Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Let's Talk Hit Points

Delta's recent post on natural healing through the editions prompted me to look back through my blog for some post or other on the subject, because I was sure I'd addressed this before (possibly more than once). However, I found nothing which means I failed to label the post, it's embedded in the comments somewhere, or else the conversation I've had was done on someone else's blog in years past. So I decided to consolidate my thoughts on the nature of hit points (and how non-magical healing works) in one place: here.

I started my gaming career with the Moldvay basic set about 36 years ago; long before the advent of video games with "health bars" (pools of points that must be depleted before "losing" an avatar), but even so I could grok the concept. Dungeons and Dragons was a game, right? And I'd played games before: different ships in the old Milton Bradley game Battleship could take different numbers of "hits" before being "sunk." A fighter in D&D wasn't much different from a battleship or aircraft carrier, a cleric or elf was more like a cruiser, while thieves and magic-users were the lowly destroyer. Easy enough to grasp.

Hit points in Moldvay are simply defined on page B6 as

...the number of "points" of damage a character or monster can take during battle before dying.

with no additional explanation being given. The reader is told how to calculate the points, how damage interacts with the points, and how they are healed (by natural rest, if not by magic). No other information is provided...but for a nine year old child, what more does one need? The PCs and NPCs are simply playing pieces in a game, no different from the plastic boats in the aforementioned game.

Even at high levels, when a character has scores of hit points, the whys and wherefores matter little, because PCs generally won't be needing to rest in bed for months to recover from injuries...ready access to high level healing magic makes sure characters are up and recovered in very short periods of time. And who cares what happens to the monsters!

But what if you have a game with little access to healing magic (for whatever reason). What if it's important to know and understand why healing takes so long? What if you have players complain that the "normal human" can recover from a near-mortal wound in a day, while the high level character can take weeks (or months!) of bed rest to feel 100%?

Okay, that's enough preamble; let's hash this out once and for all.

I've written before of the origin of hit points, as an evolution of the Chainmail combat system originally used for running Arneson's Blackmoor campaign. Gygax gives the best explanation of what hit points represent "in game" in the text of his (1st edition) AD&D books:
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...thus, the majority of hit points are symbolic of combat skill, luck (bestowed by supernatural powers), and magical forces.
Players Handbook, page 34
It is quite unreasonable to assume that as a character gains levels of ability in his or her class that a corresponding gain in actual ability to sustain physical damage takes place. It is preposterous to state such an assumption, for if we are to assume that a man is killed by a sword thrust which 4 points of damage, we must assume that a hero could, on the the average, withstand five such thrusts before being slain! Why then the increase in hit points? Because these reflect both the actual physical ability of the character to withstand damage - as indicated by constitution bonuses - and a commensurate increase in such areas as skill in combat and similar life-or-death situations...therefore, constitution affects both actual ability to withstand physical punishment hit points (physique) and the immeasurable areas which involve the sixth sense and luck (fitness).
Dungeon Masters Guide, page 82

One should note the implied difference between player hit points and monster hit points (this is inferred more strongly in the DMG text on combat, page 61): monster hit points represent actual physical damage that can be sustained before expiration; player character hit points represent both that AND "something more."

Leaving out the "magical forces" description which is a bit of a hand wave (oh, it's just magic, let it go), I can totally buy into combat ability and "fitness." It explains why fighters roll more dice for HPs than other classes; it explains why constitution adds to these extra hit points (and in the case of AD&D, add more hit points to fighter types). Assuming that a single successful attack roll delivers an amount of "potential damage" sufficient to slay a normal (non-heroic) human...i.e. one mortal wound...those extra hit points represent the character bobbing and weaving, parrying blows with shields and weapons, expending energy and slowly bleeding away life-force to fatigue. It's not that the constitution bonus implies a character getting beefier over time (with experience)...instead, it's the character's high fitness level acting as a "force multiplier" for the character's skill at defending herself.

