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Worlds of Design: Human vs. Superhuman

The second season of The Mandalorian helped me realize that functional versus emotional modeling applies to both Star Wars and tabletop role-playing games.

michael-marais-bKDqieN4irg-unsplash.jpg

Photo by Michael Marais on Unsplash
You can't relate to a superhero, to a superman, but you can identify with a real man who in times of crisis draws forth some extraordinary quality from within himself and triumphs but only after a struggle.”—Timothy Dalton​

Functional vs. Emotional Modeling in RPGs​

When you want to model a particular character (in Dungeons & Dragons terms in this example) you can use the functional method or the emotional method.
  • The functional method observes what the character can do and chooses D&D character classes and powers that match. So when I wrote my Moria introductory adventure some 40 years ago I made Aragorn a seventh level Ranger and Gandalf an eighth level cleric with a ring of warmth who could use a magic sword. In the very low magic world of Middle-Earth they stood out very strongly at these levels. But I didn’t feel I could make Gandalf higher than eighth level because the ninth level cleric can raise dead (the coolest move in games), beyond Gandalf’s abilities.
  • The emotional method positioned Aragorn and Gandalf as near-mythical stature within Middle-Earth and so they needed to stand out in comparison with other D&D characters and monsters: in the upper teens in levels. Those levels don’t work for the functional method because characters that high can do more than anyone other than the Valar themselves can do in Middle-Earth.
Similarly, you can make a movie where the heroes stand out in comparison with typical characters (people) but are not superhuman. Or you can make heroes who do many things that a human could never do. That seems to be how Star Wars works sometimes—Jedi as superheroes rather than as merely human, which is more like a superhero comic book than a novel.

How This Applies to The Mandalorian

In my opinion, Star Wars has never been particularly realistic. But we’ve become accustomed to the fact that stormtroopers can never hit our heroes (even the very normal-human ones like Han Solo) with their (non-automatic!?) weapons—except when the target wears magic armor, er, Beskar steel, which is impervious to blaster bolts and other energy weapons. Beskar gets hit a lot! Nor does the (non-Beskar) stormtrooper armor ever protect the wearer from either energy bolts or physical attacks, at least not by Our Heroes. And so on.

Jedi do the physically impossible by blocking multiple simultaneous blaster shots. Yet even when they turn around to look elsewhere or say something to someone, they don’t get hit. Functionally, they’re superheroes. Some readers will remember the days of the Comics Code Authority, when virtually no one died in superhero comic books, and of course if a superhero appeared to die, somehow he or she would be back later.

How This Applies to RPGs​

In RPGs we also can consider these two forms in relation to the player characters. Are the player characters extraordinary humans (or whatever species they may be) or are they over-the-top superheroes who can do just about anything without suffering significant harm?

The answer to that question determines the type of game you play. Extraordinary people face tougher struggles and are therefore better modeled by simulationist games. For games where the player characters are truly superhuman, I think narrative and storytelling games do a better job of modeling gameplay.

Your Turn: Which point of view do you prefer as a player? And what do you prefer when you GM?
 
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Lewis Pulsipher

Lewis Pulsipher

Dragon, White Dwarf, Fiend Folio
We humans use combat and fighting as one way of creating "drama" for our stories. It's easy, it's exciting, and feel hyper-realistic. But rarely does it seem like that combat is ever treated with any sense of actual humanity. Or at least that's the impression I get from it.
Spot on.

I have often dreamt of a video game that could take you through many interactive "cut scenes" to tell the tale, and then a climactic fight. One in which the violence would feel real.
 

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Everyone knows that Gandalf was only a 5th level AD&D Magic-User!

Personally I try to keep the mechanics in mind when considering the aspects of the world. Not every world is equal, as Dalamar the Dark, Highmage of the Conclave can attest after his meetings with Mordenkinen and Elminster.

