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    Default Hit Points - Why were they designed to be incoherent?

    I've been mulling over the nature of hit points lately. One thing that keeps cropping up is the issue of their “incoherence.” That is, hit points are seen as both an abstract model, but also a “realistic” model (and I put those quotes around realistic for a reason, don't go there!). On the one hand hit points are supposed to represent a broad range of factors, including physical health, luck, skill, divine grace, etc. However when hit points have to be recovered naturally the recovery is at a rate that better represents bodily damage.

    The incoherence began right from the start with Old D&D, however I'll skip over it because the game was still in an “accretion” state where game elements and assumptions were still forming. The references to hit points and there recovery are very brief and still assume some afterglow to miniature wargaming which is rife with deliberate abstraction. I'll also skip over Holmes Basic D&D because the language is terse to get a succinct rules package assembled.

    It's when we get to Advanced D&D where Gygax has license and page count to go into a great deal of depth on what hit points represent and how they are recovered. It's here where the contradiction comes into high relief. He even tries to address it pretty head on in the first edition Dungeon Master's Guide, but the explanation doesn't seem to quite fit.
    Quote Originally Posted by AD&D DMG, p.82
    It is quite unreasonable to assume that as a character gains levels of ability in his or her class that a corresponding gain in actual ability to sustain physical damage takes place. It is preposterous to state such an assumption, for if we are to assume that a man is killed by a sword thrust which does 4 hit points of damage, we must similarly assume that a hero could, on the average, withstand five such thrusts before being slain! Why then the increase in hit points? Because these reflect both the actual physical ability of the character to withstand damage - as indicated by constitution bonuses- and a commensurate increase in such areas as skill in combat and similar life-or-death situations, the "sixth sense" which warns the individual of some otherwise unforeseen events, sheer luck, and the fantastic provisions of magical protections and/or divine protection. Therefore, constitution affects both actual ability to withstand physical punishment hit points (physique) and the immeasurable areas which involve the sixth sense and luck (fitness).
    Already there is a problem here. Gygax pushes hard right at the beginning that hit points do not merely equate physical damage, and that as you gain levels the inflation of hit points means even less the capacity to absorb damage. Most of the hit points lean towards a sixth sense, luck, magic and divine protection. However, in that last sentence the sixth sense and luck are collapsed into a corporeal notion of “fitness.” He's trying to make a distinction between physique and fitness, but both analogies are tied to the body and not the more abstract notions of luck, fate, divine providence, or even just plain skill to avoid being hit.

    Quote Originally Posted by AD&D DMG, p.82
    Harkening back to the example of Rasputin [Gygax had mentioned Rasputin having a Constitution of 18], it would be safe to assume that he could withstand physical damage sufficient to have killed any four normal men, i.e. more than 14 hit points. Therefore, let us assume that a character with an 18 constitution will eventually be able to withstand no less than 15 hit points of actual physical damage before being slain, and that perhaps as many as 23 hit points could constitute the physical makeup of a character. The balance of accrued hit points are those which fall into the non-physical areas already detailed. Furthermore, these actual physical hit points would be spread across a large number of levels, starting from a base score of from an average of 3 to 4, going up to 6 to 8 at 2nd level, 9 to 1 1 at 3rd, 12 to 14 at 4th, 15 to 17 at 5th, 18 to 20 at 6th, and 21 to 23 at 7th level. Note that the above assumes the character is a fighter with an average of 3 hit points per die going to physical ability to withstand punishment and only 1 point of constitution bonus being likewise assigned. Beyond the basic physical damage sustained, hits scored upon a character do not actually do such an amount of physical damage.
    Above Gygax goes into more depth of how hit points can be broken down conceptually with a character. There are the hit points you gain from the class, and there is also the hit points gained from Constitution. There is some assumption that character's simply become tougher over time through the level inflation of hit points. Adventurers become inured to the hostile life and gain a kind of pain tolerance or willpower that can hopefully see them through tough situations. And so if you were to slice hit points into different categories, the corporeal hit points that represent health, pain tolerance, willpower, etc. versus the incorporeal hit points that represent luck, magic, divine grace and the avoidance of damage through skill, what happens is that the minority of them are every the corporeal hit points.

    Quote Originally Posted by AD&D DMG, p.82
    Consider a character who is a 10th level fighter with an 18 constitution. This character would have an average of 5% hit points per die, plus a constitution bonus of 4 hit points, per level, or 95 hit points! Each hit scored upon the character does only a small amount of actual physical harm - the sword thrust that would have run a 1st level fighter through the heart merely grazes the character due to the fighter's exceptional skill, luck, and sixth sense ability which caused movement to avoid the attack at just the right moment. However, having sustained 40 or 50 hit points of damage, our lordly fighter will be covered with a number of nicks, scratches, cuts and bruises. It will require a long period of rest and recuperation to regain the physical and metaphysical peak of 95 hit points.
    Just as the first paragraph, this above paragraph seems fine until that last sentence. Once again we're given an explanation of how hit points function that seems to be at odds with itself. Gygax once again divides hit points into two broad categories, the physical hit points and the metaphysical hit points.

