Tuesday, August 12, 2008

New Concepts in Hit Points

I have had the opportunity of late to think a great deal about hit points—specifically because a diving board causing 4-16 damage recently laid me up—or at least that was my first impression.

There has always been a great deal of controversy about what hit points ARE: obviously, abstract interpretations, but of WHAT, exactly? Actual damage caused by weapons, or merely a combination of exhaustion and mere chips taken off the character’s physique. The latter has produced a notion that the only actual “hit” is the last hit point taken off: the one that represents a severed limb or pierced bodily organ.

The DM’s Guide defines hit points as “The number of points of damage a creature can sustain before death (or optionally, coma), reflecting the character’s physical endurance, fighting experience, skill or luck.”

Well, I’m not a Gygaxian, so I have some problems with the above. First of all, why should “luck” have anything to do with what hit points are? The luck is obviously in the die: the player rolls a “7” on a d10 upon becoming a third level fighter instead of a “4.” That’s luck in determining how many hit points the character has, or the creature; once the number is generated, there’s luck involved in whether the character or creature is hit or for how much...but that luck has zip to do with the nature of hit points. It is like saying that the driving speed of a car reflects the presence of gas.

The next contention is “skill.” Hm. Which skill, exactly? Strength is added to damage done, and dexterity to the reduction of chance of damage being done, but neither indicates any change in the number of hit points. Constitution isn’t a skill (strictly speaking, it isn’t an ability either, but I’ll not quibble), it is an inherent nature. None of the weapon proficiencies nor combat proficiencies add to hit points, certainly not in AD&D. So, basically, was this word was pulled out of Gygax’s ass, because it sounded like there ought to be four things rather than three?

“Fighting experience.” I’ll buy the second half of the phrase...experience. Why fighting? If a mage never picks up a weapon, they still can rise to 20th level through the use of magic alone. So ditch the fighting argument. A mage who has never picked up a weapon knows how not to take damage, right?

What we have left is “physical endurance.” Well, this really is the constitution...putting that completely out of the running for character “skills.” But if the constitution merely adds hit points on top of what your character or the other creature already has, where do the original hit points actually come from?

Didn’t get that? I roll up a dwarf with 8 hit points, whose constitution is 16, which adds 2 to hit points.  Thus the dwarf’s hit points are 8+2 = 10. Where did the eight come from?

Not intelligence or wisdom, that’s for sure. The stupidest creatures imaginable have 80 or 100 hit points –purple worms—and those don’t come from “experience,” “skill” or “luck.” It is just a big, dumb, lumbering creature that flattens whatever it rolls on or eats.

Hm. Big...

My contention is that hit points for corporeal creatures (non-corporeal creatures are another matter, which I will get to in due time) comes from mass...which is how Gygax should have defined it years ago. My character’s mass of 175 lbs. of fighting weight will endure as much damage as it takes to rip it to pieces with a sword. That means the actual, physical damage represented by hit points are the first hit points the character receives on account of its race and physical size. Hit points added on later represent the character’s ability to avoid damage by expending the additional hit points they’ve earned through experience in exchange for the hit points they started with.

Why does any of this matter? It matters because I’m beginning to realize that the entire monster manual (along with its addendums) has its head up its ass because it fails to take into account mass in its calculations of hit dice, movement and particularly damage.

I know that there has been a change in the original three size classes: I can’t recall what they are; I’d have to look them up. I wasn’t very impressed...and I’m about to step past all of that. Instead of recording the size of the monster according to some ad hoc category, why don’t we just use the one that seems to work well for everyone else on earth...why don’t we just record its weight in kilos, or pounds if you like (I like using the old system for D&D, it reflects the age)?

Because the first place it falls down is in the demi-humans vs. humans.

ALL of the demi-humans are ridiculously small in stature, but equal to the humans in combat ability. Say what? Is this the “skill” that Gygax was referring to? Irrational racial abilities, based on a single book written by a writer who’s 1,800 page book includes about 20 actual pages of combat references? If that? (I haven’t counted). Why do elves have 1+1 hit dice while humans have only 1-6 hp...the same number as halflings, which are one-third their size? Why do dwarves, who are twice as massive as elves, who dig in the earth and spend their time in forges, have 1 hp less on average?

Why, it’s the elf cult, that’s why. Well, fuck the elf cult. If elves want more hit points, let’s have them beef up a little on the constitution. May I point out, if elves have so many hit points, why is it that the Player’s Handbook indicates you should subtract one constitution on becoming one? Hm? Shouldn’t an elven player character fighter automatically have more hit points than a human, dwarven or halfling fighter?

Let’s rearrange things and make them a little more orderly, shall we?

Let’s set an ordinary human female, 130 lbs., as 1 hit dice...or more specifically, an average of 4.5 hit points. This would make the lightest potential player, a halfling female, at fifty pounds, as having an average of 1.73 hp. I prefer to round up all my fractions in this case, giving the halfling female an average of 2, or 1-3 hit points as a base number. The heaviest character, a human male, at 175 lbs., would have an average of 6.05 hp, or 6.5, being a d12.

Now, doesn’t that fuck with your brain?

This does not mean that a thief would not still start with 1-4 hp, or a cleric with 1-8 and so on. It would only mean that the mimimum hit points the creature would have would be the base number, determined by their mass, and then added to that number the appropriate die roll for the class.

In other words, the first level human fighter would roll a d12 (mass), then a d10 (level) and then add his or her constitution bonus. If, like me, you give maximum hit points to start, you could give the level points as full...thus, d12+10+constitution.

The genius of this system is that it punishes each character individually. If a human character winds up being thin and weedy, weighing only 150 lbs., then the number is calculated against 130 to give the result. If an elf is determined out at 115 lbs., they will have MORE hit points because of their weight.

Of course, players will think that by gaining weight they will gain hit points...but they need to have it pointed out that their character’s weight is their fighting weight; that extra mass in the form of fat would be mere baggage, not an aid, and would only reduce their fighting ability.

Well, I’m lying on my back with nothing better to do, so I’ll send this off with my better half to get posted and I’ll start on the next piece.

1 comment:

Butch said...

Ah, I see you're already exploring this concept of "what are hit points" :)