When it comes to storm troopers and aim, the main scene people think of the Millennium Falcon was supposed to escape. In addition, we don't know the full capabilities of Storm Trooper armor from the movies.
Yeah, stormtroopers got a bad rap, mostly thanks to a single actor. When the stromtroopers on the Death Star bust into the communications room with R2 and 3PO, one of the actors bumps his helmet on the way in. Since the helmets didn't actually fit right (you couldn't see out them if worn properly), he didn't even notice. No one did, until it was released and he looked comical. This was then followed by the stormtroopers "missing" everyone when they were supposed to escape, and so they became a joke. So much so that in the home release of the movie, they added a "konk" sound when he hits his "head". Everyone forgets Obi-Wan pointed out that "only imperial stormtroopers are that precise" at the jawa slaughter.

As for their armor... there's a webshow called Because Science that goes into it. Likely they're just designed to deal with simple attacks, like claws or knives from local thugs. Spending too much on replaceable soldiers isn't cost effective.
 

What is really transforming PC into superhuman is the balanced encounter concept.
Yes hit point, overnight healing can give a feeling of something, but how can a bunch of PC manage to pass multiple threat and survive every time make them a kind of superhuman or supernatural.
The real surhuman power of PC is to get challenge in order, orc, ogre, troll, fire giant, Balor,
while any other Npc can face them in any order during their progression.
 

Aaron L

Hero
There's a reason why boxers and MMA fighters go months between fights. Because the training and recovery after one of them is that grueling. And yet in all these fictions, characters get into essentially an MMA fight, get up, brush themselves off, and then quite possibly get into another MMA fight tomorrow or even later that day. No concussions, no loss of faculty, no fear of getting hurt like that again, not a single normal human response to having been kicked in the face seventeen times in a matter of minutes.
This is why I immensely prefer the way healing was handled in the 1st and 2nd Editions of D&D to how it is handled in 5th Edition. PCs healed only 1 Hit Point per day of bedrest, and got to add their Constitution bonus at the end of a full week. Nothing like 5th Edition's complete regaining of all Hit Points after a single night's sleep.

I kind of hate that.

Back in our 1E games our high level PCs would take weeks of rest to recover from a big fight, often times even with Clerical healing assistance. It was also great because it was an enforced cooldown and waiting period that expanded the game-timespan between adventures and prevented PCs from progressing from 1st to 15th level over the course of just a few months, as usually happens in 5E... which is another thing I kind of hate.

(Now don't get me wrong; I absolutely adore 5th Edition D&D... I just wish it handled normal healing and over-fast character level progression better.)
 
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This is why I immensely prefer the way healing was handled the 1st and 2nd Editions of D&D to how it is handled in 5th Edition. PCs healed only 1 Hit Point per day of bedrest, and got to add their Constitution bonus at the end of a full week. Nothing like 5th Edition's complete regaining of all Hit Points after a single night's sleep.

I kind of hate that.

Back in our 1E games our high level PCs would take weeks of rest to recover from a big fight, often times even with Clerical healing assistance. It was also great because it was an enforced cooldown and waiting period that expanded the game-timespan between adventures and prevented PCs from progressing from 1st to 15th level over the course of just a few months, as usually happens in 5E... which is another thing I kind of hate.
3.x was similar but th other nice thing it did was that there was enough time passing if the party had to come back for whatever reason that you could justify changes more significant than a makeshift reinforced door without straining credibility.
 

Aaron L

Hero
3.x was similar but th other nice thing it did was that there was enough time passing if the party had to come back for whatever reason that you could justify changes more significant than a makeshift reinforced door without straining credibility.
Yeah 3E was pretty good, healing at 1 x level per day.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
This is why I immensely prefer the way healing was handled in the 1st and 2nd Editions of D&D to how it is handled in 5th Edition. PCs healed only 1 Hit Point per day of bedrest, and got to add their Constitution bonus at the end of a full week. Nothing like 5th Edition's complete regaining of all Hit Points after a single night's sleep.

I kind of hate that.

Back in our 1E games our high level PCs would take weeks of rest to recover from a big fight, often times even with Clerical healing assistance. It was also great because it was an enforced cooldown and waiting period that expanded the game-timespan between adventures and prevented PCs from progressing from 1st to 15th level over the course of just a few months, as usually happens in 5E... which is another thing I kind of hate.

(Now don't get me wrong; I absolutely adore 5th Edition D&D... I just wish it handled normal healing and over-fast character level progression better.)
Goes to show different people played with different expectations. We always had a cleric either as a PC or hired/hireling spend a day or two just healing. Oftentimes we just kind of hand waved it.

