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Narration back into the system

Tymophil

Villager
I have to say that I am not satisfied with D&D4 as it is. It is, in my opinion, the best incarnation of D&D so far... But it suffers from some serious flaws.
During any encounter, I have the feeling I am playing a badly designed wargame, as a player or a Dungeon master, I cannot give a narration of the fight. Still, I want combats to be another roleplay experience. It seems possible, but rather difficult.

Let's begin with hit points. Here what I have in mind to roleplay them.

In my mind, before you get bloodied, each hp lost represents, depending on the form of attack, a loss of stamina, confidence, situational awareness, etc. When you get bloodied you think you have been wounded wounded. Then every loss of hp can be seen as another loss of stamina, confidence, etc. Or, could represent a larger splash of blood on you.
When you spend a healing surge or receive some healing during a fight, then it means that you somehow gather your thoughts and regain some confidence, balance, breath, etc. If you're still bloodied after the healing, you still believe that you're wounded, but gather some new confidence, stamina, etc.
If you are no more bloodied, you have now a better evaluation of the situation. You find out that the blood splat is from a superficial scratch, it's only sweat after all, it's in fact your opponent's blood, etc.
When you spend healing surges after the fight, and had been bloodied, it simply portrays the fact that you thoroughly scan your body discovering that your supposed wounds were not that serious after all. If your still bloodied, then you were actually wounded...

Did some of you come up with similar “fluff” to instil some roleplay into the D&D4 system ?
 

SkidAce

Adventurer
I haven't gotten that detailed or specific.

But I understand your concerns. For me, all I need is that idea or a similar one in my head that allows me to frame the actions during the combat.

Once the players "bloodied" a hobgoblin lurker that they had to keep chasing around the destroyed fort, I described him as winded and easier to "hit" cause his dodges were slowing down.

The players can help too. One rogue has a tendency when he thinks he will finish off the critter with his next attack to get real descriptive as he rolls the dice. If he hit's I roll with it. (pun intended)

"Yes, your dagger does indeed decapitate the unholy knight, and his head falls to the ground next to your feet"

If he misses, or rolls lower damage and does not kill it as he expected "The unholy knight suffers a horrendous gash next to his neck and shoulder" or if he was WAY off with his calculations on the knight's hp "Metal screams as your blade catches the knights cold iron collar, and he sneers at you"

It's just a way of thinking that applies to any role playing game we interact with.
 

the Jester

Legend
Hit points have always been hellaciously abstract. 4e isn't new in that regard, nor is it new that many people seem to overlook or disregard that and then wonder why there's some cognitive dissonance in the way they look at damage.

I just keep it abstract enough that it passes my "believability sniff test." Your scheme here seems fine; but I prefer to think that hit points mean different things to different people. Maybe all the wounds before he's bloodied are flesh wounds on the barbarian, while they're exhaustion and fatigue build up for the fighter.
 

Barastrondo

Villager
I don't have the same trouble with my group of instilling fluff into the system, but yeah, we use similar descriptive tactics. Not all the time -- sometimes it's sufficient for our friend to say "He bleeds his own blood," a fun little code-word of ours, but yes. A critter reels back, a boar-man seeps blood and begins to frenzy, things like that.

Another thing that seems to keep everyone on the same page is heavily reskinning players' powers. The warforged fighter's "Come and Get It" is a series of hooks launched on chains that drag enemies to him, and his Sweeping Blow involves unlatching at the waist and doing a quick 360-degree sweep. My "feylock" calls himself a Penumbral Adept, with his "curse" being a symbiotic link placed on an opponent's shadow and several powers being reskinned to involve dagger and shadow motifs.
 

Neverfate

Villager
My sarcasim detector is a bit spotty today. Is this serious or a shot at people who don't like the system? I honestly can't tell.
I know a few people who just get so hung up on the little details of combat. I do too. But there's a limit to "this is what the rules say to do" I can stand to hear about. Sometimes you as a player or a DM have to make something happen that's not in the books. So yeah. Sarcasm.
 

Lostdwarf

Villager
This goes back to an issue that has been with Dnd since the very first days, namely, what the heck is a hit point?

Hit points are very, very abstract. You can have a human with 80 hit points, a magical beast with 80 hit points, and a barrier with 80 hit points. In the case of the barrier, you have to pound, hack, smash, shock, burn, and othewise abuse the barrier that much before it breaks.

But the human would be long dead taking the same abuse. His 80 hit points represent his ability to dodge, block, roll with blows, duck, and generally avoid letting what should have been a lethat attack kill him. Being "bloodied" is an abstract as well. You might be bleeding after taking 1 hp of damage depending on the source, or you might not actually show any blood until the final blow that takes you negative. Its an abstract way of saying "getting in bad shape".

