I hope you are all having a very merry Christmas, and are looking forward to the new year! In this post, I’m going to lay out what I call the HP Issue and propose two solutions. As always, if you do not agree with what I describe as the problem, the solutions may not be for you. Let’s get into it.
The HP Issue
This is the term I use to describe the disconnect between (1) rolling to hit, (2) rolling damage, (3) the function of armor, and (4) injuries.
When we roll to hit and fail to meet or beat the DC (usually the Armor Class of our foe), this is described as a “miss” - the attack is dodged, blocked, parried, or absorbed by the armor of our opponent. This makes sense enough.
However, when we roll to hit and succeed at meeting or beating the DC, but the damage does not reduce our foe to 0 HP, this is also functionally a “miss”! We know that this is essentially a miss because any damage received is healed very quickly. In 5E, this healing is overnight. In other systems, this may take a few days. Either way, HP are restored far too quickly to be the actual healing of wounds.
Only when we hit and reduce our foe to 0 HP is a solid hit landed. This is a killing blow, a mortal wound. This makes sense.
As you can see, the issue is that missing your foe’s AC is a “miss”, but hitting that AC is also a “miss” if you don’t reduce them to 0 HP. For me, this breaks my connection to the narrative. I can only describe bloody, tendon-tearing wounds so many times (and then say “you’re actually fine after a night’s rest”) before I scoff a bit. For me, this is an issue.
The HP Issue is that player characters have layered defenses that serve the same narrative function.
We can go about fixing this problem simply enough. We either (1) get rid of HP, or (2) get rid of AC.
Solution 1: Remove HP
The first solution is to remove Hit Points. Much in the way Viking Death Squaddoes away with actual Hit Points and damage, we can do the same with our D&D-derivatives. In this method, we really embrace the idea of HITS. Each successful attack scores a Hit, with critical hits scoring two HITS. Armor can absorb a certain number of HITS before it is destroyed. Once you’re out of Armor, any successful HITS result in (1) wounds - pick your favorite table, or (2) death.
Armor is life. Spells that provide temporary armor are fantastic, and come into increased importance. Spells such as Cure Wounds now no longer restore HP, but do in fact heal wounds of varying severity. You might consider giving player characters HP equal to their level (5th level having 5 HP), and these HP refill as usual. They are heroes, after all.
Solution 2: Remove AC
The second solution is to remove Armor Class. In this method, we allow our characters the oodles of Hit Points that they are used to, and we retain rolling damage dice, but we remove the To Hit roll. Armor no longer functions as a YES/NO defense, but rather reduces the damage you take from attacks. We embrace the idea that, while you have Hit Points remaining, you haven’t been wounded yet. As such, if you are in proper range for your equipped weapon or spell, you roll damage. Subtract your opponent’s armor value from your damage, and inflict any remaining damage to your foe’s Hit Points. They are only solidly hit when they are reduced to 0 HP, and this is reflected by the fact that they still have HP. These sorts of attacks that “pierce” the armor reduction would wound or kill normal characters - they don’t have HP. But the player characters are heroes, after all.
The specifics of how to implement each of these systems will depend on your system of choice. 5E will require different specific adjustments than 2E, as will ICRPG. The real key to this approach is to recognize that the layered defenses serve the same function, and the narrative conflict can be resolved by fixing either of the two defenses.
Let me know what you think, and how you might implement either of these fixes in your games!
I’m going to support a few of your points, respectfully disagree with others, and comment on whatever I can. I’m specifically commenting from the perspective of a GM focused on ICRPG, ok? Also, due to the fact that Modiphius doesn’t ship to my country ( ) I haven’t read the Master Edition and Viking Death Squad yet, so my comments/rules mentions are only based on the Core 2E and the free quickstart rules update.
First, what are “hit points”? Even in D&D (specifically 3e/5e), HP is described as ‘fatigue’, ‘luck’, ‘the ability to turn a serious blow into a less serious one’, and stuff like that (as well as pure physical endurance). So, if recovering from low HP is not the “healing of wounds” necessarily, it DOES make sense to recover it fast. It all comes down to how we narrate the fiction of the game. (Also, as someone who has had a few serious injuries, I can say that we can bounce back from HP damage before the wound itself fully closes.) My point is: there are many ways to ‘visualize’ wounds, injuries, and how hit points work… and we have other rules to support long-lasting injuries. So you could recover all HP, but still have a broken arm (with limitations for that) and so on.
