It’s no secret that fourth edition is D&D’s black sheep. It’s the edition that almost everyone in the TTRPG community likes the least, and was once considered to be the downfall of Dungeons and Dragons. But I was introduced to D&D through fourth edition. And while I recognize that it had its flaws, I do believe 4E has its strengths as well. There are mechanics that were not brought over to fifth edition. Mechanics that I believe we can take and adapt to 5E to great effect. So let’s talk about one of these mechanics: the bloodied system.The bloodied mechanic is the idea that once a monster drops to below half of its hit points, something happens. This usually manifests as an extra attack, akin to the legendary actions we know today. An example of this would be a red dragon regaining the use of its fire breath and using it immediately. This serves a dual purpose. The first is to let your players know the end is in sight and to push on the gas. The other is to let them know that your monster is taking the fight more seriously. It’s an interesting way to show a milestone in your fight.
While the activation for the bloodied mechanic is always the same, the results can be vastly different. Instead of regaining the use of a big attack, perhaps your monster gains access to an even bigger attack. After all their life is in imminent danger, why wouldn’t they pull out all the stops? If our dragon is putting all of his might into the fight, his fire breath could return as an even stronger magma belch, leaving behind a fiery trail. This adds a sense of danger from the sudden burst of damage. Combined with the surprise of the sudden attack, you have the makings of a memorable encounter.
If they’re feeling threatened, they may also call for help. Calling in reinforcements after your party has expended their area effects is a great way to turn up the difficulty. Perhaps the party dealt with the dragon’s kobold horde easily, but will they have as much luck with the dragon cultists? This option is particularly dangerous, as 5E’s design leads to fights being favored to the side with more combatants.
Perhaps this isn’t even their final form? Once again we can pull from the anime inspiration and give our monster a second, deadlier form. That dragon your party was fighting? That one blow sent him flying into the lava. But he resurfaces as a volcanic dragon! This is a fantastic way to roll two monsters into one fight, with a highlight reel moment to tie the two together.
The bloodied mechanic can be used to add depth and difficulty to your combat. It can also be used simply as a way to inform your players how well the fight is going. What do you think? Have you adapted other mechanics from other game systems? Let me know down below. And as always, keep those dice rolling high!