[see other posts on D6 damage justification, variable weapon damageshields...even this bit about battleaxes...for earlier discussions on this concept]

[please note (regaring the battleaxe) that I am currently at peace with the weapon as presented in B/X. Apologies for the digression]

So then...back to healing: per the research presented in Delta's post, the human body can take weeks to recover from wounds; up to 12 weeks in the case of broken bones, but even 3 weeks for minor injuries. Presumably, a character with multiple injuries (i.e. a character who has taken damage from multiple sources: traps, falling, combat encounters, etc.) will take longer to heal as the body is forced to divide its recuperative ability amongst many damage spots. This "real world" study compares rather favorably to B/X healing time at high levels; for example:

  • A 36th level fighter with maximum hit points (144 for 18 constitution) would, on average, require 76 days of bed rest (just under eleven weeks) to heal from one hit point.
  • A 36th level fighter with average hit points (94, no constitution bonus) would, on average, require 47 days of bed rest (six and a half weeks) to heal from one hit point.
  • A 14th level fighter (usual B/X max) with average hit points and a 13 constitution (59 hit points total) would require an average of 30 days to recover fully from one hit point (a bit more than four weeks).

Now I understand that, while the numbers seem within the realm of reason for the human body's ability to heal, one might wonder why it takes so much longer for a high level character to recover than a low level character. For that matter, why would it take longer for a fighter to recover than a magic-user (who, of course, has fewer hit points), let alone a normal human (who can recover from one hit point in a single day!)?

The answer lies in the abstract nature of hit points: damage sustained is subjective based on the individual suffering the damage. The simple explanation is that the injuries sustained by the high level fighter are more grievous than the wizard (or lower level character) precisely because the character has the capacity for sustaining more grievous injury!

A normal human in B/X has a range of 1-4 when it comes to hit points. Most one hit dice creatures have a range of 1-8 (implying that monster constitution bonuses and "fight-worthiness" are factored into that range). In heroic fiction...the type on which D&D is based...these creatures are represented of the various mooks dispatched with impunity by the likes of Conan, Sonja, Aragorn, etc. Are they made of glass, shattering into a million pieces at the touch of a war hammer? No, but they might as well be for the gleeful way they seem to throw themselves on the point of a blade.

For such opponents their lack of hit points represents a lack of survivability...a lack of the ability to prevent the mortal blow from landing. They are retired from the fight early...whereas the experienced adventurer has greater skills of self preservation precisely because of their experience the fighter's case...their greater combat ability. The blow that shatters the arm of a high level fighter (necessitating a longer period of rehabilitation) would shatter the skull of the poor wizard, leaving her finely tuned brain slopped on the floor.

Characters of lesser ability suffer lesser wounds...or they suffer mortal ones. There's really no in-between.

And this makes perfect sense, considering the pseudo-medieval setting. Without the presence of clerical magic, the setting of D&D is not one that includes paramedics, ambulance rides, and ER visits. Chiurgy is presumed to be primitive, unsanitary, relying on leeches and superstition. In such a setting, when deprived of magic, characters have no choice but to rely on their own ability to heal and pray their wounds aren't serious (and that they don't become infected).

To me, this makes it crystal clear why Gygax caps natural healing at four weeks, regardless of damage taken (see DMG, page 82, "Recovery of Hit Points"): a character's injuries are moderate enough that they can heal them in a month's time, or they won't be healing at all. Any type of injury that would require more than four weeks of natural healing means the type of wound that killed folks back in the days before modern medicine.

B/X is largely based on OD&D and Supplement I, both for its hit point totals and its healing. As such, it has a bit more "heroic fantasy" and "game" in its system than AD&D (which was written and refined after OD&D and its supplements). It's a bit less crunchy with the unhappy truths of the medieval world (no random disease tables, no aging penalties, no real taxes or tithes) than its Advanced counterpart...and as such I can understand why it allows natural healing that might take up to three months time. However, I find it far from unreasonable to scale healing as it does given the abstract nature of hit points, damage, and combat in its system.

Certainly I find it far more reasonable than the default way health and healing is modeled in 4th and 5th editions.

BY THE WAY (sorry...almost signed off): just a couple more things.

