Friday, July 11, 2014

The Origin of Points

Well.  Time to step up, dump AD&D and change the rules.

Some of you know I haven't played the straight AD&D combat system in a lot of years - 28, in fact.  Some of you also know that my HD/hp rules vary for the size of monster encountered, so that while a middle-sized orc nominally has a d8 for hit points, a goblin at half the weight only has a d6, while a kobald, at 40 lbs. only has a d4.  This vastly complicates the issue that I originally proposed on Monday, as I no longer use the simplified system that was originally invented (it was convenient for the post, for discussion this week, but it's time to move up).

The change in hit points per die gets rid of hit die quandaries such as 1 minus 1 or 1/2 or 1/4 hit points.  The 1 HD giant centipede weighs 5 oz. (the weight an ordinary centipede would have if it were a foot long) and therefore only has 1 hit point.  It hasn't enough mass to ever justify 2 hit points.  I have seen enough now to guess at those who will chatter on about how fast it is or the hard exoskeleton or whatever, only those are questions for armor class, not hit points.  But I digress.

The incorporation of these rules helped me solve something else that always bothered me about leveled creatures.  It is clear from the DMG that many non-character races were allowed to have levels, given that their magicians have spells and that the leaders attack with more hit dice and thus on a better table.  I never did like the fact that an ordinary orc with 1 hit die (traditionally 1d8 hit points) could have more combat value than a first level orc (traditionally 1d10 hit points).  I'm sure some of the readers (particularly those who have sworn never, ever, to read this blog again, despite their knowledge of all its contents) would come up for wild justifications for why a 1st level orc fighter has 2 hit points while an ordinary grunt has 5, but it always bothered me.  To fix it, I had to produce ad hoc numbers and I hate doing that.  I like rules that everyone understands, that I am held to, so that the game continues apace without fudging.

The answer was to view the 'level' as a bonus number of hit points that were added to the base hit points gained for mass.  A 1 HD humanoid of medium size (140-219 lbs) has no training and thus has 1d8 hit points for their mass, health, constitution and whatever.  A 1st level fighter humanoid adds 1d10 to the original mass roll, so that all told the 1st level orc fighter would have 2-18 hit points.

Naturally, this meant calculating the mass of all the player characters and adding additional hit points for them, which the players adore.  I haven't heard any complaints so far.

It is still possible, however, for a 1st level orc fighter to have less than a 1 hit die ordinary orc.   I don't feel like calculating out the chance - knowing it exists is enough.

My players know that they're going to start their first level with a full hit die of their class.  This is a policy that goes back to when I was still in high school, which had been adopted by all my friends in the worlds they also ran.  No one among my group ever thought it was a bad idea; nor any of the people who would later run in my campaign over the next twenty years.  I didn't encounter people who felt otherwise until finding the internet.

Note that I say the full hit die - not the mass roll.  The mass roll, since its introduction five years ago, has been random.  Which is to say that potentially a boy with 1 hit point is trained to be a fighter, succeeds at it and then begins the game with 11 hit points, plus constitution bonus.

Given recent number crunchings, however, I see a problem in this thinking.  The mass number has always been rolled after the fact of the fighter's existence; I had not previously looked at it any other way.

Perhaps, however, going forward I should be adjust that mass number to the upper half of the die.

The same principle would be applied to the 1 HD humanoid fighter - only, the d10 roll would be random on top of Monday's numbers.  The most likely candidate for fighter training would be a humanoid with 7 or 8 hit points (with 5 or 6 hit points occurring, but more rarely), so the 1st level orc fighter should have d4+4 hit points for mass (assuming we don't want to use a d100 to determine hit points) and d10 hit points for fighting ability.  That still leaves the possibility of a 1st level having less hp than a ordinary man-at-arms, but since there's a rationale for it (the training had largely failed, since only a 1-3 on a d10 was rolled) I am more comfortable with the result.

Some of the non-readers will jump on my 'rationale' and scream that it's a story, so allow me to explain.  I never said that a 1 HD humanoid couldn't have 1 hit point and enter combat.  The response screamed that such would exist, and people rushed about this week proving it, giving examples of what these would be like and so on, but they merely misread what I'd written.  Yes, there would be a 1 hit point orc that might enter combat.  Only, you'd probably have to comb through more than 11,000 orcs to find one.  That was my point.  However, as the reader knows . . . numbers; confusing; not looking at them.

I said the 'balance' would have 7 or 8 hit points.  Not ALL.  The balance.  I cannot help it if people cannot read.  But that is what I said on Wednesday.

My rationale is only that I have an origin for where those fighter level numbers come from - those are training hit points, not constitution hit points.  Constitution bonuses per level are thus improved fitness resulting from additional training.  Thus, a 2nd level orc fighter with a 15 constitution would have 5-8 hit points from mass, 2-20 hit points from habits developed through training and an additional 2 hit points gained from improved fitness.  I don't have to make a story about where the points come from.  They originate in the same way for every orc, in a quantifiable manner.

Since the mass roll for new characters is going to go up in my world, to reflect this new perspective, I don't expect players will complain.  Players never contain about more of anything.  Thus the balance is maintained. The orcs have more hit points and so do the players.

