D&D General D&D as a Game- On the Origin of Hit Points and Start of the Meat Debate

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
The thing with falling damage is, normal humans have survived falls from some pretty insane heights (Vesna Vulovic's 33,330 foot drop, though obviously, she was far from "just fine" afterwards; Nicholas Alkemade got off the lightest, with a broken wrist and leg after 18,000 feet), so it's one of those things like being struck by lightning. Some regular humans die. Others don't. So luck, divine providence, training, soft landings, what have you, there's a large chunk of what hit points represent that's obviously not structural integrity.
Very true. But this is often due to just random luck. Any mid level PC with a reasonable con score can fall 50 feet once per day and be totally fine. There may be one or two people on earth who can do this, if at all, without trickery/artifice.

If the game had a mechanism where each fall had a very small chance of resulting in no damage but probably killed people most of the time, your argument would be more valid but...
 

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el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
I wrote briefly about the hit point debate when discussing The Duelist NPC class reprinted in The Best of Dragon vol. IV (originally from Dragon #73) as the writer controversially gave it a d12 hit die.

I wrote (including quotes from the article in italics):

[O]ne of the stranger things about the Duelist is that the class granted a d12 hit die. This was the same as the barbarian class! In an attempt to lean into the idea that hit points do not represent flesh and blood points, the writer, Arthur Collins, explains: “Giving the duelist 12-sided hit dice is not intended to convey the impression that duelists are monstrous hulks, like sumo wrestlers.” In defense of his choice he quotes the Dungeon Masters Guide to remind readers that “a character taking damage in a long fight is not necessarily getting cut up so much as he is getting worn out; his concentration lags, his arms get tired, his feet begin to drag, until he is down to his last few hit points. That’s when one simple thrust might kill him.” The argument made sense to me back in the day, but despite the objections of the rules themselves most people I ever played with or discussed the game with had a hard time divorcing a high hit die with a tougher and more brutish character. As a DM, it is how I try to describe when PCs take damage or describing the damage the PCs do to their foes to this day. It is not until the enemy is dropping or very near to it that blood begins to flow and bones begin to crack.

You can read the whole overview of the issue here.
 

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Supporter
Very true. But this is often due to just random luck. Any mid level PC with a reasonable con score can fall 50 feet once per day and be totally fine. There may be one or two people on earth who can do this, if at all, without trickery/artifice.

If the game had a mechanism where each fall had a very small chance of resulting in no damage but probably killed people most of the time, your argument would be more valid but...
The real problem is falls are unpredictable. Some people die from slipping on any icy sidewalk. Others can survive dropping thousands of feet. Having falls deal a random amount of damage and some people having "plot armor points" is a really easy way to handle stuff like this, IMO.
 

Warhammer had sort of a hybrid approach to the gygax/arnesson divide. In 2nd ed, a starting character would have about 8-10 wounds (roughly the equivalent of HP). And a high level fighter-type might have... 6, 8 more wounds than a starting character? But said high level warrior was also harder to hit by being better at parrying and having better damage reduction. So you do get more hp, but only a little bit, and you get better at defenses in other ways.

It's a pretty realistic system. But, as the OP points out, it makes each attack take about 40% longer to resolve. Roll to attack. Deffender rolls to parry/dodge. damage is rolled. Damage is reduced. damage is applied. And that isn't great.
I think modern Kill Team 2 rules have turned the roll-offs into a fast and really fun activity. Using hits to parry and wound each other is fun, and in Kill Team 2, it takes maybe 30 minutes to an hour to complete a game. I'm working on turning the current innovations into mechanics for a game I'm working on.
 

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Supporter
I wrote briefly about the hit point debate when discussing The Duelist NPC class reprinted in The Best of Dragon vol. IV (originally from Dragon #73) as the writer controversially gave it a d12 hit die.

I wrote (including quotes from the article in italics):



You can read the whole overview of the issue here.
Yeah this is one of those things that I've run into. Like going from the Gygaxian definition of hit points, characters who mostly evade damage would best be modeled as having high hit dice- like Monks or Rogues. But instead the game chooses to model this in other ways, like having abilities to reduce damage taken, because a lot of people cross their eyes because they see that Fighters and Barbarians have lots of hit points.

Fighters and Barbarians tend to be big, tough guys, so obviously that's where their hit points come from.

And of course, Constitution is the big offender here. If hit points aren't meat, then why do you get a Con bonus to hit points instead of say, a Dexterity bonus?

Basically, treating hit points as meat is likely just as headache-inducing as not treating them as meat; but I lean more into the "not-meat" camp, because for every "Cure Wounds" effect that restores hit points, we have a "Second Wind" that does the same thing.
 

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Supporter
As an aside, I really prefer the approach Mayfair Games took in their products, when they called hit points "Hits to Kill". Really makes more sense when you look at them as a measure of "how much nonsense you can endure before you fall down".
 

Pedantic

Legend
I've been thinking about hit points in the broader cultural context, while listening this podcast doing a playthrough of the Grailquest series of choose your own adventure books. This particular one quite pointedly describes the PC getting stabbed, through the stomach by a surprise spear trap, and then instructs them to remove the spear and carry on if they have remaining "Life Points" as the book calls them.

That position, where HP is an absolute description of life or death and it's the nature of wounds that has been redefined to accommodate them is, I think the more enduring result from D&D than any talk of "luck or grit." That's from 1986, so it really doesn't seem to have taken long at all for hit points to reach that state.
 


Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
I would argue the crux of the meat debate comes from falling damage. I think most people can go with the notion that the attack from a dragon was "avoided barely with a nasty nick" rather than "hit the fighter clean in the head and they shrugged it off". Even things like fireball, you can argue that its not a solid mass of fire, but a swirling mass of fire that "singed your eyebrows" rather than they "incinerated you".

Its a level of disbelief I think most people can get behind, especially in 4e/5e where healing is so fast. The idea of recovering "meat points" that quickly is really hard to swallow, but the notion of recovering "luck or stamina"...sure.

Falling damage is harder. The idea that a fighter can jump from a 100 foot cliff, land on a hard surface and "be totally fine", really strains the notion. That's the biggest area I see people balking.

I also think the name "Cure Wounds" is a problem thematically.... as both the name and even spell description highlights the idea of.... fixing actual injuries. Really the name should have been the "Lesser Restoration/Restoration" spell name or maybe even a "Restore Vitality" concept. That adds more into the idea that your character is "refreshed" (a stamina concept) rather than "healed" (a wounds concept).
agreed - a 5th level character can jump off a 5th story budling and be 100% fine the following morning... and they can do this every day.

Temp HP also muddles the issue....
I feel like the obvious solution to this problem is to let logic overrule RAW and say falling from any significant height is a save-or-die effect. Heck, maybe the RAW falling damage is what you take on a successful save.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
The thing with falling damage is, normal humans have survived falls from some pretty insane heights (Vesna Vulovic's 33,330 foot drop, though obviously, she was far from "just fine" afterwards; Nicholas Alkemade got off the lightest, with a broken wrist and leg after 18,000 feet), so it's one of those things like being struck by lightning. Some regular humans die. Others don't. So luck, divine providence, training, soft landings, what have you, there's a large chunk of what hit points represent that's obviously not structural integrity.
Seems like a good opportunity for a save-or-die mechanic.
 

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