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View Full Version : Scaling hit points: are they actually beneficial?



xBlackWolfx
2013-11-15, 06:04 PM
Its something I've been thinking about lately.

The fact that your hit points increase with every level in DnD (and probably other games) isn't exactly realistic. I mean, explain why your character can survive being hit square in the head with a mace at lvl 10 when it would've killed them instantly at lvl 1, or if they existed in the real world.

Of course, if you try to have set hit points, then fights tend to end rather quickly. No matter how high your skills are, your character's adventure will come to an end the instant they fail one dodge roll against a giant or a fireball or something.

But its hard to explain what's going in in realistic terms. I mean, even in tabletop games DMs just say 'you take 5 damage', rather than try to make a sensible story based off of what the dice say.

Is there anyway to explain DnD-like hit point systems in some realistic way? Perhaps, The marvel faserip game (w/e its real name is) kinda did this. Your 'hit points' weren't just a representation of how many times your opponent has to smack you in the face to knock you out, it also incorporated a character's agility and combat skills. My guess is they were trying to imply that 'hit points' was just a measure of how long you had before your luck ran out. I was kind of thinking that maybe players could use 'fate points' to negate a successful hit, which would be similar to a hit point system, but is far more thematic. Their running out of 'fate/hit points' would simply represent their luck running out.

What do you think? Are hit points really benficial, or would rpgs be better without them?

Ralcos
2013-11-15, 06:11 PM
Hit points aren't just physical endurance, but your ability to properly defend against attacks.

A 1st level fighter has no true experience on the battlefield, and thus wouldnt survive the mace for very long.
On the other hand, a 10th level fighter is pretty well experienced, probably besting many a foe with his sword, thus he'd know how to better defend himself from a blow of the previous mace.

It's a pretty complex concept, but that's how I know it as.

Glimbur
2013-11-15, 06:16 PM
Hit points are one way to discourage fights between people of varying power levels. The dragon does 3d8+14 with a bite, the kobold does 1d6. Even if they both had the same chance to hit (armor class is a related but different topic) the dragon is scarier. If you have a big pool of hit points the kobold is no longer threatening.

You might be interested in the Vitality and Wound Points (http://www.d20srd.org/srd/variant/adventuring/vitalityAndWoundPoints.htm)alternate rules for D&D 3.5.

In most White Wolf games it is difficult to change your hit point pool. What you can do instead is improve your ability to 'soak' damage, i.e. have it damage you less or not at all.

RISUS has you lose dice from a cliche when you take damage, which is the simplest form of 'wound penalties' which you sometimes see in games that aim for more realism. This sort of thing leads to death spirals, where once you are losing it is hard to win, which is probably realistic but not always as intended for the game.

Dark Heresy and similar games (probably also Warhammer games) have Fate Points, which can be spent to reroll stuff or burned to avoid death. Spent points refresh each session, but burned points are gone.

Just some thoughts, I don't have a central thesis here. Sorry.

Ninjadeadbeard
2013-11-15, 06:19 PM
I think the Wounds/Vitality System better represents it, but Hit Points are a measure of:


Innate and trained combat expertise
Luck
Actual amount of damage the human body can take before expiring

Really, in the usual HP system, it's only that last dozen or so points when the orc's mace connects, or that lightning bolt does more than give you hat hair.

Djinn_in_Tonic
2013-11-15, 06:19 PM
Ralcos is basically right. In theory the only attack that needs to be described as hitting a character is the one that kills them (even falling unconscious can be explained away as something else). That Fighter isn't taking 10 mace hits to the head: he's dodging, partying, deflecting...but eventually a superior enemy will wear him down (i.e. run him out of hit points).

Of course, magic messes with this. It's hard, for example, to explain why Avascular Mass (a spell that rips out your targets organs and uses them to entangle nearby enemies) might fail to kill someone outright. As an interesting aside, the spell CAN'T kill someone, as it just halves your current hit points. Odd, that.

Amechra
2013-11-15, 06:58 PM
You know, it can be fun to look at hit points as actual physical toughness. It makes you feel like a superhero.

"You just stabbed me right through the heart? Bah! It'll take more than that to slow me down. Now excuse me, I have to jump off this cliff to chase down the jerk who just slit my throat open."

Seriously, at that point you are chugging poison and dodging explosions anyway, you might as well go whole hog.

Djinn_in_Tonic
2013-11-15, 07:01 PM
You know, it can be fun to look at hit points as actual physical toughness. It makes you feel like a superhero.

Well, yes. But that's a very particular gameplay style right there. :-P

toapat
2013-11-15, 07:25 PM
Of course, magic messes with this. It's hard, for example, to explain why Avascular Mass (a spell that rips out your targets organs and uses them to entangle nearby enemies) might fail to kill someone outright. As an interesting aside, the spell CAN'T kill someone, as it just halves your current hit points. Odd, that.

