Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Friday Night 4-Fight

Hit Points are weird. This is hardly news, I know. Entire volumes have been dedicated to providing some sort of logical justification for them as an abstraction of health, luck, mobility and anything else that comes along. They might literally represent progressive injuries, but more often they represent you slowly getting tired and generally roughed up until things get really bad.

We've trained ourselves to be comfortable with this in a lot of games, but it always hits a little resistance when we add in guns. We have a harder time abstracting away the effect of guns for a number of reasons, the biggest being that it's very hard for us to reconcile the idea that a hit with a gun can be casually shrugged off.[1] That cuts to the core of the "health" component of hit points and makes it difficult to sustain. We can imagine the occasional grazing hit, but those quickly strain credulity. On the other hand, using hit point purely as luck or agility[2] to produce retroactive misses is pretty dull, and especially frustrating when players have guns to tell them their hit is a miss, but it's really a hit, you see.

One solution to this (beyond making guns stupidly high-damage weapons) is to decouple the scariness of guns from HP damage and instead reflect it with effects or conditions[3], and that definitely works well, especially if you want to introduce guns into an existing game.

But if you want to do guns from scratch, as in to just do a simple firefight with 4e, a more drastic departure might be in order, one that's been on my mind.

The idea on my mind is to turn Hit Points into a more generic pool, perhaps just called luck, reduce them, and make them a component of _defense_ rather than damage. The trick for this is the addition of Defense actions, At-Will interrupt actions available to all characters to represent things like diving out of the way or making a block. These actions do something descriptive, and also raise the character's defense by the number of "Hit Points" spent.[4] In the fiction, the _action_ creates a miss.

Mathwise, the result is very similar - HP slowly ablate from hits - but descriptively it creates a much clearer sense of when a hit connects and does damage.

Speaking of damage, this would of course call for a slightly different damage system, some sort of injury model. Perhaps an injury threshold - if an attack that hits rolls damage in excess of the threshold, you're out. If not, reduce threshold by the # of dice rolled, representing an issue.

It's still a kind of loose idea in my head, but some part of me has been wanting to take the quick play of Gamma World and drop it into something closer to Feng Shui (except, perhaps, with Planescape cosmology). This is a bit too much of a departure for straight D&D, but for a departure in the same style as Gamma World, it might be reasonable.[5]

I may have to try out a firefight or two soon to see how this fleshes out.

1 - And, in fact, a cinematic shorthand for things being out of the ordinary is a target that shrugs off bullets.
2 - Which would also demand HP not be tied to Constitution.

3 - Including @Wm_Bounty's brutal "Shot" condition - make a death save at +4 each round, Heal check DC15 to end.

4 - Maybe fixed values. Maybe some # of dice. Need to play test what's fastest.
5 - For straight D&D, @gamefiend pointed out the the Star Wars Damage Threshold (You have HP, but a single attack doing X or more damage has certain effects) probably works well.


  1. In a way, this is exactly what stress boxes in FATE already are.

  2. Great thoughts, and interesting to see in the context of the discussions you, Tracy and I have been having.

    I love guns as bringer of frightening effects rather than damage. I feel that Gamma World in the long term might benefit to some alternate drop effects (you've hit zero, now you have X chance to be screwed and X chance to outright die) considering how spectacularly lethal the game can be.

  3. I just have to ask is this post's title, as I think it is, a reference to RTG's Cyberpunk "Friday Night Firefight"?

  4. In one Fate hack I've been working on, I've abstracted stress a little differently to articulate some of what you're dealing with here.

    In addition to consequences of varying severity, you get a number of "Close Calls" that you can spend to reduce the value of a hit. No box track, but the bookkeeping is basically the same, and it colors the narrative appropriately.

  5. I want to work that luck pool + damage/injury threshold into my 4e play. I like the narrative image it gives to surges, and opportunities to use them in the middle of combat for temporary burst of werewithal due to healing or inspiration. "Getting back to full hp" after a fight by burning surges, then, is a mechanic to indicate how your mind/luck resets but you're a little overall exhausted by the scene. Then when actually hit, either by choosing not to use luck, or running out, inflicting more permanent injuries sounds like great fun... maybe because I'm the DM. But then the tough guys (high Con, Endurance, surges) can shine as those that bounce back the best.

    4e defenses would need lots of change, as you've said, with hp based on Dex/Int or static by class/race, with the at-will defense actions based on Dex, Int, even Wis. I want to see a way to do this without negating lots of established feats. Hmm... now you've gotten me puzzling.

  6. Aside: Rob, love the blog, hate your use of footnotes with a fiery passion. Incorporate or use parenthesis. Love, Buzz. :)

  7. In my game (featuring guns) I'm playtesting,
    Your hp grows VERY slowly (+1 per level). You get a +1 to your attack if you do not move during your turn. You get a +1 to your defence if you do move.

    So far it has worked fairly well. makes it so if the party is confidant, they stand and fire (just like D&D 3.x) and if they and more wary they run around like crazy.

    HP is also broken up into two phases kind of like they did in 4e (although I made my rule first, dirty WOTC spys)

  8. Perhaps instead of HP as an At-Will, use HP to reduce an opponent's attack roll or boost a defense roll, then treat each successful attack as either a Bloodied or Unconscious result.

    GM: Kobold Wyrmpriest fires an Orb at the Warlord; it crushes your Reflexes by 10. Expend 10 HP or become Bloodied.

    (later in the game...)

    GM: The Warlord is Bloodied and battered with 5 HP remaining. A lowly Kobold Minion scampers up and overcomes his Fortitude by 6. The Warlord is Unconscious!!

    (insert celebratory Kobold here...)

  9. Because in D&D, hit points don't matter at all until you are down to zero (or -10, depending on your table and edition), you can convert all of them into these Luck Points. Damage rolled by an attack isn't actually damage – it's the threat of being taken out. I roll 4d6 for my Scorching Ray and get a 15. I tell the player, “Your character has been hit by a fifteen point threat. If you don't have fifteen points of luck to counter it, he's dead.” Luckily, Grognard the Barbarian has 80 points of luck left, so he just knocks off fifteen of them. Grognard still is hit by the Scorching Ray spell, but it's not enough to take him out.

  10. I also wonder if we could play with the coup de grace rules a bit for this in 4e. Maybe the first shot adds the helpless condition that can be removed only through some sort of action, let's say a heal check or use of a healing surge. The next hit is an automatic critical hit. If the damage is equal to or greater than 1/2 of the total hit points, the character dies (or drops to 0).

  11. I've wracked my brain over this for many a long time. I've used my medical training to come up with realistic models and I've done exhaustive research on blood drainage rates and debilitation due to injury...

    And the simplest thing I've come up with is KEEP hit points but alter them to be a representation of a condition called Cellular Perfusion. It means the oxigination of the cells. Or your cells ability to convert oxygen into energy to keep you alive and maybe even focusing your eyeballs at incoming Nazis.

    However, you use these in conjunction with a system like FATE's debilitation keyword statuses. Some statuses just provide a penalty to certain actions, but other statuses start draining your hit-points...

    ... when the hit-points run out character is a deadite. Zombification may commence.


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