Origin of Big Hit Points, Big Healing?

Origin of Big Hit Points, Big Healing?

Origin of Big Hit Points, Big Healing?

In the discussion on Rob Alexander’s post “What I like about Dungeon World, and what I do not”, Jeremy Strandberg brought up a point about DW:

> 1) PCs tend to have a lot of HP

> 2) It’s mechanically easy to restore them

As far as I can tell, this stands in stark contrast to the earliest version of the game, in which you determined your hit points by rolling a die. New characters could have a range of hit points from 4–13, based on their class, with most classes getting a lot less than the maximum. Healing seems to have been granted only by magic or (one supposes) appropriate fiction.

Even the “Dungeon World Hack” PDF that came out a few years later seems to have kept Hit Points much lower than the current game, using “base HP +CON” instead of “base HP +Constitution”, but leveling up could rapidly improve your situation.

The current rules keep HP static except for increases in Constitution or advanced moves, but you generally start with a lot more HP than the earlier drafts.

I’m curious if anyone here was involved in the early playtests or discussions about the early rules. Does anyone know what precipitated such a drastic change?

I agree with Jeremy that inflated Hit Points does foster a disassociation between numeric damage and the fiction. At my table, we mitigate this by tying most hits to other consequences in the fiction. Last week, our ranger was hit by a pistolshot in the hip, so it took her a while to get up and go again. (It might have been a good time to use the “Stun Damage” rule, but we didn’t think of it—the action was fast and furious enough that she was just left out for a few minutes while stuff happened around her.)

But we don’t always remember to do this. Since the Ranger took two pistolshots, she was more beat up in the fiction than the other PCs, but two others came within a few Hit Points of Last Breath, and we didn’t narrate how their injuries were hobbling them. The players still felt the screws tightening, because their Hit Points were low AND they were hemmed in by other circumstances.

I’m planning to adopt Jeremy’s suggestion to use Deal Damage only in concert with other moves. That’s usually what I do anyway, but not always.

20 thoughts on “Origin of Big Hit Points, Big Healing?”

  1. I don’t recall the moment of change but I do remember that there was some concern about how to avoid having a HP escalation though levels. I vaguely think Sage wrote a blog post about that (related) topic?

  2. The lack of HP escalation through levels is absolutely a feature for me. Many, MANY other games turn into utter nonsense as a result of that.

    While I do feel like the starting HP are a little bit high sometimes, the obvious answer is, of course, that if you want more “harm” then just implement more fictional harm.

  3. Thanks, Rob Brennan. The earliest post I could find on LaTorra.org was the 16 HP Dragon article. I skimmed the public KS updates (I wasn’t a backer), and didn’t find anything about it. I do appreciate the lack of HP escalation, and it makes sense to bump starting HP as a trade-off for no level-based increase.

    It does, however, make even the weakest DW character much more longeval against numeric damage. The thing to remember is, that’s not the only kind. 😉

  4. If I recall correctly, it was this thread by Justin Wightbred on the Barf Forth forums that prompted the change.

    Both the DW Hacks that I have, plus the DW Red Book from Sept 2011 have escalating HP, with starting HP in the 3-10 range.

    Wightbred proposed dropping all that, and using static HP numbers that look pretty similar to what we’ve got now. Sage piped in to say “cool, but we’re probably going to keep with the escalation.’

    apocalypse-world.com – Removing the last unnecessary escalation?

  5. Idea: You pointed out that PCs having a lot of HP, plus rapid healing plays a big role in dissociating Hit Points from fiction. It seems like that might be drastically altered with a simple revision to the move “Make Camp”:

    “When you wake from at least a few uninterrupted hours of sleep recover HP equal to half of your current wounds.”

    This alternative keeps healing at the current rate for the gravest injuries, but healing slows down when you have less damage to heal. This supposes that after you get some rest, injuries aren’t as bad as they seemed at first. But it would take 3–5 “make camp” moves to heal completely, instead of 2.

    Suppose you have a Level 1 Wizard at 12 HP, who has suffered 11 damage on day 1, and no further injuries on day 2.

