Rampant Games - In Defence of Hit Points
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May 20th, 2009, 10:21
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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