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Hacking HP: Buckle Up

If you're reading these words, you're probably just like me: a GM who has at least one small group of friends tricked into thinking you know what you're doing. You've been playing RPGs for ages, gathering your bag of tricks and classic scenes. You're a bit of a game designer, hacking and homebrewing a game that can barely use its own rule books anymore. You answer to no one, so you can experiment with truly innovative changes in your game with no repercussions besides an occasional 'oops' or 'that was awful.'


Last year, our Old School Essentials group got tired of asking "what's my attack roll?" So we ditched them altogether. We adopted roll-under-stat as our attack and stat check paradigm. Nat 1's are crits. At first, I felt like a mutant heretic, but now it's a core of our table. It just works. I toss the occasional penalty in (Take 3 off your STR then roll it!) and life goes on without pesky modifiers.


Despite a lot of skipping happily and back-patting, our work was not yet done. We needed to hack the gorilla in the corner: Hit Points. Lo, how I have watched through the ages as players and GMs both bemoan HP bloat, huge HP pools in monsters, drawn-out 'grind' style tank-and-spank monster fights, and all the mathematic blah that comes with large numbers of HP in play. No more. We're gonna fix it.


At the end of the last OSE season (30-some sessions in a year or so), we fought a gigantic green dragon called Bloodwing.


Bloodwing forms from masses of smoke and attacks!


Rather than giving him 500+ HP, I simply gave him 6 'hits.' To inflict a hit, players needed either A) a crit or B) some wildly successful attack using the environment or something unforeseen. The fight was bloody wonderful. A real hoot. So, coming into season 2, we decided to adopt that system for everything.


After a little digging, I found this great article over at Gnome Stew by John Arcadian. The threshold concept in John's article unlocked our new damage system. We keep super fun damage rolls, but healing and HP are vastly cooked down.


So, we just use class Hit Die as the threshold. Exceed that threshold with damage to inflict a single hit. (see the new OSE PDF link below for more). All PC's start with 3 hits until killed. Easy Peasy.


Now, if you're like me, you should be thinking "Hold on, how would an attacker doing, say D4 damage ever injure a D6 HD or higher target?" A fine question, and its answer lies in this hideous chart:

Green? Roll under you stat to hit, and beat target threshold to land a single HIT.

Yellow? Once an attack succeeds, roll max damage to inflict a HIT, nothing else can get through!

Red? Only a critical success on your attack roll can land a HIT.


This chart only shows single-die attacker damage. Toss in a creature doing 2D4, 2D6, etc? Well, the chart gets a lot more green! In simple weapon-weapon combat though, let's say everyone is using a short sword (a D6 weapon), this chart shows you how critical HD are in such a fight, and how fast and simple it can be to determine hits!


As mentioned in the PDF below, you'll need to get some attention on healing and rest mechanics to complete your hits hack. Healing magic, in general, should never heal more than 1 hit. A short rest, if you play such things, recovers a single hit. Only in terribly rare circumstances should 2 or more hits be recovered, by magic, potion, rest, or other means. How often did you find a faerie fountain in Zelda? Yeah, not often enough. :)


Give it a try! I know for our table, this rocks.


Oh yeah, here's a drop box link to my latest hack PDF (normally for Patrons only, but aren't pay walls annoying?) OSE HACKED SEASON 2


Ha'Baka my friends.

-HF


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Jason Augustyn
Jason Augustyn
Oct 03, 2022

Cool idea! Here's another take that also eliminates the need for an attack roll:


Attacker rolls their damage die. Defender rolls a defense die based on their armor. If the attacker rolls higher than the defender, that's a hit. For example: Blorp the Weary is attacking a bandit with his trusty short sword. The bandit isn't wearing any armor, so his defense die is a 1d4. Blorp rolls a 5, the bandit rolls a 2 - that's a hit and the bandit is slain! The next bandit is wearing chainmail, and gets to roll a d8 defense.


This gives better odds for hitting, and sets up a fun opposed roll dynamic - the DM and player literally face off. You…


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Welton
Welton
Sep 25, 2022

This idea is fantastic. I passed it on to my GM and he is using it. We are left with a doubt about the crit: the lower the weapon dice, the greater the chance of hit?

For example: d10 against HD 10 has a 1/10 chance to hit, while d4 against HD 10 has a 1/4 chance.


Thanks

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hankerinferinale
hankerinferinale
Sep 25, 2022
Replying to

crits are only determined by the to-hit, 'max or nothing' is what you're describing and yes, a d4 would be slightly easier

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Michael James Boyd
Michael James Boyd
Aug 28, 2022

Do you have the players roll their d20 and weapon die simultaneously, or one at a time? I feel like tossing both bones together would save a little time at the table.

I GM a game for my father and three children. We moved to hits for simplicity. We play Blood and Snow, not OSE, so it was pretty simple to move to only rolling a d20 and no weapon dice for combat.

I appreciate what you do.

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Michael James Boyd
Michael James Boyd
Aug 28, 2022
Replying to

True. If a character both crits and beats the threshold, simultaneously—does that do 2 hits?

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I really relate to that first paragraph. I have to be honest I don't see how this hit system simplifies things if the amount of dice being rolled is still the same and another layer of interpreting die rolls is added. It always felt more like something GMs are really obsessed with than something players complain about very often. Even the whole "HP bloat" argument gets mostly brought up on the internet by GMs. I totally get how it works and that it makes this smooth tick-off-check-boxes but reducing 4 damage from 6 HP works just as well. I guess what I'm trying to say is I'm not seeing the inherent advantage. Something interesting I noticed is that you brought…

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hankerinferinale
hankerinferinale
Aug 27, 2022
Replying to

1: Things GMs are interested in, imho, are the heart and soul of finding better systems. We're GMs!

2: I can see your skepticism, I advise trying 3-5 sessions with it to feel the difference. It is vastly different.

3: Sturdiness is, at first, exaggerated, then it flips the opposite direction. This makes more sense to me, inverting the danger curve, rather than a game's greatest danger being in its first two sessions... come to think of it, that is a blog topic right there...


thanks for reading!!

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