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Around the D&D Hit Point Conundrum 
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Post Around the D&D Hit Point Conundrum
This was sparked by a seemingly unrelated post that got me to thinking. So please forgive me if this is a dead horse, but I'd like to hear the various ways people have handled this and toss out an idea.

OK - so one of the things that people (rightly) point out about Hit Point in D&D is that they represent, as I recently saw it phrased succinctly, fortitude, luck, and skill. They do represent physical damage (let's call that the fortitude portion), though once past lower levels this is a minuscule portion - and this is actually what got me thinking.

So, why do hit points go up with level to represent these other, non-physical-damage things? Why not other things that represent those other aspects? For example, why not make AC improve by level to indicate skill in combat? What about a Luck or Divinity or something stat that gets added as levels rise?

I know others have implemented things like ablative armor, which, IMHO, is also a good approach. But has anyone seen a D&D hack, in any edition, that leaves HP alone (that is, provides a base line at first level, say, Con) and alters other things based on level to represent these other aspects in a different way? What are the drawbacks - is it the fact that if an opponent is good/lucky enough to get through all that, death is more likely (especially at high levels)?

As I said, please forgive the naivete and indulge me with your wisdom!

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Mon Aug 24, 2009 10:52 am
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Post Re: Around the D&D Hit Point Conundrum
Jim Skach wrote:
Hit Point in D&D ... represent, as I recently saw it phrased succinctly, fortitude, luck, and skill. !



Why, that's the stupidest thing I've ever- er, wait. never mind.


Mon Aug 24, 2009 2:58 pm
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Post Re: Around the D&D Hit Point Conundrum
Jim Skach wrote:
So, why do hit points go up with level to represent these other, non-physical-damage things? Why not other things that represent those other aspects? For example, why not make AC improve by level to indicate skill in combat? What about a Luck or Divinity or something stat that gets added as levels rise?

I know others have implemented things like ablative armor, which, IMHO, is also a good approach. But has anyone seen a D&D hack, in any edition, that leaves HP alone (that is, provides a base line at first level, say, Con) and alters other things based on level to represent these other aspects in a different way? What are the drawbacks - is it the fact that if an opponent is good/lucky enough to get through all that, death is more likely (especially at high levels)?


There's no real "why", I think. It was just done that way originally and it became an essential fixture of D&D. It does give the game a particular feel because your hit points are basically an elongating life track. At higher levels, it gives you a greater "margin of error" so to speak. There are high damage effects and attacks but generally speaking, it takes more blows to take you down when you make it to higher level.

If you change it, you change one of the building blocks of the game. This is neither good or bad but will have ramifications throughout. Those will also vary from edition to edition.

If you augment AC for instance, you mess with the economics of treasures/money/magic items. You are changing the importance/impact of special attacks like poisonous arrows and various effects. Massive area effects and spells for instance. It will also affect healing classes.

It's gonna be the same thing if you go for an extra stat like luck. It's gonna change a lot of things. Could be fun!

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Mon Aug 24, 2009 3:08 pm
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Post Re: Around the D&D Hit Point Conundrum
Actually, Palladium did it nicely. Hit Points are static, but there is another stat called SDC that absorbs damage before hit points. They implemented it a bot differently, in that all kinds of things add to SDC. It run D&D as if it were D&D, but not have that weird separation, simply leave Hit Points as static and allow another stat to also absorb damage, which goes up as HP normally would as a level gain. Call it Luck. If you have a cleric , you have normal Cleric HP at first level. At second level, your 1d8+ Con bonus gain goes to Luck, which must reach zero before HP are ablated, etc.

Now that's a simple hack, retaining the feel of D&D, but you now have a separation between ablative Luck and actually being hit.

-clash

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Mon Aug 24, 2009 5:01 pm
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Post Re: Around the D&D Hit Point Conundrum
But if Luck isn't any different mechanically, then you're just moving things into a new name. A difference without a distinction.

Jim is right that in the most common implementations that give a real distinction, mortality becomes a concern because there's a way of skipping past the "luck/skill" element and hitting the "real" HP. This is basically what's going on in Runequest, where getting better defensively means improving your parry/dodge skill. Same for GURPS. The curve isn't quite the same as what you'd get by increasing AC per level, but it's logically similar.

In Dragonquest they did something more like the "luck" concept by having separate Endurance/Fatigue numbers; regular hits would do Fatigue damage until it ran out, but crits would go straight to Endurance. I believe that some iterations of d20 Modern work similarly, no? Maybe SW d20?

Anyway, a really nice idea in DQ, but easily overlooked on reading, is that on entering combat you'd modify your Fatigue based on how hard you'd pushed yourself that day in terms of travel/encumbrance. So if you'd force-marched all day with a heavy load, you'd have fewer Fatigue points to burn than if you were just breaking camp and were lightly encumbered.

However you can also reduce mortality by not implementing a crit rule, and then having a much higher rate of recovery for "luck" than for "body points".

