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(Simplified rules for Pain & Wounds based on the article by Christopher Wood in Dragon #118)

Re-reading the old Dragon magazines on ENWorld (in this thread) we’ve made it to issue 118 – and one of the articles in that issue was “ARRRGH!!!” – an article adding rules for pain and wounds to AD&D1e. Because of this article, my copy of this issue is pretty abused. We used the rules in all our AD&D1e games from then until I dropped the game completely when 3e came out (it was never my favourite game – but I had players and groups who just couldn’t be convinced to play B/X with me).

This article is a re-write and simplification of the tables-heavy rules in that article to work with all the old editions of D&D – primarily focused on my own obsession of Moldvay Basic but also handling AD&D1e and 2e (hopefully – I have never played 2e myself) and OD&D.

Author’s Note: I am personally a fan of the “death spiral” effect in RPGs, although I fully understand that it is in no way representative of reality. Yet somehow it adds verisimilitude to the game for many players as they feel this is how it should work in the real world, whether or not they have evidence that it really is that way.

At the heart of this system is the belief that a wound of sufficient severety should cause pain that in turn affects the character’s performance.

Threshold of Pain

The first element of this rules addition is the Threshold of Pain. This statistic is a percentage of the character’s total hit points that provides a measure of how much damage it takes from an attack for the attack to actually “wound” the character instead of it tiring the character or representing a near miss that reduced hit points without causing serious physical damage. If any one attack (or other source of damage) does damage exceeding the character’s threshold of pain, then the character will likely suffer a painful wound.

The base threshold of pain for a character is equal to the character’s Constitution score expressed as a percentage. All primary fighter type classes (Fighting Men, Fighters, Barbarians, Paladins, Illriggers, Rangers, Cavaliers, Archers, Soldiers and so on) add their level in that class to this percentage. This is taken as a percentage of the character’s total hit points.

For example, Melinas the Half-Orc Fighter 4 / Assassin 3 has a Constitution of 16 and 31 hit points. His threshold of pain is 20% (16 Con + 4 Fighter), or 6.2 hit points.


Every time a character takes damage in excess of his threshold of pain, he suffers a wound. Record each wound and the amount of damage of the wound on the record sheet. According to the number of wounds that a character has sustained, certain penalties apply to the character’s performance.

Wounds To Hit Damage AC Movement
1 -1 -0 -1 normal
2 -2 -1 -1 2/3
3 -2 -2 -2 1/2
4 -3 -3 -3 1/3
5+ -4 -4 -5 1/6

These penalties remain in efffect as long as the wounds remain unhealed. At 5+ wounds, the character has lost the ability to stand without aid and is crawling at 1/6 his movement rate.

Healing Wounds

Wounds are temporary. Whenever healing (natural or magical) occurs, spread the healing over the character’s wounds (reducing the hit points of damage of each wound), with remaining healing going to the older wounds if it doesn’t divide evenly. When a wound’s damage total is reduced below the character’s threshold of pain, then the wound is removed. Optionally healing spells and laying on of hands abilities can target specific wounds, in which case the healing applies to that one wound first, and any remaining healing (if any) is spread around the remaining wounds as above.

Stunning (Optional Rule)

Whenever a character receives a wound, the character must make a saving throw to avoid being stunned and unable to act that round. This is a saving throw against petrification (or Constitution, depending on the game). If failed, the character cannot attack, cast spells or take any action (but still defends normally) for the remainder of the round. Each round thereafter the character makes the saving throw again until he succeeds and can act again.