Last night I was chatting with a friend of mine and good role player. Like me he hasn't played D&D for quite some time, but has quite a bit of experience and good points as to what makes or does not make a good aventure. Anyway, getting back on track, he was making the point that characters should not have many hit points. Which is quite contradictory with common gaming dogma. After all isn't that the whole point of raising level?
Well yes, but it also tends to do two things: make the character quite hard to kill and "deprecate" local monsters. This put together with an ever more ambitious search for XP leads us to the "runaway character" or "runaway party". By runaway I don't mean that literally. It is more on the lines of a nuclear reaction and the party is quite literally on a runaway chain reaction. More XP leads to more levels which leads to more hit points which leads to bigger monsters that give even more XP. This is partially fuelled by the fact that the main source of XP is killing and gold. So on top of the local Gnoll village becoming irrelevant the whole economy begins to go down the drain due to excess gold.
Now what if characters didn't gain hit points or gained less hit points than usual? Obviously they would be more vulnerable unless they were harder to hit. Which leads me to the core of my friends point. Characters should not gain hit points, they should gain skills that protect them from harm. And I agree with him. Without so many hit points the character is almost as vulnerable to a hit as in lesser levels. The character is simply harder to hit. So monsters don't need to go into an ascending spiral of toughness. There would be less difference between a 1st level monster and a 10th level monster. This leads to more manageable adventures.
Characters can still become super powerful and kill big monsters, but they won't be as invulnerable now. And that leads to more epic fights. Face it if you know you can stand and deliver and you're pretty much a hit point wall what worry do you have? You just keep rolling until the character succumbs. Now if you're vulnerable you'll pick your fights a lot better and play them out a lot smarter and so will monsters. So battles will become better, more entertaining and more epic.