A Different System for Hit Points

I alluded earlier to using a different system for hit points, which I used for almost 20 years before abandoning it. But I still like it.

The DMG says,

“It is quite unreasonable to assume that as a character gains levels of ability in his or her class that a corresponding gain in actual ability to sustain physical damage takes place. It is preposterous to state such an assumption, for if we are to assume that a man is killed by a sword thrust which does 4 hit points of damage, we must similarly assume that a hero could, on the average, withstand five such thrusts before being slain! Why then the increase in hit points? Because these reflect both the actual physical ability of the character to withstand damage – as indicated by constitution bonuses- and a commensurate increase in such areas as skill in combat and similar life-or-death situations, the “sixth sense” which warns the individual of some otherwise unforeseen events, sheer luck, and the fantastic provisions of magical protections and/or divine protection. Therefore, constitution affects both actual ability to withstand physical punishment hit points (physique) and the immeasurable areas which involve the sixth sense and luck (fitness).”

Towards that end, I built a revised hit point system to attempt to separate out the difference between that physical (body) ability, and the areas which involve sixth sense and luck (skill), supplementing but not replacing the entirety of the AD&D hit point system.

I. HIT POINTS (HP)
HPs are divided into physical BODY POINTS (BP), and skill/luck SKILL POINTS (SP). Hit Points <= CON + ½ LEVEL (rounded up) are considered BP, the remainder (if any) SP.

Damage is normally to SP first. However, hits by 5 or more than needed (or saving throw failure of 5 or more) are “Exceptional,” and inflict 50% of the damage directly to BP. If BP are reduced to <= 0, the PC falls unconscious, with an additional BP lost / round, although SP will be lost (at the rate of 1, 2, 4, 8, etc.) before decreasing the remaining BP.

In other words, a PC’s hit points remain the same, but are divided into two categories, Body (BP) and Skill (SP). Normal damage will do SP damage until all SP are gone, and then do BP damage until all BP are gone, and then the PC will fall unconscious. The end result is 100% identical to normal AD&D hit points unless hit by an “Exceptional” blow (a die roll 5 or more greater than required), in which case the damage goes directly to BP.

Let’s look at a few examples:

  • A 1st level fighter with 8 hit points and a Constitution of 16, has 8 BP, and no SP. However he gets hit, he will lose 8 hit points (all BP), drop to 0 BP, and be unconscious.
  • A 5th level MU with 21 hit points and a Constitution of 16, has 21 BP, and 0 SP. As he has no SP, however he gets hit he will lose BP until he drops to 0 BP and goes unconscious.
  • A 9th level fighter, with 62 hit points and a Constitution of 16, has 21 BP (Con + 1/2 level), and 41 SP. If hit by a normal blow (not by more than 5 needed to hit) for 11 points, he will lose 11 SP, and now have 21 BP/ 30 SP. The next normal blow for 15 damage would drop him to 21 BP / 15 SP. The next normal blow for 16 would remove 15 SP, and the remaining 1 damage would come off of Body, leaving him with 20 BP/ 0 SP. Damage would continue until he ran out of BP, and fell unconscious.
  • The same 9th level fighter, with 62 hit points, and a Constitution of 16, has 21 BP, and 41 SP. When damaged 24 points by an Exceptional blow (5 or more than required to hit), he would lose half from SP, and half from BP, and then have 9 BP / 29 SP. The next Exceptional blow for 24 points of damage would reduce the character to -3 BP/ 17 SP. In the following rounds he would lose 1 SP (-3 BP/ 16 SP), 2 SP (-3 BP/ 14 SP), 4 SP (-3 BP/ 10 SP), 8 SP (-3 BP/ 2 SP), 16 SP (-3 BP/ 0 SP), and then continue to bleed out 1 BP / round until reaching -10 and dying.

Under this system characters with low hit points are mostly unaffected. Characters with high hit points become vulnerable to attacks from a high roll that could reduce their BP to 0 before they run out of SP. Creatures with high hit dice need a lower roll to hit, and therefore are more likely to roll 5 or more needed to hit.

II. HEALING
BP will not heal naturally until the day after all SP heal. SP heal Character Level/day; BP heal (CON bonus+1)/day, max 3. Non-magical healing goes towards SP first. Magical healing always heals BP <=0 first.

Characters wounded only in Skill healed faster. The advantage to this is it accelerated the healing time for characters with a lot of hit points. Characters wounded in Body could health their Skill points rapidly and be back to adventuring with most of their hit points, but still be vulnerable to Exceptional blows.

C. Mage Spell Casting
Mages can overcast spells if they have used up all available spell slots, or are reading from a book. Overcasting causes 2 * (level of spell * d4) damage, subtracted half each from BP and SP.

We permit mages to “overcast,” trying to simulate that “moment of desperate need” where the mage casts the all-powerful spell, but only at great risk and peril to themselves. This damage started at 100% damage to body, but over time we adjusted that to half from BP and SP.

Extended Example: Fritz, a 6th level mage with 24 HPs, CON 8 (14 BP, 8 SP), and 8 BP of damage already, wants to cast Fireball (a 3rd level spell) desperately, but has used up his memorized Fireball. *WHOOSH* Enemies go up in smoke; Fritz takes 2 * 3d4 damage (for a total of 12), taking him to 2 SP, 0 BP. Fritz goes unconscious. The shock of going unconscious doesn’t kill him outright, and 2 rounds (and 2 SP) later, his BP start to drop at the rate of 1/round.

In the end, this system failed to be usable. One reason is that it didn’t come into play often enough. BP were initially defined as just Constitution, which ended up being excessively lethal. We changed it to Constitution + Level (which made it not lethal enough) before landing at Constitution + 1/2 level. Over time we correspondingly watered down the damage from Overcasting as well. The combination of those two changes removed any significant effect from the entire system. Because Exceptional damage went half to BP and half to SP, unless a character had more SP than BP (rare in every case but fighters at mid-level and higher), the system effect was primarily healing times.

Where I really saw the negative impact in play was in healing. Every time the party was recovering from a major fight, they struggled with applying healing appropriately. I’m not sure why (Heal SP first, then BP), but I eventually abandoned this system as a lost cause.

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Author: Rick

A DM for *mumble* years, I've been playing AD&D since junior high. I've currently got two separate campaigns running, both in Mystara. I've been told when they handed out hobbies, I stood in the short lines. I actively cycle tour, kayak, play board games, read, develop home automation software, volunteer with the American Red Cross, and work on a never-ending stream of home repairs. In my wake I've left paintball, medieval full-contact combat (SCA), computer gaming, Heroclix, tablet weaving, and kite construction.

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