Now I just use the alternate rest rules from the DMG. It's easy to adjust the game that way.
 

RareBreed

Villager
This article motivated me to write my first ever post on this site, and indeed my first post on an RPG site in probably around 18 years.

I have been a lurker in the RPG scene for close to 30 years, not having played a session since the early 90s. The last games I played were Twilight 2000 (2.0) and Ars Magica (2nd ed). I started role-playing at the ripe old age of 8 in 1980, so my role-playing "career" was only about 12 years long, mostly through the 80s.

However, I always kept in touch with role-playing even if I didn't play anymore. I often bought games from the late 90s until now, just to see how rules system, genres, and role-playing itself had advanced. The trend I have noticed even more in the last 30 years or so, is moving characters from "heroes" to "superheroes" as you put it. Growing up, my favorite games included the following:

  • Twilight 2000
  • Justice Inc
  • Traveller (more 2300 than classic)
  • Phoenix Command (yes, that Phoenix Command, running a Vietnam campaign I GM'ed)
  • RPG (from RPG Inc, and the 2nd ed from Palladium)
  • Living Steel
  • Top Secret
  • MERP (1st edition)
  • Champions (1st through 4th ed)

We occasionally played some other games (Paranoia, Superworld, Runequest, Chill, CoC, Ghostbusters come to mind), but the above were the games we played the most. Perhaps you noticed a common theme in the above games (other than the obvious lack of D&D)?

With the exception of Champions, pretty much all those games were about regular Joes facing extraordinary situations. Yes, MERP was fantasy, but it was low powered fantasy (especially the way we played it). And yes, Traveller and Living Steel had "powers" in the form of high technology, but I enjoyed playing on low-tech worlds, or in the apocalyptic setting of Rhand.

As Timothy Dalton's quote you mentioned says, it's easier to relate to a hero than a super hero. It's something we as players can actually aspire to. My favorite campaign of all time was the one I ran using Phoenix Command for a Vietnam War setting. Phoenix Command has a reputation for being insanely hard, with too much emphases on game mechanics, and perhaps not enough in roleplaying. My experience was just the opposite. Because combat was so deadly, the players (and their characters) were extremely reluctant to engage in combat. This meant more role-playing opportunities instead of mad minute sessions all the time. Every child who ran up to them became a life and death decision for them. The fear of death, and of causing death (including friendly fire), was what made the campaign so memorable to me.

There were no fireballs. No magic armor to save you. No healing spells. No first aid kits to get you back on your feet in no time flat. Every decision counted, and had consequences. This provided very memorably experiences which I found lacking when I played in super-powered settings, whether those powers came from magical, technological, or comic book sources.

I have noticed the trend today is towards playing super characters. When I read other posts about this topic, I invariably hear someone say "But I want to escape from reality. That's why I play RPG's". I am curious if these people have ever actually played in a setting with just regular Joes in extraordinary circumstances? I feel like in the last 15-20 years, there are very few games where you even can play a regular human (the few I can think of are horror games which explicitly do this to make the characters feel vulnerable and powerless, like CoC, or Outbreak).

I have long felt that role-playing can (and should) be about more than just entertainment. It can be a way to (safely) explore choices, decisions and possible consequences. I would argue that Documentary shows are not "fun" and neither are they entertaining, but they can be enjoyable, because they help us learn.

Does that mean I am against super powers or super heroes? Not at all. I collected or read comics since I was 11, and was absorbed in what these super heroes could do. But there was a difference. When I read comics, I never put myself in Thor's shoes, or even Iron Man's. I lived vicariously through their exploits as a spectator, but never really asked "what would I do in that situation"? It was more about me learning how these superheroes acted, or wonder about the amazing feats and situations that they were presented with.

To illustrate, one of my favorite TV shows of all time is now Wanda Vision. (Spoiler Alert coming!!)

One of the most intriguing things to me about the show, was "what really is the Vision?" (and yeah, I read the original Avengers comics this story arc was gleaned from). When Wanda's Vision faced the "real" Vision, and they pontificated on the Ship of Thucydides, this was pure genius. But the line that got me was when the Vision asked Wanda, "What am I?" and later said, "what will I become next?".

