Tuesday, July 8, 2014

One Hit Die Illogic

Well, yesterday's conversation was . . . interesting.  Clearly, if I want to muck with hit points, I'm stepping on people's toes.

It should be clear by now that I consider nothing sacred, except the enjoyment of the players.  When I began writing yesterday's post suggesting that players wouldn't find 1 HD humanoids with only 1 hit point, I liked the idea that battles would be more toe-to-toe.  It appears players prefer those instant kills, those moments where they roll a 1 on a d6 with their spear and I say, "It's dead."

Yet, it isn't as though the participants haven't noticed that 1 hp humanoids is stupid.  Otherwise, why the need for an explanation.  More than one had to say (paraphrasing): "I've always presumed these humanoids were damaged in some way before joining the combat with the party."

So, when the Keep on the Borderland gave every kobald in a room 3 hit points, what was the story there? And if the party finds a lair where every humanoid is working on farms and attending to their flocks, obviously having not fought something off the last day or two, then you give them all 8 hit points, right?  If not, your descriptions to the party when they encounter these humanoids includes evidence that certain ones are tired, run down, wounded, bloody and so on.  Right?

See, the problem with a 'story' is that it only creates more questions.  I note that virtually every question I asked in yesterday's thread was ignored.  As the ones in the above paragraph will be ignored.  It won't matter if they're not, because the answers will only make MORE questions, and more, because such answers applied to hit points are always conjecture.  Conjecture is a very poor standard, as once you apply that standard across the system irrationalities proliferate.

Let's say that when my party does encounter 7 orcs, hit points randomly rolled from 1 to 8, that these orcs have just been in a fight.  Why are they now fighting or ambushing my party?  Why are they not hiding?  I understand this if I've encountered these orcs in their lair and they're defending themselves, but since the random 1-8 roll applies to every orc, everywhere, regardless of the circumstance in which I encounter them, why is there an exactly equal chance of these orcs 200 feet underground in their lair having just fought a combat as a bunch of orcs who I meet sunning themselves outside by a river.  Are there rules that say every group of orcs I meet must be tired and worn down and staggering back from the combat they've just had? Why is it that humans can't just eliminate these humanoids who are always fighting with one another?

Father to son:  "Marcus, the orcs are stupid.  They're always fighting each other.  Fact is, you'll never encounter an orc band that hasn't just been in a fight.  So remember, always have full hit points."  That's the way we've always beaten them."

So, let me get this other thing straight.  300 orcs attack a town.  They must have been planning this raid, so just prior to the raid, they all fight each other?  Vrok, Brok, Grok and Frok aren't worried about attacking the town enough that it occurs to them, "Okay, I hate you, you hate me, let's just not damage each other before attacking the town because that is just unaccountably stupid."  I'm sure some people are going to argue that orcs love to fight and squabble, but they do have an average intelligence, the same as humans.

What about dwarves, then.  Do they fight and squabble and do damage to each other before gearing up for war?  Dwarves have one hit die too.  No natural bonuses.  Even if you argue that every dwarf in the world has a 15 constitution (which they don't - if you think they do, then I just won't bother to roll my Con if I run a dwarf in your world) that still means 1 in 8 dwarves will have 2 hit points and that's not much better than 1 hit point (see yesterday's tables).  How does this "humanoids are always squabbling" argument work for dwarves - or gnomes (min 1 hp), elves (min 2 hp), humans (min 1 hp) or really intelligent creatures with only two hit dice, like dryads?  Dryads are always fighting?  Must be the kids in the neighborhood throwing rocks at them.

6 in 64 dryads have 4 hit points or less.  According to this logic, if a dryad - who hardly ever has to reveal itself - does so to a party, there is a slightly better than 1 in 11 chance that dryad will do so knowing it isn't at full hit points.  If the party is beset upon by nixies, 1 in 4 will come out of the lake to pull in a hapless victim while having fought, recently . . . I'm sorry, what have they fought?

See, the logic holds for one small tiny group, but not for every monster.  It just doesn't.  I can't imagine why certain readers can't see that.  I have to presume there's a deliberate resistance to the idea.

I do have another question.  If 1-2 hit points is an orc that has been recently damaged or exhausted before attacking the party, what are the orc's full hit points?  If I strap 8 orcs down, tend to them, keep them from fighting each other or encountering children with rocks (and all the other slings and arrows of existence), then after healing them and getting them up to full, all at the same time, how many hit points will they have?  Hm?

