Tuesday, November 5, 2013

RRR: Hit Points Revisit

RPG Rules Revisited is a set of essays where I write down my opinions (and suggestions) for various tabletop RPG tropes.  This is going to be an attempt to be positive, and most importantly, suggest what tweak or rule I think would mend my issues with it.  Issues aren't problems: problems would be something universally wrong with a rule or play style.  Instead, I'm going to focus on my own problems with it and why it conflicts with my style of GMing.  

If you like what you see, or have your ideas, feel free to share but don't take any of this as an attack or an attempt to fix what's broken.  These are things I do in my own games to make my own games funner for my players and I.  To each their own, ok?

Whats up for today?  Hit Points.

Core to the rules of 3.5 d20, Hit Points are the sort of thing that I find issues with.  The mechanic is simple enough: you have X of them, and when you hit Y amount, your character is out of combat or DEAD.  There is a lot more to it than that I admit, but you can look that up for yourself. 

Hit Points as in the SRD ain't my kind of thang.  Yeah, if you've read this blog you can smell my thrill for non-d20 roleplaying games.  Hit Points are a mechanic that abstract too much for my purposes, and when running d20, I'm often adjusting things for Hp- but Hit Points by themselves lack enough narrative teeth for what I like to run.  More often, hit points either make combats too long for my tastes or they don't put enough risk into combat to make me appreciate them.

I'm not talking about PCs here, but NPCs and monsters.  Egregious amounts of HP make some monsters take FOREVER to die and end a combat.  And hey, if you are like me and combat-centric campaigns aren't really why to do RPGs, then Hit Points feel like a constant reminder of what 3.5 d20 is designed for.  Fighting and killing things.

Yeah, it distracts me.  And it corrupts the aesthetic I want players to be immersed in.  I like the idea of abstract measures of characters, but hit points are too statistical.  They try to measure something that really I think pure subtraction doesn't quite get.  Other systems exist, and they vary as to their effectiveness on this count.

MAKING HEALTH MORE NARRATIVE AND LESS STATISTICAL

New World of Darkness: nWoD handles this in a visual sort of way: a line of check boxes, with different input meaning different severity to the wounds taken.  This, and a bunch of other systems, simplify down combat a lot.  It lacks what some others bring to the table- displaying a injury or a specific wound isn't as clear in the box, like in 3.5, means you have to think of ways around that.

FATE CORE: Fate's got the cleverest means of bypassing this: boxes (like and yet unlike nWoD) and consequences.  Consequences allow a player to bypass taking stress (FATE terms for damage, really) by instead putting a consequence on yourself.  You can create a aspect (like Broken Nose or Wind Knocked Out of Me) and that means characters can acquire things that have narrative importance- and can be exploited or discussed, and still have some mechanical importance.  The coolest approach yet, although I'm still trying to find the right solution.

True20: This is a bit of a middle ground idea for me.  True20's clever solution is to not have a subtractive set of numbers for HP, Toughness Saving Throw.  Instead, you get a roll to make to negate or ignore the damage dealt to you.  True20 has a set of check boxes and over time these become marked off, with some sort of penalty because of injury.  This creates a bit of slowdown on player actions, but I think it would clean up combat (once you take in True20's simplified dice mechanics).  True20 also is set up enough that hacking and porting the idea to 3.5 (insert your favorite flavor here!) isn't impossible.

Quick Hack Attack!
True20's Toughness Saving Throws seems like a hack worth doing for Pathfinder: You add in a new saving throw to Pathfinder.  It is rolled to resist taking damage- if a player succeeds!  Awesome! No damage.  Monsters can be simplified to just having a threshold number; you deal that much damage, they lose a box.  Reducing monster damage to average amounts (see 13th Age for examples) should also help make this shine: Players roll more dice, which as I have learned, is always enjoyed.