The One Hit Point Dilemma in D&D
It’s been cold and snowy here in Denver. To be honest this kind of weather makes my spirits get low. The only cure is to think happy thoughts, make yourself smile, and talk gaming - It really does work.
Perhaps one of the greatest issues with OD&D and perhaps even AD&D is the problem of a bad roll for hit points.
i.e. Your 18 strength fighter just rolled a one for their hit points.
So what do you do now?
I know both kinds of referees, the by the rules what you roll is what you get ref, as well as the lets fudge that a little bit so you stand a better chance of not dying type. Neither is really doing the players a favor on HP and to be honest the 1 HP PC is still something worth having players run just so they can experience being very cautious at first level. Yet, it can be a a real hassle in the long run.
Also, here is an odd thought about the rules from the early days.
I recall my first read through on D&D and wondering if hit points were a fixed quantity once rolled, or if players would re-roll hit points before every adventure. It was not very clear how to handle them!
Hit points aren’t meant to represent an actual physical property related to how hearty you are. They are an abstraction. Gary Gygax wrote a bit on that in this image I saved from an online post I spotted. Thus even Gygax is saying they are more like a combo of skill and luck in avoiding dying through adversity.
I really like what Gary said about his perspective on RPGs and how D&D handled mechanics when it was first created. Although this blog post relates to the part on hit points, so much of this page is pure gold that I have to show the entire image.
Having players re-roll bad rolls is the age old cure and yet it feels a bit arbitrary thus I propose a more systematic approach. I feel that any modification to the early editions has to stay within the scope of how the original rules were written. This variant is designed so it remains within the format of simple rules that enhance play without over burdening the game with too many details.
The entire design of D&D is predicated on die roll averages. I go into that really in depth in some of my older posts on understanding how D&D works.
Ok, let’s get ‘Average’ but leave in a little bit of player NERF and BUFF for the sake of having players be more likely to survive.
What if hit die rolls are modified based on attributes? That seems reasonable, yet which attribute should it be and no matter what attribute we use there is the chance of a player having a 3 in that column, so that is still not so great.
I propose using the character’s prime ability score, or scores, for classes with more than one. And then I suggest we modify this by the character's constitution score.
When I say modify, I really mean one should use averages.
Thus a fighter would get Str + Con and this would be divided by 2 to get a modified roll.
OD&D breaks things down into Low, Average, and High for ability scores. This really points to other considerations about the design, but that is a whole other can of worms I won’t go into right now.
The tally of the Prime Ability and Constitution gives a nice number one can use to modify the hit points die roll with. Now we can use this low, medium, high to modify the rolls for HP like so:
-If the Average of Prime and Constitution is 8 or less, the die roll is un-modified.
-If the Average is medium or rather 9 to 14, then any hit point die roll of 1 or 2 is treated as 3 and all others rolls are read as they fall. (If you are doing Greyhawk style d8 hit dice anything 3 and lower is treated as 4.)
-If the Average of Prime and Constitution is 15 or greater, anything rolled less than 4 is treated as four. (Greyhawk and later versions with d8 it is a 5)
Doing this kind of hit die roll modification will shift hit points up, but will not create an incidence of a higher quantity of high rolls. It just means the lows are more likely to be shifted toward a mid range. Also, some PCs will tend to get higher hit point Tallies based on their attributes.
That's all I have for today. Make sure to pop by the Kickstarter, if you haven't purchased a book already, as it is rapidly coming to the final deadline.
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