I’m quite aware of the many, um, dynamic arguments about the concept of Hit Points in the various Dungeons and Dragons games. Are they physical injury (the answer seems to be ‘mostly not’)? Are they a good way to represent injury (jury out, but very, very heated)? Are they realistic (clearly not, nor are they supposed to be).

For DnD-type games, how do they work at the base? 

For the record, why do I even ask? Just to level set things, including myself. It never hurts to start from a common point of reference.

Swords and Wizardry

 Hit Points are described simply as “the amount of damage one can handle before becoming incapacitated.” 

Also: “When a character (or creature) is hit, the amount of damage is deducted from hit points. When total hit points reach 0, the character is unconscious, and if hit points are brought down to –1 or lower, the character dies.”

An interesting note, and relevant to the rest of this post, is a box-text immediately after the above quote (p. 43 of S&W Complete):

A good potential house rule is attributed to Gary Gygax’sgaming table, a rumor that might or might not be true. Itallows a character to remain alive (although bleeding to deathat the rate of 1 hp/round if no assistance is rendered) until thecharacter reaches negative hit points equal to the character’slevel. In other words, a fifth-level character actually dies onlyupon reaching -5 hit points.

Comments; Well, you’re really at the razor’s edge in S&W. You’re hale and robust until you hit exactly 0 HP, and then you drop unconscious. Any negative points and, rules-as-written, you’re dead.

Dungeons & Dragons, 5th edition

This latest version of the D&D rules is more verbose about what HP are, as well as what losing them means. Quoting from the Player’s v0.2 rules:

“Hit points represent a combination of physical and mental durability, the will to live, and luck. Creatures with more hit points are more difficult to kill. Those with fewer hit points are more fragile.”

It’s pretty hard to outright kill a character, though:

Dropping to 0 Hit PointsWhen you drop to 0 hit points, you either die outright or fall unconscious, as explained in the following sections.

Instant DeathMassive damage can kill you instantly. When damage reduces you to 0 hit points and there is damage remaining, you die if the remaining damage equals or exceeds your hit point maximum.

For example, a cleric with a maximum of 12 hit points currently has 6 hit points. If she takes 18 damage from an attack, she is reduced to 0 hit points, but 12 damage remains. Because the remaining damage equals her hit point maximum, the cleric dies. 

Falling UnconsciousIf damage reduces you to 0 hit points and fails to kill you, you fall unconscious (see appendix A). This unconsciousness ends if you regain any hit points.

Comments: This basically means that if you’re hale and robust, you will fall unconscious at 0 HP, but must take damage that would bring you “fully negative” in a single blow to kill you instantly. However, the next section, “Death Saving Throws,” shows that if you have 0 HP, you will be making a Saving Throw each turn, and if you fail three of them, you die. On the average, then, unless you get a massive blow delivered, you will last about six turns before you die or stabilize.

In D&D5, then, HP are quite explicitly more than just physical injury, and include mental durability and toughness as well as luck. S&W leaves this implicit, if it’s meant at all.

Pathfinder Core Rulebook

It wouldn’t do to talk about HP without dealing with the other 800-lb. gorilla of the RPG industry, Paizo’s Pathfinder Core Rulebook.

In Pathfinder, HP “measure how hard you are to kill. No matter how many hit points you lose, your character isn’t hindered in any way until your hit points drop to 0 or lower.”

They go and define what they are, too: “the ability to take physical punishment and keep going, and the ability to turn a serious blow into a less serious one.”

If you hit exactly 0 HP, you’re disabled. When you go into negative HP territory (0 or lower), you’re disabled, unconcsious, and dying. Unconscious and Dying are both ‘conditions’ in Pathfinder, technical terms of art.

If you hit negative HP equal to your CON, you’re dead.

Comments: Still a bit of the razor’s edge, with the disabled thing starting at exactly 0 HP, but you have a buffer zone of HP equal to your CON where you’re KO’d, and then you’re dead. But KO’d isn’t really a way to stay – you’re dying and lose 1 HP per round until you actually die or are stabilized.

All D&D Variants

You gain HP every level, with a bonus for having high CON. So by the time you reach (say) 10th level, if you have (say) a 14 CON, you’ll have (as a bog-standard fighter) 75 HP in Pathfinder (on the average), 52.5 HP in S&W, and 75 HP in DnD5. 

At that level, you risk death or automatically die by taking 52.5 HP in S&W, or 75 HP in D&D5 (150 HP for ‘instant death!’), or 89 HP in Pathfinder.


What? GURPS isn’t DnD. 

