On genre assumptions and the vagaries of fate, or: Hit points, shit points

I have a strange relationship with hit points.
For “science fiction” games, I’m perfectly fine with “hits” and fixed damage: 1 hit does X amount of damage (usually 1, but this can go up to 4 for really terrifyingly potent weapons).
For fantasy games, though, I’d like to have hit points and variable damage (= dice).

After thinking long and hard about the reasons, and asking on the Bastionland discord, I thought I had come to a conclusion: probably I like hp/variable damage because for old school fantasy games, it’s not that uncommon to fight against many opponents on any given day, while in scifi games, this is happening significantly less often (or not at all).


Not quite. What I’m thinking now is that I just like the uncertainty of variable damage; one blow might knock me down, or barely scratch me. THAT’S what I’m after. THAT’S what my more than 30 year-long experience as full-contact martial artist tells me.THAT’S also what I want, within limits, to have in my games.

Still, introducing damage rolls in my game is nothing I seriously consider. What I’m looking for is

  • The uncertainty of combat: My attack might miss or glance off the opponent. I don’t want autohits.
  • The uncertainty of resilience: One blow might be sufficient to knock me out good. I don’t want fixed damage, or better: I don’t want fixed damage all the way through.

Unknowingly, I already had the solution to this when I wrote the Into the Odd hack for my Landshut Rules.

Time to recap.

  1. Your character has X amount of hits. Usually, in the Landshut Rules, this is 4, but you can also roll a d6 if you’re feeling lucky (punk).
  2. Each successful attack reduces your hits by 1 or more points – this is something the referee and the players agree on before the game starts.
  3. If your character has run out of hits, any further damage might become critical: To avoid being critically injured (and unable to move, possibly dying), roll 2d6 vs the referee’s 2d6.The ref might grant you a bonus to the roll. If you roll higher, your character has avoided a critical injury: write down the damage, anyway. If you roll lower than the ref, your character is knocked down and is critically injured. The ref determines how long it will take to heal up. For heroic fantasy: If your character ever reaches Level+4 negative Hit Protection, s/he dies. For harsher games: reduce that number.
So there. I’ll be using this in my next game.
I’ll keep you posted.

3 thoughts on “On genre assumptions and the vagaries of fate, or: Hit points, shit points

  1. Yes, I wrote Mirrorshades. As a hack of The Black Hack, there *had* to be variable damage. If I ever rewrite the game, it'll be a completely different system, though.


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