  • On the healing of monsters: as the natural healing of a player character is presumed to be "human scale" (that is D3 hit points per day of bed rest is good for a 1 HD human), my initial thought is that any monster engaged in natural healing should recover a multiple of hit points equal to its hit dice. For example, a hill giant (8 HD) should recover D3 hit points X8 per day of rest. Though I 'd probably want to do some research into whether or not large animals (like elephants) heal wounds and injuries at the same rate as humans. If so, that seems perfectly reasonable to me.
  • On the nature of falling damage: this has long been a sticky subject. While it is possible to die from a short fall (10'-20'), most folks don't, and I've been told by rock-climbing friends that almost all falls 50' or more will kill you dead in our planet's gravity (though there have been some amazing survivals)...and I presume this would be the case even with a large creature, like an elephant. The best I could come up to model "realistic" falling damage is to assign a gradually increasing damage die, again based on "human scale." So:
10' - 1D4 damage (multiplied by hit dice)
20' - 1D6 damage (multiplied by hit dice)
30' - 1D8 damage (multiplied by hit dice)
40' - 1D10 damage (multiplied by hit dice)
50' - 1D12 damage (multiplied by hit dice)
60'+ - 1D20 damage (multiplied by hit dice)

I suppose some DMs might want to ramp the damage dice up to D% for a truly humongous distance but, as it is, a 50'+ distance fall has a good chance of killing even a high level character or monster (*PLEASE NOTE* "hit dice" for adventurers would max out at NINE for 9th (name) level and greater in B/X, providing a slightly higher level of survivability for such characters...even for falls of 60+ feet...because of their bonus HPs. I suppose we can attribute some of their staying power to "magic" after all!).

; )

Monday, March 19, 2018

That Scary New World

It's been a long while since I last wrote about Lamentations of the Flame Princess, and rereading my blog post from 2012, I see I wasn't all that flattering in my appraisal. To be fair, I was extremely tired at the time (thus prone to crankiness) with a new baby and whatnot. Today I am ALSO operating on less-than-optimal sleep, but I'd still like to revise my opinion...somewhat.

See, a couple-four weeks back I had the chance to catch most of that old Daniel Day Lewis film The Last of the Mohicans (based on James Fenimore Cooper's famous novel...but who has time to read 19th century novels these days), and I started to see how adventuring in the new world, with blade and musket, could be pretty darn cool, especially when paired with the supernatural backwoods evil found in stuff like Twin Peaks. Combining Disney's Pocahontas with Lovecraftian horror. It's a pretty heady mixture.

And while I'm NOT really a horror aficionado (certainly not of the zombie or splatter-film variety) creepy supernatural and the folks at odds - or in cahoots - with it, are something I find darn interesting. Also went and streamed that 2009 Solomon Kane film (as a follow-up), and while I found the, "less Kane" than I'd hoped for, it still had some nice little set pieces and a real call back to the days when folks were making films about the power of Christ as a shield against Satanic evil while NOT preaching to us about the need to accept Jesus as our savior.

[I mean, did attendance at Catholic Mass go up after The Exorcist hit the theaters? I'd guess the answer is "not substantially." But a lot of "Christian fantasy" the last couple decades seems squarely in the vein of proselytizing, and I'm not really into that]

[apologies to people who are, by the way]

Anyway, I went out and picked up a hard copy of Lamentations a couple days later...the latest hardcover copy (Rules and Magic), published in 2017. Wow.

Let me say that again: wow. Not only is it aesthetically beautiful, extremely practical, and the perfect size for use at the table, but it is completely no nonsense with its approach to defining its systems, The design of thing is absolutely wonderful, providing a tight interconnection with the assumed setting, and containing most everything one needs to play the game...except, of course, for the referee section.

Beautiful art; beautiful
economy of design.
Unfortunately for me, that's the whole reason I went looking for LotFP: I wanted a copy of the current referee guide so I could read about this scary 15th-17th century setting and how the adventure creation, monsters, etc. interacted with the LotFP "world." Because, as with (arguably) every edition of Dungeons & Dragons, there are unwritten expectations and presumptions of the setting to be found between the lines of the game system. LotFP is no different, but I wanted to see what Raggi had to say explicitly regarding that addition to rules interaction.

