5E ludonarrative dissonance of hitpoints in D&D

Arch-Fiend

Explorer
lets talk about ludonarrative dissonance

ludonarrative dissonance is the conflict between a game's narrative told through the story and the narrative told through the gameplay. now this might seem like an odd thing to consider when discussing rules, however the rules of D&D are representations of a narrative that exists within playing the game, which is why you say, as the rules specify that hitpoints is an abstraction of a characters effort of taking a damaging blow and turning it into a near miss. that is the narrative the game is telling you, but is it the narrative that the mechanics of the game actually express? lets take a look

hitpoints

we've described what hitpoints are narratively, but mechanically hitpoints are a number of points that characters gain through the classes they take and the level they achieve in those classes plus a characters bonus from constitution, an ability statistic that is representative of endurance, which also applies itself to holding ones breath, march or labor for hours, go without sleep, survive without food or water, or handle alcohol. additionally though constitution applies itself to resisting poison. all in all constitution stacks up as a stat that represents endurance and fortitude, not necessarily health, which reinforces the narrative of hitpoints. the classes that gain hitpoints more than other classes are those that emphasize martial talents and surviving combat, those who are most likely to fight at the front line have higher hitpoints gained every level than those who do not, additionally characters who gain experience gain more hitponts as well, a measure of their ability to fight is represented by their increasing gains in hitpoints. this all still reinforces the idea of hitpoints being a measure of ones battle hardiness rather than survival of direct damage.

physical damage

so now we've addressed what hitpoints are and where they come from, lets discuss what they oppose, damage. damage is an expression of lethality by attacks or effects in the world of D&D, the environment can be damaging, elemental damage can be damaging, poison can be damaging, disease can be damaging, and most commonly experienced, attacks from physical weapons natural or created can be damaging. damage is expressed by weapons based on a few trends that can be observed, typically heavier weapons deal more damage, lighter weapons deal less, and damage from these weapons come in 3 different forms implying that the way these weapons effect the body will hurt the body in different ways, additionally implying some forms of body take less damage from some sources than they do of others, in fact physical damage can be resisted by a creature separately from elemental damage.

strength likewise increases damage by physical attacks, strength is a measure of physical power, it effects the skills of athletics where it gives them a bonus to climb and hold onto a vertical surface, jump propelling their body further from the ground and over horizontal distance, and swim. other applications of strength include force open stuck, locked, or barred doors, break bonds, push yourself through thin spaces against friction, hang onto a wagon while being dragged behind it, trip over a statue (this one is odd to me), or hold a boulder from rolling down a hill. additionally besides increasing damage strength also increases your attack roll with a melee attack or some throwing weapons. it effects how much you can carry on your body while acting normally, how much weight you can lift, push or drag, and larger creatures have more strength. this describes strength as being the ability to apply more power behind motion, that power translates into damage as kinetic energy which not only makes the attack faster as expressed in strengths bonus to attack rolls, but makes the weapon impact harder.

the qualities of how physical attacks deal damage imply that damage is a measure of a weapons impact on a body rather than a weapon's ability to push a person to expend endurance to avoid it, the more damage a weapon would deal if it hit, is the expression that damage takes in D&D with the way strength adds speed to a weapon, the way weight imparts mass to speed to create force, and how different types of weapons damage differently based on how they are used. if the damage from physical attacks was just an expression of the endurance taken to avoid a telling blow, weapons would do no different damage from each other as the amount and type of damage is not relevant, the endurance used is simply avoidance.

elemental damage

elemental damage is expressed in a few different ways, the main forms of elemental damage are acid, cold, fire, force, lightning, necrotic, poison, psychic, radiant, and thunder damage. that's a lot of damage, but i think i am going to divide these a bit more, acid, cold, fire, lightning, necrotic, radiant, and thunder damage seem to be damages that most reflect elemental nature, while force is a kind of physical damage which is expressed by an invisible energy that expresses itself by hitting its opponents like...well a force. psychic damage seems to be damage to ones mind or brain which reflects the idea of hitpoints being reduced as a matter of endurance, however instead of psychic damage causing a character to exert endurance to resist it, it is a direct attack on the mental endurance a character has. poison is a kind of damage i would like to get back to later.

