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Hit Points as a mechanic.

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Hit Points as a mechanic.

Postby Morty » Mon Dec 20, 2010 1:30 pm

The question is fairly simple: what do you think about hit points as a way of measuring a character's health?
We all know the hit points from D&D and other d20 games. However, in the past year or so I've been thinking from time to time that they're not really satisfactory - dull and uninteresting. They don't make the combat feel quick, exciting and dangerous as it should be. Then again, GURPS seems to be handling them well enough. One of the reasons I'm wondering about it is that I'm undecided how to handle it in my homebrewed system. So, what are your opinions?
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Re: Hit Points as a mechanic.

Postby DragoonWraith » Tue Dec 21, 2010 7:03 am

Especially for low fantasy, they really don't make a lot of sense. I think they're good from a gamist perspective, but not so much for realism.
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Re: Hit Points as a mechanic.

Postby peterpaulrubens » Tue Dec 21, 2010 11:26 am

Hit points, as an actual percentage of health, is a terrible mechanic. I.e, if you have 100 HP, and you take 50 damage, you're "half-dead". Terrible. Just terrible.

But... that's not how you should view hit points. Hit points should be viewed as a measure of your "heroic awesomeness". It's a quantification of exactly how much the gods favor you, how much fate has woven into your legend, how much power and magic is in your blood.

It's how many times the goblins can swing their swords at you and have it be "just a flesh wound" instead of a mortal strike to your vitals. An 8-point sword thrust vs. a 1st level fighter depletes all of his "heroic awesomeness", and so that sword thrust skewers his lung, and he's unconscious and probably dying. Fate just doesn't like 1st Level Guy that much, not yet anyway. But, an 8-point sword thrust vs. a 12th level fighter isn't any where near his level of heroic awesomeness, and so it just grazes his forearm a bit, and he's still very much alive and fighting. Fate's betting heavy on 12th Level Guy, and Fate doesn't like to lose.

If you think of that sword thrust as both being a lung-piercing strike, it doesn't make any sense at all that the 12th level fighter can survive 7 or more of them. But you can't view it like both of those hits were "equal". The context of how much awesomesauce the target has is everything.
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Re: Hit Points as a mechanic.

Postby DragoonWraith » Tue Dec 21, 2010 2:28 pm

I really like that description.

Again, though, doesn't really work for low fantasy.
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Re: Hit Points as a mechanic.

Postby peterpaulrubens » Tue Dec 21, 2010 4:32 pm

DragoonWraith wrote:Again, though, doesn't really work for low fantasy.


Sure it does. Think of a low-fantasy setting like Conan's Hyborian Age, or Lankhmar with Fafhrd and The Grey Mouser.


That's how Conan can live against 5 or 6 attackers. It's him bobbing-and-weaving, taking a few nicks and scratches, but never a decisive blow.

It's the Grey Mouser doing a somersault followed by a backflip to avoid his opponent's sword. Did it run him through? No. Did it deplete his pool of awesomeness? Absolutely. He's not going to get away with a move like that again, he'll need something else from his bag of tricks. Does that somersault-backflip-TADA!! move need to be mechanically described with a bunch of rolls and checks and counter-checks? Hell no, just whack a few HP off your tally. He made a great attack, you countered (and by countered, I mean "you're not shish-kabob and wtfpwntdead") by taking off some HP.

And yes.. viewing HPs-as-heroic-mojo calls into question a whole bunch of other mechanics like AC, and Tumble, and magical healing, etc. I think the Armor as Damage Reduction Variant works much better in general, and certainly for low-fantasy games, than the standard AC system does.

But I think HPs-as-awesomeness works really well in low fantasy. With a lack of, or at least a premium on, magical healing, then your HP pool doesn't recover quickly, and that represents well, IMO, the idea of a hero getting a little more beat up with each fight. He can survive a fight against 5 or 6 well-armed foes, but he can't do it day in and day out. He needs to rest to restore his health, even though he's not really wounded per se. But he's fatigued, he's bruised, battered, weary, and his luck is running out... and pretty soon one of those sword thrusts is going to strike an area he can't grow back.
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Re: Hit Points as a mechanic.

Postby Morty » Wed Dec 22, 2010 5:04 am

I've never been too fond of describing HP as "heroic awesomeness". It's always been my beef in D&D - the hit points there need to be described that way in order to make some sort of sense. Well, maybe not precisely that way, but they need to function as essentially plot armor all the same.
As for using Hit Points in low, realistic fantasy like you describe - yes, I suppose it can be done. But then the question arises: why? If we use HP as a way of modeling the hero dodging, parrying and being lucky, why don't we adapt the system that works better for it? The one that emphasizes not letting the enemy score a hit instead of letting him do it and "shrugging it off"? It just doesn't suit my expectations. Not to mention while low fantasy is a broad term, I tend to associate it with something like Witcher, Song of Ice and Fire or Warhammer, where heroes survive by wit and skill, not heroism. And my system in particular is supposed to be realistic.
Finally, as I mentioned, I find HP rather boring. They're a clockdown to the binary state of being dying. Focusing on avoiding getting hit is better IMO, since it makes the combat feel dangerous, because getting hit is a big deal as opposed to "I'll shrug it off".
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Re: Hit Points as a mechanic.

