Monday, May 21, 2012

The Grumpy Dwarf Looks at Mike Mearls' Latest - Hit Points, Our Old Friend (What Have They Done to Ye?)

(I talked about this a bit in the previous blog post, but The Grumpy Dwarf has his own take on it, let alone his own style) - original article here

In D&D Next, hit points and Hit Dice are an abstraction that we use to model more than just a character's physical durability (as it has been in every previous edition of D&D). In fact, we have three elements that tie into a character's hit points and Hit Dice.
  • Physical capacity for punishment, which is measured through a combination of size, bulk, and durability. An elephant or a hill giant has plenty of hit points due to raw physical endurance and bulk. Big creatures can take a lot of punishment.  (as can Dwarves ;)
  • Energy and experience, which is measured by a creature's ability to turn a direct hit into a glancing blow and ignore minor aches and pains. Frederika, the 10th-level dwarf fighter, can turn even a giant's crushing strike into a near miss. She (Frederika the dwarf?  ouch!)might take 30 points of damage from the hit, but in terms of physical injury she might not have more than a light bruise. The same attack against Samwell, the 1st-level halfling fighter, turns him into a dead, bloody mess. Poor Samwell lacks the training and experience to avoid the worst of the attack.
  • Luck and cosmic significance, which is the simple truth that in a world of high magic, gods, and planar powers, some creatures are consigned by fate to take on a great task. The sword blow that slays the common soldier is a glancing strike against the hero destined to stand at the center of important events. A white dragon ambushes the wizard Mordenkainen and unleashes a ferocious attack. The wizard avoids death by stepping aside at just the right moment. He might suffer a few cuts, but through luck, coincidence, or fate, he stepped to the side just as the dragon was about to attack.
Here's a brief overview that gives you an idea of what happens when a creature takes damage.

A creature with more than half its maximum hit points has nothing more than the superficial signs of injury. There might be a few tears in its armor or clothes, or it could have a dent in its shield, and it has not yet suffered any serious physical harm beyond a scrape, light cut, or bruise. Anyone looking at the creature likely doesn't notice that it has been involved in a fight.  (see, this is not my vision of how hit points work, but i'll go along with it for now)

A creature with less than half its maximum hit points has suffered a few noticeable cuts or bruises. A casual inspection or quick look reveals that the creature has taken a few hits, so it is noticeably injured.

A creature that is reduced to 0 or fewer hit points has suffered a direct hit—enough to knock it unconscious. The attack that dropped it caused a serious injury that might crack bones and cause heavy, ongoing bleeding.  (the problem with this system is a creature with 50 hp, knocked down to 1HP, looks no different that a creature at 25 HP - the jump from 1 to 0` is huge - that all being said, I think i see where mike is going with this, so it can't be all bad)

Consider the example of a giant spider attacking a 1st-level fighter who has 10 hit points. The spider's first attack deals 3 damage, and the fighter must make a Constitution saving throw against its poison. The bite barely broke the fighter's skin, but just barely. The mark from the bite will clear up in a day or so. The fighter has a scratch that most people would overlook.

The next bite reduces the fighter to 3 hit points and requires another saving throw. This bite causes a noticeable injury since the fighter now has less than half of his or her hit points. The fighter will wake up the next morning with a scab over the bite, and it might take another couple of days for the injury to disappear. A good rest erases most of the real physical effects of the injury. Anyone looking at the fighter would immediately notice the nasty-looking bite wound. (alright, so if I heal from under 50%, i get scabs and maybe scars, but no real effects - window dressing if you well)

If the spider drops the fighter, it lands a deadly attack. The wound is vicious and ugly. It bleeds freely, and only prompt attention or sheer luck can save the fighter. If mundane bandages are all the fighter's companions have on hand, it will take a couple of days for the fighter to return to action. (k, that's some Old School type effect here) At this point, there's a chance that the fighter will have a lasting scar (will there be rules for this, or DM Fiat or what?), and he or she needs magic to get back into the fight in the short term.

That description covers hit points. I can't imagine the playtest leading us to purge hit points from the game (not can I, but this is WotC we are talking about ;). In terms of mechanics, I think the best thing we can do is keep the number of hit points for each monster or character manageable and make sure we have a good narrative explanation for how they work. (does this mean we are doing away with the buckets of HP from both 3x and 4e?)