Would it not make more sense to presume, up front, that one hit die humanoids have 7 to 8 hit points, like I suggested, then modify their hit points for a combat that I choose to have happened for them, because it fits the exact situation, rather than fixing every situation and every circumstance into the rules by insisting I roll a d8 for every one hit die creature, all the time?  Shouldn't I be entitled to choose when and where?  Must I have obey someone else's insistence that to do otherwise breaks the game?

It does to me.  But then, perhaps I am also thinking that the number of appearing can just as easily be dropped.  If all the orcs have 7 to 8 hit points, I don't need to throw 7-12 of them against the 4 person party, do I?  Which means, in fact, that the actual combat dynamic hasn't been changed at all - only the meaning of fighting one hit die humanoids.  That is, they're a bit scarier than they used to be.


Anonymous said...

Your essential shortcoming in seeing the other point of view here Alexis is that you continue to interpret hit points as an objective measure of endurance or mass. As one whose toes are supposedly being stepped on, I don't. It doesn't matter how you explain the one hit point, really. What matters is that 12.5% of the orcs and dwarves in my game will go down with one shot in any given combat. If I stuck you in the belly with a knife you'd probably go down, too, yet here you are enjoying 50+ years of health and prosperity. I don't think that's stupid at all... just different from the multi-round slug-fests with any ol' monster you prefer in your game.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I am interpreting hit points as a game mechanic, yes. I fail to see how your insistence on seeing hit points as a 'non-objective' measure in any way improves the game.

I don't see my failure to see this as a shortcoming. I do see that you've failed to answer any of the questions I've asked, James, or how I am supposed to build or develop a system or world on entities built on conjecture.

Nor do I see how my being stuck in the belly with a knife has anything to do with it. I am not attacking you in the woods. Nor am I living in the 17th century. I can tell you without doubt that, if I had been alive 300 years ago, I would be dead now. I would have died at age 3 when my mother poured a boiling hot pot of soup on me because she didn't see me underfoot. I would have died again at age 6 when I fell forward and nailed myself in the middle of my forehead with the corner of a table. Then I would have probably died from infection when I snapped my quadraceps tendon in 2008. My daughter would be dead from hepatitus, which she contracted like many babies a few days after birth.

What is wrong with 'different.' I have initiated hundreds of different things on this blog. Why is this particularly galling for people? I wonder what I have hit upon here.

Anonymous said...

Reading and understanding my last statement removes the need to answer any of your questions. Why go tit-for-tat with you on specifics when we're operating from two completely different premises and you haven't yet recognized that? The orcs in my example didn't exist until I rolled 1 hit point for them. It doesn't matter how they got there. When a character swings an axe at them at hits, it doesn't really matter whether 1 or 8 points of damage are done, 12.5% of them will they die when they get hit. What's the difference between 1 and 8 hit points of damage? These are all abstractions, of course. It seems to me you're just as galled over this discussion as anybody.

Alexis Smolensk said...

This is tit-for-tat because this is my blog. Of course I recognize that you're accepting a different premise. You're embracing the perspective that has been around from the beginning.

This is tit-for-tat because I don't agree. You keep making statements like, "It doesn't matter how they got there" when I am arguing it DOES. Then you're ignoring my insistence that it does using the argument, "We're different."

I ask a whole lot of questions that, I think, demonstrates the fallacy of what you say. You repeat what you say and then argue that you don't have to answer my questions because you think different things than me? Why don't you just answer, "I know you are, what am I?"

There are people who think differently than me everywhere, James. Why aren't you commenting on their blogs? Why does this particular issue matter enough to YOU to go tit-for-tat with me? You've been doing it since yesterday. Don't accuse me of something you started. I began with statistics. Where are your statistics? I have been asking questions. Where are your answers? I have been demanding a universal system that applies to all hit point situations. You have been giving me anecdotal cases. We're not going tit-for-tat. You are. You're exempting yourself from the argument because you don't buy it, and for reasons I don't understand you think it's important to tell me, over and over, that you don't buy it.

Good. Don't buy it. Why is it so important that I know that?

Matt said...

James C.,

Whether Hitpoints represent mass and endurance, stress and general health, alertness, or so on, what is the logic that any given humanoid would willfully assault an armed group at less than optimal condition?