how do sources of acid, cold, fire, lightning, necrotic, radiant, and thunder deal damage? typically expressions of these energies are from spells and special abilities of creatures or characters. acid is a splash of a liquid that dissolves materials on contact. cold is low temperatures that negatively effect creatures with liquid circulation systems or a dependence on heat to maintain their existence. fire likewise negatively effects creatures with a liquid circulation system but also creatures with bodies made of compounds that break apart easy at high temperatures, and creatures that require cold to maintain their existence. lightning is like fire but gets inside you frying up your nervous system and burning everything its in contact with while also breaking apart the bonds between hydrogen and oxygen. necrotic energy is a form of spiritual decay which often manifests as physical decay, it snuffs out the spirit that clings to the material world. radiant energy is much like fire, searing flesh and blustering the spirit until it can not be contained in material form. thunder damage is a concussive burst of sound, a shock-wave through an atmosphere that rips and shakes atoms apart breaking down complex structures in bodies and can even snuff out flames.

so do energy sources express themselves as endurance a character must expend to avoid a deadly blow? all of the damage expressed by these forms of damage effect the way the body reacts to them, and one could say something like cold, necrotic, radiant, and sonic damage even if they struck the character can still be expressed as direct endurance reduction by the effect of the damage itself but i could also call that health as well. other forms of damage are more telling though, acid that dissolves flesh, fire burning that flesh and boiling blood, lightning frying nerves and scaring flesh, radiance burning tissue, and thunder ripping flesh from bone as it shakes a body apart are clear expression of body damage if they hit, and even cold at extreme temperatures crystallizing blood and cutting the body up from the inside out. can all these damages be avoided or minimized by an exertion of endurance in order to avoid a deadly blow? of course and thus that interpretation stats, but then we run into a different problem, how can different creatures be resistant, vulnerable or even immune to these damages? are they just good/bad at avoiding them? or is it some property of their body that resists it or is effected by it worse than other bodies. when including resistance to elemental damage, elemental damage seem less like a toll on endurance and more a toll on ones body

poison

poison is an interesting form of damage because it can be delivered in a few ways, some spells, but often direct attacks. the damage from poison requires the poison somehow getting into the body of a character and then slowly hurting the body in some way until it dies, endurance can be expressed in resisting the damage via a constitution check or as an expression of the damage it does, but its clear that poison damage is happening to your body, its not something to lose hit points to avoid, but you do lose hit points to avoid death from it. how poison enters the body is also telling, there are 4 methods of poison entering the body besides magic, contact, inhalation, ingestion, and injury. injury is most interesting because the type of damage you take effects weather you take that poison damage or not, and this reflects weapons not damaging as a measure of endurance to avoid taking a telling blow, but instead weapons actually harming the body of a character.

conclusions

very little about the mechanics of damage in D&D reinforce the idea of hitpoints in the game being an expression of avoiding death by avoiding body harm but rather expressions of the body avoiding death by being harmed less as hitpoints of a character increase. this creates a ludonarrative dissonance between what the game is telling players hitpoints represent and how they actually lose those hitpoints. furthermore reinforcing this ludonarrative dissonance is the system of avoiding damage all together in the armor class system and dexterity's impact on the game which implies a statistic that exists to avoid damage all together. the game does not require multiple narrative explanations for how a character avoids taking damage, especially where damage itself runs contrary to the narrative that the body is undamaged until its dead.

errata

after long discussion and debate in the comments that follow this post i have come to realize that my initial premise on what hitpoints actually represents was presented incorrectly in this thesis. allow me to explain, the following is an excerpt from the srd of D&D 5e

Hit points represent a combination of physical and mental durability, the will to live, and luck. Creatures with more hit points are more difficult to kill. Those with fewer hit points are more fragile. A creature’s current hit points (usually just called hit points) can be any number from the creature’s hit point maximum down to 0. This number changes frequently as a creature takes damage or receives healing. Whenever a creature takes damage, that damage is subtracted from its hit points. The loss of hit points has no effect on a creature’s capabilities until the creature drops to 0 hit points.
now an interpretation of this rule could lead one to the one i presented in this thesis, however that requires further interpretation, what i will add is that the definition of hitpoints in the srd never mentions anything that clearly resembles the effect that experience by the way of a characters class has an effect on hitpoints, perhaps one or all of these qualities of a character grows as they gain levels though the discrepancy between the classes isn't really explained either, surely a spell-caster should have great mental durability, and will to live is often attributed to other statistics rather than constitution. luck can be contentious but i think luck is easily explained, almost every instance of dealing damage in D&D 5e requires the roll of dice.

