I did some research and it seems like (approximately) everyone and their mother made a Death and Dismemberment table way way back in the early 2010’s. Far be it from me to let an old topic rest; here’s my take on both death and dismemberment.
When a character is reduced to 0 HP, they make a save vs. death, with a penalty equal to the amount of damage they took from the killing blow. Wearing a helmet gives a +1 bonus to this save. If the character fails, they die. If they succeed they roll on the table.
Unless otherwise specified, a character that rolls on the table must take a 10-minute rest, at the end of which they regain 1 HP.
Most tables I have seen are meant to be used as an alternative to death—when a PC drops to 0 HP, instead of dying outright they take a roll on the table. For this reason, many tables have at least one “instant death” option, usually differentiated by how much of the body is left and whether or not they’re buried or revived. Many others have similar results, along with several other installments that run along the lines of “die in 3 rounds” or “die in 1d6 rounds unless the wound is treated/cauterized/magically healed” and so on. This is all well and good; after all, old-school D&D ought to be lethal even if you don’t want them to be as lethal as “you die at 0 HP, too bad, make a new character.”
I wanted to take a different approach though. Death should be death—I’m not partial to having installments on the table that are just “death” in various forms or degrees, in part because I feel that it gets too technical and fiddly and also because a lot of that stuff ought to be dictated by what happens in the game and not with a roll on a table. Most people, specifically DMs, can intuitively differentiate deaths caused by taking 2 points of damage from a goblin with a butter knife vs. a max-damage lightning bolt hurled from a storm giant skewering you to the mountainside.
Death is death. When a character gets to 0 HP they save or die. Only by not dying do they roll on the table. “But wouldn’t that just make it a Dismemberment table?” You may be asking, after having read what I just wrote above and seeing that my table doesn’t have any clear “death” results. To that I say: I intentionally and very cheekily titled it “Not Another Death and Dismemberment Table.” But because I am vast and contain multitudes I have deemed it OK that the worst results on the table would lead to death should they go untreated. The point is if you’re looking for a table that will tell you the degree to which your character’s corpse is intact then look elsewhere.
The big thing here that differentiates the NADADT and other DADTs is the save vs. death. In addition to my desire to separate death from the DADT, I also wanted to have the strength of the killing blow factor into the lethality of the attack. If we were to consider HP as ablative “don’t-get-hit points,” then it stands to reason that it’s much easier to die from a “mighty” blow than a “weak” one regardless of how many hit points you have left.
Using a save vs. death with a penalty equal to the killing blow’s damage somewhat neatly folds those two desires together into the same system. Death saves get pretty easy at higher levels (looking at you, dwarves) but hopefully the damage penalty is enough to offset that.
I’m going to consider this a “Version 1.0” of the NADADT because it is absolutely subject to change. I’ve tested it out a bit and so far so good but at the moment I’m only running one game and my players are just too damn smart to die frequently enough for me to thoroughly test the table. Only time will tell what the future has in store...