These are deep philosophical questions that are most easily presented in a supermundane setting. The Matrix was brilliant for example, because it allowed us to view "the brain in a jar" question but in a cool sci-fi setting. The question that Vision posed about what his nature was, and who the real self is, is most easily done in a setting where the fantastic is possible.

So, to answer your question, which do I prefer, heroic or superheroic?

For active storytelling (i.e, role-playing), I think heroic systems are most to my liking, both as a player and as a GM. I think they are more relatable and can teach us more human stories. But for passive non-interactive storytelling, I prefer the superheroic, because it can present us with allegories and metaphors in a more interesting way than our real world can. I feel that from a role-playing perspective, where neither the player nor the GM can fully control the narrative, I feel that superheroic settings are not as powerful for storytelling (or at least are much more difficult to do correctly). YMMV of course.

The trend in RPG settings towards the superheroic is one reason I have never really gotten back into active role-playing.
 
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Minigiant

Legend
Everyone forgets Obi-Wan pointed out that "only imperial stormtroopers are that precise" at the jawa slaughter.

As for their armor... there's a webshow called Because Science that goes into it. Likely they're just designed to deal with simple attacks, like claws or knives from local thugs. Spending too much on replaceable soldiers isn't cost effective.

One thing about Star Wars is that the Clonetroopers and Stormtroopers were leagues away from each other in competency. Clonetroopers being factory leveled clones of a high rolled humaniod and Stormtroopers being any old humaniod desperate enough to take an international security guard job.
 

Arilyn

Hero
This article motivated me to write my first ever post on this site, and indeed my first post on an RPG site in probably around 18 years.

I have been a lurker in the RPG scene for close to 30 years, not having played a session since the early 90s. The last games I played were Twilight 2000 (2.0) and Ars Magica (2nd ed). I started role-playing at the ripe old age of 8 in 1980, so my role-playing "career" was only about 12 years long, mostly through the 80s.

However, I always kept in touch with role-playing even if I didn't play anymore. I often bought games from the late 90s until now, just to see how rules system, genres, and role-playing itself had advanced. The trend I have noticed even more in the last 30 years or so, is moving characters from "heroes" to "superheroes" as you put it. Growing up, my favorite games included the following:

  • Twilight 2000
  • Justice Inc
  • Traveller (more 2300 than classic)
  • Phoenix Command (yes, that Phoenix Command, running a Vietnam campaign I GM'ed)
  • RPG (from RPG Inc, and the 2nd ed from Palladium)
  • Living Steel
  • Top Secret
  • MERP (1st edition)
  • Champions (1st through 4th ed)

We occasionally played some other games (Paranoia, Superworld, Runequest, Chill, CoC, Ghostbusters come to mind), but the above were the games we played the most. Perhaps you noticed a common theme in the above games (other than the obvious lack of D&D)?

With the exception of Champions, pretty much all those games were about regular Joes facing extraordinary situations. Yes, MERP was fantasy, but it was low powered fantasy (especially the way we played it). And yes, Traveller and Living Steel had "powers" in the form of high technology, but I enjoyed playing on low-tech worlds, or in the apocalyptic setting of Rhand.

As Timothy Dalton's quote you mentioned says, it's easier to relate to a hero than a super hero. It's something we as players can actually aspire to. My favorite campaign of all time was the one I ran using Phoenix Command for a Vietnam War setting. Phoenix Command has a reputation for being insanely hard, with too much emphases on game mechanics, and perhaps not enough in roleplaying. My experience was just the opposite. Because combat was so deadly, the players (and their characters) were extremely reluctant to engage in combat. This meant more role-playing opportunities instead of mad minute sessions all the time. Every child who ran up to them became a life and death decision for them. The fear of death, and of causing death (including friendly fire), was what made the campaign so memorable to me.

There were no fireballs. No magic armor to save you. No healing spells. No first aid kits to get you back on your feet in no time flat. Every decision counted, and had consequences. This provided very memorably experiences which I found lacking when I played in super-powered settings, whether those powers came from magical, technological, or comic book sources.

