Hit points are the resource of adventure. They represent more than just your character’s health, they represent mental state, and ability to do work. I’ve heard and read that “the only hit point that matters is the last one,” and for a long time, I agreed. Well, now I’m not sure that’s true. In context, one hit point is the difference between an active character and an inactive character. A stepping stone.

I’m playing with the idea of making hit points translate directly to work performed, and how hit points can interact with character level and challenges is kind of a big deal. I started with an arbitrary number that I thought worked pretty well for practice: fifty hit points to fifty experience points. It also translates well to smaller numbers, like “five to five” for games like Dungeons & Dragons, which are far more manageable.

Looking at D&D for a moment, I’m quite fond of starting hit point totals and the new growth concepts. Every character adds their Constitution score to their hit points, and their class determines their hit point modifier, generally ranging from ten to fifteen. Each class gains between four and six hit points per level thereafter. This creates a fairly stable, predictable growth against which challenges can easily be measured.

Healing surges totally destroy the growth balance. At first snuff, “the standard six” healing surges a character receives if they’re a striker or a wimp, is then thrown off because the number of healing surges is also modified by Constitution. Having a “CON 14” instead of a “CON 12” amounts to an extra 25% hit points, at least, in addition to the extra 2 hit points for just having a higher Constitution.

You know, it doesn’t matter if they can’t access those hit points all at once. If they can get to them between encounters, they can adventure longer than their companions before stopping to rest and recover their strength. I appreciate variation, but too much makes it difficult to balance encounters to individual parties. The question I’m asking is, “why create formulas for predictability, only to break them?”

Guild Wars offers an interesting solution to this problem. Characters have the same number of hit points as they advance in levels, regardless of profession. They start with the same amount, gain the same number each level, and they all have equal hit points when they reach the level cap. Equipment can increase or reduce a character’s hit point total, and determine how much damage is prevented.