Archive for Rules

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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Rules and exceptions

”Give me a rule without any exceptions and I shall regard it as my God.”

– Me while in the shower

There is no rule without an exception. Rules and laws that don’t have exceptions are boring. Almost everything is governed by some laws or rules, games are (both digital and analog), society, school, cars, nature, gravity, the government and many many more things.

I am mostly coming at this from a game perspective. Because what I have experienced is that most rules become a lot more interesting when there are exceptions or ways to break it.

For example: In Dota 2, when someone uses a Black King Bar (BKB) they become impervious to magic damage and they cannot be targeted by magic abilities. But if the hero Lina has Aghanim’s Scepter she can target the player using BKB with her ultimate ability and she will deal damage. (You could probably argue that she is not technically breaking any rule since her damage type is changed to a valid type and therefore should be able to damage a BKB user.)

Another example is in Monopoly. Normally you are only allowed to move forward when you roll the dice. But if you land on certain spaces you can get cards that move you forward. These exceptions or “breakings” shake things up and often creates, but not always, more interesting interactions in a game. This is a very good thing, since interactions are one of the building stones of games. If there would have been no way to interact with a BKB user than the item would be “boring” since the number of interactions would be diminishingly few. Interaction is what separates games from other media. And a law/rule that you cannot interact with is not a law/rule as much as it is a fact you have to abide to.

Even in real life we have exceptions. The police are allowed to carry guns; the common populace is not (in many parts of the world, not all parts of it). This is probably not because someone thought it would create interesting interactions between society, life and authority, but to help the law enforcement enforce the laws. But just like in games, what is interesting is how the “players” (those who have to follow the laws) can and will work around the limits created by laws, but also how they will exploit weaknesses in laws and society. Some the workarounds are illegal and/or downright immoral, despite that, people will always try to interact with rules/laws and use them to their advantage. It is a good thing that they do that, since it helps us to see what might be wrong or need fixing with a rule/law. It makes sure that the “playfield” (read laws) keeps changing along with the world and society it is supposed to reflect and uphold.

There is no rule without an exception.

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Redshirts must die

Right before christmas I finished the book Redshirts (John Scalzi, 2012). It was a good and lighthearted read. So as the name suggests (at least to those people who have the right cultural heritage (Star Trek)) the book is about “unimportant” and “replacable” people.

When I started my journey into this story I did not know what to expect, Was it going to be an adventure focusing on redshirst as they struggle to remain alive while the “heroes” mess up/saves the day or would it be a comedical tale about some redshirts as they struggled to remain alive whilst their friends died of in brutal and comical ways? But what I got was something a little along these lines but also not. It was a pretty thought provoking tale, about philosphy and second chances. It was not what I had expected or something I would have guessed “in a thousand years”. But I liked it and it was very interesting.

I am sure that people whom are more familiar with Star Trek would appreciat the book even more than I did, since they would understand more of the references. Though I would not say a low knowledge level of the Star Trek universe and series is in anyway a hinderance from enjoying the story, since the “redshirt phenomenom” is something everyone should be familiar with though maybe not in the form of redshirts.

So should you read this book? If you are looking for a easy and quick read, like Star Trek, philosphy and the deconstruction of narrative tropes, than yes you should. Even if you do not fill all of the criterias I listed but only a few I would still say you should read it.

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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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