Friday, August 24, 2012

Discussion: What Are Hit Points To You?

Yesterday's discussion about Dirty Fighting sparked an interesting debate between myself and Jack's Tool Box about what a Hit Point actually represented, how they are implemented, and how GM's should be using them. While, obviously, the debate about what a Hit Point is would vary depending on the system, everyone seems to have some pre-conceived notion from their game of choice - or just the first game they played - about what a HP actually is.

So, my question to you today is this: in your own words, what does a Hit Point, or Hit Points as a whole, represent? Is it the ability to turn a potentially lethal blow into a non-lethal blow? is it how hearty and resistant you are to damage? Is it an actual point based way of tracking your character's vitality and life force? What does it mean to you and how should it be used to best facilitate the kind of games you like?

As usual: sound off in the comments.


  1. I like the think of HP as the total physical and mental resilience of the character. The slow dwindling of hp is just the action wearing down on the character. Once HP hits a certain thresh hold it's assumed serious damage (like a connected sword blow) actually slipping through defenses.

  2. OK, so what happens when I go to work after making a comment is that I miss a huge discussion that follows it. Sorry about that.

    To clarify, it's been quite a while since I played D&D, and the game I was using in my example was Savage Worlds. A damage roll to the leg in the situation described on the last page would be non lethal within the system, doing fatigue damage instead of wounds.

    To carry on the debate on your current post though; hit points, or the lack thereof, is a way of showing how close you are to falling over. Not necessarily dying, but losing the ability to stay in the fight. Due to not playing much D&D and playing several other systems, usually whatever anyone wants to run, I have no problem looking at any system and changing my expectations on how 'damage' works, be it wounds, hit points, fatigue or other.

  3. Hitpoints are what turn the game into pointless grinding. Yeah, not a fan of hitpoints.

  4. My two cents.

    Hit Points are whatever the game intends them to be. But I think "what the game intends" and "what the designers intend" are not necessarily the same thing. Case in point: if D&D hit points are one's ability to avoid being hit, or to turn a telling blow into a less-telling blow, then we does a spell called "Cure Light Wounds" do anything to recover luck, etc? And why does that same spell heal 1/4 of a Wizard's hit points but only 1/10 of a Fighter's hit points? What is it about a battleaxe that makes it "harder to avoid" than a long sword? The designers say one thing, but the game operates differently. Figuring out what's going on in the game is what I'd like to investigate.

    Seth's interpretation is how D&D 4E assumes things, and I'm actually OK with it -- having hit points actually be something like "morale points" is a neat idea that gives you a lot more options on what can be considered an attack. I think the rest of the system needs to support that idea, I'm not sure 4E supports it very well, and I think we need to be careful to avoid situations where an insult can cause a guy to start dying (which is what happens in 4E if certain Bard powers drop a foe to 0). Because of this, if you're going to have morale points you should have some other way of tracking injury and death.

    I like Savage World's system a lot because it abstracts away a lot of book-keeping, and they have separate tracks for injury and fatigue. That being said, if I remember correctly, heroes only get 2 levels on either track (regular people get one, because it's Pulp-y) so it's not a very granular system at all -- and that can be a problem because there's not a lot of feedback on "how badly is my character hurting?" And so I think Paul's tactic is as-bad if not worse in Savage Worlds as in D&D (YMMV). It could be handled OK if you treat "Incapacitated" as "your leg is trash and you're out of the fight" instead of "unconscious," but it's still an awkward position to be in when a couple kicks to the shin can put you down.

    I think Anonymous is suffering from a conflict between his expectations of hit points and their implementation, or possibly just a bad implementation. I think that the inflation of hit points has made games more grind-y, but I suspect that's an unintended consequence of trying to make combat less lethal. Hit points aren't the problem, per se, it's just where the problem manifests.

    What I think hit points should be is a 1-to-1 scale of how close to death your character is, ideally on some kind of an objective scale. I don't require a very fine grain, either, so long as there's enough feedback so that the player knows how bad off he is as well as the character would. I think that World of Darkness does this pretty well, actually, and the inclusion of wound penalties rounds it out nicely. This is the kind of interpretation that I'd like to find in D&D, and I do think it's there -- but I don't think there's a lot of granularity and there's no built-in support for tracking wounds.

    OK, that was probably more like a buck fifty than two cents, but...