The magical beast with 80 hp is probably somewhere in between the two examples. It is physically more robust than the human, but not as tough as the barrier. It's hitpoints represent a combination of being able to avoid/mitigate damage and being able to absorb it.

I agree with those in this thread that say if you are unable to narrate combat its becuase you are not trying. There is not a forced, mechanical description of what a "hit" in dnd combat does, but that is because dnd is not and does not try to be a simulation. If you are looking for a "realistic" simulation of combat you will never like this game. Dnd combat is a cinimatic abstraction, and you and the DM fill in the details of what is going on. If you expect it to be a blow by blow "I swing my sword, lets see if he can get the shield in the way, nope he failed, ok lets see how much of the blow the armor absorbs" kind of game you are soooo playing the wrong system.
 

Neverfate

Villager
Personally, as a player and DM, I fall in-between (though, I've developed a bad habit of rushing combats due to the LFR format) of just attacking/mechanics and actually describing what's going on with the characters/creatures during that attack.

4E's combat system can be daunting at times. I don't think the DMGs and Kits explained well enough how you can abstract from the basic "delve"/combat format. That combat can roll into a skill challenge or pop out of one. I think the books offer the rules and don't offer enough advice how to use them dynamically or theatrically and know when to stop saying "these are the strict guidelines".

4E easily lends itself to being a well-crafted tactical combat game, but doesn't HAVE to be that. I think that's what the books don't exploit enough. Either because WotC has to sell minis or player-power-source books or are looking to nab the WoW crowd (or a million other reasons). They just too often stick to the script and don't show us alternative methods so we, regardless of who we are, sometimes don't realize it.
 
Did some of you come up with similar “fluff” to instil some roleplay into the D&D4 system ?
Yes.

My explanation of hit points in any system which uses them is simple: hit points represent how much you can get hit before you die. It's not luck, it's not divine favor, it's not stamina. Heroes, villains and monsters are magically toughened creatures who can literally heal their own wounds after being hacked, ripped, scorched or crushed many times beyond what a normal person could live through.

When my character survives a coup de grace attack made by a sneak attacking rogue wielding a poisoned dagger, it's not because of some implausible convergence of extenuating circumstances. It's because my character is an avatar of awesomeness and can survive being stabbed in the heart with a lethally poisoned dagger. D&D is a magical world, and the creatures who inhabit it are magical too. It's as simple as that.
 
As other people have said, this isn't a particularity of 4e especially. Even in 1e and OD&D/Basic hit points were pretty abstract. Your average old D&D 3rd level fighter could eat 3 longbow arrows before he went down. So obviously even in that game hit points were entirely abstract.

So, yeah, we just use whatever 'fluff' is appropriate at the time. Most HP loss is just fatigue, loss of morale, using up luck, using up magical protection, etc. When you hit bloodied you probably want to describe your character as being wounded in some way.

Healing could be many things. A potion or a prayer magically knits flesh and restores vigor. An Inspiring Word increases your morale and resolve to fight. The cleric infuses you with some divine magic, the warlord just yells at you to "keep fighting, you worthless grunt!" or something. AD&D definitely tended to fluff ALL healing in magical terms, but the concept was similar.

Healing after a fight or if someone stops to use Heal on you? Could be talk, a sip of water, a slap on the face, a little minor magic, or a quick sticky bandage.

Generally think of characters being like Bruce Willis in Die Hard. You get cuts, bruises, burns, whatever, but at the end of the scene someone slaps a bandage on it, you limp a little for a few minutes, everything is fine. Later when you hit home you can wince, remove your bandages, get the maid to pour you a hot bath, and have the cute innkeeper's daughter sew up your cuts.

Just IN GENERAL, 4e is very loose about HOW things happen, deliberately. Think about skills. Is the wizard picking a lock? Yeah, little minor magic there. Fighter intimidates someone? Well, those iron muscles put a fright in them. You can always fluff stuff as 'magical power', 'divine fortune', whatever you want. That deals with a lot of "how could I do that?" kinds of questions. It is a magic world, stuff happens. Heroes have all kinds of little tricks up their sleeves, minor magic, whatever they need. That's why they're the stars of the show. If they weren't fated to do crazy stuff they'd be minions somewhere and you'd be playing some other character.

You can also retcon things a bit. Come and Get It, well that orc fell prone AFTER he charged you for insulting his mother (and you beat him down). Forced movement often fluffs that way. The bard isn't necessarily shoving everyone around the grid, he's just baiting the enemy into making bad moves and directing the PCs to make better ones. So it can often be "Nope, that orc isn't over there, he went OVER HERE!" Remember too, turns are a crude approximation of the sequence of events.

