Archive for Hit points

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.

Vitality

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.

 

3-owlbear

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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