Thursday, April 22, 2021

The Abstract Nature of Hit Points

 Last post I talked about the difference between melee and ranged attacks and what was being abstracted. In summary the abstraction of melee combat covers a host of actions and the end result but he chief abstraction of ranged combat is in the end result. This posy I'm going to tackle the abstract nature of Hit Points themselves. I discussed this topic 9 years ago here: but as it is a perennial topic I feel it's worth a few more words here.

Hit Points are an abstraction of the damage a person or thing may suffer, for combative things (usually PCs/NPCs/Monsters) it is most simply a tally of "still up and fighting points".  That's really it that's the chief abstraction and that's what we are worrying about in fight and the adventures impacted by fights: how much "still up and fighting points" do we have and how doe we make sure opponents run out of ""still up and fighting points". 


Call it stamina, endurance, vitality, vigor, grit,  luck, prowess, sturdiness, resolve they are all abstracted together in this same total of "still up and fighting points"we call Hit Points for the matter of abstraction. Run out of ""still up and fighting points" and you are done with the being up and fighting (for now).


Hit Points being "still up and fighting points" works well and simply in explaining their significance and abstraction in play but what about healing? Oh that pesky healing.  Healing is seldom proportional in RPGs, few healing methods restore a % of HP but instead restore a fixed range of total HP.  This reuslts in healing methods that would restore someone with a small total of  "still up and fighting points"from zero or near zero to complete recovery but when someone with many more "still up and fighting points" receives the same exact number as the less potent character does they get much less significant impact proportional to their total ""still up and fighting points".  This becasue Hit Points while being a metric we use to track the survivability of characters are also a measure of how significant a character can be to the adventure being played and the campaign at large. 


Healing methods that restore a small number of "still up and fighting points" are doing as such becasue that's the limit that method has on impacting the adventure and campaign at large.

But wait what about weapon damage you may ask?  Oh yes what about weapon damage? "Why are some weapons rated as doing say 1 to 4 points of damage when others are rated as doing say 1 to 10 of damage ?" you may ask.  That's becasue different weapons are considered to have a more or less significant impact on the adventure/campaign, weapon damage is a abstraction of how potentially significant a blow from that weapon is meant to be. Originally in D&D all weapons inflicted 1-6 points of damage and that works well and fine if all weapons are just as significant to the campaign (or there are other related mechanics we ignore or have forgotten) but let's face it with rare exception everyone expects a sword or lance to have a more significant impact than a knife or short wooden club and thus we ended up with weapons doing all sorts of different ranges of damage and why for a time some weapons did different damage ratings vs foes of different sizes most large foes were significant and it only makes sense if some weapons are meant to be significant in fights they'd retain some of that significance relative to large foes and we end up with swods that do 1-8 points vs man-sized and smaller foes while inflicting 1-12 points vs larger foes. The abstracted importance of some weapons was extended to retain and heighten their significance to the campaign at large.  In real life it doesn't matter how big a weapon is that opens your artery as your artery is opened but what does matter to the armed combatant is how easily they can open that artery and thus the damage rating balances the significance of that possibility with the target's "still up and fighting points".


In abstract combat resolution the only blow that really opens the artery that can cause a character to bleed to death is that last blow that took away remaining""still up and fighting points". The rest of the blows just don't open that artery, the better someone is at being up and fighting the less likely they are to be slain by having an artery opened by simply avoiding that fate by having a large number of "still up and fighting points. When Conan the 21st is at 65 "still up and fighting points" he doesn't have to worry at all about some nameless rabble with a stick but when down to but 1 ""still up and fighting points" that nameless rabble is able to quickly end the fight. 


Those "still up and fighting points" known as Hit Points give players a measure of how significant their character is during a fight and to the larger campaign around them when things come down to arrows fired, spells flung, and blows struck.  Hit Points are not a measure of foot pounds per square inch inflicted or endured but the much more abstract ability to still be up and fighting.


  1. Maybe heals could be inspirational such as Fight on good warrior for Barrakis is with thee - heals by emboldened, regaining grit and hope for 1d8. But you can only cheer on someone to effect a limited amount- It sort of wears off or looses its value with repetition.
    Maybe using 1d6 damage across the board every 6 is a wound that needs healing.
    Range combat - Maybe let them loose up to 6 arrows in a turn. But chances to strike a friend may be added if warranted. AMMO must be tracked.
    AC isn't an armor class it's an Avoiding Casualty factor. So much plays into it not just armor.

    1. Maybe so. People get really hung up on specific definitions and forget what we are actually doing with all those different scores: playing games.

  2. I think a fighter self heal may work a dig deep and go the extra mile. 4e did it right? HA!
    I enjoy embracing the abstraction more and more over the past 44 years of D&D.