Unification Mechanics: The Pain Threshold


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  1. #1
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    Unification Mechanics: The Pain Threshold

    This is an attempt to hybridize the traditional hit point framework with some of the features of the 4e hit point framework. If you don't think this is worthwhile, this probably isn't the thread for you.

    This idea was sparked off after reading @RangerWickett's gamist defense of limited in-combat healing thread.

    The traditional hit point approach creates strategic tension (how many hit points will I lose in this fight?) but not tactical tension (will I die during this fight?) until the PCs get low on hit points.

    The 4e approach basically limits the total number of hit points you can bring to bear in any one fight, and then allows you to replenish your hit points during a rest. This is more likely to create tactical tension in a fight, but at the cost of the hit point yo-yo that some some people dislike (get hurt, get healed, repeat).

    As a side point, the 4e approach also encompasses quick non-magical restoration of hit points, which can create narrative issues for gamers who have traditionally been used to either quick magical healing or slow natural healing.

    A simple way to graft the 4e hit point approach onto the traditional hit point model would be to similarly limit the total number of hit points that the PCs can normally bring to bear in any one fight. The basic idea is that all PCs have a particular "pain threshold" which is expressed as a percentage of their total hit points (with perhaps a minimum based on the PC's Constitution score to prevent low-level PCs from going unconscious with just one hit). Whenever the total amount of hit point damage taken by the PC in a short period of time exceeds this pain threshold, the PC goes unconscious.

    Mechanically, this would require a bit of extra work at the start and the end of each fight. At the start of each fight, if the character's current hit points are higher than his pain threshold, the player should deduct the pain threshold from the character's current hit points and record the pain threshold on a separate piece of scrap paper. During the fight, all adjustments to hit points are made to the pain threshold instead of current hit points. If that figure drops to 0 or less, he is unconscious, but not dying uless he is also dropped to 0 or less hit points. At the end of the fight, assuming the PCs have a chance to take a short rest and treat injuries, any unconscious characters recover, and the characters' hit point totals are increased if there are any points remaining in the pain threshold or reduced further if there is any excess damage (this means that if the rest is interrupted, damage taken during the previous fight would still count towards each character's pain threshold).

    Barring magical healing, this approach still features the traditional gradual loss of hit points over the adventuring day. However, it also features increased tactical tension in each fight because of the risk of going unconscious regardless of how many hit points the character still has remaining. The tension may not be as intense as the risk of of death, but it is still better (in terms of creating tactical tension) than the traditional approach in which the character remains conscious until he loses his last hit point. To add to the tension, we can also rule that unconscious characters are subject to coup de grace attacks which can cause death regardless of how many hit points he has remaining.

    Under this approach, non-magical restoration of hit points can be mechanically expressed as a transfer of remaining hit points to the pain threshold (narratively, enabling the character to ignore the pain and fight on). Non-magical hit point recovery thus increases the number of hit points that a character can bring to bear in any one fight, but does not increase the total number of hit points available to a character in a day.

    Does this sound like something you could live with?

 

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    Its an interesting idea, but feels just a little to fiddly.

    You do touch on the core problem, which I don't think 4E completely solved.
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    ° Ignore DogBackward
    It's an interesting idea, but I think you're going through a lot of hoops just to appease a few people who can't understand the subjective nature of Hit Points. There's nothing wrong with nonmagical healing if you can simply grasp the fact that Hit Points do not represent physical wounds until you've been reduced to 0 or below.

    If you really want to model real wounds in general combat, have a Damage Threshold. If you take damage equal to your Threshold, then half of that damage is Wound Damage, and is tracked separately. Wound Damage can only be healed by magic. You can modify this threshold up and down based on the realism vs. cinema level of the campaign. This requires people to get used to tracking damage as it goes up, instead of tracking HP as they go down... but that's an easier method anyway (subtraction is slightly less intuitive than addition, to most people).

    As for having a limited number of your "Hit Points" available for combat, just allow healing that isn't magical. Hell, just allow healing of 1/level/5 minutes of rest. There's nothing wrong with that unless you (mistakenly) believe all hit point damage to be in the nature of physical wounds.