Well, I was going to get into my stunning rules, but this is enough for today.  Have at it, boys.

7 comments:

JB said...

@ Alexis:

It always seemed to me that in your campaign (where things were so grounded in fact, reality, math) the MASS would be the set number and the HPs given for class would be the variable one...to reflect the vagaries of how well a character's training "took."

[I don't remember your justification for 1st level PCs having full HPs or whether or not NPC 1st levelers had random rolled HPs to reflect laziness or ineptitude or whatever in non-PCs]

The part where this doesn't jibe for me is when it comes to the random weapon damage. If you're not going to do random vagaries of fate or whatnot in terms of HPs, why should weapon damage not follow suit? Why shouldn't a better attack roll (not just a "20") indicate a larger amount of damage being dished out? Or would a higher level adventurer, with more combat "know-how" have a better chance of striking a telling blow then just minor lacerations and bruises (low damage rolls)?

The original game, as written, ascribes a lot to random chance, and I can see that while you acknowledge chance you also look to cut down on absurdities by tightening up probabilities to make things more consistent with reality. I guess my question is where (and why) draw the line?

I'll be interested to see if this whole line of thought leads you to changing what you've done for the last 2-3 decades.

Alexis Smolensk said...

JB,

The 'mass' is random because a pound of flesh isn't universal. Two different 180 pound humanoids can have considerably different measures of health; the construction of their bodies will be different. The 260 lb. boxer with a 'glass jaw' for instance. Thus, while weight gives an approximate variable (d8 vs d6) the random element includes the possibility of not having been structured as compactly or healthily.

Your point with the weapon damage is fair, but since hit points are determined ONCE and upgraded every three to ten sessions, it is very little bookkeeping. Combat damage caused by weapons is accomplished up to hundreds of times per session. The ratio of the work compared to the gain is so low it isn't an effective enough mechanic to improve the game in any meaningful way, while the memory work/application drags the campaign's movement, producing boredom. Thus, while I am free to mess with hit points, because they do not affect the playability of the game, there are things I can't mess with.

IF we ever build a proper application that will players to input their stats, their weapon, their level and so on, which then instantly 3D prints a loaded die specifically designed for THAT weapon, used as long as the player is THAT level, then I promise you I will jump on board enthusiastically. Of course, it would also mean that as the die hit the table, the table would read the die and produce a flash of detail describing how much damage was done and what part of the body suffered, removing the player's need to record the actual change. I am very fond of that ideal.

In the meantime, let's change what we can change without damaging the speed at which the game plays. That would be the 'line' you speak of. Does it make the whole game - not just the realism, but the entire experience - better?

Matt said...

Actually, I find JB's suggestion interesting. It stands to reason that someone using a particular weapon would eventually become more skilled with that particular weapon. Using Excel or some other means of digital rolling we could easily have a sword do 2-8 or 3-8 points of damage.

If you still track attacks in Excel to award XP for damage done and received then you could probably rig a counter of attacks made. Compare that with how often a person would have to use a particular weapon to become acclimated to it (I have no idea where I would start researching this)

Add in weapons damage, and weapon breakage, and you have a system that rewards sticking with a family's heirloom sword rather than buying a new one, and makes a player actually take care of that sword. It also makes dropping that sword for an enchanted one something you may have to think about.

My players do just shy of physically revolt when I bring up weapon breakage though.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I agree with JB's suggestion also. I only seek better tactical means of implementing the suggestion at the table without any reduction in speed of play.

Hah. I have weapon breaking and weapon drops. A druid in my world, Pikel by name (shown on the dedication page on my How to Play book), standing next to a toxic river in hell, dropped his +2 spear. The roll indicated that it fell five feet to his left, and since that was the river, the spear sank beneath the surface. He declined to go get it (would have killed him).

That spear gets mentioned now and then. Took him four levels before finding a comparable weapon, a shillelagh that's only +1 but restores hit points when it crits.

Fellow who runs Pikel, by the way, suggested the image for the upcoming book's cover.

Alexis Smolensk said...

In fact, I could quite easily write a post basing the 'effects of damage' on what number the weapon produced. '1 damage' has these possible results, '2 damage' has these possible results and so on.

But I do compensate for this somewhat by my stunning system.

Eric said...

The 1st level orc fighter is going to be a lot more survivable than the unleveled orc, aren't they? Per your negative hit point rules, can't they keep fighting (or start running) until they hit -10 hit hit points, while their unleveled orc buddy is dead at 0?

Alexis Smolensk said...

Potentially, yes. At -4 hit points and less they have to make a wisdom check (which is reduced 10% per point below zero) to stay conscious. So if their wisdom is normally 10, and they're at -5, they have to roll 5 or less on a d20 not to pass out. All their stats are reduced this way, so that at -7 their 14 strength is reduced to 4.2, meaning they're going to miss a lot.

It had slipped my mind, though, I'll admit. The 'number of hit points' is therefore always going to be 'higher' for a leveled character. Thanks for giving me a poke, Eric.