DnD without Hit Points, Damage without Math (Part 1)

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I’m pleased to introduce the first post by our new contributor Haze. Watch as he develops some exciting ideas for 4e DnD that match the direction of this blog. I hope you benefit from his musings as much as I have.   ~ Adam 

D&D with no hit points and no math? Well, not exactly.

This is an attempt on my part to build a damage tracking system for 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons that requires less math and demands less time and energy of the DM. This system isn’t completely numberless, but it’s simplified, made more visually intuitive, and opens up fascinating possibilities for further mechanical exploration, all based on a change of perception rather than mechanics.

What I’m suggesting is more of a throw-back to older editions, where hit points didn’t inflate exponentially as you went up in levels. One might ask how such a thing is possible in the delicately balanced system that 4E is, but fear not – I’m only altering some preconceptions (= sacred cows), while keeping most mechanics just the way they are.

First please note that this system only affects monster/NPC hit points. The notion that PCs/Heroes are different from the regular rabble and riches of the world (and particularly the villains they face) is a cornerstone of 4E design from both a mechanical as well as a story perspective. Furthermore, let’s face it, DMs have far more numbers to track than players, so let players keep all their usual addition and subtraction, but let’s find a way to trim some of that DM labor.

What Are Hit Points Really?

Second, ponder for a moment what damage and numerical hit points represent? Damage reduces hit points from a maximum value (which varies) to a minimum (0 in most cases). The only other definite value that is common to all creatures (except minions) is the bloodied value. Although the bloodied value isn’t an absolute number in the strictest sense, it is absolute in relation to each specific monster’s hit points: it is always half the maximum number of hit points (rounded down).

If you then halve the bloodied value (rounding down), you get a creature’s healing surge value, or roughly a quarter of a monster’s hit points. This isn’t usually relevant for monsters since they have less access to healing than PCs do, yet the value exists just as it does for our hearty adventurers.

Now what is so important that I have explained the basic hit point mechanics of D&D 4E so thoroughly that even the dimmest 5-year old could understand it? We’re getting there.

The Damage Golden Mean

How many hits should it take to get to the center of… the monster’s intestines? Luckily for us, the good people at Wizards CharOp board have done the math, argued about it across numerous threads and spilt much ink and tears to bring us the answer to this question.

They’ve determined that regular, run-of-the-mill NON-striker PCs will, on average, bring a monster of their level from maximum to zero hit points in about 8 rounds. An equally average striker, however, will do the same in only 4 rounds. So as few as four hits could take down an equal-level standard monster, if each hit deals damage equal to roughly a quarter of the monster’s hit points.

“Roughly a quarter of a monster’s hit points” may sounds familiar, and that’s because it’s also the monster’s healing surge value, meaning that after two of these hits, the monster should be bloodied. If you still follow what I’m saying, keep reading because now cometh the interesting bit.

The Interesting Bit: From Numbers to Shapes

So dealing four times a monster’s healing surge value in damage should kill it, right? That much is obvious. How does this make damage easier for DM’s to manage? I tell you, it’s easy. Representing damage as numbers is already an abstraction, so all we have to do is go one step further to move from numbers to shapes. No, really.

Picture each creature having four “boxes” representing their combat capacity/health/morale/all-the-above or whatever explanation of hit points you prefer. To further differentiate these shapes from hit points we’ll call them Hit Boxes instead (thanks goes to Adam/@atminn for that!). Now, boxes are nice and all, but what do they do?

Each hit box represents a quarter of a creatures hit points. Whenever a creature takes a solid blow, the DM checks off one of the creature’s boxes. When half of the boxes have been checked off, it’s bloodied. When all boxes are checked off, it’s dead. Simple as that. Now if only we we had a simple way to know what counts as a solid blow..

But wait – we do!

Damage Thresholds

Using the same math found on the CharOp boards we can see that an average striker should deal roughly a quarter of a creatures hit points in damage per round. Using these same numbers we can set a damage threshold which dictates how much damage a single attack/power must deal to qualify as a solid blow, i.e. checking off one of the monsters hit boxes.

These damage thresholds follow the following formula[1]:
(2 * level of monster) + 6

Example: A level 3 monster has a damage threshold of (2*3)+6 = 12, which means a PC must deal at least 12 damage in a single blow for it to qualify as a solid blow, thus checking off one of the monster’s hit boxes.

Lingering Questions

Now you may ask, what happens if you don’t (or can’t) exceed the threshold? What happens to indirect damage (ongoing, falling, aura etc.)? What about different monster roles such as brute, lurker, elite or solo? How many hit boxes do minions have? What do you do with resistances/vulnerabilities or such traits as insubstantial or regeneration? Are you nuts??

We’ll delve into exploring all these questions and more (such as a nifty table for thresholds!), in part 2 of this article! Be seeing you around, and I look forward to engaging your comments!

PS. This is my first gaming-related blog post ever, yay!

[1] I came up with the threshold formula while experimenting with this mechanic and it is only incidentally the same formula the CharOp’ers use to determine expected DPR of intended strikers. Go figure.

Posts two and three are now complete. Check them out.

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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.