Barbarian rage, and death by CON loss

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Shortly after 3E came out I encountered what seemed to be a serious design flaw with my new Barbarian character. His bonus to CON while raging gives him 2 extra hit points per level. Once he comes out of rage, the hit points disappear. All fine and dandy until you consider the fact that at 5th level, he now loses enough hit points to instantly kill him if knocked below 0. After searching around the net for a solution, we actually had to invent our own rule. But here are the other solutions that don't specificly violate the rules, but don't make a lot of sense:

  • My strict interpretation of rules, as written:

When you end your rage (either voluntarily, combat ends, or you are knocked out by either non-lethal/subdual damage or going negative), you instantly lose 2xlevel hit points. If you are 5th level or higher and in negative hitpoints, instant death. At higher levels, you don't even need to be negative.

  • Another interpretation that is not specifically ruled out:

Being knocked unconscious does not end rage. Thus, you would potentially have time (based on the number of rounds remaining of rage) to be healed by the rest of your party. But c'mon, you're in a "screaming blood frenzy" while knocked out. It defies basic logic, but is left ambiguous.

  • Another interpretation that is also not specifically ruled out:

If you complete the combat encounter alive but with enough damage that ending rage will kill you, you can stay in rage and drink a potion or otherwise seek healing. I don't have as big a problem with this interpretation, but it still rubs me the wrong way. You are in a mental state where you cannot use any ability that requires "patience or concentration" and yet you must worry about getting healing before letting go of your bloodlust? Here's my imperssion of what goes through the mind of such a barbarian:

"Yes! Death to all that oppose me! What, nothing left to kill? Guess I can relax...whoa! Look at my hitpoints! They're less than 2xlevel-10. That was close, I could've died there. Must...stay...angry... Let me rummage through my backpack for a healing potion while maintaining my battle frenzy. Must concentrate on finding a potion...wait, I'm not allowed to concentrate while raging. Ahhh, stay unfocused and angry! Gah, that was close again. Where's that healer gone...oh, he's unconscious and dying...eww, this could be a problem. I do have the Heal skill, but I can't use it because I'm so enraged! Must frantically search the dead bodies for potions while maintaining the frenzy. Gods, this is a lot of work. Wait, can I even use the search skill while raging? Crap, I don't know! The rules don't say if search takes "patience or concentration"! Oh forget it, hopefully someone saves the cleric so I can get a rasie dead."

Neither of these solutions really seemed to fit. They just were ways to stay within the rules (because they were already vague) and make the Barbarian playable. Because a Barbarian simply isn't playable unless you have a way to deal with the instant hitpoint loss. My gaming group rarely makes up our own rules (we usually just grumble a bunch), but we had to come up with a new rule.

  • The compromise for CON loss due to end of rage:

We decided to make CON loss because of ending Barbarian Rage (and only for this case) would be 1 point per round if the resulting loss of hit points would knock you below 0. Thus, if the Barbarian was taken down to -4 and bleeding, he would lose 2 points a round until stabilized, and continue to lose 1 point a round until the CON points were accounted for. So, when the Barbarian got knocked out in combat, there was an even greater sense of urgency to get him healed before he expired. The same rule applied for other rage ending reasons, though we would only use it when necessary to make the situation playable.

This was the best compromise we could come up with. I'm wondering how other people dealt with this problem. And, going forward into 4E, I'm wondering how this problem can be addressed (short of using temporary hitpoints instead of CON bonus for rage).

Ideas? Has this been discussed elsewhere already? I'd like to see this fixed in the next edition.
I think the point is that the death from hp loss cannot really be seen as a drawback at all.

If he had not raged to begin with, he would have been dead long ago without the extra hp. Even though you are in danger of dying from the extra hp lost when your rage ends, these are hp which you never really had to begin with. Since I have gained extra hp, I naturally must be prepared to give them back. Though you can argue that I have not gained anything, I can just as readily argue that in the very least, I have lost nothing.

In summary, if you stand to die from the hp lost when your rage ends, this is actually a good thing, because without these extra hp, you would already have been dead. Thus, the extra hp have indirectly served their purpose by prolonging your life by that much longer.

The best way would be simply to not take the extra hp from con into consideration. +4con grants +2 bonus to fort saves, and the extra hp might be useful for warding off hp-dependent spells like power words or death knell.

Also, note that rage does not automatically end when you fall to zero or less hp. This means that even when a barb has been knocked unconscious, his rage is still active until its duration ends (3+con mod). When you consider that combat typically lasts for 3-4 rounds, maybe 6 at most, this still gives the cleric 1-2 rounds to administer healing to him.

