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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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Role-playing shenanigans

Role-playing is a group activity, it is a form of entertainment/enjoyment that steems from the “cooperation” of all participating individuals.

In a GURPS campaign set in the Warhammer 40.000 universe in which I was a player, this was not the case. The party, of four, did not cooperate, in fact it was hardly even a group, it was rather two groups, both of which hated the other (in character, not out of character). This kind of group problems would in most cases just lead to the group falling apart. But ours did prevail, until the shit hit the fan.

Why did this group prevail/not murder each other horribly? I might pretend that some reading this says or thinks.

Firstly: one half of the group was dependent on the other half, because their half, both in and outside of character knew almost nothing about the WH 40k universe. Because of this, the half which had knowledge could more or less tell the other ones what to do or else they would die. It’s kind of funny how most options/choices in WH 40k lead to your or someone else’s death… or just the death of everyone involved.

Secondly: the second reason, sort of, was that the half with little to no knowledge of the universe also was a tad out gunned/powered. They were powerful, one of them were a psychic with a power weapon and really strong armor, but the other half had very big guns, and was also people with higher social ranking. Therefore they couldn’t do what they wanted, since most of society saw them as trash.

So what happened in the end? Things fell apart. The half of the group with knowledge and power realized that especially one of the other party members couldn’t be trusted under any circumstances, unless they wanted a knife or gunshot in their back, which lead to precautions and plotting of ways to kill this character. However, that character acted first, but not before some precautions had been take, luckily.

I think I should shortly present the group before continuing this text. The party was two groups, the “wildling group” which consisted of a thief with serious gun slinging skills and a big ass warrior with psychic powers. Both their characters came from underdeveloped planets and knew nothing about the Imperium of man.

The other half, “the civilized group”, was a Imperial guard lieutenant/soldier and a tech priest. These two had a long running beef with the gunslinger since that character had disobeyed orders several times and acted like a true chaotic evil character.

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It wasn’t this bad… but not too far from it.

Both the tech priest and soldier had foreseen that the gunslinger would probably try to either kill them during their sleep and/or steal all of their stuff while they weren’t looking. Which gave birth to glorious booby-traps. The soldier set explosives all over her door and personal crate that would detonate if not dealt whit right, whilst the tech priest put a friggin Gatling gun pointing towards his door which would rain bullets on anyone entering the wrong way.

The last session of this campaign started with a bang. The gunslinger had tried to enter the soldier’s room to poison her, but luckily/unluckily the gunslinger survived. The gunslinger had even convinced the psychic warrior dude to help with the murder. The soldier found him holding a pillow outside her room, with the gunslinger bleeding from shrapnel and burn wounds. Her, the soldier should have just killed the gunslinger, if it weren’t for the fact that she thought she was only going to be robbed.

Anyhow, during the climax of the session a big battle was fought against overwhelming odds on a space ship. The party was being torn to pieces when the warrior psychic tipped the scale to the party’s side by letting a daemon posses him… which quickly became a even larger threat. All of the soldiers accompanying the party was ripped apart or burnt to cinders with psychic lightning. The gunslinger became mortally wounded but the soldier and tech priest managed to put the unholy creature down with a few well placed holy bolter rounds and prayers to the Omnisha (read: dial up-speak). After the bolters had strategically removed most of the torso of the now dead warrior, the soldier and tech priest started to head for the escape pods. This made the gunslinger mad since she was still alive and proceeded to shot the soldier in the back. Unlucky for the gunslinger, the shoot was not mortal and large parts of the gunslinger shortly thereafter disappeared from bolter rounds.

This party was dysfunctional from the very beginning, too dysfunctional in my opinion. In some RP groups, this situation could very well have been the end of their continued playing, with participants quitting the group. But luckily, our group survived this. It was interesting experiences, and to some degrees one that worked well with the setting, but I wouldn’t want to experience it again. Unless it was decided from the get go that we would be backstabbing each other. Even though the end result was pretty glorious, it was also from time to time very frustrating to play because you never knew if the other half of the party would cooperate or not. Moral of this story: don’t backstab and don’t be uncooperative.

Pic found here: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/c0/e7/d2/c0e7d26a8d27052faef4a32288b4a253.jpg

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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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Unrelated, but at the same time not

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About role playing and being a flexibel GM

Role playing is fun, at least I think so. Role playing is about interactions, be it to solve a puzzle, kill a monster or overcome a challenge, the interactions between the players and the GM are the most interesting. You could argue that almost all interactions are between these two, since the GM’s job is to create a narrative/a series of challenges for the players to overcome and almost everything can be said to be a challenge.

What I am focusing on though, is when the players force the GM to think on his/her feet, when the players do the unexpected. When the GM’s plans wither and burn, when everything goes in a totally different direction.

As I stated before, the GM’s job is to create a story/narrative/series of challenges, which most often requires some planning and “preproduction” from the GM (unless they use a published adventure). He/she might have decided that the players will be facing a dragon in their next session. The GM could stop at that point of planning and just have a pure slug fest between the dragon and the players, but it wouldn’t, probably, be much fun since it would boil down to “who can produce the highest number fastest”. Instead the GM could put some more planning in to it and decide that the dragon is inside a cave filled with treasure, traps and monsters. The dragon might have a really awesome chamber in which it resides, so that the players might have to use said chamber’s features to defeat it. Everything from dropping a chandelier to fighting on top of pillars in lava could make the challenge more interesting. Then, the players ruin it.

The players might get information about the dragons keep and decides it is way too much of a hassle to go through the dungeon. So what do they do? They blow up the dungeon, killing the dragon and all your rigorous planning. This sucks, the GM might think. Which it does, but it forces the GM to be flexible and react to the players and not the other way around, as it usually is. The GM could say that the players’ actions indeed succeeded in killing the dragon, but it also shook the ground so hard that the tremors destroyed several nearby villages. This would turn the players into villains instead of heroes.

Even though the players might ruin your awesome story or overcome your challenge in a very unheroic way, it is still fun. It is fun when things don’t always go as planned and it is fun to react on the spot. ‘Cause that is what role playing is about, to step in to a role and react to things on the spot. If everything is predecided than it isn’t role playing. It would only be a play. Being a GM can be an ungrateful endeavor, since all your work might be undone in just a few seconds or just completely ignored. However, the most successful RPG sessions I has had was when I had to react to the players actions. So don’t be mad if things don’t turn out as you planned, instead see it as an opportunity to do something else.

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