I actually support this one - based on the game, group style, etc. It’s elegant and many other D20 products have done this - Blue Rose (the original d20 one), True20, Mutants & Masterminds… All these systems have removed HP in favor of a ‘wound’ or ‘hit’ system. Great! How do we implement it in ICRPG? I mean, it seems like VDS already did it and I may be just off, but here’s what I would do if I had to implement a system like this.
When hit, make a Defense Roll (CON + Armor) vs. Target. Failure means you’re wounded. A second failure means you’re injured, and a third failure means you’re knocked out. A fourth failure (usually for being hit while knocked out) means you’re dying, following standard ICRPG rules.
Weaknesses of this method: while it seems to work to damage done to PCs, the opposite might be difficult to implement. Also it needs some tinkering to make damage bonuses matter. Honestly, I’m not really confident in this one.
I have actually done this one in the 2E versions of both Journey to the Lands of Summer and Kumite. For a long time my group and I have played Player-Facing Combat, where the Players roll vs. Target to hit and to avoid being hit too. The only difference is that in our games, Soak (the amount you subtract from damage) equals one-half of Armor and we allow Armor to go up to +12 (instead of the standard +10). So, Soak can go up to 6 (enough to stop a regular Weapon Effort completely for extremely ‘tanky’ characters). I played with this variant for years now and it has been great.
I’m in the process of updating and expanding both Journey to the Lands of Summer and Kumite to the new rules from the quickstart/Master Edition, so my group and I have been testing lots of stuff these past couple of weeks. What I’m tending to do now is keep Player-Facing Combat:
PCs roll an ability (any ability, depending on the type of attack they suffered) to avoid being hit.
Physical attacks are usually defended with STR (parrying), DEX (dodging), or CON (blocking or tanking). *I’m testing allowing them to add ARMOR vs. these attacks, if it’s something armor would help you against. Some attacks only need to ‘touch’ (as touch attacks in D20) to be effective.
Mental attacks are usually defended with INT, WIS, or CHA - sometimes you can describe a defense roll with these vs. physical attacks too (rolling INT to predict an attack and moving into a safe zone, for example), but it’s rare.
Thanks for opening the talks, this is a subject of game design that I really like and I’m curious to hear what other solutions and suggestions GMs here have
I like your writing here and agree with a great deal of it.
The system we’ve been playtesting is that down to 1 HP, combat damage is the wearing down of confidence / luck / stamina / etc. After a PC gets to zero hits (the minimum score) further damage is considered as actual damage / wounding. Players who suffer damage that takes them to zero or lower roll a d20 modified by the excess damage below zero and consult the wound chart. They then set their health back to zero and can heal themselves in the usual fashion. However, wounds rolled on the wound table, can only be healed through long term rest, magic, sci-fi healing etc. Wounds usually take the form of “any movement costs a full action”, “disadvantage on all mental rolls” etc.
Armour and shields have a number of Hearts / HP like PCs, along with an Effort die for how much damage they can absorb. For example, light armour uses D6 and heavy armour uses D8. Standard shields also use D6 and large / tower shields would be a D8. When a PC takes combat damage, they roll the Effort die for their armour (D6 for light armour) and reduce the damage taken by that amount then apply the remainder to the PC hits. The armour suffers Heart damage equal to what it absorbed. Shields work in much the same way.
I’ve found this system to be quick, provides great importance to armour and allows another thing for the players to concern themselves with (ie fixing armour).
I’m always concerned about ‘fairness’ in RPGs vs ‘speed’ and for us, this seems to have hit a sweet spot (ie it’s quick and gives greater meaning to armour and shields). There’s more to it than this but it’s the gist.
That’s a system I’d like to see developed. Blood & Snow uses something similar, with everyone having only 1 HEART and Armor there being extra HP that can be repaired when the item takes damage. I like both your idea and the one in B&S, but I think there’s a sweet spot there between them I just can’t see yet.
Thanks for your replies! There’s some nuggets in here already.
Frota, regarding hit points, I agree. If HP were equivilent to wounds, I wouldn’t have any issue with them. But they are clearly something other than just physical wounds. That is part of my issue with them being layered with AC. Consider one definition, such as “the ability to turn a serious blow into a less serious one”. Is that not what Dexterity and armor are supposed to account for? If my character gets a DEX bonus to their AC, that could definitely turn a serious blow into a less serious one (Affecting a “miss”). Similarly, DEX saving throws also do this versus Fireballs and other effects (“Save for half damage”).
