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Default Rampant Games - In Defence of Hit Points

May 20th, 2009, 08:52
Another thought-provoking post from Jay Barnson, this time looking at the tradition of "hit points":
Hit points originated as an abstract representation of the ability to absorb attacks by a military unit of organization. When pulled from the wargame world to Dave Arneson's Blackmoore campaign (the origin of Dungeons & Dragons), this arbitrary measure was retained. The value made little sense - while a certain number of damage points might work to measure a ship's seaworthiness or a platoon's ability to take casualties and continue fighting, it was a poor measurement of an individual's health. After all, people don't just keep functioning unhindered while absorbing loads of damage, and then suddenly conk out once an empirical threshold is reached.
More information.
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May 20th, 2009, 08:52
Interesting counterpoint to Gareths recent posts on his combat philosophy for Scars of War. Maybe you should do a "hot chair" interview with the two of them, that would surely be interesting.
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May 20th, 2009, 09:21
It boils down to the old dilemma of (combat-oriented) role-playing games: combat is supposed to be lethal, but you, the player, are supposed to survive. If you die, the game is over. If you get a limb amputated because it went gangrenous from a flesh wound you received, the game might as well be over. Role-playing-game fights are supposed to be like in Zorro or Conan — lots of swashbuckling action and excitement, bad guys falling left and right, but the hero always surviving with at most a manly-looking scar or two as souvenirs.

I really like the combat system in Dwarf Fortress, which does simulate exactly which tendon gets cut and how much blood you lose before the wound closes, and the next iteration will even have gangrene, septicemia, broken bones puncturing internal organs and poking through the skin, and all that kind of fun. But it's based on the idea that characters are disposable — get yourself killed, you just pick up another citizen from the world and start on a new adventure.

That means that combat in normal RPG's *cannot* be fair nor realistic, because fair and realistic combat kills or debilitates you. There *have* to be fudges and cheats — magic potions, bacta tanks, resurrection spells, what have you — and somehow only you're able to figure out how best to use these fudges and cheats.

Personally, I don't care for hit points, at least not in the D&D sense. I liked the damage system in Deus Ex, with localized damage having different effects; getting shot in the arm makes it harder to aim, getting hit in the head makes the view go swimmy and black out from time to time, getting hit in the leg makes you move more slowly. Yet it, too, had to have a magic healing system that restored you to full health with a click.

In a way it's a shame that the only game that had a mechanic that could get around this limitation was stuck with good ol' D&D hit points — Planescape: Torment, of course. I'd dearly like to see another game that took that approach to fighting and dying — but I wouldn't want every game to be like it, because it would get old real fast.
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May 20th, 2009, 11:32
I have to admit myself after playing the demo of Deus Ex 1 for a few days, that I like that health system more than the "normal" RPG's.

But I think it is very hard to implement this in all games, it would ask to much of the engine most of the time I think. I mean think of Gothic or a iso metric view based game?

Although didn't Fallout had such a mechanic also? how was it done there?

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May 20th, 2009, 13:26
FO1 & 2 did have something like that, although you and NPCs have classic HP, it is not "downgraded" with general hits the same way if you hit head, groin or perhaps even eyes where you could get blinded or crippled. What Fallout also had was the radiation and poison as slow atribute degradation effects if left uncured (also affecting HP), and some more additional things (intoxicated or drug addicted).
Magical cure for crippled limbs was not present. You had to use medicine skills or go for a doctor (and medicine tables). For addictions you had to stop using a thing and get past the crisys moments (rest), although for a drug called Jet there was an antidote.
FO3… Is not so rich with HP affecting things as it's predecessors.

As P. Junta stated, Torment was the game that did the HP thing pretty nice. You were a sort of regenerating abomination that can't die at all, but if the wounds were too critical, that could get you in a kind of "clinical death" and you'd wake up later in a mortuary or another place where dead bodies are taken. You'd be healed, of course.
But this doesn't mean you were playing as some immortal bastard so you can do anything without a consequence. For example in Torment there was an option to be completely destroyed by Lady of Pain, a god of some kind, who obviously had the power to kill anyone or anything.
If she was twice iritated (if you get along with Aoskar disciple too much), after sending you to a maze for the first time, second time she would destroy you (actualy your body) and permanently end the game.
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May 20th, 2009, 13:31
Mmm but could the something in the way it was done in FO1 en 2 be easily implemented in 3d RPG's without too much pressure on the engine, the programming and such. Like example in Gothic, or the Witcher or other 3d titles, without it becoming too complicated for casual gamers too but still enough for the hardcore?

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May 20th, 2009, 16:43
Mount & Blade recognises hits against different body parts (but it only use it to calculate a damage multiplier), so I dont think the implementation would be too much of a problem in a 3D realtime game.
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May 20th, 2009, 19:37
But why isn't it been used more then?

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May 20th, 2009, 19:56
Originally Posted by titus View Post
But why isn't it been used more then?
My guess would be poor return on invested effort. If a localised damage feature only means that one ends up headshooting enemies by the hundreds (Fallout definitely had that potential) one can ask what the point of implementing it is? Hitpoints work at a sufficient "resolution" and is a tried model. The main reason to develop this further is if your game mainly focuses on combat as Mount and Blade or old Die by the Sword did.
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May 20th, 2009, 19:59
MMM wouldn't it also be cool to see it in Aplha Protocol

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May 20th, 2009, 20:16
The Fallout headshot thing was more of a balancing problem. It was too easy to score one and too difficult to defend against one, compared to the other options. In fact, IMO the combat system in FO is enormously overrated; it has just about every design flaw in the book, from dominant strategies to poor balancing to lack of tactical finesse to braindead AI, and in fact is so bad that at times it becomes a major impediment to enjoying the game (e.g. the excruciatingly tedious fights against geckos and radscorpions in early FO2).