but where does that leave my thesis? well i still believe i made strong points about how different stats and mechanics in D&D reflect health such as diving into the best interpretation of what role constitution plays even if the ultimate interpretation of what role the abstract concept of physical durability has to the abstract concept of hitpoints. even more i believe i analyzed damage and what the best reflections of the mechanics behind damage can be interpreted as even if they were used to attack a false argument. finally this interpretation of hitpoints while not being made by the game as written is an interpretation of hitpoints i have had countless people push as the correct interpretation of hit points, not by everyone, but by many, and of all walks of life, including popular D&D youtubers such as Matt Colville, who's opinions on dungeons and dragons has a lot of clout within the greater D&D community.

there for the final conclusion is that i have argued against a false interpretation of the rules, i at least hope that my inspection into the details of D&D's rules may be useful to constructing your own thoughts on these mechanics.
 
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darjr

I crit!
Hmmm...

Well I don't think the game nails down entirely what hit points mean, on purpose.

Also hit points DO have an effect on the game. But one that it inherits from it's origins. Older editions, and the war games it grew with, effect and challenge the player. I mean that player skill was more important than the mechanical robustness of the PC, or at least it was as important.

For example as a player plays a PC that is dwindling in hit points, and other resources, their play changes as their HP dwindles into the danger zone. Every player is different in how much this changes their play, some panic, some hardly change, if at all. I think most, at least, sense a sort of desperation as death for their PC looms and it changes how they play. It happens in a reflexive unconscious manner, mostly, I think.

I much prefer this over leaning towards the other perspective. One where the general outcome could be increasingly accurately calculated and known by the player and DM. That would be boring, to me.

Kind of like the difference between a board game with lots of dice rolling and one that has none.
 

Celebrim

Legend
"...especially where damage itself runs contrary to the narrative that the body is undamaged until its dead."

Well, if you adopt a purposefully dysfunctional narrative then yes you will end up as dissonance. But the description you've made of hit points seems to have very little to do with the description of hit points in most of the games history.
 

dnd4vr

Adventurer
lets talk about ludonarrative dissonance

ludonarrative dissonance is the conflict between a game's narrative told through the story and the narrative told through the gameplay. now this might seem like an odd thing to consider when discussing rules, however the rules of D&D are representations of a narrative that exists within playing the game, which is why you say, as the rules specify that hitpoints is an abstraction of a characters effort of taking a damaging blow and turning it into a near miss. that is the narrative the game is telling you, but is it the narrative that the mechanics of the game actually express? lets take a look

hitpoints

we've described what hitpoints are narratively, but mechanically hitpoints are a number of points that characters gain through the classes they take and the level they achieve in those classes plus a characters bonus from constitution, an ability statistic that is representative of endurance, which also applies itself to holding ones breath, march or labor for hours, go without sleep, survive without food or water, or handle alcohol. additionally though constitution applies itself to resisting poison. all in all constitution stacks up as a stat that represents endurance and fortitude, not necessarily health, which reinforces the narrative of hitpoints. the classes that gain hitpoints more than other classes are those that emphasize martial talents and surviving combat, those who are most likely to fight at the front line have higher hitpoints gained every level than those who do not, additionally characters who gain experience gain more hitponts as well, a measure of their ability to fight is represented by their increasing gains in hitpoints. this all still reinforces the idea of hitpoints being a measure of ones battle hardiness rather than survival of direct damage.

physical damage

so now we've addressed what hitpoints are and where they come from, lets discuss what they oppose, damage. damage is an expression of lethality by attacks or effects in the world of D&D, the environment can be damaging, elemental damage can be damaging, poison can be damaging, disease can be damaging, and most commonly experienced, attacks from physical weapons natural or created can be damaging. damage is expressed by weapons based on a few trends that can be observed, typically heavier weapons deal more damage, lighter weapons deal less, and damage from these weapons come in 3 different forms implying that the way these weapons effect the body will hurt the body in different ways, additionally implying some forms of body take less damage from some sources than they do of others, in fact physical damage can be resisted by a creature separately from elemental damage.

