In the heat of battle, is hit point loss a wound?

In your mind, in the heat of a battle, what do hit points represent?


BASHMAN

Basic Action Games
If Hit Points were just "endurance and luck" what the heck was Subdual Damage supposed to be? "endurance and not luck"?
 

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IanB

First Post
I voted Peanut Butter Jelly Time, by which I mean it is whatever I feel like describing it as at the time.
 

jadrax

Adventurer
Cleric Healing, Poison and Subdual damage are all things that have always kind of made the system squeak a bit.

As I understand it, the problem is that Hit Points have been a kludge from Day 1. Dave Arneson introduced them from a Battleship Wargame, they are representing a humans health as if he was a large ship. This is intrinsically a bit silly, but D&D *was* silly. (Just look at the spell component puns). Arneson pretty much played Hit Points straight as physical damage.

Gygax did not. He ran his combats as Errol Flynn fights, he basically used the definition from 4th edition, much as certain people hate it. That is why he wrote rules like 'Drinking Whisky Heals you'. Again possibly silly, but in a different way.

So out of the two original GMs, you have one where you heal best in a hospital and another where you heal best by going out on the town. That is a divide that continues to this very day. Its always been a Dial, its just a lot of people do not seem to have realised that.
 

pemerton

Legend
If you don't want to cause issues with your flavour not meshing with the mechanics of hit point restoration, don't narrate injury that the mechanics of natural healing do not support.

Essentially, hit points do an excellent job of representing luck, morale, toughness, divine providence, and skill (culminating under the umbrella of "screen-time" but do a really crap job of representing physical injury.
I should note that any system that actually tries to model injury in any meaningful way is pretty much inevitably going to have death spirals, which appeal to some gamers, but are rather a turn-off to others.
I agree with both these posts, at least as far as PCs are concerned. (For giant slugs, goblin mooks and the like you can narrate hit point loss as bloodthirstily as you like! Swords fly, blood flows, heads roll. Turn it up to 11!)

As I read the rules, 4e is a game where the mechanics render it impossible for a PC to be seriously injured in combat but not killed. Just like the 3E mechanics. And not unlike the AD&D mechanics (these are a little more severe - without dying, you can still find yourself with an injury that might take a week to recover from).

That's not to say that the PCs are immune in the fiction. It's just that the mechanics provide no pathway for taking them to those fictionally possible states. (Just as, unless an opponent is wielding a sword of sharpness, the mechanics provide no pathway for taking any D&D PCs to the obviously fictionally possible state of losing a finger in a fight.)

For me, this is what gives D&D it's gonzo feel. I've got nothing against injury mechanics (Rolemaster has them, for example, and I've played a hell of a lot of Rolemaster). But I regard the lack of them as a reasonably distinctive feature of D&D.

to the best of my knowledge there's never been an edition of the game where a good night's rest didn't recover at least 1 HP.

If such is the case, then in any non-fatal scenario, even for a 1 HP character, it seems rather unlikely that 1 HP of damage represents a punctured lung or broken limb, unless we are to believe that the less health one has to begin with, the more one's rate of healing resembles Wolverine's.

HP as representing anything other than abstract distance from unconsciousness and/or death are rather a dismal failure. They certainly are a poor system for modelling punctured lungs and broken limbs, things that would most certainly have an actual impact on further activities an adventurer might partake in.
Good post.

I've made the point about natural (so-called) healing in the past - that in all editions, the rate is so rapid that no degree of non-fatal hit point loss can properly be conceived of as any sort of serious injury. And hence that (for example) overnight restoration of hit points is not a verisimilitude issue (but is, perhaps, a pacing issue).

In any case, here's the closest thing to a definition of a hit point that OD&D provides. It's in the third LBB, page 35.

HEALING WOUNDS:
As noted previously, energy levels can only be regained by fresh experience, but common wounds can be healed with the passage of time (or the use of magics already explained). On the first day of complete rest no hit points will be regained, but every other day thereafter one hit point will be regained until the character is completely healed. This can take a long time.​

Which, to me, clearly indicates that hits provide wounds.
That is also a healing rate that is about half that of AD&D (which, from memory, is 1 hp per day plus CON bonus at the end of each week), and one quarter that of B/X (which, from memory, is 2 hp per day) and much much slower than 3E (which is up to twice level per day, I think).