It's a shame, really, because the system isn't fundamentally flawed; all it would've taken to make it quite enjoyable would've been a slightly more sophisticated AI and rebalancing to get rid of the dominant strategies and the 99% chances to hit the eyes, plus better effects for other aimed shots.
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May 20th, 2009, 20:21
FO1 & 2 did have something like that, although you and NPCs have classic HP, it is not "downgraded" with general hits the same way if you hit head, groin or perhaps even eyes where you could get blinded or crippled.
Locational hits were mostly meaningless in Fallout. You would have to hit in the same location dozens of times before causing permanent damage and even several times for any combat effects (hit the eyes usually only granted a damage bonus that turn).

Phantasie III (1987) had hit locations (and decapitation)

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May 20th, 2009, 20:33
Hit points are fine, and realism is overrated, IMO. Gygax's explanation works for me.

But if a character were to take a direct hit from a cannon ball, receiving its maximum damage, that ought to kill him. Levels and hit points need to remain low (and come to think of it, that's how it worked in Gygax's original game).

Achilles in the movie Troy was a fine example of an RPG hero. Though he was clearly high level, all it took was a single arrow to slay him. He fought remarkably well, but not enough to validate his epic stature on the battlefield. He was simply amazing.

John Carter , the original dungeon-crawling tank that, IMO, inspired D&D, is another example. Alone and unarmored, he would receive countless wounds, battling his way through dozens or even hundreds of adversaries.

Carter and Achilles were heroes, and heroes fare better than everyone else, somehow (and that's why they're the subject of stories, isn't it?). They have a fate, a destiny to fulfill. Gygax factored in heroism via hit points.

And that's where this conversation tends to break down, I think. Some players scoff at the idea of heroism, preferring to play more mundane characters. They have the wrong idea about RPG, IMO.

If I were to create my own RPG, I would find a way to quantify and measure that heroic advantage and specify it to fit various character types. And the world I would create would be a dynamic place, one where the player wouldn't mind starting over with another character after his previous one gets clobbered by a cannon ball.

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May 21st, 2009, 00:58
Originally Posted by Squeek View Post

And that's where this conversation tends to break down, I think. Some players scoff at the idea of heroism, preferring to play more mundane characters. They have the wrong idea about RPG, IMO.
Somewhat how I feel. I get to be mundane all the time in life. When I play a game I want to be a bit more then mundane.
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May 21st, 2009, 09:46
It depends. Most of the time it is great to play someone special. But sometimes it feels great to play a nobody. Remember how they treat you most of the time in G1 or 2?
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May 21st, 2009, 10:25
Originally Posted by Squeek View Post
Hit points are fine, and realism is overrated, IMO. Gygax's explanation works for me.

But if a character were to take a direct hit from a cannon ball, receiving its maximum damage, that ought to kill him. Levels and hit points need to remain low (and come to think of it, that's how it worked in Gygax's original game).

Achilles in the movie Troy was a fine example of an RPG hero. Though he was clearly high level, all it took was a single arrow to slay him. He fought remarkably well, but not enough to validate his epic stature on the battlefield. He was simply amazing.

John Carter , the original dungeon-crawling tank that, IMO, inspired D&D, is another example. Alone and unarmored, he would receive countless wounds, battling his way through dozens or even hundreds of adversaries.

Carter and Achilles were heroes, and heroes fare better than everyone else, somehow (and that's why they're the subject of stories, isn't it?). They have a fate, a destiny to fulfill. Gygax factored in heroism via hit points.

And that's where this conversation tends to break down, I think. Some players scoff at the idea of heroism, preferring to play more mundane characters. They have the wrong idea about RPG, IMO.

If I were to create my own RPG, I would find a way to quantify and measure that heroic advantage and specify it to fit various character types. And the world I would create would be a dynamic place, one where the player wouldn't mind starting over with another character after his previous one gets clobbered by a cannon ball.
I agree with much of this.

I think a game with a smaller dynamic range for character development (e g fewer levels) and a fluid party where you could pick up replacements along the way would handle some of the reluctance to accept mortality. Darklands spring to mind as a game that did something along those lines. As I see it we dont appreciate our characters getting killed because we get attached to them and we dont want to replay the buildup phase….

Now this wouldnt work for the typical epic where you are "the chosen one", but I would like more games to try such an approach.
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May 21st, 2009, 10:45
When roleplaying in the d20 system, I generally use hitpoints to represent stamina rather than health. You aren't really taking any serious damage until you approach zero. Im using the rules very abstract depending on the situation. A character with more combat experience gets better over time to make sure not to get hit, or not to get any serious hits at least, thus they have a greater amount of hitpoints.

Star Wars Saga Edition uses both hitpoints and condition, which keeps track on both strikes that hurt, and strikes that wears you down over time. On a sidenote, Saga Edition promotes cinematic heroes like no other game I seen. Even at level one, NPC's are massively more powerful than a nonheroic character, and can most likely shoot down multiple stormtroopers without that much of an effort. There's even a roleplaying mechanic known as "destiny" which promotes heroism.

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