Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Some People Just Don't Get It.

Some people just don’t even understand what hit points are in the game they claim to be playing and understand; hit points aren’t just meat. Take a look at page 82 of the original AD&D DMG and we get an explanation of what hit points are they are endurance, luck, divine favor, and skill all rolled into one, hit points are not just one factor. 

The argument that evolution would result in more 7 or 8 HP monsters among 1HD species because they will survive to breed is absolute garbage unless one thinks evolution does in fact carry the genes for luck, divine favor, and skill. It’s garbage when one stops to consider: there may be no evolution at all in a D&D world because it’s a fantasy world, it’s a fairytale, it’s a slice of myth, it’s a memory or an older world where people hadn’t caught on to the notion of evolution and beliefs were truth. There is without a doubt creationism in AD&D worlds, powerful individuals can create artificial life and enduring organic life, there are gods going about godly business. Monsters can and do crawl from vats, they are fashioned by mad men and dreamers, they do crawl anew from the bodies of the slain as Pegasus sprung from the slain gorgon Medusa, as the maggots in Ymir’s flesh appeared and became the dwarfs.  D&D simply isn’t a world bound exclusively in the conceptss of science.

Trying to use science as a crutch, a straightjacket, and evolution as a concept of absolute scientific truth in a situation where the concept being used is not bound or defined by traits science claims are passed along to future generations in a species through evolution to promote an argument, is garbage. Genes for divine favor, sword swinging, and luck aren't typically attributed as part of the science of evolution.

Even if the forces of evolution were exclusively at work here there is absolutely no reason to suspect evolutionary pressures would produce visible results in ten thousand years, a thousand years, in but a century, or a generation and would be very unlikely in the lifespan of a campaign. All of the genes the 7 or 8 HP 1 HD monsters had would have to be about having 7 or 8 HP and they would have to only breed with fit and healthy mates that only carried the genes for having 7 or 8 HP.  The evolutionary argument utterly fails because we know the 1 HD monsters carry the genes for 1-8 hit points not just for 7 or 8 hitpoints.  The 1 HD monsters would have to exclusively breed with other 1 HD monsters again and again, genration after generation, only with other combatants of 1 HD that have 7 or 8 HP to end up with evolutionary pressure popping out 7 and 8 HP 1 HD monsters with any degree of regularity. Genetic stability and predictability just isn't a mainstay of D&D where an awful lot of things are able to reproduce with each other. If one looks at the orc of AD&D as an example (because I used them last post) we see "orcs will breed with anything, there are any number of unsavory mongrels with orcish blood, particularly orc-goblins, orc-hobgoblins, and orc-humans" not a recipe for genetic stability and two of the example species have members with 1-7 hitpoints and 1-6 hit points which would keep genetic hitpoint totals down. The "darwnian pressure" of battle will not produce the predicted outcome of evolution favoring 7-8 hp monsters even in a D&D world bound by science because the habits of the creatures clearly keep the genes mixed so the base data remains 1-8 HP for 1 Hit Die creatures.

No science doesn't win this argument. Misbegotten application of "evolution" as if it's a magic word doesn't win the argument.


  1. It is important to remember that "1 hp" is not a standard unit of measurement. what 1 hp represents for Creature A might be very different than what it represents for Creature B. For Creature A, 1 hp might be a mere graze from a mostly-avoided blow, while for Creature B it might mean a sword through the chest.

    Because Creature A has more hit points than Creature B, it does not follow that Creature A has evolved to allow it to survive a sword being rammed through its chest. Moreover, because Creature B has only 1 hp, it does not follow that sitting on a pin is going to do enough damage to count as 1 hp damage.

    It's an abstract, non-standard measurement.

    1. Yes indeed, just another reason why applying the notion evolution would ultimately govern the distribution of HP (an abstraction) is inherently absurd.

  2. The argument that evolution would result in more 7 or 8 HP monsters among 1HD species because they will survive to breed is absolute garbage unless one thinks evolution does in fact carry the genes for luck, divine favor, and skill.

    Actually, I can think of one game that does embrace that, at least genes for luck and it's a SF game: Ringworld. It does so because the Puppeteers suspect humans have been breeding for luck via the birth lottery.

    I'm not bringing this up to disagree with your general point. I just find it interesting that the one place in gaming I know of that idea being applied is in a SF game.

    1. Herb it's worth inclusion, I'm very aware of the ring world game and the works of Larry Niven it is based on. I've read further along in the stories than the writers and editors of the RPG could have.

      Luck is considered a psychic power by the Puppeteers. But it’s not survival of the fittest at play it is social engineering and randomness at play with the birthright lotteries (if the lottery isn’t rigged). The fate of the luckiest individual in the known space universe (Teela Brown) really isn’t all that fortunate and the luck removed the luckiest individual from the gene pool with but one offspring, the luck of the genes stopped the genes from directly contributing to evolution of the species with any significance.

      The luck of Teela Brown is the luck of any person who hasn’t been raised in an environment of challenge up until she goes from a child of privilege to a victim of harsh reality and then an agent of fate. Teela Brown is a fictional character embodying myth and literary concept and is no more or less scientifically real than Frodo or Gilgamesh (of the epic). If an rpg PC Teela would be stuck with a very railroad-prone GM.

  3. Shouldn't have submitted.

    A larger issue, in my mind, if you want to take what we know of the real world and apply it to most fantasy worlds, especially gaming one, is their insanely unrealistically slow history. The typical gaming fantasy world apes Tolkien with multiple several thousand year long ages of rising and falling civilizations.

