Alternate Rules for Taking Damage below Zero Hit Points

Greetings, folks. First-timer here. Recently came across Open Legend RPG and I was impressed enough to purchase my own physical copy along with the Banes and Boons decks.

I’d like to present alternate rules for taking damage below zero hit points.

Alternate Rules for taking damage below Zero Hit Points

Whenever a PC or NPC created via a complex build reaches zero hit points, make a Toughness resist roll vs. CR 10 + any excess damage remaining from the attack that brought you to zero hit points.

If you succeed, you suffer no further effects. If you fail, you take one level of the Fatigued bane for every 3 points you failed the roll by. If you lose consciousness due to reaching Fatigued level 5 from taking damage below zero hit points, recovering from unconsciousness takes 2d4 hours instead of 24 hours.

If you want to represent the effects of lethal damage as presented in the core rule book with this house rule, make it so that when a character is not in combat, they don’t have access to their hit point pool (making them effectively having zero hit points). Taking damage outside of combat, then, should go by the rules of taking damage at zero hit points listed above.

NPCs created via a simple build fall unconscious at zero hit points. If the damage they took from an attack exceeded their current hit points, they must make a Toughness resist roll vs. CR 10 + any excess damage or die.

This house rule makes it so that hit points represent a buffer to the debilitating effects of injury (as represented by the Fatigued bane), making them behave more like plot armor. It also makes taking damage outside of combat more consequential.

If you find that this house rule makes hit point totals too large, you can subtract hit point pools by 5 (or even 10) to compensate, since characters can still function at zero hit points but are much more vulnerable.

Alternate Lethal Strike (I-IX) feat

This re-write of the Lethal Strike (I-IX) feat is meant to be used in conjunction with the “Alternate Rules for Taking Damage below Zero Hit Points” house rule.

Under this house rule, Lethal Strike (I-IX) is re-written as follows:

  • Cost: 3
  • Tier 1-9: Agility 3
  • Effect: Under certain conditions, you can take some of the damage you deal and convert it to lethal damage, forcing the target to make a Toughness resist roll vs. CR 10 + any damage you deem to convert to lethal (up to the maximum dictated by the tier of Lethal Strike you possess or less). Also, meeting the required conditions for a Lethal Strike will grant you advantage dictated by the tier of Lethal Strike you possess.
    • Tier 1 – Advantage 1, can convert up to 3 damage into lethal damage.
    • Tier 2 – Advantage 2, can convert up to 3 damage into lethal damage.
    • Tier 3 – Advantage 3, can convert up to 6 damage into lethal damage.
    • Tier 4 – Advantage 4, can convert up to 6 damage into lethal damage.
    • Tier 5 – Advantage 5, can convert up to 9 damage into lethal damage.
    • Tier 6 – Advantage 6, can convert up to 9 damage into lethal damage.
    • Tier 7 – Advantage 7, can convert up to 12 damage into lethal damage.
    • Tier 8 – Advantage 8, can convert up to 12 damage into lethal damage.
    • Tier 9 – Advantage 9, can convert up to 15 damage into lethal damage.
  • You must meet at least one of the following conditions in order to utilize Lethal Strike:
    • Your target is caught off guard or otherwise unaware of the attack, such as when you are hidden from them, disguised as a friend, or have successfully deceived them.
    • Your target is within melee attack range of an ally.

If an NPC created via a simple build fails their Toughness resist roll from the Lethal Strike feat, they simply die.

The inspiration for this house rule came from the way The Expanse RPG dealt with taking excessive damage that you couldn’t cancel with Fortune Points. The Fatigued bane seemed like the perfect bane to emulate compounding injury, so it seemed like the best existing rule to integrate.

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So, this seems quite complicated for what you want to accomplish and there are some strange choices in there, which indicate your lack of experience. The first piece of advice that every newcomer gets from me: Don’t mess with a system that you haven’t played yet.

