40 thoughts on “Why does Dungeon World have Hit Points? Isn’t fiction enough?”

  1. Honestly, I think it is an important part of the game, things like random damage and healing rolls helping to separate DW from a collaborative storytelling exercise.

    Nothing wrong with them, but if I were to tell my friends, “Hey, come over for a collaborative storytelling exercise,” many would suddenly find cats they had to vacuum or laundry that needed cutting. I’m sure I’m not alone, it can be daunting to work without frameworks. Give them dice and rules to fall back on and they are quite creative.

  2. Combination threat timer, emulation of what came before and a means to mechanise a system of health. Without HP, there’s no structure to attach moves that improve it, defend it, boost it, remove it, etc. 

    I mean, arguably, I could say “why stats?  why classes?  why a character sheet? isn’t the narrative enough?”

  3. Part of the DW design aesthetic seems to have been “incorporate shout outs to crappy legacy stuff that “feels” like d&d”. Hence stats and hit points, albeit embedded in a better designed framework.

  4. The question of why hit points keeps on bugging me. Couching it in terms of “isn’t fiction enough” is actually misleading. Having something to hang moves on on and mechanizing health are good things. But that’s still what we do with hit points, not why they’re there in the first place.

    I don’t think they’re a shout out either. They’re real honest-to-goodness hit points, used just the way hit points should be used. Whatever they’re doing in DW, it’s the same thing they were doing in AD&D.

    One of the things I think of is that there’s no counter on when my players can drastically change the world. A while ago they reversed the cosmic balance of life and death with one defy danger roll. They made a blood pact with a banshee. They convinced a Kobold clan to recognize one of the party as king. Each of these was just one roll. But when they pick up a sword to kill a goblin, this counter slides into place to say whether they can or can’t do it, and how quickly. Doesn’t that seem a little weird to you?

  5. I feel like, in a game intrinsically about violence and the struggle of “do I die before I accomplish my goals” there needs to be some indicator of your path – countdowns, hp, whatever you want to call it, it plays a role as road-marker between “safe” and “demise”.

    like you said, it does what it does the same way harm or hp do, but it’s certainly not the only way.

    I mean, you could do lots of things. tags, say, like “hale” “hurt” “bleeding out” “last legs” “death’s door” and take them as you go, but that’s just another coat of paint on the same model.

    it’s interesting, because it doesn’t even sound to me like you’re looking for something better (don’t let me tell you what you mean, though!) but maybe something different?  

    could you do DW without HP (or its analog) at all?

    as a separate thing, I think HP does a job of mediation, too – it tells the PCs that they don’t have to let the GM just say “oh, you missed a roll, you are dead” without fictionally establishing that it is possible, first. to bypass HP is a big thing that isn’t the norm. it also keeps the PCs on track – the GM can indicate threat by whittling them down, right? they can choose to go after HP to push the PCs into action or out of it, according to their impulses.

  6. The strange thing with HP is that it is an abstract concept, and in itself it is utterly divorced from the fiction. You actually have to make a connection to the fiction. It’s not hard but the game doesn’t do it for you. There’s no moves that tell you what happens when you take damage.

  7. Kasper Brohus I don’t know that’s 100% true.  It’s a binary trigger – when you run out of HP, you roll last breath.  That’s the mechanism.  It’s just that you get lots of warning.  In the fiction, it’s Damage -> Death but it takes some time and repeated application.

  8. I’m not a fan of hit points, in any system.

    They are ok as a mechanism for wargames, where differences in the amount of damage are tactically important, but in more story driven games I find they get in the way.

    I think that violence should always have consequences, immediate and lasting consequences.

    Hp often prevent this.

  9. I’m in agreement with Kasper Brohus in finding HP a strange abstraction and how they are divorced from the fiction, and with Alexander Gwilt-cox in that I’m not a fan of HP in general.

    (This is really just me subbing.)

  10. tony dowler – the fact that your players were able to change so much with just one roll seems to be unconvincing fiction. I mean – can I just effect the balance of power orcs of the caves and the cobolds of the sand dunes by making one sword strike? Unless I moved myself into position to assassinate the cobold chief through many defy dangers before and made my way through the many obstacles into the camp, it’s not just one roll.

