DnD without Hit Points, Damage without Math (Part 2)

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This is part 2 of a series discussing an alternate way of tracking damage in 4e DnD. You can find Part 1 here, and Part 3 here.  ~ Haze

In my previous post I left a veritable throng of questions unanswered, and ended by promising answers come part 2. I will try to deliver on this promise later in this post, but first I have a little confession to make:

I was wrong

Since I wrote part 1, I decided that it would be easier to track and give greater utility to “hits” and Hit Boxes if instead of being equal to the damage done by a striker, each box represents the average damage of a non-striker (just as Lugh/@samldanach suggested, thanks!). I had the same idea early on but felt it might start to look clunky with so many Hit Boxes (8 instead of 4). But I now believe I can produce a visually comprehensive and aesthetically pleasing solution regardless of how many Hit Boxes there are, thus allowing me to implement the greater versatility of having each box represent average damage of average characters, regardless of role.

Before I delve further into this (and present my new and improved formula, since the old one is bunk for these purposes) I’m going to start on a slightly different note by taking a look at the matter of damage from the player’s point of view.

If you prefer you can jump right to the summary at the bottom of the post.

The Delight of Damage

Let’s face it: players L-O-V-E dealing damage. Maybe it’s the simple joy of throwing a bunch of dice and adding them together, or the way it quite obviously shows the PCs increase in power as they go up in level – one thing is certain: damage is the most direct, and usually the most effective, way of influencing the party’s chance of success in a combat encounter. Damage is also one of the central aspects of each class role: strikers deal it, leaders heal it while defenders take it and controllers shake it (all around!).

Bad puns withstanding, there is a pressing issue here – the need for instant gratification (through gratuitous violence in this case). If it takes too long to kill a monster, it’s either a) getting boring, which sucks, b) your fault for dealing too little damage, which sucks even more or c) both, which really, REALLY sucks. Minions provide some short-lived relief in this matter, but the real satisfaction comes from kicking the butt of the bigger and nastier foes. So how does this need for damage translate to my idea of Hit Boxes?

When the Threshold is too High

Let’s look at my old formula for thresholds again: (2 * level) + 6. This will produce a threshold ranging from 8 (at 1st level) to 66 (at 30th level), which is equal to or slightly less than the average damage of a striker (without any shenanigans, of course). So what formula should we use for creating values that are equal to the average  damage done by an equal level non-striker?

Well that part is easy, just halve it:  Level + 3. This creates a value ranging from 4 (at 1st level) to 33 (at 30th level) or more, which is just the number we are looking for. Using this formula means that most characters will be able to surpass the threshold, and that strikers will most definitely surpass it!

In part 1 I spoke of “solid blows” being required to check off a Hit Box. I admit this is not a very apt term, since not all damage can be described as blows. So I’ve come up with the following, more suitable term: a hard hit.  I should clarify that with “hit” in this context I refer to the Hit Boxes, not “hitting” with an attack roll using a d20. Therefore damage that exceeds or is equal to the threshold is considered a hard hit. Now begs the question, what happens if you can’t exceed the threshold?

Let’s look at that level 1 example. The threshold is 4, so any amount of damage that is equal to, or more than 4 would be considered a hard hit. However, if the damage is less than 4, say from a source of indirect damage (eg. a fighter’s Cleave) or lowered due to some form of damage negation (eg. resistance or insubstantial), it is considered a soft hit as a contrast to hard hits. To keep things simple, two soft hits make a hard hit. Thus a monster can take twice the amount of soft hits than hard hits before being defeated.

For simplicity sake, the threshold for soft hits is half the monster’s Level (see Low Damage below for more on this.)

