Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Unified Theory: HD = m + e

I haven’t tried out any of the ideas of the previous post, for though I’ve been thinking about them for some time, apparently it took a great deal of pain along with time and some percocet to clarify my thinking.

It seems strange to me that after 30 years I would remotely reconsider reshaping the basic starting hit points of not only the player characters, but of all the creatures in the Monster Manual. But I also admit that I have been looking for a unified theory that would not fundamentally change the concept of the game, as many of the ideas advanced later on have. I coughed for several minutes after reading the premise behind “surges”...anyone who thinks they can defend them AND hold their head up high needs a good slapping around.

Handing out hit points, or the potential for nearly bottomless damage, is an adventure in reducing the meaning of any competition. It is as if saying about soccer, a game known for low scoring, that what the game needs is for there to be a point every time someone’s foot touches the ball, and whenever the ball rolls more than twenty feet without interruption, or if the ball bounces twice before going in the net, or ten times points if the scorer hits it with his head, or twenty times points if the goalie touches it before it goes in, or five points to the goalie every time he makes a save. In short, points would very soon begin to mean NOTHING, as hit points now do in the vagaries of “surges” and other such nonsense.

So my impulse would not be to increase player hit points. But if it allows me to unify the irrational hit points handed out to levelled characters to the hit points handed out to creatures, I am all for it. Since mass is universal, all that is required is to work out a comparable mass for every creature, by body shape, species and so on.

I must pause and make a point about corporeal vs. non-corporeal creatures. It is all very well to work out the mass of a hill giant and assign it hit dice on that basis, but how does one assign hit dice on that basis to a wraith or a spectre, neither of which have any mass at all?

Aha. For this we must accept an ancient premise, that all such creatures are merely manifestations of their actual selves on their own planes of existence. While a wraith on earth has no mass, a wraith on the Negative Plane of Energy can be said to have a mass equal to whatever creature the wraith was before descending to that plane. Thus, if a wraith were fashioned from a hill giant, a creature human like and 12’ tall, the wraith would thus have the mass of a hill giant.

(The hill giant’s mass, incidentally, for a male, would be the same as a 6’ male of 175 lbs. multiplied by eight times, as it is twice as large in height, width and breadth...a total of 1,400 lbs. Divided by the human female of the last post, this is 48.46 hp on average, or rounded up to the nearest hit dice, 11)

The wraith, if an ordinary human on the prime material plane, would have only 1 hit die. But it could have more, if that ordinary human was an experienced 7th level fighter, with 7d10 hp of additional combat experience.

In other words, non-corporeal creatures could be of virtually any hit dice, with virtually any additional human abilities, just as a lich retains the human abilities of its mage predecessor. Why, then, shouldn’t a spectre potentially have aspects of the cleric it was in life, or the quasit have the characteristics of the monk whose soul has been twisted into that form, and so on? We thus eliminate party rules lawyers who know by heart the hit point totals of every monster in the book, while at the same time vastly expanding the complexity of design of monsters we already possess, without the need of creating new, cumbersome monster descriptions. The solution is not NEW monsters, but monster mash-ups, on a grand scale.

If we argue that the combat ability is NOT commensurate with the monster’s hit die, a constant and annoying circumstance of AD&D, but with the monster’s experience, we then have the dull, 11 hit dice hill giant that attacks as a zero-level, on the zero-level table. We also potentially have gnolls of 15th level, along with every other race and character class that you, as DM, care to admit. Dumb monsters such as bullettes, catoblepas, oliphants and so on, for all their size, would still hit only according to their experience, while brilliant creatures such as twentieth level gold dragons would have hit points and combat skills far more commensurate with their abilities (obviously, the breath weapon would have to cease being based upon the dragon’s total hit points, always a fairly weak proposal).

Two weeks ago I wrote a post bemoaning the availability of monsters. I feel that is solved now. Along with other aspects of the problem I have not begun to address yet. Such as MOVEMENT.


  1. Hey Alexis, a new reader here. Love the blog!

    I must admit I don't follow some of the metaphysical concepts you're throwing around here, but I could swear I read somewhere in one of my old AD&D books that hit points shouldn't be thought to mean the ability to absorb physical punishment. It's not that a 10th level fighter with 100 hit points can somehow withstand 10 times more punishment than the 1st level fighter with 10 hit points. A single sword thrust could kill either fighter. (In fact you could argue a 16-year-old 1st level fighter can absorb MORE physical punishment than a middle-aged adventurer.)

    But those 90 more hit points for the 10th level fighter represent not more mass or tougher skin but rather the luck or skill or gods' favor or what-have-you to AVOID that sword thrust that kills the 1st-level fighter.

    Anyway, that's how I always envisioned it.

  2. Hi Alexis,
    I'm commenting on this old post because you mentioned you will be reviewing this topic in the not-too-distant.
    Just wanted forward something to consider:

    First up,
    mass based HP = apparently obvious + no-one thought of it before in 40yrs of gaming = brilliant.

    For consideration: using HP as single bucket for remaining life brings up a paradox with significantly larger opponents.

    Recall if you will, watching smaller predators taking out larger prey, there is often the circumstance where the prey has become exhausted (from wounds or exertion) and is done fighting but remains alive for quite some time. The predator waits nearby or remains holding on for a long time afterward until the prey bleeds out /goes into shock, because the prey could still walk away or be dangerous to the incautious (proximity damage).

    The issue as i see it is that there could be two buckets of HP
    - one representing how much fight they have left,
    - the other how much life left.

    I guess the standard minus 1 to minus 10 HP range represents this with the additional effect of being unconscious.This range of 0 to -10 would make sense for human sized creatures but not for significantly more massive.

    Perhaps the minus HP range should be mass based too.

    This would decouple the portions of HD as fighting ability and HD for size alone. (A beached whale doesnt fight so well)

    What is the advantage of such a rule...
    In terms providing meaningful choice for players: do they continue hacking away at the downed massive beastie, risking proximity damage (another bloody good idea of yours), wait an unknown period for it to expire,(is it playing possum) or move on as it is no longer a direct threat.


  3. The minus HP range also being mass-based . . .

    That is a very good thought. I shall let that rattle around awhile.


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