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.