No. No it is not. But it’s an interesting counterpoint. You only get more HP if you buy them, and your HP start equal to your ST. More powerful fighters avoid death by putting on armor (equivalent, sort of, to increasing AC), and having better Active Defenses (parry, block, dodge). But two characters of disparate skill and equal ST are equally easy to kill if they just stand there and don’t defend.

Edge Cases and Explicit Karma

So, with all that, what’s the point? I wonder if it would be useful or fun to hack at these concepts a bit, borrow from the best of all the systems, and come up with something that enhances the game.

Let’s start with . . . 
What’s a HP anyway?

I’m going to propose separating HP into two pools. I will call them Body and Karma. 
Your Body pool is your physical self. It’s not grit, will, skill, or luck. It’s bone and meat and represents blood and pain. You start with Body equal to your CON.
Option: Trying to decide if I should add the character’s level to this; I think yes. 
So your first level fighter with a decent CON score (say, 14) might start out with 15 body. If you don’t have level, use Hit Dice for monsters.
If these body points go to zero, you risk unconsiousness. If they go negative, you die.
Option: That rule, while simple, effectively gives more total HP. Might want to split it in two. You have Body equal to half your CON+Level (round up). You fall unconscious when you hit 0 Body. You die when you hit negative Body equal to half your CON + Level (round down). So your CON 14, first level fighter has 8 Body, and dies when he hits -7 body. A 16th level fighter with CON 16 has 16 Body and dies at -16 Body. Even that fighter is two sword strokes from KO, and four from death.

The other pool of points does represent luck, grit, skill, and mental toughness. Call it Karma, for lack of anything better. 
This is the conventional version of HP. Roll 1dWhatever just as normal, and that’s your karma pool. It gets the usual CON bonus (grit) and you get more HD per level as normal.
Why Have Both?

This helps differentiate between what is effectively fatigue and injury. If you have your AC overwhelmed by a blow, you have failed to dodge, your armor has failed to shrug off the blow. Reducing your Karma pool says that you managed to turn away at the last second (Pathfinder’s turning a real blow into a less serious one), got lucky, Legolas ‘clenched up’ (in the words of T. Stark) and just took it, or whatever. Burning karma won’t kill you.
Body, on the other hand . . . will. Getting knifed in the back by a thief? Shot from afar with no warning? Fall from a height? Yep. Bad juju, and those attacks hit Body directly.
Trading Karma for Body, and vice versa

One interesting thing would be to allow attacks that would otherwise be just applied to Body to be traded for karma. A lot more karma. 
You may reduce body injury taken down to as low as 1 Body (but never zero). Whatever the fraction you reduce the Body by, increase karma loss by that much!
Example: A 5th level fighter has CON 14, giving him 10 Body, and he dies at -9. He also has 38 karma points. He’s been fighting a bit, and is down to 34 karma points, and thanks to a poison trap, 4 body. A nasty, sneaky ninja knifes him in the armpit – this is an attack normally applied directly to Body. He rolls 2d4 damage and scores 8. Our fighter doesn’t feel like taking this much injury directly; he wants to stay conscious, and 8 body applied to his remaining 4 would leave him KO’d. Instead, he shifts it, taking 2 body (a 4x reduction), but to do that he has to take 4×8 = 32 karma points. He’s alive, conscious, and fully functional, but he’s at 2 Body and 2 karma remaining – his luck is about to run out.
Excess Karma

Once your karma runs out, you take damage 1:1 into your Body. If you have 10 karma and 8 Body, and take 12 HP damage, you’re at 0 Karma and 6 Body.
This might make the “trade body for karma” example above a math exercise, though. If you have the choice of taking 4 Body, 2 body and 8 karma, 1 Body and 16 karma, it’s a steady dose of “how much karma can I give up at the cost of diminishing returns in Body loss?” 
Maybe that’s not a bad thing.
What does Body?

