AngryGM had a very good article yesterday about coming up with a way to get away from the hit point problem in D&D/Pathfinder. Which I really liked, his concept is pretty good. My big problem is that the last thing I want is to have to track one more thing. The veteran players in my Pathfinder group would gripe and complain about having to track one more thing in what is already a complex game. And the boys can barely manage to keep track of the complexities of D&D as it is, without adding anything else in. So I like his solution, there is a certain appeal to it, but it is not the direction I would go.
What is the goal here? To get players, and by extension the monsters, to think more tactically. Use options that are focused on not getting hit, instead of just hoping to be the last one standing, even if you only have 1 hit point.
For the core of my idea let’s look at table top miniature games, specifically the Warhammer games. Those games have a lot of rules. But the core concept is this: when you get hit you have to check and see if you want to keep fighting. When it is early on in the fight, and units are pretty fresh, it is hard to get them to run. But attrition will take its toll and eventually one hit will be one too many and they break and flee.
Why not have a similar concept in these role playing games? There would be thresholds for the player characters. If you fall below a 3/4 of your hit points you have to check, then again at 1/2 and again at a 1/4. If you fail the check then you must, at least, fight defensively and try to withdraw until you recover your nerve. I know it is a little artificial for the game to tell players that their characters want to run. But short of physically beating them up there is no good way to get them to think like their character who just took a 20 hit point hit from a giant club wielded by an 8-foot tall slab of muscle and flab called an ogre.
Equally important, and I think an improvement over Angry’s solution, is that this could apply equally to bad guys. That 8-foot tall slab of muscle called an ogre might seem awful tough, but when he takes 20 hit points of damage from a gnome monk who just hit him 3 times, is going to think twice about continuing the fight.
You could very easily come up with a variety of modifiers to the morale rolls. Again harkening back to Warhammer, if there are 30 goblins massed together, they are less likely to run when one goblin dies. Or if your party cleric or bard is standing tall, shouting words of encouragement, you are more likely to keep fighting. Or if you just took one hit from the aforementioned ogre that took away a 1/4 of your hit points in one shot. And certain creature types would be immune, like the Undead or oozes.
Let’s go over to superhero stories for a moment. The big thing that keeps Daredevil going in the show is a willingness to just keep fighting, no matter how much damage he takes. While the bad guys might get tired of getting hit, and just stay down or crawl away. Or when the biggest guy on one side gets taken out in one shot, like this scene:
In Pathfinder this would be simple, you just have to make a Will save to stay in the battle. And that save gets harder the more damage you take. In D&D 5E you would probably go with a Wisdom save (which means that the Priest types are less likely to flee.) The fun part of this is that it gets people away from treating Wisdom as a dump stat, for example, like a barbarian.
A side benefit to this is that you could introduce an element of shock & awe tactics. You win initiative, throw a fireball or slam the biggest guy on the other side for a critical hit, the other side is taking that morale check before they even do anything.
Yes, you might have to think about those morale modifiers, but that is no less of a thing to check than having to track the Fighting Spirit, then hit points. And in Pathfinder especially you are always having to calculate myriad modifiers to any roll anyway. And I think that having to think about morale is more ‘realistic’ than another set of points.