I am not a huge fan of HP in dungeon world for PCs, so I have been fiddling around with an alternative.

I am not a huge fan of HP in dungeon world for PCs, so I have been fiddling around with an alternative.

I am not a huge fan of HP in dungeon world for PCs, so I have been fiddling around with an alternative. This is my current way to do that, i’d love feedback on what you guys think.

Note that it is not completely original as it borrows a lot from other alternatives that people have suggested here and elsewhere.

The system:

You can have 3 types of injuries:

– Light (max 3), nothing too serious. Bruises, small cuts, etc.

– Serious (max 2). Hurts like hell. Think twisted ankles, broken bones.

– Deadly (max 1). Needs tending to as soon as possible.

If you take another injury of a type you already have the maximum of, you take a more serious injury instead.

If you take a second deadly injury, you go to the black gates.

There are two basic moves attached to this:


Whenever you take harm, roll and add any ARMOR that protects you from this harm to the outcome

On 10+ You take a light injury

On 7-9 You take a serious injury

On a 6- You take a serious injury and a debility

Tell the GM how you are injured and what happens.


Whenever you take enough time to recover, roll+CON

On 10+ Choose 3

On 7-9 Choose 2

On 6- Choose 1

– One deadly injury is reduced to a serious injury

– One serious injury is reduced to a light injury

– One light injury no longer affects you

– One debility no longer affects you

(you can pick the same option multiple times)

Some notes

– Like with any move, sometimes the GM might decide you don’t roll. Instead, simply tell the player to take an injury (of type X) if that makes sense for the fiction.

– My players like rolling for the damage THEY do. So monsters can still work with HP, I don’t mind that as much as I dislike hp for characters. I have to add that I rarely track my monster HP in detail. Many monsters die in 1 hit (feels epic) and more difficult monsters (leaders, bosses) tend to go down in 1-2 succesful hits as well, but require more rolls to get into a position to get those hits in.

– I would consider renaming ‘armor’ to ‘defense’, as I can think of many different examples of spells and abilities that enable you to avert harm from yourself that have nothing to do with shields and breastplates.

What I personally like about this system

– Mathematically, it still works out more or less the same as HP on average. In my mind, a light injury would be about 3 damage, a serious injury about 5, and a deadly injury about 10, making this equivalent to about 20 hp in line with the average PC.

– It removes RNG from incoming damage rolls (although you don’t need this system to do that, it is a benefit nonetheless in my mind).

– It gives ARMOR a much more similar mechanical use as all other modifiers in the game.

– It makes CON a more interesting stat

– The recover move feels more natural than saying ‘ ok now you regain X hp’. It is also a very easy move to affect with other skills that allow you (or others) to remove more quickly.

– It is very easy to attune healing spells/potions to this system. For example, the cleric already has three types of healing spells, one to match each level.

– More use for debilities

I’d love feedback, suggestions, comments…anything! 🙂

17 thoughts on “I am not a huge fan of HP in dungeon world for PCs, so I have been fiddling around with an alternative.”

  1. I really like the way Uncharted World handles it:

    You have five slots: Minor/Major/Severe/Critial/Fatal. There’s descriptions in the book about what types of harm each is, but basically a sword or gun is probably Major or Severe.

    When you take harm, you can roll +Armor. On a 10+, reduce the severity one step, on a 6-, up one step.

    Check the slot for the resulting injury. If you can’t, check the next highest slot.

    This is 90% what you have here, so I take that as confirmation you did a good thing.

  2. A few observations/questions:

    1) It’s impossible, in this system, to have your armor completely shrug off a blow. You’ll always take at least a light injury when you’re attacked.

    2) The player’s Armor roll always determines the damage, not the nature of the attack. A goblin with a rusty knife is just as likely to cause a serious injury + debility as an ogre swinging a tree limb around.

    3) How does messy play into this? Or the piercing? Or ignores armor?