Soft and Hard – a Visual Difference

Now you may be wondering how this could possibly make tracking damage easier when you have to track two different kind of hits, but fear not – all will become clear in time. What we need now is a visual representation of the Hit Boxes, like this:

O O O O | O O O O

Not really boxes (more like ovals), but they’ll do for now. Graph paper works marvelously for this, because you can just mark the corners of a 1×8 box line, and not have to draw boxes. The ‘|’ is what I like to call the bloodied divider, i.e when all the boxes on one side of the divider have been checked off, the monster becomes bloodied. In the above example, the monster has not sustained any damage, so all Hit Boxes are unchecked. When the monster takes damage, you can check off boxes one by one, left to right (or which ever way you prefer), like this:

X O O O | O O O O

No, this is not a fine brandy. The monster has taken damage, suffering a hard hit. One of its Hit Boxes have now been filled, leaving seven that still are empty. If it takes three more hard hits, it will become bloodied (since half of its Hit Boxes have been checked off). But what happens when a monster takes damage but suffers merely a soft hit? The solution is simple, like this:

X / O O | O O O O

Voilá! The monster has now suffered a hard as well as a soft hit, leaving six Hit Boxes still untouched. So what happens if the monster takes yet another soft hit?

X X O O | O O O O

See what I did there? In this digital rendition, it looks as if I simply changed the / into an X. But in an analogue rendition (read = pen and paper) one could simply turn the / into an X  by quickly jotting a over the /! If the monster had suffered a hard hit instead, you would treat it as two soft hits, resulting in this:

X X / O | O O O O

But let’s say the same monster takes even more damage, suffering two more hard hits!

X X X X | / O O O

The monster is now bloodied, as half of its Hit Boxes are checked off.  To clarify, a Hit Box is considered checked off if it has an X, i.e. a hard hit, in it. Simple enough without further explanations, no?

The Trouble of the Trivial and the Fallacies of the Fantastic

There are some foreseeable issues here: potential spikes of (such as extra damage or critical hits) and the occasional multiplier (such as encounter and daily powers) will skyrocket expected damage values – likewise, there are many sources of automatic (ongoing, auras etc.) or watered down (ability score modifier only) damage that fall far below the threshold. How do these anomalies fit into the dualistic nature of Hit Boxes?

High Damage

I’ll address high damage first, since it’s simple to figure out. Say the threshold is 15 (12th level) and a monster takes 50 damage in one go. Since 50 surpasses the threshold, it deals a hard hit. But 50 damage against a 12th level monster (average 120 hit points) would be significantly more grievous than a single hard hit. 50 damage in this case would put the monster right above bloodied, right? So that would roughly translate to 3 hard hits (45 damage). Therefore, for each multiple of the threshold that the damage exceeds, you deal an additional hard hit.

Low Damage

Low damage is a whole other beast. Since 16 soft hits would be enough to defeat any creature, what’s stopping players from killing every monster in sight with 16 minimum damage hits? Say the threshold is 10 (7th level), which means you need a total of 8 hard hits (or fewer more powerful hits) dealing 10 damage or more to defeat it. If 16 soft hits should do the same trick, wouldn’t they all need to do at least half the amount of damage that is required for a hard hit (in this case 5)? This creates a lower threshold that works like resistances. This works out pretty close to half level (although a bit lower), so for simplicity’s sake and for all those low damage dealing controllers out there I’m going with that!

Summary: Too Long, Didn’t Read

To sum it up, here is a sample threshold summary for a level 16 monster:

Soft Hit = Level /2
Hard Hit = Level +3 
Additional Hard Hits = Multiples of Hard Hit threshold

This means that if the monster takes at least 8 points of damage but fewer than 19, it suffers a soft hit. If it takes at least 19 points of damage, it suffers a hard hit. For every additional 19 points of damage it takes on top of that, it suffers an extra hard hit. And there you have it!

It’s a Trilogy!

This article turned out longer than I expected, so I’m going to stop here for the time being. Stay tuned for part 3 where I delve into the specifics: the difference group and specialty roles make (Brute, Lurker, etc. as well as Elite, Solo, and Minion), how damage related traits work (resistance, vulnerability, insubstantial) and more! Also – a nifty cheat sheet table of thresholds! Feel free to offer suggestions in the meantime and post them here as comments or on twitter (@hazemond)! I need your help to make this system hum.

Until next time,


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About Haze

Full-time D&D-nerd, part-time student/worker and regular human being. Disc Golf Enthusiast. May contain trace amounts of sarcasm.