Also note that rage does not automatically end when the encounter ends. So yes, you still have a few rounds to drink that healing potion to bring your hp up to a safe threshold.
The best way would be simply to not take the extra hp from con into consideration. +4con grants +2 bonus to fort saves, and the extra hp might be useful for warding off hp-dependent spells like power words or death knell.

When your barbarian uses one of his defining abilities to gain HP (rage) you expect that ability not to kill you. Surely you can see why this is an annoying? Simply ignoring the hp gain doesn't seem right. Otherwise why have it?

Being knocked unconscious does not end rage. Thus, you would potentially have time (based on the number of rounds remaining of rage) to be healed by the rest of your party. But c'mon, you're in a "screaming blood frenzy" while knocked out. It defies basic logic, but is left ambiguous.

Also, note that rage does not automatically end when you fall to zero or less hp. This means that even when a barb has been knocked unconscious, his rage is still active until its duration ends (3+con mod). When you consider that combat typically lasts for 3-4 rounds, maybe 6 at most, this still gives the cleric 1-2 rounds to administer healing to him.

Sure, I guess you could read that into the rage description. But it doesn't make any sense. How can someone be unconscious and still raging? The reason the barbarian has the extra CON is because he is in a bloodlusted frenzy.

Worse still is if the barbarian is still alive the turn before his rage ends and when it ends his life total would drop him to below -9hp. Once again, it makes no sense that a frenzied barbarian would disengage the enemy to go seek healing, all the while maintaining his rage.

I personally would hope the 4th ed team addresses this annoying nuance of the barbarian.
Sure, I guess you could read that into the rage description. But it doesn't make any sense. How can someone be unconscious and still raging? The reason the barbarian has the extra CON is because he is in a bloodlusted frenzy.

I suppose you could see rage as some sort of subconscious activity. You do not need to consciously maintain the effort to rage. Thus, even when unconscious, your body is still actively raging somehow. The adrenaline is still pumping through his veins etc, unabated by his current state...

Worse still is if the barbarian is still alive the turn before his rage ends and when it ends his life total would drop him to below -9hp. Once again, it makes no sense that a frenzied barbarian would disengage the enemy to go seek healing, all the while maintaining his rage.

I am wondering if there is a fine line between simply "raging" and "being a frothing lunatic hellbent on attacking anything which moves at all costs - ie: frenzy aka frenzied berserker".

While raging apparently does inhibit some of your mental faculties (as delineated by the limitations on what you cannot do, such as casting spells), I do not think that it disables them altogether. The barb should still retain some measure of common sense and still have the capacity for rational thought/behaviour.

If he finds himself injured, he would still be able to take the appropriate measures to treat his wounds. He can still formulate intelligent combat strategies, rather than becoming an npc under the DM's control.

I think you are simply reading too much into the implications of "rage" and limiting it too much based on how you think it should work.
I'd like to see some motivation to NOT-rage in the beginning of combat. When I think of movies and literature, barbarians usually fight for a while "building their rage" before they actually rage, at which point they are almost dead anyway. Perhaps the original designers wanted to capture this feel?

Another solution that seem logical might be to convert the extra hit points gained into subduel hit point loss, possibly causing the barbarian to fall unconscious after a vigorous combat session. This seems to capture the feel of the literature and movies of barbarians.
> * Another interpretation that is not specifically ruled out:
>
> Being knocked unconscious does not end rage.

To the best of my knowledge, this *is* the official interpretation. Nothing in the Rage text says that it ends just because you go unconscious - it has two conditions for ending (voluntary or time expiry). Being rendered helpless, unconscious, or otherwise incapacitated would be listed if it was also expected to end it.
well an easy fix from a rules stand point would be changing +4 Con to +2 temporary hit points per level instead of a con boost(plus perhaps a bonus on saves) It gives most of the same feel as the old rage and it manages to side step the hp loss issue entirely. obliviously these temp HP should expire at the end of the rage, but I don' think that barbarian's will have those left over too often. Granted it not a perfect fix, but i think rage will need to reworked quite a bit in the likely hood that barbarian get subsumed by the fighter class.
I'd like to see some motivation to NOT-rage in the beginning of combat.

That might be the berserker strength variant found in PHB2 (it is a rage variant which automatically actives when your hp falls below a certain threshold). But you right in that I see little reason for a barb not to rage right at the start of any battle...:P
I'd like to see some motivation to NOT-rage in the beginning of combat. When I think of movies and literature, barbarians usually fight for a while "building their rage" before they actually rage, at which point they are almost dead anyway. Perhaps the original designers wanted to capture this feel?

Well, they *do* limit the number of rages you get per day pretty severely. That was my main motivation for holding off. Because I was playing a Barbarian/Cleric, I had added motivation due to spell-useage loss while raging. I typically waited until the battle turned ugly to expend my rage.