    I'm sorry, but I don't really see the need to bend over backward to make a system that appeals to people who want to cry "realism" when their fighter can take 10-20 direct strikes from a greatsword before dying. Hit Points are not solely physical wounds, and never have been.

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    I agree with TerraDave on both points. You do touch the core problem, and this is too fiddly of a way to deal with it.

    Additionally, there is a good "game design" reason that players can heal up completely in between combats. Dungeon design predictability.
    A DM, under 4th's short rest system, can create each fight assuming that
    1. Each fight will cost the party 20% of their daily resources such as Healing Surges (real HP) and Daily Powers.
    2. Each fight will start with 100% of their encounter resources such as Encounter Powers, HP (fatigue), and 1/2 action points.

    So as a DM, I can build a sequence of encounters and know fairly well at what point the party will need an extended rest before going on. I can then set up a narrative reason to allow them to rest, or encourage them to push on.

    Now, this may not be of concern, or maybe it is even the very thing you are trying to rid from the game, but I feel it is best to honestly look at a rule both in the how and why (how does this work in game, and why was this rule made this way) before we find ways to circumvent it.
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    ° Ignore DEFCON 1
    I dunno... I kind of think we just keep trying to make it more complicated that it is. I just say treat it this way...

    As the base... Hit Points are what they've always been. A combination of Wounds/health/fatigue/morale/luck etc. You get hit by an attack, you take damage, you lose hit points. Drop below 0 HP and you fall unconscious. You don't get Hit Points back without a magical curative spell/item, or you rest for X length of time, regaining Y Hit Points every hour/day/week or whatever. Only classes that have magical curative spells are in the game (cleric/druid/maybe bard.)

    You then have the "Energy Module" you can add onto the base. This changes Hit Points by removing the assumption they include wounds/health, and instead are just fatigue/morale/luck. Every PC now gets a Second Wind ability, which they can activate with a Standard action to regain a set amount of Hit Points through no required efforts of anyone else. The Warlord also opens up as an available Class, where as part of their Class abilities they get two uses of Inspiring Word per fight, that grants another character a set amount of Hit Points. There's also a chart that says each class can only be "healed" a certain number of times before they are completely out of energy and an extended rest must occur before they can be healed again (your total number of Healing Surges, were you to use 4E parlance.)

    The only thing remaining is figuring out how Dying works once you drop below 0 hit points... but other than that, things seem fairly straightforward to me.

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    ° Ignore Arlough
    Death could come in the manner of when you drop, you make saves (similar to 4e) but on a fail you loose one of your reserve "energy packs" for the day. If you have no HP and no reserves, you die.

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    ° Ignore ren1999
    Nope. I also fiddled with these ideas and players weren't having it. Players are most happy with something similar to those D&D Gold Box games I was talking about.

    To beat these games, it was wise to take as many extended rests as you could in order to restore full hit points and memorize a full list of spells so you could defeat the next group of monsters in an encounter.

    From these games, we decided that the healer in the party would mass heal and mass remove poisons, curses, etc.. during an extended rest.

    Doing this stopped so many complaints about so many things. It also allowed me, the DM -- because I base each encounter on the assumption that the characters have full hit points and no damage conditions.

    Even after all this, characters still sometimes die.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ren1999 View Post
    Nope. I also fiddled with these ideas and players weren't having it. Players are most happy with something similar to those D&D Gold Box games I was talking about.

    To beat these games, it was wise to take as many extended rests as you could in order to restore full hit points and memorize a full list of spells so you could defeat the next group of monsters in an encounter.

    From these games, we decided that the healer in the party would mass heal and mass remove poisons, curses, etc.. during an extended rest.

    Doing this stopped so many complaints about so many things. It also allowed me, the DM -- because I base each encounter on the assumption that the characters have full hit points and no damage conditions.

    Even after all this, characters still sometimes die.
    I am not certain what you are saying "Nope" to, but...
    Your players seem to be very risk averse, but for extremely good reason if you are burning up so many of their resources that some still die in a fight!
    Killing a fully rested PC in a fully rested party is like a level + 8 encounter in 4th.
    What edition are you playing?
    Last edited by Arlough; Friday, 4th May, 2012 at 08:46 PM.
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