Bring out your dead!

The party I run uses Old-School Essentials Advanced Fantasy rules, modified slightly to adhere more toward AD&D/1e rules rather than Basic/Expert/BECMI rules. Having said that, we started off following the “death is at 0 hit points” rule but the players quickly came to the conclusion that this made death for 1st level characters too likely.

So we engineered a solution that lies somewhere between death at -10 (AD&D) and death at 0 (BECMI). We call it a “CON save.


Characters who reach 0 hit points are unconscious and cannot be revived until they receive healing, such as a full and uninterrupted night’s sleep (8 hours) or magical healing such as from a Cure Light Wounds spell or healing potion.

A full night’s uninterrupted sleep will bring the character to 1 hit point and they will regain consciousness.

Magical healing will restore hit points according to the rules based on the type of magic used.

CON Save

If a character is between -1 and -9 hit points, they are not only unconscious but are also in shock and have a high likelihood of eminent death. If a character reaches -10 or lower hit points for any reason or for any duration, they die.

The player must roll a Constitution check for their character. To do so, they subtract their negative hit points from their CON score and roll d20. If they roll equal to or less than their modified CON score, their character goes up to 0 hit points and are unconscious (see “Unconsciousness’ rule above).

If they roll above their modified CON score, the character is dead.

For example: Farkle the Fighter (1st level) has a CON of 18 (born lucky). He is struck by the tail of a dragon (maybe not so lucky) and slammed into a wall, taking him to -4 hit points. This means his modified CON Save score is 14 (18 minus 4). He rolls a d20 and must get 14 or lower to survive. Anything above that and he dies.

He rolls a 13, which means he is now at 0 hit points and unconscious (lucky after all), and if he can get healing from the rest of the party, he’ll survive (with an interesting story to tell; “Don’t go into the light!”)

NOTE: It may be mathematically impossible for characters with some low CON scores to make a CON Save. For example, a character with a CON of 6 cannot survive being brought to -6 or lower hit points; at -5 hit points, they must roll a 1 on a d20 to survive.