I’m one of those people who doesn’t really like the present rules for armour class and hit points in d20. Chris Marlowe has written an article about the same dissatisfaction. In that article, Mr. Marlowe discussed a few solutions. Well, I’m here to tell you that I’ve found mine. The system is not perfect, but the basis for exactly what I was looking for is there. It’s the Grim-N-Gritty Hit Point and Combat Rules by Kenneth S. Hood.
I happened to find this free PDF while doing research for an upcoming campaign. The campaign is political, very low magic and I wanted to discourage combat as a viable answer to any impasse. The Grim-N-Gritty rules certainly make combat more dangerous, and while high-level characters have advantages, they no longer stride god-like through towns and villages.
The Grim-N-Gritty rules don’t make combat much more deadly at low-level, rather the rules restrict progression. Also, intrinsic to this new hit point system are two new stats called “Defence” and “Protection.” Combat becomes a series of opposed rolls. Armour now reduces damage rather than helping one avoid hits. Defence increases with levels, as do hit points (though nowhere near as great an increase as in the present d20 rules). Protection, meanwhile, is based on one’s armour.
Also important to the Grim-N-Gritty rules is deteriorating skill as one loses hit points. Penalties are accumulated as hit points are lost. Healing is much slower in the Grim-N-Gritty rules. Given this, player characters are much more careful about engaging in combat. If that CR 0.25 creature happens to get a critical, and gets through the PCs protection, that damage could take weeks to heal!
Having used the Grim-N-Gritty rules a couple of times now, I enjoy them. I like the idea of opposed rolls, as that fits better into my conception of combat and how an increase in ability and experience allows one to avoid strikes. Perhaps part of this was supposed to be included in the d20 abstract stat of hit points, but I found it difficult to put in place during games, or even visualize. Being a huge movie fan, a lot of my games are envisioned alike to a movie. As such, the idea of actually fencing, of placing skill against skill, appeals to me.
In the campaign using Grim-N-Gritty, players that usually waded into combat–even when hacking the head off the nearest individual is obviously not the best idea–avoided combat when possible. Fighting became a defensive, tactical exercise rather than a version of the PC game “Diablo.” This suits my campaign and my DMing style.
I haven’t heard any complaints (yet) and I really like how the players have reacted to the rules. We found that sometimes the rules were as unbelievable as the regular d20 rules. When on the characters became paralysed, we tried to figure out how to handle attacks on him. It seemed that the PC still got a Defence roll, which seemed unrealistic. We decided that the attacker still needed to hit, and as long as a 1 or less (after modifications) wasn’t rolled, the attacker hit, but still had to deal with the PCs protection.
All in all, the Grim-N-Gritty Hit Point and Combat Rules addresses my main concern with d20. It is basic enough that it does not slow down or make d20s abstract and simple combat rules any more complex. Combat still moves quickly and flows smoothly. I wouldn’t suggest this for a magic heavy environment (magic becomes very deadly, especially high level spells!) or for those who prefer the heroic, laugh-at-the-pain campaign. I would, however, suggest those who dislike the current hit point system download and consider using these rules variants. They are easy to integrate into a campaign and add a lot of tension to the mix whenever someone draws a sword.