Thursday, January 18, 2018


Winter colds are never fun.

And winter colds with sinus pressure....

By George Cruikshank.
Art Institute of Chicago

Yeah, it's been a helluva week.

This has gotten me to thinking about that one legacy of the original D&D rules that is found in just about every video game or RPG: the hit points/health bar.

The ol' HP system was an arbitrary value designed to illustrate the overall improvement in skill and whatnot in a player character (PC). Originally, Gary Gygax wrote that a player's "true" health points are about the last 1-6 HP in their overall value, and the rest represented the gradual wearing down of the PC by dodging and deflecting blows.* To use a pro wrestling analogy, in the Rick Flair ESPN documentary there was a mention about the training regimen for a pro wrestler and that you had to learn how to use the ropes in a boxing ring. When you start out, when you bounce off those ropes they tear at your skin and leave a bloody trail all over your back, chest, and arms. After a few weeks, however, your skin toughens up and that stops happening. Essentially, the pro wrestler gains HP by training and a "low level" injury doesn't hurt anymore.

That being said, I still think the HP system is a bit of a goofy rationale for how things work in real life. Not everybody can withstand the damage that was inflicted on John McClane in Die Hard.

If realism is the angle we want, something like GURPS' method of health being strictly a low number of roughly 6 is about right.** But that doesn't exactly lend itself to what we'd call "heroic" combat like that found in most standard RPGs (such as D&D) or video games (such as, well, most of them).

The easy way to show that a player's toon is getting better is to let numbers increase, and that includes health. It also eliminates the possibility of the (rather embarrassing) situation where a powerful L60 Warrior gets one shot by a "You no take candle!" Kobold in Elwynn Forest. Raising a player's health is also an easy way to show the power in higher level enemies. Go wander into the old Scarlet Monastery area in Vanilla WoW with a new Horde toon, and even if you manage to land a blow to one of those L30ish Scarlets swarming around outside the Monastery it won't be enough to make a dent in their much higher health numbers. ("No one-shots for you!")

Still, not all MMOs these days follow this dictum, as SWTOR is the best example of adjusting (lowering) your toon's level and stats to match the area you're located in. You won't be able to zip along in Coruscant as an L60 Jedi without having to worry about the Black Sun aggroing on you, but neither will you have to worry about the Dread Lords' zones in places such as Alderaan insta-killing you, either.

I guess the guiding principle here is what the design goals for the game in question are. Is it realism or heroism? While you can be "heroic" in a game heavily tilted toward realism, my experience in playing the heavily realistic games is that you tend to play the game much more cautiously, which doesn't really pass the "heroic" test in my book. The more heroic the game --and the more liberal the implementation of the HP stack or health bar-- the more likely it is that a player will go and perform reckless actions that certainly qualify as more heroic. (Cinematically speaking, anyway.) Both design goals have a place in gaming, but I personally tend to prefer the more heroic end of the spectrum. I loosen up a bit when I see a decently sized health bar, and I'm more apt to throw myself at a (non-boss) fight without worrying too much about trying to be perfect in my attack rotation.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to finish getting my personal health bar back up to full.

*He must have written that in an old issue of Dragon Magazine, because I can't find it in my AD&D 1e books. Then again, the organization of the 1e books left a lot to be desired, so I suppose it's not a great surprise that I can't find it in there on the drop of a hat.

**GURPS stands for Generic Universal Role Playing System. For those who have never heard of it, yes, it is a real RPG system put out by Steve Jackson Games. And as the name makes blindingly clear, the point of GURPS is that you can take the system and apply it to just about every setting imaginable. Unlike some other universal RPG systems --such as Pinnacle's Savage Worlds-- GURPS is very detailed. While the mechanic --3 six sided dice-- is very simple, the devil is in the details and the setup. Most of the problems people have with GURPS is getting their characters and the setting set up right; once that's done, the system is very simple. (Relatively speaking, of course.) A long time ago --when the mini-Reds were very young-- I considered making a GURPS Lite campaign using the Disney Fairies as a setting because the girls were massively into that at the time. But as you can guess, I didn't have the time to work out the details so I passed on it.

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