Let’s start with the oddities:

There is no such thing as a Toughness resist roll. Either it’s a resist roll, which is a flat d20 roll, or maybe you meant a Fortitude roll, similarly to the finishing blow rules.

This part adds an aspect to the game that was omitted on purpose: Potentially one-shotting PCs. Exploding dice can be fickle and this removes the only fail-safe.

This is by far the most baffling idea to me, and I’m not even sure that I’m understanding it correctly or what its purpose is. This doubly punishes lethal damage outside of combat, by a) reducing the overall HP and by b) potentially adding Fatigue on top of that. That seems quite unnecessary.

I have no knowledge of that system, so I have no clue what “Fortune Points” are, etc. but there are two much simpler ways to accomplish something along the lines of what you propose:

  • Being reduced to 0 HP inflicts a level of Fatigue.

  • Excess damage reduces your overall HP, just like Lethal Damage would

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Hey VanGo. Thanks for the reply.

First off, you make a good point with trying the system as is before fiddling around with it. This is especially true for Savage Worlds, so I understand where you’re coming from.

As for the Toughness resist roll thing, I forgot that Toughness is a Defense (which is essentially a CR) and not normally meant to be used interchangeably with an action roll, hence my conflating it as a type of resist roll. Toughness stuck out to me because I thought the combination of fitness and willpower made sense to help determine whether or not one would succumb to injury.

Speaking of resist rolls, it took me a while to find it but I finally found out the mechanics for the Resist roll under the Resist Bane action in the Combat chapter. This was very confusing to me and would’ve been much clearer if every mention of a resist roll was instead changed to a Resist Bane action. But I digress. Moving right along.

As for the section you found most baffling, the purpose was to replace the mechanics of lethal damage (via the reduction of maximum HP) with that of applying levels of the Fatigued bane to represent long-lasting injury (which already has its own mechanics in the core rule book). Regular hit points recover to their maximum value either way. Reducing maximum hit points seems to just make getting into combat a more dangerous proposition, but don’t have any debilitating effects on the character’s actions otherwise.

In The Expanse RPG, Fortune Points serve as both hit points as well as a metagame currency used to modify dice rolls. If you don’t have sufficient Fortune Points to mitigate all of the damage you take, you make special rolls to see if you get injured, wounded, or taken out. It’s tangential to the topic at hand, but I figured I may as well elaborate on them.

I like your proposal of accomplishing a similar objective to mine, as it uses already existing mechanics in the game to more closely emulate the house rules I’ve posited.

Thank you for the reply, VanGo. You’ve helped me understand more about the design philosophy of the game and, due to this thread and the Search function, I finally found out how Resist rolls work.

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The problem with that idea is that these two mechanics aren’t all that interchangeable, neither in terms of in-game effect nor in terms of narrative storytelling. Falling from great heights inflicting levels of fatigue would be jarring since it breaks verisimilitude. So, I think these effects should be separate and distinct, to better represent these different aspects. But I’m glad that I was able to provide less complicated options.

I have nothing interesting to add to the conversation.
I just wanna say I’m really happy you decided to play Open Legends.
OL needs to be way more popular than it currently is because I really think its an awesome system.
I’ve been trying to introduce as many people to rpg’s through OL with little success so it’s great to know even though I suck at getting people in, people are still coming in regardless of my efforts.

Your homebrew rules are once again, presenting a change to the hit point system…

What is up with noobies including me with wanting to change the HP system when first starting out with OL?

Just recently someone else who was also new to OL was also trying to get an alternative for HP. He wasn’t making any homebrew, just asking for one. Not sure if I should even link it…

And as for me personally… OL was my first ever ttrpg. I thought D&D was the only ttrpg in existence at the time and was saving money to buy 5e when the youtube algorithms blessed my recommendation feed and showed me a video talking about OL and was instantly hooked because IT WAS FREE!!!
My absolutely 0xp ass saw the HP rules and said “yeah… You know what? I’m changing this.” declaring that HP was now 3 + Fortitude + Presence + Will…

I wonder what it is with people and the HP system that they’re really unsatisfied about?

