This is another post on what seems to be turning into a series of re-imaginings of D&D-style RPG play. In fact, I’ve gone to Obsidian Portal and started creating a wiki in order to keep everything organized; for the curious, it can be found here.
The most recent target of my de- and re-construction is “hit points.” Briefly, hit points (HP) are a nebulous and problematic concept — for a far more thorough discussion of the weirdness that is “hit points” by a far more knowledgeable guy, try here. Generally your character will have a supply of HP with a preordained maximum. Taking damage from enemy attacks, falling, kitchen accidents, etc. subtracts HP from the supply; losing them all means the character dies, or at least is hovering on death’s door. Magical healing and medical care can bring the supply back up, but no higher than the maximum.
I kind of want to combine hit points with stamina and Call-of-Cthulhu-style Sanity stat (“mental hit points,” if you will). Then I flip the polarity: no more subtraction, and no more counter-intuitive situations with “negative hit points.”
Survival Meters and Depletion Meters
My proposal is for three separate “meters” representing the character’s ability to withstand physical and mental wear and tear. The first will be good old hit points; the second, endurance (points?); and the third, stability.
- Hit points, in this conception, are not so much the measure of one’s ability to stay alive despite harm, as they are the measure of one’s ability to keep standing and doing stuff instead of collapsing in agony. This neatly resolves one of the problems with D&D-style HP; namely, how hard it can be to believe that a character has no “hurting and hampered” state between “fine” and “dead.”
- Endurance is the ability to carry on despite physical exertion, sleep deprivation, lack of food, and other things that cause lethargy in the body. Sprinters and marathoners may both be powerful runners, but the latter have greater endurance. My hope is that an endurance mechanic can act as a foundation for other useful systems, and perhaps provide a limiter encouraging combat to be short and decisive.
- Stability is the mind’s resilience in the face of stress and shock. I have a deep fondness for sanity mechanics, but not so much for fire-and-forget Vancian magic. I see one of the main uses of Stability in being a limiter on magic use, but that’s hardly the only thing that can be done with it.
Each of these meters is then paired with a “depletion meter” — a measure of the bad stuff that the character has to deal with. Respectively, these are damage, fatigue, and strain.
- Damage is anything that harms the physical body on the macro level: burns, gashes, punctures, crushing. I’m thinking there’s “major” and “minor” damage, where the former represents potentially life-threatening types of injury, while the latter is potentially painful or incapacitating (bashed nerves, cuts and scrapes, etc.) but not lethal.
- Fatigue is a combination of tiredness from sustained activity, soreness or stiffness arising after intense activity, tiring environmental factors, and so on.
- Strain is anything that disrupts the normal function of the psyche. This can be anything from the horrors of lethal combat, to beholding Great Old Ones, to bending your mind into the illogical patterns of magic. Perhaps, as with damage, this should be divided into two kinds representing long-term issues versus temporary stresses and shocks.
If the level of a depletion meter is ever greater than the level of the corresponding survival meter, the result is a “drop roll,” something along the lines of this “injury table,” except a separate one for each pair of meters. Keep in mind that damage exceeding hit points is not death; it simply means that the character is overcome by their wounds and cannot carry on. Depending on the results of the drop roll, this could range from instant messy death to “it’s merely a flesh wound!”-style results that are quickly recovered from. I’m considering a relatively wide spread of possible results (1-20 instead of 1-12, for example), perhaps with excesses from the depletion meter (9 damage versus 6 HP would be an excess of 3) turning into penalties on the roll.
I think there’s a lot of potential here. Yes, there’s extra bookkeeping compared to simply tracking current and maximum HP. On the other hand, it feels like a more intuitive and self-consistent system, and the number of other tasks that could be plugged in (fear effects manifesting as temporary strain? Mind-domination effects as temporary strain?) seems promising. I’m going to keep working on this, and see how it develops.
(One final note: I’m not entirely satisfied with all the names for stuff. If anybody has any suggestions for alternate terminology, please feel free to let me know in a comment!)