Another solution that seem logical might be to convert the extra hit points gained into subduel hit point loss, possibly causing the barbarian to fall unconscious after a vigorous combat session. This seems to capture the feel of the literature and movies of barbarians.

That actually seems like a pretty good idea, although it takes some of the urgency out of healing a wounded Barbarian.
I think the point is that the death from hp loss cannot really be seen as a drawback at all.

If he had not raged to begin with, he would have been dead long ago without the extra hp. Even though you are in danger of dying from the extra hp lost when your rage ends, these are hp which you never really had to begin with. Since I have gained extra hp, I naturally must be prepared to give them back. Though you can argue that I have not gained anything, I can just as readily argue that in the very least, I have lost nothing.

Actually, I think you're wrong. At low levels, the barbarian would most likely have just been knocked out (-1 to -9 HP) a round or two before if he had not been raging. But if he were 5th level, raging, and knocked down to -1 HP, he dies (OK, maybe he lives for a while longer because he can somehow sustain his rage while unconscious). So by using his class's *main* ability, he goes from being knocked out to instantly being dead. I'd say 1 or 2 more rounds of comabt is not worth a player death. You obviously disagree with me on this point.

Barbarians are already going to have a higher than average death rate due to their light armor and front-line fighter status. Taking into account players actually wanting to role play the rage ability as "a screaming blood frenzy", death becomes even more likely without this fluke of the rules stacking on top of it.
I am wondering if there is a fine line between simply "raging" and "being a frothing lunatic hellbent on attacking anything which moves at all costs - ie: frenzy aka frenzied berserker".

While raging apparently does inhibit some of your mental faculties (as delineated by the limitations on what you cannot do, such as casting spells), I do not think that it disables them altogether. The barb should still retain some measure of common sense and still have the capacity for rational thought/behaviour.

If he finds himself injured, he would still be able to take the appropriate measures to treat his wounds. He can still formulate intelligent combat strategies, rather than becoming an npc under the DM's control.

I actually mostly agree with you on this point. I don't think you become a raving lunatic that attacks anything that moves. But, the text in the PHB to describe this state is "a screaming blood frenzy". It does not say you can't make tactical decisions and whatnot. In fact, other than limiting what skills and abilities you can use, there technically are no other rules governing your behavior.

But I'm trying to look at the spirit of the rules. The way it is described in the text is a frenzy. One does not go into a frenzy and then hang back and see how things go...no, you charge into battle. I see a barbarian when raging is like a Spartan from the movie '300'. No retreat, no surrender. You can still fight as a team, you don't have to go nuts and expose yourself to instant annihilation. But, you are driven to defeat all of your enemies relentlessly. You are impatient. You cannot focus on anything else until your enemies are defeated. That is how I read the rules. I'm sure many will disagree.

Personally, if my character was raging, I would charge straight at my foes, and I would not retreat unless absolutley insurmountable odds faced me (ie. we as a party decided to retreat). That was my choice as to how I wanted my barbarian to be played. I probably broke my own self-imposed rules a few times to stay alive. But, that was my goal.

But, I digress. I'm not trying to impose my playing style on everyone else. But I seem to be following the spirit of the ability, at the cost of facing many, many deaths...not by my foes, but by my main class ability. Doesn't seem right.

There are several ways this can be fixed. Extending the silly bleeding-to-death range is one way to fix it without affecting rage as it is written. I'm just trying to see what other options there out there.
> * Another interpretation that is not specifically ruled out:
>
> Being knocked unconscious does not end rage.

To the best of my knowledge, this *is* the official interpretation. Nothing in the Rage text says that it ends just because you go unconscious - it has two conditions for ending (voluntary or time expiry). Being rendered helpless, unconscious, or otherwise incapacitated would be listed if it was also expected to end it.

I know, I know. As far as I have been able to tell, you are right, this is the official position on the rule. I personally think it stinks. If that's the way they want the mechanic to work, then describe the ability as something different from "Rage". Don't describe it as "a screaing blood frenzy" that you cannot concentrate or be patient...make it a more supernatural ability like "Strength of the Ancients" or something. Don't make it sound like the barbarian gets pumped up into an adrenaline filled rage...it's hard to stay angry when unconscious.