Finally, the rules outright tell the DM to do what makes sense. If a situation seems nonsensical you can just change what happens. I wouldn't do it much and only with good reason, but as a last resort it certainly works. The rules can't possibly cover everything.

Anyway, none of this is really entirely unique to 4e. All of the same narrative devices have been used since the days of yore (1974 anyway). I guess more could be said about this kind of thing in the rules, but no other edition of D&D ever seems to have addressed it much either. Gygax mentions that hit points are abstract once in the 1e DMG IIRC. That's about it.
 

Rhenny

Explorer
Great comments. I agree with the people who say that narration comes from the players and DM, and that is part of the art of the game. If people want a more "realistic" less abstract wound system, think about some of the possible ramifications. There would need to be a hit location mechanism, including called shots, etc. This would make combat even slower than it is now. Also, it isn't much fun if your character gets wounded in a leg, and has to drop and nurse the wound. There is nothing heroic about suffering a severe gut wound. Your character would immediately drop from blood loss and pain. After one hit, the character would be out of the combat and easy prey. That being said, if a group really wants that in the game, the group can invent a way to play it out. At the core of D&D from 1st edition through 4e, with the abstraction of hit points, the DM can narrate wounds, but allow characters to keep fighting through the pain, making them truly heroic.
 

Kzach

Villager
Since I can't give XP to Jester anymore, I have to post.

Unfortunately everyone has already said what I wanted to say.

Damn you. Damn you all!
 

Kannik

Villager
This goes back to an issue that has been with Dnd since the very first days, namely, what the heck is a hit point?
To supplement your description, here's what the 1e PH had to say about it, in a very typical and descriptive* fashion:

Gary Gygax et Al said:
Each character has a varying number of hit points, just as monsters do. These hit points represent how much damage (actual or potential) the character can withstand before being killed. A certain amount of these hit points represent the actual physical punishment which can be sustained. The remainder, a significant portion of hit points at higher levels, stands for skill, luck, and/or magical factors. A typical man-at-arms can take about 5 hit points of damage before being killed. let us suppose that a 10th level fighter has 55 hit points, plus a bonus of 30 hit points for his constitution, for a total of 85 hit points. This is the equivalent of about 18 hit dice for creatures, about what it would take to kill four huge warhorses. It is ridiculous to assume that even a fantastic fighter can take that much punishment. The same holds true to a lesser extent for clerics, thieves, and the other classes. Thus, the majority of hit points are symbolic of combat skill, luck (bestowed by supernatural powers), and magical forces.

* by which I mean the phrase "It is ridiculous!" :)

I would say that 4e adds stamina/endurance and willpower to the mix of what an HP represents, along with combat skill, luck and magical forces.

peace,

Kannik
 

Tymophil

Villager
Hit points have always been hellaciously abstract. 4e isn't new in that regard, nor is it new that many people seem to overlook or disregard that and then wonder why there's some cognitive dissonance in the way they look at damage.
There is still a difference between D&D4 and other editions : the designers added new layers of complexity and abstraction.
Anyway, someone new to roleplay should find some guidelines on the system in the Players Handbook at least. One should get to know how hit points translate into a narration around the table, even if it means that there a several ways to do it. Even the veteran players need to get a feeling of what is different in the new edition. A few lines could have been enough to avoid the bashing D&D4 received.

In older editions, HP did not have a "bloodied" level. Adding such a feature is a fine idea, but if it only adds a layer to the system, then the game gets away from roleplay and gets closer to boardgame, unless there are guidelines to make it blend into a story. This is roleplaying game, not a boardgame. Every system must help build a story.

This is even more required to make sense of the "healing surge" system. This is a new system, it is very abstract, yet very nice. A few words would be enough for some advices on how to use them in-character.

I just keep it abstract enough that it passes my "believability sniff test." Your scheme here seems fine; but I prefer to think that hit points mean different things to different people. Maybe all the wounds before he's bloodied are flesh wounds on the barbarian, while they're exhaustion and fatigue build up for the fighter.
I think you did not understand my concern here. I am fine with people having different takes on the hit point system. I even ask for that on the original post.

But, as there are no guidelines, I mean none to blend the system into narration, the rules intrude into the game in a technical way. It is hard to develop any sense of mystery/wonder when one spends a "healing surge". I need a layer of camouflage to avoid the intrusion of the mechanic into the narration.
 

Pentius

Villager
There is still a difference between D&D4 and other editions : the designers added new layers of complexity and abstraction.
Anyway, someone new to roleplay should find some guidelines on the system in the Players Handbook at least. One should get to know how hit points translate into a narration around the table, even if it means that there a several ways to do it. Even the veteran players need to get a feeling of what is different in the new edition. A few lines could have been enough to avoid the bashing D&D4 received.
For what it's worth,

"Over the course of a battle, you take damage from
attacks. Hit points (hp) measure your ability to stand
up to punishment, turn deadly strikes into glancing
blows, and stay on your feet throughout a battle. Hit
points represent more than physical endurance. They
represent your character’s skill, luck, and resolve—all
the factors that combine to help you stay alive in a
combat situation." -PHB, page 293.