As for me I altered the HP rules back then because I didn’t like the idea that all you needed was 10 minutes to fully recover, and that people have too much HP so battles took a long ass time.
However, this was OL, very different from D&D. Although HP comes at bigger numbers, so did the dice and potential damage output.
Battles seemingly took long because I made enemies too weak, and my players really hated pain so they always went for tank builds with 23 Guard at level 1.
The idea of instant HP healing is actually really good in a game design sense too as OL emphasizes reducing book keeping, so returning back to full HP meant you didn’t have to remember how much damage you had during the previous fight and whatnot.

This to me just seems like a rules misunderstanding rather than a written rules problem.
Since you have the book and I don’t I don’t really know the differences between the online rules and book rules but personally I really like the way the rules are presented, concise and easy to understand.
It’s bound to happen when you’re starting a new system, you’ll get the rules wrong, either by misreading, forgetting, heat of the moment, etc…
No shame in it, you’ll master the rules in no time just like with any other system.

Anyway, yeah… I have nothing to add.

It’s not in my place to step in and tell you what to do and not do, I myself still lack confidence to provide criticism. I have made plenty of bad stuff and still live in embarassment to this day, hence why I prefer not to speak up and criticize others too much as I feel hypocritical doing so.

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Hey Remix.

I honestly can’t believe that OL flew under the radar for me for more than three years.

My aversion to hit point systems came from D&D, in both the way they are presented and how ridiculously large they can get. While they make mention of it, I don’t think it’s blatantly obvious enough that hit points represent plot armor, and having a character’s level of fitness increase those totals lends credence to the idea that hit points = meat points. This is also further exacerbated with situations like a fighter with 50 hit points having no chance whatsoever to be killed by a d8 damage crossbow bolt.

Fortunately in OL, maximum hit points only increase with either an increase in Fortitude, Presence, Will, or the Tough As Nails (I-II) feat, so they don’t grow into gonzo amounts. Furthermore, as you mentioned, since dice explode, it is possible to take obscene amounts of damage in short order (which is always exciting).

However, OL hit points still behave very much like D&D hit points, in which you function just as well with 1 HP as you do with 40 HP and the blow that drops your hit points to zero is the only one that has an in-game effect: incapacitation. Furthermore, like D&D, all of your hit points are refreshed relatively quickly and easily because, despite the factors they are composed of, they behave like plot armor as opposed to the wear and tear of damage.

The hit point system that I’ve been impressed by the most is from The Expanse RPG (as mentioned in previous posts). The terminology used in that game makes it obvious that the resource you use to resist the negative effects of injury (Fortune Points) is, in effect, plot armor. Your Constitution score does not affect your maximum Fortune Points (though it affects your natural damage reduction). Your maximum Fortune Points do go up in level, but by small increments (+3 from levels 2-10, +2 from levels 11-20). When you take damage from an attack that exceeds the amount of Fortune Points you can use to negate, you take on the Injured condition (-1 to all rolls) and roll a d6 to hopefully cancel out the remaining damage. If there is still damage remaining, you take on the Wounded condition (-2 to all rolls) and roll a d6 to hopefully cancel out the remaining damage. If there’s still damage left over after you’re Wounded, then you’re taken out.

I wanted to replicate the spirit of those mechanics in OL with my proposed house rule because it’s how I would like to have injuries represented. The Fatigued bane was a close enough substitute, which is why I incorporated it into the house rule. It’s the optimizer or tinkerer in all of us that drives us to house rule.

Also, the content in the book/pdf is the same as the rules on the website. While the rules set is great, the table of contents on the .pdf is lackluster and there is no glossary nor index. This left me with Ctrl + F, which I used to look up “Resist roll,” which led me to every instance of its mention in individual bane descriptions but not to what it actually was nor how to make one. For that, I had to find in the Resist Bane action, which was not obvious to me (especially as it’s something you need to deliberately spend a move action to utilize), as I associate the term “resist roll” with something like “saving throw,” which is normally a reaction in games like D&D.

