Thursday, November 21, 2013

Ruminations on OD&D: Hit Points

There is a thread over on OD&D Discussion concerning how hit points are rolled. Essentially, there are four methods (I think):

  • Keep a running, static total, adding the roll of each hit die as it is gained;
  • Reroll all hit dice at each level, keeping the new total if it is higher;
  • Reroll all hit dice at some predetermined point each day, such as after a night's sleep;
  • Reroll all hit dice at the beginning of each combat
I like the "reroll" methods. I've always hated getting hosed on some shit-ass HD rolls. Plus, as a referee, I don't like feeling like it is absolutely vital that I hand out max hp at 1st level. It's a minor annoyance, but sometimes they are the most annoying.

Anyway, this segues into something I have been ruminating on. There are a lot of rationalizations for certain OD&D rules. We all know the ones about hit points representing fatigue, favor of the gods, and luck. While damage represents being taxed to your limits, minor scrapes and bruises, exhaustion, etc.

A big part of OD&D is resource management. Hit points are a key resource to be managed. But, if they represent the things we rationalize them to represent, and damage is per its rationalization, I believe the healing rules are way out of whack. At the healing rates as written a single attack, with a lucky (unlucky?) damage roll could take almost a week to heal. A week to get over being tired and a few minor scrapes and close calls.

I'm sure at this point this may seem like I've kit-bashed two posts. Maybe I have, I don't know. I'm just wondering how to tie in rerolling hit points either each day or each combat would work in conjunction with some "accelerated" healing rules. Like maybe throw the running damage total right out the window, along with the running hit point total, and start fresh each combat/encounter. Would it seriously unbalance things? Would it rob the game of part of its drama, like when your hit points are really low and you're trying to tip-toe out of the dungeon and back to town?

So maybe the "reroll every morning" is the better way. So, how would that work with pre-existing damage? Is it only your max hit points that are affected?

At any rate, I need to rethink healing in light of what damage is supposed to represent. I think getting a certain amount, maybe a percentage of current max, at the end of a combat would work. That could represent the "fatigue loss" being recovered once the character has a chance to collect his breath. One thing's for sure (at least as anything is "for sure" in my head) is that I don't want the book keeping that goes with calling hit point damage fatigue, and keeping track of "wounds" separately. Akrasia's house rules feature that, and while I love the idea on paper, I don't want to deal with it at the table.

I welcome any and all thoughts on this subject. 


  1. I like static HP myself. Roll an keep adding as you go. OD&D really demands reroll all each level due to the HD method used.

    I let folks heal A HD quickly by "licking wounds" this is the fatigue and simple luck of it. They get 2 hp a level for overnight rest or another HD a day fully resting (I'd roll 1st level HD for pure OD&D). This way luck and fatigue are recovering quickly andplayers get some choicesin how the PCs recover. Don't rest and bandage up right after a fight you don't recover HP quickly. Don't sleep all night don't gain HP.
    D&D HP measure "bad assery" and that really doesn't map to the "healing" spells if you look too closely.
    Q:How many arrows does it take to kill Conan, in D&D?
    A:The Last One.

  2. Hey, where did that comment go?

    I'll try again.

    I've played a game where HP represented fatigue, and "real" damage was taken on CON. I don't think we ever had that same fear of low HP then, and maybe you need to tweak the amount and kind of damage you deal. But, if it turns into an arms race nothing will have been gained.

    I like JDJarvis suggestions for healing. Also, I find it very "Conanesque" to regain 1-2 hp after a fight if you drink some wine!

  3. Re-rolling HP is one of those things I never heard of until I started reading OSR blogs a few years ago. I've never met a group that did that back in the day. It may be possible read that into the text, but no one I know played that way any more than we'd re-roll stats between levels. Your HP are your HP, and that was that.

    Re-rolling each level is pretty cool, if it's "roll and take the better of your existing total and the new total." If it's "take the new total" it's just a crapshoot at lower levels and pulls to the average as you go up levels. It makes leveling somewhat of a bad thing instead of the unadulterated good that it is otherwise.

    Re-rolling each fight seems like a nightmare to play out. What constitutes a combat? How much of a lull forces a re-roll? Do monsters re-roll if you leave and come back? Etc.
    It sounds like something you'd end up trying for a session, but quickly drop as just too much work.