    Heck, even with good modifiers I would have to roll a long stretch of pure successes to get there! Because if I add too many partial successes or failures the best-laid plans go awry… Many rolls will inevitably mean complications galore in the long run. The thing is that any world-impacting thing should have plenty of rolls preceding it. And thus it will come at a price…

    Of course, the more a single roll can effect, the less sensible the HP mechanic will seem. Because if you overpower single moves in the fiction, the moves that actually have a rather defined limited effect, like deal damage, suddenly seem out of balance. Because they’re out-of-balance in the fiction. 

    The HP mechanic is one of the things that’s actually grounding the whole story-telling thing into an actual dungeon crawl mechanic. While hosting a game session for a group of people I started to wonder what would prevent the players from just achieving pretty much anything in a game session? Then I suddenly realized the oh-so-powerful and risk-taking paladin had spent all his HP save 2. He almost died! He was not maintaining this gamist resource well – the hit points. The hit points are a severe limitation to any party’s ability to effect the world, because any party is just a few Deal Damage moves away from death.

    Without this limitation a somewhat-tense dungeon crawl devolves into epic tales of grandeur. Things should be hard. Achievements should seem well-earned. Nothing engages the creativity of players like limited resources. They then know they cannot always go in, guns blazing, and hope to live. They have to come up with good answers how to react to the various fronts beyond simple Hack & Slash moves. Too many of those and I will indeed react with more than complications – I will react with some appropriate Deal Damage moves and remind them that they are mortals after all, and should use their noggin on top of their brawn.

  11. I’ll weigh in here in favour of hit points because:

    – They’re a nod to D&D,

    – They’re easy to understand for beginners and grognards alike,

    – They’re a great attrition mechanic that creates dramatic tension, however artificially,

    – You can always accompany your Deal damage moves with fictional effects. 

  12. Oliver Korpilla

    It may just be a question of personal preference, but I love me some epic grandeur! I love the idea that one sword stroke could bring a nation to its knees! I want my players to charge into danger with little though for the consequences.

    Sometimes a low level Dungeon craw can be fun, (be careful with your rations, go slow and check for traps) but other times I want to recreate the epic fantasy that I read in books or see on the big screen.

    This is a personal thing for me, but the tone I want from DungeonWorld is a pg-13 fantasy adventure movie from 1986, if they had modern effects and an unlimited budget.

    I’m not really into the shout outs to old school d&d such as hit points.

    It’s one of my main issues with DW, is it is too routed in old school mechanics.

  13. Joachim Erdtman I object! I never once said I disliked HP! 🙂 Just like Eric Nieudan said, it’s a good attrition mechanic, and it creates tension. YMMV, of course. 🙂

    Adam Koebel OK, now I’m going to do some hair-splitting… (used translate.google.com to learn that word… The Danish word is, directly translated, fly-flucking, which I like a lot better, but that’s just me 😛 )

    It is true, there’s a move that triggers upon loosing your last HP, but there’s no move triggered on any other arbitrary loss of HP.

    What happens when you take 2 damage? Well, that’s entirely up to the GM, and it heavily depends on the situation, as per the “what sort of makes sense” clause of any RPG.

    What does it mean to have 23 HP in contrast to 18? Well, nothing unless you want to assign some meaning to it.

    It is not that I dislike HP, not at all, but it is a completely abstract, yet easily understandable concept. They sort of represent how close you are to dying, but not exactly how hurt you are.

    HP is a good mechanic though, if only because it is easy to understand, and because it’s a kind of “fairness clause”, preventing arbitrary deaths. Without it, we wouldn’t have a deal damage GM move, or well, it would make more sense to name it the kill or maim GM move.

    The fact that it is an abstract concept is not definitively a bad thing, but neither is it unconditionally good. The very quality that makes it good is also its biggest flaw; HP is a concept that requires hand-waving to implement in fiction, and it is more art than science. This means some might not “get it right” (read: they cause frustration for themselves or the other players), but for some it works remarkably well.