That's about all I have to say about this at the moment other than (a) some games use essentially the same structure as D&D, albeit using armor-absorbs, but they have a different "feel" because you start with more HP and gain at a lower rate. E.g.: TFT and Talislanta 1e-3e. (b) In some games, the main way of improving your defense is by improving your offense! E.g., you're arguably better off improving your Dex in TFT since it means you strike earlier, more accurately*, and with a better chance of critting. You can't be hurt by an opponent who's laid out. (And even if you don't kill somebody with a first blow, you still slap them with a penalty for a round, by hurting them badly enough.)

*EDIT: Since armor penalizes DEX, a high Dexterity also indirectly makes you tougher by making it feasible to wear heavier armor.


Mon Aug 24, 2009 5:31 pm
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Post Re: Around the D&D Hit Point Conundrum
ewilen wrote:
But if Luck isn't any different mechanically, then you're just moving things into a new name. A difference without a distinction.


It is a psychological difference. being able to sustain more damage as you get better makes no logical sense, but being able to avoid taking damage as you get better does.

-clash

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Mon Aug 24, 2009 5:36 pm
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Post Re: Around the D&D Hit Point Conundrum
Yes, and a psychological difference for some is all that is required. Not only that but having a different stat would also allow for distinction between magic items/magic/actions and their effects.


Mon Aug 24, 2009 5:58 pm
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Post Re: Around the D&D Hit Point Conundrum
flyingmice wrote:
ewilen wrote:
But if Luck isn't any different mechanically, then you're just moving things into a new name. A difference without a distinction.


It is a psychological difference. being able to sustain more damage as you get better makes no logical sense, but being able to avoid taking damage as you get better does.
I suppose that reading Gygax's HP apologetics is sufficient for me, in that case. The problem is that you then start wondering about both natural and magical healing and it gets all weird--one must postulate that you "naturally" recover Luck at a rate of X per day, or that "cure light wounds" restores Luck, etc.

It's all functional of course as long as you don't think too hard about it but once you take the first step it's a slippery slope.

BTW, I'm not sure if Jim meant to use "ablative armor" in a strict fashion but I have come across games that offer exactly that; i.e. armor doesn't just absorb, it actually adds to your hit points that must be hacked through. Once those hit zero, the armor is destroyed and further blows strike the "meat". I've even seen systems that are a hybrid, with armor absorbing but being degraded each time it gets penetrated.


Mon Aug 24, 2009 6:58 pm
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Post Re: Around the D&D Hit Point Conundrum
First, thanks guys - keep it up. Very good stuff to consider.

ewilen wrote:
It is a psychological difference. being able to sustain more damage as you get better makes no logical sense, but being able to avoid taking damage as you get better does.
I suppose that reading Gygax's HP apologetics is sufficient for me, in that case. The problem is that you then start wondering about both natural and magical healing and it gets all weird--one must postulate that you "naturally" recover Luck at a rate of X per day, or that "cure light wounds" restores Luck, etc.

It's all functional of course as long as you don't think too hard about it but once you take the first step it's a slippery slope.[/quote]
Now that is something I didn't consider. Very interesting - I'll have to think on that a bit. thanks!

ewilen wrote:
BTW, I'm not sure if Jim meant to use "ablative armor" in a strict fashion but I have come across games that offer exactly that; i.e. armor doesn't just absorb, it actually adds to your hit points that must be hacked through. Once those hit zero, the armor is destroyed and further blows strike the "meat". I've even seen systems that are a hybrid, with armor absorbing but being degraded each time it gets penetrated.

I've seen different approaches, but in this case I was specifically referring to Bill's system - Iridium - that damages the armor first and, IIRC, if brought to zero makes it useless.

I like the way Bill does that and he separates these things nicely. Perhaps I'll look at Iridium again while I ponder the healing issue.

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Mon Aug 24, 2009 7:17 pm
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Post Re: Around the D&D Hit Point Conundrum
ewilen wrote:
flyingmice wrote:
ewilen wrote:
But if Luck isn't any different mechanically, then you're just moving things into a new name. A difference without a distinction.


It is a psychological difference. being able to sustain more damage as you get better makes no logical sense, but being able to avoid taking damage as you get better does.


I suppose that reading Gygax's HP apologetics is sufficient for me, in that case. The problem is that you then start wondering about both natural and magical healing and it gets all weird--one must postulate that you "naturally" recover Luck at a rate of X per day, or that "cure light wounds" restores Luck, etc.


If I were doing such a thing, I would rename Cure spells as "Refresh" and allow them to work only on Luck, with HP damage being affected only by natural healing. But then I'm not going anywhere with this. :D

I think the main difference is going to be the concept of a "Hit". On a "hit", you would have hit the enemy, but the enemy is using his Luck to get away. Can't do that cleanly with HP only.

-clash

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Mon Aug 24, 2009 7:58 pm
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