Hit Points


#1

Hello everyone!

In this post, I want to discuss Hit Points and how they function in my game. Some assumptions:


HP: Hit Points are not wounds or injuries. They are an approximation of a character’s luck, skill, experience, and will to survive. Most characters have 10 HP, as per ICRPG standards.

Injuries: Are not accounted for by tracking HP. They are separate.

Weapon Damage: Weapons deal d4, d6, or d8 damage in my games. A dagger might be d4 normally, but d8 in a grappling situation. A halberd might be d8 normally, but only 1 point in a grappling situation. A mace might do double damage against skeletons.


With that out of the way, I’ll present my take on HP.

What are Hit Points? Given that most weapons can bring a character to 0 HP with between 1 and 3 blows, that means that characters can narrowly avoid death between 1 and 3 times before their composure, position, and ability to intelligently defend themselves is diminished. We describe damage that does not bring a character to 0 HP as near misses (That would have killed you, but you …), a flurry of blows that send you to the ground (horrible position), an ogre’s club that throws you across the battlefield (forced movement and horrible position), or an acid ray that gives you a glimpse at death (your composure is broken).

This helps my group and me understand, in-game, why a “hit” from dragon’s breath didn’t immediately kill your character. Let’s be honest, a gout of flame from Smaug and you’re dead. So, a “hit” must not actually be a real hit unless you’re reduced to 0 HP. In this sort of very special case, when they are reduced to 0 HP, I might ask the character to make a Save or Die roll - dragon’s breath isn’t a broken shoulder. The player’s job, knowing that, is to utilize the environment to avoid facing the dragon’s breath. I do well to telegraph this sort of thing when I pops up.

When do characters actually get hit? When a character reaches 0 HP, they have been solidly hit. Bones are broken, organs are pierced, a limb is hanging on by a thread. They roll d4 or d6 for Dying, accrue an Injury appropriate to the description, and are room temperature when the timer ends (dead).

What does Magical healing do, then? Magical Healing almost always is dealing with bumps, bruises, minor scrapes or cuts, soreness, exhaustion, hopelessness, and despair. As such, a bard’s singing can realistically “heal Hit Points”. Other, more powerful magical healing (true healing) can actually affect Injuries. For example, the Cure Wounds spell in my games actually affects injuries, sewing flesh and restructuring bone, and is as such a higher level spell. Low level “healing magic” might be conjuring enchanted water to treat minor burns, a bard’s song to raise spirits, a rallying cry from the commander to refocus the party, or an infusion of natural energy to reverse bruising. Or, a hearty leg of mutton!

What do Injuries do? Injuries, simply put, threaten the life of a character. A sucking chest wound, a spurting artery, a crushed arm, a nearly severed leg. Being Stabilized, as per the CORE rules, merely means you’re no longer dying. The wound is packed, the leg is bandaged, a soothing word keeps your spirit from breaking, and so on. We do not use the “on a NAT20 recovery roll, it was just a flesh wound” rule.

Can characters do anything to subvert death or damage? Yes! Characters can elect to have their shield take the blow, reducing it’s armor by 1 point and subtracting d6 damage from the hit. Most shields are 1 point, but some, like tower shields, could be 2 or 3. Some magical effects, like a redesigned Shield spell, can also do things like this.

However, characters can also ELECT to incur an non-lethal injury instead of taking HP damage. They will likely do this to avoid being reduced to 0 HP - and receiving a worse injury and risking death. You accept this in-game debility to keep on fighting (and keep on playing!). Nonlethal Injuries have variable tiers. A minor injury may just give -1 to -3 (Hard) to a specific set of tasks. A moderate injury might reduce the effectiveness of any successful task, such as -1 to -3 for a type of Effort. More severe injuries inhibit movement, restrict weapon use and spellcasting, and so on.

Although it might seem counterintuitive for a player to choose an injury, it makes for some amazing scenes like Boromir vs the Uruk-Hai. Unfortunately, getting too many Injuries ultimately leads to death as well. The nitty-gritty of that is unimportant, just pick a number. 1 minor, 1 moderate, 1 severe, then you’re dead (DEAD, not unconscious).

How do Injuries heal? Long term rest, or magical healing. Long term rest is in days, weeks, or months depending on the story. I might say that a Severed Arm will be functional in 8 weeks (d8 timer) of proper care. Proper care is bed rest and medical supervision (a cleric, druid, NPC, etc.).

