive. Characters such as Conan, Kull, Fafhrd, and the Gray Mouser are capable of overcoming foes and surviving challenges that would easily defeat most common men. Classic ‘swords and sorcery’ tales focus on highly exceptional and powerful individuals, not the ‘little guys’ of the world. Even as neophytes, most ‘swords and sorcery’ characters are exceptionally tough and capable.
To reflect this aspect of the ‘swords and sorcery’ genre, it is recommended that first-level player characters start with the maximum number of hit points possible for their class, plus five additional hit points (modified by their constitution scores, as appropriate). Hit points should be rolled normally after first level.
Only player characters and important non-player characters (namely, noteworthy allies and antagonists) should use this system for determining hit points. The Game Master should roll normally for the hit points of ‘regular’ non-player characters, as well as most ‘monsters.’
Player characters’ hit points represent only ‘superficial’ damage (i.e., exhaustion, light bruises, minor scrapes, and so forth.). Because of this, all lost hit points may be recovered by sleeping without interruption for eight full hours. Resting (not sleeping), or sleeping for less than eight hours, will enable a player character to recover one hit point per full hour of rest or sleep.
Cure Wounds spells and potions of Healing do not heal hit points, but only lost points of Constitution (as explained below). However, a draught of ‘strong drink’ (ale, wine, liquor) can ‘invigorate’ a character, enabling him/her to recover immediately 1d4 hit points. Game Masters may also want to allow alchemists to sell ‘Elixirs of Invigoration’ for 200 to 300 gold pieces. Drinking such an elixir might enable a player character to recover instantly 1d6 + 2 hit points. Only one such draught, whether of strong drink or an elixir, will have this effect per day.
Once a player character’s hit points have been depleted, any further damage is done to the character’s constitution score. Damage to a character’s constitution score represents ‘serious’ damage. Every time a character takes damage to his/her constitution, he/she must make a saving throw (versus ‘death’ if using a system other than S&W) or fall unconscious. In addition, a character that has taken damage to his/her constitution suffers a -2 penalty to all actions (including attack rolls and saving throws). If a character’s constitution score is reduced to 0 or lower that character is dead.
Characters who have suffered damage to their constitution and have fallen unconscious regain consciousness after eight hours of rest. If that character’s constitution is still reduced, he/she continues to have 0 hit points and suffers the -2 penalty to all actions until he/she can rest and recover. Characters subsequently can recover one constitution point for every two days of complete rest (i.e., no travelling or adventuring). The care of a doctor or other non-magical healer can improve the rate of healing to one constitution point per day of rest. A character cannot recover any hit points until all constitution points have been recovered.
Game Masters should assume that most non-player characters and monsters are dead or unconscious when they reach 0 hit points or lower. Only player characters and special non-player characters – important figures in the world, whether allies or antagonists of the player characters – should use the complete rules outlined above.
(Note: This house rule will appear as part of a longer article on 'swords & sorcery' adventures in Knockspell #3.)