Despite saying you had nothing to add, I actually did find value in your post, Remix. We’re all doing our best to follow the community guidelines, so it’s all good.

Our view points on HP differ greatly.

HP in OL could be described as “plot armor” although however, many posts in the community by now have pointed out how HP really isn’t HP.
It’s actually more accurately to be described as Stamina instead which I agree with.

The reason why you can recover back to full HP after 10 minutes after a bloody fight isn’t because you just suddenly recover all of your wounds within those 10 minutes, no!
Your eye is still missing, your bones still broken, and your open wounds, still very much open.

Your HP fully recovering represents you’ve finally recovered from the adrenaline rush of a combat, you’ve calmed down and now you are prepared to take on the next challenge. But those wounds still remain, and they definitely will still bother that character.

It’s why you can invoke the Heal boon with Presence by giving a rousing speech.
A rousing speech does not close wounds, but it does arouse the heart.

In OL I don’t just specifically use HP for physical injury, punching, stabbing, shooting combats, I’ve used them on conflicts where not even a single punch was thrown.
One combat scenario forced the party to play an intense poker match, another time they had to play a high stakes game of freaking tag!!! … Tag!!! And HP in those scenarios weren’t simply used to display typical injuries like cuts and bruises, but rather it was used to represent how much stress they could still handle, their energy to still continue running and chasing, and continue making rational bets, calls, and folds. And even someday along the line, a rap battle.

In that sense, HP isn’t plot armor, but rather a lose condition instead. A vague representation of your closeness to losing.
But that might just be me.

I can’t really criticize you for making a rule due to a reason like this as I too do this.
Even today I still create house rules to implement mechanics from other systems into the system we are playing. It comes from my innate desire to play every system at once. Though I wonder if that’s just me who feels like that.
Also I too don’t know what the heck Expanse is. (yet)
When I began, along with a proposal to doing HP differently, I also devised an “intricate” (translation: Poorly written) spell casting system because I really wanted D&D in my OL.
This was years before good 'ol VanGo created a homebrew spell casting system for OL that is literally just better than what I wrote in every way possible.
And later on when I got introduced to Call of Cthulu I immediately wanted to try implementing the luck mechanic in that game to OL and other systems because of how awesome I thought it was. They kinda sucked though so I never posted them to the community.

It’s fine to use other systems rules for inspiration for creating homebrew or even outright your own TTRPG ruleset, and even better when you use them to replicate something I believe. And the more you do it, the more you take, the better you become.

I assume that means it has no bookmarks for the pdf either? That kinda sucks.

Hey Remix. The way you’ve described hit points is pretty much what plot armor is: it’s a plot device that protects you from misfortune, injury, etc. (plot armor comes in different forms).

As far as I know, no where in the rules does it state that damage in combat results in missing eyes, broken bones, open wounds, etc.

You can use banes inflicted by 10+ damage to temporary blind someone, knockdown/slow/stun via bone/muscle/nerve injury, cause internal bleeding via persistent damage (which prevents them from that quick hit point recovery post-battle until it goes away). The byproducts of these mighty or specialized attacks (via Bane Focus) are narrative expressions of the bane mechanics, which are tacked on to a bean counter that indicates that as long as you are above 1 hit point, you are not hampered in any way.

Even if banes can implement the consequences of missing eyes, broken bones, and open wounds, they don’t replicate the effects of long-term or permanent injury, nor does taking lethal damage. Those things are either done through house rules or through the Special effects of Extraordinary Items (which are essentially impromptu house rules). Basically, long-term or permanent injuries can only occur in OL at the GM’s discretion (and there’s nothing wrong with that).

As you also mentioned, it’s why you can invoke the Heal boon with Presence by giving a rousing speech but not the Restoration boon with Presence, because hit points are not meat points, they’re plot armor (or “the heart,” as you put it).