Certain damage types should do straight-up body. A backstab, poison, falling damage, certainly. It would make spells like a 1d4 Magic Missile terrifying if they applied themselves directly to Body.
Parting Shot

The characterization of HP loss as sometimes due to injury, sometimes mental grit, sometimes luck bothers some people – I got the feeling during +Jonathan Henry‘s Giant Dragon Gamer Chat on Saturday night that +Gerardo Tasistro despised that vagueness with the fiery passion of 1,000 suns. 
My initial thought – not much different than what’s on this post – was that an explicit separation of “these points represent grit and skill; these others are your flesh and bone” might bridge this divide in a way that provides an acceptable balance.
It would also be quite interesting to look at the intersection of damage type (Pathfinder and D&D, for example, includes bludgeoning, slashing, and piercing) with Karma and Body. A bashing weapon might be 1:1 – you take body and karma in equal measure. Slashing weapons like swords might soak karma a 1:1, but any remaining body is doubled. Piercing weapons might get triple or quadruple body!
That would make the usual club, mace, sword, axe, spear, arrow thing look like this (let’s assume 3;1 for piercing) using the figures in the D&D5 book, against an Orc (CON 16, HD 2. Body 8, Karma 15).
Weapon          Usual Damage     Hit Karma       Hit Body      Max First Hit          Max Second Hit
Club             1d4 bludgeon    1d4              1d4            4 HP karma          4 HP karma
Longsword    1d8 slashing      1d8              2d8            8 karma               7 karma, 2 body 
2H Battleaxe 1d10 slash        1d10            2d10           10 karma             5 karma, 10 body
Spear            1d6 piercing     1d6              3d6             6 karma              6 karma
In this paradigm, if you can actually strike home with a thrust spear, the 3:1 piercing multiplier makes it a serious threat, equal to a sword or two-handed battleaxe at the high end.
Obviously this would require playtesting to see if it adds to the fun. But having two different pools like this would allow some interesting trade-offs. You could perhaps spend from your karma pool to do extra damage, for example. You’d not do it to avoid a blow – that’s what losing karma is already – but it might be a buy-in for certain Feats, too.
It would also allow the short rest thing to make a lot more satisfying sense. A short rest – a psychological siesta plus time to chill out – would certainly bring back karma . . . but not body. For that, you need healing potions or real time to mend.

Once again, my creativity is roused somewhat by a thread on the forums. This one’s on snakes and grappling.

One might imagine that I have something to say on this, being the GURPS grappling guy. One would be right.

The Raw Way (mostly)

If you have a snake that attacks by constriction, you have a snake that wants to make grappling attacks. While RAW I believe can be construed to allow a torso-based grapple if you have Constriction Attack and Double Jointed (see Martial Arts, p. 116), I would smack such legalisms on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper.

The snake first bites to grapple. This is a grappling attack with the mouth. You have to look for it, but a bit is a one-handed grapple (MA, p. 115 in the box for Teeth). You attack at full location penalties. If your foe fails to defend, you have him by the mouth with the equivalent of one hand. You also do thrust-1 damage. The foe is, technically, “grappled” at this point, and at -4 to DX . . . but the one-handed nature of the attack makes it easier to break free.

The next chance you get, you can follow up with the body grapple, and this one is at full ST, considered a two-handed grapple. I don’t know offhand if real snakes let go with the mouth once they have constricted the prey, but in any case, I’d just treat the snake as having its full ST.

Once that grapple occurs, the snake will apply his Constriction Attack, using the Bear Hug technique (MA, p. 117) to crush the foe to death. If the foe is too large to simply crush, the snake will suffocate if it can.

Seems to me that many snakes will actually buy a Combination (MA, p. 80) to bite and grapple with the torso as a bought-off Rapid Strike. I’ve seen video of ball pythons doing their thing, and that “bite and wrap it up” thing is fast.

Technical Grappling

There’s actually an entry on p. 44 for Constrictor Snakes. Bite to grapple and do thr-1 Control Points (1d-1 for the python in the Basic Set). Follow up with another grapple (using the snake’s inherent Wrestling skill, which is not bad) using the body, but Constriction Attack does double the usual CP for that creature’s ST. Since a python is ST 13, that’s 2d CP, which will get even a reasonably strong adventurer in trouble in a few seconds.

Once enough CP are accumulated, the snake will begin the process of spending them to crush the victim, then re-acquiring them through a grapple, then spending them for more crushing.

This is not the most elegant mechanic, though it does the trick. +Peter V. Dell’Orto and I did come up with a better one. Hopefully one day it will see daylight.

Condition-Based TG

I introduced a quick-and-dirty alternate for using Control Points but not bringing in all of TG late in July called Condition-based grappling, which took a concept that could have been done better in the DnD Basic Rules (5e) and did in GURPS what I thought could have been done (and maybe will be or has been in the PHB and DMG; we’ll see when they come out) in that system.

In any case, it’s easy. Roll for the bite. Assess CP. As soon as you can, roll for more CP by attacking with the torso. When you have your foe Restrained, start crushing.

Parting Shot

The condition-based grappling could use some expansion for stuff that’s not just holding on and applying penalties. The Control Point mechanic can be leveraged in a few easy ways to execute various grappling techniques without the detailed tracking that the full system has.

