29 October 2010

Health and D&D

Just a flesh wound?
Much greater bloggers than I (Alexis and JB from The Tao of D&D and B/X Blackrazor, respectively) have a minor disagreement (possibly) over how tough low level humans are, and what the possible ramifications are.

I talked it over with my buddy Tony, and we came to the same conclusion that Alexis did; humans are pretty tough to kill, overall, and not even your average firearm will kill a man in one hit. This is a fairly common fact, actually; firearms simply do not kill men frequently. They wound, disable, and stop. I heard a story once that the reason that the US military switched to 9mm bullets as opposed to the (unspecified) smaller calibre pistols they had used beforehand was that the 9mm bullet would stagger even the largest and most berserk of attackers, and drop them when hit in the center of mass.

And as for the common 5.56 round used in M16s and M4s, it has a similar purpose. It's common knowledge that older rifles had a significantly larger round to produce more stopping power and increase range, but many people question why we would use the smaller round when it has less killing power.

The answer, of course, is that we're not trying to kill the people. Which sounds silly, but we're really not. We're trying to disable them, so they quit fighting. The smaller round means that we can carry more ammunition on each and every soldier, so we can disable yet more enemies. It's beautiful. The fact that the rounds fragment and tumble is entirely irrelevant.

It makes intuitive sense that medieval warfare would be the exact same way. Combat is not to the death, but to the disable. If you've stabbed a man in the chest, as long as he no longer wishes to fight, it doesn't matter if he'll make it or if he bleeds out. You've defeated him, and now it's time to move on.

So I guess my position is somewhere in between. I don't see a problem with 1d4 hit points, when you consider that zero hit points doesn't mean death, it means disabled, and that a man can be brough back from near death with medicine, time, and a little luck. And I don't honestly see a problem with zero level humans having more hit points, although I've never particularly been a big fan of hit points as health. You can look at my house rules for wounds for a little bit on this. I've long been toying with the idea that only hit points at first level are actual "health" and that maybe you only get the one level of actual hit points and everything else just adds, I dunno, some sort of other toughness type thing and it's only a flesh wound until you get to actual health. It's what I was trying to do with a simple wound system, anyways.

But before I digress further, I have a busy day ahead of me- gotta look at some new houses (I'm moving!) and then go to class before they scratch me off the roster. I already paid, so I have to go sometimes.

This is an interesting enough topic to potentially get two parts.


  1. I guess that is why I like the Death & Dismemberment tables out there. Now it all makes sense: hit points is the life energy that is draining away, rolling on the table is about being incapacitated or killed.

  2. You also have to consider where hit points came from, which was a sop to players who complained that their characters could only take one hit before being killed. Arneson gave them hit points, so that not every blow was necessarily a killing blow.

  3. @Alex: I hear you. It's one of the reasons I really like the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay system of rolling on this big chart to see if you lose an eye or an arm or whatever.

    @Paladin: My main beef is that hit points increase linearly by level, so that a level two character is twice as tough as a level one character. I think a more gradual improvement would be more useful to simulating a coherent fantasy world.

  4. Well, you heard that story wrong. 9mm is aproximately 32 caliber. It was a round developed by the Germans (Walther corp IIRC) prior to WWI. It is a short round meaning there is not a lot of caseing and thus not a lot of room for powder. Its not a powerful or especially large round.

    In the 1890's the US army used a not too different 32 caliber round that was decidedly weak - a fault that became very apparent during the Phillipine Inssurection (1899-1902). Daniel Wesson, of Smith and Wesson redisigned the round to give it a larger caseing and more stopping power - the now famouse S&W 32. The army meanwhile, developed the 45 caliber that was the standard pistol roud until the 1980's. The main reason they switched to 9mm is because they are cheaper (as are the 5.56 (22 caliber) rifle rounds) and because its what all the Nato forces use.

  5. @DHBoggs: That's a lot to type about a throwaway mention to a 9mm that doesn't affect the point of the article in the least.

    Sorry if I'm testy, but I used to get this all the time from one or two people (the fuckers) overseas- I couldn't talk for five minutes without them giving me a lengthy, pedantic, and boring account of the history of fucking hammers or something.

  6. Hey dude, follow my Errant blog and I will toss you an Alpha copy so you can see the solution I came up with for my retroclone. It is not exactly the way you have been spinning your ideas the past couple days, but it is similar in terms of results while also making people afraid of getting hit for reasons beyond death.

  7. N.Wright, I need an e-mail address to fulfill your request on my blog, dude.

  8. I've almost always played it that HP represent more luck and stamina rather than ability to be shot, stabbed, or fire-balled.