Tuesday, September 11, 2012

How Much Fight Left in the Fighter?

This is just a silly notion for giving players one more thing to worry about (and wager on) during a game. I won't claim is shockingly original, but it might prove enjoyable.

First and foremost, players stop tracking their hit points (or ability score points, in terms of suffering penalties and damage to them). Instead, the referee alone will know exactly how many hit points a character has left.

Now, making players go into a fight blind would be silly. After all, a person involved in a fight has at least some idea of how much fight they have left in them - how tired they're getting, how much pain they're in, etc.  But without knowing exactly how many hit points a character has left, it is harder for players to do the "bugbears deal about 4 points of damage per round, and with my platemail and shield and their 3 HD, I figure I can last 3 more rounds" calculus. This is where the wager comes into it - do I need to retreat or switch tactics, or can I outlast this bugbear bastard? Do I feel lucky? Well, do I punk?

To model the character's knowledge of how much fight they have left, the referee instead throws out descriptive language based on the total number of hit points a character has left, cross-referenced to the potential damage his or her opponent is capable of dishing out.

There are really two uses of language here - one to communicate how much damage has just been taken, and the other to communicate how much is left.

First and foremost, we're going to take a character's hit point total and divide it by four to produce four zones. We're going to throw some adjectives out for each of those zones to help the referee describe how a character is feeling.

Zone 1: 75-100% of hit points - Fresh, quick, confident, feeling lucky, vigorous, full of pluck

Zone 2: 50-75% of hit points - Breaking a sweat, blood warm, heart thumping

Zone 3: 25-50% of hit points -Struggling, winded, complaining muscles, mouth dry, feet heavy

Zone 4: 1-25% of hit points - Staggered, sucking wind, feel the icy hand of death, bruised and bloody, lungs screaming for air, lips flecked with foam, stomache churning, see the valkyries hovering overhead

One might also want to extend Zone 4 based on the total potential damage of the opponent being fought. For example, a magic-user with 6 hit points would have the following zones:

Zone 1: 6 hit points

Zone 2: 4-5 hit points

Zone 3: 3 hit points

Zone 4: 1-2 hit points

This is all well and good, but if the magic-user is fighting a monster that can do an average of 4 points of damage per round, it's likely that the magic-user will know death is just around the corner once it hits zone 3, and thus worth while using the zone 4 language a bit earlier.

The above language gives an idea of how much life the character has left in them. How about how much damage is being suffered?

In this case, we relate the damage dealt to the movement between the zones. A hit that does not drop a combatant from one zone to another is a light hit. A hit that drops a character by one or more zones is a serious hit. The following language might prove useful:

Minor Hits: A near blow takes your breath away, you feel your opponent's sword/arrow/etc. whoosh by your ears, your arm/leg/shoulder/etc. is nicked by your opponent's weapon, your opponent's blade tears through your cape/cloak/puffy sleeve, your opponent's blow forces you to leap back/duck desperately to avoid being bloodied, etc.

Serious Hits: A palpable hit, skewered by ..., slashed by ..., a skull-rattling blow, a crushing blow, a near-mortal blow, leaves a trail of blood running into your eye, a buffet that echoes in your head as you scramble desperately back into your stance, etc.

Obviously, this means a 10th level fighter will be suffering far more minor hits than a 1st level magic-user. Just about every hit on the 1st level magic-user will be a serious hit (if it doesn't kill him outright), which is as it should be. Those long, drawn-out sword duels seen in movies, as unrealistic as they are, are usually fought between mid- to high-level fighters (to use the parlance of D&D), not low-level types always on the edge of expiration.

So, let's imagine a 3rd level fighter with 14 hit points fighting a bugbear.

The fighter's zones are as follows:

Zone 1: 11-14 hit points

Zone 2: 8-10 hit points

Zone 3: 4-7 hit points

Zone 4: 1-3 hit points

In round one, the bugbear scores a point of damage on the fighter. The referee describes it thus: "You feel the monster's morningstar whoosh past your head, but successfully dodge the blow. You feel confident you can best this foul monster."