    If one wanted a sense of verisimilitude in their game, then it makes sense that the physical hit points one has need a good deal of rest and recuperation if you were to lose them. If someone in real life gets stabbed by a sword it could take weeks, months, years or even permanent damage that can never be recovered. So in that regard long rest periods do make sense.

    The incoherence comes from the metaphysical type of hit points needing the same amount of rest to be recovered. Why is luck, skill, divine favor or magic tied to the biological healing process? Why does a god only dribble out divine favor? Why is luck tied to tissue recover rates?

    Today, unlike in the 1970s, one could make an argument that skill and general performance are impacted by things such as PTSD, so there is some overlap between wounds healing and a more ephemeral mental recovery, but the metaphysical is also pushed hard in the hit point explanation and it doesn't fit well together.

    I've gotten ahead of myself a bit because we haven't looked at how hit point recovery happens in 1st edition. This is where the incoherence really hits hard because recovery rates are rather brutal, and the metaphysical elements are marginalized in specific ways.

    For natural healing, true rest (no combat, spell casting, etc.) can be performed. A character gains 1 hit point per day in the first week. In the subsequent weeks they gain 1 hit point per day, plus their Constitution bonus per week. If a character rests continuously for 4 weeks they gain all of their hit points back regardless of the amount to be gained.

    You can of course use magic to accelerate all of this. Spells, points, and other magic items will give you hit points at a much more accelerated rate. All of these magical effects are specifically defined as healing wounds.

    However, that magic or divine grace is not as helpful you if you have gone to 0 hit points or less unless it is very powerful. The character is automatically in a coma for a bit even if they gain positive hit points, and more devastatingly, they simply can not function and must rest for a week, even if they were brought to maximum hit points. The only thing they can do is stumble out of the dungeon and find a bed to collapse into.

    I'm walking through all of this because I just have to ask, why were hit points envisioned this way? Why stress the metaphysical when it came to absorbing damage, but when it came to recovery it was slanted towards the physical?

    The alternative is seen today in a variety of mediums. Most video games today with a health bar, which is just hit points presented in a different manner, generally have some kind of auto regeneration effect.

    Take your typical shooter today and how the health bar works is that if you take too much damage in a short period of time then you could die, but if you are able to duck, hide or generally pull yourself out of the line of fire you'll get your health back and can then rejoin the battle. This approach isn't realistic. If you get shot in real life you're pretty much shut down due to pain, bleeding and shock. However conceptually it emulates the metaphysical a bit more. In a sense you're not truly getting hit, instead you're getting grazed, or need to duck and your nerves are being overwhelmed, to the point where you finally do take an incapacitating hit.

    Likewise, with 4th edition of D&D there is finally an introduction of a more explicit metaphysical statement of hit points through healing surges and second winds. Characters have the capacity to regain some of their hit points in a variety of ways, including just taking a breather for a moment to collect themselves. Anyone who plays a sport or has been in highly physical situations knows full well that your capacity to output energy has a limit, but that if you manage the pace of that expenditure it can be sustained over a long period of time. So 4th edition is trying to address the kind of ebb and flow of a person's performance in stressful situations through hit points.

    So having some of those alternatives out there now, why weren't these ideas being used or considered back in the 1970s? Why wasn't there a “second wind” or say after five minutes of rest you'd regain half of your hit points, or any other metric where at least a portion of the metaphysical hit points could quickly come back to a character?

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    Default Re: Hit Points - Why were they designed to be incoherent?

    Quote Originally Posted by harpy View Post
    The incoherence comes from the metaphysical type of hit points needing the same amount of rest to be recovered. Why is luck, skill, divine favor or magic tied to the biological healing process? Why does a god only dribble out divine favor? Why is luck tied to tissue recover rates?
    The simple answer is why not? We've all heard the concept of 'pushing your luck,' of 'tempting the fates,' and so on. The idea that metaphysical luck (as opposed to mechanical chance) is not a bottomless well, but rather is something that a person can run out of, has always been with us. Likewise the idea that divine protection can only be pushed so far before a god grows weary of assuming he'll always save your bacon and lets you die. Assuming that it takes some time to rebuild the favor of Heaven / ease off on the risk-taking a bit makes sense - and since the exact physical/metaphysical split is never spelled out the healing rate doesn't try to divide it up either, just rule-of-thumbs it right alongside the physical damage.
    You can of course use magic to accelerate all of this. Spells, points, and other magic items will give you hit points at a much more accelerated rate. All of these magical effects are specifically defined as healing wounds.
    Well, they all do heal wounds (and the game's handling of poisoned attacks and so on indicates that even 1 hit point damage does include some level of physical injury, however minor) but they're also pretty much exclusively the domain of divine magic in AD&D which makes the idea that they bolster your metaphysical standing perfectly sensible as well.
    However, that magic or divine grace is not as helpful you if you have gone to 0 hit points or less unless it is very powerful. The character is automatically in a coma for a bit even if they gain positive hit points, and more devastatingly, they simply can not function and must rest for a week, even if they were brought to maximum hit points. The only thing they can do is stumble out of the dungeon and find a bed to collapse into.
    Once you hit 0, you've burned through ALL of your metaphysical protection as well as your physical toughness; you've broken the bank and suffered an actual debilitating injury. Note that being at 1 hit point doesn't hurt your combat effectiveness at all. Passing 0 signifies the point where your skill and luck and meatiness have given way and you've let an opponent do you serious harm. The other injuries were minor cuts and nasty bruises, but the one that takes you below 0 has gotten past your defenses: that's the sword that runs you through or the mace that concusses you and leaves you senseless or the lightning bolt that hit you full on and left you smoking on the ground. It's an entirely different class of injury, the kind that sends you to the ER with bad odds for survival, and no matter how divinely favored you are it leaves you incapacitated. Healing magic can knit your tissues together and restore your stock with whatever divinity watches over you, but your body and mind have been at the edge of death and are left weakened by the experience.
    I'm walking through all of this because I just have to ask, why were hit points envisioned this way? Why stress the metaphysical when it came to absorbing damage, but when it came to recovery it was slanted towards the physical?
    I think my answer sums up to "it's not," if you think of Luck and Divine Favor as resources that can be expended and take time to regenerate and consider 0 hit points as literally being at Death's Door.