While I do agree that we can use other rules, such as Injuries, to account for things beyond HP damage, I would argue that actually doing so in practice often clashes with the narrative. For example, let’s consider an unarmored barbarian with 100 hit points. A maximum damage hit from a long sword (the best hit possible!) will deal 8 damage in x-system. That means, by the book, a barbarian can just eat twelve maximum damage long sword hits and suffer no ill effects! That might be okay depending on the genre we’re playing, but how do we actually go about describing those actions? Do we:
(a) say that the long sword didn’t actually cut the barbarian twelve times (remember, this is max damage, not a 1 or 2 on the damage die - these should be real bleeding wounds)
If so, then what is the difference between missing AC vs. dealing damage that doesn’t reduce your foe to 0 HP? In practice, I’ve never seen anyone describe a Hit like this.
(b) say the long sword did actually cut the barbarian, but he was able to to turn serious blows into less serious ones
If so, then what is the difference between rolling maximum damage and minimum damage? It seems that this description better fits systems with damage soak from armor - but this simply doesn’t work with an unarmored combatant. Again, I’ve almost never seen anyone actually describe combat Hits like this in real play.
This is what most people do - it was a big hit, and we describe it as such because that’s dramatic and fun! …but the rules explicitely state, at least in 5E, that we are describing that incorrectly. So… Misses vs AC are glancing blows, and Hits vs AC are also glancing blows until we run out of HP!
But wait, at least in 5E, a basic healing spell that restores me from 0 HP to 4 HP makes me perfectly combat effective - necessarily also repairing even the most serious of wounds inflicted when I reached 0 HP.
As I hopefully have displayed, while I agree that we can use other rules to simulate injuries, that means that HP cannot be calculated the same way without impacting how we actually, in real play, describe combat. Most people I’ve met, myself included, want to describe combat in a dramatic and exciting way. HP when layered with the modern iteration of AC simply doesn’t work for that in my opinion.
Thank you for your commentary on your experience removing AC and supplementing it with armor soak. I’m working on these two approaches for playtesting with a home group, I have hope for the AC approach!
Warhippo, thanks for sharing that information! Having an armor soak “effort die” is an interesting idea that I’m going to push around in my head. I’ve done something similar years ago, but forgot about it until now!
Thanks guys, hopefully others will chime in as well!
So I have written and deleted this post three times by now… this is gonna be hard to put in words and at some points I’ll probably sound pedantic AF but I swear that’s not on purpose, it’s just that I’ll be sharing my own experience. I promise I’m not trying to be a dick here.
I disagree… not being hit due to standard combat movement (AC/dodge) or cover/being out of an area of impact (Reflex/Dex saves) is very different from bracing/rolling with the punches (high HP). That’s just how I feel it. (Remember those injuries I mentioned earlier? They mostly came from 20 years of competitive full contact karate, so you’d expect me to know how to roll with punches… yeah, no, I have low HP in real life.) But again, I do understand your argument here, so let’s move on.
Can we please not? (just kidding, I’ll actually talk about this below)
No, not necessarily… again, from the text of the 3e/5e, different damages mean different things for different targets (sorry I can’t reference exact pages right now). What we should be addressing here is that 8 points of damage needs to be described differently based on WHAT you’re attacking and not on the raw number. So the “problem” is that if you are only able to deal 8 points of damage with your sword (what we know is nothing close to what higher level characters can do), it’s a grievous hit against normal people, but not a serious one against THOSE guys. You, low-level person with a sword, will NEVER be able to deal one single lethal blow to Conan over there. He’ll die the famous “thousand cuts death” if he’s sufficiently outnumbered, but NONE OF YOU MISERABLE LOSERS CAN TAKE HIM DOWN BY YOURSELVES.
I used to describe it like that! (I’ll talk more about this below). I would say that when an attack misses AC, it is an attack that I don’t need to make an effort that costs my stamina to avoid it or the armor blocked it completely or the dude really just missed, if he rolled low enough. If you lost some HP, then it’s an attack that required you to actively make an effort to block, dodge, or tank it. It is hard work for the GM to describe it in a fun way, though.
Yeah! It’s plain wrong to describe it like that - and I’ve only seen inexperienced GMs do it. Here’s the thing: most people who play don’t understand what hit points are. And that’s ok, because… let’s be honest, it’s a hobby and for most people it’s just supposed to be just mindless fun… not everyone stops to deeply think about this like game designers or forum nerds who actually try to make sense of the rules. (Did… did I just burn both of us? Sorry, man.) But for those of us who care… let’s continue.
I would describe it as the spell actually closing the serious wound - but it still leaves you highly vulnerable. The wound that could kill you is closed, but you are still weak and out of breath (even if there are no mechanic penalties linked to it - it’s just descriptive).