Well, it could be that the way the organs are ripped out pierces no blood vessels, and even seals the ones it has to sever absolutely to punch someone in the face with another man's heart

Morty
2013-11-15, 07:32 PM
The problem with the 'hit points as damage avoidance' model is that it makes very little sense when you put it next to Armor Class. If taking hit point damage is avoiding actual damage, then how is it different from the attack missing?

D&D's hit points are pretty terrible all around, for a variety of reasons, but as a concept, they don't have to be. There are realistic games that use hit point, such as GURPS, WFRP or Dark Heresy. They don't have them pile up like D&D does, of course.

Razanir
2013-11-15, 07:33 PM
As an interesting aside, the spell CAN'T kill someone, as it just halves your current hit points. Odd, that.

So... Could it actually heal someone? Half of -8 is -4.

Oh, you're dying? Here, let me tear out some organs to heal you

Back on topic, though, I view HP as a cross between toughness, luck and skill. Really, I'm fine with it being an abstraction of whatever keeps a thing alive. :smallsigh:

Rephath
2013-11-15, 07:38 PM
Fate uses a consequences system where you have a pool of 2-4 Physical stress boxes that replenish every scene (every fight plus non-combat scenes). They represent your ability to avoid the effects of an attack. A 3-stress hit with a pistol doesn't mean you got shot, it means you got grazed or dodged the shot, but you won't be so lucky next time.

Hit points are an archaic system. They work well for some types of games, horribly for others. The death spiral mentioned earlier is a major problem of more realistic modelling of health. It makes fighting cheap if you can easily restore hit points.

I once dropped a grill partly on my pinkie finger. It wasn't a serious injury, not even a hit point's worth of damage. But for a week the wound would gush blood if I twitched that finger, and I still am only at 90% mobility with it. My point? Injuries hurt! They're inconvenient. The grittier your game, the more you want to make the players realize the effects of combat, the more you want to make combat a serious thing, then the more you'll want a more realistic and less abstract way of handling health.

TuggyNE
2013-11-15, 07:41 PM
There's two significantly different considerations at work here. One of them, the usefulness of having a rapidly-scaling gradual defense, is out-of-character, the other, the nature of physical toughness/skill/good fortune/subtle magic/whatever is in-character.

Most defenses in e.g. D&D (saves, AC, SR, concealment, immunities, cover, range) are binary: they either protect you from something, or they don't. Sometimes they're tristate, such as Reflex saves with and without Evasion: you can fail, taking the full effect, succeed without Evasion (or fail with Improved Evasion) and suffer half the effect, or succeed with Evasion and suffer no effect at all. However, hit points and ability scores are gradual defenses, where several full-effect attacks may be required to whittle them down to 0, which is usually the point at which it really starts to matter. The basic game function of a gradual defense is to mediate probability so that no one roll governs the outcome of an encounter, and no one roll determines a character's life or death. Without a gradual defense of any sort, you'd need to use complicated rolling systems to ensure the chances of instant death were very low at all times, and cooperation between characters would be more limited, since all that matters is forcing an enemy to roll enough times that they fail and die.

It's also fairly plain in fiction and in reality that bodies can take a certain amount of punishment, loosely speaking, before they collapse, and that some are more fragile than others. Thus, it seems some sort of gradual defense is not only required for game purposes, but is logically connected with what's happening in the game world. So far so good: gradual defenses are needed, and they also make a lot of sense.

However, for game purposes it's useful to have a gradual defense that scales fairly rapidly, mostly to ensure a wide separation between opponents of different power levels, as Glimbur said. This is not strictly required (you could merely scale binary defenses up rapidly enough) but it reduces the fiddliness of tuning binary defenses by a fair amount, since you can just let the gradual defense soak up the needed differences of overall probability instead of doing complicated iterative probability calculations for various combinations of higher and lower binary defenses.

Unfortunately, actual human(oid) bodies do not reasonably scale in toughness or endurance at anything remotely like the rate that is useful for a good gradual defense. So we have to introduce some sort of extraordinary nature to this. Some possibilities include: superheroic sheer toughness; innate magic of the kind that infuses dragons, constructs, undead, and various magical beasts and other creatures; divine favor or luck; or some sort of dodging ability and the stamina to keep it up. These can of course be combined, or even mashed together into one poorly-differentiated and half-justified glob, which is in fact more or less what D&D does and has done.