  3. And a generalized opinion:

    Requiring that PCs write down specific injuries every time they are harmed sounds cool, but in play (in my opinion and experience) it gets problematic.

    Mostly, it messes either messes with the pacing of the game or it causes you to completely handwave the fiction or you need to have magical healing.

    For example, I get a light serious injury, “sprained ankle.” In real life, that’ll put you off your game for days, maybe weeks. There’s no salve or bandages or poultice that’ll really make that better. So I either walk around with that light serious injury for the rest of the adventure, or we hand wave the fiction and are like “yeah, you got better over night.” (Or you have a magic healer.)

    With a serious injury, you’re talking about weeks of healing after skilled treatment. If you don’t have magical healing in your part, the first serious wound is probably gonna make the PCs want to turn back.

    Second, specific wounds have a tendency to create a sort of death-spiral, because you start having to Defying Danger to act despite the pain or weakness or trauma. This isn’t a given… different play groups will require more or less of this. But if you don’t, you’re ingoring some of the fiction that specific injuries generate, and then… what’s the point?

    Yeah, there’s a place for specific injuries. But IMO, they should be an exception, not the rule. Getting one should be kind of a big deal, or a really big deal that shapes the course of the adventure.

    HP has its faults as a system, but it has the advantages of abstraction. When you get smacked around or chewed on by sharp pointy goblin teeth, we can handwave the specific trauma and say it was 1d6 damage and it doesn’t jar the fiction when you just shake it off and keep kicking ass. When you lose 18 of your 20 HP, we can assume you’re a bloody mess but we don’t have slow the action down with a Defy Danger every time you want to do something. And we can imagine that after a good night’s sleep, some bandages, and some grog, that you’re still gonna be beat up and bruised but you’ll be back on your feet and ready to face danger again.

    (slight edits to recalibrate serious vs. light wounds)

  4. Jeremy Strandberg the hp abstraction has it’s merit, but it’s even more handwavey in term of fiction: it’s a handwave in favor of players because basically you take only non consequential harm until you have low hp, at which point every damage (even minor damage) could outright kill you (even if it might seem strange from a fictional standpoint).

    HP are also weird when it comes for the fictional part of healing (they force healing to always be abstract, no matter what) and of the [messy] tag (which sometimes suggests some kind of brutal effect for damage).

    I’m not saying that this type of injury system is the best for Dungeon World, but this tiered system reminds me of Blades in the Dark (among other games) and in Blades it doesn’t mess with the pacing at all. I don’t think that the problem is with the system itself: I’d say it has more to do with the fact that Dungeon World its’ not built to deal with penalities associated with injuries (as you said, asking to Defy Danger constantly is not a good idea).

  5. MisterTia86 I don’t disagree! HP are totally weird and definitely handwave the fiction.

    But (and think this is important) they handwave it by allowing us to never establish certain fictional details. As opposed to detailed wounds, where a fictional detail is established and then often ignored. The former is a lot less jarring to me.

    Regarding the similarities to Blades… yeah, I really like how Blades does harm for Blades in the Dark. But the core assumptions of Blades is an important part of that. You’re pretty much always in an urban area, going on short, intense scores between which you generally retreat back to your hideout and use some of your downtime to recover. And downtime is set up so that it generates new problems and new scores, and its generally as interesting as the scores themselves.

    In DW, the basic assumption of the game is that you’re leaving civilization and comfort behind and going off into the wilderness or some hole in the ground. HP, gear, spells… these are all resources in a medium-to-long game of depletion. Trading out “oh crap, the goblin did 6 damage out of your 20 HP” for “oh crap, you rolled a 7-9 when the goblin attacked, now you’ve got a sliced tendon and your arm is hanging limp” will have a big impact on the pacing of that resource depletion game.

    With all that said, lots of people use DW to play all sorts of stuff different from that basic assumption. And so the resource depletion part of the game fades into the background and the pacing wouldn’t really get messed up by fictional wounds at all. Which is why I asked Gerke Bouma what sort of outcomes he’s looking for.

