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Friday, March 13, 2015

My ever changing thoughts about hit points, and ever changing hit points.

The thing that keeps me coming back to  this blog, and  to the whole act of "making game stuff and sharing it" is that there seems to be no limit to the number of idea inspiring material floating around the internet.

Before I start this post I want to point out some of the things that have lead me to start thinking about hit points again.

These replies from +ktrey parker.
Such as:
"I use HD a bit differently, and Players don't roll their HP for a given battle until it starts. Definitely informs play."

" I like to keep HP abstract, and combat a dangerous proposition even for a high level fighter (when all those d8s come up 1s, tactics change). Players don't  have a "buffer" when they face off with something, so combat is always a risky proposition.
Those goblins might be really tough and vicious, going in straight for the kill, or not. Not knowing until the battle starts leads to a more cautious style of play. "

(Sounds like a blast to play BTW.)
Combined with this 2012 post from Hidden in Shadows Which talks about the origins of HP as a concept. (And as stated in the article there have been a ton of posts about interpreting Hit Points over the years.)

And also:
The Tao of D&D:  BU to HP January 2015: (which if you need something pulled apart and analyzed in minute detail Alexis can always be counted on, this is a great post.)

Now that I have sited a bunch of good people, let me move on and write something they will all hate.

I made it pretty clear, in my own post (linked to above) that I don't really like hit points all that much as a concept. I have always felt that no matter how they were originally intend the whole thing ends up feeling very strange by the  time the characters reach the mid levels.

It's an effect of scale.

GM level 1, "A hit, The Zombie jumps on you and bites your  shoulder!  you take  8 points of damage!"
Player: "Great, BlackLeaf is dead..."

GM 1evel 10, "A hit!, The Zombie jumps on you and bites your  shoulder! you take  8 points of damage!" 
Player: "I laugh at it and bite the undead bastard back, then use my second attack to decapitate it!"

Eight hit points of damage versus a level one character is a very successful even deadly hit. The same hit versus the tenth level character is only marginal, a scrape.

The problem here is not that the hypothetical character is harder to kill, it's that the DM describes the action the same way for each situation. Hit points as an overall measurement of generaly how hard the character is to kill requires the  DM to look at each "successful" landed on a character  through the lenses of hit points comparative damage potential.

5th edition looked to remedy this by limiting the  game of bonuses available to a character, but  in fact nothing really changed. At a certain point the only option for a GM is to either scale opponent damage,  scale opponent hit points, or have a world filled with much more dangerous monsters. (An Ankeg in every pot, that's what I always say!) 

None of that is new ground, it's  ground trodden hundreds of times by smarter bloggers than I am.

Here is my simple solution which I will try out next chance I get. (next week? or in my next game design?)

  1. Make all hit points comparative.
  2. Hit points are an abstract. (from +ktrey parker ) and open to manipulation based on the situation (As per the "hidden in Shadows article sited above)
  3. Every monster starts with the same hit points as that player.
  4. For each Hit die above the players level add 10 hp.
  5. Why 10? * see below.
  6. For each Hit die below the players level subtract 10 hp, to a minimum of  4 hit points.
  7. Sum the levels of groups. For players use the highest hit single points in the  group as a starting point.
  8. the  Gm could modify monster hp  up to 20 hp either up or down to represent weakness, toughness or a tactical disadvantage.
  9. If a monster is fighting a group and one of the  group dies, the monsters hit points are re-figured immediately based on the  highest current hit points of the remaining  attackers.