But even with that longer healing rate, a typical mercenary with 4 hp can recover from any non-fatal hit point loss in less than a week (6 days to recover 3 hp). How can anyone think that that is recovery from any sort of serious injury?

And for almost 30 years and the four editions I've played (Mentzer Basic, 1E, 2E, 3E) the way I narrated and played worked perfectly well.
As I and Hussar have asked, how did you get away with narrating serious injury in 3E, when every non-fatal wound will heal naturally in a week or so? That doesn't sound very serious to me.

They should change the name of the spell from "Cure Light Wounds" to "restore light luck / endurance".
Presumably that's why, in 4e, the default healing spell is Healing Word. Which inspires through divine grace.

A hit point may be mostly morale, luck, and divine grace but it's also a small fraction of physical.

<snip>

I think this makes the game a lot easier to visualize consistently and design around consistently
Which game? It makes it harder to visualise and design 4e consistently, given that 4e has both psyhic damage (not a lot of physicality to that) and warlord healing (not a lot of physicality to that either).

If Hit Points were just "endurance and luck" what the heck was Subdual Damage supposed to be? "endurance and not luck"?
Well that's why 4e got rid of it (and AD&D didn't really have it, except for a few corner case abilities like Slippers of Kicking). It is inconsistent with the overall framework.
 

pemerton

Legend
Hit Points is an abstraction of many excuses why a character is not dead.

It's "I'm not dead because I blocked/parried/dodged/shoulder roll or You only scratched/bruised/nicked/shook/winded/dizzied me" with a usage limitation.

Sometimes it is a wound, sometimes a scratch, sometimes a harmless parry, sometimes a forced miss with no contact
Depends entirely on the creature hit and what attack it was that hit. On a bulette every hit is a proper wound, on a pixy, only the lone that takes it down. PC's are in the middle, but with large variance.

The halfling rogue mostly aquires fatigue, minor bruises and luck running out, the large in-your-face barbarian starts of with aquiring cuts and goes all the way to arrows and large gashes all over his body.
HP for me is a number that goes up and down. I laugh at my enemies when it goes up and I cry and hide behind the fighter when it goes down.
nothing says that narration between adventurers and monsters needs to be consistent. The ogre could be a big bag of meat while the lithe fighter deftly dodges attacks and eventually wears out leaving an opening for the ogre to smash him to pieces.
Hit Point represent ANYTHING which means that the character should not die and can continue fighting or acting; lack of Hit Point means means that the character should would fall over. It screen time is over!

A character have many hit point if the spectator believe they are important to the story and expect them not to give up easily. If a character is important to the story, it have more Hit Point then an unimportant one.

Blood or not, wound or not is not important to Script Immunity.
I wanted to XP all of these. They capture my sense of what hp are.

Like Raith5 says, they are first and foremost a number that shows who's winning and who's losing. (HeroWars, and pre-revision HeroQuest, used a somewhat, similar very abstract notion for conflict resolution called "action points".)

But when that going-up-and-down has to be translated into an ingame description, Campbell, Gold Roger and Minigiant are spot on: it is entirely contextual. When I ran a behemoth (= 4e dinosaur) with 200-odd hit points, it had gashes, and arrows sticking out of it, and the full works as the PCs fought it (a bit like the Oliphants in the LotR movies). When I ran a high-level mage NPC with a comparable number of hit points, hit point loss represented parrying with her staff, and the wearing down of her magical defences, and the like - no actual physical injury was narrated until she was down to her last handful of hp.

As Ti-bob said, it's about "script immunity" - I gave that NPC wizard had that many hit points because I wanted the confrontation with her to occupy a certain amount of dramatic space in the game.

