Sunday, 18 January 2015

The Ubiquitous Hit Point Question

Truth be told, I don’t much like combat. I think Machiavelli was entirely correct in his assertion that war cannot be avoided, but only postponed to one’s own disadvantage; and there are situations in which violence seems inevitable; but I don’t relish these the way I do explorations of food, landscapes, architecture, personalities, or just about anything else. I’m persuaded that it’s generally healthier for everyone if the eventualities of combat are minimised rather than actively sought and prolonged. Thus it should be no surprise that in seeking to revise the unmitigated disaster that passes for combat rules in AD&D, I tend to envision systems in which players are motivated to evade injury rather than those in which they gaily dance before those who want to hack them into little pieces. 

We have been using a system in which characters are rewarded with XP for damage given, more for damage taken, and still more for the value of wealth gained through combat. In the particular case of one character, to whom the Player’s Handbook granted ominous bonuses to attack rolls and hit dice for his ridiculously high STR and CON scores, it soon became obvious to the player that the surest route to success was to sustain as much damage as he possibly could, which was a lot more than any of the other characters could do. He climbed levels faster than everyone else, and his HP became exponentially greater. Until he went berserk and got himself slain, but this is another tale.

For the Minoa session we tried a system akin to that of Spells and Steel: HP are static, measuring how much a living body can stand before destruction, not changing as the character advances in level. Rather, AC would be lowered in tandem with THAC0, according to character class. The function of armour would be to absorb the first few HP of damage from an attack rather than these going directly to a character’s body. Choices for armour in this setting are limited, with the best types shown in the sketches below. 

Cisseus, the myrmidon, sports the best armour of the period, a bell cuirass and a pair of metal greaves. Demetrius wears a makeshift set of gladiator’s armour composed partly of metal and partly of leather. Armour was assigned a number of HP it absorbs, based on construction and material. For trial, we said the myrmidon’s armour absorbs three points of damage and the gladiator’s two points, but these could be amended further by applying a greater number of damage absorption to the armoured parts and none at all the the exposed parts. When an attack roll is successful, we roll a hit location die (12-sided, listing parts of the body) along with the die for HP damage. For Cisseus, the exposed body vulnerable to hit location dice would be the neck, arms, and thighs; these should sustain full attack damage if hit, with the exception of ‘Legs’ which might or might not refer to a  protected portion. (There’s no ‘Groin’ on the hit location die, but I think there should be.) For Demetrius, ‘Chest’ would be the obvious target. His right arm, covered in metal, would be protected more than the left, with only leather. Perhaps on a hit to the right arm the first five HP of damage could be ignored, and perhaps only the first three if the left. Armour would have to be repaired later, at some expense. 

(Shields didn't come up because no one used them, but similar calculations would have to be made for them.)

Assent to this system was not unanimous at the table. My goal, however, is reducing confusion; HP as we had been playing them had almost no connection to the reality of combat. Players were often unsure of whether or not they had actually taken a blow each time they lost HP, and often seemed to find it impossible to visualise what was happening during the fight. 

Briefly, we tried a system based on the French game Simulacres, but the modifiers to the attack roles required that the only person at the table who understood the rules consult a chart and perform calculations while everyone else just zoned out while waiting for him and having no choice but to trust his interpretation. Combat dragged. 

It was also a bone of contention for anal me that we were limited to three six-sided dice, which don’t allow fine enough gradations of percentage—and I can see the same argument being made against fighters jumping an AC every level and mages one every three, which are much coarser gradations than the numbers generated by different hit dice. It just seems it would be far easier to understand and visualise. I’d like some help from the players in nailing down a system that doesn’t make everyone’s eyes glaze over every time we roll the dice. 

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