“So why does the same spell completely restores a 10 HP 1st-level fighter but leaves the high-level barbarian still vulnerable?” is the question you should be asking. Two answers: (a) the barbarian actually has fought for much longer and suffered much more than the 10 HP fighter; or (b) we’ll never be able to accurately measure these things in a game, “it’s your turn, continue playing and forget about it” <- I don’t really like “b” but I’m getting too old to care
Count me in right there with you, guys! I truly agree that combat should be more cinematic, fast, and fun. And… D&D isn’t really designed to be any of those things.
So, here’s today’s wall of text. I’ll try to explain what I’ve been through and how I solved it for my games and hopefully you’ll find something that you can use.
When I first read your post I thought “Hey, this guy is going through the same problems I went through during the 3E era! Neat, let’s talk about it and try to help”
So, mechanics. Hit points are not and will never be a perfect mechanic. What we can do (and I see you’re already trying to) is change it to something we can live with. Find what works best for our games and use it. I see that you’re already doing it and it’s great! So let’s just see some options and hopefully you’ll have even more ideas about how to “fix” HP in your games.
Over the years, D&D was more and more mechanized to be like a videogame. Originally, hit point damage was meant to be real injuries - you healed ONE HP PER DAY OF REST. That made sense for a game where 1 hp was a real hit, but back then, even your high-level fighters would have 20-30 hp tops, so a hit by a sword would be a week to heal.
Some games addressed this by changing the meaning of hit points. In the 3E era, the Star Wars d20 and other games brought back Vitality/Wounds (vitality was our hit points of today, calculated the same; wounds were equal to your CON). If you were hit in combat, you lost vitality - meaning a last minute dodge, parry, block, etc. If you fell off a ledge, the lost vitality was traded for holding to a life-saving branch at the last minute. But a critical hit or a hit when you had no vitality would cost you wounds, and them being equal to CON, it meant one or two weapon hits or a short fall would probably kill you (death at 0 wounds).
Back then I had the same discussion we’re having with many players and GMs and what worked for me was accepting the game as it is and describing based on situations. To be honest, I don’t play D&D anymore - it’s not and has NEVER been “the game” for me. And the games I really like all have something in common - low hit points or no hit points at all.
My favorite games are ICRPG, Mutants & Masterminds, and Lion & Dragon.
In ICRPG you know Players have 10 HP. They may get more, but let’s be honest… they’ll top at 20, maybe 30. And they can lose it and go back to 10. Because ICRPG is chaos and chaos and I love it for that.
In Mutants & Masterminds there’s no HP… When hit you roll Toughness vs. a DC based on the attack damage, the result tells you if you’re hurt, dazed, knocked out, dead…
Lion & Dragon is an amazing old school D&D-based game written by a historian based on the 15th Century Wars of the Roses. It has what I call “medieval-authentic” rules for the setting and the mechanics of HP are very old school… Everyone has 1d6 HP at level zero, plus one hit die at level 1. Then you gain 1 or 2 hp per level. So, even high-level fighters have like 20-30 hp at most. And they matter, because magic healing is VERY rare and natural healing is 1 hp per day.
So, in my opinion the real problem with HP is newer editions of D&D give you too much of it. It’s clunky and hard to create a true atmosphere of cinematic combat. So I have addressed this in two ways.
(1). If I have to run D&D, I break damage from enemies to character-level ranks (like, instead of 2d8 bite, it’s a 1d8 bite, usually half of the original damage), spell damage to one-half, break sneak attack to a single bonus on attack and damage, criticals are just +1d12 (not double), and I use my trademarked LOW HP formula.
LOW HP FORMULA = HD# + HD Size + STR mod + CON mod
Ex. A creature with 7d10 HD, STR 19 (+4) and CON 15 (+2) would have 7+10+4+2 = 23 HP.
Same for PCs. A 8th level Barbarian with STR 20 (+5) and CON 16 (+3) would have 8 (level, or HD#) + 12 (HD size) + 5 (STR) + 3 (CON) = 28 HP.
This idea is just a huge article I wrote on how to make D&D more cinematic and I can send or link it later if you wish.
I, of course, didn’t come up with this idea by myself… Professor DM talks about this here. I also recommend this video, where he talks about doing these kinds of changes to D&D.
(2). SOAK, or armor as damage reduction. Sometimes, using the previous rules, I have also used Armor as Damage Reduction. For creatures, the DR equals their natural armor (without DEX bonuses). For PCs, it’s their armor bonus. Or, in a simple version, light armor (1-2), medium armor (3-4) and heavy armor (5-6).
This post is long enough already so I’ll stop here. I hope you find something useful and I wish you great games and lots of fun.
