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Character Health

Mar 04, 14 Character Health

Different games have different ways of tracking a character’s well being and health. For many, this is an abstract system referred to as “hit points” or “life points” that give you an amount of damage you can sustain before your character is at risk of death. In some games this recourse can grow to be very large while in others it is rather miniscule. Games like Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, Anima: Beyond Fantasy, Big Eyes, Small Mouth, and many others use this exact mechanic. Using this system, only wounds that actually cause a character to fall or in some way become incapacitated are actually hits, while all other detraction from the health pool are more minor. For example, if your character is fighting a man with a knife that does 1d4 damage and your character has 20 hit points, when you assailant hits you for three damage this is not representing your character being mortally stabbed, but rather being grazed by the blade, drawing blood, and lessening your character’s ability to stave off a mortal wound. When at last that knife does enough to drop your hit points to 0 or below, that is when your character may actually be stabbed and falls to the ground, dying.

Other games use an even more abstract system, such as Mutants & Masterminds that got rid of the health resource altogether. In this game, each time your character takes damage it calls for a save, with the difficulty being based on the attack itself as well as just how severely the character was hit. Results can be nothing, indicating your super-tough hero is able to shrug off the blow, to penalties on future resistance rolls against damage, making it easier to cause them more crippling wounds later, to incapacitation, as it is a super-hero game and death is more of a rarity.

Shadowrun uses damage track, a system very similar to hit points, but only gives a character a very finite amount (between 9 and 12 on average) with every three hits causing a cumulative penalty on all other future rolls. When a character takes damage, they must roll a soak roll to try and mitigate it. This pool is determined by a combination of the character’s own Body attribute, their armor, and any modifications and/or magic they might have protecting them. Whatever they fail to soak is applied to the damage track as mentioned above. Older World of Darkness games use a very similar system to this one, as does The Dresden Files RPG.

Iron Kingdoms, as mentioned before, has a very unusual system of health tracking, providing three pools of resistance, each with two tracks. When a character suffers damage, a dice is rolled to see which track the damage is applied to. When one track is fully depleted, the character gains a detriment and starts in on the next track. When all three tracks are filled in, the character is then dying and must then roll on a critical wounds table to see just how severe their injuries are when/if they manage to receive treatment and survive.

One of my favorite systems of injury actually comes from the Marvel Universe Role-Playing Game, in which a character’s health – white stones – are an indicator of how much energy – red stones – they recover each turn. As characters get hurt, they generate less energy that they are then able to put towards their abilities, meaning the more they get worn down, the harder and harder it is for them to continue the fight. The system is very obscure and hardly reflects any sort of realism, but for a game it works incredibly well.

So, what system do you prefer?

As always, thanks for reading and I wish you all good gaming.

And may your health pools be ever full… unless dramatically appropriate, of course.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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About 

Joshua is a freelance writer, aspiring novelist, and avid table-top gamer who has been in love with the hobby ever since it was first introduced to him by a friend in 1996. Currently he acts as the Gamemaster in three separate games and is also a player in a fourth. When he is not busy rolling dice to save the world or destroying the hopes and dreams of his players, he is usually found either with his nose in a book or working on his own. He has degrees in English, Creative Writing, and Economics.

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