View Full Version : Alternatives to hit points

2014-11-26, 11:26 PM
So, D&D style hit points have a lot of issues. A character can be a papercut away from bleeding to death, and still up and fighting at full capacity. This is, obviously, unrealistic. It does nothing to reflect the individual injuries that the character has received, not to mention general fatigue, loss of blood, reduced functionality, or simple pain from the injuries. So what I'd like to see are better systems for handling combat or non-combat injuries, either existing systems or homebrewed stuff. Here are two alternatives in other games that I've found:

An old RPG set in ancient Greece, by Task Force Games. It uses Endurance, rather than hit points. Damage is done to Endurance, and every attack costs one point of Endurance as well. When Endurance reaches zero, the character falls unconscious (I can't remember the exact mechanics for death). It seems like a good idea, as it combines general exhaustion with things like blood loss from wounds, but it doesn't hold up the best in play. For one thing, common fighters can have as little as 5 Endurance, which means they pass out ridiculously quickly, even if they don't get hit. However, higher endurance plus higher weapon damage could be an option.

This Lovecraftian horror game has an interesting mechanic. Whenever an Investigator (a player) takes damage, the Keeper (kind of the equivalent of a GM) has the option of playing a Trauma card against them. Each trauma card represents a specific injury, and hinders the Investigator in some way. It's an interesting middle ground between pure hitpoints and an injury-based system. Some injuries are more serious, and require the Investigator's health to be at or below a certain level. Also, there are two types of trauma cards: Injuries, which represent physical damage and can be played on an Investigator whenever they take physical damage; and Insanities, which represent mental trauma and can be played whenever the Investigator takes mental damage ("horror"). An Investigator can only have one trauma card of each type; if the Keeper plays another on him, the first is negated.

And here's a (somewhat nebulous) idea of my own:
This idea is still a bit fuzzy, because it doesn't have a complete system in place. The general idea is that each character has a toughness that is compared to weapon damage. The attacker rolls for a hit location (similar to the HERO System) and damage. If it doesn't match the character's toughness, it's a minor injury; if it does exceed it it becomes a more severe injury based on how much it goes over. The effects depend on the intensity and the location. For example, hits to the legs slow a character down and eventually make him unable to stand. Hits to the arms reduce lifting strength, accuracy with weapons, and eventually disable the arm altogether. Major injuries to the chest or head can quickly cause disability or death. And taking multiple lesser injuries to the same area add up to more serious ones.

So, thoughts? Any systems you've seen that get pretty close to accurate?

2014-11-27, 12:21 AM
Mutants and Masterminds:
If you get hit, you need to roll Toughness against a DC depending on the attack's damage. Depending on how the roll went, you could take no damage, take 1 bruise, take 1 bruise and be stunned for 1 turn, be stunned for 1 turn and staggered, or be knocked out. Each bruise gives you -1 to further Toughness rolls. This is how nonlethal damage works, which is the default in this system; lethal damage replaces staggered with disabled, and knocked out with dying.

Each character has a stress track, which represents fatigue, minor bruises, losing advantage in combat and other non-vital things. When you get hit, you must fill a box on your stress track of the level corresponding to the damage the attack caused, or higher - if you can't, you take a complication instead, which represents more serious stuff like wounds or fractures. Enemies can take advantage of your complications for free bonuses to their actions. Stress heals automatically between fights, but complications can take a long time to heal.

Legends of the Wulin:
When an enemy attack is successful, you suffer 1 or more Ripples, which are like stress in Fate fluff-wise. An attack that hits well enough causes a rippling roll, which can cause a condition - you roll 1 dice for each Ripple you have, so the more you have the more severe the roll will be. Depending on how the rippling roll went, it can cause a new condition of a specific severity level or inflame an existing one to a higher level - the higher the level of a condition, the bigger the penalty you have if you don't act in a specific way (for example: if you have a wounded leg, moving around a lot causes a penalty to your actions). Inflaming a condition to a high enough level takes out an opponent, but in this setting most people will surrender before that happens.

