Wednesday, December 26, 2012

High hit points nerf fighters

The more I think about it the more I believe that higher hit points in D&D is counter productive for the fighter class.  From my point of view it is one strong element that makes the power curve so unbalanced as compared to other character classes like the wizard.

At higher levels and unless there is an outstanding damage in one attack the fighter and wizard have the same number of hit points.  Not that they have the same overall amount, but imagine they both take 20 hit points of damage.  They would certainly have died at lower levels, but at higher levels it's pretty much the same thing within the scope of a single round.  Sure the magic user goes from 50 to 30 while the fighter goes from 90 to 70, but they both suffered 20 hit points.  Shouldn't the fighter, who is more skilled and better trained in the art of combat suffer less?  To which you'd answer, yes they do.  Proportionally the fighter does suffer less than the magic user.  A little over 20% for the fighter vs nearly 50% for the wizard. But they never risk their life until the end. There is no risk of sudden death from a hit during the first attacks.  Unless, as I mentioned earlier, the damage is outstanding.  So for practical purposes the magic user is just as good as the fighter.  The fighter will just be good a few more rounds longer than the magic user.

So what am I getting at? Read on.

The problem arises when the party level goes up and alongside it the hit points.  The more hit points the more the spells and weapons need to do damage to remain competitive at those higher levels.  Thus the wizard spells become stronger and deal more damage.  I'd like to focus on area of effect spells in particular.  Namely fireball.

As the magic user's level rises so does the damage of the spell in hit points.  Does this mean the spell gets luckier?  More effective?  Hotter and more intense?  I don't want to get all tangled up in the "what hit points are" rhetoric. What I want to point out is that overall the magic user has more power because the spell hit point damage increase is needed to overcome overall hit point increase in NPCs and monsters, which are in turn increasing due to player character hit point increase.  Characters increase so opponents increase so spell increase and so forth a positive feedback loop is created that quite surely spirals out of control.

Meanwhile the fighter also increases the damage that can be done per attack and also increases the attacks per round.  But lets face it, it doesn't matter if the fighter does 10 or 36 hit points to an orc, the orc is dead.  So that extra damage is overkill wasted on a single creature.  Meanwhile the magic user that does 10 or 36 hit points of damage is laughing himself silly as no damage is wasted.  He just wipes out the charging horde.

Now lets consider for a second what happens if the hit points don't increase with level.  Death for one would come much faster.  Unless some means of representing skill and endurance is placed into the game a second blow would end a character's life at any level.  To solve this in Era I've added a secondary value called stamina which acts as a shield around hit points.  But only so much of it can be used in any one attack to buffer damage.  Let me put forward an example of different character classes and their values for a fighter, cleric, rogue and wizard.

Cleric - hit points: 18 stamina: 18 pain threshold: 2
Fighter - hit points: 21 stamina: 30 pain threshold: 5
Wizard - hit points: 12 stamina: 15 pain threshold: 2
Rogue - hit points: 22 stamina: 16 pain threshold: 3

Note: weapon damage in the game is in the order of 2d8 for arrows and 2d10 for heavy swords.

Hit points are the life of the character.  Once they reach zero they are dead.  Stamina represents combat endurance and could be seen as similar to current D&D hit points.  Pain threshold is the amount of stamina allowed to buffer a single attack.

As you can see the fighter has the highest pain threshold, as it should be, given his battle hardened body.  He has less hit points than the rouge, but higher stamina and can endure harder blows.  A 10 hit point hit would only do 5 hit points of damage as the other 5 would be soaked by stamina (pain threshold).  Whereas the rogue would take 7 hit points after the 3 stamina soak.  The fighter can endure 4 such hits while the rogue only 3.  The cleric can endure 2, but hardly 3 and the wizard would be hard pressed to endure 1 as 14 points of damage with a 2d8 take him down regardless of stamina (14 - 2 = 12, which kills him).

We are now looking at the 90 hit point vs 50 hit point example from another angle.  One in which weapon damage weighs less depending on character class.  More so stamina and pain threshold depend on constitution values.  So a fighter type who puts higher values in those attributes would be directly benefited with higher stamina and less direct damage to hit points (higher pain threshold).

The need for ever escalating damage in spells is no longer needed.  Since pain threshold is but a fraction (usually 10%, but slightly higher with better CON) hit points don't spiral out of control.  Characters will gain more stamina level after level, but only one or two points at best can be added to the buffer ever so often.  A fireball that does 3d6 is pretty life threatening and will be so many levels later as well although the more hardened characters will have a good fighting chance against it.  As the pain threshold goes from 2 to 5 or higher the probability of enduring a blast grows, but not as fast as it does in D&D.

This breaks the positive feedback loop of D&D and eliminates the need for ever escalating spell powers and actually nerfs the wizard instead of the fighter.  More so as you can see the fighter now has a clear advantage round after round in melee combat.  Holding 5 vs 2 points of pain threshold is huge advantage.  Adding that to twice the stamina makes the fighter capable of withstanding 5 times more hits than the average wizard.

Monsters don't need to spiral their hit points out of control and thus spells don't need to be so powerful.  Keeping them within human killing range is ok.  The wizard might not be laughing so hard against a horde of orcs if his fireball now does only 2d6 or 3d6 at best for higher level spells.  A giant will have a bit more hit points, certainly a higher stamina, but a fraction of that as pain threshold.  So it could be considerably injured by a single well placed hit.

Thus my belief that high hit points, the quintessential characteristic of the fighter, is also its largest limitation and the source of imbalance with other classes.
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