    HP is a good concept if you like it. I like it. It’s easy, and I feel that I’m at least okay at making the fictional effects meaningful without making them devastating or negligible. Most of the time that is. This is disputable though, ask the players I GM for…

  14. Kasper Brohus I wasn’t trying to misquote you, but as noted, my comments were just for subbing purposes. I was obviously not clear enough in specifying what I agreed with you in regards to, but instead lumped it together with the reason I liked Alexander Gwilt-cox post as well. I have now edited my original post to be more clear.

  15. “How hurt you are” has been, overall, handled terribly in rpgs. If you’re going to create a game that tracks how hurt you are, I’d want you to go to the literature (either medical or genre!) and what you’ll find there, HP won’t do.

    HP works as “you’ve taken 5 of your 18 dumb risks,” though.

  16. There’s a lot of talk about but liking the mechanic here, but not a whole lot of talk about what to replace it with. Sure, in some instances just fiction is a fine answer, but sometimes it’s hard to determine how something will affect someone, especially on the fly.

    So, if HP were removed, what would the game have instead? A move called ‘Take Damage’ based on con:

    When you suffer physical harm, roll+con. On a 6-, the damage affects you exactly as described. On a 10+, choose two, on a 7-9, choose one.

    * you don’t take a -1 ongoing to further take damage rolls – you take your hit and move on

    – You step down the damage tag your character would receive: a severed arm becomes a heavily damaged arm, a concussion ending in unconsciousness becomes a stunning blow, etc. You still gain a tag that describes the damage taken.

    * the fictional damage is redirected to somewhere else, though still on your character: a blow to the head becomes a shoulder shot, or a smashed shield.

    Along with this to continue the mechanic, you’d have to add in rules for something more than story to bring a character down, and something more than con to determine how tough a character is (after all, I think we’d all agree that a barbarian should be harder to take down than a wizard, fictionally speaking, even if they have the same Con score). Take the HP die and change it into how many consequence tags you can have before you MUST make a last breath move (it can be called for earlier than that if the fiction calls for it, especially on a 6- on your take damage roll), depending on how many sides it has. D4 becomes one consequence slot, a d6 two, a d12 5 slots, etc.

    This would also require rewriting the hack and slash and the volley moves to include damage dealing, along the same lines, or making a different move for ‘deal damage’

  17. Agree with +Colin Stratton  that there is a lot of dislike of HP, but not many viable alternatives are being offered up.  And I disagree that HP is totally abstract.  My view is that HP provides a “measure of harm and combat effectiveness” that can play into the fiction.  For example, you get hit for 1 HP, – that’s a glancing blow that you barely notice.  The Ogre’s club deals a crushing blow to your leg for 12 HP, hobbling you – you’ll be moving much slower until you can get that healed.  The Orc is down to 1 HP – he’s holding his intestines in from your last eviscerating blow, but with a cry of rage he raises his scimitar in an attempt to take you with him with one last mighty blow… 

    If you go to a single roll to resolve combat, I believe you lose much of the flavor and tension of combat.

    And in regard to the Colin’s ‘Take Damage’ move, you are converting the HP die to the number of consequences taken before a Last Breath roll.  Isn’t that just another form of countdown?

  18. Exactly, it seems the main argument is that people WANT the countdown, but want it to stand for something more than just HP. And yes, you can put meaning to HP, but they don’t have any inherent meaning themselves. Also, that 1-damage hit might be a glancing blow to the ten-hp warrior, but to the 4hp mage that’s almost a fatal blow. (I know that’s not exactly the case with DW, but this is an argument I’m intimately familiar with.)

    What I’d personally like is a descriptive countdown, a series of effects I can point out not only add a player but as a DM that show what kind of damage my character has taken. A stab to the gut abd one to each shoulder is far more descriptive and easy to to roleplay and adjudicate than having three HP left. (Three out of what, what percentage is that, what damage did you take, how many individual wounds is that, etc)

  19. Unless I am missing something, your method drains some of the tension out of combat. 

    Take the following example.  Let’s say in Dungeon Word a character has 20 HP and in your method he has 5 consequences.