Introducing Hit Dice

Hit Dice aren't part of 4E, but they were in every other edition of the game. This time around, we're recruiting them to help with a crucial element of the design. We want to make the cleric as optional for a group as a fighter, wizard, or rogue.  (historical note - I've run AD&D and AD&D 2e campaigns that lacked one or more of the core classes - the only class that was never missing was a fighter or one of it's subclasses.  To design a game that doesn't need one of the 4 compass points of an RPG party is as simple as looking back to the older editions of the game.  Oh, and requiring smart play from the players to cover for the missing compass points.)

First, it's worth noting why we want to reduce the party's reliance on healing magic (i'm afraid to even touch this - they've already fucked the cleric out of everything else he was good at - according to previous columns - and now we are going to fuck him in the healing department.  believe it or not, up to an including 2e, most of the parties I played in lacked clerics - no one had any desire to play one.  i guess that tradition will continue with 5e). One of our goals for the next iteration is to add an unmatched level of flexibility (interchangeability perhaps?). We want to make a game where one DM and one player can play through an adventure without undue need for house rules or changes to the core system. (i could do that in any edition up to and including 2e.  it required smart play on the player's part, but it was very doable.  I did not have to dumb te system down, but I did have to design adventures with the character in question in mind) We'd prefer that if half the group misses a session, the DM can still run something without having to change the basic rules for the campaign.  (change the basic rules or change the adventure that was planned?  if the adventure that was planned is just as playable with alf the party as it is with a full party, the adventure probably sucks.  unless adventures are going to scale.  won't that be fun.  I might just as well play Morrowind for that experience)

In our current draft (the one you'll be able to playtest beginning on 5/24), Hit Dice represent your character's ability to recover from injury without the use of magic. (Huh?) Think back to the explanation of hit points above. When a character loses hit points, he or she can recover them through rest. (o-kay) Your character can overcome many cuts and bruises by catching his or her breath, but there is a limit to the amount of punishment your character can overcome.

Over time, if your character takes too many injuries, they start to add up. Just as several, low-damage hits eventually drive a character to half hit points and then to zero, so too do they affect your character's ability to recover from damage (i think i follow so far).

Your character gains Hit Dice just as he or she did in editions before 4E, though some classes use different dice now. Fighters gain a d10 Hit Die per level, clerics and rogues gain d8s, and wizards gain d6s. (Pathfinder Dice!) When a character rests, Hit Dice allow that character to regain hit points. (WTF?!?) Your character is bandaging wounds, applying healing herbs, having some food and water, and otherwise spending time to recover. You can roll one or more of your character's Hit Dice to determine how many hit points mundane treatment allows him or her to recover.  (this might not be during combat, but this is very much a Healing Surge.  Ya know, just like most MMORPGs allow very quick healing outside of combat, now AD&D will too.  For the folks that were calling 4e a "MMORPG" moved to the table top, you were one edition too early.  Here's the kicker - the Old School players on a whole won't be thrilled with this mechanic, and the 4e crowd are going to bitch that it isn't useable during combat)

It's important to note that Hit Dice come into play to represent mundane healing (I'm going to go out on a limb here and say Hit Dice will not be used to roll HP with the gain of a new level.  Level gains to HP will be set, because we all know how much WotC hates randomness in ability scores and Hit Points and the like). Potions and spells restore hit points and ignore Hit Dice. If a character relies on natural healing, it takes quite a while to recover. (no it won't.  they won't be able to heal in combat, but compared to every other edition of this game, 4e excluded, you've effectively doubled everyone's hit points)

When a character rests for an extended period of time, he or she regains Hit Dice. In other words, a longer rest allows your character to regain Hit Dice. Shorter rests allow you to spend those Hit Dice to regain your character's hit points. (short rest is probably 10 minutes after an encounter, long rest is overnight / 8 hrs rest)

We hope that Hit Dice hold up in the playtest. As with any new mechanic, we'll keep a careful eye on feedback and ask a number of questions about it in our surveys.

Here's some Grumpy Wisdom - It is much easier to start from a less powerful baseline and add options to power things up, then it is to start at a high baseline and add options to power things down.  If an Old School styled player thinks they were planning anything more than lip service when the spoke about  including Old School play as an option I'd like to know what you're drinking, because it fucking rocks!

Anyone else notice that the talk of the modularity of the system has for all intents and purposes ended?  Was Monte the only advocate for such?  

Was the internal and later Friends & Family playtests skewed by the number of 4e players in it, to the point that Old Edition styles of play were pushed to the side?