Magical healing specifically designed for Injuries (Cure Wounds) can affect certain levels of Injury. Cure Wounds might be able to handle a sprained ankle, concussion, or laceration, but it can’t put your arm back on. You need Regeneration for that. It might take several successful casts of the spell, also, but that’s still far quicker than having a character out of action for weeks or months. It’s a brutal world.


The Recap

Although this might seem very unwieldy and slow at the table, it’s easy and fast.

  1. Roll to hit and damage like normal. Damage is, broadly, anything negative that happens to a character as the result of an attack or spell that does not include an Injury. Description variety abound.
  2. Players can opt to have their shield take the hit, or acquire a nonlethal injury, to keep fighting when they would otherwise be reduced to 0 HP. The Boromir Rule.
  3. At 0 HP, the characters have been solidly hit and are Injured. In d4 or d6 rounds, they are dead. DEAD.

I’d love to hear what you guys think, how you handle HP, and what this all means to you!


#2

Yes I love this, and it matches closely what I’m currently doing.

To my mind, there’s really no way that damage to HP can represent full on hits with weapons or magic effects. In most cases it just doesn’t make sense from a story telling perspective.

Like you, I think about HP as a kind of stamina or luck when in the heat of battle. If you’re in melee, damage to HP represents your exertion as you dodge, shove, and exchange glancing blows with your opponent. Eventually, one of those blows is going to connect, and this happens when you reach 0 HP. The movie “The King” on Netflix has some great scenes that show what this looks like.

In my game currently, further damage is subtracted from your strength score. A short rest will restore all HP, but recovering lost strength takes a lot of resting or magical healing.

I like what you’ve done with injuries. Anything in game that has permanent effects on a character is wonderful. It’s a great feeling to be able to point to a scar and tell an old battle story about the ogre that nearly sent you to Valhalla only to be thwarted by the heroic actions of your pals.


#3

I guess my biggest question is: if hit points do not track injuries, but rather luck and other things subjective and internal to the character, then why do weapons need different dice ratings?

I mean I suppose I could see a guy in front of me with a laser gun and be more… Intimidated? than I would be if the same dude was holding a pocket knife.

But not really. You can die from both and often you will be more likely to accumulate more injuries (and more severe ones) based on the wielder’s luck and experience than your own. And some weapons are just more likely to take you out than others.

That said, I conceptualize it very similarly at my table and when I’m not calling it hit points I call it Tenacity. Hit points are an abstract representation of all of the things that are keeping a character relevant and effective, i.e. able to carry out changes in the game world. They are a combination of Injuries, illness, sanity, drive, luck, and in some scenes even social power. A lot closer to what Fate Accelerated calls Stress, which accumulates until a character is “taken out.” Sometimes taken out means incapacitated lying behind a bunch of crates where they fell. Sometimes it means gibbering. Sometimes it means lost social “face” or Wasta. And sometimes it means dying of dysentery and rusty spoon wounds.


#4

I like all the concepts mentioned. Player buy-in is the only real issue I see.

HP is an abstract, Electric Bastionland calls them Hit Protection. And recovery is a short rest away except the PCs are haggard in some way. But there is almost no healing in that game.

I am sympathetic to @Lon s concerns. Primarily that you are adding complexity without simplifying much. The added flavor over time won’t make much difference. But I and many others love weapon differentiation as players. I think that’s where you can add and simplify, as well as impact of 0 HP.

Off gut reaction, give each weapon an advantage and disadvantage to damage based on tags. (Roll damage twice if advantage or disadvantage is triggered) if advantage is, use the higher, if disadvantage use the lesser.
If you get really complex…more than one tag for each advantage or disadvantage tag, then normal damage when both advantage and disadvantage is triggered…or a single disadvantage causes any roll to be at disadvantage. (Depends how you want players to keep adjusting to situations).

Example:
Dagger D6
Advantages “against surprised”
Disadvantages “ against larger weapon”, “against armor”, “against shield”

Pike d8
Advantages: “against shorter weapons”
Disadvantages: “in narrow confines”

Long bow D6
Advantages: “any distance beyond close”
Disadvantage: “if user moves at all, other than draw and release”

Short bow D6
Advantages: In near range
Disadvantage: against armor

On the consequences side…
When at 0 HP and takes a hit for any damage…
Player Characters highest attribute goes to 0 regardless of damage done, is out of the fight, have them roll on a custom table based on damage type and amount done.
( they are wounded and require the care of others) and cannot regain HP until specialist care.

