Gillespie on Mearls on Hit Points over on Discourse & Dragons sparked a large discussion thread about the latest Mike Mearls Legends & Lore column on D&D 5e design. I found the article in question – Hit Points, Our Old Friend – dismaying for a number of reasons. (My comment on Greg’s blog post grew long enough that I’m posting it here.)
I don’t get what they’re trying to accomplish with this re-imagining of what HD are. So instead of tracking just current and total hp, we have to track current and total hit dice as well? And “spend” them for natural healing? But it’s not a “healing surge” because you can only use them between fights, and you regain them by taking long rests?
(Or maybe I do get what they’re trying to do with this use of hit dice, but I just disagree with the design decisions or they’re meant to support other parts of the system that I don’t value. I think this is fairly likely.)
Is it just me, or is 5e shaping up to be just 4e plus attempts to reify the dissociated mechanics with new, canonical in-fiction explanations? I would have hoped 5e’s base would be less complicated than 4e, not more.
In a related aside, did anyone else notice how the article let slip that “bloodied” is still an explicit part of the game, just not in name?
“Here’s a brief overview that gives you an idea of what happens when a creature takes damage.
“A creature with more than half its maximum hit points has nothing more than the superficial signs of injury. There might be a few tears in its armor or clothes, or it could have a dent in its shield, and it has not yet suffered any serious physical harm beyond a scrape, light cut, or bruise. Anyone looking at the creature likely doesn’t notice that it has been involved in a fight.
“A creature with less than half its maximum hit points has suffered a few noticeable cuts or bruises. A casual inspection or quick look reveals that the creature has taken a few hits, so it is noticeably injured.”
Now, instead of getting rid of concepts like “bloodied” for the base game, they’re keeping them and they’re baking them into the basic game fiction. In the process, they’re settling the question of “what hit points represent” with a canonical system answer.
Reifying game mechanics is all well and good, and some excellent games out there do just that to make the game-play and the fiction intertwine in a satisfying and organic fashion. What I think the 5e crew don’t get is that well-integrated examples of such games have their implied setting built around and from these reified concepts, while in 5e they appear to be tacking them onto D&D-as-we-know-it in an attempt to justify dissociated mechanics they want to keep. That’s just going to result in a) many of these additions to the fiction feeling like transparent afterthoughts, or b) making the game’s implied setting incompatible with everything called “D&D” prior to 4e.
It’s also overly complicated the game. Two of the charges leveled against 4e is that it’s overly complicated and that its mechanics are dissociated. Solving mechanical dissociation by making the game more complicated seems like a choice that won’t win over the people who leveled these charges in the first place.
I applaud Mearls looking to classic D&D for inspiration, but I can’t get excited by all this overcomplication of the game in order to blend the editions. This isn’t unification – this is just throwing everything and the kitchen sink into a system and calling it unified.