Welp, disappointed am I as Book 2 of the set isn't yet available for purchase. Yes, I understand I can get the old version, gratis, from the LotFP web site. Yes, I know there are folks writing adventures and campaigns for use with LotFP that I could pick up and use as a jumping off point (including older LotFP adventures). That's not really what I'm looking for...what I want is a beautiful little Referee Core Book to go along with this beautiful little Player Core Book. And I'm willing to wait (semi-patiently) for it.

Because the Player Core Book is a friggin' masterpiece.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Classic Rock

I've been a fan of KJR, "Seattle's classic rock station" (what my brother and I call "contractor radio"), ever since last summer when I spent 4-5 weeks hand-laying (literal) tons of stone and gravel to create a backyard "patio." Most of the station's music is square in my wheelhouse, and I can't for the life of me figure out why I never listened to it before (KJR has been around for decades) perhaps that they play too much Pink Floyd and Beatles for my taste.

[the Stones as well, and their songs are a little hit-or-miss for me. I'm much higher on other 70's rock bands]

But as the decades of my youth (i.e. the '80s and '90s) fall into the era considered "oldies," I suppose it's only natural that I'd evolve a taste for such programming. When I was a kid, you'd have to tune into the "Metal" station to hear acts like Metallica or AC/DC. Now that they're considered "classic rock," I roll with KJR when I'm cruising down the highway, looking for cheap tunes to blast out my windows.

Which is one of the reasons AD&D keeps poking its head into my brain.

I've written before how, in many cases, I associate particular music with particular games. There's a good reason for this: it was not unusual for me, in my youth, to close myself in my bedroom with both a new RPG and a new album, listening to the latter over-and-over on my headphones even as I read, reread, and learned new game systems and settings. This is why, for example, I associate Vampire the Masquerade with Faith No More (The Real Thing), and Rifts with Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti. Sometimes I don't even remember (usually) what I was listening to at the's actually hearing the music that triggers the memory of a never trigger memories of music, for whatever reason.

So it is that lately I've been hearing a lot of the music from Def Leppard's album Hysteria on the classic rock station and having AD&D flashbacks.

Their best album? Maybe. It's
this or High N Dry.
Of course, I played D&D (and AD&D) long before I started listening to Def Leppard (or any music that was personally opposed to being standard pop radio fare). But by the time Hysteria came out (circa 1987) I was very, very deep into AD&D gaming. There was no B/X in those days; the transition from D&D to Advanced and from pre-published modules to our own campaign settings, story arcs, and adventures was (more-or-less) complete. Hearing its songs, I find myself constantly being surprised by the depths of nostalgia that come gushing out of me. Really startling!

You see, I haven't really listened to that music in decades. When I was a kid listening to it, I didn't even own an official copy of the album, just a dubbed cassette tape made for me by my best friend and co-DM. And can you imagine how long it's been since I've listened to a cassette tape...any cassette, let alone a copy that had been worn thin and tired by constant repetitive play? By the time I moved into CDs, I wasn't listening to Def Leppard anymore, and when music went electronic I never went out and acquired was never uploaded into my iPod or laptop.

Furthermore, it wasn't anything in rotation on the radio since the 1980s. Def Leppard put out that stupid commercial album Adrenalized ("Let's Get Rocked?!") that even my mother bought (I never did) and went onto the pop stations before fading into the background. The metal stations (of which there were never many) played Metallica and Megadeth and (later) stuff like Korn and Disturbed, while "alt rock" stations started a heavy rotation of grunge and indie bands (or later imitators). Hysteria, despite being a huge commercial success at the time, all but disappeared from public airwaves and from my thoughts, save when I heard someone doing a karaoke version of "Pour Some Sugar on Me."

Man, I remember going to Laser Def Leppard at the Pacific Science Center as a young teen (with my fellow AD&D players), almost certainly getting a contact high from the weed being smuggled and smoked by the older folks at the midnight showing. Way back before I had ANY vices to speak of.


