Friday, 11 July 2014

The Tao of Hit Points

Doctor Strangeorc
Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Orcs

I should be an adult about this, and just look away, but....From this blog post we see
I'm sure some of the readers (particularly those who have sworn never, ever, to read this blog again, despite their knowledge of all its contents) would come up for wild justifications for why a 1st level orc fighter has 2 hit points while an ordinary grunt has 5, but it always bothered me
And in the comments section we learn exactly who might come up with such a "wild justification":
Two different 180 pound humanoids can have considerably different measures of health; the construction of their bodies will be different. The 260 lb. boxer with a 'glass jaw' for instance. Thus, while weight gives an approximate variable (d8 vs d6) the random element includes the possibility of not having been structured as compactly or healthily.
This is from the same blog post that concludes that a giant centipede cannot possibly have 2 hp because it lacks the body mass. As though nobody has ever stepped on an ordinary-sized centipede (or cockroach, for that matter) only to see it escape, injured but not slain.

I think any discussion of hit points needs to take Gary Gygax, in the original DMG, page 82, into account:
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 does 4 hit points of damage, we must similarly assume that a hero could, on the average, withstand five such thrusts before being slain!
Gary continues to describe other factors that hit points take into account - skill, a "sixth sense", sheer luck, and magical/divine protections.  As always, the DMG is worthwhile for inspiration and understanding. All things that people have attempted to point out in this discussion.

Now, we get to the meat of the issue. Ignore for a moment that Alexis likes to portray anyone who disagrees with him as irrational, a shark, or worse.  As I understand his post, Alexis proposes an allocation of hit points for mass, and an allocation of hit points for training. Alexis says,
Thus, a 2nd level orc fighter with a 15 constitution would have 5-8 hit points from mass, 2-20 hit points from habits developed through training and an additional 2 hit points gained from improved fitness.  I don't have to make a story about where the points come from.  They originate in the same way for every orc, in a quantifiable manner.
This reduces the odds of the ordinary grunt orc from having more hit points than the 1st level orc fighter (by this scheme the grunt could have 8 hp and the soldier 7, but it won't happen very often), so this is a good method to reach Alexis' stated goals. The problem is not that this system would not work - it manifestly would - but in the implication that it is necessary.

In AD&D 1st Edition, an ordinary orc has 1d8 hit points. You don't have to make a story about where the points came from. You can if you wish, just as Alexis has made a story about where the hit points in his method come from (mass, training, and improved fitness), and they are applied to every ordinary orc in the same way. Likewise, under both systems, you can adjust orcs by making them fighters, more powerful, or whathaveyou.

Nobody else was fretting over justifying that 1 hp orc; they exampled how it could be done to counter an argument that a 1 hp orc makes no sense or is not justifiable. Or, if you prefer, to counter a claim that orc hit points following a normal distribution from 1d8 is not justifiable. That's not a big enough change in the claim that it requires a substantially different response. "One in eight orcs has lived a very rough life, malnourished and often sick."  There. Done. No "wild justifications" are needed.

That the DM/GM/Judge can determine why a certain monster has lower (or higher) than average hit points does not mean that, in normal play, this needs to be done. Consider that the average sword strike does 5 hp damage (rounded up), the orc with but 1 hp and the orcs with 2, 3, 4, and 5 hp usually look the same to the players during game play. The orc with 8 hp might get chopped down in a single blow, and no player knows that the orc had 8 hp rather than 1 hp.

What 1d8 hit points means, in this context is simply "They could be chopped down in a single blow, but some might require two, or even three blows" - and that actually does a good job of describing the orcs encountered in the source material (JRRT's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings). Likewise, 2 hp for a giant centipede means only "It will probably be killed in a single blow, but there is an outside chance that it may survive."

You can add up hit points according to mass, constitution, class levels (training), and Toughness, if that is what floats your boat. I tried that way. It was called 3rd Edition. The desire to originate every creature in the same, supposedly fair, quantifiable manner, turned out (for me, at least) to be far more effort than the meagre benefit created justified. To each his own, though.


23 comments:

  1. Whelp, two lengthy comments have been swallowed by the internet. I will summarize my points as best I can:

    1) Hit points represent a genera of reasons why a creature or character might die. These genera are embodied in specific reasons (the orc is sick, the orc is very well trained) but they don't need to be parsed out to determine whether or not the creature is going to die in one or five hits. Indeed, they can be retroactively decided once hp is rolled.

    2) M. S. doesn't really want to have a conversation on this subject, he just wants to declaim his point of view and walk away from the podium. As usual, he is not interested in any opinion but his own which, while it his right as he has so strenuously pointed out, is also generally a mark of intellectual cowardice, not rigor.

    3) The vast number of specifics covered by the hp genera would be debilitatingly detailed and not very useful to parse out for a DM. Does it matter the physical mechanics that lead up to an otherwise well-trained orc slipping on the field of battle, or the quality of his training, or his name, or his master? At some point, detail must be sacrificed for function.

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  2. Someone should cook up a table of reasons the creature has below average hit points.