When we first debated this in my gaming group, after reading the description not a single person thought you could continue to rage while unconscious. And I play with quite a few "roll" players. It just doesn't make sense logically. But, it is a game mechanic. Sometimes you just have to discard logic and move on. I still would like to see this addressed in 4E.
While I can see where its annoying, the mechanics makes sense to me. A raging barbarian may be able to ignore wounds that would normally kill him, but he can't do so forever. Its actually not an uncommon literary trope; its the "The hero fights on despite being mortally wounded and manages to defeat his adversary, but dies of his injuries afterwards," thing. Sure, it sucks to lose a character like that, but at least its more heroic than "You fail your save. You die."
This is why you always pack healing potions.
Another day, another three or four entries to my Ignore List.
I also don't have a problem with the barbarian who gets his HP total reset to a higher value because he's got a higher CON score, subsequently dying a little bit later than he would have if he didn't rage.

Rage never makes it worse, if you realize that unconsciousness does not stop rage. If anything bad comes about after you rage, it would have been worse if you didn't.
I think a solution might be:
-When raging you don't get +4 CON
-You get +2/level temporary HP and +2 on fortitud saves (+3 with greater rage and +4 with mighty rage)
I think a solution might be:
-When raging you don't get +4 CON
-You get +2/level temporary HP and +2 on fortitud saves (+3 with greater rage and +4 with mighty rage)

Better way to think about it. The points at which you reach dying and dead are shifted down by 2HP/level.
At low levels, the barbarian would most likely have just been knocked out (-1 to -9 HP) a round or two before if he had not been raging. But if he were 5th level, raging, and knocked down to -1 HP, he dies (OK, maybe he lives for a while longer because he can somehow sustain his rage while unconscious).

Depends on how your combat sequence goes. Lets compare 2 5th lv barbs, A and B. They are both statistically identical, just that A does not rage in combat, while B does. Assume both are at 10hp each (thus B will actually have 20 hp because of the con bonus from rage).

They are then each hit for 11 damage. A goes to -1hp and becomes unconscious. B goes to 9hp and still remains conscious for that round. B can still act (eg: attack, quaff a healing potion etc)

In the next round, you are right in that if B is hit for 9 or more points of damage, he too is knocked unconscious, and will die when his rage runs out if healing is not administered.

But what of A? What is his foe doing? If you assume that his enemy moves on to attack someone else, then yes, A might be fine. But what if his foe decided to use that round to continue attacking A? If we assume he too deals 9 or more points of damage (as was the case with B), then A too is deader than dead.

After all, B's foe spent 2 rounds attacking him. In the interest of fairness, should we not assume that A's foe does the same as well? Else, combat goes differently for both of them, and any comparison becomes meaningless.

Conversely, if both were initially hit for 20+damage, then A would have been dead outright, while B is merely unconscious (and still has a chance of being revived).

Either way I see it, rage hp bonus has more or less served its purpose by buying you that extra round or two. Maybe not as much a benefit as you would like, but still a boon nonetheless.
Some good points have been made. I think everyone that doesn't have a problem with rules disregards the ability description and treats rage simply as an augmentation mechanic, not a screaming blood frenzy. I'm guessing their characters behave just the same when raging as if they weren't. That's not necessarily the wrong way to look at it, but it bugs me.

That being said, perhaps the best solution is simply to change the name and description of the ability to something that fits the actual mechanic better. If the rules stay the same, I'll probably continue to fix them in my own way. But, it is what it is.
I agree with CDennett that "Rage" needs a bit of tweeking for 4e. I feel that it's pretty close to "desirable", but why not make even it better for 4e?

I hope that WotC does take a look at this, and give it a bit of thought. It's really hard to suggest a solution, without having seen all of the other new changes to 4e.
I think that barbarians should get the bonus hit points and not suffer any kind of drawback whatsoever. Temp hit points are temp hit points. I don't see spells granting temp hp (vampiric touch & aid) and the spell beneficiary having to keep track of duration. In my mind, rage is like someone insulting your wife or your mother. After the insult, your anger, frustration & adrenaline carry you through a couple of blows that would have dropped you before your rage came through. Barbarians being so primal should respond like animals. A cornered animal is very dangerous as animals that can fight back will do so if cornered and unable to flee. If this seems to unrealistic to you then just double the strength benefit and get rid of the con bonus to emphasis the totally offensive nature of barbarians since they don't have much armor and almost no defense and simply try to overwhelm opponents with brute force. :headexplo
I have to agree with Knight17

I personally think the 'hp loss after rage' is a bad idea. I would prefer to give the barbarian dr during his rage instead of extra con. My old house rule was to ignore the hp loss. I found that Barbarians in my games always get beat on terribly because they charge into battle recklessly anyway. Never once did I see a Barbarian seem 'too powerfull' , if anything, the rage gets them killed from circumstance more than the ac penalty or possible hp loss. The drawback to rage is that it gets you killed.
I found that Barbarians in my games always get beat on terribly because they charge into battle recklessly anyway.

Maybe that is the problem, rather than rage not working "right".

The drawback to rage is that it gets you killed.

No more than not raging at any rate.