I have noticed the trend today is towards playing super characters. When I read other posts about this topic, I invariably hear someone say "But I want to escape from reality. That's why I play RPG's". I am curious if these people have ever actually played in a setting with just regular Joes in extraordinary circumstances? I feel like in the last 15-20 years, there are very few games where you even can play a regular human (the few I can think of are horror games which explicitly do this to make the characters feel vulnerable and powerless, like CoC, or Outbreak).

I have long felt that role-playing can (and should) be about more than just entertainment. It can be a way to (safely) explore choices, decisions and possible consequences. I would argue that Documentary shows are not "fun" and neither are they entertaining, but they can be enjoyable, because they help us learn.

Does that mean I am against super powers or super heroes? Not at all. I collected or read comics since I was 11, and was absorbed in what these super heroes could do. But there was a difference. When I read comics, I never put myself in Thor's shoes, or even Iron Man's. I lived vicariously through their exploits as a spectator, but never really asked "what would I do in that situation"? It was more about me learning how these superheroes acted, or wonder about the amazing feats and situations that they were presented with.

To illustrate, one of my favorite TV shows of all time is now Wanda Vision. (Spoiler Alert coming!!)

One of the most intriguing things to me about the show, was "what really is the Vision?" (and yeah, I read the original Avengers comics this story arc was gleaned from). When Wanda's Vision faced the "real" Vision, and they pontificated on the Ship of Thucydides, this was pure genius. But the line that got me was when the Vision asked Wanda, "What am I?" and later said, "what will I become next?".

These are deep philosophical questions that are most easily presented in a supermundane setting. The Matrix was brilliant for example, because it allowed us to view "the brain in a jar" question but in a cool sci-fi setting. The question that Vision posed about what his nature was, and who the real self is, is most easily done in a setting where the fantastic is possible.

So, to answer your question, which do I prefer, heroic or superheroic?

For active storytelling (i.e, role-playing), I think heroic systems are most to my liking, both as a player and as a GM. I think they are more relatable and can teach us more human stories. But for passive non-interactive storytelling, I prefer the superheroic, because it can present us with allegories and metaphors in a more interesting way than our real world can. I feel that from a role-playing perspective, where neither the player nor the GM can fully control the narrative, I feel that superheroic settings are not as powerful for storytelling (or at least are much more difficult to do correctly). YMMV of course.

The trend in RPG settings towards the superheroic is one reason I have never really gotten back into active role-playing.
There's a lot of games and settings that aren't skewed toward the super-heroic.
Fate and Cortex Prime both have a variety of setting examples that span from ordinary people to super heroic, as the rules are flexible enough to handle this. Other examples: Vaesen, Liminal, Cthulhu Dark, some of the Gumshoe games, Aliens (I assume. Haven't read it), The Expanse, Traveller, the Jane Austen style game (name escapes me at the moment), and plenty more I'm sure.

Also, God-like characters can still have challenges, loss, and struggles with moral quandaries. In Nomine has this in spades.

In terms of D&D, I think playing at the really high levels requires a change in style and stakes. If this isn't appealing to the players and/or DM, then back to first level with new characters. 😏
 

pumasleeve

Explorer
Everyone knows that Gandalf was only a 5th level AD&D Magic-User!

Personally I try to keep the mechanics in mind when considering the aspects of the world. Not every world is equal, as Dalamar the Dark, Highmage of the Conclave can attest after his meetings with Mordenkinen and Elminster.


Yeah, stormtroopers got a bad rap, mostly thanks to a single actor. When the stromtroopers on the Death Star bust into the communications room with R2 and 3PO, one of the actors bumps his helmet on the way in. Since the helmets didn't actually fit right (you couldn't see out them if worn properly), he didn't even notice. No one did, until it was released and he looked comical. This was then followed by the stormtroopers "missing" everyone when they were supposed to escape, and so they became a joke. So much so that in the home release of the movie, they added a "konk" sound when he hits his "head". Everyone forgets Obi-Wan pointed out that "only imperial stormtroopers are that precise" at the jawa slaughter.