  6. Jeremy Strandberg so basically we agree 😀

    As you said, Dungeon World has a different assumption, but it’s less explicit and sometimes it’s not even that true to itself: that’s why it’s so easy to feel that the game is not tuned only for that assumption.

    My real problem with HP in a PbtA game is that it’s a consequence which doesn’t force you to go back to the fiction: you can go back to the fiction to describe what “-10 HPs” look like, but you’re not forced to do it to really find out what happened when the dragon attacked you.

    Sometimes I feel that HP should be more like Stress in Blades: something that makes you kinda heroic without losing the “fictional punch” of taking harm. Just taking 10 damage from a dragon feels very different from spending 10 HP to not lose your arm to the dragon’s claw.

  7. I think about HP as the “will to live” of a PC; beyond that I completely ignore it. If I’m making a hard move on the players, I’ll create fictional damage regardless of whether HP was affected.

  8. Jeremy Strandberg I totally forgot that! I guess I’ll stop repating myself 😀

    PS: in case you were wondering, that move I proposed didn’t work that well in terms of pacing 🙂

  9. Instead of making them specific wounds, you can make the damage track more abstract, like “bruised”, “shaken”, “hurt”, “seriously hurt”, and then out of the fight or some such. And I’d have a 10+ shake off the injury.

  10. Jeremy Strandberg MisterTia86 You make excellent points.

    My issue with HP is mostly these two things:

    – Damage dice are (too) random sometimes. A giant rolling a d12 can end up doing repeatedly less damage than a goblin rolling a d6. You can avoid that by using different dice and/or modifiers, but that just approximates what I am doing here.

    – PCs can take a lot of damage from a fight, and then die from something minor. This solves that up to a point.

    Just to be clear, I am not advocating specific injuries. Although you could totally do that in this system, I just noted the damage descriptions there as a way to wrap my mind around it.

    How that damage affects the ficotion is a problem no matter the system though. With HP, if you take 12 damage from a giant throwing you across the field, you should probably break some bones. But staying in bed for weeks or months is not fun gameplay, so we wave some hands. Similarly, I would suggest just checking the “deadly injury” box in this system, and continue the fight.

    Jeremy Strandberg With regards to some of your initial remarks

    – Armor indeed no longer lets you shrug off damage completely. I never liked that anyway, as it could mean rolling a lot of dice with barely anything happening. Here, armor still gives you a LOT of potential protection, but if you roll for damage, you take damage.

    – If something should probably not be able to cause serious harm straight up, you shouldn’t roll. Simply apply a light injury.

    – That said, my initial version had another modifier (damage) in there that the GM would decide. A fairly harmless creature might not affect the roll, but a giant might give you a 3 to the roll or something. Having two modifiers in the same roll felt bloated.

    Ignore armor, pierciing etc should affect the armor modifier the same way it does with HP.

    – The messy tag is something I rarely use on PCs. I find that not every player is into finding out how their character adjusts to fighting with 1 arm. Fingers, eyes and ears are less of a problem though.

  11. I should add that I also like healing up (both through resting as well as active healing with spells or potions) much better in this system.

    Casting a healing spell and rolling low feels like you took a lot of risk for nothing. Healing a light injury feels more like mission accomplished.

    It also allows for interesting support skills and/or magic items. For example, someone could be a skilled healer that gets a single choice from the recovery roll for free to apply to anyone in the party when he rests. Or a magic user may be able to use one of his/her own choices on someone else, using their own strength for someone else’s recovery.

    Last but not least the recovery roll more organically mimics wounds closing up and healing. Gaining hp mechanically does more or less the same, but feels different (to me anyway).

  12. How often do you allow the use of the Recover move? Is it just once a day, i.e. Make Camp, or can the party rest and recover multiple times per day?