Admittedly, none of those systems are very realistic - they're more cinematic and aim to simulate specific genres - but I find them better than hit points, and all of them have your characters suffer from penalties as they start accumulating damage.

2014-11-27, 01:02 AM
So, thoughts? Any systems you've seen that get pretty close to accurate?

I like Shadowrun's damage system. Characters have a small number (about 8-13) of "damage boxes" (a hit point by any other name...) which don't scale. Generally speaking, armor and dodging scale instead of health totals. There are two sets of hit points: Stun and Lethal (essentially the equivalent of nonlethal and lethal damage). Taking too much stun damage knocks you out (and every 2 points of excess stun damage becomes lethal damage instead), while taking too much lethal damage kills you. That means even "nonlethal" combat can still be deadly if you overdo it. Taking damage of either type inflicts wound penalties. For every 3 damage you take on either track, you suffer a -1 to all rolls. That means that being knocked down to your last hit point is serious business; you're taking about -8 to everything, which is a really big deal in shadowrun.

2014-11-27, 01:44 AM
R&K has a hp based system where your total hp are divided into several stages, each granting increasing penalties to actions.
SWSE has something similar with the condition track, but unlike R&K has ways of moving people further down the CD without having to deal fixed amounts of damage first.
Ars Magica has a wound system where there are several categories of wounds, and depending on the amount of damage you take you get one certain category of wound. Each wound inflicts a cumulative penalty to rolls, how great a penalty depends on the type of wound. You can pretty easily die from a single blow or you can take a theoretically infinite number of lesser wounds. Chances of surviving combat with lots of non-fatal wounds is pretty good (considering it's a very lethal system) . The problem is, the game makes you roll at certain intervals to see if your wounds get better or worse and with a ton of penalties you'll likely die from infection almost immediately.

2014-11-27, 01:59 AM
There's also the 3.5 variant (used in one of the WOTC Star Wars rulesets) that use Vitality and Wound points. VP represented dodging, grazes, near misses, etc. and were only earned by heroic characters, while Wound points represented actual physical damage. WP invoked penalties for every WP lost, did not scale much, and were depleted only when VP was exhausted, or on a critical hit. Losing all VP only meant that you started taking WP damage, while losing your WP meant you died. I found it pretty cumbersome, personally.

2014-11-27, 02:35 AM
Discrete wound systems are pretty common. One method I like is the wound track in Fudge and various variants of it.

The core: The difference in an opposed roll plus weapon and armor factors (which include strength, size, etc.) gives some sort of discrete wound. Fudge uses Scratch, Hurt, and Very Hurt, where a scratch doesn't do anything directly, Hurt is a -1 penalty (think -4 or so in a D&D system), and Very Hurt is a -2 penalty (think -10 or so in a D&D system).

Overflow: There are a maximum number of each wound type, and getting more than that bumps them up. The fourth scratch is a hurt, the second/third hurt (depending on character) is a very hurt, the second very hurt is an incapacitating wound. This isn't hit points though, as there isn't any need to fill the entire track. Two very hurts will do it, without even touching the lower part of the track. Only the worst wound penalty is applied.

Death Spiral: Until an incapacitated is applied directly, the target can keep fighting. However, the wounds are cumulative, which means that the difference in the opposed rolls just grows and grows.

These are sometimes paired with a mechanic for side effects of the wound as applied, resisted with a skill or attribute check. For instance, the Fudge game Blood Sweat and Steel has a gut check. Failing it on a Very Hurt immediately kicks it up to an incapacitated, failing on a Hurt imposes a 1 round stun.