    Now, as for the mechanical end...
    So having some of those alternatives out there now, why weren't these ideas being used or considered back in the 1970s? Why wasn't there a “second wind” or say after five minutes of rest you'd regain half of your hit points, or any other metric where at least a portion of the metaphysical hit points could quickly come back to a character?
    Early D&D was a combat-centric game, yes, but it was also an exploration game with resource management as a critical element. The tracking of torches, food, and water; the hiring and maintenance of hirelings; the rules about overland travel and exploring uncharted areas were all there in support of this. Both the hit point mechanic and Vancian casting are right there in the same school, and the game made deciding when to turn back a critical aspect of play. The lack of easy escape options meant you had to plan ahead - teleports were risky, and wandering monsters meant that you couldn't just assume that the path home was cleared, so you had to head back home while you still had the resources to survive the trip. In other words, it was a deliberate design decision to make hit points difficult to recover once lost.

    EDIT: I should also add that yes, obviously, game design was by definition not as far advanced then as now. We've had 40 years of experience with these systems now to see what makes for a fun experience for more people, and hundreds of possible permutations have been tried in that time to see what works. The first people to put together such a system did not have the benefit of experience.
    Last edited by Lapak; 2012-01-30 at 11:50 AM.

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    Default Re: Hit Points - Why were they designed to be incoherent?

    Hit points aren't incoherent; they are simple, clear, easy to use, and inaccurate as a simulation. Any explanation that attempts to portray them as an accurate simulation must therefore be incoherent.

    Hit points as used in the game mechanics were designed as a simulation simple enough to actually use. Hit points as explained in the text were attempts to handwave the fact that damage cannot be easily simulated, and that hit points are a poor way to do it. Also, most people don't want their character to have a high chance of dying each time the character is hit with any weapon at all, as is the case with real weapons. (It's not a weapon unless it can end the fight with a single blow, against anybody.)

    All attempts to create a realistic description of battle damage have gotten bogged down in too much detail. When Chivalry and Sorcery first came out, everybody marveled at its realism, dividing damage into Fatigue an Body, which were treated differently. It was the most lush, complete, realistic, and beautiful unplayable mess I've ever seen.

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    Default Re: Hit Points - Why were they designed to be incoherent?

    This has always confused me as well. I think Mr. Gygax had a clear concept, but must have had difficulty explaining it simply yet in enough detail. Or maybe he wanted contradiction - I can't pretend to know his goals.

    So, ignoring all that text, I like to consider a dramatic battle, as in television or books, as an example. This is basically the usual description I've seen of what HP represent, but with the context of a dramatic battle, just to sort of cement the concept a little. Otherwise, you might think of a regular fight, with maybe a couple blows, which are parried, and one single hit kills, then onto the next foe. Anyway, on to the description.

    Two foes face off, attacking fiercely, each one seemingly equally skilled. Then, one gets past the other's defenses, or one makes a mistake, and the result is a strike gets through. It's a dramatic battle, so it's not an immediate killing blow, but damage has been done - pain at minimum (though not necessary, I prefer interpreting it that way), but no actual bleeding in most cases. Examples: the blow was parried, but a follow-up kick got through; glancing blow that left a shallow cut; strike using the pommel rather than the blade (hey, you take what you can get, right?). Basically, whatever happens, the victim feels pain, and if a few more of these minor strikes get through, it won't be good. Eventually, one combatant will wear down the other, and get a killing blow. The pain, damaged muscles/ligaments/tendons, etc., becomes just too much to cope with to fight on, the loser is now less able to fight, and a killing blow is now possible. Alternatively, and I think I like this one better now that I think about it: it's not a killing blow, but enough to overwhelm the body and send it into shock.

    This interpretation of the abstraction holds up against most of the various effects of HP I can think of, but it will likely break down to something I failed to consider. More levels means more combat experience, and thus maybe you can ignore lesser wounds with ease. Experience in physical combat also means more pain tolerance, stronger bones, and rolling with the blows to lessen damage. Overnight rest heals the small wounds like torn muscle fibers from overexertion, shallow cuts. Arguably, you'd feel even worse the next day, but be much better the day after, but I'm willing to let that one slide. Then, getting knocked into negatives is the singular mortal wound, though, not necessarily so (as I realized in my last sentence of the previous paragraph). Healing magic heals the worst of the damage first. Poisons... er, I can't really help there. It's not perfect, but it's how I figured this out for myself to explain how weird HP seemed. No metaphysics or divine intervention required.