I voted for the first option in the poll because (i) it's somewhat closer to what I think is typical, especially for a PC, and (ii) it was the only option for "not all hp loss is physical injury", but I could just as well have voted for Peanutbutter Jelly. It seems that's what most of those with whom I agree voted for.

One issue is that, per Gary's 1e definition, hit points for high level characters don't mean exactly the same thing as hit points for most monsters.

<snip>

So a hit point and a hit point aren't the same thing. It depends whose hit point it is! Stranger and stranger.
I have always taken this for granted. And Roger Musson talked about it way back when in his White Dwarf article "How to Lose Hit Points and Survive". As far as I know, that was the first published wound/vitality system for D&D, and in discussing how it applied to monsters Musson distinguished between "NPCs" like bugbear chieftains, who will use PC-style wound and vitality pools, and creatures like a giant plug, where all there hit points should just be plonked down into the wounds pool, because "a giant slug never dodged or parried anything in it's life" (a rough paraphrase without the actual text in front of me).

If a PC goes down in a fight, there was probably some physical damage in there somewhere, but the physical damage doesn't have to be the first, the middle, or the last chunk of HP loss in the fight. The PC might have received a severe cut early but kept fighting through sheer adrenaline, then later collapsed due to exhaustion and fright.
This is a good point, and makes me think I should have voted for Peanutbutter Jelly.

The trick is not to narrate yourself into a corner.

<snip>

Narrate the combat to the capabilites of the group.
Very sound advice.

Until poison gets lobbed into the equation.

Because when using a poisoned weapon every hit - even if for only 1 h.p. damage - *is* a physical injury, even if only a small nick; as that's how the poison gets in. (one could easily argue that a made save means the skin didn't break, but my point remains)

Now, for consistency, extrapolate that thinking to non-poisoned weapons and bingo - every hit represents at least some sort of minor physical injury. And note the use of the word "minor" here - a tiny cut on the upper arm is still a physical injury.
Two things.

First, you don't have to be consistent. That's the importance of the point about context: in a poison context, you have to narrate even minor hit point loss as some sort of physical injury. But nothing in the rules, or the logic of gameplay, obliges you to extend that narration to other cases.

Second, "one could easily argue that a save made means the skin didn't break": Schroedinger's Wounds!. As I've often said, 4e didn't introduce fortune-in-the-middle mechanics into D&D. Gygax spells them out in his DMG, in his discussion of hit points and saving throws. (Though it's true that, in AD&D, the playtime elapsed between resolving the attack and resolving the poison save will often be less than that in 4e between resolving the attack and resolving the death save. But the reversal of ingame causation and at-the-table resolution is still present.)

The presence or absence of poison should not make any difference whatsoever to the narration of the actual damage
Why not? That's the whole point of "contextual" hit points. And you've already agreed that the saving throw result can modify the narration.

Physical damage is the most natural way to see it, every casual gamer spontaneously sees HP loss as wounds. It is only when a more experience gamer patronizes the casual gamers in the group about this topic, and suggests to reason more about it, that people starts complicating the interpreration.
Is this true? Especially given that you don't get debilitated by hit point loss. I came into D&D from Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks. In this books you have Stamina points, that you lose in combat. And there is a strong sense in the narrative of those books that losing Stamina isn't about being wounded, but about being worn down. (Eg you can replenish Stamina by eating rations, and when the books do narrate serious injury or disablement it tends to be in the form of a penalty to your attack bonus.)

When I started playing D&D, I think I though of hp as being pretty much the same as Stamina. And in due course I read the Gygax passages that set this out in detail.

Why choose? Right now I'm playing in a 6th level AD&D game that pretty much embraces the hp as meat space narrative and its great gonzo fun.

