Sunday, June 19, 2011

Selling Your Players on Abstract Hit Points

If hit points are abstract, increasing hit points with level advancement represents increased work that needs to be done by enemies/traps/nature to inflict the same amount of damage on a PC, not increased damage that a PC can take. If that's true, why does it take more healing to heal the same proportional loss of hit points to a higher level PC that has more hit points?

Dave Hargrave points this out in his third Arduin Grimoire, asking "why is it that a tenth level character requires several Heal Lesser Wounds rituals to fix up the same proportional damage that a first level character needs only one lesser heal to fix? The disparity gets greater the higher in experience that a character gets."

He then goes on to suggest a four-tiered set of Clerical healing spells to replace the default model:

Heal Lesser Wounds heals up to 25% of the character-being-healed's hit points. Heal Wounds of the More Serious Sort (seriously, that's what he calls it- not "Heal Moderate Wounds" or anything short like that- that's the Arduin Grimoire for ya) heals up to 50% of a character's hit points. Heal Grievous Wounds heals up to 75% of a character's hit points. Heal Critical Wounds heals up to 100% of a character's hit points.

As a ref who's running an Old School game but has some players who are inclined to New School (3.5) gaming and are playing not because it is an Old School game but because it's gaming with friends, I'm always on the lookout for more ways to sell Old School gaming. I'll probably be introducing these mechanics into my game the next time we game as a way to cement hit points as an abstract concept. I don't currently allow clerics, but the box of super-powerful healing pills the PCs have will either be Heal Grievous Wounds or Heal Critical Wounds. We'll see what they think.


  1. Interesting, but then wouldn't that Hargrave system have the opposite effect? Low level characters can get into a battle, take a hit (two if they're lucky), then again with a small bit of luck be fully healed by that 'cure not so serious wounds' magic. Even if they're not lucky, they've still got minimum 25%/33%/50% of their hit points back (d8 Fighter, d6 Cleric, d4 M-U/Thief).

    Would the more powerful spells be available earlier, since their effect would scale with levels?

  2. It is the biggest problem with abstract hit points. But since abstraction is the only way hit points even vaguely make sense, we live with it.

    For my part, I like to reskin "cure" spells as doing something else. They'll cure a wound if a character is actually "wounded" (i.e. dropped to 0 hp or less). But if the character is merely "winded" (has lost some but not all of his hp), then the "cure" spell is more of a "luck spell" or a "blessing." The historical equivalent would be a shaman saying, "hold this medicine bag in battle, Crazy Horse, and you won't be touched by bullets." A higher level character, then, already has enough skill/luck/divine favor to spare and needs commensurately more mojo to pump it back up once depleted.

  3. This approach shifts you toward 4e with its "Healing Surge Value" (=25% of total HP), so it should appeal to that crowd as well. (Beware: If you add in a class & con based cap on # of healings per day, you'd be converting to the 4e HP system wholesale ;p)

    I like that idea, medicine bag & all. Might steal it.