I think your second premise is what prevents your thesis from demanding a rock solid solution. a single-blow kill, even in real life, is not just a successful attack, it is a SUPER successful attack. Therefore, ac-to-hit and HP live together in harmony, imho
So P_F just wrote a lot of what I had been thinking when I lie awake at night thinking RPG rules. And his player-facing combat is one great solution, and as he mentioned ICRPG cuts back on the HP inflation, so that is two decent ways to address the numbers.
He also beat me to the point that old D&D you healed one HP per day - and that was a bit more realistic but at the cost of some kinds of fun. It is hard to maintain a sense of urgency, time is ticking, gotta save the universe when you need a week or a month off between encounters. One use for it might be - you do not have time to heal, gotta save the universe. Continuing on when no ordinary person could is the stuff of heroes. But it still is not realistic in some ways. Say that the narrative is the 1st HP is cuts and bruises and the 9th is serious damage (on a 10 HP ICRPG character). You have some time to heal and you get back to 9 HP. Now you are in the shape of someone with cuts and bruises - the more serious damage heals first? So for realism you’d have to keep track of which HP was healed - in place of HP you need a tracker for the condition of each body part and layer.
Realism and drama are hard to balance. Warriors can bash at each other for minutes, or duelists deftly parry and thrust with minor cuts building up. A hero would fight on though pierced with arrows - or a single small knife in the back can be fatal. Armor and weapons evolved together, and in most time periods an army would all be the same (or have a few types of units with uniformity within each). If you simulate armor well, then an armored warrior becomes the only useful combatant. If being hit by a sword has realistic effects the only good solution is don’t get hit. But we want a party of characters with unique strengths each a valuable part of the story, exciting combat, dread and danger but the good guys (sometimes) win.
I remember switching from AD&D to Rolemaster to get “more realistic” but it felt like a zillion rolls and calculations every swing. We were into En Guarde for the realistic fencing, but duels are so difficult to run we ended up almost never dueling. I was out of the hobby for some decades so I missed everything until 5e - and I find the simpler mechanics allow for a more real feeling even if the rules do not cover all the realistic effects. ICRPG seems to me to be further in the right direction - plus it is a system that is designed to be hacked from the start so you can put in the realism or abstract away the burdens wherever you need to.
All to say, I am impressed by the solutions mentioned A_C and P_F and Wh to solve the issues they see at their tables. Especially that all are grounded in how to tell the story better, rather than isolate the perfect formula. I am not bothered by the HP Issue, at least now that ICRPG has deflated the inflation. But the effort y’all are making kinda means that whatever the mechanic your players are gonna be well served.
I actually love this idea - “I’m hurt, but I have to press on or innocents will suffer” is the stuff of heroes for me. But there’s a mechanical effect here that we tend to forget: In older D&D editions, there was no mechanical rule for “balanced” encounters. This means that a group of high level adventurers could very well be hurt but face low-level opponents, having a fair fight even in their weakened state. A 10th level fighter at half hit points can still beat the crap out of half of the duke’s army (maybe not at once, but you understand). (Of course this also means you can have a vastly stronger opponent in an encounter - old school players know they can and should run when outmatched.)
Also, in old school games, we had a more ‘authentic’ approach to the game. Adventurers were people trying to survive and score a big payday to retire, not ‘adventurers trying to save the world’… that came later. And the rules changed to accommodate that aspect of the game.
Ok, non-topic related rant (sorry in advance, guys):
In today’s game I’ve seen lots of GMs and Players think that high level people are everywhere… sure, your world might be like that, but that’s not natural. And there’s also this idea that every encounter should be a fight to the death - the Players I see these days treat the game as a videogame, they tend to think that if the GM puts an encounter there they have to finish it. Why? It may come as a surprise but… sentient living beings don’t like to die! But D&D, today, doesn’t help GMs and Players portray people in the game realistically.
I blame the absence of two rules: MORALE and REACTION ROLLS. These rules in old school D&D created more memorable and realistic encounters, imho (and yes, I know in today’s game the GM is supposed to control these things without the need for these rolls but let’s be honest, THEY DON’T).
Personal note: I prefer the old rule that said 78% of people were class-less level 0 people, then the other 20% were 2- or 3-HD class-less people, then only 2% of people have classes. And that for each additional level, cut in half the number of people. (Example: in my 15th Century War of the Roses campaign, in London, a city with 30k inhabitants, only 600 people have classes; about 300 are level 1; then 150 level 2, 75 level 3, 37 level 4, 19 level 5, 9 level 6, 5 level 7, 3 level 8, one level 9 and one level 10).
Damn, the simplest explanation is usually the most correct. I completely missed this detail. Thanks for reminding us.