strength likewise increases damage by physical attacks, strength is a measure of physical power, it effects the skills of athletics where it gives them a bonus to climb and hold onto a vertical surface, jump propelling their body further from the ground and over horizontal distance, and swim. other applications of strength include force open stuck, locked, or barred doors, break bonds, push yourself through thin spaces against friction, hang onto a wagon while being dragged behind it, trip over a statue (this one is odd to me), or hold a boulder from rolling down a hill. additionally besides increasing damage strength also increases your attack roll with a melee attack or some throwing weapons. it effects how much you can carry on your body while acting normally, how much weight you can lift, push or drag, and larger creatures have more strength. this describes strength as being the ability to apply more power behind motion, that power translates into damage as kinetic energy which not only makes the attack faster as expressed in strengths bonus to attack rolls, but makes the weapon impact harder.

the qualities of how physical attacks deal damage imply that damage is a measure of a weapons impact on a body rather than a weapon's ability to push a person to expend endurance to avoid it, the more damage a weapon would deal if it hit, is the expression that damage takes in D&D with the way strength adds speed to a weapon, the way weight imparts mass to speed to create force, and how different types of weapons damage differently based on how they are used. if the damage from physical attacks was just an expression of the endurance taken to avoid a telling blow, weapons would do no different damage from each other as the amount and type of damage is not relevant, the endurance used is simply avoidance.

elemental damage

elemental damage is expressed in a few different ways, the main forms of elemental damage are acid, cold, fire, force, lightning, necrotic, poison, psychic, radiant, and thunder damage. that's a lot of damage, but i think i am going to divide these a bit more, acid, cold, fire, lightning, necrotic, radiant, and thunder damage seem to be damages that most reflect elemental nature, while force is a kind of physical damage which is expressed by an invisible energy that expresses itself by hitting its opponents like...well a force. psychic damage seems to be damage to ones mind or brain which reflects the idea of hitpoints being reduced as a matter of endurance, however instead of psychic damage causing a character to exert endurance to resist it, it is a direct attack on the mental endurance a character has. poison is a kind of damage i would like to get back to later.

how do sources of acid, cold, fire, lightning, necrotic, radiant, and thunder deal damage? typically expressions of these energies are from spells and special abilities of creatures or characters. acid is a splash of a liquid that dissolves materials on contact. cold is low temperatures that negatively effect creatures with liquid circulation systems or a dependence on heat to maintain their existence. fire likewise negatively effects creatures with a liquid circulation system but also creatures with bodies made of compounds that break apart easy at high temperatures, and creatures that require cold to maintain their existence. lightning is like fire but gets inside you frying up your nervous system and burning everything its in contact with while also breaking apart the bonds between hydrogen and oxygen. necrotic energy is a form of spiritual decay which often manifests as physical decay, it snuffs out the spirit that clings to the material world. radiant energy is much like fire, searing flesh and blustering the spirit until it can not be contained in material form. thunder damage is a concussive burst of sound, a shock-wave through an atmosphere that rips and shakes atoms apart breaking down complex structures in bodies and can even snuff out flames.

so do energy sources express themselves as endurance a character must expend to avoid a deadly blow? all of the damage expressed by these forms of damage effect the way the body reacts to them, and one could say something like cold, necrotic, radiant, and sonic damage even if they struck the character can still be expressed as direct endurance reduction by the effect of the damage itself but i could also call that health as well. other forms of damage are more telling though, acid that dissolves flesh, fire burning that flesh and boiling blood, lightning frying nerves and scaring flesh, radiance burning tissue, and thunder ripping flesh from bone as it shakes a body apart are clear expression of body damage if they hit, and even cold at extreme temperatures crystallizing blood and cutting the body up from the inside out. can all these damages be avoided or minimized by an exertion of endurance in order to avoid a deadly blow? of course and thus that interpretation stats, but then we run into a different problem, how can different creatures be resistant, vulnerable or even immune to these damages? are they just good/bad at avoiding them? or is it some property of their body that resists it or is effected by it worse than other bodies. when including resistance to elemental damage, elemental damage seem less like a toll on endurance and more a toll on ones body

