Tuesday, March 2, 2021

OSR: Why you should cap Hit Points

 from Berserk, a manga you ought to read

Note: I recently discovered the channel Dungeon Craft, so I'm going to be stealing all of my RPG opinions from there from now on.  I also highly recommend them, as Professor Dungeon Master has a lot of interesting ideas.  This idea was originally articulated to me by him.

Or at least limit them in some way.

You might already do this, in which case, congratulations, you don't need to read any further.  But if you are still giving players 1d6+2 HP every level, this is an intervention.

Consider the following- what is the most tense and exciting RPG combat you've ever been in, whether as a player or as a Referee?

For me it was when my Lizardman Wizard was up against four hardened criminals in a bar fight while all my allies were elsewhere.  I knew that one hit from any of those enemies would likely mean death and so I was on the edge of my seat the entire time, watching with bated breath as they rained attacks down on me.  And in the end, all it took was one single swing to do me in.  

My Wizard survived, by the way, but only because the Rogue dragged me to safety and stuffed healing items down my throat until he had no choice but to stop banging on Death's Door.

Now think of the least exciting RPG combat you've ever been you have participated in, either as a player or a Referee.

This one is a bit more difficult, so I won't list a specific example, but I will bet my example and yours share one thing in common: the lack of danger.

When players feel like they can die, or at least be seriously hurt, then the game is tense and exciting.  Arnold K. expressed similar thoughts here. 

But one of the biggest obstacles to tension, especially at higher levels, is Hit Points.  More specifically, it is the large amount players obtain.

If a Level 10 Fighter is attacked by a swarm of Goblins armed with d6 knives, he has nothing to worry about, as he has 60 HP.  Those Goblins would have to attack him for days to actually hurt him.

But if that Fighter only had 20 HP, then that situation dramatically changes.  Suddenly, a trivial nuisance is an actual threat.  

Besides this obvious benefit, limiting HP also simplies the game in other ways.  The Orks don't need to do 1d12+2 damage, they can just do 1d8 damage.  And players don't have to figure out how much damage they do when they hit with their 1d10+2 and 1d6+1 attacks. 

So how is it to be done?

1: Cap HP.  Players gain HP until a certain level, then they stop.  My system, which is largely plagarized from Arnold K., Logan Knight and the Angry GM does this.  See below for more details.

2: Naked HD.  Players gain a number of HP equal to whatever they roll on their HD, but they don't add their CON modifier.  For example, at level 1 the Wizard rolls 1d6 and gets that many Hit Points.  Then at level 2, he rolls again and gets more HP equal to the result rolled and so on.  So if he rolls a "4" at level 1 and a "3" at Level 2, he has 7 HP.

3: Max HP at Level 1: Players get a number of Hit Points equal to their Constitution Score +10, or something like that.  So a Wizard with 10 CON has 20 HP, a Fighter with 16 CON has 26, etc.

My System:

Player Characters start with 1/3 of their CON score, rounded down, in HP.  At level 2, they have HP equal to half their CON score.  At level 3, they have HP equal to their full CON score.

Players also have Fighting Spirit, or FS.  Players gain some amount of FS per level, depending on their class, until the amount of FS they have equals their COG (Cognition) score.

For example, the Level 1 Fighting Man with 12 CON has 4 HP and 3 FS.  At level 2 he will have 6 CON and 6 FS.  At level 3 he will have 12 HP and 9 FS.  And so on.

Note that damage to FS should be described as superficial injuries, near misses, or the PC dodging to indicate the fact that the PC  avoided serious damage.  Damage to HP represents damage to a character's body.  

Additionally, players have Luck Points, which can be spent to alter the roll of any d20 by 1 point up or down.  From levels 4-9, characters receive 1 Luck Point per level.  These can be spent whenever the player wishes and if used, are expended but come back after the character completes a long rest.

Also from Berserk

1 comment:

  1. Into the Odd does this well, as does Electric Bastionland. HP in those games functions as Fighting Spirit more or less. Any additional damage is subtracted from your STR score and causes a save or else you go down/take critical damage/become incapacitated. You die at 0 STR.

    You have a few states:
    -Healthy (full HP and STR)
    -Defenses down (HP gone, full STR)
    -Wounded (HP gone, some STR down)
    -Incapacitated (HP gone, some STR down, failed STR save)
    -Dead (HP gone, STR gone)

    You can easily recover HP in the dungeon, but STR takes a lot longer.

    In Into the Odd, you never get more than 5d6 HP, but it takes a LOOOONG time. In Electric Bastionland, you never get more than 3d6 HP, but the chances of that are very slim (you get HP from Scars caused when you are at exactly 0 HP).