Thursday, August 30, 2012

Taking a Hit

This is another case of me throwing out some random thoughts on game design. Again, this time my thoughts are focused on rules mechanics in RPGs. Specifically, I’m thinking about hit points and weapon damage. Basically, my thought was this: What if your hit points actually told you how many times you could get hit?

Now, many RPGs use hit points, or a similar mechanic, to measure characters’ ability to stay in a battle. A character will have a certain number of hit points, and when they get hit by an attack their hit points are reduced. Usually, when a character drops to 0 hit points they’re out of the fight. In every game I’ve seen that uses hit points, they also have variable weapon damage, meaning that weapons reduce your hit points by different amounts. This is often done to try to simulate the effectiveness of different weapons in the real world. For example, it stands to reason that a bazooka will do more damage than a slingshot. Some games even have a mechanic so that a given weapon will do a random amount of damage with each hit. For example, in the Star Wars Saga Edition Roleplaying Game a lightsaber does 2d8 damage. So an attack with that weapon might reduce anywhere from 2 to 16 hit points on a hit.

The idea I’m tossing around is that every attack, from every weapon, would reduce a target’s hit points by exactly 1. So, if you had 10 hit points you would know that you could be hit exactly 10 times before you were out of the fight. There could be a number of advantages to doing this. For one thing, not having randomized weapon damage would mean having to make only half as many roles in the typical combat scenario. This would put all of the focus on a single roll when making an attack. You would never roll a lucky hit, only to roll a measly 3 damage for the attack. It could also be an interesting mechanic when creating enemies for the heroes to fight. If you wanted to send a swarm of minions at the players, you could give each of them only 1 hit point, and you would know that the players may be outnumbered but they would only have to hit each of these guys once to take them down. Or, on the other end of the spectrum, if you wanted to create a “boss” enemy that would stick around for awhile you could give him 15 hit points, and you would know that the protagonists would have to land 15 hits on him in order to take him down. In a game like Dungeons & Dragons you can give an enemy enough hit points so that you think he’ll be a pretty tough opponent, but then a couple of high damage rolls might take him down surprisingly quick.

Of course, this idea isn’t without its drawbacks. If every successful attack always removes 1 hit point, then all of your weapons and other attack options are going to look identical. That just isn’t very exciting. However, there might be an interesting solution to this. I might argue that, in the hands of an untrained person, most weapons have a fairly equal chance of hurting someone. For example, a war club to the head or a knife to the ribs could be equally lethal. If you don’t know any special techniques for fighting with those weapons, then your success will be largely due to chance. Having every weapon deal exactly 1 damage reflects this. Now, where differences come in is when characters have special abilities that represent their training and experience with a particular weapon. Since fighting with a dagger requires getting extremely close to your opponent and slipping in past his defenses, characters might be able to gain an ability that lets them move a short distance and attack with a dagger as a single action. A swing of a war club with a lot of strength behind it could knock a person to the ground, so characters might be able to gain an ability that lets them knock an enemy down when they hit with a club. I imagine you could probably create three or four such abilities for each type of weapon in your game.

What do you think? Do you think this sort of model would work well in an action-adventure RPG? Are there any glaring flaws? Is there anything I overlooked? Please leave a comment if you have any insights to share. Thanks!


  1. Hmmm I could see this going either way really. It might help streamline battle and take away the possibility of a dismal damage roll, but it also kinda takes away the thrill of spectacular success...Part of the personal appeal to me of role-playing mechanics is the way it attempts to simulate aspects of reality. So I like the idea of different weapons having different damage types and abilities and so forth. But I guess I would be willing to try out a simplified version and see if it's still as fun.

    1. Thanks for your honest opinions. Here are a couple of thoughts to address your particular concerns.

      First, the thrill of a particularly good roll is a great part of the combat system in most RPGs. You could still do this by rewarding a particularly good result on the roll to hit. I think it would be best to have this reward in the form of some additional condition placed on the target, rather than extra damage, because that begins to deviate from the basic premise that 1 hit = 1 hit point. Perhaps an exceptional roll grants you an additional attack for free. This would create the potential for more damage with a great roll, but it's still keeping to the idea of 1 hit = 1 hit point.

      As far as different weapons having different damage: the idea I'm proposing would work best in a setting where most weapons are pretty much on par, like my example of a knife or a club - the difference is more in how you use them, not in how potentially lethal they are. If characters are using anything from slingshots to grenades then, yeah, the 1 hit = 1 hit point scheme might feel wildly unrealistic.

    2. Yeah if there were special abilities or moves that somehow enhanced the excitement of the battle that would help. I've got an open enough mind to be willing to try something like that. ^_^