Archive for Dungeons & Dragons

Health in D&D

This is based on my experience with D&D 5e and knowledge of some of the earlier versions (4e and 3.5e). However, if HP works differently in some of the other versions of D&D than don’t listen to what I say/write. Also, I will just write D&D instead of D&D 5e, because I’m lazy in that aspect.


Health points or HP (also called Hit Points, but I like to be inconsequential), in short, all characters have a HP number that has to reach zero for them to die (disclaimer: death can be experienced even when HP is above zero). What does HP represent? Basically how tough and sturdy your character naturally is. When you create your character a few things will determine how much HP you will begin with and how much you will be able to gain through a campaign. Your Constitution score, it will modify how much HP you get each level, your race, it might affect your Constitution score or just give you extra HP and finally your class, which will determine what kind of die you use when rolling HP and HP gain.

Let’s deconstruct HP. What is HP actually? health points, so we have to words, health and points. So what is health? according to Wikipedia it is:

Health is the level of functional or metabolic efficiency of a living organism. In humans it is the ability of individuals or communities to adapt and self-manage when facing physical, mental or social challenges. Link

So it has to do with the well-being of people or groups, in this case “people” and mostly just the physical kind, arguments could probably be made that it also includes mental health, but I will treat it as just physical.

Now that we have the Health part down, what do points mean?

Points, depending on the context, often are some kind of numerical value thingy majing. In this case they are whole numbers, which can be both positive and negative. Pro tip: make sure not to get a negative whole number.

These two combined gives us a abstract way to tell how healthy our character is at the moment by looking at their number, if it is above zero, we are alive and if it is a very large number, we are tough sturdy people that can take a beating.

This way to represent health is a heritage from older versions of D&D, which in turn is a heritage from before D&D became D&D and was just a table top war game. HP is a simple way to represent the wellness, but it can be a bit too simple/gamey.

The reason it is “too simple” is that HP isn’t specific enough in what it is. Mechanically it determines if your character is still alive or not and how much “aliveness” you have before dying, but thematically, it gets a bit weird. 1 HP means you are still alive, no matter the severity of the injuries, but if you in the “narrative” got both arms ripped off and bleed a lot, you should probably be very dead, dead. So a problem arises with how you can describe the damage.

For example: A wizard with 15HP is attacked by an owlbear that deals 16 damage, this is a grievous injury, and it puts the wizard on the edge between life and death. A fitting way to describe it could be that the owlbear tears loose an arm and makes the wizard’s guts spill out. But if this attack was applied to a barbarian with 30hp, it wouldn’t be nearly as sever, since half of his HP is still left.

Of course, this is where the GM/DM is supposed to describe how the attack on the barbarian only was a flesh wound, since he was able to dodge most of the swipe. But how about attacks like a dragons flame? How do you explain that a barbarian, only clad in loin cloths is able to endure flambéing better than a master of the arcane arts?

Well we can’t really, and this is where the problems arise. In our first example, the one with the owlbear, we see what happens when a characters wellness, his vitality is divided into too many parts AKA his HP is high. Suddenly, HP starts creeping in on another mechanics territory: AC (Armor Class). AC represents how difficult it is to hit/wound a character, be it that they are wearing armor, using a shield or that they are nimble, it is all represented by AC. But when a character’s HP number grows bigger, that will result in their “narrative AC” growing higher. If we take the first example and tweak it a little bit and say the owlbear just does 10 damage. In the wizards case, that would mean losing 2/3 of his HP, so it would be a horrendous wound, maybe ribs would be showing and he would bleed profusely. In the barbarian’s case it would only be 1/3 of his HP, still a dangerous blow, but not nearly as fatal. Suddenly, we can’t describe the wound in the same way, cause if we did, than the barbarian would have needed to lose about the same percent of his HP. Therefore his “narrative AC” goes up. And if we did describe the wound received by the barbarian in the same way, then suddenly being mauled would be that bad. Say they barbarian had 50HP instead of 30, than only 1/5 would have been lost, and the severity of the attack just keeps diminishing and narratively it has to be milder. This can of course be explained when we are dealing with more normal kinds of attacks, but when supernatural attacks occur, how do you explain that in a logical way, when there isn’t really any logic to it.



