Posts Tagged ‘large polyhedron collider’

In my current estimation, Hit Points are the greatest single failing for Dungeons and Dragons.

That’s maybe a strong statement to start this off with. Hit points serve a vital (heh) role in Dungeons and Dragons, or really any system that has violent conflict as a key component and chooses to use them.  When our characters take damage in-game, they feel pain.  Presumably they also suffer wounds, and generally can tell when The Reaper looms near.  As players, we don’t have that same visceral connection, and Hit Points are one way to address the disconnect.  It answers the question, “how close am I to death?”

I think there are a number of complaints that can be levied against any system that tries to answer that question.  How aware are we of our own vitality? How much information should a player have about the wounds they’ve suffered?  What’s too much information, and what’s too little? I don’t think Hit Points are a perfect solution, or necessarily the right solution for everyone, but I do think they can be a “good enough” solution, and I think that character’s vitality is an important enough component that erring on the side of “too much information” is excusable.

Not all hit point systems are treated equally.  World of Darkness uses a Hit Point system where characters generally have between 6 and 10 Hit Points, where a single attack can do massive amounts of damage (one good shot is likely to kill mortal characters), and the effects and recovery vary based on the type of damage inflicted.  Palladium has a kind of “hybrid” hit point system, with vital HP wrapped in a sheath of “SDC” points that emulate toughness.  SDC represents superficial harm and heals quickly, HP represents serious wounds and heals slowly.  WoD hit points are essentially static, and there are penalties levied to actions if the character has suffered severe injury; systems like Palladium and D&D increase hit points through leveling, and don’t levy penalties for taking damage.

The Complaints

Most recently the topic of hit points in D&D came up with Dr. Gentleman, who has a post on the topic at his blog.  In his post, I believe he makes four claims:

  1. Hit Point systems lead to Nickle & Dime combat — hit him more than he hits you.
  2. This is unrealistic — real injury comes from properly applied force, not repeated lesser trauma, and an attack that fails to kill a character outright won’t kill him with repeated application.
  3. Strike placement is generally not considered in these systems — at best, a called-shot gives a bonus to damage.
  4. Hit Point systems are too abstract — what does “5 damage” mean? Especially if a character’s hit points increase?

My intent here isn’t to spar with Dr. Gentleman; I think he makes some valid points.  I’m using his article merely as a convenient framework to organize my thoughts.  In general, though, I think his points either confuse design of the system with implementation of the system (some DMs apply or describe the system poorly) or miss the point of the system (to give a player feedback that mirror’s his character’s experience) or actually criticize some other (possibly related) mechanics (such as damage or healing).  The major point, though, and the one that encapsulates where I feel D&D fails is Point 4 — what is the relationship between damage, healing, hit points, and my character?

Minor Points

For Point 1, I think it’s important to recognize what’s going on in the system.  Hit Points measure how close the character is to death.  If your goal is to kill your opponent, then reducing their Hit Points to 0 before he does the same to you is the goal; at the most basic level this is going to be “hit him more than he hits you,” but that’s something of a straw-man — the same can be said of actual combat.  The actual complaint is that Hit Points don’t model any kind of alternate goal, but you might as well say that a barometer can’t tell you how hot it is outside.  Point 1 is looking for a different tool, perhaps a system for tracking injuries, and Hit points neither precludes nor is diminished by the use of such an additional system.  (There are a number of such systems out there, and I hope to address some in a future post, since it can be a useful tool in the right situations.)

Point 2 strikes me as simply false.  That is, yes, properly applied force does cause real injury, but so can repeated lesser trauma.  Punching a man in the face will hurt but rarely kill him outright; a sustained beating is likely to lead to severe injury and death, and while that’s occasionally due to a single critical strike, it can also be because our bodies aren’t designed to sustain repeated trauma.  Bones break, vessels burst, all sorts of things result from otherwise-minor trauma applied successively.  That being said, this point begins to hint at a larger issue, one I believe is about assumptions and expectations. How many paper-cuts does it take to kill someone?  The answer depends on how much hit point damage a paper cut deals, and I propose this: the hit point system as designed for D&D is not granular enough to account for minor damage, whether it’s paper cuts, mild bruising, or even (potentially) “merely a flesh wound.”

Point 3 is actually a complaint about how damage is handled, and the fact that the placement and severity of an attack is abstracted away in the roll to hit and the damage roll.  A properly places strike is represented by a high damage roll; a lesser strike is a lower roll (and thus less injury).  This is very similar to Point 1 (all HP measures is how close you are to death, not alternate goals) and Point 2 (D&D Hit Points, and combat rules in general, aren’t granular enough to model this level of detail).  The trick of a called shot dealing bonus damage is a common patch for targeting vulnerable areas, though I think it’s a weak (if often “good enough”) tool for the job.  The Rogue’s sneak attack/backstab feature essentially models the same thing, allowing the rogue to score extra damage when they have an opening because they can strike a vulnerable spot.  This is a complaint against the structures around hit points, rather than hit points themselves.

Point 4 I think is a real issue, and because of that it’ll need to be addressed at greater length in it’s own post (or posts, depending on how this discussion goes).

Part 2

Dr. Gentleman has a series of posts about Combat that I’m trying (and mostly failing) to read.  This post isn’t really about anything I’ve read there, but it has Combat on my mind, and Gnome Stew just posted a little trick about color-coding your dice that I thought was neat, and all that reminded me of a trick of my own that I’d been meaning to mention.

People complain about the speed of combat a lot — roll d20 to hit, what did you get?, that hits now roll damage, what did you get?, describe results of the attack, next action.  With even a handful of players it gets bogged down quickly, especially if there are NPCs (enemies and/or allies) involved.  But it doesn’t have to be this way, really.

A simple trick that I’ve used, and that I’m surprised doesn’t get used more, is to chuck a handful of dice.  Instead of making each piece of the attack sequence a separate roll, grab a d20 and whatever damage dice you use and toss it in one throw.  If the d20 hits the AC damage is already on the table, and you haven’t wasted any real effort if you miss.  I’ve considered adding a Crit/Fumble die to the mix so that crits are confirmed in the same throw as well.  With a little color-coding, you can quickly see hit-die, damage-dice, backstab-dice, crit-die and so on.  It becomes a lot more roll-and-go, especially if DMs aren’t coy about monster ACs (which I don’t think they should be, in general). If people start thinking about their next action before it’s their turn (something my players need practise doing), it gets even smoother.

Thanks to a post by Shortymonster I stumbled over to the Large Polyhedron Collider (A+ on the blog name), where he’s got a post about the Realities of Falling.  He sets out a few milestones: serious injuries occur from falling 25-30ft onto a hard surface, and death is very likely from a fall of 50-60 feet (onto a hard surface).  He goes on to talk about falling into soft surfaces (like deep water, or snow), and the differences landing orientation makes, and the kind of damage you can expect to do if you land on crates or a car or another person.

Because of this, I think we need to change the way falling damage is handled in D&D: as it is, it’s just too lethal to be realistic. (more…)