Look Ma' no wounds (Part 1)
by , 10-20-2011 at 08:07 PM (2548 Views)
Serious injury in D&D
It's only make believe
For a game that is supposed to be based on the imagination, I find it fascinating that some people don't seem capable of getting their heads wrapped around the concept, design space, and implementation of Healing Surges in D&D. Even though I can't agree with the "lack of vision", and sometimes the obtuseness of the arguments about this topic, I can somewhat empathize. For some the Healing Surge mechanic simply breaks their suspension of disbelief. And suspension of disbelief is something crucial when you are sitting in a game room with your friends, pretending to slay dragons while being wizards, warriors, elves, dwarves and halflings.
Let's face it, nothing says, "that is not possible" or breaks the suspension of disbelief more than to have the dragonborn warlord yelling at your character to "suck it up, and get up" as a form of inspiration when you're character has been "wounded". If he does that when you have been dropped into negative hit point territory that is a complete abomination... I know, I'm being facetious but some of the claims seem absurd to me, though I understand completely where they are coming from.
Why we "simulate"
To simulate or abstract, that is the question
Though D&D is a role-playing game, from the very beginning it has always provided a way to "simulate" heroic combat between the protagonists (the PCs), and the antagonists (the NPCs and monsters). Whether that "simulation" is adequate or not is not the purpose of this article. But I think most would agree that "simulating" anything as chaotic as combat is really a tall order. However, the game has always made it manageable by simply abstracting combat to a very high degree, and allowing the DM to inject his particular level of "realism" as needed. If D&D combat was a "realistic" combat simulation the combat system would probably have been designed very differently. Armor would reduce damage rather than preventing you from being "hit", and other "realistic" nuances would have to be designed around the combat system. But it is not realistic, it is abstracted to simulate "heroic" events. Heroes do extraordinary things. So the game has to "simulate" extraordinary circumstances. Sometimes you would be hard pressed to do that with a "realistic" system. So at least let's agree that combat in D&D is very abstracted to simply create a way of determining who won in a fight.
I "Hit" you. No you didn't.
For better of worse due to this level of abstraction, D&D combat has always had a binary measure of combat effectiveness. Until you are dead, you are at full combat effectiveness. D&D has never tried to "simulate" a death spiral in which getting "wounded" made you less capable to continue fighting. As long as you are in positive Hit Point territory, all your capabilities for kicking ass are at full.
So the "Hit Point", has always been an abstract measure of "kick ass potential". In a war of attrition, which Hit Point damage clearly is, the one with the last hit point wins. Hit points serve the purpose of "ablative armor". The more you have the more you can sustain combat. If you have a lot of Hit Points you can sustain combat effectiveness for a lot longer. Meaning that you have a greater chance of depleting the Hit Points of the opponent before he depletes yours.
The "problem" is that Hit Points have NEVER "simulated" actual wounds very well. However DMs have been trying to fit that square peg into the round hole for a very long time. So the DM has made a "narrative" change to his game to account for actual physical wounding.
It also doesn't help that even the "source" materials attempts to do "too much" with one solitary resource.
That right there is a mouthful but it starts to put into perspective the crux of the problem. Hit points are being given dual purpose within one resource. This makes differentiating between an actual physical wound (cut, bruise, abrasion), and a purely metaphysical wound (luck) a matter of great confusion. In addition, how are we to determine what percentage of the wounds are actual hits that do physical damage, when the situation is further exacerbated by the rules for recovery of hit points?Originally Posted by 1e DMG pg. 82
Why the 4 week cap on healing? Maybe because being out of the action (playing) for over 4 adventuring weeks was boring?Originally Posted by 1e DMG pg. 82
In addition actual long term physical injuries are only sustained if you get into negative hit point territory. And even those don't diminish your ability to continue fighting. If you later decide to go adventuring.
All of a sudden this recovery completely discounts the fact that you have "metaphysical" hit points, not just physical ones (keep this in mind as I'll be mentioning this later). It seems like the intent of the rules was that if you went into negative hit point territory you were screwed. Understandable, but ultimately boring. In addition, long term injuries can be assigned by the DM is he chooses. These long term injuries really had no "mechanical" penalties unless the DM also deemed it so. So why the long recuperation times?Originally Posted by 1e DMG pg. 82
This was simply a measure of game balance (campaign realism). In the same way that level limits existed for non-human characters, there were ability score prerequisites and alignment restrictions for certain classes, and female characters had ability score penalties, etc. All these "rules" were as arbitrary as the damage rules. They were put in place because someone thought that the game would work better that way.
The truth of the matter is that most of these "rules" were completely ignored or heavily modified by the majority of players and DMs. Honestly, how many times did your character spend 1-6 turns (10-60 minutes of combat time) out of the fight when you went into negative hit points and were revived by a potion or a spell? How many actually used these recovery rules? Four weeks of "game time" could be an eternity if the giants are invading in two days.
So as you can see many of these things were modified or ignored because they did NOT make the game better, for the only people that matter, the players at the table.
In part 2 I'll continue this discussion with 3.x D&D, and talk about ways to make the 4th edition D&D healing system "better".
Click here if you prefer your character to be kicking ass and taking names. (next article)