Mace dam 1-4
1 crushed hand
2 crushed arm
3 crushed leg
4 crushed face
5 crushed head
6 crushed groin
Mace dam 5-10
1 shattered hand
2 shattered arm
3 shattered leg…

This way, healer might be able to get some wounds back in the fight…(bone mending) but not all…disemboweled, severed head, severed limb, lost eye, charred arm, necrotic groin, rotting flesh, punctured lung…

Added spells should be able to solve many wounds…crushed and shattered bone are the same spell, but one requires 10 effort, the other 20 effort.

Ok this is becoming overly complex…except damage tables are easy to make.

But this changes the nature of an action game to a survival game…loosing some of the heroic nature of the game.

Adding scars as a bonus after recovery, would some heroics back…but add a few negatives to those tables.

Scars
1 Add d3 HP
2 gain 1 cha
3 loose use of that location
4 loose 1 dex
5 loose 1 con
6 gain 1 con
7 gain +1 ultimate effort
8 gain +1 player choice

But combat becomes much more nuanced for the players.

I guess the short answer is, why add complexity? Are you changing things to something you really want? Tables are easy to make and quick to use…but not as fast as not having to refer to them…but they can add variety.

I love adding a level of nuance to the game and combat bores me after a very short while. So I am overly biased.

Hope some of this helps you crystallize your efforts!!! Good luck and let us know how it works for you!


#5

Hey Lon!

Weapons have different dice ratings because different weapons require more effort on the character’s part to avoid death or injury. A dagger only has oh-so-much potential to kill at 15 feet as opposed to a halberd. It takes less effort (and luck) to survive a dagger attack in the standard melee range than a longsword. Similarly, where a halberd might fail (in a clinch), a dagger would be especially dangerous (doing D8 instead of D4).

As a different example, what would cause you to take more drastic action to avoid death - a dagger or a broadsword? Probably the broadsword. Both are capable of killing in a few blows (again, d4 isn’t too much different than d8 with only 10 HP), but some are better than others in different situations.

And, on a more meta level, my players don’t like all weapons doing the same damage range. I realize that any weapon, used appropriately, can kill someone in one or two attacks (d6 damage compared to 10 HP), my players just don’t like it. :slight_smile:

Thanks for the reply!

@Paxx My players have agreed to this sword & sorcery standard. Of course, flavor to taste for your group. There is very little added complexity. You still die in 1-3 hits, and you don’t take any death-spiral penalties until 0 HP (or if you choose). Combat is mechanically the same. The only difference is description, which we’ve found to be more akin to a R E Howard scene (our taste!). Your wound table seems more complex, to me, than “Battered Arm, d4 days to heal, -2 to rolls requiring arm” which is how I record them.

As for the complexity, I don’t think it’s complex. My combats are still just as quick as before, but we don’t have to describe in some silly fashion how 9 points of damage from a greatsword that “cleaved into your shoulder” didn’t affect you in the morning. All that said, thanks for your input as always! I like your weapon tag idea, which we use, we just don’t detail what the mechanics are. Daggers are Close weapons, so they deal more damage in the toe-to-toe range! Simple as that. :smiley: How much more? Depends.

Cheers all!


#6

I like the idea of hit points as “don’t-get-hit points” but I never managed to implement it in a game. Like others have said, it seems to me that it would require rethinking a lot of other rules and assumptions as well, and I increasingly favor using whatever rules are most easily remembered by my players.

In my game, I have two types of damage
HP: minor injuries and bruises, might lead to out-of-action, heals quickly
Wounds: major injuries, suffered when HP reaches 0, might lead to death, heals slowly.

This allows a neat trick: characters almost always feel ready for action (high hp), yet the danger constantly increases.


#7

Olav, I think ICRPG is especially well designed for this line of thinking. Most characters only ever get 10 HP. They don’t have 67, 118, or more what really stretches the disbelief factor. If a character can be reduced to 0 in 1-3 hits, never mind criticals or MAGIC, I think it’s easy enough to do.

Assuming that “hits” are not wounds also explains how a bard’s song and a leg of mutton can restore HP, or how you can “heal” by spending your turn taking a breather and smoking a cigar!

On another note, they don’t all have to be “near misses”. You can totally get slammed by an ogre’s tree mace, and have raised your shield fast enough or rolled with the blow enough to not die. You still got hit, your armor protected you like it is supposed to - AND you got thrown 15 feet that way!

As for your two types of damage, that’s nearly identical to my HP vs Injuries, just different nomenclature. :slight_smile:

Game on!


#8

I’ve done a similar system in the past, although not nearly as in-depth and complex. The way I ran it was when a player “took damage” if they still had hit points left they essentially didn’t get hit.