If any given humanoid is aware of his HP (and they should be. PCs certainly are, and often morale checks rely on HP totals) then why would they act in a manner that does not take that knowledge into account?

Why the order of "Okay, lets roll the encounter. It's orcs. Now, lets roll Surprise. The Orcs win surprise. Lets roll HP. Okay, several of them have absolutely shit amounts of HP. Cool, lets go!"

The problem is why the fuck would a tired, or injured, or stressed group go out of their way to put themselves in danger? Why as a population would everything in the world have a chance to do this? How does that possibly make sense?

I think that all that Alexis is suggesting, and also what Oddbit suggested in the comments of the previous thread, is that you generate the circumstances of the encounter, and lets the HP follow that, rather than generating the HP first, and then explaining the circumstances after the fact. Doesn't that make sense? Doesn't that make sense both narratively and gameplay wise? Doesn't that allow you to give more information up front so that PCs know whether to fight, or run, or bargain, or what?

I mean, if the party has a chance to learn before the fight begins that their enemies include wounded and tired, couldn't they offer the skills of their cleric for passage? Or perhaps they could spend more time planning an ambush to take out the weakened patrol. Or maybe they could make a stronger, bolder show of force and try to intimidate the patrol from attacking. Doesn't generating the circumstance and letting the HP follow that make sense?

As for the knife in the belly? Well, maybe if you have a long knife, you strike something vital, and he doesn't get medical attention for several hours or days. It's actually pretty hard to kill someone. See, prison stabbings happen where a person can be stabbed 30 times and survive because they got care.

Sometimes a person has a railroad spike shot through their eye, obliterating part of their brain. That's survivable. Maybe not if that person was sick, or tired, or wounded, but if he went to work thinking it was going to be a normal day and instead it was railroad spike in the head day, and the EMTs get there in time, he might just make it. You know, if he went to work with full HP. And, you know, if he was feeling bad enough that he thought that the next bump he made against the coffee table would kill him, maybe he'd call out sick?


Anonymous said...

Since you addressed me directly, Matt, I will reply to your extensive post in brief. I understand all of your points. I really, really do. I'm only considering variable hit points and damage a further level of abstraction than you, Alexis and others. It is consistent with a dirtier, deadlier variety of combat that I prefer. Sometimes the railroad spike through the eye can be an instant death and whether that's 1 or 8 hit points of actual damage is irrelevant to me when considering a 1 HD creature. Be well.

Matt said...

Okay, certainly. Hit points are an abstract game mechanic. I understand that. Do they represent anything specific other than the chance that today is the day you die? (or don't?)

How exactly does damage tie into that? Is the damage role the same thing? An abstract measure of chance that this blow, and not the other one, will kill you? Two abstract values that do not tie to anything physical or measurable in a game world?

If that is the case, that's fine. That is your table and your game. You're welcome to do what you want with it.

But Alexis is interested in running the sort of game where things are measurable, and where they can come from somewhere. This blog is all about being able to pull from the world to find answers, and to use that information and to parse it with real-world experience in order to make decisions that are themselves measurable, and certain.

Alexis has a set of trade tables that take into account resource generation, cultural influence, and distance in to the price of items at any given city.

Alexis has a set of character generation tables that determine social class based on the population of the region.

Alexis has a hit point system that considers the mass of a creature, so that things like elephants and bears and dragons are verisimilitudinally difficult to kill.

So why would you point out to him that his ideas only work with HP systems that are more concrete, and less abstract than yours?

Because honestly: Duh. His thoughts work in the sort of game that his blog advocates. They work in the sort of game that the book he has written that is set to launch on the 15th of this month advocates.

Maybe I am being rude, but doesn't it make sense that whatever premise you base hit points on doesn't matter unless it also works with the sort of game that Alexis is talking about?

I agree that not every orc should have 8 HP. Sometimes orcs are injured, sick, weary, or are just plain the runts of the litter. But in the sort of game Alexis is advocating it is the world that this particular orc lives in that should decide that, and not the roll that should dictate the circumstances of that orc.

If you want to do hit points differently that is fine, but it doesn't make sense to me that you would argue your method on this blog which has always so blatantly described Alexis's methodology.

Alexis Smolensk said...

"Alexis has a set of character generation tables that determine social class based on the population of the region."

Not quite, but sort of in the ballpark.

