Friday, May 24, 2013

What's a Hit Point?

This is a companion to this post about death, dying, critical hits and Wounds and this discussion has been raised a couple of times recently, so:


Fighters start with 6 Hit Points, Clerics and Rogues with 5 and Magic Users with 4. 

Fighters use a d8 Hit Die and everyone else uses a d6. 

From levels two through seven, upon level advance a Character's total HP is increased by rolling the appropriate HD and adding the result.

At level 8 and upon attaining any future levels, Fighters gain 2 HP and everyone else gains 1 HP.

(Monsters, in case you're interested, generally use a d8 Hit Die)


The word "heal" is used here to as in, "to make sound or whole" and not necessarily to indicate rectifying actual physical damage.

So long as you can take a breather, you get back 25% of your max HP. A breather is a few minutes of relatively unthreatened, unoccupied rest. (Like, if you run from some orcs, fight for a bit then retreat, bar the door and rest for a couple of minutes while the orcs hack down the door: everyone gets back 25% of their HP except for the orcs hacking down the door; if someone has to hold the door, everyone but the person holding the door and the orcs hacking it down get back Hit Points).

A good nights sleep gets you back 100% of your max HP (keeping in mind that being Wounded reduces your HP to 50% of its original amount and that being Wounded is pretty damn common).

In combat your options for healing are limited to magic, except when it comes to Hideous Wounds.

Hideous Wounds come with a risk of bleeding out (d6 HP loss a turn). Bleeding can be relieved by magical means (magical healing, regardless of how it's applied, stops bleeding), but also by simple triage:

Applying a tourniquet can be done in a round and lasts as d3+1 hours but cannot be re-applied.

Patching up a Wound takes 2d4+2 rounds and these patches generally stick around, logic of the situation permitting. 

Cure Light, Serious and Critical Wounds become Cure Wounds, Improved Cure Wounds and Greater Cure Wounds. Take a round to cast, require touch, and...

Cure Wounds

Grants an automatic save v poison for Wound recuperation and reduces convalescence by a week or it heals 1 HD+1 HP; always stops bleeding.

Improved Cure Wounds

Grants two automatic saves v poison for Wound recuperation and reduces convalescence by two weeks or it heals 2 HD+1 HPalways stops bleeding.

Greater Cure Wounds

Heals 1 Wound completely or heals 3HD+1 HP; always stops bleeding and mends bones.


I think of HP as the character's capacity to actively and intentionally forestall what would otherwise mean death. So a Hit Point is composed of a little bit of luck but is mostly evidence of superior endurance and previously gained combat experience (or experience points, in the case of characters past the first level). 

That's not to say that HP are purely probabilistic and not at all descriptive, just that they're probabilistic first and it's in that light that they ought to be considered descriptive. So, if a Character is struck by a knife and loses a third of its HP, that's exegetically probably a nasty but shallow slash; on the other hand, if a Character is struck by a knife and loses only an eighth of its HP, then it's likely just scratched or it got smacked in the face by the attackers elbow, etc, etc.

The cinematic application of HP loss could include: scrapes, bruises, a broken nose, black eyes, lost hair, a good bit of skin missing, loose or lost teeth, fingernails broken, a blow to the funny bone; and would not include: most broken bones, any serious wound, frostbite, major burns, large wounds, sucking wounds, or anything else that would represent actual impairment of the Character in their general role as ersatz hero, delver and murderhobo.

I see four consequences of this perspective:

1. At Character creation starting HP is awarded in a non-random way because I assume that a character of a certain Class has likely had a bit more or less experience or training in combat and other strenuous activities. OD&D models this in a similar way by giving Fighters HD+1 at level 1.

2. When a Character advances in level, they are handed a packet of new mechanical advantages. These advantages are directly tied to what sort of stuff the character, being of a Class, has been up to, both during the active parts of the game and during down-time. Fighters spend much of their time hauling the heavies stuff around, wearing the heaviest armor, carrying the heaviest weapons, spend more time trying to draw fire while also avoid immanent death  than anyone else (hopefully), and then spend their free time doing cardio, martial arts or the like. Accordingly, Fighters get a Hit Die one size larger than anyone else. As everyone else spends most of their time trying to be useful in a way that involves not carrying the heavy stuff, not trying to breaking down doors and not being in the middle of melee, they get the same d6 Hit Die.

3. Throughout play there are certain events and classes of damage for which Hit Points are an entirely unsuited metric of probable death. Instead, in these instances, death is highly certain regardless of Character combat experience and endurance; the only way to avoid death is by some kind of miraculous "save." So: saving throws. What precisely happens when a character makes a save is up the GM. My personal take is that they survive but come back suffering a Wound, usually as a direct result of what would have otherwise killed them. Wounds are what happen when the damage caused is so total, persistent or catastrophic that it cannot possibly be totally avoided or complete mitigated in a meaningful way.

4. HP is really easy to recharge because it's much less a descriptor of the condition of a character's body and much more a descriptor the character's capacity to actively and intentionally avoid dying.

Also: Mathematically, my HP advancement scheme works out such that, on average a level 7 character in my game has as much HP as a level 10 character of the same class in OD&D, but level 10 characters in both systems have nearly the same HP. I've found the early "artificial" increase in HP and increasing the Fighter HD size makes being Wounded interesting and not so burdensome that everyone wishes the Character would just die already, otherwise I would have just stuck with the OD&D HD advancement scheme.

picture: Kimitake Hiraoka/Yukio Mishima's St. Sebastian

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