... now with 35% more arrogance!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Hit Points/Hit Dice

Uncle Bear posted a little something about hit points: a couple house rules on representing physical damage effects, plus an introductory paragraph that suggests his philosophy:
Count me as one of the people that has a love-hate relationship with hit points. From a story point, I can completely dance along with the concept that they’re abstract and represent bruises and fatigue and such, and that as characters become more experienced their endurance increases and they can go longer and better avoid serious injury in combat. On the other hand, that’s just an after-the-fact story-gamist rationalization of a mechanic that’s really just a hold over from the game’s miniature wargame days. Then again, it is easy to track, and it’s a tangible reminder to the player that their character is in mortal danger as they tick off how many hit points of damage have been taken. I like that part.
Now, I don't have a love-hate relationship with hit points, but I do have one with the way hit points are sometimes used. I'm firmly in the luck and endurance camp; I think the fact that hit points increase with level in D&D makes it clear that they are supposed to be completely abstract.

But this leads me to my main point: I also have a problem with the way hit dice are used. If hit points are luck and endurance for player characters, they should be for monsters also. For the most part, they are, in the original game. The fact that combat ability is connected to hit dice makes that clear.

But as new monsters were added, people started to think that bigger monsters should automatically have more hit dice. But supernatural creatures tend to have more hit dice as well, to represent how dangerous they are. So what if a creature is a really large demon? The answer became "add a humongous amount of hit dice" and hit die inflation was born. Also, combined with the dissociation of armor class from armor type, this resulted in the need for more detailed "stat blocks" for every conceivable monster; after all, you need to know the HD, AC, and movement rate for every possible creature, don't you?

Well, no. Because most creatures are going to be mostly the same, except for special powers or attacks. You could improvise all ordinary beasts with a handful of notes. You only need to know what is different about a creature to run it.


  1. Luck and Endurance can only be pushed so far before you have player disbelief.

    Example #1: a fall from a 100-foot cliff. While I might believe farmer joe (1st-level) could never survive the fall, but the hero joe (10th-level) could. However, when hero joe (10th-level fighter) survives but hero ed (10th-level rogue) cannot...well, that starts to nag me (both should be able to "take the pain" or be "lucky" enough to fall on a soft spot).

    Example #2: (I think this has been fixed in 4e). I hated healing. Why does it take only 5 days (natural) for a whimpy CON-6 magic user to heal from near death, but the great hero joe (10th-level fighter) has to rest 87 days to heal from near death? Same example applies when using magic healing.

    Monte Cook also brought up an interesting point-of-view on different classes getting different HPs (sorry I can't find the quote right now). He mentioned HP damaging spells (e.g. fireball) are basically class prejudice due to the HP mechanics. They will kill rogues/MUs/bards (low hit dice), but fighters/Barbarians/Paladins (high HD) will survive. Again, Monte said it much better than I ever could.

  2. I think you raise some issues that would make for a good follow-up post, but poor Monte Cook just has it wrong. Fighters have high HD and are likely to survive a fireball that thieves and MUs can't survive because that's the special power of fighters. He -- and others -- didn't get that, and thus we have years of tinkering with AD&D that finally produced 3e and 4e.

  3. I liked your stripping-away of the myth that 'monsters' need heavy stat-detail to differentiate them.

  4. @Timeshadows: Thanks! I wrote more about it in a post about stat blocks, although perhaps my two-line stat block examples are kind of wordy...