    Then one has to think like Jay R says: it's a simulation, but not an accurate one. Or, to follow the MST3K mantra adapted for gaming: just repeat to yourself, "it's just a game, I should really just relax." But if you want some sort of bridge between abstraction and "reality", so you know what to picture in your head, or describe as the battle takes place, the dramatic battle explanation is just the thing.

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    Default Re: Hit Points - Why were they designed to be incoherent?

    I think there should be an award for Gygaxian Verbosity.
    I nominate Harpy.

    Seems clear that Gygax was struggling with a new concept, and tackling it through his experiences, using a lexicon that was still emerging from its wargaming womb.

    I think a parallel can be drawn between the works of Immanuel Kant and Robert Persig Jr.

    You have Kant, devoting countless hours and hundreds of pages in the twilight of the 18th century to quantifying this new concept called moral philosophy.

    Then 180 years later, Robert Persig comes along and writes a succint refutement of moral philosophy, and does so in a much slimmer, more entertaining, and often tangental novel called Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

    Thankfully, it didn't take 200 years to see that the 'Hit Point' is still an evolving definition. Today, there are game designers that interpret 'Hit Points' simply as currency for being allowed to act.

    Take for example, Dying Earth or Hero Quest by Robin Laws. In those games, there are clearly 'Hit Points', but they don't specifically refer to physical injuries. You can lose them in an argument, mountain climbing, combat, spirt journey, what have you. While you don't die from losing an argument, the results are the same: you can lose, you can be defeated, you can no longer act.
    Last edited by TheHarshax; 2012-01-30 at 01:58 PM.

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    Default Re: Hit Points - Why were they designed to be incoherent?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jay R View Post
    Hit points aren't incoherent; they are simple, clear, easy to use, and inaccurate as a simulation. Any explanation that attempts to portray them as an accurate simulation must therefore be incoherent.
    This. I don't see that hit points' ''recovery is at a rate that better represents bodily damage'', or that they in any way come anywhere close to attempting to represent anything other than a very, very abstract concept. The only place there is any issue is terminology - ''to-hit'', ''damage'', and ''wounds'' (as in: cure X wounds) are all problematic, as none of them actually mean exactly what it seems they should from a casual read.
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    Default Re: Hit Points - Why were they designed to be incoherent?

    Quote Originally Posted by harpy View Post
    Take your typical shooter today and how the health bar works is that if you take too much damage in a short period of time then you could die, but if you are able to duck, hide or generally pull yourself out of the line of fire you'll get your health back and can then rejoin the battle. This approach isn't realistic. If you get shot in real life you're pretty much shut down due to pain, bleeding and shock. However conceptually it emulates the metaphysical a bit more. In a sense you're not truly getting hit, instead you're getting grazed, or need to duck and your nerves are being overwhelmed, to the point where you finally do take an incapacitating hit.
    Well those are derived from Halo, where damage disrupted your energy shield first.

    Similarly, going with the DBZ explanation covers hit points nicely. The more skilled you are, the more spiritual energy you build up in your body. When you're hit, some of that energy is expended to protect you from the blow. Attacks which deal Con damage bypass this protection to hit you directly. Healing spells just infuse you with more ki, and can't do anything about "real" injuries.
    Vitality and Wound Points covers this better though (including letting crits damage you directly).
    Last edited by Prime32; 2012-02-01 at 07:03 PM.

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    Default Re: Hit Points - Why were they designed to be incoherent?

    I keep thinking the OP is satire of something, but I can't figure out what.

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    Default Re: Hit Points - Why were they designed to be incoherent?

    You know, I keep seeing HP justified as "divine favor", "luck", and "plot armor", but I have just one question, a simple question, that I think also summarizes the OP's point very handily:

    "Why Constitution?" What makes a tough character any luckier, more divinely favored, or more dramatically protected than an un-tough character? If HP is plot armor, why do beefy characters have more of it?
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    Default Re: Hit Points - Why were they designed to be incoherent?

    Quote Originally Posted by CarpeGuitarrem View Post
    You know, I keep seeing HP justified as "divine favor", "luck", and "plot armor", but I have just one question, a simple question, that I think also summarizes the OP's point very handily:

    "Why Constitution?" What makes a tough character any luckier, more divinely favored, or more dramatically protected than an un-tough character? If HP is plot armor, why do beefy characters have more of it?
    If people want to justify hit points by redefining it, they certainly can, but to be consistent, they have to redefine everything connected to it as well. Hits aren't damage, they're plot reversals, healing isn't healing; it's renewed luck. And Constitution isn't constitution; it's karma.

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    Default Re: Hit Points - Why were they designed to be incoherent?

    Hitpoints just don't make sense. Gygax's description of what they represent is not an explanation of how they work, it's a justification after the fact. And it's a lousy justification.

    Realism, or even plausibility, has no place in the D&D system. Hitpoints are designed to be an easy and predictable way to measure how long you can fight until you can die.