He gon’ rip yah to pieces, or gently nibble on you depending on your HP

Here it becomes apparent that HP is a more gamey thing, since it can’t really be explained well in all situations, and since it is used to strengthen certain traits in some classes. Like how a barbarian should always engage in mêlée with the enemies whilst a wizard should stand in the back and throw fireballs.

Furthermore, another point that cements the fact that HP is more of a game mechanic than one to enhance the role-playing is the long rest. No matter what kind of wounds you’ve taken or how low your HP was it will always go back to full after just 8 hours of rest. A broken arm? Good as new after a nap. Almost bleed out? Just rest for 8 hours and you’ll be ready to donor some blood. Lost a leg? Sleep on it, it’ll grow back.  If only modern medicine was this effective.

Even though I think the HP system is a bit too gamey/loosely tied to the theme/narrative it is nothing a GM/DM can’t circumvent, and it is also a good system for when you want a lighter experience and don’t have to worry about your character becoming useless after a bad fight.

Pics found here and here.



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A lesson learned about mass combat

I have a long running D&D campaign going at the moment; this is my first real campaign so I have learned a few things along the road. One thing I learned through a terrible second half of a session is how to NOT do good mass combat.

So the group of heroes had entered a dungeon under a swamp, built to god of death, typical D&D stuff, when they on their way out entered a previously unexplored room. This room was packed with zombies, ’cause the bad guy used it as a zombie storage room. It was a optional encounter. The heroes entered the room and started murdering the 15-20 something zombies, of which some were a beefed up kind of zombie, AKA lots a more hit points.

I mainly did two things wrong with this encounter. The first thing was giving the players a combat advantage in the form of high ground. The zombies could only get to the heroes by going up a stair, which the party’s beef cake blocked and could just push the zombies back down the stairs. So no one in the party, except maybe the person on the stair was in any danger.

Secondly, I rolled all the dice. You might think “isn’t role playing about rolling dice and see what results come out?” Well yes, but when every zombies gets to do a roll, that takes time, a lot of time. The encounter lasted over an hour, just because I made every zombie roll their die individually. Also, I made a third mistake, which is debatable. In the beginning of the encounter I wouldn’t say a zombie died unless their hit points were at zero. This only prolonged the suffering and by the end of the encounter I let the zombies die like flies just to end the combat.

Now lets clear a few things up, a long combat encounter is not bad in and of itself, but when there is no real danger, action, drama or stakes at stakes, it just becomes a choir. Combat should not be tedious, if it is, it is done wrong. You could have a whole session centered on combat, but than it has to be interesting combat. Giving the players/heroes an advantage in combat is also not bad, but when the advantage cancels out the danger of combat, it is probably a bad advantage, well at least in this situation, since the fight still lasted over an hour.

So what should I have done instead?

The advantage should probably not been so strong, the chokepoint with the stairs was cool but I could have let one or two zombies get up the sides or swarmed the player at the stairs. Regarding the dice rolling, instead of rolling individual dice for the zombies I should have made just one roll for all zombies of the same kind and used that result when they used the d20. As for damage, I should have used the average number stated in the zombie stats and only rolled to see if they hit. Finally, I shouldn’t have rolled unique hit points number for the zombies, or if I did, used one for all of the same typ. Instead I should have used the number stated in their stat block.

Those are my mistakes, try to learn from the so you won’t have to do the same.

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More about rollplaying

So I am the GM/DM/ST in a Dungeon & Dragons campaign, though at the moment it is on a hiatus (the majority of players have a busy schedual this month), this task is very entertaining. Because of the freedom and responsibility you get. It is also funny to see how the players react to the situations you throw at them.

Where I am going to take this post I do not know at the moment of writing, I just know I wanted to write a bit more about rollplaying.

