(Subject alluded to previously…)
Race Determines Base Health (Jan 7, 2013)

“Threshold” is a concept I’ve been playing around for a couple years. I don’t recall at what point it started to become really prevalent in my design library, but I think it may have coincided with my personal practice of counting damage “up” on my characters, as opposed to subtracting damage from my hit points.

Screenshot from the GPL game KQ, illustrating ...

Until the typical gamer can do complex calculations as quickly as a game console, let’s go easy on them?

Addition is easier than subtraction.

It is quite literally easier to add numbers up than it is to subtract them. Have you ever played Smash Brothers? Have you noticed in that game how it’s easier to keep track of how much damage your character has sustained than games with hit points? When you’re hit by an attack in Smash Brothers, you accumulate damage.

Now if I understand correctly, the damage you’ve sustained in Smash Brothers has some kind of correlation with the probability of your character being removed from combat with a “Smash!” attack, and that’s basically what we’re talking about with the threshold mechanic. Damage is counted up until it crosses your “threshold.”

Once your threshold has been “broken,” your character is vulnerable to being removed from play. Borrowing from the idea of “death saves” in Fourth Edition Dungeons & Dragons, each time you begin your turn with damage exceeding your threshold, you receive a death penalty. Get three strikes and you’re out.

You don’t have to worry about automatically dying by reaching some arbitrary negative health value. You can add up your damage instead of subtracting it from your hit point total. Bookkeeping is reduced and simplified at the same time.

Several things change when you count damage instead of hit points. First of all, “temporary hit points” go away, and honestly I have to say good riddance. Temporary hit points are a pain in the butt for everyone. They’re a patch on the combat system that was applied to remove complications created by fluctuating attributes.

You know how the barbarian’s Constitution score would change when he would “rage” in Third Edition? It’s so much easier to just give a barbarian temporary hit points and call it a day. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to explain they don’t stack, or decide whether a character out of “real” health should fall unconscious.

You can still have a “bloodied” state (half your threshold, obviously), but healing damage that exceeds your threshold becomes complicated without a special function – I don’t think I’ve described it before but the basic idea is that “damage exceeding your threshold is ignored.” Death penalties still accrue, but healing is made simpler.

Generally speaking, non-player characters could trade “strikes” for additional hit points, making them sturdier up to a point, but dropping as soon as their damage threshold is broken. In that way, enemies are tougher and battles are still tidy.

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