James C. is in my online campaign, Matt. Thought you'd like to know. He's been running in my world since 2009.

I don't know why I've pissed in his cornflakes this go around, but since he won't answer any of my questions, I guess I won't know.

Matt said...

I apologize for misunderstanding the character generation tables. I haven't looked at them myself, and I'd bet they'd go over my head on a passing glance.

The fact that he is in your online campaign only makes his posts that much more confusing to me.

Alexis Smolensk said...


No need for apology. I'm clarifying the character generator because I want not to misrepresent it.

"The fact that he is in your online campaign only makes his posts that much more confusing to me."

This is why my last question was, "Why is it so important that I know that?"

Anonymous said...

Alexis, I suppose I found it important for you to know only once you decided to overlook it in mocking me and reducing my perspective to absurdity for the purposes of this post. A perspective, I'd like to stress, that was only offered as context for a very simple question that you did answer right away (should monsters get full hit points?)

I'm looking forward to you solving this:

Would it not make more sense to presume, up front, that one hit die humanoids have 7 to 8 hit points, like I suggested, then modify their hit points for a combat that I choose to have happened for them, because it fits the exact situation, rather than fixing every situation and every circumstance into the rules by insisting I roll a d8 for every one hit die creature, all the time?

or not... it is after all, your blog and your time. It might make for a really useful and attractive alternative to 1d8.

As for the rest of your questions, let's not fool one another here. Those questions were not honestly asked. I have no interest in being your straw-man or your sycophant, here. Too many other more likely candidates in these two posts alone for those distinctions.

Alexis Smolensk said...

James C.,

I did not mock you.

I was not prepared for the argument that where the book says, 1d8 for hit points for a 1 HD creature, we were somehow supposed to understand from no information at all that this 1d8 did not represent the maximum hit points of the creature. I treated all suppositions to that idea as absurd. The game doesn't suggest it. I've never seen a DM play it that way or mention it. I can understand why you have chosen to reconcile the illogic of it by having an explanation that you then tried to give me. I called the explanation a 'story.' Things went downhill from there.

From my point of view, 1d8 hit points per die ARE the maximum hit points of the monster. Period. The rules as written do not suggest otherwise. I support changing rules, 100%, but the change you propose, that we should look at what 1 hit point means, doesn't fit with my world.

And you, of all people, should know that.

I appreciate that you do not view it this way in your world. But I never actually told you how to run your world. I never mentioned your world. I have only said, very clearly, as I would to anyone, that I strongly disagree with your take on it because I have no reason whatsoever to believe that your take on it is correct - whereas I have been running the game, d8 rolled randomly for 1 hit dice creatures (of human-sized only, as of 4 years ago), religiously. Now I am saying I'd like to change that habit from 35 years of play. I'm saying I don't like rolling 1 hit point for an orc attacking a party. I don't think it makes sense. Here is why it doesn't make sense.

How am I to know that you have a narrative behind 1 hp for low level creatures? Having never heard it before, how am I to know it is extremely personal to you? Having never played it or heard of it, how am I to suddenly accept it? Why should I? What is in it for me? How does it improve my world? How do I develop from it? How does it solve my initial problem, that I can't figure out how, realistically, a 1 hp creature is entering combat?

The answer to every question is I don't. The answer to all the questions on this post is, it doesn't make sense. I'm not dishonest about any of the questions. NONE of them are strawman questions. They are logical problems extrapolated from the logic that you - and others, let's not forget that you were not alone on the last thread - proposed.

I'm sorry that you do not understand why this seems so irrational to me. I'm sorry that it feels as though I am mocking you personally, attacking your world, disregarding your opinion or otherwise being abusive. This is not sarcasm. This is sincere. I have huge amounts invested in you, your person, your goodwill and your support. I don't know how to make you understand that your opinion in this matter is simply untenable for my uses.

Why is it that you cannot accept this from me? I've never misrepresented myself about this sort of thing.

Jhandar said...

Well everyone seems to be wading into the fray and I have not posted in a while. Neither of them I realize, are wonderful justifications. But when has logic stopped discourse on the internet.