    People the entire history of civilization in its classic meaning, living in cities, in the real world is barely 4500 years old. Half of that period was bronze age cultures. The oldest towns are about 11,000 years old and the period between that and the first cities is a mix of stone age, copper age, and bronze age. Most fantasy worlds have had iron age cultures for that long or longer. The rise and fall of civilizations is on a 500-1000 cycle in the real world with a general overlay of technological rise (technological is rarely lost completely or long). In fantasy worlds the cycle of civilization is on roughly 2000-3000 year scale with complete technological reboots.

    If you want realistic evolution why not start with cultural evolution cycles of real world length and technological development that isn't fully cyclical. One thing that appeals to me about Glorantha is that the first is on historic scales of about 600 years.

    So, before we worry about evolution insuring monsters skew high HP how about cultures that actually evolve on human scales.

    Or maybe we accept it's myth and legend and is run by those rules more than science. I personally dislike the materialist reductionism of the modern "scientific" mind and what it's done to culture anyway.

    1. The last point was worth addressing, no foul. I agree most fantasy gaming worlds have unrealistically slow history. The typical gaming fantasy world doe ape Tolkien, Burroughs, and Howard with multiple several thousand year long civilizations rising and falling. Most fantasy gaming worlds have three factors that would logically contribute to this situation: Chaos, Capricious Immortals, and Magic.

      Magic is a biggie it’s going to change a lot. It puts an amazing amount of power in the hands of an individual, an individual that doesn’t need the industries of nations built up over centuries to be able to craft a flying machine or destroy a city. Dragons are a physical embodiment of this magic wrapped up with bestial fury and as frequent as they according to the rules of many version of D&D it’s a wonder there’s any civilization at all in any fantasy world. Magic isn’t science; relatively common, effective, and mostly reliable magic changes everything.

      Capricious immortals can check a lot of advances by their own petty actions or by willful manipulation. Whether these immortals are Gods, Extra-planar beings, Liches, or Faerie Lords it makes little difference they introduce an element of interaction that was not fully embodied in reality. In most D&D worlds the gods are not a matter of belief, one led an army against the forces of evil a couple decades ago. Angels and Demons do visit the mortal world. Human civilization is bound and disrupted by the influence of these entities. What causes immortals to screw up the advance of civilization? Nostalgia, purposely keeping civilization down (the power individuals can grasp is immense in a D&D universe it’s best not too many people get it), conflict among the immortals themselves, and other plans of their own are all valid and likely answers to that question. There are entire D&D campaigns written in regards to such influences of the immortals.

      Chaos whether an active cosmic force, a reality of math, or simply the aftermath of the interference of magic and immortals is significant; chaos is going to have a huge impact on the advance of civilization. The typical fantasy world is in much more immediate dynamic and catastrophically changing environment (at least when we are playing). There’s a lot working against orderly progress, survival is a miracle in the face of what is out there in many a D&D world.

      Realistic cultural evolution is checked by so many unrealistic elements that have weight in the game. Scientific principles may indeed be present but there is a broader less predictable set of variables to consider. In the real world the lay of the land is not prone to immediate manipulation of individuals, the form of a person or beast is dependent upon their ancestry and health, the properties of an object are restrained by scientific reality, none of which is true in a D&D universe. Culture will be different in a D&D universe as the mythic is not just a matter of belief, cultural relevance, and psychological manifestation it’s right outside the door and down the road.

  4. I feel compelled to point out that the linked article does not mention evolution.

    I can see how you might be confused. The last paragraphs are:

    "Whatever particular explanations that people would like to invent for why a combatant on the battlefield has 1 hp, there's a certain truth that has to be acknowledged. It doesn't matter if why some of the tribe has 1 hit point. It doesn't matter if they're injured or if they are the runt. It doesn't matter if they know how many hit points they have. It doesn't matter, because once the battle starts, those with the lowest hit points are going to die. Those with the highest hit points are going to survive. The ones that survive are going to go home and procreate. The children resulting are going to have higher hit points. Because they have to.

    Unless, of course, the reader would like to argue that there is no such thing as evolution."

    But that's not the point. This: "...once the battle starts, those with the lowest hit points are going to die. Those with the highest hit points are going to survive." is the point.

    Many things cause damage. Getting into a fight. Disease. Poison. Exposure to the elements. Falling down a hill. Getting bit by a dog or kicked by a horse.

    The bottom line is that a 1hp creature is less likely to live long enough to encounter the player characters. An 8hp creature is more likely to live. Thus, not all 1HD creatures should have an equal chance of having a 1 as an 8.

    I know this has been said. I'm saying it again because I feel it bears repeating. I also think that your work suggests you are capable of seeing the logic in this and agreeing with it. Am I wrong?

    1. Ozymandias,

      You are making an interesting case, but it need not be true that monsters follow the same rules as PCs. An orc might have 1 hp now because of those diseases and kicks from horses, etc. That the orc has 1 hp now does not mean that it had 1 hp last week or last month. Some judges roll hit points only when the encounter occurs; this represents the condition of the orc right now, as opposed to its constant condition.

      A creature's hit points, by and large, indicate not only its health but also its fortunes when it encounters the PCs. Are the Orcish Gods looking out for Grook today? Did he eat his Wheaties?

      And even then, a 1 hp creature might surprise you. Many a 1 hp peasant has survived DCC funnels I have run through a combination of luck, brains, and avoiding battle, exposure to the elements, getting kicked or bit, diseases, and poisons. There have been quite a few cases where Ursula the Unhealthy has survived where Herbert the Hit Point Hero has not.

      (Yes, those PCs then gain more hit points. As might Johnny One Eye if he just survives this encounter with those pesky adventurers....)