poison

poison is an interesting form of damage because it can be delivered in a few ways, some spells, but often direct attacks. the damage from poison requires the poison somehow getting into the body of a character and then slowly hurting the body in some way until it dies, endurance can be expressed in resisting the damage via a constitution check or as an expression of the damage it does, but its clear that poison damage is happening to your body, its not something to lose hit points to avoid, but you do lose hit points to avoid death from it. how poison enters the body is also telling, there are 4 methods of poison entering the body besides magic, contact, inhalation, ingestion, and injury. injury is most interesting because the type of damage you take effects weather you take that poison damage or not, and this reflects weapons not damaging as a measure of endurance to avoid taking a telling blow, but instead weapons actually harming the body of a character.

conclusions

very little about the mechanics of damage in D&D reinforce the idea of hitpoints in the game being an expression of avoiding death by avoiding body harm but rather expressions of the body avoiding death by being harmed less as hitpoints of a character increase. this creates a ludonarrative dissonance between what the game is telling players hitpoints represent and how they actually lose those hitpoints. furthermore reinforcing this ludonarrative dissonance is the system of avoiding damage all together in the armor class system and dexterity's impact on the game which implies a statistic that exists to avoid damage all together. the game does not require multiple narrative explanations for how a character avoids taking damage, especially where damage itself runs contrary to the narrative that the body is undamaged until its dead.
Jeez, I hate long posts... so, I will be blunt. I didn't read it all as I have never had an issue with out how HP function in D&D. The concept of abstract understanding of the combination of things that comprise the HP mechanic makes sense in the framework that is D&D.

As I have done a few times now, if you think of HP not as physical damage but the effect damage, exhaustion, conditions (such as cold, fire, poison, etc.) has on a creature's ability to act (mainly in combat). Some of the effects manifests as physical injury (cuts, wounds, bruises, etc.) and the rest is loss of energy (growing tired), luck running out, or whatever.

In a recent session, a hill giant rolled a critical hit for a thrown stone attack, and the DM narrated it as the character throwing themselves to the side as the boulder crashed into the wall next to him, shards of stone stinging his face and arms. It was something like 25 hp of damage. That "close call" would have killed a normal man if hit squarely. For a character with about 100 hp, it is still very scary and he had to spent a good amount of energy, luck, and skill to avoid getting crushed. That is a perfectly good narrative of how a critical hit can result in loss of hp with little physical injury or damage. The character's combat effectiveness is not stunted in any way, but the close call took its toll in other ways, as represented by the loss of HP.

Now, as those HP are depleted things change, so let's say the character only had 10 hp at the time. Suddenly, he is too tired, worn down, scared, whatever, and those 25 hp remove the last 10, dropping him to 0. Now, that critical hit might be narrated as "The giant's boulder speeds through the air. You try to turn in time, but your should is caught and slammed against the wall. As your head hits the stone wall, everything turns black as you fall forward, losing consciousness." Net result: combat effectiveness is gone. You are down and dying. If someone uses magic to revive you, you probably won't have a lot of HP and well continuing to fight in your weaker condition probably isn't a great idea.

Anyway, if you want a system that is more discrete in the type of effect the damage has (actual injury, growing tired, etc.) then have fun with it. I've done it. Ultimately, it slows down game play and doesn't really add any element of fun that the realism might create. It's a trade-off, one that our table really didn't find worth the cost. So, best of luck with it. (This post is already getting too long as well...)
 
ludonarrative dissonance is the conflict between a game's narrative told through the story and the narrative told through the gameplay
Had to look that one up. As usual the videogame industry is years ahead of TTRPGs in scholarship. :sigh:

Anyway, it sounds, at a glance, to be more about theme than simulation or abstraction. So a classic example would be DM trying to run a campaign about selfless heroes struggling against overwhelming odds to save the land from terrible evil, while the game gives exp for acquiring treasure, power for acquiring magic items, and the best chance of defeating enemies when jumping them with overwhelming force then hiding away to recharge.


