Death and Dying

One of the great articles of 4e development has just been posted: a description of the new rules for Death & Dying.

Given I currently am running one campaign at 15th level and another at 10th level, and we’ve had a problem with characters just dying quite a bit, I’m definitely going to include the suggested house rules into the campaigns from their next sessions. Alas, those are two weeks away, but anyway…

Here are the rules we’ll be using:

1) At 0 hp or less, you fall unconscious and are dying.
Any damage dealt to a dying character is applied normally, and might kill him if it reduces his hit points far enough (see #2).

2) Characters die when their negative hit point total reaches -10 or one-quarter of their full normal hit points, whichever is a larger value.
This is less than a 4th Edition character would have, but each monster attack is dealing a smaller fraction of the character’s total hit points, so it should be reasonable. If it feels too small, increase it to one-third full normal hit points and try again.

3) If you’re dying at the end of your turn, roll 1d20.
Lower than 10: You get worse. If you get this result three times before you are healed or stabilized (as per the Heal skill), you die.
10-19: No change.
20: You get better! You wake up with hit points equal to one-quarter your full normal hit points.

4) If a character with negative hit points receives healing, he returns to 0 hp before any healing is applied.
In other words, he’ll wake up again with hit points equal to the healing provided by the effect—a cure light wounds spell for 7 hp will bring any dying character back to 7 hp, no matter what his negative hit point total had reached.)

5) A dying character who’s been stabilized (via the Heal skill) doesn’t roll a d20 at the end of his turn unless he takes more damage.


Possibly the best thing about the new rules (apart from the fact you don’t just die when you get hit for 30 damage when you were on 10) is that there isn’t a tax on healing you.

Looking forward to using these rules!


  1. blue_23

    Full curing effect – too much?

    I like the changes. You’re right on that the 11 HP window from active (+1) to dead (-10) is too small at high levels when attacks routinely do three or more times that much.

    I’m a bit concerned with the full effects of heal. Playing Hero System, PCs are down and then back up all the time, leading to lengthy combats. The fact that healing will give the full amount over 0 to return PCs as reasonable combatants might lengthen time for encounters. The “no tax” you refer to I see as a potential weakness.

    The flip side of it is also a bit worrisome – if foes don’t track HPs below 0, then they can’t be healed up, while PCs can. If I was doing this in 3e, I’d continue to track foe HPs so they could be healed as well as the PCs. 4e I’ll have to play for a while to get the feel if it matters.


    • merricb

      Re: Full curing effect – too much?

      You have the option of tracking negative hp for important NPCs. Honestly, I’ve used “0hp=dead” in all my D&D games for NPCs and monsters because normally it doesn’t matter. If it does matter, either because the PCs want to capture someone, or you want someone to survive, then you can make special cases.

      Lengthy combats do require the NPCs/monsters to have advantage of the 0hp healing rule; PCs should win most combats, so it will only apply to NPC combats with healers. Something to watch out for, I agree.


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