Sunday, March 11, 2012

Healing and Hit Points

It's an age old issue in RPG land, brought up by recent near TPK, those pesky HP and healing. Healing and the nature of Hit Points is a little muddy.

Hit Points are an abstract value to track abstract resolution of combat and the trauma it inflicts. Only problem is I don't care much for abstract arrows and for an "abstract" score Hit Points tend to be very tightly defined.

Common Complaints about HP:

1. Why does it take longer for my 6th level fighter to recover back to full HP than it does for his 2nd level henchman?

2. Why does "Cure Light Wounds" bring us back from the brink of death... those don't seem like very light wounds ?

3. Why can my 10th level fighter survive being riddled with arrows?

4. If a melee round is an abstraction of several thrusts and blows why do I have to count my arrows?

let me answer in reverse order:

4. Becasue melee round "abstraction" is an abstraction as to how much is worth resolving and book keeping. Sword blows don't have a recognizable finite utility like an arrow. Sword blows don't have an associated weight, like arrows. Sword blows don't have a related per application cost, like arrows. Arrows counting is easy put a dozen of 40 little marks on you paper an cross them off as yuo loose arrows: problem solved, nothing left to reason, it's all part of the supply an resupply element of dungeon exploration.

3. Your 10th level fighter can survive being riddled with arrows because your 10th level fighter is now a bad-ass due to being 10th level. If your 10th level fighter is a bad-ass your 10th level fighter had best stop standing there and getting riddled with arrows or yuo will in fact discover how many arrows it takes to slay your 10th level fighter. This goes back to the "abstract" argument again.... the arrows aren't abstract, the holes they poke in a 10th level fighters armor aren't abstract what is abstract is how bad-ass your fighter is; if you have 55 hp compared to 2hp you are definitely much more bad-ass in regards to being an arrow catcher at those 55 hp. Your character can survive lots of littel jabbey pokey things so your character will act outrageously heroic and fight hordes of bad guys and have some chance of surviving the attempt.

2. "Cure Light Wounds" brings you back from the brink of death because the spell is poorly named and there are no rules which relate how a wound is defined as light or not. It would take only a moment to redefine what a light wound is:

Any wound that inflicts HP damage equal to or less then a targets level+1 in damage is considered a light wound. Cure light wounds spells will only restore damage suffered by such light wounds.

That would do the trick but it creates more book-keeping but it also limits the very limited healing abilities low level parties will have access to, that's just being a stinker.

What about the brink of death deal again? Well, the spell is poorly named again... it sure isn't a light wound when you go from almost dead to not-dead. This is much less of an issue when death greets your heroes at 0hp as opposed to say the negative value of 1/2CON + level *(or some other formula). Rules that stretch how long characters stay alive after getting knocked on their asses stretches the healing mechanisms of the game (which were originally written when 0 hp = death), healing spells have never really caught up.

What's "light" about "Cure Light Wounds" is the magical oomph behind the spell not the impact on recipients wounds.

1. It takes longer for your 6th level character to heal than it does for his 2nd level henchman becasue most people aren't going to pay attention to the henchman for as long as they will their actual PC... no really, more important characters tend to have more HP, it's only reasonable that paying attention to the results of them being wounded would get more camera time.

Still don't like that answer? Have characters heal according to their level, 1 hp per level per day of rest after the first would do the trick nicely for quicker level based recovery. But just how fast does one heal up after not being killed by being roasted by dragon breath, raked by a dozen ghouls, falling 60 feet onto some rusty spikes and being shot full of arrows even if all that isn't lethal? When you think of all that maybe it is reasonable it takes a month or longer to heal up from all that bad-ass damage suffering a lesser character wouldn't be healing up from at all.

Hit Points aren't a measure of how much trauma a character can suffer they are a measure of how bad-ass a character is and that's certainly much more abstract than defining how many arrows does it take to slay a 10th level fighter (the answer of which is always, regardless of level: that last arrow).


  1. Your response to point 3, made me think of this:

    Mr. Owl, how many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop?

  2. All good points. I would add that not all arrows that do damage need hit, though people probably assume the do narratively. If you accept that hit points are abstract, dodging or deflecting an arrow could also use luck or whatever.

    I represent healing between adventures as re-rolling HP (all hit dice) and taking the highest between current HP and the new roll, which sidesteps the issue of high level characters healing slower than low level characters.

  3. i like your point about arrows, and lately in my game i've been experimenting with the idea of having arrows-per-quiver be an abstract quantity, since those things can be kind of a pain to take care of. it goes as follows:
    Every time after the first time you fire an arrow, roll 1d6. if it comes up 1, you've run out of arrows.

  4. "Hit Points aren't a measure of how much trauma a character can suffer they are a measure of how bad-ass a character is"

    I agree, and I would go further than Brendan and say that that last arrow was the only one that hit. I like to rule that character's aren't wounded until they reach 0 HP, at which point they might just be wounded, or they might be dead. I'm going to have to post about this too!

  5. I think the thing that a lot of people (myself included) often forget about HP is how playable they are. As an abstract resource, they tell you something very immediate about your 'luck'. The player has a good gauge for figuring out how long they can and should stay in combats. It's not realistic, but then neither are fireballs and magic swords.