<snip>

I've also run 4e games with all martial PCs where I completely embraced the meta aspects of hp and all the PCs were mortal. Sometimes you want something in between the extremes. Why not have a game that provides the tools for groups to decide for themselves.
Sounds reasonable. Do you envisage any problematic corner case situations where it would be hard to set up a uniform mechanical structure into which individual tables can plug their current preferences? I'm thinking maybe some forms of poison delivery, and some healing spells, might require careful design to make sure that the basic structure doesn't prejudge the issue one way or another.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
Is this true? Especially given that you don't get debilitated by hit point loss. I came into D&D from Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks. In this books you have Stamina points, that you lose in combat. And there is a strong sense in the narrative of those books that losing Stamina isn't about being wounded, but about being worn down. (Eg you can replenish Stamina by eating rations, and when the books do narrate serious injury or disablement it tends to be in the form of a penalty to your attack bonus.)

IMXP yes, it is true. Casual gamers or rather first-timers to RPGs probably have computer games as the closest experience, but in any case it is quite natural for someone without previous RPGing experience to just see the equation weapon damage = HP loss = wounds.

Only after thinking about it for a while at least they start seeing HP as a more complex abstraction with different meanings. There is actually no need for a wounds rules system to make them see HP as physical, just the fact that weapon damage (and damage from traps, fire, falling, crushing etc.) is the main or even the only source of HP loss, which in turn is the most common way to die, is enough to suggest that first, simplistic but spontaneous interpretation of HP.
 

But even with that longer healing rate, a typical mercenary with 4 hp can recover from any non-fatal hit point loss in less than a week (6 days to recover 3 hp). How can anyone think that that is recovery from any sort of serious injury?

[MENTION=23279]Mercutio[/MENTION]001 appears to be arguing the opposite side to the side he plays. He's in the small cuts and bruises camp until the final few hit points and just has an aesthetic objection to healing being overnight so far as I can tell.
 

As I and Hussar have asked, how did you get away with narrating serious injury in 3E, when every non-fatal wound will heal naturally in a week or so? That doesn't sound very serious to me.
I can answer this one: healing magic. With a magical healer in the party or ready access to magical healing potions, it becomes quite easy. 3e has a very slippery slope when you hit negative hps giving a feel that death is imminent (with the mechanics definitely supporting this). Knowing that healing magic will be used as soon as available (or the character dying), there is nothing stopping you with the guts across the floor description because the magic is going to shove the guts back in or the character is going to *die.

4e however with a warlord in the party complicates this by not allowing such description. Additionally, if the injured party does not get magical healing and simply makes their saves, gets some rest, gets their surges back and zing, the guts across the floor description never becomes available. Essentially, you really have to work at it to kill your 4e character.

Best Regards
Herremann the Wise

*The only exception here is that stupid standard action heal check to stabilise the injured character. We always joked about that when combined with the guts across the floor description It was a move action to run to the injured character and then a standard action heal check to kick their intestines back in. So 3e could upon occasion compromise the over-the-top description if the magical healer didn't get there first. ;)
 

Mercutio01

First Post
[MENTION=23279]Mercutio[/MENTION]001 appears to be arguing the opposite side to the side he plays. He's in the small cuts and bruises camp until the final few hit points and just has an aesthetic objection to healing being overnight so far as I can tell.
As you note that yes. EVERY hit leaves a small cut or bruise. A hit means actual physical contact, but that doesn't mean I narrate all the hits as serious wounds, which is where [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION]'s disconnect with my style of play is. In the poll, I voted that early hits are scratches and bruises and late hits are wounds (every hit is a hit), but if people take that to mean I'm describing hacked off limbs or broken bones, then you're mistaken. If you care enough to see how I do describe combats, take a look here at the XCrawl game I'm currently running as a PBP (Stage One: Surviving the Elements - Online-Roleplaying.community)

I'm in the camp where every hit is a hit and leaves a mark. A week of rest will heal scrapes and bruises back to near normal. But one night will not.

[MENTION=11300]Herremann the Wise[/MENTION] does a good job of explaining what I would have answered.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
Sounds reasonable. Do you envisage any problematic corner case situations where it would be hard to set up a uniform mechanical structure into which individual tables can plug their current preferences? I'm thinking maybe some forms of poison delivery, and some healing spells, might require careful design to make sure that the basic structure doesn't prejudge the issue one way or another.

This really requires an in depth response. I'll get back to you on Friday once I'm not swamped with academic work.
 

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