Tuesday, August 11, 2009

There Can Be Only One (Hit Point Remaining)

Caught the end of the classic film, Highlander, on AMC the other day (man, I love that high def…I’ve seen this flick dozens of times, but can’t remember the last time the picture was so sweet!).

Anyhoo, me being me and thinking in terms of what I’ve been thinking lately (i.e. “with regard to D&D of the B/X variety”), I couldn’t help but try to fit that final sword-swinging confrontation in terms of abstract combat.

As I’ve written before, D&D “is what it is.” You roll a D20 to see if your attack does damage, then you roll another die or dice to see how much damage you inflict should the attack succeed. Armor reduces the probability that one will take damage at all, “armor class” being a reflection not only of the armor’s inherent damage reducing capacity, but also accounting for the use of that armor in defense of one’s person (i.e. chain mail is not 10% more durable than leather armor, but a guy in leather is much more maneuverable than a guy in full mail, and the net gain for wearing chain is only 10%).

However, armor IS the main way of mitigating damage in D&D (by detracting from one’s to hit roll)…and these characters in the Highlander movie aren’t wearing ANY. Hell, you’d think they at least consider sporting a gorget, right?

[side note: would an enchanted gorget be proof against a vorpal blade? Something to consider as a miscellaneous item for my B/X Companion]

Since both the Highlander and the Kurgan would be (in D&D terms) high level fighters (based on their centuries of “adventuring experience”), they will probably be hitting (i.e. doing damage) every round against their AC 9 (B/X remember?) foe. Not to mention falling damage, possibly electrical damage, etc. Hell, how many hit points do these guys have?

Yes, I realize that comparing a FILM to an RPG is comparing apples to oranges…these are two different artistic mediums and they do NOT need to translate directly from one to another. However, combat being such an important component of D&D, one (me) would certainly like to model these cinematic sword fights in D&D.

But how does one accomplish this when the system is not set up to do so?

I watch our two protagonists beat and beat and beat at each other’s blades as they move back and forth through a darkened warehouse. Even with, say, a -2 penalty in the gloom, these guys are only going to need 4s or so to hit each other. Heck that’s easier than Palladium melee…and B/X D&D doesn’t have rules for parrying or fighting defensively.

And then of course I realize…these guys are immortal!

Now it all makes perfect sense! If I hadn’t started watching the movie from the rooftop battle, I probably would have remembered this sooner. Who needs armor when one can heal from most any wound? Assuming they’re regenerating at least 3-4 hit points per round (which would seem to be about right), they could certainly be absorbing the average (or majority of the average) damage every round. And hit points being an abstract measure of one’s “to kill” factor, the one or two points of “fatigue” getting through would simply be the beating that they’re taking on their blades. Can they continue to grip those swords, yes or no?

Now of course, the real question is: how does the weaker Highlander overcome the stronger Kurgan? And the answer of course is: cinematic license. Um…that is to say, he has "more heart."

But in D&D, one doesn’t have a rule system for “heart.” Oh, I suppose a benevolent DM with a story-minded attitude might confer a +1 circumstance bonus to the character fighting for the life of his lover, but I would think that, in general, both opponents are impassioned enough about the situation (the final confrontation), that all such bonuses would be evened out.

Assuming that both are the equivalent of 36th level fighters (the human maximum) and have a similar amount of hit points, have weapons that do similar average damage, and regenerate at the same rate, then it would be a flip of the coin (or a roll of initiative) to determine who would end up victorious in the fight. Perhaps the edge would go to the Kurgan (whose strength I’d put at 18 compared to the Highlander’s 13-15) in damage output…depending on the mitigation of their regeneration rate.

EXCEPT THAT: the girl interferes. During the final dual, the Highlander’s novia (I forget her name…Stacey?) whacks the Kurgan with a metal pipe. Now being a cop, Stacey’s got to have some melee training, even if she’s no great shakes compared to the immortals. But she has enough hit points to stand against the Kurgan herself for a round (without being killed). Her interference accomplishes two things:

  • It does extra damage to the Kurgan helping to even out any deficit suffered by the Highlander in earlier rounds.
  • It distracts the Kurgan enough to give the Highlander an extra round or two of regeneration.

These things together are enough to give the Highlander a slight edge over his opponent in terms of hit point attrition. A couple of (lucky) high damage rolls later, and the game is all over save for the Quickening and the Prize.

(there are no special rules for decapitating opponents in D&D…I would assume that once one immortal reaches 0 hit points, the opponent can automatically choose to take his head with the blow…I mean, that’s what they train for after all)

In the end, it IS the Highlander’s “heart” that wins the fight…as he used his (medium range) Charisma and role-playing to pick up a companion NPC that managed to turn the tide in his favor. Hey, but that’s D&D. Quite often the antagonist(s) are stronger than the PCs, and it is only through cooperation and teamwork that they can overcome the “Big Bad.”

Not a bad little mental exercise.

[by the way: I did at one point own Legacy: the Invisible War. I have since sold it back to the game shop where it remains on the “used” game shelf to this day. While not inherently bad, it was inherently “blah,” such that even I could have written similar…and it would NOT model the final fight between Highlander and Kurgan any better than B/X D&D in my opinion]


  1. I almost played Legacy once. I had a rather nifty concept for it too--my guy was gonna be from Ancient Crete, a specialist in "dead languages" in his current cover, and the only person on Earth who read Linear A.

    We never actually got around to playing though. I guess we dodged a blah bullet.

    The only specific role-playing thoughts I ever had wrt Highlander was when our RPG group realized that the immortals each corresponded to the preferred PC template trends of various players...

  2. I am probably being a little hard on Legacy...I mean, SOMEONE had the gumption to write up their version of a Highlander RPG. I think my main beef was the pseudo-goth-cyber-punk vibe. Playing cyber-punk Highlander smells a little too much like Highlander 2, IMO.

    "...when our RPG group realized that the immortals each corresponded to the preferred PC template trends of various players..."

    What the hell does THAT mean? Honestly...I really have no idea and you've made me fairly curious.

  3. I hear you regarding the gothpunk feel. It was the '90s, what can you do...

    As for my other comment, I realized after posting it that it may have been a bit garbled. All I meant was that our group each saw the sort of character we tended to play, regardless of genre, reflected in one of the film's characters. One of us tended to play badass psycho-brutes like the Kurgan, one (myself) gallant, jovial eccentrics like Ramirez,one glowering but slyly witty types like Connor, and one the laid-back gregarious Kastagir sort.