I have a confession to make… I am a rule junkie or rule addict. Not that I think all rules in a RPG system must be followed by the letter, but because I really like to read rules and see how different systems, be it RPGs or board games, manage different mechanics. I do not have much first hand history with the different iterations of Dungeons & Dragons, most of the stuff I know about the older versions is stuff I have been told. But I do know, when comparing the latest edition of Dungeons & Dragons with the other RPG systems that I have read and played, that this system is very streamlined and hassle free.

For instance, how do they solve a situation where someone should get a bonus on their roll? The could have used a number modifier, but the problem with number modifiers for the GM is how big the number should be. The way they solve situations in which a person has a advantage or disadvantage is that the character simply roll the d20 two times. If they have an advantage, they use the higher of the two result and if they have an disadvantage they use the lower one.

This method is makes it very easy for the GM to give out a bonus or unbonus to people when they make a skill check. It is true that this method is more random then a number modifier but with this method the GM does not need to create a appropriate number to the task, which can be very hard and some players might argue that the number is too low or high. This method is also very smooth, since it does not requier more math, which the other version does. It is not much math/counting, but it is more. Now you just check which number is higher/lower and use it. I would also say that it might be more fair to the “narrative” and creates tension. Just because a person has a clear advantage does not necessarily mean they will be able to use or even think about it. Even when you have a advantage you could still roll two fours for example, but with a number modifier, certain numbers/outcomes are not possible to achive.

Plus it is really fun to roll a d20.

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Role play: Dungeons and Dragons and bad GMs

I am a GM for a DnD campaign. We are using the latest version of DnD, 5 edition/Next. It is actually a quite lovely set of rules. When I picked it up I did not rely know what to excpect from it since a few of my friendes had told my about DnD 3.5, which judging by their stories is broken. Horrendously broken.

Many role playing games often have a few things that are not balanced, but it will not matter most of the time since it might be something the players can not acquire until very high levels and by then everything is unbalanced… which also is not that good now that I think about it.

Anyway what I wanted to write about was a story from another friend. This friend have only role played once and I understand why he has only done it once. Because his GM was frankly put an asshole. This GM, who had role played many times before had gotten the wonderful opportunity to introduce a bunch of people, one of them my friend, to the wonders of role playing. This GM did a few key mistakes which lead to this group of people never wanting to role play again.

The first mistake was to not leting the players play whatever they wanted, which was not that big of a mistake or problem (and yes I would probably also have limited new players in their choices for the first time playing) but this GM did not explain to the group suficantly why they could not play whatever they wanted. Instead he just told them they could not be certain classes wihtout any explanation.

Secondly, he used Eon (3 edition I beilive). This might stirr some hate and anger but from what I have experinced Eon is a very clunky system and it takes ages to just create a character. I am sure that there are good things about Eon, but I would say that it is not good for beginners, since it is very complicated and the start up/set up is very slow for a new group. Also since they randomde moste of the character creation some of the characters became way to overpowered. One of them started with “the best bow in the game” which was used to prevent two of the GM’s encounters. The enemies was killed before the rest of the group could even see them by the character with eagle vision and Bow +5.

Thirdly, the GM played the game as if his group was a very experienced group, AKA hard mode. You should never use hard mode on a group completely made up of beginners since they do not know the power of the GM. And even if you all had agreed on doing hard mode, the GM should still not play the game with hard mode. So what happened was that when nightfall came and the party decided to stop and sleep, the GM asked if they wanted to put anyone on guard duty, which they did not. Now you might be thinking, “AHA, so the GM stole all their equipment or captured them.” No, if he had only been that nice. Instead the GM just stated that since no one was on guard duty the whole party was killed in their sleep and they had to create new charactes.

YOU. DO. NOT. DO. THIS. KIND. OF. THING. AGAINST. BEGINNERS: Heck I would not even do it against a season group of players. What he should have done was to maybe steal some of their equipment and told them not to reapet that or just said that he would let them off the hook this first time, but next time, if they did not have a guard, bad things might happen. And yes, I can understand the value of hard lessons, but this was not a hard lesson, this was just pure unfun punishment and role playing should always be about fun. The GM is supposed to try to mka sure everyone is having a good time.

So the moral of the story is, do not be a stupid asshat. It will make people angry, sad and frustrated.

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