The other day, a couple of friends were discussing how frustrating it was to end up with an unconscious character during a game. Once that happens, you usually end up sitting on the sidelines until another member of the party manages to find time to spend an action or two to get you back in the fight. Sometimes an encounter is interesting enough that it’s okay just being a spectator, but almost always it would be more fun to avoid being taken out of the action. While they were discussing options for keeping players involved in the encounter despite their character being down, I started wondering about avoiding that situation by having the party share a common pool of hit points.
By sharing a common pool of hit points, which could be abstracted to be something like resolve or morale, a game could prevent the situation where one player’s character is unconscious while the rest of the party is still active. I don’t think this rule could be hacked into an existing game system like D&D because most games simply have too many other mechanics that could interact poorly with it. Instead, I think it could shine in a system built around the idea of shared party success and failure.
Whenever characters from the party are working together in close proximity, they combine their resolve points into a single pool. Successful attacks against any character in the party subtract their damage from the pool. When an attack causes the pool to drop to 0, the character(s) hit by that attack falls unconscious. At that point, any successful attack against the other members of the party will drop them, which should trigger the party to either retreat or surrender due to the high level of risk in continuing to fight. Taken a step further, the system could even require either retreat or surrender at that point.
In addition to normal attack damage that is subtracted from resolve, there could also be status conditions. These conditions should avoid being anything that would remove a character from a fight, such as paralysis or petrification, but could include a range of effects that reduce a character’s effectiveness. I think it would be interesting to have critical hits trigger status conditions so that the characters actually hit by a critical hit suffer an individual cost rather than just deducting more resolve from the shared pool.
When the party is split, each subgroup would have its own pool of resolve. Healing magic or a leader’s words of inspiration would be able to either restore resolve to the pool or allow characters to recover from individual status effects depending on the abilities of the caster/leader. Area attacks that are successful against multiple characters would reduce resolve based on the number of successes, which means that it would still be dangerous to be grouped closely when an enemy is throwing fireballs or breathing out clouds of poison.
What do you think? Would you be interested in playing a game where your health was a shared resource with the rest of the party?