Postby peterpaulrubens » Wed Dec 22, 2010 10:59 am

Because if you don't use HP then you're stuck rolling checks and counter-checks for EVERYTHING. Either you abstract away the awesome into a lump sum of HP, or you rely on a stat and a roll for every little aspect of the fight. And that gets tedious FAST.

If you ever played the old Heroes Unlimited game, you know what I mean. That had a system whereby you rolled a Parry check for every melee attack made at you. It wasn't uncommon for a character or an enemy to have 8 or more attacks in a round. That meant 32 dice rolls to resolve a combat round between two characters, plus whatever damage rolls you have to make if an attack gets through. Guess how long a round of combat between 5 players and 12 enemies took?

That system also had "SDC" (Structural Damage Capacity, or basically "bumps & bruises" points) and Vitality Points (or something?), which was basically lethal damage. There were (IIRC, it's been 20+ years since I cracked one of those books) complex rules about when something did SDC damage vs. VP damage - slashing and piercing weapons went straight to VP, but not if you were wearing the appropriate armor - but then your armor's SDC took that damage, but you could have a power that had armor penetration to go straight through an enemy's armor, blah blah blah. I seem to remember that we houseruled away all those rules and just lumped SDC and VP into DnD-style "hit points" because it was just so tedious otherwise.

So yeah.. you can have a "realistic" system like that, but it's sloooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooow to play.

I would suspect the mechanic you're really looking for to have realistic low-fantasy is akin to Dnd 3.5's ability damage. Real people don't get their ass kicked and then hit just as hard and move just as fast afterwards. So, if you had hits take off STR/DEX/CON points every time, you'd get the realism it seems you're after - your hero would slow down and weaken as his health deteriorates.

If I was designing a system like yours what I think you're after, I'd have d100 as the core mechanic. An attack would be d100 + the attacker's current STR score, vs. the d100 + the defender's current DEX score. Ability scores for the average person would be roughly 25 or 30 rather than the median of 50 to give the "awesome" end a bit more room to grow (even low fantasy games rarely need the wheelchair-bound MS patient to be well-represented). Each non-lethal hit (fists, etc.) would do ability damage to one of the defender's physical stats - STR, DEX, or CON, with the defender getting to choose which one. Lethal hits (swords, axes, whatever) would have half of the damage go straight to CON, and the other half to a stat of the defender's choice (to represent the life-threatening aspect, but also to represent the idea that you can't fight as well after you're bleeding from an axe wound). A fist might do 1d10, whereas a sword might do 4d10 or more. STR would add smallish bonuses, say 10% to 20% of your current score, to your damage roll. When any score drops to zero, you're unconscious, and if CON drops to zero, you're dead. Feats/abilities/powers/whatever-call-em are opportunities to alter those mechanics ("use DEX as your to-hit score", etc.)

A d100 system gives you the granularity you're after, and an ability-damage system gives you the realism you're after - punches hurt, but not that much, but they do slowly erode your own combat effectiveness. Lethal weapons hurt A LOT and also erode your combat effectiveness.

I wouldn't bother with "armor as AC" either - armor would just add damage reduction. A guy wearing football pads doesn't have much to fear from being punched, but it's not going to save him from a sword thrust. So, football pads would add 8 damage reduction to STR or DEX damage, but only 2 to CON damage. Plate armor, however, would add 20 points of damage reduction to all stats - it's goddamn hard to hurt someone wearing plate armor with a punch, but a sword can STILL ruin their day.
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Re: Hit Points as a mechanic.

Postby Morty » Wed Dec 22, 2010 12:46 pm

I don't think not using HP necessarily means too many rolls. It all depends on how you do it. After all, Warhammer Fantasy uses hit points and it has too many rolls - first, you roll for the attackers to-hit, then you roll for the defender's parry or dodge and if he doesn't succeed, you roll for the damage... and don't get me started on critical hits. So both options can be done well or badly. The Heroes Unlimited game - which I admit I've never heard of before - is an example of a system that doesn't use hit points that's done badly, but it doesn't have to be like that.
That said, your method of handling HP does look good. Coupling HP with penalties crossed my mind. GURPS does that, after all, as does WFRP - sort of. I'll consider it if I ever switch from d20 to d100, which remains a possibility at this stage, if I find out d20 really doesn't suit my purposes.
Also, I've recently had an idea for a health measurement system that doesn't rely on HP and doesn't rip off other systems blatantly... but I'm not sure if it doesn't belong in my system's thread.
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Re: Hit Points as a mechanic.

