Implications of Changes to the Hit Point Model

A couple of months ago I posted some thoughts about hit points and healing .

This is playable model, and the martial artists I discussed it with said that while it’s not exactly realistic, it has the shape of something believable.  That is, the relationship between ‘hard to kill’ (or ‘hard to beat down’, more likely in a real fight) and ‘real damage’ is about right, even if the odds of someone taking only ‘minor injuries’ from a sword or shotgun are probably smaller than the model suggests.

(I’ll just mention this is more or less corrected in my view because most ‘real people’ are going to very low level, and even a ‘real’ third-level fighter with twenty or thirty hit points can be taken out of a fight pretty fast if he’s hit with a sword or a shotgun blast.)

It seems a workable model.  It is playable and doesn’t seem to inherently offend the senses.  In fact, I suspect it actually explains things better than most of the explanations I’ve seen to date.  The reason a human fighter has more hit points than a horse and is harder to kill is not that he has more meat and can take more damage, but he better able to avoid real damage in the first place.  The horse is naturally bigger and inherently tougher because of its size, but the human fighter probably knows better how to deal with situations that would lead to injury.  I have seen this idea mentioned in describing hit points a few times, but I think most people overlook or forget it, and it never seems to come out explicitly in play.

However, even though this is likely a workable for handling damage normally, I realized a few more things it might let me do, or do better.

Hit Points as Mana

I have seen suggestions and proposals many times for using hit points to fuel magic.  These have generally been somewhat problematic, usually because either it is too great a cost (casters tended to not have very many hit points) or too little a cost (if you can also use spells to recover your hit points).

However, I’ve read a number of stories where casters gradually exhaust themselves.  Many of the books by L. E. Modesitt (not just the Recluce books, either) have casters tire as they overuse their magic, and taken far enough may be some mix of exhausted, slowed in reaction, have bad headaches, feel stabbing lights in their eyes, nauseous… all of these can be reasonably modeled as ‘having reduced hard-to-kill’, in that they are all conditions that can lead to poorer ability to stay alive in dangerous situations.

Depending how it’s done, I can see three ways to charge

  • certain spells might cost nothing
  • certain spells might cost some hard-to-kill, which may be recovered on resting
  • certain spells might cost real damage to cast (not sure about this one, though it does fit with the others)

A spell may still have other costs, such as difficult to obtain material components.  Note that I don’t look at cost for material components; even a 5000 gp platinum bracelet can be ‘easy to obtain’, ‘gold cost’ really only affects difficulty for a while.

This may be extended to things other than spell casting.  Perhaps certain magic items such as a flaming sword or a cloak of flight might have a cost to their use.

Damage Vulnerability

Certain creatures are more vulnerable to specific types of damage than they are to normal damage.  This is usually modeled in D&D 3.x using Damage Reduction, where they take less damage to everything but what they are vulnerable to (and energy attacks).  What if instead vulnerability meant that instead of taking normal damage they automatically take real damage, as they would on a critical hit?

If you slap a fairy in the face with a wooden club, he’ll be angry (or possibly crushed against a rock, if you did it right), but if you didn’t put him down he’ll be back to normal after he rests to recover.  Cut him with an iron dagger, though, he’ll feel the burning of his wound for days.  If you stab him in the chest, he’ll feel it for a really long time.

Mechanically, this amounts to

  • most weapons do normal damage on normal hits
  • most weapons do split damage (base is real, bonus is normal) on critical hits
  • used against creatures that are vulnerable to the weapon, they do real damage on normal hits
  • used against creatures that are vulnerable to the weapon, all damage (base and bonus) is real damage on critical hits

Actually, I just realized this can be extended — any damage source could potentially act this way.  Most living creatures could be considered vulnerable to negative energy damage, for example.  Or perhaps creatures default to being vulnerable to energy damage, but various circumstances can reduce that.  Maybe the first step of evasion, instead of being all or nothing, removes the vulnerability.  A rogue still gets kind of smoky when he successfully saves against that fireball but doesn’t get as charred (takes half damage because of the save, and it is normal damage rather than real damage because of the evasion).  I’m not sure about this part.

Unliving Targets

Unliving creatures such as constructs and zombies might only take real damage (you have to actually break them) and can ignore normal damage… but probably have special requirements for ‘healing’.

You can’t ‘kill’ a golem, you have to beat it down until it’s a ruined heap.  It will likely need some quality time in a repair shop of some kind if it wants to get better.

Similarly, a zombie won’t go down if you just do minor damage, it’s headshots all the way.  It probably needs some kind of unholy assistance once it gets damaged, though.

This specific example falls down a bit in that the critical-happy weapons (swords mostly) tend to do less base damage than the ones I really want to use against zombies (axes and scythes), and similarly shotguns are better than rifles.  I’m not certain how to reconcile this yet.

The unliving targets might be combined with vulnerability — undead are vulnerable to holy things (weapons and holy water and so on), so take real damage from them — and a critical from a holy greataxe would do the full damage as real damage.

Closing Thoughts

There are a couple little wrinkles yet, but this is looking better and better to me.

Can anyone think of other benefits or downsides to moving to this model?

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  1. Pingback: Boom! Head Shot! | Keith J Davies — In My Campaign - Keith's thoughts on RPG design and play.

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