The Seven-Sided Die

The odds & ends of roleplaying

Entries tagged “hit points”

D&D Next: more complicated than 4e?

written by d7, on May 22, 2012 4:08:29 PM.

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.

Basic D&D spellcasters have more fun

written by d7, on Apr 15, 2012 1:16:00 PM.

Ages ago I ran a game of AD&D 2nd Edition and I wrote a post-mortem of that campaign in which I said, in part:

Finally, I hate – hate hate hate – the fire-and-forget magic that AD&D uses. A poke in the eye with a sharp stick would be an improvement, and there are even better systems of magic in other games that don’t involve fire-and-forget spells or pointy sticks. […] This is probably one of the larger points driving me away from 0e through 3e for my “default” fantasy gaming system.

Edge of Empire wrap-up

But now I’m running ACKS, a variant of 1981 Basic/Expert Dungeons and Dragons, and I’m not hating the D&D-style magic system. I had to ponder why for a while, and I think I’ve figured it out.

Everyone’s a wizard

The difference is that everyone in B/X is a wizard in one particular way: everyone is made of tissue paper. I briefly considered using the optional rule that characters start with max hit points at 1st level and then decided not to, reasoning that I could always add it later if I didn’t like the effects of low hit points but taking away the max hit points rule mid-campaign for new characters would cause a mutiny.

Apart from often having little difference in hit points and therefore durability against an enemy’s 1d6 damage, the fighters are usually in the front rank and taking the hits while the mages are (usually) in the middle or back avoiding (usually) damage entirely. To top things off, a 1st-level fighter with a sword hits as often and does the same average damage as a 1st-level mage with a staff striking two-handed.

The result is that yesterday I rolled up some NPC adventurers to hire the PCs [1], and the NPC fighter had 3hp and banded plate, while one of the NPC wizards had 4hp and no armour. Over the course of the adventure, the fighter was always on the front lines while the wizard was in the middle rank, making the AC disparity less relevant. The result is that Corwyn the fighter was taken out early on and nearly died, while Miriam the wizard opportunistically brained goblins and survived without a scratch.

The dice could have easily fallen the other way, but the point is that fighters and mages are mostly on par in a B/X fight. The statistical equality of fighters and wizards at first level when everything is taken into account – including to-hit chance, hit points, weapon damage, AC, and the effects of aggressive/defensive roles in combat – was really apparent with these NPCs I was running.

Amplifying these factors is the fact that combats are so short in B/X: most PCs and enemies go down in one or two hits, making an even fight a very short thing, and an uneven fight even shorter. A wizard can wade in and smack a lingering opponent and have just as much chance of ending the fight then and there as if the fighter did the same. The small difference in a fighter’s and a mage’s durability only matters if the fight lasts long enough for the enemy to hit back more than time or two, and then the difference between 3hp and 6hp is still slight against a few 1d6 damage rolls.

Power spirals are to blame

Wizards in later editions, even as little later as 2e, are annoying because there is already much more of a disparity in survivability between classes.

Because of the increased disparity in later editions, a 1st-level party as a whole is more likely to charge in and take a fight’s damage on the chin, dragging the tissue-paper wizard with them into danger that’s really only dangerous to the wizard. The much-weaker wizard simply takes much less of a combat role for the very sensible reason that the fighters are so much better at it, doing their thing every round, round after round, and mostly managing to keep standing. A 1st-level wizard’s spellcasting ability is therefore the only thing an AD&D wizard is good at, making it much more important. And yet, they still cast only a single spell.

Meanwhile, the usefulness of a 1st-level mage in B/X is fairly general since they fight very nearly as well as anyone else, plus they get to pull out their special trick once a day. No wonder the AD&D mage annoyed me so much! They’re so very niche protected that they’re good for nothing but their niche, and at 1st level that niche frankly sucks goats.


The PCs decided to invert the hireling/PC relationship by hiring themselves out as spear carriers. Nice out-of-the-box thinking. They got room and board, the NPCs already had an adventure and a reward lined up, and they didn’t need to pay for the extra meatshields. Of course, they only got a half share of the loot.