Thursday, June 7, 2012

Armor or Hit Points?

There's a fundamental difference between Hard-To-Hit-But-Low-Hit Points systems and Easy-To-Hit-But-Lots-Of-Hit-Points systems.

Older D&D designs at low levels were hard-to-hit-but-low-hit-points: the tactics and thinking happened largely BEFORE the to-hit roll even happened. The roll itself was in doubt, but if it connected…BAM, possible death. So it required a lot of plotting and scheming to get into place to deliver that payload (or avoid it). By 4e, most of the tactics kick in more and more AFTER the to-hit roll connects--how much damage, where does the foe end up? is there an area effect already there, will the damage be ongoing? etc etc

The first way of playing needs a robust world and a robust interface of PCs with the rest of the world to avoid just being "gamble on your sucky to-hit roll" (which is how people who hate those systems see it), the second way needs a robust and complex tactical situation to avoid being "make perfunctory to-hit rolls and chip away at the monster's hit points for 9 rounds while it chips away at yours."



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Jeremy D added this, which is smart and simple:
Missing sucks way more when the combat round is long.


16 comments:

James Maliszewski said...

A keen insight.

Nagora said...

Same with saving throws - the trick is to load the dice or better still avoid having to roll them at all.

I think this partly reflects Gygax's interest in mediaeval warfare where avoidance of battle was a very important tactic. Combat was so expensive (and dangerous for kings who were expected to show up on the battlefield) that armies jockied for position in the hope that they could win without actually fighting.

A bit like the old story of the two samurai who face each other motionless for five minutes and then one bows and walks away because he knew he had lost.

Rafu said...

So much truth! In fact, OD&D turns super-boring with people who suffer from analysis paralysis (like, say, me) who take too long to take their turn, while 4E would suck big time weren't it that so many powers (wisely) do something even on a miss.

David said...

It makes me think of that duelling form in L5R where the samurai draw, do some "shadow boxing" and decide which one would have won if they had actually fought. I forget what the game called it, and I have no idea how historical it was. I thought it was pretty cool though. It was basically jockeying for position before the first blow fell, or in this case, so that the first blow didn't have to fall at all.

PlanetNiles said...

I've seen footage of two masters of Fechtkunst 'dueling'. Literally at least two thirds of the battle was them staring at each other with their blades balanced on their shoulders (and these were long/bastard swords). The rest was a few, apparently lazy, clashes of blades and then one of them was declared winner.

Barking Alien said...

As I am a bit out of the loop with my old school D&D and I will admit up front that I am not a fan of it, I do have a question.

Did position and tactics matter in the older editions? That is, I seem to recall that if I needed a 17 or better to hit someone and I got in real close, I still needed a 17 or better to hit them. Am I forgetting something? I don't really remember anything effecting the die roll in those days except a modifier from a stat or a magic weapon.

I could be totally wrong here. I just honestly don't remember.

Zak S said...

Depends on the GM and (in AD&D) depends on how much of the system you're actually using.

Ross said...

I love low HP systems. However, it really depends on the rest of the system to support it. In a game where one solid blow is going to down someone, and there is a good miss chance, there better be ways built in to make that hit more likely. Whether it be ambushes, better weapons, gambling on taking turns to aim, or what.

I like quick, brutal combat where you spend an hour and a half setting everything up, and 5 minutes cleaning house.

I also agree that the Iaijutsu dueling system from L5R is a lot of fun (it's on page 170 of the third ed book, don't have a more recent copy).

Tim Jensen said...

Reminds me of the 16 hit point dragon:

http://www.latorra.org/2012/05/15/a-16-hp-dragon/

DHBoggs said...

>Nagora:
Sorta kinda. Gygax didn't invent hit points - that was his partner Dave Arneson, who was a fencer. Gygax did have a man to man combat system in CHAINMAIL that made it (usually) harder to hit against better armors, but that was weapon based, not level based attacks.

Roger the GS said...

In other words, systems that encourage Sun Tzu vs. Clausewitz.

Chris Hogan said...

The iaijutsu bid-vs.bid mechanic? One of my favourite aspects of L5R.

Tedankhamen said...

That's why I think 'Shields Shall Be Splintered' was such a great OSR innovation. Instead of HP whittling, which I find dull whichever edition, you give the player a choice. "Now, you can take x damage and die, or sacrifice your shield." In fact, I plan to extend it to body parts (Bones Shall Be Broken?) the next time I run, maybe with a Save vs Death to see if the effect is permanent or will wear off...

Patrick Stuart said...

How are you reading that? I have not read Sun Tzu but Clausewitz seems old-school as fuck.

"The more helpless his situation, the more everything presses towards one single, desperate blow, the more readily strategem comes to the aid of his boldness. Let lose from all further calculations, freed from all concern for the future, boldness and strategem intensify each other , and thus collect at one point an infinitesimal glimmering of hopw into a single ray which may likewise serve to kindle a flame."

iron said...

Talking about shields, Dragon Age has I think the best rule for using them where they helps you defend against attacks but doesn't absorb damage soak, which is kinda how a shield actually performs in the real world.

gameystuff said...

Hit points as skill at not getting hit i.e. if critter needs 15 to hit and rolls 17 then the target can lose 3 hit points to turn the 17 into a 14 turning the hit into a miss.

Same with physical saves, say need 15 and roll 12 then lose 3 hit points to get the save roll up to 15.

Any actual hits go to armor.