    The standard rule would have him recover 6 HP the 1st night (to 7 HP), and recover the rest on the 2nd night.

    Using the alternative, the Wizard would recover 6 HP the 1st night, as before. The 2nd night would restore 3 HP, bringing him up to 9HP. The 3rd night would restore 2 HP, pushing him up to 11 HP. He would recover completely the 4th night.

    High-stamina characters like the Fighter and Paladin would take slightly longer to fully recover—compared to their allies—if brought low. But they would always have proportionally more HP on any given day.

    [Edit: Removed some half-baked nonsense.]

  6. What that ends up doing is putting more emphasis on healing resources: cure spells, Arcane Art, bandages and poultices & herbs, etc. Which isn’t bad, at all, for a certain type of game. But I don’t think it, by itself, is going to make HP more linked to fiction.

    Something I’ve always wanted to tinker with was capping how much healing you get/do “in the field.” Maybe tie that in to reduced healing overall.

    So, for example, when you Make Camp, you heal HP equal to your Damage Die + CON, but this can’t raise you past 1/2 your max HP. Bandages heal 2 HP (maybe 3) and again, can’t raise you past 1/2 max HP. Poultices & herbs heal 5, limited to 1/2 max.

    Then, greatly reduce the HP restored by spells like Cure Light/Moderate/Critical Wounds, but they don’t have the 1/2 HP maximum. You’d have to nerf the healing buff moves, too. And you’ve have to decide what to do about Lay on Hands and Arcane Art and any other magicalish healing that’s around.


    Totally different idea: cut PC HP in half. Add a new basic (?) move:

    Take Damage

    When you take damage despite your best efforts to avoid it, you can choose to halve the damage but pick 1 of the following:

    * You lose something (footing, grip, etc.)

    * Something on your person breaks

    * You’re out of it for a moment

    Whatever you chose, the GM will describe the details.

    Now, taking damage sucks but you weasel out of it by asking for a fictional consequence.

  7. No argument that cutting back healing from Make Camp could by itself assure relation of Hit Points to the fiction.

    Looking at your Take Damage move from the player’s perspective, I wonder if it’s mainly a way for the player to veto your move? Dealing damage is one specific way to use of their resources, right? But with the Take Damage move above, Dealing Damage is at best offering the player a choice of what move you make, since they can shrug off some of the damage to pick a different resource for you to use up.

    I read a comment by John Harper somewhere that when he runs World of Dungeons, he always makes monster moves in addition to dealing their damage on an attack. Until then I had been doing the same thing, because it seemed nearly impossible to deal damage in the fiction without it, but I thought I was being too brutal by the rules. Reading Harper’s comment made me feel easier about my wayward antics, and it seems akin to what you were saying in the “Deal Damage is a Crap GM Move” post.

    Your example of “he stabs you back. Take 1d8+1 damage.” feels natural after years of playing dozens of games that abstract away combat like that, but I think you nailed it in arguing for deal damage to be paired with other moves.

  8. Ah, yeah… I don’t see that Take Damage move as a veto so much as an “and also.” You’d still do your GM move, dealing damage along with it, and the player could basically ask for a second GM move in order to minimize the damage.

    So if you have the hill giant throw something and toss me into a wall, inflicting 1d8+3 forceful damage, for a roll of 11, and I could be like “oh crap, that’s a lot of damage, I’ll halve it but… lose something. My footing?” And you could be like “Nah, you already lost your footing, chum. When the world stops spinning, you’re flat on your back and you realize your sword hand is empty.”

  9. I’m not really a fan of Take Damage as written because I feel like it actually has the opposite effect of what people are going for here – it further dissociates hitpoints from harm, because it basically establishes the sorts of harm it lists as things that happen INSTEAD of losing hitpoints.

    If you want to establish that hitpoints mean something, you want stuff that happens WHEN you take hitpoint damage, not a way to duck out of it.

  10. (Through this whole discussion, the elegance of World of Dungeons has grown more vivid. Re-roll your Hit Dice, and keep dice up to your level. It might sound inflationary, until you realize that even with maximum CON and a healer, you will only ever roll 4 dice. This game is next up!)