    Any realistic damage system would mean that any blow has at least a tiny chance to instantly kill even the biggest hero. If you want it more epic, any well-placed blow should be able to seriously inconvenience the biggest hero. In real life, people have taken a bullet to the head and lived, or a bullet to the foot and died. But also, any meaningful wound will take ages to heal, whereas a 1st level D&D character can heal life-threatening wounds in a few days with no special care.

    D&D was never designed to be realistic. It was designed to be easy and predictable. Players shouldn't be taken out of the fight with the first damage, but they should be able to see death coming from a mile away, so they have the chance to choose to stop fighting before they die.

    Unfortunately D&D 3.5 is far from easy, and with incapacitating spells, it's not terribly predictable either, but hit points are probably the easiest part of D&D, and apparently nobody though it'd be worth the trouble to change how they worked. For D&D at least. I think d20 modern replaced them, but I have no experience with that.
    Last edited by mcv; 2012-02-02 at 06:17 AM.

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    Default Re: Hit Points - Why were they designed to be incoherent?

    Quote Originally Posted by mcv View Post
    Realism, or even plausibility, has no place in the D&D system. Hitpoints are designed to be an easy and predictable way to measure how long you can fight until you can die.
    See? the answer was easy.
    If you explain HP in a different way, trying to justify the concept in a sort of realistic way, you're doomed to fail.
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    Default Re: Hit Points - Why were they designed to be incoherent?

    I've never quite understood why people have trouble with hit points.

    Hit points represent physical health. Your base number of Hit points represents how tough you are. If you lose hit points it means you've been injured. If you gain hit points it means you've been healed.

    Now you can define hit points in a bunch of other ways, but the simple and straightforward idea that HP = health and loss of HP = damage is much much easier and it's by far the most consistent way to understand it.

    I've taught the rules of RPGs to more players than I can count and I honestly don't think I've ever had one get confused when I explained it to them that way.
    Last edited by Saph; 2012-02-02 at 11:40 AM.
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    Default Re: Hit Points - Why were they designed to be incoherent?

    Quote Originally Posted by Saph View Post
    I've never quite understood why people have trouble with hit points.

    Hit points represent physical health. Your base number of Hit points represents how tough you are. If you lose hit points it means you've been injured. If you gain hit points it means you've been healed.

    Now you can define hit points in a bunch of other ways, but the simple and straightforward idea that HP = health and loss of HP = damage is much much easier and it's by far the most consistent way to understand it.

    I've taught the rules of RPGs to more players than I can count and I honestly don't think I've ever had one get confused when I explained it to them that way.
    The main trouble I have with hitpoints is the conclusions which then stem from it. If hitpoints represent physical health...

    Why does only the last hitpoint matter? Why can you keep functioning at full capacity, and not have to worry about the lethality of any attacks that won't take out your remaining health?

    Why do you keep getting more and more health per level? Why are you able to jump from ridiculous heights, as any class, and survive a fall at high levels?

    Why is the only way to die a gradual wearing-down of HP? Why can't every blow be potentially lethal? Rogues required a rules-based workaround (adding sneak attack) to represent the fact that their d4 dagger could potentially one-shot an enemy under the proper circumstances. That, to me, says that the physics of the game are flawed.

    D&D simultaneously says "hitpoints represent physical health" and "hitpoints are a dramatic pacing mechanism for fights"; it says one of them literally, and it implies the other one in the structure of the game. That's my problem with hitpoints.
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    Default Re: Hit Points - Why were they designed to be incoherent?

    Quote Originally Posted by Saph View Post
    I've never quite understood why people have trouble with hit points.

    Hit points represent physical health. Your base number of Hit points represents how tough you are. If you lose hit points it means you've been injured. If you gain hit points it means you've been healed.

    Now you can define hit points in a bunch of other ways, but the simple and straightforward idea that HP = health and loss of HP = damage is much much easier and it's by far the most consistent way to understand it.

    I've taught the rules of RPGs to more players than I can count and I honestly don't think I've ever had one get confused when I explained it to them that way.
    Aside from the fact that they explicitly weren't intended to be read as purely physical health from the beginning according to the people who created them? Reading them as pure meat-toughness means that when a 10th-level barbarian takes a x3 max-damage greataxe critical from a stronger-than-human opponent - which you can't really interpret as anything but 'hit directly as hard as it is possible to do with a giant sharp chunk of metal' if you're reading HP as purely physical - and it doesn't put him down, you have to somehow reconcile the mental image of a human being walking away from such a blow with your suspension of disbelief. And for some (a lot?) of people, that just isn't going to work.

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    Default Re: Hit Points - Why were they designed to be incoherent?

    Quote Originally Posted by Saph View Post
    I've never quite understood why people have trouble with hit points.

    Hit points represent physical health. Your base number of Hit points represents how tough you are. If you lose hit points it means you've been injured. If you gain hit points it means you've been healed.

    Now you can define hit points in a bunch of other ways, but the simple and straightforward idea that HP = health and loss of HP = damage is much much easier and it's by far the most consistent way to understand it.
    So how do you explain why starting adventurers heal much quicker from the brink of death back to full health than very experienced adventurers?

