Monday, May 21, 2012

Hit Points, our eternal nemesis

Mike Mearls just published article regarding hit points in D&D Next (or as some would call it D&D Collage). In it he covers the explanation of what hit points mean in the D&D system. You can read the article here.

In the article Mearls say "In D&D Next, hit points and Hit Dice are an abstraction that we use to model more than just a character's physical durability. In fact, we have three elements that tie into a character's hit points and Hit Dice." He then lists three points which I'll briefly reproduce here for clarity.
  • Physical capacity for punishment, which is measured through a combination of size, bulk, and durability. [...] 
  • Energy and experience, which is measured by a creature's ability to turn a direct hit into a glancing blow and ignore minor aches and pains. [...] 
  • Luck and cosmic significance, which is the simple truth that in a world of high magic, gods, and planar powers, some creatures are consigned by fate to take on a great task. [...]

I'm totally turned down by their incapacity to think outside the box. When I hear the name "D&D Next" I imagine the next best thing. Not a remake of the old rules which also happen to bring forth one of the greatest problems with D&D: "excessive hit points". A problem in D&D I call "hit point fuge". Hit point fuge is the problem presented in a campaign when characters reach too many hit points. The adventure requires ever escalating monsters because characters don't suffer any real damage until they're practically down to 0 hit points. On top of this there's the issue with the clerics. It is ironic that Mearls mentions the following in the same article, "We want to make the cleric as optional for a group as a fighter, wizard, or rogue. [...] First, it's worth noting why we want to reduce the party's reliance on healing magic." That seems contradictory to the beginning. More hit points or reliance on hit points to represent all that he mentions makes the cleric NOT optional for a group. When hit point fuge kicks in players hack and slash and then power up on hit points to hack and slash again. The low level risk of dying disappears when the characters hit points way exceed the monsters potential for a kill in one blow.

I would suggest the following addendum to the rules if game masters want to actually do what Mike preaches. That is actually reduce the dependency on cleric and create a really captivating and epic adventure.

  • Don't do away with hit points, just make them fixed for life at a somewhat high value. Say between 15 and 25. The game rules I use set hit points at constitution + 1d10. 
  • Add another value called stamina. Stamina is actually a representation of all that which Mearls attributes to hit points. Damage happens to stamina first then hit points. 
  • Use a value I call Pain Threshold. This is the amount of stamina points above which hit point damage is inflicted. I've set the value at 10% of stamina. 
  • Stamina recovers quite quickly at a rate of 5 per hour + constitution bonuses. 
How does this work? Suppose a character has 20 hit points, 60 stamina

and a pain threshold of 6 (10% of 60). Any damage under 6 HP goes to stamina. So a character can suffer 12 hits doing 5 HP each and suffer no real life threatening damage. But a hit for 10 HP does 6 stamina points of damage an 4 hit points of damage. Stamina acts as a shield, but not an invulnerable one.

This mechanism does provide a solution in which stamina is a representation of a character's endurance and does away for the need to carry a cleric around all the time. First of all players will think their encounters better before they engage. In this example 26 hit points of damage still kill the character (20 HP + 6 pain threshold). When in the classic rules it would take 80 hit points of damage (20 HP + 60 stamina). Thus the cleric might not be helpful in time given the fast pace of combat. Secondly stamina heals quickly. So in combat a character might suffer 5 hit points of damage and 38 stamina points of damage. Those hit points may take days to heal, but the stamina will fully recover on its own in 8 hours or less.


PS: Mearls might also want to include parry and dodge to the combat phase. The game system these rules belong to contemplate parry and dodge and thus the pain threshold is low. For D&D game master who don't want to rewrite the combat rules might want to experiment with higher stamina and pain threshold values.

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