How I justify the randomness of the result of a HD roll is quite simply luck. D&D has relatively muddled mechanics to support this supposition but the same is true about a number of other aspects of the game. When I conceptualize two orcs, one with 1 hp and the other with 8 hp there is no visual difference or difference notable between the two. Both may be the same stature, musculature, and general vigor. Sometimes, combat comes down to a lucky shot. To call back to Matt’s example of the railroad spike to the skull; sometimes you keep on ticking, other times not. This is just fate and luck of the dice.

Reputably Julius Caesar was stabbed 23 times in the forum for his death. I we assume that the senators were wielding daggers which do the standard 1d4 dmg then this would mean that Caesar had between 23 and 92 hp, and on average 57.5 hp. Sure, some of those stabbings may have been post mortem, and maybe there was a senator or two that had a damage bonus, but for the sake of argument I am ignoring that ‘minutia’. This would mean that Caesar would have been a 13th level fighter (d8 HD with an average of 4.5 hp per level, no CON bonus) of we are going by pure averages.

Now normally I am vehemently opposed to the idea that position equals level and it is my viewpoint that is Price Fancybottoms does not earn experience the hard way he does not glean any from being born into the right household. And I will happily agree that Julius Caesar led a spectacularly adventurous life and may well have reached 13th level.

I bring this up only to point out that there are other celebrated historical figures such as Genghis Khan, Louis IV of France, and William the Conqueror, also who led adventurous lives and likely gained a level or two in their day who died falling off their horse. A simple 1d6 dmg from a botched riding roll (to put into game terms) and they are laid low.

It is relatively nonsensical but sometimes life is not a logical or orderly. I realize that my stance of ‘Shit Happens’ vs. ‘What’re You Gonna Do?’ is a redundancy of the actual act of the rolls to both hit and damage themselves. Because after all, shouldn’t the damage roll itself be able to cover the variety of outcomes of a successful contact between an axe and the human form, if the hit even occurs?

So I lump hit points in with probability tables for hitting and damage and see them as another layer of randomization that the game has artificially put into place to add variance to a combat system. This saves me from having to try and spin a tale to justify hit point oddities and takes ‘health’ out of ‘hit points’ and ties it back with the Constitution score. So your principles can be tired, saddle sore, feverish, stuffed up, or pimpled is not a reflection of combat readiness and more in tune with the non-combat portions of the game.

If you are looking for mechanical president I could point to the fact that Savings Throws are not mitigated or adjusted at all based on hit points, and you save versus paralysis, poison, and death magic (a logical reflection of health and vigor if there ever was one) at the same rate at 1 hp as you do at maximum hp. Mechanically the issue is muddled by the coupling of a high Constitution to hit points. Alexis, you have already begun loosening this bond with the addition of mass into your hit point calculation. If the association must be kept, then see connection as a side effect of a zest for life and increased vigor or whatever helps you sleep at night.

However you choose to resolve this issue, and I am eager to hear your final verdict on this, I am glad this is an issue that is discussed.

Charles Taylor (Charles Angus) said...

I guess the question is really this - what are the odds that any given humanoid has been in a serious fight (and therefore that ?

Let's look at that 300-strong orc tribe attacking the town. How many of those orcs have been in deadly combat, mano-a-mano with a trained and armed combatant? All of them? Some of them?

An argument could be made that very few of them have. So the 300 orcs raid a village of 150 people. If this is like a medieval English village, perhaps 20 men are of fighting age, and of them, probably 5 are armed. (Very rough numbers, obviously). Let's be generous and say that the knight of the manor is present with his retinue - so add a leveled fighter and a few men-at-arms.

How many orcs would be involved in deadly combat during this raid? Seems like only a few - probably no more than 30 or so. So maybe 10%, if the orcs are too dumb to wait a week for the knight to move on to one of his other manors.

And here we can see a rationale for why some humanoids might have low hit points - because every fight is not a one-on-one fight to the death.

If most of your "fights" are actually fought with 5-1 or 10-1 numerical superiority, or from ambushes, or both, your odds of surviving a battle with 1HP skyrocket.

If most of your fights are unbalanced like that, the odds of a weak member of the large group *even being attacked* are fairly low.

And as to why the weaklings are part of the warband - a 1HP orc does the same damage as an 8HP orc, after all. So long as the big guys make sure to get up in the opposition's face, the little guys can contribute less directly.

Some thoughts. I apologize in advance if I'm talking about stuff you address later on, I'm getting through a long backlog of not following your blog (or really any RPG stuff) due to a busy work schedule, and am just commenting on things as I come to them.