@P_Frota, thanks for your reply! I think we might be getting into the weeds about defining HP very specifically. My point really is that AC is a way to avoid wounding blows. HP is also a way to avoid wounding blows. We can noddle around in the edge cases of what-ifs all night, (dragon’s breath will kill anyone regardless of level or HP, so why don’t characters die? The dragon didn’t land their breath weapon, save or not… etc.) but that’s not really my point here.
I will maintain, however, that a “full damage” strike from any weapon is the best possible hit from that weapon - especially when we are also rolling to hit. The to-hit asks if we hit them. The damage asks how hard. And you didn’t really address the barbarian issue. 100 HP, an arrow does 1-6. Can the barbarian take 16 maximum damage arrows to the body without any mechanical issues (since HP doesn’t come along with the death spiral)? If yes, then fair enough but that game is too gonzo for me. If no, then we’re back to square one - HP aren’t wounds, they’re how we avoid death. AC is also how we avoid death. DEX Saving Throws are also how we avoid death. The layered systems that serve the same function are, imo, too redundant.
I’m not certain I’m convinced of the relative damage description (8 damage to someone with 10 HP is mechanically identical to 8 damage to someone with 100 HP – there is no in-game difference between those two hits because neither character is at 0 HP, the only place where the state of their character changes). If that is your approach, then the issue doesn’t exist, game on! But, I would argue that if that’s how we’re supposed to interpret the rules, weapons would not have variable damage. They would deal static damage. The roll for damage tells us that not all hits are equal, they exist within some range - which is inclusive of both attacker skill and defender skill. If we take the relative damage route, why doesn’t armor give you more HP while you wear it rather than acting as a yes/no gate?
That said, you make some good points! Especially:
Which is what happens when we’ve got so many layered sliders. AC, HP, Saves for half damage, variable attack/spell damage, etc. I just can’t sustain that sort of narrative bending for hours and hours while combat goes on. It ends up sounding like a Star Wars scene where the stormtroopers miss every shot lol.
I’ll pose one more question for you: Do characters have HP when they are sleeping or defenseless? Or, can they be instantly slain assuming the attacker doesn’t botch it (roll a 1, fail stealth, whatever)?
@Runehammer, thanks for your reply as well! I would argue that the difference between a successful attack and a super successful attack is the damage inflicted. Again, 1 damage from a long sword is clearly a glancing blow (but it was not parried or blocked or dodged, because the system says that would be part of AC protecting me). But 8 damage is the best the weapon can possibly deal - even with a max roll critical hit it’s only 16 points in 5E, plus whatever STR. I think we can agree that a clean, perfectly executed long sword stroke would wound anyone regardless of their “level” (and that’s why we wear armor to reduce that damage, thus solution two)? And if it wasn’t a clean stroke, then how could I have rolled maximum damage - what does “rolling maximum damage” mean if not a clean strike or combination? I would add, also, that it isn’t necessarily a single blow, it’s a single attack attempt. One can stab and slash many times in six seconds (or 1 minute, or however long the round is) resulting in 8 damage, per the long sword example.
I still think that (1) minimizing HP and making armor variable or (2) removing the to-hit and embracing rolling damage and the comparative nature of damage vs remaining HP are the best solutions if one sees the HP/AC issue as existing. I’ll keep my eyes here and see what others think.
Just chiming in to say: if you want to see systems that have removed “to-hit” rolls, check out:
Mousritter, roll damage for your weapon, reduced by armor. Having advantage lets you roll a bigger die (d12), disadvantage a smaller die (d4) for damage. Damage is subtracted first from HP, and then once you’re out of HP, it is subtracted directly from your strength stat. Every time you take STR damage, make a STR save to see if you stay conscious or receive an injury. At zero (0) strength, death (rules reference sheet is a quick read).
Also, Into the Odd / Electric Bastionland:
Similar schtick, when you attack you roll straight damage. Target reduces damage by armor. Comes off HP first, then from STR. STR save or incapacitated whenever you take STR damage. When STR = zero, dead.
Into the odd specifically changes HP from “hit points” to “hit protection,” and they specifically say that it represents a characters wiley-ness, wits, good luck, resolve, and so on. If you’re only taking HP damage, you didn’t get hit. Once you start getting hit, that’s when you run the risk of dropping unconscious or dying. The hit points regenerate at different rates too. STR recovers very slowly, whereas HP recovers with the equivalent of a D&D 5e short rest.
