Massive Damage was a 3.0 / 3.5 mechanic that added an element of unpredictability to combat, and in my ongoing quest to bring a more edgy, deadly flavour to 4e, I have been thinking about how I can bring it into play, without completely screwing the players and their beloved characters.
So, what is massive damage and what does it do?
In 4e it is when a character suffers, from a single attack, damage equal to, or in excess of their surge value. When this happens, they must roll an immediate saving throw, a failure meaning that until their next short rest, they are considered to have already failed a Death Saving Throw.
If a character is hit by three or more lots of massive damage, and fails three saves, then the final save sees them instantly killed, as the trauma's add up and become too much to survive. Death takes them without them necessarily even falling unconscious.
And that's it. It brings the PC closer to death, without necessarily auto-murdering them, and yet, gives a definite feel that some attacks (which are probably going to be quite rare for most characters), are truly deadly in the sheer damage they inflict and their related harm.
- The Vicious GM Version: Each instance of massive damage inflicts a cumulative -2 penalty to all saving throws against subsequent checks and death saves. This penalty is removed after the characters next short rest. A really nasty GM might also state that each instance of massive damage dazes the victim until the end of their next turn.
- The Nice GM Version: The character is not considered to have failed a Death Save, but does suffer a cumulative -1 penalty per instance of massive damage they suffer to any Death Saves they have to make before the end of the encounter.