Anyway the points you make seem to be mainly about abstraction, simulation, and visualization.

Briefly, yes, hps in D&D are mostly about avoiding or minimizing harm rather than enduring it.

And, yes, you can resist or be vulnerable to specific types of damage, and greater forces do greater damage, even when they might not seem any harder to avoid.

That means that some attacks are greater threats than others, and some are greater threats to certain creatures than others.

If you're being attacked by a strong man with a huge axe, you have to get out of the way, if it's a kid with a sharp stick, you just need to make sure he doesn't poke you in the eye.
If you have a ring of fire resistance, you can just walk through some fires without harm, and have less to fear from even those that can hurt you - so, you need expend less effort to avoid fire damage.

So, yeah, all those points about damage figures representing what attacks would do if they hit you is perfectly consistent with them also corresponding numbers of hps as you avoid/minimize that danger.

And, though you didn't get into it, the standard model of hps is for PCs, and some monsters may have very different meanings for theirs - a golden for instance, may not avoid attacks at all, you just have to physically destroy it.
 
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dnd4vr

Adventurer
FWIW, if you want a decent system that separates energy/skill/etc. from physical damage, I would look into Star Wars Saga Edition. IMO the Vitality/Wound Point system, skill system, and everything is the best of pretty much everything I've played. It has an "expanded" BA concept and the highest DC is 40, not 30, which works better for me. I have thought several times about trying to adopt 5E into a SWSE framework.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
@dnd4vr - I can't speak to the skill system etc. in SWSE but I can vouch that porting a variant of Wound-Vitality hit points into D&D isn't really all that difficult. It does add some complication, but not much; and the results are more than worth it.
 

dnd4vr

Adventurer
@dnd4vr - I can't speak to the skill system etc. in SWSE but I can vouch that porting a variant of Wound-Vitality hit points into D&D isn't really all that difficult. It does add some complication, but not much; and the results are more than worth it.
Agreed. We did it for a while, but added more to it, making to too complex LOL. We might go back to the original, simpler VP/WP system from SWSE at some point.
 

S'mon

Legend
Loss of a few hp for a high hp PC generally best represents scratches, bumps, minor burns, slight frostbite etc - minor but actual injuries that cumulatively reduce (edit) stamina.

Fundamentally though, it just happens to be a non-realistic gameplay mechanic that works very well.
 
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Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
The alternative to abstract hit points is a death spiral.

And while a death spiral is tragically-fun (useful for drama or squad-based wargames) they aren't heroically-fun (useful for playing a single character who is a hero).

Anyway, I reconciled any problems I had with the system by using the variant Injuries rule in the DMG (falling to 0 hp can give you a permanent wound) and expanding upon it a bit.
 

dnd4vr

Adventurer
The alternative to abstract hit points is a death spiral.

And while a death spiral is tragically-fun (useful for drama or squad-based wargames) they aren't heroically-fun (useful for playing a single character who is a hero).

Anyway, I reconciled any problems I had with the system by using the variant Injuries rule in the DMG (falling to 0 hp can give you a permanent wound) and expanding upon it a bit.
Yep, we use the injury rules as well. Adds a bit of flavor to the game and I recommend it as well.
 

Don Durito

Explorer
Is this sort of thing a product of 5E's success?

I ask because HP are basically a break point of D&D. They'll always be there; they'll never really make sense; and there's no simple solution without hacking the game apart.

Surely you just have to live with them or play a different game?

(I guess one things I've seen change is that in the 90s they seemed widely derided and viewed as ridiculous -then we got to 3E and everyone agreed to pretend that HPs don't represent actual physical injury - something that sort of works as long as you agree not to think about it too deeply).
 
(I guess one things I've seen change is that in the 90s they seemed widely derided and viewed as ridiculous -then we got to 3E and everyone agreed to pretend that HPs don't represent actual physical injury - something that sort of works as long as you agree not to think about it too deeply).
just shift that 20 years. ;) Hit points seemed rediculous (to wargamers who had it in for the nascent RPG concept, is my impression) and were roundly mocked, then EGG, in the 1e AD&D DMG, came up with the exhaustive defense of them that was a lot more nuanced and verbose, but, yeah, boiled down to not representing actual physical injury.
 
