Saturday, June 6, 2009

Hit Points

This is probably the primordial subject to houserule/argue over. I doubt I have anything to add. But when did that stop anyone.

I'm firmly in the camp that hit points are an abstraction of luck, fatigue, skill (one reason they increase with experience). For much of combat a hit does not represent an actual cut. Rather it abstracts opponents getting fatigued, discovering weaknesses, etc. Think of a boxing match. Barring an early round K.O.(critical hit) the combatants spend several rounds dancing about, wearing down, and sizing up each other. Eventually one reveals a vulnerability, is too exhausted to keep his guard up or the like and the other takes him out.

I like to break that abstraction in a couple of instances. Criticals should be gory, bloody, and dramatic. Abstraction don't cut it. I want shattered bones, caved skulls, and blood fountains. Monsters and characters that get worn down, exhausted with physical trauma and death looming demand tension and gravitas. The last 10 hp should be different than the first 50. I could just narrate this when I see low hp but 1) I forget. 2) having a mechanical difference drives it home.

I've been using these Wounds and Vitality rules in my current campaign. I like the concept and implementation. The short of it is wounds represent physical damage and start off equal to constitution and never increase. Vitality represents that fatigue, luck, experience abstraction and work exactly like hit points. Once vitality is gone further damage is taken to wound points. Thus there is a nice point at which to start the Conanesque "showers of blood" narration. Which also very nicely keys in the players to each others and opponents' levels of damage. I'm Especially fond of how criticals bypass fatigue and inflict wounds. Verisimilitude all around. The two "levels" of hits and possibility of being stunned from wound damage remind players to take stock and consider fleeing when the blood starts flowing.

Because I find level drains tedious and unfun. I've extended "crit as wounds" concept to "level drains do wound damage". I might bring back "save or die" effects if I made them "save or take wound damage and then maybe die".

While writing this entry it dawned on me "Do I really want to force players into tracking two numbers for hits?" It's already been confusing in my existing campaign. What spells heal what type of damage, etc. Continuing my Dark Side training I'm strongly considering to just go with Trollsmyth's Death & Dismemberment or similar. It's far simpler. I lose the nice crits handling and ability transform other annoying (level drain) or deadly (save or die) into wound damage. But, I'm betting most the pain of level drain is due to complex, heavy rule systems in which it's a lot of work to go up/down a level of experience. And, really, save or die would mean save or roll on Death & Dismemberment table which has the same possibilities as having a wound point"buffer" of being ok, in a bad way, mostly dead, and parrot dead.

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