  11. Mike Pureka not sure I agree. Making HP loss cause fictional wounds is one way to associate them with the fiction. But you also get into death spiral territory there, where now you’re defying danger with CON just to keep fighting because OH GOD MY LEG.

    I see the Take Harm move as a sort of generating a fruitful void thing… by giving them a way to avoid HP loss, you’re playing up the angle that HP loss is meaningful.

    And if you pair that with, say, halving the max HP that PCs have, each actual loss of HP becomes something the players feel. Even if doesn’t force a fictional description of the harm, the emotional reaction is similar.

    But I don’t know! I haven’t playtested it, at all!

  12. Jeremy Strandberg Let me put it this way: Reading the move as written basically just made me think “Geez, why would I open myself up for any of that stuff when I could just make my HP number go down?” it would basically only even get consideration from me if I were already dangerously low on HP.

    That doesn’t seem at all like what you were going for.

  13. Gotcha. But think about what it’d be like in DW with only 50% your max HP. The fighter would have, what… 12 HP? Even with 3 armor, that hill giant smack would bring him down to 1… and that’s pretty scary. Losing his sword to make it only 6 damage (less 3 Armor, so 3 HP) becomes pretty damn appealing.

    Even more so, then, if you’re the wizard with 6 HP and 0 Armor. That guy would be picking one of those things all the damn time, I think.

  14. Running a campaign that is now at levels 8-9, I hadn’t seen #1 as an issue – as 27HP (highest PC HP I think) didn’t seem too much to me. I had not seen #2 at all until the last 2 sessions when the group picked up a cleric PC. Up until then #2 was limited as all they had were some bandages. At levels 8-9 I’m now throwing monsters at them that do a d10+ damage. It gets their attention.

    As a GM I always hit hard when they fail. To quote Jason Cordova if you roll a 6- you are “bleeped” in my game. I assess HP damage and throw a hard fictional element, destroyed armor, busted ribs, tossed into the sea, buried in the earth, etc.

    What I find more problematic at higher levels is that they don’t fail much. Thus I really have to hit hard when they do.

    Monster HP are too low. But adding more creates the situation of longer fights. It’s a tight rope…

  15. After stewing on this for a bit, I’ve come around to a new way of looking at it—thanks in large part to Jeremy Strandberg’s comment about changing the fiction every time you deal damage:

    plus.google.com – Jeremy Strandberg – Google+

    My new outlook may seem elementary, but seems like a fog has lifted, at least for now. If we take the rules as written, it’s implicity that Hit Points and damage in Dungeon World don’t necessarily model your meat and bones and the trauma or injury thereto.

    Yes, the section comparing different damage dice to levels of physical trauma does make it seem like that’s what losing Hit Points is about, and I think that’s the root of my confusion. It doesn’t take a supercomputer to notice that d10 damage isn’t enough to clean the clock of the Level 1 Wizard—much less the Fighter!

    But there’s a key word in those examples “threatens”, “likely”, “might”, and “could”. Each of those words mitigates the connection to trauma, somewhat.

    Another key concept the game adds is the “messy” tag—”It does damage in a particularly destructive way, ripping people and things apart”. But that’s what weapons do, when they strike true.

    The messy tag puts damage in a different light. Some attacks are messy—but by and large, damage in Dungeon World is not messy. The strong implication is that, without the messy tag, an attack doesn’t necessarily involve anything more than incidental trauma.

    It gives an impression like the duel between Inigo Montoya and the Man in Black. They clearly wear each other down via feints, near misses, and the gaining and losing of ground, but they aren’t making messy attacks, so they don’t get their bones shattered or guts torn out.

    If that’s the kind of damage you have, getting half your HP back when you get a hearty meal and rest for a few hours fits perfectly.

    Compare that to the duel with Count Rugen, when they both make messy attacks, and Count Rugen even hits Inigo with stun damage. In Dungeon World terms, their HP might come back, but the fictional effects will leave lingering consequences.


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