2014-11-27, 03:33 AM
Going in the complete opposite direction, I'm a big fan of the way Nobilis/Chuubo's handle damage. In Nobilis, you have five wound levels at three discrete tiers- 2 Deadly, 1 Serious, and 2 Surface, in order of import. Rather than looking at damage, they more or less represent player agency- so any time something happens that would impinge on your character's person (such as damage, death, being turned into a frog, nasty rumors, etc.) you can take a Wound of a level equal to the problem's severity- this is primarily determined by the GM, but there are charts and recommended levels and whatnot described in the book. When you fill a higher level, all lower levels are cleared out (so if I gain a second Deadly wound I lose any serious or surface wounds, and if I gain a Serious wound I lose all Surface wounds) giving you a sort of reverse death spiral- you have to have your higher level Wounds taken out, then the lower levels before you can be Defeated (meaning you're out of Wound levels and thus lose player agency. This is not the same as dying unless someone wants you dead and act on it.). This also means that 'death by a thousand cuts' or the like is impossible, unless they start with a really intense bout of one thousand cuts.

So what does taking a Wound mean? You gain a Bond or Affliction as appropriate to the severity of your wound that subverts the attack's intent- it still happens in some capacity, but you're allowed to put your own interpretation on things (within reason). So it prevents the intended effect from being fully enacted, and it gives you a Bond/Affliction; to save space think of them as similar to Aspects in FATE, but differently axiomatic in their trueness. Ones gained through Wounds are generally inconvenient, but they can be leveraged for all sorts of productive things while they last.

2014-11-27, 12:46 PM
Well, one system, I've thought of before (and was then told was pretty identical to what Riddle of Steel does) for realistic combat is as follows:

1: Attacker rolls attack. All attacks target specific body parts (default is torso).
2:Defender rolls dodging/blocking/parrying,
3:Defender, if hit, rolls 'toughness'. More damaging weapons/attacks give him penalties, armor or being tough gives him bonuses.
4:Based on the results of the roll, look at an appropriate table. The table is based on the type of damage and body part hit.
5: The defender now takes whatever penalty the table says. This might range from minimal things (attack bounces off harmlessly), penalties to future toughness rolls, or even potent debuffs (say, a poor roll against bludgeoning to the head might result in you being too dazed to defend yourself properly, a worse one might be a flat-out K.O. (with of course, the worse result being 'you're dead))

2014-11-27, 02:39 PM
I have a system I want to try out that sort of works like hit points, but is slightly more narrative. In short:

1) All attacks inflict conditions, which must be declared before the attack roll is made. The damage of the attack becomes the severity of the condition. If the target already has the condition than the damage instead upgrades the severity.
2) Characters have a number of condition slots ranging from 2 (bit parts) to 7 (PCs and Villains). Each condition slot holds one condition, if a character gains a new condition when all their slots are filled then the condition with the lowest severity is dropped.
3) Each condition applies a certain penalty to the character.
4) If a condition's severity exceeds your Health stat you are "down", and can no longer participate.

2014-11-29, 02:49 PM
There's always the old-school system RuneQuest uses, where characters have hitpoints for different hit locations - head, arm, torso, etc. Thing is, you don't have MANY hit points - an axe does 1d6+1 damage, and even a tough character's only going to have 6-9 HP per location. Dropping a location to 0 HP disables it - you can't use your arm, you fall unconscious, etc. Reducing it below negative HP means it's severed. Armor doesn't make you harder to hit (that's what weapon and shield skills and dodging skill are for), but does reduce damage by a flat amount - 1 point for leather, 6 points for plate.

If you get into a fight in RQ, bring heavy armor and a shield. Or a few dozen friends.

Red Fel
2014-11-29, 08:48 PM
I happen to like Ironclaw's damage system. It's fairly simple, but also pretty lethal.

First off, any hit - even if it deals no damage (i.e. because you managed to soak via armor and such) - may cause the target of the hit to become Reeling. While you're Reeling, which represents being off-balance, enemies gain a bonus die to hit you, and you cannot Counter. You can take an action to recover, or recover by being Rallied by an ally.