What kind of restrictions will be put on the "Open" Playtest that hits in 3 days, May 24th, 2012?  Will we finally get first hand accounts of play?  I'm dying to peek, even if it's only to slow down and rubber neck at the 5 car pile up on the other side of the highway, but not if I have to sign something that prevents me from talking, writing, blogging, whatevering about the 5e rules.


  1. Its only a matter of time until that they announce that there will also a be collectible element to it, like what they did to poor old Gamma World.

  2. I've commented on the tail-off re: the modularity discussion.

    It's a shame, because they are really screwing themselves.

  3. OK I have to admit that if I read that right, its not a bad thing if you can only roll that dice once per day. He states 'When a Character Rests' so I'm guessing its like the 'bind wounds' that a few games I play in have housed ruled. Healing surges could be used multiple times a day which made them lame, but I'm OK with a once a day surge. If only to get your party back in the fight in a day or two as opposed to two weeks when you can only heal 1hp a day.

  4. @the dave, this is how i read it -

    you have HD equal to your level in healing surginess. you can rest and use one, some or all of your dice. that's the short rest. presumably, you can rest after any encounter, so more than once per day, but no more than your level in HD can be rolled.

    A long rest resets your HD.

    If you are down to 1 HP, using all your dice should put you at half HP (on average), assuming they are doing HP in a older manner. If you get 4e styled HP I have no idea how it will convert

  5. I could never picture this modular system crap. There are distinct styles of play and they just don't mix.

    They had a popular system with 3.5 supposedly (and the rulebooks sell well on the resale market). They had a vastly popular system with AD&D. What WotC needs to do is stop all this new edition crap and go back to what worked.

    Frog God Games is doing it right. A pathfinder version and an OD&D/AD&D clone version. The Pathfinder version sells like hotcakes but they still get sales from the old guard who buy the clone.

    WotC thinks that the only way to make real money is to sell new rulebooks, which means a new game system every few years. They don't give a rat's ass about supporting their previous game systems no matter how popular they were.

    At this point they have dropped the ball and Pathfinder has picked it up. This half-assed 5e next sounds like the Facebook IPO of the gaming world.

  6. This actually reminds me strongly of Iron Heroes' reserve point system, but less granular. It was actually pretty good there, and beat the tar out of healing surges because it wasn't usable in combat. In effect, this is about the first piece of reasonable-to-good news I've heard on the 5e front in some time. Their misappropriation of the term hit dice, though, is kind of inexcusable... That can lead only to confusion.

  7. @john - so mike is borrowing stuff from his pre-4e child ;)

  8. In RCFG, I had a mechanic where characters could rest and recover some hit points, which represented minor damage. One of the stipulations was that any damage not recovered on one rest was not minor, and therefore had to be healed normally.

    For pulp-style S&S gaming, this worked remarkably well. The characters could still be downed in a fight, could still wish for magical healing, and could still have persistent injuries, but they were not so frail that there was ever a fear of a "15-minute adventuring day".

    This system allowed me to run several Basic, 1e, and 3e adventures both above and below suggested party level, without any noticeable loss of tension. So this actually could work, if implemented in a similar fashion.

    Actually, in this particular case, I think Mike might have been reading some of my old posts on describing hit points over at EN World. ;)

  9. @Erik.. you might be right.. I forgot about those 'short' rests in 4e.. but I do like the idea of rolling an dice at the end of each adventuring day to see how much you've healed..maybe I should patent it :)

  10. I'm just curious to see what the playtest looks like. But, if there is some sort of NDA, I'll just write it off as another game I won't play.

  11. I think the key point here is the one John made, i.e., that a new type of quasi-healing surge that uses the name "Hit Dice" is only going to create inter-Edition confusion.

  12. Well, agreed that calling such a thing "Hit Dice" is just plain dumb.

  13. Having run a lot of 4E, one of the major issues I had over time was the absolute draining of tension and risk from the lack of long-term injuries and recovery. If DDN doesn't provide for a baseline assumption that adventurers can and do get hurt, often for long periods of time that require recovery, then they've lost me and I'll stick with C&C and Pathfinder. I assume they're calling this mechanic Hit Dice because its just a way of rolling the number of HD a PC has to determine hit point recovery....randomized surge mechanic, basically, with a cap on number of times per day it can be used. I'll reserve judgement until playtest day, but suspect strongly this isn't going to go over well.



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