But all in all, snakes and other grappling monsters – such as something with, say, ST 21 tentacles with gripping mouths on them! – can and should be terrifying in GURPS. Right now they can be somewhat meh.

I think that TG really shines for such critters. That ST 21 bite will do 2d CP right off the bat, and that tentacle with Constriction Attack will accumulate 4d CP with every attack (and it may well AoA(Double) for 8d CP each turn; an average of 28 CP per second), which is enough to hit the max CP threshold for most creatures. With the right skills, that is a huge amount of crushing damage every turn.

Anyway, the rules are a bit scattered for both RAW and TG; you have to look through three books (or at least two, Campaigns and Martial Arts, with the third being Characters) even in RAW.

Maybe something to add to +Mook Wilson‘s handy new GM Guide. Or volume 2 . . .

+Tim Shorts over at Gothridge Manor just wrote two pieces on the Sleep spell. 

It called my attention to something that I didn’t pay much mind to, since I play a boring old fighter. Or young fighter. Whatever.

Tim’s character Minister has used sleep to good effect before, but I didn’t really realize how darn powerful it is. Rather than just start tweaking from the get-go (I’ll get to that later), I thought I might first look at how such a power is handled in the two games I actively play, and one I’d love to play a game in.

D&D (5e) and Swords and Wizardry

These two really aren’t that different. In S&W, you can impact a certain number of hit dice of critters. 1 at 4 HD (4 HD total), 1d6 at 3 HD (about 10 HD total), 2d6 at 2 HD (14 HD total), and 2d8 at 1 HD (9 HD total). 

For DnD 5th edition, casting this at first level you roll 5d8, and you can put that many HP of creatures asleep. Since the monster HD is a d8, by and large you’ll, on the average put 5 critters to sleep, or 5 HD.

Comparing the two, I think that the D&D version is clearly easier to adjudicate. You start from weakest to strongest, and put to sleep creatures until you run out of HP, and if your pool of HP don’t cover the next critter on the list, you’re done.

For S&W, the spell is a bit odd, and clearly the best way to throw it is against 2-3 HD creatures. And if you have a group of mixed foes . . . huh. Not sure. I think a better way would be to roll (say) either 3d6 or 2d8 (likely 2d8) and you can put to sleep that many HD of creatures, and steal a page from D&D5 and start from the weakest.

Because, wow . . . no saving throw. If you’re impacted by the spell, you’re just o-u-t out, and snoozing for a minute (D&D) or an hour (S&W). Against PCs of low-ish level, this is bad, bad news. 1d6 creatures at 3HD (3rd level)? A good roll can snooze half the party. 

Darn good reason to have at least one elf or something in the party!


Now, there are a few different versions of magic spells in GURPS, so we’ll hit two of them. 

GURPS Magic – Standard Skill-based system
The basic Sleep spell costs 4 fatigue points (a normal human starts with 10, but casters will maximize this; I expect 15-20 to be more usual, plus mana stones, and discounts for high skill). You have to roll to cast it, but that’s probably not a big deal unless your subject is fairly close. A caster worth his salt will likely have high IQ and as much Magery as they can eat. Still, range penalties are -1 per yard of distance, and the subject can resist if he wins a Contest of Skills, often based on HT, against the spellcaster’s skill (subject to the rule of 16). 

If it works, the single victim drops for 8 hours of normal sleep. If awakened, they’re stunned for a bit until they snap out of it.

The more apt comparison, of course, is mass sleep. That has a base cost of 3, minimum radius 2 yards. . . so 6 FP for 2-yard raddius, 9 FP for 3 yards, etc. Everything else is basically the same as Sleep, though by rules-as-written you need to already know Sleep and have IQ 13 or higher – and Sleep has a “prerequisite chain” as well.

This is clearly depowered compared to D&D and S&W. You have to first make a skill roll to cast the spell, and even you have to win that Quick Contest to overcome the subject’s resistance. That being said, spells get high enough for few enough points in many cases (due to lots of IQ and Magery) that the Rule of 16 exists for that purpose. Only on a critical success is it a freebie.

Thanks to the comments for pointing out some errors with my assumptions

Ritual Path Magic
Another system that is gaining in popularity, and is a highly interesting alternative to the standard skill-based system, is Ritual Path Magic. This system uses a framework based on Powers, and is considerably more flexible, but requires a lot of GM and player participation, and no small amount of oversight, and a GM willing to say “no.” 