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    Default Re: Hit Points - Why were they designed to be incoherent?

    Quote Originally Posted by CarpeGuitarrem View Post
    The main trouble I have with hitpoints is the conclusions which then stem from it. If hitpoints represent physical health...

    Why does only the last hitpoint matter? Why can you keep functioning at full capacity, and not have to worry about the lethality of any attacks that won't take out your remaining health?
    Because keeping track of graduated wound penalties is too much work for too little return. D&D isn't designed to be heavily realistic and this is one area where realism gets sacrificed for fast gameplay.

    Quote Originally Posted by CarpeGuitarrem View Post
    Why are you able to jump from ridiculous heights, as any class, and survive a fall at high levels?
    Because you really are just that tough. A 10th-level fighter/barbarian isn't some random guy with a sword, he's freaking Conan. He can take inhuman levels of punishment before going down.

    Quote Originally Posted by CarpeGuitarrem View Post
    Why is the only way to die a gradual wearing-down of HP? Why can't every blow be potentially lethal?
    At lower levels and against really deadly opponents, one blow can be lethal. A 1st-level character can be taken out by a single critical hit, and a dragon can shred equivalent-level characters in a single round.

    A higher-level character getting attacked by lower-level ones, though . . . well, as mentioned, he's just that tough. Sticking a dagger in him only annoys him.

    Quote Originally Posted by Lapak View Post
    Reading them as pure meat-toughness means that when a 10th-level barbarian takes a x3 max-damage greataxe critical from a stronger-than-human opponent - which you can't really interpret as anything but 'hit directly as hard as it is possible to do with a giant sharp chunk of metal' if you're reading HP as purely physical - and it doesn't put him down, you have to somehow reconcile the mental image of a human being walking away from such a blow with your suspension of disbelief.
    A 10th-level druid can turn into a giant bear and is immune to poison. A 10th-level monk can break multiple Olympic records per minute. A 10th-level wizard treats the laws of physics as loose guidelines to be followed when convenient.

    If you can accept all that, is it really that hard to believe that a 10th-level barbarian can eat a critical hit from a giant and survive it?

    10th-level characters are not human. They're superhuman.

    Quote Originally Posted by mcv View Post
    So how do you explain why starting adventurers heal much quicker from the brink of death back to full health than very experienced adventurers?
    Which system are you talking about here?
    Last edited by Saph; 2012-02-02 at 12:15 PM.
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    Default Re: Hit Points - Why were they designed to be incoherent?

    I think anyone taking this thread seriously is being rickrolled.

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    Default Re: Hit Points - Why were they designed to be incoherent?

    The main reason hit points are used is simply, it's less complex than the alternative.

    Rolemaster has hit, specifically "concussion hits" which are a combination of pain, physical damage and bleeding. However, it's rare that hit point loss kills you in Rolemaster - it's the criticals. And crits cover things like bone, muscle (and organ) damage, as well as shock (stun, and bing forced to parry) and penalties to attack. Of course, this means you ALSO have have a correspondingly complex HEALING system.

    D&D's hit points are an abstract. You can treat them as being pure physical damage (and people being THAT HARD) or as a more abtract combination of that plus combat fatigue, luck etc etc (and each occurance of hit point loss can be interpreted differently). The long and the short of it is, it's the simplest way of looking at it.

    Though, the Vitality/Wound point system has a certain charm to it as well - though that also falls towards the Rolemaster problem of making things a bit more rocket tag (or where a single lucky hit can end your dramatic combat right out of the gate.)
    Last edited by Aotrs Commander; 2012-02-02 at 12:15 PM.

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    Default Re: Hit Points - Why were they designed to be incoherent?

    Quote Originally Posted by CarpeGuitarrem View Post
    "Why Constitution?" What makes a tough character any luckier, more divinely favored, or more dramatically protected than an un-tough character? If HP is plot armor, why do beefy characters have more of it?
    Because there's more than one factor in play. Normally, you don't try to justify everything about hit points as being down to luck, you only do so for the bonus hit points you get each time you gain a level.

    This is the reason why 3rd edition also lets you recover hit points faster if you're higher level -- a higher-level character has suffered fewer injuries for a given number of hit points worth of damage than a lower level character.

    And as for why hit points are used, it's because their gameplay properties are useful. Allowing an injured character to make a comeback is desirable, both for dramatic purposes and because it lessens the "sudden death" element of what might be a more realistic system. At the same time, if you don't restrict the ability of an injured character to make a comeback, or if you use some sort of tug-of-war system, you run the risk of an extended stalemate.
    Last edited by lesser_minion; 2012-02-02 at 12:45 PM.

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    Default Re: Hit Points - Why were they designed to be incoherent?

    Once upon a time, there were wargames. And in these wargames, units pretty much ran around and one-shotted each other. After awhile, someone wanted to create unusually tough or epic units, but had trouble dealing with them dropping in a single hit like everyone else. Hence, the idea of hit points.

    Hit points were, at the most basic level, how many times a unit could stand being hit before dying. They could represent luck, armor, unit size, or any number of things. The point was, however, that they made the unit unique or special. They could get through stuff that would kill normal units, and keep on fighting.

    I make no claim that this is an accurate view of how it worked, but you get where the concept of a "hit point" came from at least.

