Constitutional crisis!

This is not a political post. :)

Pop quiz: What core D&D class has a class ability that may instantly kill him when it expires?
Answer: The barbarian.

Because of the way the Constitution rules work, a raging barbarian can die when his rage runs out if he’s 5th level or higher. +4 Con bonus from rage = 2 hp per level, which means 10 hp or more at level 5, which means that your hp drop by that amount when the rage ends, so it’s possible to drop to -10 or lower and just die. Which sucks. It’s even worse at level 20 when the barbarian’s Con increases is +8 (so you instantly die at rage’s end if your current hp are 4×20 = 70 or less).

It’s not just a barbarian problem … the bear’s endurance has the same issue, as does any Con-boosting item. Or Con-draining effect … it’s bad enough that poison can kill you by reducing you to 0 Con, if you’re injured it’s possible that the Con loss kills you in terms of hp damage.

It doesn’t have to work this way. To cite World of Warcraft (I know, shut up about WOW already), if your Stamina decreases (like from a buffing effect ending) and your health is greater than its current normal maximum, it drops to your current maximum. No “sudden Con loss hit point death syndrome.” Part of the problem is that everyone dies at -10 regardless of their max hp (something I addressed in The New Argonauts and Monte addressed in Arcana Unearthed, but mainly it’s the huge hp drop possible from a Con change.

Proposal: When your Con decreases, you do not lose hit points unless your current hit points are greater than your maximum hit points possible for your current Con, in which case your current hit points drop to your current maximum.


22 thoughts on “Constitutional crisis!

  1. Totally agree. I always make fun of the guy playing the Barbarian in our group because I’ve never actually seen one not die because of that silly rule. :-P

  2. i guess its never bothered me. if a barbarian is so low on hp that he dies when his rage ends, he’d have been dead already without the rage bonus. rage allowed him to keep fighting despite -wounds which should’ve killed him. that’s not gimpy, that’s awesome. just my perspective.

    • In particular I don’t like the meta-awareness that this rule introduces. If a barbarian’s really hurt, the player should call out for healing “because if you don’t I’m just going to fall over and die in the next six seconds.” Jeff Quick had to do so once in Chris Perkins’ game. And when Andy Collins’ character in Monte’s game got mind-controlled and we knocked him out (while he was buffed with bear’s endurance, Andy had to ask (out of character) if anyone healed him, because at his current hit points he’d die when the spell ran off (this was 3.0 so the spell lasted hours, but it was after hours of adventuring and was coming due). It’s just a lame way for a character to die — “I didn’t die fighting the monster, I died after the fight when my enhanced Con went back to normal.”

      • I’m with you that dying at the end of a Bear’s Endurance spell while knocked out is kind of lame. But the notion of fighting until dead is kind of the barbarian archetype.

  3. Suppose you just converted the extra hitpoints from a CON raise to ‘Temporary Hitpoints’. Or something with a different name that allowed them to stack with Temp HP from other sources…

    • It amounts to the same thing, except with my proposal you don’t need to think up a new name for these Con-boost hp. Ah, and if your hp are normally 50 and your Con boosts your max to 80 and you take 10 hit points of damage, your cleric buddy can’t heal you back up to 80 because cure spells don’t restore temporary hp.

      I like Eff’s solution, too, and in the long run that might be simpler.

  4. I can see why using a class ability shouldn’t kill you. But I’ve got no problem with the Con-draining poisons being that bad boys in the vial.

    But Effrenatus’ solution is very good.

    • Except that means you’re taking double damage from a poison: one hit against your Con, one hit against your hp.
      Tordek20 with Con20 has about 210 hp. Mialee20 with Con16 has about 110 hp. If they take 5 points of Con damage, both characters take an additional 20 hp damage on top of that. Mialee’s already vulnerable because she has a lower Con than Tordek, and now she’s even more vulnerable because she has lower hp as well.
      The whole intent of having ability-damage attacks in 3e was that they let you bypass the absurdly-high hp of high-level characters–certain attacks like poison would still be a threat because you can’t just shrug it off and still have boatloads of hp. Doing Con damage and hp damage makes these attacks very, very deadly, especially when PCs still just have 3-18 points in a particular stat. It’s possible to kill Tordek in one hit with a good poison roll, depending on the poison. Which isn’t fun.

      • That’s true, but on the other hand, there are times when you want that save or die poison. I agree they should be few and far between, but with healers (even just someone with maxed-out ranks in Heal) spells, periapts, and what have you, I have yet to see a high-level case of death by poison.

        But I could certainly be convinced to do the not lower than -1. If my players start complaining, I’ll be able to propose this balanced and fair solution :-)

      • I’m thinking that, if you really want a Save-or-Die poison, you can just add the appropriate effects to it. Sticking with a bad mechanic for the sake of one result that is good in rare cases isn’t good design.