I think it’s pretty cool how you’ve extrapolated hit point mechanics into what other games may call skill challenges or extended skill tests, transforming hit points into a threshold to remain in the challenge. Again, though, when hit points are used like this, having one hit point and having 40 hit points don’t affect your dice rolls or action economy in any way unless you supplement it with banes. In effect, they serve as a plot device that still keeps you in the game and unscathed, just like not falling unconscious still keeps you active in combat and unscathed, which is plot armor.

As for The Expanse RPG (not just Expanse), it’s a TTRPG made by Green Ronin Publishing based on a series of novels called The Expanse. It also has a TV adaptation that is available on Amazon Prime. If you haven’t seen it, I’d recommend you watch it, especially if you’re into hard sci-fi.

The OL core rule book .pdf has bookmarks, but they’re just the chapter entries. No sub-entries such as “Every Roll Matters” or “Taking Your Turn,” though.

Thank you for sharing your perspective on hit points and on how you’ve used them, Remix. Despite your declaration of viewing HP greatly different than mine, I think they’re more similar than you might realize, at least in practice if not in principle.

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I think lethal damage is good enough (for me at least) way to represent long term injuries.

If what you wanted to accomplish was a way to represent long term injuries and such…
Personally we just fluff it, but if you want mechanical effects…

Our combats are always described pretty hecticly… (That’s not even a word)
Even without inflicting forced move I still sometimes describe as opponents are flung back meters away when punched. I’d just describe that the opponent rushes back immediately back to melee range. Or creating a huge wound but it doesn’t actually cause Persistent Damage. Because fluff is cool and we tend to enjoy running slapstick comedy type games where someone can just lose gallons of blood and still act like normal. Although currently I’m running a somewhat serious grimdark type campaign.
We don’t need to have everything have mechanical in game effects. That’s just how we roll at least.


Long term injuries and such can be given in the form of flaws.
Not to mention GM fiat is always something you can do.

Lost a limb? Disabled flaw until you can get prosthetics or high level magic to get it back, you are living the rest of your campaign life without those precious limbs.
Suffered severe mental trauma and now you’re scarred? Psychotic flaw, or maybe phobia to represent your characters PTSD.

Although Flaws are something a player willingly chooses to activate, not to mention they get legend points doing so.
If you want these injuries to be actually punishing, that’s where GM fiat comes into play.

“Due to losing your character Zack the Swordsman’s right dominant arm during the last combat, Zack can no longer do 2 handed stuff including wielding 2 handed melee weapons, and anything Zack does that requires the use of a hand will suffer disadvantage according to how important the hand plays a role in those actions.”
“Due to being shot in the eye, Zack is now permanently inflicted with the Blinded bane. This instance of the blinded bane cannot be resisted.”
“Due to the last battle against sharks, Zack now has an irrational fear of sharks, whenever this fear would play a role such as when presented with the object of fear, Zack must make a Will Action roll or automatically suffer the Fear Bane.”

Poor Zack. No arm, no eyes, and a fear of sharks.

Anyway, I got those ideas reading through the online rules, they aren’t original, I just saw that this was an actual okay thing to do.
In chapter 8 about in depth Attribute explanations, there was an example of a Protection roll where on a failure but the story progresses, the character is permanently given the Psychotic flaw for failing to resist to read a book.
And another where again, due to a failed roll, the character had to suffer an irresistible instance of a demoralize bane until they fulfilled a certain condition.

The GM is encouraged to create temporary homebrew rulings, ignore rules as written when necessary, and pull stuff out of your bowels left and right during games on the fly constantly.
I mean, what system doesn’t right?
If a TTRPG system doesn’t encourage that kind of GM behavior, then it must be bad lol.

Lethal damage is good for letting the player know “hey, you’re character can’t rough & tumble for as long as they normally could, so take that into account.”

