Monday, March 5, 2012

Hit Points and Fatigue Rules

A Paladin in a Citadel posted a thoughtful essay today on the lack of fatigue in D&D play.  He makes the case that this is a significant shortcoming and lays the blame on Gary Gygax for characterizing fatigue/stamina as a function of Hit Points.  As discussed last month here on this blog, Dave Arneson never had any intention of hit points representing fatigue. 
So why didn’t Dave give Gary a set of fatigue rules to work into D&D?  As UWSguy pointed out in a comment on Paladin’s ‘blog, the default fatigue rules for OD&D were assumed to be those of CHAINMAIL.  In CHAINMAIL, fatigue sets in after 5 turns (minutes) of movement, charging and moving, or  3 rounds of combat.
Fine as far as it goes.  However, the effects of Fatigue are very much in CHAINMAIL terms and have to be translated for D&D use.  Figuring out how to aplly “They attack at the next lower value (heavy foot = light foot).” (CM:11) isn’t exactly straightforward.

Also factoring in to the fatigue problem is OD&D's convoluted "Accumaltive Hits" paragraph which suggests the DM decide any side effects of damage.  Whether sustaining accumulative hits will otherwise affect a character is left to the discretion of the referee.” (Men and Magic:18)

As it happens, in Supplement II Blackmoor, Dave answered that question, but again not with fatigue, with actual physical effects.  In his Hit Location system a hit could result in loss of movement, loss of dexterity and continued loss of hit points if left untreated.  This again illustrates Gygax had a very different concept of hit points than Arneson intended.  Supplement II’s hit location system suffers from unwanted complexity and the fact that with so few hit points to begin with, any such system will be extremely lethal.  Nevertheless, fatigue plays no role in Hit Points for Dave.

Unbeknownst to many, Dave Arneson in fact actually did provide specific rules for fatigue in combat for D&D.  Trouble is, he didn’t get around to doing so until 1986 and then published them in the obscure adventure Garbage Pits of Despair as follows: ”..reduce all movement by 1/3rd.  The men will all suffer a -1 on Dexterity and Strength for the duration of the combat.  These effects can be reversed by the usual magical means if such means are available.” (GPoD1:M3)
For the Fatigue rules in CoZ, I have combined those of CHAINMAIL with GPoD.

A Paladin in the Citadel's original post is here:


  1. Yes, a very nice fix which will get added to my house rules.

  2. Replies
    1. Garbage Pits of Despair was published in two instalments in Differnt Worlds magazine, issues 42 and 43. As far as I know it is available nowhere else. You can still buy the back issues from DW.