    When D&D came around, they decided to use those hit points as a measure of a character's survivability. No doubt wanting to make the numbers more random and impressive, they switched them from individual numbers to dice rolls. That is, rather than a hit dealing 1HP damage and strong units having between 3HP and 6HP, one hit might deal 1d6 HP damage and characters could have 3d6 HP or 6d6 HP. It also allowed some granularity, with the difference between 1d4 and 1d6 and 1d8 making some difference. That, for the most part, made sense.

    The problem came up with levels. A first-level character could have 1d6 HP, while a twentieth-level character could have 20d6 HP (or equilivant). Does this mean that a 20th level character is twenty times as lucky as a 1st level character? For the system, yes it did. Of course, later editions just made the problem even worse; 3rd edition, with their large CON bonus every level, meant that a character could literally ignore swords stabbing them through pure healthy constitution.

    Quote Originally Posted by harpy View Post
    However, in that last sentence the sixth sense and luck are collapsed into a corporeal notion of “fitness.” He's trying to make a distinction between physique and fitness, but both analogies are tied to the body and not the more abstract notions of luck, fate, divine providence, or even just plain skill to avoid being hit.
    You are misunderstanding the definition of the word fitness. Fitness means being fit for a specific role, task, or environment. In other words, it means suitibality or capability. Fitness can mean health, but it doesn't need to be. For example, if we are talking about a computer programming job, the fittest individual would be someone who is familiar with programming computers, knows the specific languange, and enjoys doing it. Their general health has nothing to do with it. The fittest item for driving in a nail would be a hammer, not the arm of a bodybuilder.

    In this case, the fitness of an individual exploring a dungeon is how well they can avoid the harmful effects of the dungeon. Therefore, being unusually lucky, protected by the gods, or whatever else would make them far more fit than an exceptionally healthy indivdual who just has no luck stumbling into traps or getting snacked on by dragons.

    Quote Originally Posted by harpy View Post
    Just as the first paragraph, this above paragraph seems fine until that last sentence. Once again we're given an explanation of how hit points function that seems to be at odds with itself.
    Not really. Have you even heard the phrase "don't test your luck"? You cannot assume you luck, reflexes, or divine grace will suddenly pop back to full strength after only a few hours of rest, especially if your body is still recovering from the effects of battle.

    Quote Originally Posted by harpy View Post
    I'm walking through all of this because I just have to ask, why were hit points envisioned this way? Why stress the metaphysical when it came to absorbing damage, but when it came to recovery it was slanted towards the physical?
    What makes you say that? In your recovery description, someone resting a month regains their full metaphysical stock of hit points automatically. How is this "slanted towards the physical"?

    What's more, why do you say recovery is even physical? Is not taking a break from combat and adventuring just as much of a mental, spiritual, and metaphysical rest?

    Quote Originally Posted by harpy View Post
    So having some of those alternatives out there now, why weren't these ideas being used or considered back in the 1970s? Why wasn't there a “second wind” or say after five minutes of rest you'd regain half of your hit points, or any other metric where at least a portion of the metaphysical hit points could quickly come back to a character?
    So you are asking why, in 1970, people were not using concepts popular in 2010 media?

    And to answer your question a bit better: Because there was a different concept of fantasy. Back then, a fifty-foot dragon was assumed to be something that could swallow a person whole, no matter what their skill or luck. You were a small fish in a big pond, and you mostly needed to rely on your wits and guile to stay alive in a dangerous world. Today, everyone is the Big Hero. They're supposed to be Superman, able to shrug off swords and bullets and plow their way through to their objective through sheer grit.

    In other words, you're seeing a genre shift. 1970 RPG heroes were the regular guys who through chance and luck accomplished greater things. 2010 RPG heroes are the super guys who through strength-of-arm and resilience accomplish great things. Neither one is really better, but if your question really is, "Why don't 70's RPGs play like those today?" then you have your answer.
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    Default Re: Hit Points - Why were they designed to be incoherent?

    Quote Originally Posted by Saph View Post
    A 10th-level druid can turn into a giant bear and is immune to poison. A 10th-level monk can break multiple Olympic records per minute. A 10th-level wizard treats the laws of physics as loose guidelines to be followed when convenient.

    If you can accept all that, is it really that hard to believe that a 10th-level barbarian can eat a critical hit from a giant and survive it?
    Yes. The others I can easily see in my mind's eye, given the rules of the world that have been presented to me. They do not break my suspension of disbelief, because I've been given a framework in which to understand them.

    There is no framework provided that allows me to envision a human-shaped figure made of flesh and bone that can take a full-strength direct hit from a greatsword sized for a 14' tall giant without getting cut in half. The only frameworks that I can make up for myself that allow this to be possible would make that same person quite literally immune to any smaller arms - the difference in sheer force between a human-scale handaxe and a giant-scale greatsword are just that different - yet the 10th level barbarian can be taken down with repeated strikes from a much smaller weapon. It does not process in my head.

