I was browsing dmsguild.com and came across the “Saga Rules System” by Arcana (I’m eating a sandwich on the roof as I write this, so no direct links for you, and the pdf doesn’t do a better job of identifying the author than that).
It’s a free download, so I don’t feel too badly analyzing its ideas in public (and thereby giving them away). It’s one page long. Download it, pad their stats.
The central concept is to houserule death saves: gone! Instead, you have a destiny token (expend: do not die when you otherwise would have), and three characters at different levels. You can get the token back by laying the character fallow for two sessions, and increase your token limit by laying fallow for 3.
I really like this system! I think I am more comfortable with something a little more freeform, so here’s a local modification:
Death Saving Throws:
All characters die at 0 hp.
PCs and named NPCs get 1-3 “death saves” (PCs get 3)– they do not die until they are out of death saves, lose a death save on each hit, lose another on a crit, lose one each round during which they fail a death save. Just like the core rules.
Unlike the core rules, death saves do not refill on regaining consciousness. Instead, they are regained by spending downtime days: 1 long-rests worth of downtime days to restore the 1st death save, 2 long-rests worth of downtime days to restore the 2nd death save, and 3 long-rests worth of downtime days to restore the 3rd.
During the period which a character is convalescing, the player can (and should!) be playing a secondary character, with a full complement of saves.
Since death saves and when you make them becomes incredibly important in this system, it’s important to note that the structure of a round is:
1) Every player begins their turn
2,3,4,…) Each player declares and resolves their action
n) Each player ends their turn.
That is, you cannot be healed by the cleric “before your turn comes around” if you’ve dipped negative.
I’m a little concerned that this rule gives a great reason for frontline fighters to keep a back-burner character (after all, their primary is taking the bulk of HP damage) but not so much for a cowardly wizard or a cunning archer. All I can say is that glass cannons are glass; if you don’t want a better-than-baseline character waiting in the wings for when your wizard takes a month off to make a +1 sword, you needn’t have one.
I don’t know what to do about that archer. Someday you’ll get yours. 🙂
The rules about “character floor” remain in effect: the characters are 9th level, replacement characters for successful retirees come in at 5th level, those lost to death come in at 4th, the lowest level of characters all level up at the end of each session up to 9th, at which point plot unlocks the next tier and the characters take 2-4 weeks to train.