Monday, February 2, 2009

That first hit die. . .

There's something wrong with a character with just one hit point, isn't there?

I don't mean after they've been chewed on by a tunnel gobbler, or dropped into a pit of flaming snakes, or sprayed in the face by poisonous lasers--it can be fun to have one hit point then, even if only for a short time--I mean when a player rolls their first-level hit die and discovers that they spent all that time and creative energy and pencil lead--no more than 15 mintues and an index card, I hope!--to assemble the Baddest Ass In the Land just to hang all their hopes for survival on a single miserable hit point.

Sure, 3e D&D gives PCs maximum hit points at first level, but I didn't want to do that--but I also didn't know how I wanted to address the problem, so we ran some games with a 1-hit-point PC.

I liked that guy, if only for his frizzy hair--and I mean frizzy, like, electrical octopus frizzy. I was sad to see him go.

So I think I'll map starting hit points to the 3d6 bell curve: 9-12 will be 3.5 hit points, and each standard deviation higher will give you two more (the reverse for lower, natch). Tommy, that means 13+ is +2 and 16+ is +4, right? ( You see, folks, I know nothing about standard deviation, but Tommy loves it.)

How the hell can a character have 3.5 hit points? And we're Old School--we don't want to talk about 3.5.

You figure it out--oh wait, you're not going to do it this way, I am. I'm making it a 50-50 chance for 3 or 4.

Oh, I'm also making 1 hit point a partially disabled, not fit for combat situation--except in the middle of a fight. Maybe. But if you've been lying in the inn waiting for you bones to knit, at 1 hit point you're going to feel pretty stiff and puny. Maybe when an injury takes you to 1 hit point, shock can set in--or begin to set in, or whatever shock does.

And of course, these 1 hit point rules (once I figure out what they are) won't apply to the 1-hit-point cannon-fodder-type mooks. That's right, I'm going to use 4e's minion rules. I like 'em. Don't tell my players.


Christian said...

I like it watching the feeble wizard cling to his single hit point like it was a life preserver in the midst of a hurricane-tossed sea. Hold on tight, pointy hat, the sun will shine tomorrow!

Or not.

Christopher B said...

Even maximum hit points at first (or even second) level don't offer a PC the best odds for surviving multiple combats. Here's how I see it: If each combat costs a PC 3 or 4 HP, that means your average first level character will be out of the game (dead) by the end of the first combat. I know my players have never seen that as being very much fun.

Here's the house rule we use: Starting PC's have HP equal to their CON score plus a roll of their hit die. HP advancement is normal starting at level two. To offset the extra HP, the second part of this house rule states that any single injury that does a number of HP equal to or greater than half a PC's CON score is a serious injury, and will have significant effects on the character until healed. I've found that this increases PC survival rates and adventure times, but also keeps the players from thinking their characters can take on anything. (Less dead PC's, longer adventures, more PC's bailing out of dungeons with broken bones/missing digits/etc.)

Aaron Nuttall said...

Christian, you are cruel to the pathetic wizards, who so deserve our pity . . .as they quest to warp the whole world to their will to glory. . .

Mr. B, thanks for sharing your house rules. It does look like they would do a good job preventing games spoiled by mass die-off.

My goal isn't to give them enough hit points to survive fights because I want to preserve the tradition of having a tiny amount of hit points at first level, and I want them to be TERRIFIED of combat) but to elimiate the 1-hit-point situation to give the players some margin for error.

T. Smitty said...

This is a good article I found on statistics in gaming:
So on 3d6, the average is 10.5 and the standard deviation is 3. So I guess you could do 10-11 is average, 1 st. dev. out is +x (so 12-14), 2 st. dev. out is +2x (so 15-17, might as well just make it 15-19).

What would you think about having the PC and DM each roll a hit die, and taking the higher of the two? Or maybe simply re-rolling ones. If you roll a 2 right after a one, well then maybe you were meant to have crappy hp.

Jeff Rients said...

I keep hit points as written, allowing for 1 hit point adventurers of all stripes. But I do have a "you always get a save" rule, whereby any reduction to zero hit points allows for a save versus death to remain at one HP. Just yesterday I had a twelve player game of first level adventurers. Lost seven characters total. The MU with one hit point made sure he didn't find himself in a position to roll that save and made it out alive.

Aaron Nuttall said...

Jeff: A twelve player game! That must be quite a thing to manage. Your Save vs. Death rule is interesting; I'll be considering it. And something about the 7 character deaths (and the clever magic-user) warms my heart.