Still, I don't think this passage, or even a larger passage on the topic, would have saved 4e much bashing. 4e changed a lot of underlying assumptions about the game, sometimes without telling the players about it(and of course, many "experienced" players tend to skip the chapters on how things work, they assume they know, and skip to straight mechanics).
 

Tymophil

Villager
For what it's worth,

"Over the course of a battle, you take damage from
attacks. Hit points (hp) measure your ability to stand
up to punishment, turn deadly strikes into glancing
blows, and stay on your feet throughout a battle. Hit
points represent more than physical endurance. They
represent your character’s skill, luck, and resolve—all
the factors that combine to help you stay alive in a
combat situation." -PHB, page 293.
I must concede that I forgot this passage. But, it doesn't seem, in my opinion, to be specific enough for D&D4. It seems to reflect what hit points were in previous editions, but do not account for new systems : bloddied level, healing surges. Nor does it tell how to narrate it.

Still, I don't think this passage, or even a larger passage on the topic, would have saved 4e much bashing. 4e changed a lot of underlying assumptions about the game, sometimes without telling the players about it(and of course, many "experienced" players tend to skip the chapters on how things work, they assume they know, and skip to straight mechanics).
Unfortunately, you may be right : people like to bash WotC. And enough attention is not often given to the reading of the rules.

That is the reason why I think that the introduction adventures (Keep on the Shadowfell and Kobold Hall in DMG) should have showcased the changes, without focusing only on mechanics. Because pople tend to read the adventure booklets much more thoroughly than the rule books.

I even think that WotC could patch up some of the mess by writing a new introductionary adventure (replacing Keep on the Shadowfell) to introduce people to the roleplay aspects of D&D4. I firmly believe that the system would have received better reviews with better scenarios.
 

Pentius

Villager
I must concede that I forgot this passage. But, it doesn't seem, in my opinion, to be specific enough for D&D4. It seems to reflect what hit points were in previous editions, but do not account for new systems : bloddied level, healing surges. Nor does it tell how to narrate it.
I mildly disagree. This passage was more than enough for me to narrate, when I adopted 4e, though more definitately could have been included for surges and bloodied.

Unfortunately, you may be right : people like to bash WotC. And enough attention is not often given to the reading of the rules.

That is the reason why I think that the introduction adventures (Keep on the Shadowfell and Kobold Hall in DMG) should have showcased the changes, without focusing only on mechanics. Because pople tend to read the adventure booklets much more thoroughly than the rule books.
The problem, as I see it, is that D&D moved to a system much better suited to a Narrativist style(to parrot my friend pemerton) than the Simulationist style favored by earlier D&D editions. If you want, I can link to a lengthy discussion about it.
I even think that WotC could patch up some of the mess by writing a new introductionary adventure (replacing Keep on the Shadowfell) to introduce people to the roleplay aspects of D&D4. I firmly believe that the system would have received better reviews with better scenarios.
I don't think so. The Slaying Stone was released some time ago, and it is an introductory adventure much better suited to 4e(and better written overall, imo) than KotS. Yet, as much as I love the crap out of it, The Slaying Stone seems to be a mere footnote in adventure history.
 

Tymophil

Villager
I mildly disagree. This passage was more than enough for me to narrate, when I adopted 4e, though more definitately could have been included for surges and bloodied.
How do you roleplay the healing surges and the Bloodied feature ?


The problem, as I see it, is that D&D moved to a system much better suited to a Narrativist style(to parrot my friend pemerton) than the Simulationist style favored by earlier D&D editions. If you want, I can link to a lengthy discussion about it.
I don't disagree there. My point is that it doesn't show... The strong points of D&D4 do not show in the WotC adventures, and that is a problem.


I don't think so. The Slaying Stone was released some time ago, and it is an introductory adventure much better suited to 4e(and better written overall, imo) than KotS. Yet, as much as I love the crap out of it, The Slaying Stone seems to be a mere footnote in adventure history.
The Slaying Stone is simply another adventure, while the Keep on the Shadowfell is the showcase adventure for D&D4.

That's why I think WotC should amend the Keep on the Shadowfell or advertise a new adventure as the showcase for what D&D4 is all about : a free one, filled with advices, with examples of each and every possible kind of scene : combat, skill challenges (of various types, physical, mental, social), hazards, traps, riddles, etc. It doesn't have to be as long as the Keep on the Shadowfell.
 

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