Still, +Christopher R. Rice has a substantial amount of mastery with the system, and he created for me three versions of an RPM sleep spell.


  • Spell Effects: Greater Destroy Mind.
  • Inherent Modifiers: Affliction, Sleep.
  • Greater Effects: 1 (×3).

This spell causes the target (who must be within 30 yards) to fall asleepfor the next 12 hours if he fails to resist.

Typical Casting: Greater Destroy Mind (5) + Affliction, Sleep (30) +Duration, 12 hours (6) + Range, 30 yards (7) + Subject Weight, 300 lbs. (3).153 energy (51×3).

Mass Sleep

  • Spell Effects: Greater Destroy Mind.
  • Inherent Modifiers: Affliction, Sleep + Area of Effect.
  • Greater Effects: 1 (×3).

This spell causes multiple targets in a 10-yard area (who must be within 30yards of the caster) to fall asleep for the next 12 hours if they fail toresist the ritual

This Casting: Greater Destroy Mind (5) + Affliction, Sleep (30) + Area OfEffect, 10 yards, excluding up to 4 subjects (10) + Duration, 12 hours (6) +Range, 30 yards (7) + Subject Weight, 300 lbs. (3). 183 energy (61×3).

Sleeping Curse

  • Spell Effects: Greater Destroy Mind.
  • Inherent Modifiers: Affliction, Coma + Extra Energy.
  • Greater Effects: 1 (×3).

This spell (a favorite of wicked godmothers and evil faeries) causes thesubject to enter a coma (p. B429) which lasts until the spell is broken orthe subject is kissed by their true love (commonly a prince).

This Casting: Greater Destroy Mind (5) + Affliction, Coma (50) + Duration,Until subject is kissed by their true love (24) + Extra Energy, +61 energy(61) + Range, 30 yards (7) + Subject Weight, 300 lbs. (3). 450 energy(150×3).

Looking at the three, each is cast by rolling against the Path skill in question, and resisted by the better of Will or HT (but still a Resistance roll, I believe – the same Quick Contest). The energy gathering phase can take many seconds, and is often done offstage, using a charm or some sort of suspended spell when it comes time for casting it. For that purpose, if you think “spell slots,” you’re not too far wrong, though significant differences exist.

An important modification to RPM is that by spending more energy – sometimes considerably more – you can hit the victim(s) with penalties to that HT or Will roll beyond the Quick Contest. So if you want to drop your average HT/Will 12 adventurer to 6- even before you roll against your skill, you’re probably looking at about 100 extra energy. That’s quite a bit, but it’s doable . . . and that might just bring you into the level of a 1st level D&D Magic User!

Night’s Black Agents

I actually have no idea if NBA has a sleep sleep spell in it. Yep, p. 132, send to sleep. A vampire can put a single target to sleep by spending at least 2 Aberrence points, adding that to a die roll (1d6+2 or more). That roll must be 5 or higher (“more than 4”) for the attack to occur. If it does occur, the victim must make a Stability check of equal or higher to the original attack roll. Against normals, well, they’re probably just out light lights. Against the Night’s Black Agents, which start with Stabilty 4 and may go to 12 or higher, they might have a good chance of resisting. PCs probably don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of putting a vamp to sleep. 

Parting Shot

Wow. I didn’t really have much of an appreciation for how awesome the sleep spell is in D&D. Especially compared to the hit-and-miss nature of most GURPS spells. 

The typical 1st level Wizard can probably count on a DC for his spells of about 13 – 8 +2 for his saving throw proficiency and likely +2 or +3 for intelligence; I’ll assume 13. A foe will likely get some sort of bonus to his save roll, likely again about +1 (for 1 HD) to +3, which means he’s got about a 50% chance to resist. If one wanted to make the 1st level Sleep spell just a bit less automatically nasty, double the dice rolled for HP or HD impacted, but allow a Saving Throw against the effects of the spell. 

That has its own possibilities, for tweakage, but as it stands . . . Sleep? 


The starter set seems to contain a chunky (64-page) adventure, and a smaller rulebook. Plus some stuff I don’t need like pre-gens and dice. That’s not a complaint – it’s a starter set for those new to gaming.

I believe I’ve seen reports that the adventure book is pretty cool.

Are there any rules differences between the Basic and Starter rulebooks? If so, links or reviews would be appreciated. I’ll probably pick up the PHB when it comes out, of course.

Ah, the writer’s guidelines. I wonder how they’ll intend to deal with the concept of rules modules that has been bandied about. Obviously, as a tinkerer I’m interested, for many reasons.

I guess we’ll see . . .