In round two, the bugbear scores no damage, and the referee says, "You repel the monster's clumsy blows with ease, springing back and forth with vigor."

In round three, the bugbear scores a big 5 points of damage, knocking the fighter's hit point total down to 8 and into Zone 2. The referee now says, "Damn - a palpable blow from the bugbear, it's morningstar slamming into your armored shoulder. You grimace in pain from the blow, and you can feel sweat beading on your forehead."

The player should now be cognizant that the combat has shifted a bit.

In round four, another 3 points of damage are suffered, and the referee says, "The morningstar crashes into your helmet, blurring your vision for a moment and rattling your teeth. Your mouth is dry and your muscles complain at this workout."

If the next blow takes the fighter down to 1 hit point, the referee might say, "Another crushing blow leaves a stream of blood running down your arm, weakening your grip on your sword. You feel the icy breath of death on your neck!"


  1. I think that's one of those things that a lot of people have tried, but found gets old pretty quick. Especially for the DM, as he's going to have to constantly consult a thesaurus, or say the same things every combat.

  2. We used to play with only the DM tracking hit points, way back when I first started. It worked well, as far as I can remember, and we just gave a rough idea of how touch the PCs were (percentage based, "you are barely standing", things like that). Don't think my players would enjoy that these days.

  3. I haven't had much to do with the new stuff, but the old WoD character sheets were laid out perfectly for this kind of thing. After character creation, our GM would just cut off the bottom third and keep them for himself. This included wounds, blood pool will power etc. It meant players were always vaguely aware of how they were doing but in more abstract terms. It was really good fun, and I think that you players should get into it really well.

  4. I like this idea, however your specific examples would cause trouble at my group's table. Your first example (bugbear scores a first and minor hit) and your second example (bugbear misses) sound equivalent. The descriptive difference between a miss and a minor percentage of damage should be more obvious so that the player knows with certainty when their health is decreasing.

  5. That uncertainty, though, would be the point of doing something like this - it could make fights more tense and more frightening to the combatants. The distinction between "hit for minimal damage" and "missed" would be in describing how hard the defender is working to parry or avoid the blows.

  6. I can guarantee that not knowing your PC's hit points makes things rather more tense--not knowing your to hit rolls, the monster's AC, or anything other than what the DM describes to you enhances it further. He managed to make mere goblins utterly terrifying to our 1st-level selves for the first time in what felt like forever.

  7. "The descriptive difference between a miss and a minor percentage of damage should be more obvious"

    "this means a 10th level fighter will be suffering far more minor hits than a 1st level magic-user"

    These are the root of my complaints about how hit points have traditionally been discussed. If hit points are an abstract notion of health, luck, divine favor, and skill at turning a blow, then hits and misses start to look the same. When you add in the way healing works, you end up with the weird situation where minor magic can heal a low-level character from death's door to full health, but can't treat a handful of cuts and bruises on a higher-level character. I have a series of posts that I'm working on where I'm attempting to reinterpret hit points as simply a measure of physical punishment recieved, and 1 point of damage means the same thing regardless of where it's coming from, who it's applied to, or how you're healing it. So far, it syncs up well with other assumptions I've made (most people are level 1, PCs are a cut above, and high-level characters approach godhood).

  8. I ran a campaign for two years exactly like this. On top of it, the players never rolled any dice except to hit and saves, I rolled the damage they inflicted and other incidental rolls.

    The players loved it and it was incredibly immersive. It does take more time and effort on the GM's part and I think it takes the right sort of players.

    I'm running ACKS now and I can't really do it with all the hirelings and assorted extra characters...far too much to keep track of. Which is a bit sad really. :(

  9. Hummm... seems blogspot ate my post.

    Anyway, this is a really fun, immersive way to play. I ran a campaign for 2 years this way and the players loved it. It is a lot more work for the DM though.

    With my ACKS game currently there are too many PCs and hirelings for me to track that sort of thing unfortunately. Which is a shame because I would love to do that style of play again.


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