Postby peterpaulrubens » Wed Dec 22, 2010 1:40 pm

Morty wrote:I'll consider it if I ever switch from d20 to d100, which remains a possibility at this stage, if I find out d20 really doesn't suit my purposes.
D20 just doesn't seem granular enough to me, particularly when dealing with the ability damage. In your system, a base attribute of 5 doesn't give a lot of leeway when you're talking about racking up ability damage in a fight.

If you're looking for a system that provides realism, but that system can't describe an 8% gain, I'd say you're off to a bad start. And that's exactly what d20 does - it can describe a 5% gain (+1) or a 10% gain(+2).. but nothing in between.

Also, I've recently had an idea for a health measurement system that doesn't rely on HP and doesn't rip off other systems blatantly... but I'm not sure if it doesn't belong in my system's thread.
Cool. I'd like to see it.

Do you want me to add my comments to your system's thread? I thought about it but it seemed.. REALLY far from where you were starting from.
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Re: Hit Points as a mechanic.

Postby Morty » Wed Dec 22, 2010 2:04 pm

When I started making this system, d20 was the mechanic I was most familiar with... I'll see how it goes.
As for comments, feel free to do it. I'd rather not clutter this thread with the discussion of my system. And yes, I'm well aware this system isn't close to being finished and is generally in shambles. I posted it here because I don't think I can make it work without help. Just try to be merciful. ;)
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Re: Hit Points as a mechanic.

Postby UniversalTank » Wed Jan 05, 2011 10:27 am

Guess I might be coming into this discussion a little late but I mostly agree with the "heroic awesomeness" analogy except that I think sometimes it simply represents a character's drive and will to go on. Not all games feature characters that are heroically awesome, they're just people put in very adverse situations.

Combat is as much psychological as it is physical, you can beat an opponent without ever injuring him badly if you take away his drive to fight. I guess using that concept, nasty monsters might not even deal terrible wounds when they deal high damage. It's more the character realizing that if that had hit more soundly he'd be dead that drains his hit points. At some point he's going to get tired and lose his nerve, and he'll probably make a terrible blunder because of it and get killed.

You might want to make a system that has more to do with keeping it together and making your blocks/dodges and avoiding that critical blow. Where getting hit induces penalties based on pain, fear, and some kind of mitigating stats based on not only toughness but determination and drive as well. The length of the fight might also come into account, combat is tiring so no one can fight forever.

I ran a game of Anima recently, it sounds kind of like the Warhammer game you referred to in the number of rolls, its on a d100 system, and I would have players roll to withstand the pain of blows that hit them for more than 5% of their health. Really, I only chose 5% because the difficulty to overcome was the amount of damage they took so anything less than 5% was so easy to overcome the I didn't bother unless their withstand pain (a useful skill in that system) was untrained (which makes the skill an effective -30 on checks). Basically they took a penalty to their actions equal to their margin of failure for a period of time.

Anyway, that's my two cents. Hope it helps.
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Re: Hit Points as a mechanic.

Postby Morty » Sat Jan 08, 2011 10:53 am

Thanks for the input. However, I'll say again that I don't like the "hit points as the will to keep going/luck/etc." method. It just doesn't sit well with me. I like systems where a hit is a hit and it's serious. Using such mechanics makes the risk of getting hit feel diminished, because even if the enemy rolls a "hit" it's not that serious. Getting penalties helps, but I still prefer other systems - either with wound/health levels or small amounts of HP. I know that it's entirely subjective, of course. Regarding my system, I came up with a "wound levels" system that I hope will work.
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Re: Hit Points as a mechanic.

Postby TheCripple » Sun Jan 09, 2011 8:03 pm

If the wound levels system doesn't work, there are a few other things worth looking at. Something I've been using recently is a two part system of accumulating penalty to actions and a threshold of injury beyond which any attack is an instant kill. The specifics are tied in to the Fudge system, but a quick and dirty d20 adaptation would be to take a -1 penalty per 4 points of damage on that attack.. Said penalty affects all rolls, and acts as a bonus to further damage rolls. A slightly more integrated system that is closer to the Fudge version is to base damage on the extent to which a hit is successful, with the penalty applying to defenses. For instance, one could inflict 1 die of damage per 5 points they beat the opponents defense, with the dice used varying with weapon, strength, etc. In addition, if over a certain amount of damage is done in one attack, they just die. This value is called a Threshold.

