Saturday, October 23, 2021

D&D fixed HP & a path untraveled

I missed this post or I'd have included it in my Friday roundup. Instead, it gets a Saturday afternoon discussion.

Arneson's Hit Points for Characters

My first thought on this was how much GURPS is like this.

Back in the day, in 1st-3rd edition (revised) GURPS, you rarely got additional HP. Your HP equaled your HT, and it was rarely to have access to the Extra HP advantage. Getting up your HT wasn't cheap, either, costing from 20 to 50 points per point of HT in play, thanks to a rule that doubled the cost of attributes bought up after character creation ended.

GURPS 4e pushed up the ease of getting more HP, tying them to ST and removing that doubled cost . . . and reducing the cost of extra HP, as well. In GURPS Dungeon Fantasy, getting more HP is pretty standard - you can have a fair amount - potentially 26 HP, more than twice that as a starting normal human and twice that normal human's maximum. Barbarians and other races can push this up - a human barbarian with the Mountain of Meat perk from Barbarians can have 50 HP.

Even so, the "standard" way of staying alive longer in GURPS is to armor up (to reduce damage), and more importantly, get better at not being hit. A HP 10 guy with Skill-21 is just as fragile as a HP 10 guy with Skill-12. You're just a lot less likely to get hit in combat because you're more likely to successfully defend. You'll still die just as hard from 10 HP past your DR to the vitals, but it's less likely to happen.

It would have been interesting if that was the approach that D&D took and keep early on, instead of this world of escalating HP. I basically live in that world as a base standard (again, not in DF, where it does get harder to kill characters) but most games do not. Interesting that escalating HP wasn't the only way D&D could have gone.


  1. Hi! It's a good point. Everything could have been different.

    GURPS' use of ST for HP goes back to TFT, as I know you know, and that is modeled on T&T, where CON is HP. And CON can be raised upon gaining a level. The break away from D&D-style HP was one of the first reactions against OD&D, already in print in 1975. So, in a way, that other approach you are talking about actually happened right away, but it just was not well known because escalating HP was the single most salient mechanics feature associated with the big brand name.

  2. I've done lots of rules tinkering over the years just to see what this or that would be like. I did D&D once with fixed hit points at creation. I revised spells and monsters so they weren't unfair. I meant this for low magic, gritty, heroic swords & sorcery like Conan. We played a high level module, CB2 Conan Against Darkness, with my rules. I think it was great. We didn't lose anyone until a TPK at the end of the module (not in the final fight but just before it) and it worked very well in my opinion. For the type of setting and story I geared it for it was a lot of fun for me (and the players didn't complain at all, though none came and asked to play another adventure with those rules, but I was always trying new variants so we were quickly on to the next idea).


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