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    1. ahem...
      http://leicestersramble.blogspot.com/2014/07/why-does-that-orc-only-have-1-hp.html

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  3. I've been skimming the great HP debate. You can't think that hard about them, they are what they are. I don't question that a 1hp orc can die from a dog bite or a 10th level fighter can jump off an 8 story building and survive. Just like I don't question why a hotel is more profitable than an electric company, or why my battleship sits in the same place taking fire.

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    1. Actually, I don't think that thinking about them is problematic. You just have to remember that hit points are not a standard unit of measurement, nor do they measure mere physical prowess. Bob Orc with 1 hp may just be unlucky today.

      I actually think that DCC did a good job with this, by pointing out that monsters (including NPCs) and PCs need not follow the same rules, and in many cases should not. As for falling damage, 1d6 per 10', but each "6" is a broken bone with a knock-on effect - permanent loss of Strength or Agility.

      I have actually fallen 35 feet onto pavement, and suffered breaks in my L1, L2, and L3 vertebrae, a left sub-talar, and my right calcanius, requiring three screws to put the pieces back together. The bone fragments severed my Achilles tendon. In DCC terms, I rolled 3d6 for damage, and rolled all "6"s. That doesn't mean that I necessary had 19+ hit points, either, because I could have simply made my Luck check from 0 hp.

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  4. I think the important difference in those cases is that your DM can rule something is just instantly deadly if the rules don't make sense—or that the aforementioned dog bite is NOT deadly instead. Though I'd be hesitant about mucking with falling damage (people have survived huge falls with little apparent harm, people have fallen 10 feet and been killed, all in the real world) I would certainly not allow a wizard to be clawed to death by a cat at any level, nor allow a fighter with 50 hit points to survive a dwarven mine collapsing directly on top of him.

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    1. A cat killing a human is within the realm of possibility. It is amazing what ordinary animals can sometimes do.

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    2. True, true, but it would be under less than normal circumstances, I would think. There was, once upon a time, an anti-D&D argument that posited a situation in which a 1 hp wizard was slain by a housecat that he angered when he stepped on its tail that was current amongst some groups. The premise of this story is so far-fetched that I maintain any rational DM wouldn't have allowed it. Now, where the wizard to be, say, sleeping and set upon by a feral cat that would be a different story altogether.

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    3. The average cat would flee if its tail was stepped on. The Cats of Ulthar, however, might do more.

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  5. We are debating HP again? I thought all of these arguments were cleared up while Reagan was still in office.

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    1. The debate only continues because certain people never really understood them. Every attack that's ever been levied on hp that I've ever heard has stemmed from a basic misunderstanding (or unwillingness to understand) the way in which they function as a mechanic.

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  6. The orc has a rock in his shoe. It hurts to have a rock in your shoe, it's distracting. The bigger the rock the lower that particular orc's HP.

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  7. I find Alexis's contention that every single orc you ever encounter to be a veteran rather preposterous. Where are the young orc teens, on their first war path? Where are the lazy shirkers who get forced into battle finally by some orc pit boss, ogre or evil wizard? That, along with the "some may be wounded already" or "down on his luck today" or some of the other arguments I've heard seem like ample justification for low hit point orcs.

    It also, I think, stems from your conception of what an orc is. If it's a traditional D&D orc, it's not some hulking steroid freak like a GW orc or WotC D&D orc. It could be, but it's more likely to be a snivelling coward forced to fight by some greater overlord.

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    1. Agreed. Orcs in Tolkein are usually smaller than Men (in some cases much smaller, i.e., Hobbit sized). They're dangerous for their large numbers, not because of any individual strength or prowess. Killing them with one blow apiece sounds about right to me.

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    2. Gentlemen, such "wild justifications"!

      Surely you must realize that there is only One True Way to view orcs, and that is neither the D&D orc of the GW orc, it is the AS orc. Or else you are clearly irrational or worse.

      lol

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  8. Another way to look at it, beyond the orc might be weak, or young, or whatever is that perhaps he got into another fight that same day. Strange thinking to consider that every encounter will be at the peak of health when encountered.

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  9. the only thing i have really benefited from this debate is some monsters already nursing wounds - this will be used in my games

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  10. Hit points are an abstraction and any attempt to qualify them through reason (aside from mathematics) is a fool's errand.

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    1. Vanguard, could you email me at ravencrowking at hotmail dot com at some point? I am working on two goblin classes for a product, and would love to send you a preview.

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  11. Having low hit points just means your number is up if you get into a fight (or fall into a trap). It doesn't mean you can't survive the rigors of daily life. The physically strongest orc in the tribe could nonetheless have a glass jaw (or, to put it more mystically, be "destined to die in the first clash of blades").

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  12. http://tao-dnd.blogspot.ca/2014/07/hypocrisy-or-bad-judgement.html

    "What does it say that the most viewed post from this last week is the one where I flat out insult someone?"

    It says that other blogs, in pointing out the hypocrisy and errors in your position linked back to what they were talking about. Nothing more. Nothing less.

    Human nature?

    My top two posts of all time are where I indicated that other posts were worth reading. As I type this, the one about Black Vulmea's blog is still checked out enough to make the "popular posts" list. Controversy draws attention, but in the end it is not the attention that matters.

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