As for their armor... there's a webshow called Because Science that goes into it. Likely they're just designed to deal with simple attacks, like claws or knives from local thugs. Spending too much on replaceable soldiers isn't cost effective.
Yes, the "stormtroopers cant shoot straight" meme, has always been one that irritated me, and I hate how the Mandelorian has taken it to new and ridiculous heights (otherwise a good show). They are really starting to look like total mooks. Most of the killing they did happened off screen in the OT, but they defiantly hit their targets on the Tantive 4, jawas, lukes aunt and uncle, and rebels on hoth. The fact that they didnt kill the main heroes of the series is obviously because they have plot armor.
 

Minigiant

Legend
The thing about Stormtroopers is that they basically were not all the same "level". Or more accurately the level gap between the worst and the best was huge. This is because the Empire was vast and stretching thinner and thinner for recruits. So your basic security troopers were halfblind mooks whereas those sent on actual missions were crack shots.

Star Wars has a much wider range of levels for "human" heroics than D&D. You can get pretty far in advancement in SW before you start looking like a superhuman. In D&D, you are superhuman a bit before you are considered a professional of your class. You don't say zero long at all.
 

This is why I immensely prefer the way healing was handled in the 1st and 2nd Editions of D&D to how it is handled in 5th Edition. PCs healed only 1 Hit Point per day of bedrest, and got to add their Constitution bonus at the end of a full week. Nothing like 5th Edition's complete regaining of all Hit Points after a single night's sleep.

I kind of hate that.

Back in our 1E games our high level PCs would take weeks of rest to recover from a big fight, often times even with Clerical healing assistance. It was also great because it was an enforced cooldown and waiting period that expanded the game-timespan between adventures and prevented PCs from progressing from 1st to 15th level over the course of just a few months, as usually happens in 5E... which is another thing I kind of hate.

(Now don't get me wrong; I absolutely adore 5th Edition D&D... I just wish it handled normal healing and over-fast character level progression better.)
Obligatory fun link to Delta's breakdown of the healing rules for D&D and how they have accelerated through the editions:

 

Aaron L

Hero
Obligatory fun link to Delta's breakdown of the healing rules for D&D and how they have accelerated through the editions:

Very cool; I'd never seen that before, thanks!

I just don't like the idea of PCs getting into huge, 5 minute long, knock-down, drag-out fights, coming out with 1 Hit Point, a broken leg, and a punctured lung... and being perfectly fine the very next morning after a good night's sleep.

It just rubs me the wrong way, for some reason.
 

Aaron L

Hero
The thing about Stormtroopers is that they basically were not all the same "level". Or more accurately the level gap between the worst and the best was huge. This is because the Empire was vast and stretching thinner and thinner for recruits. So your basic security troopers were halfblind mooks whereas those sent on actual missions were crack shots.

Star Wars has a much wider range of levels for "human" heroics than D&D. You can get pretty far in advancement in SW before you start looking like a superhuman. In D&D, you are superhuman a bit before you are considered a professional of your class. You don't say zero long at all.
PCs in D&D were meant to represent Heroes in the Classical Greek sense of the term, which meant something more like Übermensch than does the modern meaning of the term "hero."

(Go read the entry for Greek Hero Cult on Wikipedia for some fascinating possibilities to include in your games, and to get a better understanding of where the idea of Hero Deity Cults, such as that of Kelanen, Prince of Swords, came from in Greyhawk. Hero Cults could easily start rising up around mid- to high-level PCs as people follow their exploits and start considering them heroes of legend, and this was how the path to Divinity worked in 1st Edition, starting with a Hero Cult forming around a character.)

A Classical Greek was someone who was able to rise above the common rabble of humanity by dint of their superior physical abilities, wits, cleverness, and/or ingenuity, and divinely-bestowed supernatural luck and endurance (such as Heracles, Jason, and Perseus.) Even a mere 1st level Fighter was far above common humanity, and high-level Fighters could take on entire armies by themselves with the Sweep ability, allowing them to take one attack per level per round against creatures with less than one full Hit Die, such as Goblins, Kobolds, and 0-Level Humans... including common men-at-arms. That meant a 10th level Fighter could wade into an army, which would be almost totally composed of 0-Level men-at-arms, and take out 10 each round (Captains, Lieutenants, and Serjeants were made of sterner stuff and could not be Swept, having actual Fighter levels of 5th-8th 2nd-3rd, or 1st level respectively, and were each able to command a certain number of men-at-arms, being 12 per level, 10,per level, or just 10, respectively. A 10th level Fighter could wipe out a Serjeant's entire squad in a single round, but then require a full round to deal with just the Serjeant himself.)