Example: a player character leaps across a chasm and fails the roll. Roll for falling damage. If they still have HP after the damage roll then they actually made the jump, just barely, and are probably hanging by their fingernails.

We just handwaved healing as blessings that restored “luck”.


#9

This isn’t quite what you are talking about, but I do something similar in the game I play with my kids at home.
Hit points are heart points. They don’t represent damage take but represent the courage of the character. It represents how much ‘heart’ the player has.
If they get to zero HP, the player can take a breath to regain an HP or take an action, but they can’t take courageous actions. Basically, they can hide, retreat, play dead, grovel, mend their wounds, or something like that.
This allows me to also apply “damage” in social interactions and skill challenges. If you are intimidated by a gruff goblin merchant or nearly fall to your death while traversing a rickety bridge, then you lose a heart of courage.


#10

That’s really cool! In the Forbidden Lands RPG, there is a sort of HP that can be damaged by fear, intimidation, and so on - which is something really cool that I’ve baked in my own interpretation of HP. Very cool to see someone else doing it!


#11

Howdy,

I’m a fan of this sort of system, and am using something very similar at my table as well. Personally, when you said “this might seem very unwieldy and slow at the table”, I get what you’re saying. It seems that way, but it isn’t.

The only problem I’ve run into is that which has been alluded to by other posters. Sometimes its hard to get that player buy in. Usually, though, I only have that problem with players who haven’t been playing ttrpgs as long, and are still super attached to whatever system they first learned on. Players who have been gaming for years seem to pick up a system like this a lot more quickly, and are at least willing to try it (Though they may not all like it).

Thanks for your post,

Dice Goblin


#12

Yes, @Anthony_C our systems are very similar, but I also explained poorly. Wounds, in my game, is a number that increases when reduced to 0 hp (or below) and that substitutes for the death timer. Whenever a character is below 0 hp they are dying, and must roll 1d20 at the beginning of each turn. If the roll is lower or equal to the amount of wounds, they die; below room target and they are unconscious.

This creates a lingering consequence of being reduced to 0 hp: the first fight during an adventure the chances of dying are very small, the second they are slightly bigger, etc. Characters can consequently become both more powerful AND more vulnerable as the adventure progresses: you found a better axe, but you were also wounded.


#13

Great post, very interesting we’ve ran something similar in the past.

We’ve also played a variant of HP and split it up between “Fatique & Stress”, physical/injuries/exhaustion damage causes fatique, giving negative consequences to Str, Dex, Con, whereas mental/emotional/fear/terror causes stress gives negatives to Wis, Int, Cha.


#14

Over the years, I have handled hit points all kinds of ways… but I have found the best tried and true method at my table to be as follows:

HP is a measure of life force. Anytime you take a beating, emotionally or physically, you reduce your HP, sometimes even by only 1 point, or by whole Hearts at a time… it all depends on the severity.

Wounds is another measure of HP but more semi-permanent and/or difficult to recover from. Wounds are just that… laceration to the bone from a dragon claw, major burn from fire, frostbite, broken leg from a fall, etc and so forth, these are tracked as WOUNDS in my home games. Each wound costs the player 1 from their Max HP until healed, in addition to the HP dmg that caused the wound.

Some of my players are still recovering from multiple wounds taken over many sessions in the past (Bones don’t grow back overnight!) leaving them with 7 or 8 Max HP until it heals (magically or naturally). This really allows a magical healer to shine and tend to the wounded. Alternatively I have caused wounds that damage STATS instead of HP. Mechanically it is a major change to how you the DM hand out damage, but it’s still a major “pain” for the players.

I typically will assign someone a wound when major damage is taken, like 10 points of damage in 1 hit, or they have a major failure (roll a 1 at a crucial point in the story). I also assign Timers to them based on the severity of the effort used when they received the damage… Take ULTIMATE damage from dragon fire? Roll 1d12 in MONTHS to recover… Found that Burn Salve on level 3, better apply it to reduce the time to Days, or even Hours, instead of Months! …

I don’t hand out wounds every game, but when I do everyone goes into triage mode.

I hope that helps… Game On!


#15

Awesome!!! If it is working and cool for the table, who am I to counter. “You Are Playing It Wrong!!! “

Screw that.

Thanks for the mental explanation!

In a few weeks time please hit us with the cool, awesome and unexpected of this system you created!!

This is the font of creativity, I take your idea and bounce it with my variants…after a bunch of bouncing no one knows where it came from, but it is really cool!!!


#16

Love the weapon advantage and disadvantage idea.