When you've taken 1 point of damage, you are Hurt, and take an extra +1 from any future damage. This can be cured by five minutes of first aid, or common healing spells. When you've taken 2 points of damage, you are both Hurt and Afraid, the latter preventing you from making attacks (although you can still Counter). When you've taken 3 points of damage, you are Hurt, Afraid, and Injured; Injured is basically a stacking form of Hurt, so now you take +2 from all damage sources. When you've taken 4 points of damage, you are Hurt, Afraid, Injured, and Dying. And when you've taken 5 points of damage, you're Dead. Not mostly dead, all dead.

Oh, and if you take 6 points or more, you get Overkilled, which means you get turned into chunky giblets. Your allies become Afraid.

It's a highly lethal system, but then, it's designed around a more "realistic" medieval system, magic and combat are downplayed. And getting hit with a sword, if your armor doesn't shrug it off, isn't generally going to be the sort of thing you can do multiple times a minute.

2014-11-30, 01:50 AM
HarnMaster uses an individual injury tracking system. As I remember it (it has been quite a few years since I've played HM), each injury has a tag (moderate, severe, grievous) that determines how bad it is descriptively (depending on how bad you'd been hit, blunt trauma could be a a bruise, a break, or a crushed bone, for example) and a number from 1-5 (or more) that's how much of a penalty the wound causes. In d20 it would be subtracted from all rolls, in percentage-based Harnmaster, its was multipled by 5, so that a Severe 3 would be a 15% penalty to all your rolls. You also have to make consciousness checks vs. the total of your injury modifiers.

Death comes either from a individual killing blow (a really hard hit, which becomes a merely grievous injury if the character rolls successfully to survive it), from blood loss, from infections (brutally deadly in earlier versions) or simply grievous wounds that refuse to heal and instead just get worse until the character succumbs.

One aspect of it that caught more than one player moving from D&D to HM was that just because you were conscious, it didn't mean that you were effective. Players would get hurt and pass out, regain awareness and go back into battle minutes or hours later, only to do poorly (due to unhealed injuries) and then pass out again the next time they got hurt. And then do it again, becoming less effective and weaker with every cycle.

2014-11-30, 09:46 AM
I have a system that I came up with and I think it's pretty unique and....

I have a system I want to try out that sort of works like hit points, but is slightly more narrative. In short:

1) All attacks inflict conditions, which must be declared before the attack roll is made. The damage of the attack becomes the severity of the condition. If the target already has the condition than the damage instead upgrades the severity.
3) Each condition applies a certain penalty to the character.

Oh. That's actually really similar to what I had in mind. Basically everything is a called shot or status effect and imposes a penalty rather than generic damage. I worry that the death spiral here would be really unfun, but I still want to see where I can take it.

The other piece of my system that I want to work on is how hits actually happen. Intuitively I feel like if you get cut and there's a 6 inch gash on your arm, it doesn't really matter if it was a greatsword or a dagger that did the damage. So what good does having a different weapon do? Well, I'd like to see a system where the weapon's dimensions factor more into whether a hit takes place than how how they hit. So in dagger vs greatsword, the greatsword guy has the advantage, until dagger guy moves into his reach where it's harder to hit with a larger weapon. Both weapons tag for a status effect, but the maneuvers needed to score a hit will be different. Of course the point where I always get stuck is how having advantage over someone and getting in someone's reach works outside of duels.

2014-11-30, 10:38 AM
The downside to purely mechanical-effect wound systems is that they generate more paperwork and more things that players have to remember.

Which inevitably means that they just won't be remembered.

Mechanical-effect wounds should be kept sufficiently rare that they are memorable to the player because of their exceptionality.

Hitpoints are an abstraction that's easy to grasp and remember.

Also, remember that there are multiple possible "stories" that that character a papercut away from death might be part of. He might be overcoming his wounds by force of will to fight to the bitter end and that's why he performs "normally" mechanically. But you don't actually need to have rules for that, the abstraction and the natural tension of "I am on one hitpoint I might die here" produces the story effectively enough without them.