While I find Mousritter adorable and want to play it, I can’t speak from experience how it runs. I will say I have played Into the Odd and love the direct damage rolls and ability score damage. Every turn in every fight is consequential, and it makes almost every fight at least risky if not an obviously bad idea, even if victory seems assured.
If I was going to hack this into ICRPG… Then you’d eliminate the DEX / STR roll to hit and just roll effort to deal the damage directly to opponents. You’d want to change some armor items to reduce damage rather than give +DEF. Then, once HP is gone, you’d probably have someone make DEF rolls every time they take damage to stay alive or drop to dying. It wouldn’t work exactly the same. Mousritter and Into the Odd simulate getting even more injured as you take more and more STR damage which makes the next blow more and more likely to knock you out. But most ICRPG players will only have a few points in CON so the attribute loss wouldn’t work as elegantly in ICRPG - but it would probably get you close, and I would be interested to see how it works for anyone who tests it out.
I understand, totally been there before. May I suggest you find some articles on Player-Facing Combat? It simplifies all the mechanics into a ‘players roll all dice’ mechanic, including to avoid injury from enemy attacks. I’ve been using it with ICRPG and it solved many of these issues for me. You may find something interesting for your games there.
Great question. Defenseless characters have HP because it’s their acquired right as heroes of the story. That is a factor in D&D and similar games. But the game might have very specific rules for defenseless characters (e.g., if hit they automatically die unless passing a check, in shich case drop to 0 or 1 HP - each system deals with it differently).
Considering that in real life people slip in the bathroom and die and others fall from airplanes and survive, we may be overthinking injuries and damage in RPGs
I hope you find what you’re looking for! Cheers and good luck!
I just went on such a deep dive here. What have you done to me?
I think this post is absolutely fascinating and I would love to hear more peoples thoughts and experiences with this idea. Well I guess there are technically many ideas here.
1: How do we fix HP as it is commonly portrayed in ttrpgs, especially 5e.
2: Is removing AC, a legitimate solution? The overloading the damage dice article explains this system with weapon dice but how will magic still function with this system? I use a quasi ICRPG/5e hardcore mode magic system where each spell is DC 10 + spell level to cast.
I love the concept of removing the “To Hit” roll and replacing it with just rolling for damage. Has anybody really tested this system out? What was your experience? Is there a way to port this idea into something like 5e? Or would it only really work in the OSR world or ICRPG?
I have tested removing to-hit rolls from my 5E game since I made this post. It worked fantastic. Here’s how I did it:
AC is converted to damage reduction. AC - 10 = reduction.
AC 16 becomes 6 points of damage reduction. If I so wish, I made sacrifice part of my armor to take half damage (as per a successful saving throw in 5E as precedence). To do so, reduce armor by one point (from 6 to 5, for example)
Characters who are at the proper range for their weapon simply roll damage - armor reduction. Remaining value is applied to HP. Rolling maximum damage value is considered to explode. Roll again and sum. That is the “critical hit”.
For spells, I kept the 5E system so I didn’t change too many things at once. I wanted to see what a single change did to the game (experimental variables and confounding variables, etc). Damage was rolled normally assuming the target was within range. Saving Throws were used for half damage, armor could not be sacrificed for this.
Combat was more tense, and the players seemed to enjoy it a lot more. There were very few “dead rounds”. Players commented afterward that they really liked not having any rounds where they felt useless by missing, and they could really feel the wearing-down of both sides as we got into the rounds.
The only complaint was that it felt like damage was a “given”. That might be a product of being used to rolling to hit and then damage.
Ohhh interesting that you convert ac to damage reduction. I also use the same method for converting AC to an AC Modifier for player facing combat by subtracting 10 from it.
I also like how you handle crits. Exploding dice can be very exciting for players, though I am curious how you decide crits when you roll multiple dice such as a greatswords 2d6 or firebolt multiple d10’s at higher levels. Do all dice need to be the maximum or just one?
Damage was rolled normally assuming the target was within range.
Are you referring to within range of the attack like distance wise? Like melee attacks needing to be within 5 ft?
Combat was more tense, and the players seemed to enjoy it a lot more. There were very few “dead rounds”. Players commented afterward that they really liked not having any rounds where they felt useless by missing, and they could really feel the wearing-down of both sides as we got into the rounds.
This is so great to hear! I want my combats to move faster and feel deadlier and sometimes when everyone is just constantly missing we all start wondering why we’re still here lol.
Critical hits: I don’t necessarily categorize them as critical hits. Exploding damage is my substitution for rolling a natural20 to hit. For weapons with multiple damage dice, even one explosion could be considered a crit depending on how it feels - but that’s a loose label. The important thing is that a greatsword with 2d6 can explode on both dice, and of any any additional 6s that are rolled, and therefore are formidable weapons indeed!