That was why there was a spot for Patron Deity on 1E character sheets, because it was assumed that all PCs had a divine Patron (or a tutelary spirit in Ancient Greek terms) that bestowed upon them the majority of their Hit Points and the like. The 1st Edition Dungeon Master's Guide explained that this was a how even a mid-level Fighter could have more Hit Points than a warhorse even though the Fighter would obviously not have more mass than a horse. As the DMG explained, this was because all but a few HP representing the PCs actual physical mass health were divinely-bestowed stamima. It didn't matter if the PC actually worshiped the deity (being a member of the deity's Cult in ancient Greek terms); so long as a character had a corresponding Alignment then he would be furthering the deity's agenda, and the deity would empower him to further its aims and goals.

Because in 1st Edition the deity's were creatures of Alignment and served the Alignments, which were actually recognized in-universe as divine politico-religious philosophical institutions, rather than just being abstract game-mechanics, and every Paladin knew that he followed the Lawful Good Alignment and spoke the Lawful Good Alignment Tongue, which was a quasi-divine, semi-magical philosophical cant that he was taught as part of his Paladin training (think how Latin was used in the Medieval Catholic Church, except also being under actual direct divine control such that knowledge of the tongue could actually be divinely stripped from the mind of a character that changed Alignment.) Alignments in 1E weren't just behavioral descriptors, they were actual religio-philosophical concepts and supra-divine forces that characters swore allegiance to.)

(Sorry for the extra long essay, but I absolutely love the old concepts behind Alignment and Alignment Languages.)
 

Very cool; I'd never seen that before, thanks!

I just don't like the idea of PCs getting into huge, 5 minute long, knock-down, drag-out fights, coming out with 1 Hit Point, a broken leg, and a punctured lung... and being perfectly fine the very next morning after a good night's sleep.

It just rubs me the wrong way, for some reason.
Well that's the thing; the eternal debate over hit points and to what extent they are "meat points", comprising physical toughness and decremented by injury, or "stamina/skill points", and represent skill, luck and endurance, the ability to only sustain a scratch and a little fatigue from, e.g., an 11 HP hit which would have skewered and killed a 1st level character or 0 level human.

I appreciate your reference to the other, less-discussed component which Gary talked about as well- supernatural blessings from deities and alignment forces. But even those can be conceptualized and described either as actual supernatural toughness OR as supernatural luck and wound avoidance.

I think a lot of this debate boils down to what Peterson identified in his recent The Elusive Shift as a fundamental divide in the D&D player base going back to the 70s. Folks with a background in wargaming, interested in simulating real world physics and history to at least some extent, and folks coming from the Fantasy & Science Fiction fandom community, more interested in simulating novels and adventure stories.

Even some of Gary's primary influences, like Conan and John Carter, are superheroic figures capable of recovering quickly from one deadly battle and immediately running off to the next. I remember when I was a kid in the 80s and into the 90s, seeing this conflict between the slow natural healing rules and the desire to emulate the pace of a John Carter novel or an action movie. Of course we could get around the natural healing rules with healing magic, but that often seems like a bit of a kludge to bridge two different genres/worldviews.

Personally I normally lean toward the "wound avoidance" explanation for hit points, because it aligns better with the lack of penalties for injury in D&D prior to being dropped to 0.

I really do appreciate some qualities of the slow natural healing rules from older editions, though. I especially appreciate how they enforce a slower pacing of advancement and campaign time. There can be a tendency especially in later editions for an adventurer's entire 1st to 20th level adventuring career to occur over mere weeks or months of game time, which can strain credulity unless you really work on explaining this meteoric ascent in power.