My own preference is to clearly distinguish actual physical toughness from the extraordinary ability to minimize or "soak" damage, allow physical toughness to scale as slowly as it normally would, and allow damage soaking/stamina/whatever to scale as fast as you need it to for game balance and fun, as well as making it clearer for each character just what drives that unusually large pool of endurance. It's also helpful if the two pools can be damaged by slightly different things: for example, if there are a few things that can damage physical HP, let's say, without first going through stamina/endurance/vitality perhaps some poisons and spells, or certain extremely effective sneak attacks and likewise various abilities that can reduce stamina without any particular effect on HP even if stamina runs dry perhaps some sort of exhausting or energy draining attack, or even the character themselves choosing to perform some exceptionally difficult act.

And yes, these are thoughts I first thunk quite a while ago. :smallwink:

Djinn_in_Tonic
2013-11-15, 08:26 PM
The problem with the 'hit points as damage avoidance' model is that it makes very little sense when you put it next to Armor Class. If taking hit point damage is avoiding actual damage, then how is it different from the attack missing?

An attack that misses was never a blow that required effort to dodge. It was never a threat. Call them feints, blow exchanges, or whatever: if the AC isn't hit, it's an easy blow to avoid.

Just to Browse
2013-11-15, 09:34 PM
RPGs need a track to determine how many times you can push your luck before you fall down. You can call that vitality, HP, grace, or whatever but it's functionally the same. If you don't have that track, then there is no mechanic for determining when players overexert themselves.

Honestly, people get hit so many times in a fight, and fights can occur so many times in sessions, that there really is no way to do anything other than "you take X damage" without rewriting D&D's combat system to drastically drop the number of damaging blows.

Scaling hit points are only necessary depending on the RPG you choose. You could always have 10 hit points and just scale up some stat like Tenacity that determines how many hit points a given attack takes from you, or you could have it so that stronger characters are just better at dodging and parrying. D&D is a kitchen sink game with a lot of sacred cows, so I think the trouble of removing HP is worth less than the benefit that using alternatives provides.

Prime32
2013-11-15, 09:52 PM
The fact that your hit points increase with every level in DnD (and probably other games) isn't exactly realistic. I mean, explain why your character can survive being hit square in the head with a mace at lvl 10 when it would've killed them instantly at lvl 1, or if they existed in the real world.The problem here is that lv10 characters don't exist in the real world (which is capped around lv5 or so, and only Olympic athletes get that far). If you want combat to be realistic, don't make it a combat between superhumans.

Silvernale
2013-11-15, 11:28 PM
I always saw it that everyone has 10 hp (0 to -10 before they die), and their hp pool is just how much abuse they can shrug off before they actually take that lethal hit.

Jlerpy
2013-11-16, 12:43 AM
Consider: How would things be different if, instead of adding extra Hit Points each level, you divided damage taken by your level?
The main difference I can think of (once decisions about rounding are dealt with) is the scaling of healing.

NichG
2013-11-16, 10:44 AM
In my current campaign, a character takes damage to their stats when hit, depending on the type of hit and its basically impossible to increase your stats. More generally, any sort of attack can be described as having a particular 'consequence' which varies with the attack - being 'hit' by domination magic has the 'consequence' that you are under the control of the caster.

When you defend against an attack, its modeled as an opposed roll. The catch is, you have a pool of points that powers your various abilities (special attacks, magic usage, etc). You can also use these points after the defense roll has been made in order to increase your result on the defense roll (the opponent cannot likewise increase their attack roll). This is interpreted as you avoiding the effect.

So the 'consequence' for getting hit by an attack with a claymore might be more Stamina damage than any normal human has - if you get hit, you'll likely be killed. But you have a pool of points you can spend to reliably avoid getting hit. The same would be true of a domination spell or a death spell - the consequences are basically 'its over for you' if you let yourself get hit, but until you've been worn down somewhat you can basically guarantee that you won't be affected, because you have enough points to boost your defense roll by much more than its average result.

Tacitus
2013-11-16, 05:55 PM
I'm a fan of how Numenera tackles damage. You've got 3 Pools, and these Pools are both your health resource and fuel some abilities as well as allow you to put in additional Effort.

Might, Speed, and Intellect are the three core stats, and while it is possible to raise them through experience they only go so far. You dodge attacks with Speed (and can spend Speed to dodge easier) and a hit taken comes off Might first, then Speed, then Intellect. Out of all three Pools? You're dead. It does a fairly good job of simulating someone using up their effort in battle (ie, spending from Pools to do things) and being worn down (taking damage) before finally your endurance, reflexes, and even your sheer will to live are just exhausted.

Things that don't do what you'd see as HP damage might hit Intellect like a mind attack or Speed if its like a debilitating poison or some such. Interesting condition track that actually adds on penalties when a Pool hits 0, or in rare cases when damage to a Pool just doesn't properly show how much harm was done.