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dnd4vr

Adventurer
Is this sort of thing a product of 5E's success?

I ask because HP are basically a break point of D&D. They'll always be there; they'll never really make sense; and there's no simple solution without hacking the game apart.

Surely you just have to live with them or play a different game?

(I guess one things I've seen change is that in the 90s they seemed widely derided and viewed as ridiculous -then we got to 3E and everyone agreed to pretend that HPs don't represent actual physical injury - something that sort of works as long as you agree not to think about it too deeply).
(Ninja'd! by @Tony Vargas LOL :) )

This isn't due to 5E's success. HP have been controversial topic since the beginning. While many of us (myself included) mistakenly thought of HP as the damage the character can take in the beginning, it was never intended as such. A small fraction of HP represent actual physical injury, especially as HP grows due to leveling. This was apparent since the AD&D 1E DMG. This is not a new idea at all, certainly not since 3E.

We have mostly new players at our table (well, new as of 10 months ago) and they understand how HP works (at least how we use them) without issue. I completely understand the confusion other players have, such as the OP, with reconciling how HP and damage works.
 

Saelorn

Adventurer
very little about the mechanics of damage in D&D reinforce the idea of hitpoints in the game being an expression of avoiding death by avoiding body harm but rather expressions of the body avoiding death by being harmed less as hitpoints of a character increase. this creates a ludonarrative dissonance between what the game is telling players hitpoints represent and how they actually lose those hitpoints.
It was kind of a long post, but yes, this is the central issue. The fluff about HP is trying to say one thing, but the actual reality of the mechanics says something else entirely.

And as the saying goes, "when your belief about the world disagrees with reality, your belief is wrong." Regardless of what the game tries to claim that HP represent, the actuality reality of the game world says something different.

The two methods of correcting this dissonance are to either: 1) change your beliefs about what HP represent; or 2) change all of the game mechanics until they actually support that belief. The second option is a lot more work, and even if you did make all of the necessary changes, I'm not sure that it would still qualify as D&D at that point.

After all D&D has never actually supported the claim that HP measured damage avoidance. There's never been an edition where you could be hit by a poisoned sword, and the poison didn't affect you while you still had HP remaining. There's never been an edition where you failed to fall over a cliff, because you had too many HP for the fall to kill you.
 

Arch-Fiend

Explorer
i didn't really make this thesis to provide any alternatives to the narrative of how hitpoints work, the only alternatives i can think of are either uncreative and unoriginal or require basically altering how damage completely works in the game. i will share my thoughts on solving this issue here however and leave my analysis completely intact in its purely analytical form.

i find the way hitpoints are implied to function and the way damage is implied to function are inherently contradictory to each other, so the solution must follow the bias of one of these systems and make the other system reflect the one we favor. personally i favor damage because it is the most detailed system of the 2 and requires the least work to implement, in fact changing the system to work with damage as it is written simply requires a change in perspective. damage in 5e acts like it hurts the character that takes damage, so hitpoints can simply act like a characters durability. now a lot of people do not like this solution because it implies characters who pursue different career paths and characters who gain experience somehow gain access to durability to shrug off damage that would instantly kill them otherwise. its not realistic but how much of D&D is? but it is consistent with how damage works, and a simple rationalization of this change to hitpoints is that your characters are truly becoming epic heroes which reflect those of perseus, jason, achielles, hercules, and odyseus.

ironically the alternative i am going to write less about but it would be considerably more work, and that is to make damage function in a way to better reflect the hitpoint narrative, that might be more creative and original than what i propose, but at the same time i wonder if it would be more fun, perhaps it could be made fun, but on the face of it the criticisms i've brought up in my thesis is what would have to be addressed.

i propose these alternatives not because they are the only options available as i'm sure you are all aware, but simply because i follow the principle of change as little when i look at 5e (not necessarily other systems). as for homebrew anyone can do as much as they would like, but as a solution to the game's ludonarrative dissonance the solution should be minimum at best i think.
 

dnd4vr

Adventurer
i didn't really make this thesis to provide any alternatives to the narrative of how hitpoints work, the only alternatives i can think of are either uncreative and unoriginal or require basically altering how damage completely works in the game. i will share my thoughts on solving this issue here however and leave my analysis completely intact in its purely analytical form.