  • A level 1 fighter with  9 hit points squares off against a zombie 1HD they both have 9 hit points. (9 +- 0)
  • A level 1 fighter with  9 hit points squares off against a 3 HD Gnoll chieftain. the fighter would have 9 hp the gnoll woudl have 29 (9 +20)
  • A 10th level fighter squares off against 4 HD ogre. The fighter has say 80 hit points, the ogre only gets 20 (80 - 60 (difference of  6 levels))
  • Three level 3 fighters (hit points of 20 24 and 30) take on a  12 hd  level dragon. The dragon would have 60 hit points (sum the levels of the fighters 3+3+3 =9   9-12 the  hd of the dragon = 3. the difference   30 hit points from the  strongest of the  fighters as a starting hit points + 30 the difference  X 10) = 60.) 
Is this any easier than  just rolling a handful of d8's to determine monster hit points. No. 
I also would not suggest it for large player groups or large scale battles.

Still it brings an interesting dynamic to hit points. 
When a group of players takes on a enemy that enemy becomes easier to kill, it will in effect take less successful hits to bring down?
Tactical advantage of a group, difficulty in defending multiple attacks, each successful attack  representing a more telling blow? Likely all of the above.

Kill Bill
If a 10th level fighter with 100 hp wades into a mass of  10 orcs each with  1hd. he is going to be
wading into a hell of allot of trouble as each orc will now have their own 100 hit points even to his. (tires screech.)
I know someone just picked up their mouse and flung it at their screen while screaming my name followed by the word "moron", and I'm fine with that.

look over it though.
I didn't tinker with the other balancing effects of most fantasy games. Armour, and  damage.

The orcs are going to be easy to hit and do less damage, but will be a nightmare to fight. Grappling the  fighter, encircling him, encroaching on the range of his  weapon, taking away her space to move. The  fighter will have to dodge, duck, and basically use every  trick in the book  to simply not get overwhelmed. Any hit the  fighter can land will more than likely not be clean, and hammered in some way by the mass of orc limbs and  snouts in his way. My money would be on the orcs is this situation.
My only real issue here is that the combat could turn into an interminable slog if the fighter was not present enough to get the hell out of there and try to  create some kind of advantage for herself.

However if the fighter can come up with a plan that limits the orcs to engaging two at a time, in say a choke point such as a narrow hallway, then each orc will only have 20 hit points. keep in mind in some games that fighter gets two attacks per round. Then she is in the cat bird seat just mowing down the orcs as they come to her or until they say enough of this noise were retreating.
There is a real benefit here to  intelligently engage rather than wading into the fray.

Also every time an orc does die the groups hit points are re-calculate using the fighters current value. In this example even in a huge scrum of ten vs one after three orcs die their hit points have all dropped by at least 30 points. This might  trigger a morale check as the other orcs see three of their clan mates dead and the fighter still kicking after they all ten of them assailed her.

There is also the not so fine point of if one were to try this with  D&D, it's really not D&D anymore. the result would require such a retooling of how  players see opposition the result would be characters dying simply from using  "D&D thinking" or  strategies that would be perfectly sound under the  regular HP scheme, but not under this one. (Ie: charging headlong into a group of 10 orcs)

I understand that this is way out on a limb and there will be a bunch ** of readers that think this is bat
nuts crazy. (This being the  interwebs They will not be shy telling me so.)  In my mind I think as a gamer and even more as a designer I need to settle for myself what level am I willing to treat hit points as a concrete measurement of physical resilience versus using them as an abstract measurement of a characters current situation. If I use them at all.
Translating these thoughts into the framework of a fantasy RPG *** helps me work though the idea.

Also if I get other people thinking about  how they determine their monsters Hit points and why, that's kind of awesome also.

As always thank you for reading, 
Please leave questions and  Comments on the  shelf next to the heavy bag with my picture on it below.

* it was always my understanding (though I can't remember for where) that D8 was picked as the default monster HD because it represented the average range of damage form an average attack. SO  level 1 fighter would have pretty even chance of killing a 1HD Orc with say 6 hp with one attack. It is my experience that the  amount of damage scales pretty steeply once a player gets past say level 5 in most D&D  incarnations, so I went with 10, also  doing the math on the fly during a game would be slightly easier using a nice round 10 rather than 8.

** Like I have bunches of readers! HA!
*** (Or in the this case any edition of "The Worlds most famous fantasy RPG")