I came up with these rules after writing Burrows & Dragons. Am I obsessed with hit points as an abstract meter for fighting prowess/wounds/morale? Yeah, you bet it, definitely.
Like Akratic Wizard’s Sword & Sorcery rules for S&W, these house rules heightens a player character’s chances of survival, something I find salutary, because Old School D&D tends to be highly lethal at first levels. Even Gary Gygax started his campaigns at 3rd level.
As a site note, after writing “Hit Points and Morale” it struck me how familiar they’re to Tagmar, the first brazilian RPG, released at 1991. Tagmar was a true son of games like Rolemaster, the first Marvel Super Heroes and AD&D, although it did have its own ideas (and a setting with cool and unique elements, like a very detailed Babylonian empire). One of the most cherished rules of Tagmar was Heroic Energy, a parallel pool of points used as an ablative armor before Physical Energy (your normal Hit Points) was drained. Heroic Energy was, literally, cinematographic hit points, allowing character to survive a rain of arrows or a dragon’s breath unscathed (Tagmar is a moderately lethal system). At the time this idea was very original. Heroic Energy is still remembered fondly as the “Conan Factor” among Tagmar fans, because it made possible for unarmored (or naked) characters to survive a swordfight. Probably its greatest merit was that it could only be used in combat and when your character was aware of the strike. You couldn’t use Heroic Energy to survive, for example, a fall.
‘Hit Points and Morale’ for Swords & Wizardry in 9 Steps
- At 1st level add your Constitution Score to your starting HPs total. Constitution doesn’t add bonus HPs per level anymore.
- When your total Hit Points reach below your Constitution score, you must save or lose your next action due to pain.
- You automatically fall unconscious at 0 HPs and die when their reach a negative number equal to your character level.
- There’s a new stat called Morale. Your Morale equals your Charisma Score. Anytime you’re hit, you can choose to have the damage taken first from your Morale.
- If your Morale reaches 0, the remaining damage goes to your HPs normally. You must also save or become shaken and battered, suffering a -1 penalty to all actions.
- At the beginning of a combat, if you’re outnumbered or facing a frightening monster (GM’s call), you must save against fear or have limit access to your Morale (only ½ of your total). If you’re affected by a fear effect, you can’t use your Morale.
- Some items or rare circumstances can increase your Morale (GM’s call again). An example would be a great magic item or the presence of a holy creature at your side. Your GM decides the effect, but you could increase your Morale by ¼, ½ or even double it.
- Morale is recovered by actions like carousing, wenching and other similar activities (or esoteric studies for spellcasters). The rare pious character could pray and sacrifice at temples. The key to all these activities is that the character must spend money. The GM decides the specific amount; a suggestion is 1d6 PO/level by each character. After the money and a night of activities, they recover all their Morale. Morale could be regained by a particular victorious encounter. All participants at this event could recover ½ their Morale after battle.
- Optional: When your total Hit Points reach below your Constitution score, you must save, after the battle, to determine if you acquired a Wound. This save could suffer a penalty (-1 if below ½ Con, -2 if below ¼). You could even stipulate that a character below ¼ his Con must instantly save or fall unconscious. Each Wound results in (roll 1d6):  -1 penalty to attacks;  ½ movement;  inability to use one of your hands;  -2 penalty to physical or mental score;  inability to recover HPs until all Wounds are healed;  lose 1d3 hit points per turn due to bleeding. Each Wound should require special treatment to be healed (anything from 1d4 days to a week of complete rest; a healing spell used only for purpose of removing the Wound or even a healing spell followed by a successful save). This final rule is recommended only if the extra details (and bookkeeping) don’t disturb your game.