Thursday, March 22, 2012

Explaining Hit Points

How’s this for a draft for how I’m explaining hit points in Blood & Treasure

"Hit points don’t represent anything solid or real or concrete in and of themselves. Rather, they are part of a complex calculation that boils down to this: “What are the chances that the next moment of mortal peril you experience will be your last.” That mortal peril might be a sword fight, a poison needle, a trap door … anything that might kill you. Most often, hit points relate to combat.

It is important to remember that hit points are only part of the combat calculation for how likely you are to die. The complete calculation is in two parts. The first part pits your opponent’s fighting skill against your armor and quickness (i.e. his or her attack roll vs. your Armor Class). The second part pits your opponent’s strength and weapon type against your own fighting skill (i.e. his or her damage roll vs. your hit points). While most of the numbers in these calculations are fairly static, hit points moves quite a bit. The more danger you experience, the more likely your next dangerous act will be your last.

This is why a character can go from 100 to 1 hit points without suffering any particular physical hardships. All of those lost hit points represent narrow misses, lucky breaks and scrapes and scratches. Those last hit points lost, though, represent the sword in the heart, the knife in the back, the quaff of poisoned wine or the plunge off a cliff onto the rocks below. It represents the end of the story. (Though if your friends have enough money and are inclined to spend it, that story might have a new beginning).

The alternate dying system (see below) provides an option for translating 0 hit points into injury rather than sure death, of course, but the baseline assumption is that your hit points are merely an abstract measure of your chances of survival. Treasure them, adventurer, and know when to say when."


  1. I think I can shorten this, because I've been thinking along similar lines, using Troll n Flame's Death and dismemberment tables when you hit 0hp. How about;

    "instead of hit points this system uses luck points. As you dodge arrows and axe blows your luck is gradually used up."

  2. Wait, where's the alternate dying system? I've arrived at much the same place regarding hit points and injury where it is only that last hit that actually damages, and it might kill you or it might not.

    It was tough to get here, because playing D&D as a kid hits and damage meant just that.

  3. Yeah, words like "hits" and "damage" are the culprits. Great terms, but they do make one think of hit points as meaning something they don't. Blame the wargaming origins for the confusion, I guess. Still, I don't want to change terms, and frankly I don't think I'm handling things any differently than they've ever been handled in the game, I'm just explaining them a little differently.

    As for the alternate dying rules - I posted them a while back. Just click on the "blood and treasure" key word and follow the posts back. It's there somewhere. I don't think my current draft of the game has changed them much since I posted them.

  4. @richard - it's not exactly "luck", though. Or, calling it luck causes its own problems: can characters be aware of their luck running out? does it apply to games of chance? Why do characters with high combat prowess get more of it (assuming that's true in Blood & Treasure)? Do some things bypass it completely (things you save against in D&D terms)? Do the methods of regenerating it make thematic sense (in D&D it's potions, clerical healing, and time)?

    I like Matt's formulation, probably because it parallel's my own thinking:

    One thing that I think it explains nicely is the real-world phenomenon of how seasoned troops are being a really good predictor of whether they'll survive. If it were pure luck you'd expect it to be distributed pretty randomly, perhaps even favoring those who hadn't experienced battle and so hadn't used up much luck. As a measure of mental and physical preparedness for battle, it makes a lot of sense that it grows quite a lot with experience, but wanes if you've fought too much with too little opportunity for R&R.

  5. Best explanation of hit points ever:
    "You will note that a dagger has only an eentsy little blade. The thing is that as characters advance in levels (sometimes termed "developing", or "maturing"; this is a process a bit like fruit ripening) they develop a protective force field around them. This force field is sometimes called the "dude factor". The dude factor is very thin for 1st level characters, in particular 1st level commoners, who are not dudes at all. 1st level PCs are by definition dudes, so they have more of a dude factor. As your level increases, so does your dudeness, and hence the thickness and strength of your protective dude field. A dagger, having only an eentsy blade, can only penetrate a certain thickness of dude field. A longsword has a bigger blade, and so can penetrate many more inches of dudeness (only dudes can wield a longsword, which is why it's a martial weapon, whereas any schmuck can wield a dagger, which is a simple weapon). Finally, a greatsword is the ultimate dude weapon, and has unsurpassed ability to penetrate dude fields. Even the most mojo dudes find it hard to control a greatsword, which is why it needs two hands to use."
    (and as the dude factor relates to female characters...tongue in cheek, of course.)
    "Chicks benefit from the bulletproof nudity rule, which states that the accuracy of your enemies is in inverse proportion to the amount of clothing you wear."


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