Author Topic: HP attrition, illusionism and some dev notes  (Read 4552 times)

Joshua Bearden

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Re: HP attrition, illusionism and some dev notes
« Reply #15 on: January 27, 2014, 09:32:32 PM »
I think you mean Tom.  I had a thread about alternatives to HP and nobody came, so I wont be falling for that again.

Instead I'll share some obliquely relevant actual play. In my co-dependent D&D3.0 campaign all our characters are 18th level.  We only fight demons, fallen gods and dragons apparently these days.  Each session our goal is to have two combat encounters. Instead of merely living expenses being abstracted away, we pretty much abstract away all travel since we assume an abundance of teleportation/planeshifting magic. Each session involves about 10-15 minutes of tediously fake 'role playing' either to discover the location of our next fight or justify the fight by offending our opponent enough to make them attack first. Each combat encounter takes about 2-3 hours to play if things don't break down. Those 2-3 hours usually encompass 2-3 rounds of combat.  Everyone is hasted so we're doubling the number of hits/spells.  But still each character and most of our opponents are 2-3 hits away from death in any given combat.

An incident I mentioned a while back on another topic involved an encounter with a couple of Balors.  Our thief player with massive initiative bonusses, went first as usual and leapt out past the front line hoping to deliver his constitution destroying touch attach (rapier of puncturing).  He walked into the Balor's attack of opportunity with a vorpal weapon and died. Hitpoints completely bypassed. (Fool player should have held initiative and waited for a flank).

Last session, the most fun I've had with the group in 2 years, we fought a fallen god and his minions in one encounter, then were ambushed by a seriously jumped up Type V demon and her balor & vampire minions in another. Each several characters came extremely close to death at different parts of the battle, winning the fight didn't depend on attrition nearly as much as initiative and turn order and the logistics of casting or dispelling magic effects.  The fallen god cast mirror image in round one = would have been a TPK had we not been able to dispel within a the same round (our sorcerer used a greater wish for the dispel because we couldn't possible afford the luxury of wasting any of our attacks). 

In the second fight, my druid summoned an air elemental to go all whirlwindy and pick up the vampire and physically move it as far away from the fight as possible.  Damage was unimportant.  Just getting one more opponent out of the fight, and removing it's chance to cast disruptive spells etc was way more important than injuring it  over several rounds.

My point, if I even have one, is that I think in these games we now experience hitpoints as something that completely shields us from inconsequential opponents, but against well matched challenges are simply one among many tactical resources to be traded and manoeuvred for advantage.  I enjoy this, but can't help wonder why it's necessary to have 149 or 223 hit points as opposed to '2' or '3'.  If an individual piece on a chessboard has 1 hp, the king arguably has 2 since he can sometimes castle or 3 if you count stalemate as 'avoiding death'.  That's pretty much our game, a longer, slower and intellectually less rigorous form of chess.

This was fun to write. I hope its somewhat on topic.


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Re: HP attrition, illusionism and some dev notes
« Reply #16 on: January 30, 2014, 11:14:45 AM »
@Callan - wasn't trying to de-rail the topic. On the contrary, I find that replacing hitpoints with more meaning is often a big improvement in the "it matters" category. Players, especially in this age of computer games where hitpoints replenish very quickly and usually automatically, tend to ignore HP loss unless it gets them into the "very dangerous" category.

So yeah, if the mechanics is good, it's not binary, but very close. I think having 100 hitpoints giving you 100 degrees of wounds is an illusion. In the minds of the players, you replace binary with maybe 4 levels - fine, lightly wounded, seriously wounded, dead.


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Re: HP attrition, illusionism and some dev notes
« Reply #17 on: January 30, 2014, 02:36:18 PM »
In the d20 world, the system that tries to handle the issues I *think* you're focusing on, Callan, is the Wounds/Vitality split (used in the first WotC Star Wars, and an alternative rule in the 3.5 Unearthed Arcana). You may know this, but for the thread - on a crit (1-3ish in 20 rather than your 1 in 600), damage is applied directly to Wounds (roughly, your Con score) rather than your Vitality/HP. Hard to estimate a percentage on death chance there (can be non-zero, although sometimes still requiring multiple hits - in this case, multiple crits). In my experience, it works fairly well in many low-medium level environments, until the eventual huge amounts of damage create the difficulties you mention (crit=100% reliable insta-kill). Work-arounds (e.g., reduce damage on crits) are less than ideal.

As last years early D&D discussion reminded me, the "# of attacks/round" thing has been with D&D for a long, long time. 1e at least, probably Three Books + Supplements (I didn't play much Holmes or Mentzer). My friends PC Sparky the Thief, an above 18-Dex, ambidextrous, Strength Gauntlets & Girdle-wearing, 6 dart/round-throwing elvish machine-balista o' doom so outclassed, well, everyone, it wasn't even funny. OK, "Sparky the Elf" was a little funny ...

Other HP-tinkering thoughts I'm remembering from past discussions ... looking at HP as a pacing mechanism rather than a true hit/damage system, knowing how much "whiff factor" (roll-to-hit and miss and/or roll-damage and roll very low) you can accept, and knowing how much see-saw/reversal of who's winning you want to see. I'm sure there are more, but that's what I'm remembering now.

Callan S.

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Re: HP attrition, illusionism and some dev notes
« Reply #18 on: January 31, 2014, 10:08:21 PM »
Hi Joshua,

Thing is, I'd prefer to make a simple gamble based system because that's crawling before you can walk. It's hard to make a game even a bit like chess - never mind how RPG's are typically non symetrical with each side. That can all too easily end up creating auto win situations (also auto lose situations, though I don't have as much of a problem with that)

I think I want to keep it simple, but I grant some kind of chess like method is one type of solution. Also talking about the use of wishes being a tactical concern in the midst of combat was crazy epic to hear about, thanks for describing that!

Hi Tom,

Kind of reminds me of how D&D 4e has the undocument fail condition that is being knocked to zero - a sort of mid step fail condition.

I think alot of RPG's need to rely on a mid step fail - making damage matter, but not so much it gets into the running the game problems of actual PC death.

But here such death is, while sad, fine. There doesn't need to be a 'it matters' mid point - and if the player gets no feeling from a dead PC, well the game isn't for them and that's okay.


Yeah, I think that wounds/vitality split is a sign of a game author trying to narrow down the problem I'm talking about - but still not quite bopping it on the head, because as you say it might take several crits and what ensures multiple opportunities for crits will happen (before healing occurs/hp reset occurs)?

Cascading crits would be interesting in such a case - if they get a crit, they get another roll just to see if they land another crit, or something like that. While that might make it low odds (though that's pretty much like my original 1 in 600 idea), it gives the chance of an attack, as in that very moment of play, having a significant outcome (in the lose condition, for gamist play). Having more vitality would help, as it would increase the number of consecutive crits needed - but it would ensure each attack is a moment of play that itself could be a game changer.


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Re: HP attrition, illusionism and some dev notes
« Reply #19 on: February 01, 2014, 01:46:49 PM »
This is actually one of the reasons I very much loved the Sorcerer damage system - it doesn't deal in hit points, it deals in dice penalties. This gives you the softer progression from "ok" to "dead", but every single hit also has a meaning. If it does damage, then it has consequences, real consequences, never just the depletion of some resource.