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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Hit Point Tracking Procedures

I ran another poll on both The RPG Site and RPGNet. This time, the question was "How do YOU track damage?" I was specifically looking at the popularity of two procedures:
  1. Subtract damage from hit points, death at hp <= 0
  2. Tally damage, death when total >= hp
The first seemed to be overwhelmingly common, based on how people describe combat examples, damage or recovery house rules, and things like negative hit points. It sort of puzzled me, because the second seems obviously easier and is mathematically identical: take "hp - X <= 0" and add X to both sides, then reverse the order, and you get "X >= hp".

So what I was expecting was that there would be hardly any votes for procedure #2. Actual breakdown was:
  • RPGNet: 26 to 8 ((76% versus 24%)
  • The RPG Site: 11 to 1 (92% versus 8%)
The RPG Site thus met my expectations: only one person (not me, since I skipped voting) keeps a damage tally. What was shocking was that about 1/4th of the people on RPGNet keeps damage tallies. Was not expecting that many people. Also, the discussion about Procedure #2 was interesting.

The benefit of switching is that #1 is kind of a micromanagement approach: you roll damage, mentally subtract it from your hit points, erase your hit points, and write your new total in; when healed, mentally add the points healed, erase your current hit points, and write the new total. In contrast, #2 has you make tally marks on scratch paper every time you take damage, and you just mentally compare the totals; only time you erase your hit point total is when your level changes, and only time you erase your damage tally is when healed.

However, in the discussions, those that use #1 but acknowledged the benefits of #2 did not mention the physical simplicity. Instead, they mentioned that addition is easier than subtraction, so theoretically #2 would be the better method. The reason why they tended to use #1 instead was because of the feel, the way the damage visibly drops and the player can immediately see how low their hit point score is. I would think that making hash marks on a piece of paper after every hit would have just as much psychological impact, but perhaps physically removing hit points from your total each time you are hit lets you interact more with your hit point score directly, making it feel more real.


  1. Using method #1, you see immediately how many hit points you have LEFT, which is the important information. Under method #2, you have to subtract your current damage from your current total HP whenever you want to know your current HP - and you want to be up to date on your HP at all times. So instead you end up just memorising the difference, which is the same information method #1 gives you in the first place. Since the calculation involved in either case is trivial, I prefer method #1.

  2. I count up, which confused one of my party-mates. I find much faster to just tally up my total damage, and compare it to my max hitpoints.

  3. Erasing strikes me a red herring; we do method #1 on scratch paper.

  4. Also: we track subdual damage and that counts up, because when it exceeds the current hit point total, you are subdued.

  5. The advantage of keeping a count of both Damage and total Hit Point is when you are confronted to level loss.

    When drained by an Undead, you must, with #1
    a) determine your total HP score (by rerolling all dices, substracting one hit dice , or keeping a record of all your HP at every level)
    b) substract the difference to your actual HP score
    c) then (if the level loss didn't get you to 0 HP), substract the physical damage done (if any).

    With method #2
    a) determine your new HP total by either of the methods formerly described .
    b) add any physical damage done (if any)
    If the damage count is bigger to teh (new) HP total, you're toast.