Thursday, April 12, 2012

My Take on Hit Points

Under the big red moon of gaming there is a great debate of what hit points mean. Interpretations, edition differences and house ruling have spread the concept of hit points all over the spectrum. In the 1st Edition DMG hit points are considered an abstract thing where it’s not considered how much damage a person can take, but a combination of factors, not just physical damage. 

I know there was an interesting conversation over on Google+ about saving throws vs. poison. The save vs. death specifically. I think one of the points of contention was if an elephant gets bit by a snake and it failed it save would it die? Depends how fricking big the snake was I guess. This is where things get too nitpicky for me. Asp vs. elephant, though the rules may say a failed save results in death I would use my powers of GM and make a ruling I thought made sense. If you want to get into the debate of whether the snake can bite through the elephant’s hide then you are talking about another type of system that takes natural toughness into account. I think some of the disagreements come when people argue across systems or editions about a subject.

Here’s the secret though. It doesn’t matter. Not one little drop of gnat piss. As GMs we can all make whatever ruling we choose that makes sense and is consistent with the decisions you made earlier. I like the debates, but in the end usually everyone goes away doing the same thing they came into the argument with.

Hit points for me are simply this. Don’t run out of them or you’re dead. Save vs. death for me is simple, make your save or your dead. If adventurers don’t like these options then tell them to stay home, eat owlbear potato chips, drink mind flayer ale and wait till the Grim Reaper comes to take them in their sleep.


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  2. My problem with that sort of statement--"If your character doesn't like (mechanic X) then they can stay home"--is it's not really directed at the CHARACTER, it's directed at the PLAYER. "If you don't find (mechanic X) fun, go home." Which, I don't know, it rubs me the wrong way.

  3. Well before you start any game, I think its always good for a GM to let the players know what rules are going to be used and how. So when it starts there is no misunderstand. If a player doesn't like that way of playing then then they are free to choose another game.

    I come from a perspective of playing with players who don't care they just want to roll dice and if their guys dies they're is never a problem.

    And its not just rules. One of my long time players hates d20 games, but that was what the rest of the group wanted to play and I wanted to play and since I'm the GM I went with what I wanted to do and those who wanted to come along could. My long time player doesn't play. But when we start up our next round of games he plans on running a GURPS game. I just like slinging dice, but sometimes people are not going to like you're choices and that's okay too.

  4. Tim, I agree with you. Somewhere along the line being referee/GM/DM went from being The Final Authority to being basically a trained chimp. It seems like a lot of so-called modern games have the GM as the guy who knows what's going to happen next, knows where the traps and secret doors are, and lays out the battlemat. However, he performs these functions with no sort of authority. In short, the players became almost the entire focus of the design. Well, excuse me, but the GM has to enjoy the game, too. Why else do it? I'm sure not going to do it if it means getting beat about the head and shoulders with an 800 page rules tome and having MY game dictated to me by the players.

  5. Tim, I'm in agreement with you. I don't have to quibble about what hit points mean - you either have them or you're dead. Save or die makes sense too. I think laying this out to the players at the outset is good. If they don't like the setup, then go play another game. I know some folks see that as harsh, but I don't think there has to be animosity there.

  6. The 1e DMG specifically states that, for example, the DM can rule that poison cannot be delivered effectively because of size, thick skin, etc. The example used is, if I recall correctly, a giant and a giant centipede.

  7. One house rule(3.5) as a GM/DM I have is that their is no Gather Information.I don't like a 20 telling my players where the "evil wizards tower is". You have to roleplay it out. If you want to talk to the local bartender about where the "evil wizards tower is" LET'S role play it out.
    Now If the player is new to the game or is a little shy about roleplaying, I help them along.

    I have a player who brought a friend from work to start playing in my camp. When I told him about how I run my Gather Information check's he had a fit, and quit before he even started.

  8. I largely agree with you point, Tim. I don't get worked up over such things really. I do think hit points are a mechanic are sort of inconsistently abstracted in D&D in how they work in different context, but that's an issue of game design not player preference--and not something to gnash teeth over when your playing the game.

  9. No where in nature does a person have "Hit Points".

    Nor do we have stats numbered from 3 - 18 that get rolled upon our birth.

    Folks need to accept D&D for what it is, a game and not a simulation.

  10. This is why my current WIP ROG uses "The Rule of Common Sense." People can argue whether an asp can poison an elephant all day long, but in actuality, why would an asp even bite an elephant? And if they met, chances are, the elephant would just step on the asp and it would be done. No roll for either side needed.

    Gamers can argue about the dumbest things. Passionately.

  11. Hp: you either have them or your dead...totally agree

  12. I agree entirely with the simplicity of your post.

    No Hit Points? Dead.

    Fail a Saving Throw Vs. Death? Dead.

    The implementation is the latter is oft' cause for debate it seems, but whatever. No wound/damage rule is every going to be truly realistic... And it would suck horribly if it was.