I suppose what I need to do is pony up the cash and download the album onto my iTunes app and give the whole thing a solid listen. Probably in a dimly lit room, surrounded by copies of my 1st edition AD&D books, wallowing in nostalgia. I'm not really sure what the effect would be: would I feel transported back to my youth? Or would I simply feel as ancient as I do every time I tune into the "classic rock" station and do a mental calculation of how many years its been since an old favorite was first released.

I'm the one in the chair:
the rotting corpse.
Jeez. This must be something like what my father used to feel when he listened to his "Oldies" station, back in the day. Rocking out to the tunes of the 60's when he was living in the 1980's, complaining at the lack of decent music.

I am such an old man.

"With Great Power Comes Great Mental Illness..."

Apologies, apologies. Yes, I disappeared for a damn long time's been a pretty busy month and a half. So sorry.

[what happened to the Middle Earth "guide?" Um...let me get back to you on that]

I gave up drinking (alcohol) for Lent this year and it's been a fairly tough go. Not (just) because I'm a (functioning) alcoholic...going without doesn't give me the shakes or anything like that. It's just that I'm so used to having a drink or three just in the course of doing, watching a game, going out, streaming some show. Not to mention I've been mainlining NPR since the end of the football season and alcohol really helps take the edge off of whatever the Trump administration is doing these days...


Caught myself actually thinking about wanting a smoke the other day, and it's been nearly two decades since I last had a cigarette. Crazy. Instead I pounded a box of Girl Scout cookies ("thin" mints) over the course of three days (my daughter did help). Obviously, I'm a man who needs his vices.

So hear I sit, drinking yet another can of LaCroix (because it's cold and bubbly and, no, I don't know why I don't just drink water, dammit). But at least I'm blogging something, which is a start. Got to start somewhere. Even after you've started, sometimes it's necessary to start again.

And again. And again.

I'm going to talk about Shadowrun in a minute, but I just need to get a couple things out there first. I have been gaming a lot lately, but it's been almost exclusively Axis and Allies, which was a Christmas gift to my son, and which we've been playing non-stop for three or four weeks. We're using the 1941 rules, which are wonderful...the game is short and streamlined compared to other versions, and you can get through a game in about an evening and a half. We've played probably a dozen times, my son resetting the board after every defeat (no, he hasn't won yet, but he loves the thing and he's stubborn as hell...kind of like his old man).

We're even experimenting with our own rules. We wanted to add giant diesel-powered mecha to the board (inspired by the Japanime/manga Kishin Corps, as well as Pacific Rim), but haven't been able to decide on rules for the things. Instead our most recent game has introduced kaiju (giant monsters, a la Godzilla or...again...Pacific Rim), to act as a neutral, third party "spoiler." Jury's still out on their inclusion (we're in the middle of our first game using them), but we'll see if they'll swing the tide of the war one way or another...or if they simply devastate civilization while world's powers burn each other to the ground.

Something like this...
So, yes, I am doing "tabletop gaming" (of a sort), and A&A isn't the only one, though it's the only one worth mentioning. I was really, really looking hard at rewriting Heroes Unlimited to my own specs...and I may still do so...but when I open the book and start hacking through jungle I find it Just...So...Daunting. Hats off to Mr. Siembieda for actually putting together this thing...I mean, I couldn't (certainly wouldn't) put together these lists of gadgets for hardware characters and implants for bionic character and this system of magic, and All These Random Tables, and...and...

(*double sigh*) It's actually kind of hard deciding what exactly to keep.

But I did get a little inspired watching the new season of Jessica Jones this last week; at least, binging it added fuel to the smoldering blaze. I've decided I LOVE Jessica Jones (the show, not the character). Unlike prior Marvel Netflix shows, the new season of JJ is awesome right out of the gate, rather than waiting 2-3 episodes to find its feet. It does hit its peak about three episodes from the end season, resulting in a looooong denouement but...whatever. The show is filled with such bitterness and sadness and melancholy, you KNOW how it's all going to end, even if you're not sure the exact path the plot takes to get there. And you're already bought in, so...yeah. Tears and booze. And regrets and recriminations. Jessica Jones.