    The Orc stabs you violently in the gut for 10 HP and you are in incredible pain (at 10 HP).  The Orc slices your shoulder for 2 HP but it’s a light wound (at 8 HP).  The Orc stomps your leg and you’ve now got a mild limp (at 3 HP).

    The Orc stabs you violently in the gut and you are in incredible pain (4 consequence left).  The Orc slices your shoulder for 2 HP but it’s a light wound (at 3 consequences).  The Orc stomps your leg and you’ve now got a mild limp (at 2 consequences).

    In the former, even after the first hit there is tension as another blow like that could take the character down and each following blow adds more tension as the probability for a lethal blow rises.

    In the latter, there is no real tension until you have 1 consequences left.

  20. I have a personal vendetta against hp systems that had nothing to do with how useful or effective they are for a game. After running Dungeon World with normal HP, no HP and only fictional consequences, and AW’s harm system, I can day that hit points were the right choice for the average game/tone of Dungeon World. Without any sort of tracking, it becomes too easy to cheat on the side of the players, and the harm system assumes a certain amount of universal vulnerability among characters that feels inappropriate to the tone of Dungeon World.

    It’s my struggles to find an attrition mechanic that resonated with me that in part led me to create my AW/DW high fantasy hack. The system I use in that centers mostly around characters slowly getting exhausted as they adventure, with wounds instead serving as conditions that cause you to wear out faster. It’s working well so far, but it definitely wouldn’t be the right choice for a game like Dungeon World. The main advantage of hp is that a character doesn’t immediately go into panic-mode as soon as they’re wounded, which allows for much more madcap dungeon crawling experiences to occur.

  21. Kasper Brohus

    All this is with the caveat that I don’t know the current edition of Dungeon World. But:

    The presence of Hit Points in a system indicates, to me, two things:

    1) The game designers expect there to be direct physical combat.

    2) The game designers have a particular length of time they want a particular combat to last.

    And it’s that second one that can be tweaked. Give everything in the world more HP (or have it do less damage), and combats last more “turns” “rounds” “moves” “actions”, wheatever; that is, they take more game time. Give things fewer HP (or have them do more damage) and the reverse happens.

    Whatever ratio of damage output/HP exists in the game, exists because the designers figured out how long they want combat to last.

    Make sense?

  22. Reading this, I’m realising that Dungeon World succeeds at bringing us back to the 80s in yet another fashion: the endless discussions about the ‘realistic’ aspect of this and that game mechanic 🙂

  23. As the player who “convinced a Kobold clan to recognize one of  the party [me] as king”, I have to point out that tony dowler is seriously understating the circumstances by claiming it was “just one roll”. We had already done substantial damage to the clan, beating them into submission. I might’ve already picked up the Crown of the Ravenswoods at that point, I forget, but Tony was the one (as GM) who decided it provided a bonus to Parley when acting as the rightful ruler of the dungeon; if I had it at that point, I certainly used it in that roll with the Kobolds. The blood pact with the banshee was a logical outcome of all the work my character in particular, supported by the other characters, had done in establishing a claim of rulership over the dungeon, as well as my established family ties to the former rulers and, it turned out, the banshee herself. Similarly with “reversing the cosmic balance of life and death”—all of these “one roll” events came out of the fiction, built upon all the previous actions we’d taken. There may not be a direct counter on when the players can drastically change the world, but that ability does have to flow from the fiction, and that means a lot of maneuvering within the fiction, which also inevitably means some prior rolls are required to reach that point.

  24. Adam McConnaughey Yeah, that makes total sense. Even in DW, where there’s no turn-tracking, a combat takes way longer if there’s no characters with a d8 or d10 damage die. Imagine the Cleric/Druid/Wizard party…

    Robert Finamore While you are in your full right to disagree with the notion of total abstraction, it seems like you missed my point.

    Yes, loosing hit points is (or at least should be) accompanied by fictional consequences, but they do not imply them in any way. Fictional consequences imply damage, but not the other way around. There’s no rules tied to the effects of loosing hit points (except for losing your last HP), but there’s rules about how much HP you should loose given the severity of the consequences.