On the other hand, I remember the frustration engendered in the slower-healing days by wanting the PCs to be able to, for example, immediately chase off to the site of the villain's next plot (like John Carter) after a challenging and draining battle with his minions or another villain. Often the details of the fiction would mean the characters would most logically want or need to rush off immediately to the next scene or locale, but their low HP and/or few remaining spells would make that seem like a foolish or suicidal decision to the players, and smart/conservative play would dictate resting and recuperating first. It's always a demoralizing situation when smart play and good roleplaying seem to be in conflict. :/
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Very cool; I'd never seen that before, thanks!

I just don't like the idea of PCs getting into huge, 5 minute long, knock-down, drag-out fights, coming out with 1 Hit Point, a broken leg, and a punctured lung... and being perfectly fine the very next morning after a good night's sleep.

It just rubs me the wrong way, for some reason.
I think @Mannahnin already said it, but part of the problem is you envisioning PCs coming out with broken legs and punctured lungs. While there are optional rules that support that in the DMG, I suspect very few people use them.

Most of the time, the imagery I fall back on is not super heroes, but action movie heroes. Protagonist gets shot? It's either a "mere flesh wound" in the shoulder or arm which in real life would take months or years of surgery and physical therapy to recuperate from. But action hero guy? Slap a bandage on there with the obligatory blood stain, wince a few times to remind the viewer that you were hurt, zero loss of functionality. In extreme cases put the arm in the sling only to rip the sling off and ignore the other people telling you that it has to heal. Because of course, you are the hero.

In a world with magic, I think that makes more sense. Magic doesn't have to include arcane spells or divine intervention; dragons fly and breath fire without casting a single spell. People (especially heroes) heal faster because they are healing magically without even realizing it. In my campaign world, it's been revealed that all people heal faster than we do without magic they just don't realize it because for them it is normal. Even then I still use the optional rest rules where a long rest is a week or more and would never describe injuries as broken legs or punctured lungs. It's small scrapes, bruising, exhaustion, aching muscles that have been pushed to their limits that leave you open to a fatal attack. After all, a higher level PC is more difficult to kill but it's not because their skin is thicker, or because there muscles are more dense and resistant to damage. It's because they've learned to take make blows that would have been deadly into near misses (at the cost of energy/stamina/strains) or glancing blows.

So my PCs (at least until very high levels) start as human, graduate to action heroes and slowly become more powerful. Whether they ever get to superhero level depends on what power level you're talking about since it varies widely depending on author and genre.
 

Aaron L

Hero
Oh, I defintely see the vast majority of HP as being wound avoidance, but if you take a hit, you take a hit, even if it's a glancing blow that would have run you through the heart if it hadn't been for your years of training. And enough glancing blows to finally take you down and knock you out is going to leave physical injuries, broken bones, maybe even a small poke through the lung. Even "just" being knocked out is a short term coma that can leave serious brain damage (being forcibly rendered unconscious ain't an insignificant thing like in the movies, folks!)
 

Arilyn

Hero
Oh, I defintely see the vast majority of HP as being wound avoidance, but if you take a hit, you take a hit, even if it's a glancing blow that would have run you through the heart if it hadn't been for your years of training. And enough glancing blows to finally take you down and knock you out is going to leave physical injuries, broken bones, maybe even a small poke through the lung. Even "just" being knocked out is a short term coma that can leave serious brain damage (being forcibly rendered unconscious ain't an insignificant thing like in the movies, folks!)
With all the combat in a typical D&D day, I don't know what else could be done. Waiting for slow healing, just means waiting, which is why clerics got heal wands in the past editions, and roared through them. Having time pass between adventures is okay, but if you're just waiting to heal up for weeks, or if you heal over night has little actual practical difference. It makes a difference logically and realistically, but realism in the game would mean combat should be avoided at all costs. No way characters would be having 4-6 encounters a day.
 

With all the combat in a typical D&D day, I don't know what else could be done. Waiting for slow healing, just means waiting, which is why clerics got heal wands in the past editions, and roared through them. Having time pass between adventures is okay, but if you're just waiting to heal up for weeks, or if you heal over night has little actual practical difference. It makes a difference logically and realistically, but realism in the game would mean combat should be avoided at all costs. No way characters would be having 4-6 encounters a day.
Heal wands were fine, "sorry I'm solf out of those" & "I've got one with 12 charges left "was an easy solution for gms if they wanted to put a limit on those
 

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