    When a PC uses the Recover move and less severe injury slots are already full, they cannot reduce a more severe level injury until they clear a lower severity slot, correct? So, if you have suffered Max injuries (3 light, 2 serious, 1 deadly), you need to clear a light injury, then reduce a serious to a light, and then reduce a deadly to a serious. Therefore, if you take Max injuries, to recover to full health takes between 4 and 10 rolls using the Recover move (not including healing of any debilities suffered) vs. 2 times Making Camp in the HP system.

    If you take a second deadly injury and then survive the Last Breath roll, do you awake with 1 or 2 deadly injuries?

    What do you do with the 1/2 damage option on the basic Defend move?

    What do you do with fighting multiple enemies? RAW gives a +1 damage per extra enemy in melee.

    Your main complaint seems to be the randomness of the damage dice. Wouldn’t it just be simpler to make all damage static, without having to change much else in the system? E.g. d4 does 3 damage, d6 does 4 damage, d8 does 5, etc.

    It would be interesting to see how this works out in play. The math skews toward a larger number of serious injury results. Except for +3 and higher armor, PCs suffer more serious injuries than light injuries. Here are the odds of a serious injury based on armor type:

    +0: 83.4%

    +1: 72.4%

    +2: 58.4%

    +3: 41.6%

    These moves seem to reduce the tension and risk of combat to some degree. In straight up melee, it takes a minimum of 4 rolls with the Take Harm move for any character to have to make a Last Breath roll. As long as you haven’t taken 2 serious and 1 deadly injuries, you know you are safe from the Black Gates. In the HP system, there are common monsters (e.g. Orc Berserker) that can 1 shot a lower HP character and force a Last Breath roll.

    You mentioned you let your players roll damage, but you don’t track monster HP, and just take them out after 1-2 hits. Do the players knows this? It seems like the damage roll is pointless. Similarly, doesn’t this render damage bonus moves and the +d6 option on H&S obsolete? Does it take away some of the spotlight from the martial classes when other classes are just as effective in melee?

  13. Robert Finamore Lots of good questions, some of which I admit I hadn’t considered yet.

    I suggest to allow recover 2-3 times per day if it makes sense. Basically similar to how resting works in D&D 5E. This then approximates the rate of healing a bit towards the average of a single ‘make camp’ in DW RAW. In terms of fiction: Bandaging/stitching up, applying healing salves, etc. Doesn’t have to be a major amount of time to do that, but you need some safety and comfort.

    Your description of how I would apply the recover move is exactly right: You need an available lower slot to move a more severe one down to it. Surviving the black gates would mean you’re back at 1 deadly wound (+whatever you had left from before).

    The defend move rarely comes up in my games, but maybe that would work simply by reducing the severity of the injuries by 1 level.

    Your math is of course right in saying that serious injury are more likely. This (to me) also means the move should only apply there were serious is a realistic outcome. If you’re being attacked by something that is not likely to cause you major harm in a single hit, simply applying a light injury (instead of rolling) seems more appropriate.

    Similarly, something that hits you and obviously really really hurts should probably instantly apply serious or even deadly harm. As in the case of rolling for damage you would likely apply some modifier to the roll to ensure a minimum X amount of damage, so should the roll only be used in circumstances where you’re interested in the wide range of outcomes.

    I had three version of this roll in my initial version (take light harm, take serious harm, take deadly harm) but I didn’t like the overdose of moves. This did help for a bit of finetuning so you could pick an appropriate move depending on the damage source, e.g.: A fail on a deadly harm would send you right to the black gates, while a success on a light harm would mean no damage at all.

    Making the damage static would definitly work. But rolling dice is fun, and while static damage is functional it is also boring. This was meant a comprise between still rolling and some randomness.

    Bit offtopic, but with regard to monster HP: I do track it to some extent. Someone rolling low damage (because of class or bad rolls) will definitly not kill monsters as fast as someone who puts out bigger numbers. But if someone does X damage to a monster and it has X+1 HP… it is probably going to die right then and there. Especially if the damage roll was significant. If anything, this showcases the epicness of the martial classes even more!

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