I agree that fluff is cool and it’s kind of sad when groups stop using it in their combat because it the game system they use doesn’t give it mechanical or narrative impact. I like that bane attacks and inflicting banes based on big damage incentivize GMs and players to incorporate fluff and it’s something every character can do to some extent or another.

Flaws are a good way of implementing long-term injuries, as you’ve mentioned, especially since players choose when they interfere and, thus, get compensated Legend Points for it. For certain persistent effects that always affect characters, it may also be useful to apply things like reduced attributes, reverse feats, or persistent banes; these can be compensated with bonus attribute or feat points that the GM can award once said player has undergone some sort of narrative arc (kind of like how after Barbara Gordon was paralyzed by the Joker in The Killing Joke, she “re-allocated her stats” to become more helpful as long-distance support for the Bat family).

Taking a long-term flaw that can be treated with time and effort (say, one game session’s length and a successful CR 20 Restoration roll) also seems like a reasonable alternative to being knocked unconscious when you reach zero hit points in combat. A good example of this is when Android 18 breaks Vegeta’s arm when they fought in the Cell saga (Dragon Ball Z reference); he hit the zero hit-point mark but refused to get K.O.ed, so his arm was broken instead by her powerful kick.

Do you recall if there are rules for hazards that inflict banes on characters? If there aren’t, it may be a good idea to perhaps give them attack stats to reflect their potency in overcoming a character’s defense (like a gas cloud that makes a d20 attack roll +2d6 vs. Toughness to deal a Sickened bane to everyone within its area of effect every round).

Whether or not elements like this need to be gamified is up to each individual GM, but I like that OL provides a framework that not only makes it possible to do so, but makes it easy and consistent with its design philosophy. Like you said, “if a TTRPG system doesn’t encourage that kind of GM behavior, it it must be bad lol.”

No. I’m pretty proud of my mastery of the OL system, I’m gonna double check after writing just in case, but the only thing that is mentioned would be in Chapter 8.
It talks about “Ad Hoc Damage” Environmental effects and hazards and what have you in or out of combat that can either deal normal or lethal damage.
That rule deals with dealing damage, but it doesn’t deal with dealing banes, but you could potentially make it deal banes too. Something I have never considered before when using Ad Hoc.
I wanna try it out some time soon now…!

You could make Ad Hoc deal banes, or deal damage (lethal or not) AND banes of certain types and power levels depending on severity.

And about the example with the gas cloud, the environment can always be as much of a player during combat. A neutral party that doesn’t discriminate.
There’s the obvious difficult terrain that costs double the movement but you can do anything with the environment!
In the case of your gas cloud–
You could rule out that a certain section of the field of combat has a gas cloud. Play it like you would any invocation of the Barrier Boon, An area of combat that if you willingly enter or end your turn in, you could be subject to a bane attack and such.
Making it deal a Sickened bane attack every round as long as you’re there seems a little too much considering how other lasting area effects work.
General rule of thumb maybe, but if you have an effect that persists in an area, make it so that it only applies when creatures willingly enter it or end their turn there, because that is how Barrier and Aura works. Maybe these toxic clouds could even be dispelled permanently or temporarily with a Nullify bane just like any old Barrier boon if you’re nice.
Another way I could see you potentially run this gas cloud thing is if these clouds of gas are because you’re in some biohazard factory thing, theres pipes leaking these gas and every random d4 rounds, anyone who is in a cone area projecting out from the pipe will suffer a bane attack from the pipes spewing out these clouds! Having proper biohazard suit thingies, the Sustenance boon, or maybe the Resistance boon are the ways one could avoid the hazardous effects of those broken pipes!
As I already mentioned, you can always make the effects be special and somewhat different too!
The Sickened bane inflicted by the clouds is potent and you have disadvantage to resist! The Sickened bane also deals 1d6 damage at the start of your round! Or this Sickened bane is actually extra powerful and gives a -2 penalty to defenses and disadvantage 2 instead of the usual -1 and disadvantage 1!

It’s always up to you, just be fair and at the same time, equally cruel! mwahahaha!!!

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