She really reminds me of a girl or two I used to know.

Even added the Whizzer!
With mongoose!
Anyhoo, the thing about JJ (and ALL the Marvel Netflix series) is how "small time" the superhero world is in the setting. And Heroes Unlimited may be...hmmm, I'm not exactly sure what I want to say.

...may be the only supers RPG that does small time(?)

...may be the "best" supers RPG at doing small time(?)

Probably something like "may be my personal favorite RPG for doing small time." And yet every revision, every supplement has seen increases in the power level of the game. Never mind Rifts and its (wholly compatible) madness. But if you dial that power creep way down, you can really start to see a good system for modeling the likes of Jessica Jones and her associates (not to mention antagonists). It's just that looking at the words "good system" makes me want to guffaw aloud as I consider Palladium's systems. So, so sorry.

SO...Shadowrun. I picked up a copy of the 4th edition the other day (I think it's the says "20th Anniversary Core Rulebook" on the cover). I did this for a couple reasons: first, it was dirt cheap ($9.99, used). Second, I wanted to see what was new and great  and "happening" with Shadowrun, thinking maybe it would galvanize me to take action with my long unpublished Cry Dark Future manuscript. However, I've yet to read page one of the tome (it's sitting in bed next to me as I type this) because...well, because I've been busy. And maybe because I'm lacking the heart (or stomach) to look betwixt its covers.

This one...pretty sure it's
the fourth edition.
HOWEVER (still with me folks? Okay, almost done)...however, even though I've been lugging this thing around in my backpack, NOT reading it, it's been on my mind a bit. And so, when I was in a local game shop Wednesday, making the acquaintance of the 23 year old store manager and found out her RPG experience was mainly with Shadowrun, I found myself not only talking about my own experience with the SR game, but about my own, unpublished, SR-knockoff. And I ended up giving her an old manuscript Thursday, and picking up her feedback Friday. AND, as was the case SIX YEARS AGO (jumping Jesus on a pogo stick!), the comments were universally positive. There is, apparently, still a market for Shadowrun (who'd have thunk it?), and one that has serious complaints about the RPG's current level of accessibility (low), and that might find real enjoyment in something a little more "lightweight" while keeping the same Shadow-isms.

In other words, publish the damn thing already.

Now for those of you who have followed this blog for...Christ, years!...for those who've been following the saga of this thing, you might recall that I basically started rewriting the whole damn book from scratch, making it much more of a post-apocalyptic fantasy game. Something like Appleseed (at least the cinematic version) with elves and dwarves. Ralph Bakshi's Wizards meets Thundarr meets Heavy Metal meets Ghost in the Shell. With pointy ears. And VERY different game systems (especially pertaining to character creation, advancement/development, and material resources). A complete frigging overhaul might be a good way to describe it. An overhaul that I have never completed.

Here's the thing I've just realized in the last couple days (as I dug up and reread both my original manuscript and the current, unfinished rewrite): the overhaul is a different game. It has the same name, and a few of the systems but the setting and theme are completely different. Hell, the name "Cry Dark Future" doesn't even fit. Dark future? Whose future? Tolkien's? It's post-apocalyptic fantasy, it's not "future" anything. Hell, even the guns are about the same as current (real world) technology...the only thing "futuristic" is the cybernetics, and those could just as easily be skinned as magical or steampunk or whatever.

What I really have on my hand are two different books. One finished and one not. Two games, not one. The finished one is even playable.

It is, though, in need of a lot of polishing. Rereading it really made me cringe in places. I kind of hate how I wrote it: my style, my wording. It does need an overhaul, but mainly in phrasing. It needs to be clearer, more succinct and useful in conveying its rules. And it needs to be more creative in how it models certain in-game systems.

So, yeah. Looks like I'm back to finishing Cry Dark Future. Just to put it to bed...finally.

Expect the blogging to be light and sporadic for the near future. Again: apologies.