    Another way to look at it; why does a Fighter have about 22 HP when the common adventurer from the monster section has only 3? What does this mean? To my mind, it means nothing. It is an exploitation of the abstract nature of hit points, one meant to put the spotlight on the characters, avoiding the “one hit, one kill” problematic. At least from the players point of view. Screw NPC adventurers, they are cannon fodder anyway 😛

  25. Philip LaRose  Yes, the outcomes were consistent with the fiction and the hard work that went before.

    However, at no point did we say, for example, “the Kobolds have a disposition of 12, once you overcome that by various actions, they recognize you as King.” In retrospect, a custom move like that might work well for a campaign about conquering the dungeon. Contrast with Burning Wheel, where convincing the Kobolds could have been an extended speechifying contest with disposition points analagous to HP. Or with Shadow of Yesterday, where a failed foll could go into Bringing Down the Pain where, once again, you’d have a clock to convince them. Or compare to Burning Empires which I think does actually have a countdown for long-scale conflicts spanning multiple adventures.

    As a GM I love that Dungeon World gives me tools I can use to run the long arc of “conquering the dungeon”, something that I don’t think any of us had in mind when we started the campaign–and that the long arc can still come down to a dice roll where any outcome, including failure, is justified and satisfying. I also love Hit Points as a nod to the source material, and I think they make an excellent damage counter.

    Kasper Brohus  I think part of what you’re saying is that HP creates an opportunity for different characters to take the spotlight in combat, and to do it in different ways: the fighter by taking hits and not going down, the wizard, perhaps, by blasting a troupe of goblins to death with a fireball. I think that’s an amazing thought. This might be part of the deep magic of the Hit Point mechanic.

  26. Kasper Brohus Although HP does not imply the details of a consequence, it does imply severity of a consequence.  A 12 HP strike is certainly a grievous wound for any character, whereas a 1 HP strike is likely a flesh wound or glancing blow.  It’s up to the GM to adjudicate the actual consequence, but the # of HP provides a scalable basis for that consequence.

    What are you referring to when you say “there’s rules about how much HP you should loose given the severity of the consequences.”

    To me, that 22 HP means that from a relative perspective, The Fighter is much more robust and combat effective than the common adventurer.  

  27. Robert Finamore I agree that the loss of HP should somehow reflect the severity of the wound, but I disagree that it is a concrete measure. If it were, then messy wouldn’t make fictional sense, as a loosing an arm should be more damaging than getting a gash.

    As for your your second paragraph, I’m referring to page 23:

    •  It threatens bruises and scrapes at worst: d4 damage

    •  It’s likely to spill some blood, but nothing horrendous: d6 damage

    •  It might break some bones: d8 damage

    •  It could kill a common person: d10 damage

    No one is killed by a scraped knee alone, not even common adventurers. If all monsters had 7 times the HP, and players dealt 7 times as much damage, the game wouldn’t be any different, and then the amounts of HP wouldn’t mean the same anymore.

    The point were I disagree with you is that I don’t see HP as an exact measure of health (or hurt), but as an abstract measure of how close you are to dying. You can see it the other way if it works for you, but to me, seeing it as a concrete measure doesn’t make fictional sense.

  28. Frankly, HP are one of the fastest ways to keep things moving. We can easily satisfy the “fighter can take lots of damage” and “mage can’t” idioms without too much thought or complexity in resolution.

    The fiction can pick up on this, and appropriate soft and hard moves could result. But I like the fact that the mechanic is easy and doesn’t force me to assign those consequences. If anything, I like simplicity and flexibility most about dungeon world. I think HP allow for both just well enough.

  29. I’ve never played Sagas of the Icelanders, but I recall they have a different system that could be an alternative to HP.  It’s pretty brutal, but well, combat is brutal.  If you don’t end up liking it, it might, at least, give you a good foundation to build your own system. 

    Maybe someone who’s played Sagas of the Icelanders could comment on it with some actually useful information.

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