    Assuming that hit points aren't pure toughness allows me to picture that exchange as a hit that SHOULD have been devastating but wasn't, due to a combination of skill and luck and other factors. That's way, way easier to work with that assuming his very flesh and bone are made of impossibly dense material that somehow is still vulnerable to lesser blows.
    10th-level characters are not human. They're superhuman.
    Superhuman, yes; Superman, no. You'd have to be Superman to take the kind of hit we're talking about full-on, and Superman isn't going down to any number of thugs armed with lead pipes - but that's what hit points would be describing if they were pure physical ruggedness.

    I completely understand if it works better in your imagination than mine, but for me it just flat-out won't leave me happy.

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    Default Re: Hit Points - Why were they designed to be incoherent?

    If you want 'realisitic', play GURPS. You can die most any time in that game.

    Hit points are a great mechanic in ADnD.

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    Default Re: Hit Points - Why were they designed to be incoherent?

    And if you want 'coherent', but 'akin to D&D', play Fantasy Craft. This splits hit points into two parts:
    - Wounds: limited to your Con score, slow to replace, doesn't increase by level, only with increases in Con, feats etc.; represents the character's ability to actually take serious damage. Generally damage is only sustained to wounds with critical hits or when vitality is exhausted.
    - Vitality: varies based on class, increases as a multiple of level, very easy to replace, e.g. free with a cantrip between scenes (the FC equivalent of encounters), and operates as a kind of ablative armour, representing the character's ability to ignore or avoid minor damage.

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    Default Re: Hit Points - Why were they designed to be incoherent?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mustard View Post
    "it's just a game, I should really just relax."
    I saw the OP and thought this. I decided to skim the comments to see how long it would be until someone said it, so I could quote it. It is a game. Accept the limitations of the simulation and have fun stealing coin from dragons.

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    Default Re: Hit Points - Why were they designed to be incoherent?

    Quote Originally Posted by paddyfool View Post
    And if you want 'coherent', but 'akin to D&D', play Fantasy Craft. This splits hit points into two parts:
    - Wounds: limited to your Con score, slow to replace, doesn't increase by level, only with increases in Con, feats etc.; represents the character's ability to actually take serious damage. Generally damage is only sustained to wounds with critical hits or when vitality is exhausted.
    - Vitality: varies based on class, increases as a multiple of level, very easy to replace, e.g. free with a cantrip between scenes (the FC equivalent of encounters), and operates as a kind of ablative armour, representing the character's ability to ignore or avoid minor damage.
    This sounds incredibly suitable to D&D. In 4e, healing surges were introduced to make quick healing between scenes easier, and lots of people complained about that mechanism. Distinguishing between a cheap, easy, quick-healing buffer (which could represent luck, experience, fitness, etc to soak up most of the damage before we start on the serious injuries, might be exactly what D&D needs. Someone should tell Monte Cook.

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    Default Re: Hit Points - Why were they designed to be incoherent?

    But how does metaphysical luck explain why a Greataxe deals 1d12 damage, or a Dagger 1d4? Does evading a greataxe blow take more luck? How do you survive an AOE Fireball?

    The only real explanation would be some kind of divine shield that absorbs a certain amount of force before it fails.

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    Default Re: Hit Points - Why were they designed to be incoherent?

    Quote Originally Posted by mcv View Post
    This sounds incredibly suitable to D&D. In 4e, healing surges were introduced to make quick healing between scenes easier, and lots of people complained about that mechanism. Distinguishing between a cheap, easy, quick-healing buffer (which could represent luck, experience, fitness, etc to soak up most of the damage before we start on the serious injuries, might be exactly what D&D needs. Someone should tell Monte Cook.
    I see what you did there...

    For those who haven't read The Book of Experimental Might, HP is divided into "Health" and "Grace." Health is explicitly the portion of HP based on Constitution, whereas Grace is the portion derived from Class. Grace is lost before Health, and also heals at a rate of 1 grace per minute of rest. Health is regained at the normal healing rate.

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    Default Re: Hit Points - Why were they designed to be incoherent?

    Quote Originally Posted by mcv View Post
    Someone should tell Monte Cook.
    Heh. The actual lineage of the vitality/wound point system goes more like this:

    Star Wars d20 system (2000) -> Spycraft 1.0 (2002) -> Spycraft 2.0 (2005) -> Fantasy Craft (2009).

    Since The Book of Experimental Might came out later in 2009, Monte Cook would likely have decided to apply this to fantasy roleplaying independently from FC, but it doesn't seem unlikely that he might also have drawn inspiration from Spycraft or Star Wars d20.
    Last edited by paddyfool; 2012-02-06 at 05:57 AM.

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    Default Re: Hit Points - Why were they designed to be incoherent?

    Hit points are whatever you want them to be, whatever you can get along with and not worry too much about. Mainly, they are an "abstraction" and lots of people seem to have trouble with that idea [i.e. a simplification of something potentially complex and detailed into a more vague, ambiguous or undefined form]. The only thing they do in D&D is measure the distance between "up and fighting" and "down and out". It is important to look at their origin, because originally there was no such thing as a hit point, there were just "hits" and if a normal man was "hit" he was killed. Heroes (fourth level fighters) had to be "hit" four times before they were slain. Somewhere along the line, as I understand it at Arneson's table, the players got sick of this level of lethality and requested more variability in the result of a hit, which brought us damage and hit points (both originally measured on 1d6).
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