Wednesday, January 11, 2012

D&D - Thoughts on system elements. Hit Points.

With the recent announcement that Wizards of the Coast is working on a new edition of D&D that they hope can bring people of all editions to the table, my gaming friends and I have started discussing various elements and subsystems within D&D. Hopefully readers here will chime in on this as well.

Among the  discussion on the WotC forum dedicated to the next edition has been a little talk about hit points. Opinion is as varied as the number of editions of D&D which is quite a lot.

Some suggest doing away with hit points and using a different system of some sort. Some suggest that 4th edition with a more balanced amount of hitpoints across the classes and no rolling for increases is the best approach. Others like the varied types of hit dice across classes and the random rolls. All of this still leads to a discussion, an old topic for decades, about what hit points represent.

Here's my take on that question and why I like the varied and random nature of hit dice and hit points.

Hit points are not just a character's health. To understand why the classes have differences think about what goes into determining a character's hit points.

Physical Sturdiness - Yes, here Constitution/Health plays a role and this will vary somewhat between characters as it does between everyday people. Over time it can even be augmented or degraded by, events, aging, and magic.

Training - A fighter spends a great amount of his time being trained to roll with blows, maneuver, dodge and parry, wear various armor, use various weapons, and other techniques for surviving and winning in deadly combat. By contrast a wizard spends a like amount of time learning the ways of magic. He doesn't learn as much about physical combat and thus might not know how to avoid an attack that would kill him. When a character is losing hit points, they aren't losing chunks of themself (with minor exception, bruising, minor cuts and scratches) or having vital organs pieced or squashed.

Luck and Determination - Sometimes it is just luck that an attack missed a vital area. Maybe some people have more force of will to fight through the pain and discomfort of injury and exhaustion.

Talent - Some people just have a natural knack for things. In this case it is a knack for something useful that helps survive combat.

The groups I currently play with use a house rule granting maximum points for the type of die that the class would roll at first level, then add or subtract the Contitution derived modifier. All points gained when leveling are random plus or minus the Con modifier. It seems to work for us and is a house rule that is almost as old as D&D itself, having spread from group to group and been spontaneously arrived at across groups decades ago.

So looking at this as a question of how do we make this more apealing across editions, what could be done to merge methods without badly hurting the feelings of a given person or group? Share your thoughts. You may have an idea that would appeal across editions.

Here's an example out of thin air to get things started.

All characters begin with 5 hitpoints modified by a racial modifier of from +2 to -2, then modified by Constitution modifier, and then you roll the class hit die to get the toal starting hit points. All increases beyond first level are random class die modified by Con. Therefore if the character had a Con granting plus 4 points and was of a race granting plus two points then the minimum starting points would be 12 and could range quite higher depending on the die type fighters use.

Frankly I'm not fond of the example since it breaks the keep it simple mantra, but it serves as a conversation starter.

Have at it!

1 comment:

StevenWarble said...

The problem with hit points is purely in the narration. It sounds stupid to say "By a stroke of luck, the Orc's blade narrowly misses you... lose 5 HP".

Weapon damage is almost always narrated as ...well... damage, so therefore it makes sense to conceptualize hit points as "ability to take damage".

Rename Hit Points to something like Combat Pool, describe attacks as causing fatigue, loss of balance, tactical disadvantage, etc and most of the concept problems disappear.

Verification Word: Lothy... pet name you call Lolth when you are trying to tap that thang...