4 September 2012

Hit Points

Everyone has a theory about what a "hit point" is. Here's mine: bupkiss. Hit points don't represent anything. They don't make sense, and you can't make sense of them because they don't model anything in reality. This is a problem when trying to make rulings at the table, as you can't apply common sense. It also makes it difficult for other mechanics to work with them.

Any theory that attributes "skill at avoiding damage" to increasing hit points is nonsense. If that were true, then an unawares attack (like a backstab) should deal the base damage times the character's hit dice to account for the fact that the character cannot use their skill at avoiding damage. Also, heal spells should scale, damage healed per day should scale, all kinds of things should happen that don't. 

These things are problematic because (much like with AC) you're mixing mechanics. Any increase in ability to avoid damage should come in the characters defense attribute, not their hit points.

And any theory that says a leveled character can actually take ten times more physical damage than a normal person doesn't know much about biology. It's just not reasonable. (Yes, yes, Rasputin. You can always find outliers if you look hard enough...).

Another problem I have with hit points (which I touched on earlier) is the loss of mystery. I'd like a little uncertainty about where a character is at, but I don't like the idea of having the GM track hit points secretly and only tell the players generally where their character is at.


The issue of stats meaning more than one thing is solved by moving hard-to-hit to Defense, hard-to-hurt to Armour, and your actual ability to take a lickin' and keep on tickin' to Fortitude. Fortitude is a derived stat based on your natural strength, health, and mental discipline.

Each time you're hit and damaged, you'll accrue Wounds, and make a check against your Fortitude penalized by the number of Wounds you have. If you fail the check, you're overcome by your wounds, and are hors de combat. This could mean passed out, you've fallen and you can't get up, or the pain is too much to bear any longer. In any case, you are not combat effective, and require medical attention. You'll accrue another Wound each minute until you receive assistance.

You'll keep track of Wounds much like you keep track of dwindling Hit Points. If your Wounds are greater than your Fortitude, you're dead. Time, medical assistance, and healing magic can reduce your number of Wounds.

This concept can be extended to fatigue, as well, although I think this should be an optional bolt-on. Under certain circumstances, you can accrue Fatigue - running, fighting in plate and mail, carrying ten stone of loot, and so on... Each point of Fatigue would penalize your Fortitude checks the same way Wounds do, and if your Fatigue + Wounds is greater than your Endurance, you've "hit the wall", and are more or less incapacitated from over-exertion. Rest, food, and water are prescribed. Or magic.

This mechanic immediately opens up an interesting idea for a feat or class feature - you can ignore your first failed Fortitude check, making you able to stay in the fight longer, but also more likely to suddenly die in combat as you push yourself further than normally possible.

This system eliminates the problems with the traditional hit point system, provides a workable mechanic, and allows for feats or class features to "hook in" in interesting ways.


  1. I did something similar that separated evasion from damage reduction by armor in a way that doesn't diverge too much from expected D&D norms:


    In the end, I think it may end up being too fiddly though. I haven't actually play tested it, however.

  2. Definitely similar, it's always encouraging to see others thinking along the same lines! I like your idea of the armour essentially having hit points. I can imagine the party deep in the dungeon, low on spells and HP, and now, "Oh crap, the Fighter's armour is falling apart!".

    Some notes I would make: heavy armour wouldn't make you harder to hit, and I don't think you really need any special skills for the armour to absorb damage.

    That said, I would guess that those parts of your system are probably there to give Fighters something special, for archetype reinforcement of robe-wearing wizards, and for game balancing of heavy armour, and so on. Which makes sense!

    1. That should read, "heavy armour wouldn't make you *easier* to hit".

  3. I was thinking about this today, and I thought of the following: if you take HP damage during a battle, you Save Vs Death after the battle to see if you take a Wound. When you lose 20%/40%/60%/80% of your HP, take 1d3 Wounds with no save. If you lose all your HP take 1d6 wounds with no save and you are stunned (unable to fight, cast spells, etc.). After the battle, after you've made your Save Vs. Death roll, if your Wounds are equal to your Constitution, you are effectively comatose until healed. At Constitution + X (+1? +your Constitution into the negatives?) you are dead. At higher levels, adventurers might shrug off a minor scrap or two without incident but since the HP goes down each time, they'll get hurt if you throw enough at them.

    1. That seems complicated and doesn't solve the problem of the overloaded mechanic...

    2. That seems complicated and doesn't solve the problem of the overloaded mechanic...

    3. Back to the drawing board!