i find the way hitpoints are implied to function and the way damage is implied to function are inherently contradictory to each other, so the solution must follow the bias of one of these systems and make the other system reflect the one we favor. personally i favor damage because it is the most detailed system of the 2 and requires the least work to implement, in fact changing the system to work with damage as it is written simply requires a change in perspective. damage in 5e acts like it hurts the character that takes damage, so hitpoints can simply act like a characters durability. now a lot of people do not like this solution because it implies characters who pursue different career paths and characters who gain experience somehow gain access to durability to shrug off damage that would instantly kill them otherwise. its not realistic but how much of D&D is? but it is consistent with how damage works, and a simple rationalization of this change to hitpoints is that your characters are truly becoming epic heroes which reflect those of perseus, jason, achielles, hercules, and odyseus.

ironically the alternative i am going to write less about but it would be considerably more work, and that is to make damage function in a way to better reflect the hitpoint narrative, that might be more creative and original than what i propose, but at the same time i wonder if it would be more fun, perhaps it could be made fun, but on the face of it the criticisms i've brought up in my thesis is what would have to be addressed.

i propose these alternatives not because they are the only options available as i'm sure you are all aware, but simply because i follow the principle of change as little when i look at 5e (not necessarily other systems). as for homebrew anyone can do as much as they would like, but as a solution to the game's ludonarrative dissonance the solution should be minimum at best i think.
First off, thanks for making that shorter LOL. I am much more inclined to read it all and participate. ;)

I am all on-board for alternatives. I would begin with the idea if you want to make HP actual physical damage and nothing else, there are two things to keep in mind (probably obvious, but just in case).

1. HP would be drastically fewer unless you are planning an uber-heroic style of play (not my cup of tea, but nothing wrong with it either).
2. Healing should be much slower! You aren't going to recover physical wounds and injuries overnight.

I'm interested to see what you do, especially if you can do it succinctly. :)
 

Don Durito

Explorer
Off by 20 years. Hit points seemed rediculous (to wargamers who had it in for the nascent RPG concept, is my impression) and were roundly mocked, then EGG, in the 1e AD&D DMG, came up with the exhaustive defense of them that was a lot more nuanced and verbose, but, yeah, boiled down to not representing actual physical injury.
(Ninja'd! by @Tony Vargas LOL :) )

This isn't due to 5E's success. HP have been controversial topic since the beginning. While many of us (myself included) mistakenly thought of HP as the damage the character can take in the beginning, it was never intended as such. A small fraction of HP represent actual physical injury, especially as HP grows due to leveling. This was apparent since the AD&D 1E DMG. This is not a new idea at all, certainly not since 3E.

We have mostly new players at our table (well, new as of 10 months ago) and they understand how HP works (at least how we use them) without issue. I completely understand the confusion other players have, such as the OP, with reconciling how HP and damage works.
I didn't say that HPs came to seem ridiculous in the 90s. I said they were widely considered ridiculous (placing the origin point somewhere before that.)

My impression has been that since 3E brought D&D back into the primary position in RPGs the number of people complaining about HPs has grown much smaller - and seems to have been largely limited to either D&D players making there way out of D&D or players of other games taking the occasional sideswipe. I take the point about Gygax's defence but it seemed to me that wasn't really well known - or was simply ignored (because really it doesn't work very well for any edition of D&D before 4) - until 3E brought D&D back to first place and created a need for the internet to popularise it. And make D&D seem respectable again.

The reason I see 5E's success as integral to a lot of posts here lately - is because in earlier times a lot of the people who are trying to fix things in 5E would just have played different games.

But the player base for 5E is now so much bigger than everything else that understandably people want to tweak 5E.
 
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Arch-Fiend

Explorer
i think the pressure to be realistic is kinda something that the designers of D&D have always been under, which is understandable but not something they should really cave into. this is a game where you can have a greatsword "hit" you for maximum damage 8 times at level 20 and not die later for any reason unless your reduced below 0hp and whatever the editions rules for dying begin to apply to you.

D&D doesn't need to be defensive for what it represents itself as, a game about characters becoming demigods, and it starts much earlier than 20th level.
 

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