Wednesday, April 8, 2009
The point of hit points
I have never been happy with the use of hit points in RPGs. They are a hold over from role-playings wargaming roots. Armour Class is another, and I will address that later. I don't think they model a living beings ability to handle damage. The concept is used in wargaming for non-living things like warships and forts. Many RPG history buffs might know that HP and AC both came from a naval wargame. Some RPGs do without hit points, but to me HP is one of the four corner stones of D&D. Those would be; Class , Level , AC and HP. So deciding to stick with hit points I tried to understand how I could make better use of the concept. I went through many different ideas, none of them very satisfying. After a long impasse I looked again at the origins of the system. I noticed something, both HP and AC came from the same source. I don't know the title of the game but its a naval wargame. Hmmm..., WARgame, battle, combat, bingo! Hit Points should only be relevant in combat. Hit points are a measure of how tough your character is in a fight. Look at it this way your attack numbers go up every few levels but your HP increase every level. You get tougher and luckier and have more mastery over your chi or whatever. Its the reward for increased confidence and awareness in battle that comes with experience. Combat is defined by me as being able to duck, dodge or defend in a fight. Unaware or incapacitated or helpless characters wouldn't get the benefit of their hit points. In those circumstances I would let the story dictate the outcome (ie what ever makes sense to me). Some traps, poison and magic now can be as deadly to high level characters. Its not all doom and gloom though. The same would apply to monsters and NPCs. And only the last few points of damage would be serious wounds. The rest is "just a scratch" or "only a flesh wound". As characters gain more hit points magical healing becomes less effective as it only restores actual damage. Regaining more hit points will be story based as luck and confidence are a factor. All non-combat damage will be resolved differently. Perhaps a percentile system or based on Constitution. High level fighters no longer have the immunities they once enjoyed. Using Hit Points this way will maybe be more work but I think it could be more rewarding. It can add a touch of realism to allow for high level character mortality. And of course modding rules is very old school.