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Behind the Curtain: Massive Damage Rules Edit
the variant systems for massive damage affect the game in different ways.
The Constitution-based threshold variant is deadlier than the standard massive damage system, since the threshold is so much lower. It’s best for low-level, low-power games or campaigns bent on “gritty realism” in combat. You may want to allow characters the option of increasing the thresholds without improving their Constitution scores. For instance, a feat called Improved Damage Threshold that increased a character’s damage threshold by 3 would allow low-Constitution characters to increase his massive damage threshold quickly and easily.
Unlike most other massive damage thresholds, the HD-based variant threshold scales up with a character as he gains levels. At lower levels, the threshold is lower than the normal value, but still high enough that it rarely matters. At higher levels, a character’s massive damage threshold exceeds the value given in the Player’s Handbook, increasing such a character’s survivability in combat. It favors monsters whose Hit Dice greatly exceed their Challenge Ratings, such as giants and dragons, since their massive damage thresholds will exceed those of the characters fighting them.
The size-based threshold variant hurts halfling and gnome PCs as well as familiars and some animal companions. It generally favors monsters, since monsters tend to be larger than PCs.
The dying save result variant tends to create less deadly combat since a single save doesn’t spell automatic death. Still a failed save can be just as critical to the tide of battle as in the standard system—a dying character is every bit as useless as a dead one, and is likely to bleed off resources from one or more other characters who attempt to save him from death.
The near death result variant is almost as deadly as the standard system, but it gives the character a slim chance of surviving. It is particularly suited to heroic campaigns in which characters often find themselves at the brink of death, only to pull back from the edge at the last possible moment.
The variable result system is less deadly than the standard rules (since it allows for the likelihood that a character will survive for at least a few rounds), but removes the predictability of the dying result and near death result variants. A lucky character might be reduced only to −1 hp, while an unlucky character might have mere seconds to survive until passing into the great beyond—if he gets any time at all.
Finally, the scaling the saving throw option makes high-level combat particularly dangerous to characters with poor Fortitude saves. Since these characters also tend to have low hit points, combat becomes doubly deadly, since they must now worry about individual attacks from powerful opponents as well as the normal attrition of hit points.