If you’re looking for a Rule™, I would say that a critical hit occurs when any damage die on a weapon explodes, or when the weapon damage or spell damage is > the normal maximum amount. If a 6d6 fireball does more than 36 points of damage, it could be considered a critical cast.
Yes, if the target is within range of the attack (melee for a sword, a bit further for a spear or polearm, further still for shortbow, etc.) then the attacker may attack. Clearly, I can’t attack if something is beyond my weapon’s reach!
Yeah man, if you want your combat to go faster try a session without the to-hit rolls, or even a mock combat. When the melee characters are in the fray with the other melee foes, simply have everyone roll damage at the same time, and narrate the melee. Missing sucks. If it’s a real thing for you guys, try doing away with to-hit.
The other way of handling it is very old school. In AD&D and OD&D, it wasn’t uncommon to only hit ~30-40% of the time. But when you hit, you probably chunked half or a third of the foe’s HP. Hits really mattered, and there weren’t many of them, so it was more dramatic than the bounded accuracy “hit often but need to hit more and more” 5E paradigm!
Wow this is fascinating. I love what you have come up with and am seriously thinking about implementing this in my campaign. I just ran a couple little tests and its actually quite intuitive to just roll damage and subtract damage reduction or “Soak” as some are calling it.
Though I do have some follow up questions. Such as exploding dice. Do they also work for spells like Burning Hands or Fireball? Or do those spells void themselves since they require a Dex save?
Also what about the fighters Improved Critical feature? Does a longsword wielding fighter get to explode their damage dice on a 7 and an 8? Or is that too overpowered?
Im curious how this system handles the typical adventuring day too. I use an alternative rest system where PC’s can only get the benefits of a long rest by resting in a safe place like a town or village. With this system and the almost guarantee damage taking, do you think this could wear the players down too much? Im thinking maybe I also need to incorporate the 2 hp system with “Flesh” and “Grit”. One set of hit points recovers more easily like during a short rest but the true HP still requires a long rest.
This might also not be necessary due to the overwhelming number of options for healing in 5e. Thoughts?
I think that will be up to the kind of genre you’re playing in. I don’t see any real issue with spells also having exploding dice. However, that can produce some very volatile damage results. I’ve seen daggers (D4) end up dealing 20+ damage on rare occasions using exploding dice in prior systems. Rolling 8d6 fireball damage is ripe for… death. Saving Throws for Half Damage can help mitigate this, but I think a good route would be to limit which spells can explode. Simply noting “Exploding” in a spell description is sufficient. In dice notation, this is often notated as 6d6 (normal damage) versus 6d6! (exploding damage).
So for example, I think the capstone spells should probably explode - fireball, lightning bolt, cloudkill, cone of cold, etc. Save for half damage as usual. I would be more selective with other spells (burning hands, melf’s acid arrow, etc). Cantrips should probably never explode, imo.
Improved Critical is an interesting feature. I am in love with the classical fighter archetype. I would definitely want to make that feature useful. I haven’t tested this system with fighters at that level, but here are some ideas:
(1) Increase the explode range by one value (on a D8, 7 and 8 explode)
(2) When dealing exploding damage, fighters may opt to take average damage on the bonus die/dice if they rolled below average
(3) A number of times per short or long rest, the fighter can force an explosion - deal maximum damage and roll as if you rolled the maximum value normally
Be aware that some weird things can happen with lower die weapons such as daggers. Daggers are only D4, and therefore have a 25% chance to explode normally! With option 1, this is a 50% chance on every die. Now maybe you like that - I could see the dagger-fighter return from the shadows of the past.
Adventuring Days… I usually don’t use them tbh. But yes, removing the to-hit roll removes a layer of defense, and does indeed wear characters down faster. I prefer that. In your system, I think that just means they need to more carefully manage their resources.
Does the wizard really need to throw all three fireballs in this encounter? Maybe - and that could trivialize one encounter. But they won’t have any more until they rest. Probably better to use some guile and clever thinking to save the spell slots. I honestly couldn’t tell you without knowing what kinds of challenges your players face and their behavior. Even then - the dice are fickle. Your crew could have hot dice and smoke the baddies, or have the bones roll cold and need to burn way more resources than they’d normally need.
One thing is for sure: Guaranteed damage necessitates careful consideration for engaging in combat, and incentivizes healing mechanics. Maybe that’s good, maybe that’s bad. Some people hate the “heal bot”, but it’s my favorite type of character to play.
TLDR: Try it and find out! After two sessions, you’ll have more experience than me!