        Just make a poison that does Con damage *and* HP damage. Problem solved. In addition, you now have an easy precedent for making other poisons with multiple effects. Int damage and HP damage!


      • Agreed, and as seen in Blue Devil Games’ Poisoncraft, you can have lots of fun with multiple effect-poisons. But Con AND hit points is actually more of what Sean’s against (if I read his post right), and personally I’d think that was going overboard.

      • Well, no, not necessarily. I believe Sean’s just against the automatic coupling of Con-loss and HP-damage (effectively). If you use his suggested rule and still want a poison that does Con damage and HP damage, go for it, just realize that it’s obviously more powerful than one that does stat damage by itself. It wouldn’t be any worse than Con poison in the current rules, at least.

        As a side benefit, this would almost eliminate the vast disparity in power between Con-damage poisons and other stat-damage poisons. The only difference is that you can still die from reaching Con 0.

      • Yep, I’m not against the concept of a poison that does Con damage AND hp damage, but I don’t think that should be teh default for all Con-damage poisons. Heck, many real-world poisons would be Con/hp … weakens you overall and dissolves your flesh and blood.

      • Fun

        Sean said:
        It’s possible to kill Tordek in one hit with a good poison roll, depending on the poison. Which isn’t fun.

        The frustrating issue for me is that while it’s not fun for Tordek to die in one hit with a good poison roll, it is fun that it’s possible for Tordek to die in one hit with a good poison roll. Often the risk is a big part of what makes a particular situation fun, but on the other side, losing that roll of the dice can SUCK.

  5. Sean: A side-effect of this is that Con-buff spells suddenly function as healing. They’re better than healing, actually, because they can effectively provide temp HP beyond your maximum. There’s no downside, either; if you just dismiss the spell you get to keep the HP and then you can have it cast on you again.

    This means that Bear’s Endurance becomes a spell that heals +2HP/HD of subject with no max. Assuming that caster level and target level are equal, this means that BE is guaranteed to outstrip the Cure spells, as they follow the formula of C+X, where C is some number of d8s. Assuming average rolls, BE will outstrip a Cure spell at level 4.5*C. So it’s better than Cure Light at level 5, better than Moderate at level 9, Serious at level 14, and Critical at level 18. As well, notice that it starts beating them right around the points where they hit their caps, so past those levels it starts becoming *much* better than them.

    And that’s in addition to the bonus to Fort saves, Con checks, and Concentration checks, not to mention the max-HP-boost effect. So a level 2 Wizard spell can eventually cure better than a level 4 Cleric spell *and* provide several other nice benefits.

    Finally, it has the effect of basing the power of the spell on the target’s level rather than the caster level. In the examples I provided above I assumed that both the target and caster level were equal. In reality, of course, the Cure spells depend only on caster level while BE would depend only on target level. That means that a level 3 Wizard casting BE can heal a level 19 character more than a level 19 Cleric can using Cure Critical. This has interesting implications for monsters who have a HD/CR ratio much greater than 1, as it means that a level 3 Wizard can generally heal them much more than a CR-appropriate Cleric ally (and buff their Fort saves, etc. at the same time).

    Not saying this is all necessarily bad, just saying that it makes for a *huge* change in the healing dynamic. Changing it so that temporary Con changes do *not* affect HP (positively or negatively) and then adding in a temp-HP bonus to Rage, BE, and similar effects would be much better. This would lie in the same vein as changing Con poisons to also do HP damage to simulate the effect they had before the change.


    • Actually, I had thought of this, but didn’t want to bring it up in the initial discussion.
      In WOW, if you give someone a Stam buff, their current hp remain the same but their max hp goes up appropriately, and their natural health-regen rate (faster in WOW than in D&D) catches you up in a minute or so.
      You could easily borrow that for D&D: if your Con increases, your hp increase by 1 hp per round until they reach (current hp + Con modifier increase x HD). Now Con-buff spells aren’t automatically healing spells, yet you don’t have to waste heal spells to get your Con-buffed buddy up to their newly-appropriate hp total. Frex:
      Tordek20 normally has 210 hp but he’s down to 180 hp from battles. Jozan casts a long-duration Con-buff spell on him, increasing his Con by +4 and his max hp to 250 (210 + 2 x 20). Over the next 40 rounds he gains 1 hp per round until he reaches his new current total.
      But really, Effrenatus’ suggestion works best: if your Con drops, the hp loss from that Con decrease can’t bring you below 0 hp (though the other damage from the attack can, like a scorpion sting or a poisoned dagger).

  6. Good rule

    Thought it through. This rule seems to solve the problem nicely, without having unbalancing side effects. Good job.

    — Joe Katzman

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