Lets take a d20 example. For this, I'm setting 1 die of damage plus 1 die per 3 points over the opponents defense. There is a -1 penalty per (1/4 Threshold) points. Any shot that deals over 20 damage for a Medium creature is an instant kill, it takes another 5 points for every size category higher. On to examples, with what should be obvious stats, with what is rolled on the dice shown for attack.

Serpent: Huge Creature (Threshold 30), +7 Attack, 18 Defense, d12 Bite.
Swordsman: Medium Humanoid (Threshold 20), +12 Attack, 18 Defense, d6 Sword

Round 1)
Serpent Attacks: Rolled 2, Miss
Swordsman Attacks: Rolled 18, 4 Bonus Dice for 20 damage. -3 to the Serpent.

Round 2)
Serpent (-3) Attacks: Rolled 14, No Bonus Dice for 4 damage (5 before the penalty). No harm done.
Swordsman Attacks: Rolled 16, 4 Bonus Dice for 18 damage. -3 to the Serpent.

Round 3)
Serpent (-6) Attacks: Rolled 19, 0 Bonus Dice for 4 Damage (Ten before the penalty). -1 to Swordsman
Swordsman (-1) Attacks: Rolled 6, 1 Bonus Die for 7 Damage (Eight before the penalty). -1 to Serpent

Round 4)
Serpent runs for it.
Swordsman allows the escape.

Trial 2, Round 1)
Swordsman Attacks: Rolled 6 for 0 Bonus Dice. 3 Damage, shrugged off.
Serpent Attacks: Rolled 19 for 2 Bonus Dice. 32 Damage, Swordsman killed instantly.
(Two things allowed this. The Serpent got a very lucky roll, with both a 19 then near maximum damage, however the biggest factor was that, in the spirit of low fantasy, big things are scary. The lesson here is not to close to melee with man eating snakes if one can avoid it.)

...

The design behind this may not fit your design goals well, the system is built to encourage fleeing or surrender rather than sticking in a fight going sour, as well as being built to make ambushes more effective. In Fudge it has been working beautifully, the quick tests above went reasonably well, though the numbers need to be tweaked and terminology cleaned up a bit.
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Re: Hit Points as a mechanic.

Postby Gralamin » Thu Jan 27, 2011 7:44 pm

TheCripple wrote:Lets take a d20 example. For this, I'm setting 1 die of damage plus 1 die per 3 points over the opponents defense. There is a -1 penalty per (1/4 Threshold) points. Any shot that deals over 20 damage for a Medium creature is an instant kill, it takes another 5 points for every size category higher. On to examples, with what should be obvious stats, with what is rolled on the dice shown for attack.


The problem with this mechanic is it is too swingy. Initiative determines the winner a lot, and a few small changes can make huge differences in win probabilities, in many cases (Assuming penalty to all rolls, and bonus to future rolls.). For example,

Threshold 20, +12 attack, 18 Defense, d6 sword fighter
vs
2x Threshold 15, +8 attack, 15 defense, d4 rake peasants.

This looks like a cake walk, a quick million simulations (Fighting to the Death, ignoring positioning. Fighter focuses down each one at a time, though he should probably split evenly. 1 million simulations per initiative possibility) reveal the following:
Peasants win Initiative: Peasants win 9.2800% of the time, with an average of 0.586692 deaths on a victory.
Peasant 1/Fighter/Peasant 2: Peasants win 6.6553% of the time, with an average of 0.605743 deaths on a victory.
Fighter/Peasants: Peasants win 4.7703% of the time, with an average of 0.632728 deaths on a victory.

Let's try buffing the Peasant just a bit: +1 Threshold, +2 Attack, +1 Defense, d6 die. (Probably just slightly better equipped)
Peasants win Initiative: Peasants win 61.3992% of the time, with an average of 0.378016 deaths on a victory.
Peasant 1/Fighter/Peasant 2: Peasants win 53.8864% of the time, with an average of 0.419917 deaths on a victory.
Fighter/Peasants: Peasants win 46.3464% of the time, with an average of 0.464500 deaths on a victory.

I know your numbers are samples, but the main point is just how swingy it is.

(For reference, if I take away the +2 to attack, and d6 die, the probabilities drop to <20% again. The d6 alone increases victory by ~21% (38% compared to 61% with d6 and no +2)).
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Re: Hit Points as a mechanic.

Postby TheCripple » Thu Feb 03, 2011 7:02 pm

The swinginess emerges from d20. Its not just that my numbers were examples, its a conversion from a system where this works beautifully (The Fudge Threshold homebrew rules, which are extensively tested), to another as a quick example. The original system has dice on a steep bell curve, and lacks proper initiative, with stuff like ambushes and sniping being the exception.
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