I want to talk a bit more about an idea I wrote about a few weeks ago, about trading hit points for experience points. Hit points maybe used to mean something different before, but with the increased complexity of contemporary tabletop and video games, I think the role and definition of hit points has changed.

In older games, I think hit points represented the line between your current character and your next character. The world remained the same and the torch would be passed from a seasoned adventurer to a fresh-faced novice. One adventurer would die, and another would take their place. Healing magic and potions notwithstanding.

With the complexity of experience and character levels, there is a greater feeling of investment in each character, and the desire to continue after experiencing a catastrophic failure is great. You want to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and continue the fight. With this movement, the meaning of hit points changes.

As suggested before, hit points no longer represent a character’s lease on life, but rather, a commodity that can be traded. Hit points no longer strictly represent the character’s well-being (though some systems may cling to this idea). Instead, they’ve become an allowance, given to the character to be invested toward whatever end.

Encounters and adventures are purchased with an allowance of hit points. Creatures and traps cost the player hit points, which they pay in the hopes of gaining experience and treasure … which seems redundant considering the “hit points as a commodity” comparison. Gold and magic items seem extraneous in this light.

Given this concept, I’m tempted to look at encounters and adventures as “investment opportunities” with comparative risk-to-reward probabilities. You’re expected to invest a certain amount of your hit points as “venture capital,” and based on a combination of strategy and luck, your investment will pay off … or not. You could lose everything.

Even better than that, any adventure undertaken by a character stands the risk of infuriating not only competitors, but other interested rivals. Maybe communication isn’t as efficient in the ages before telephones and the Internet (or the postal service), but word still travels. Magic makes it probable that word will reach “interested parties.”

In other words, the simple act of investing in adventures should open up the opportunity for future adventures, as your character becomes the target of rivals, competitors, and monsters that want revenge for whatever reason. One simple encounter might bring about a whole legion of encounters, or an adventure.

…”Hit point investment” has given me some really weird ideas.