Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Starting With 1 Hit Point

I mentioned in my last post that I had my players for our campaign roll their hit points at 1st level—no automatic maximum HP. Sure enough, two players—our thief and our cleric—will be starting our Castles & Crusades game with 1 HP.

What pleasantly surprised me was how well both players took it. Knowing you have 1 hit point has to cause some adjustments in the way you play. Certainly the thief will have to put even more emphasis now on skulking and stealth if he wants to see 2nd level. As for the cleric, I look at it this way: for this specific campaign, it opens with the group having just survived a tremendous shipwreck, and have made it to an unknown shore. They’re bruised, battered, cold, and wet. They may have some cracked ribs for all we know. It’s going to take some time to recover from that, especially if you happen to be the guy who took a stray boat oar in the back or upside your head.

And I have to think if they manage to contribute and still make it to 2nd level on that one hit point, that’ll be a point of pride in campaigns and sessions yet to come. If they gave out gaming merit badges, the “Got To 2nd Level On 1 HP” badge would be one of honor.

I know some people dislike starting play with that vulnerable a character, feeling if their character is that less survivable, they shouldn’t put any effort towards developing them. I know gamers who have tried to purposefully kill low-HP characters to start anew, and others that find that entire concept in play abhorrent. That's fine; it isn't some hard-lined doctrine, just personal preference.

I look at it this way: rolling hit points is a lot like life. We’d all like to be on the right side of the bell curve, but most of us aren’t, and are on the undesirable end of a few statistics. The only thing to do is to hang in there and work with what we have for now.


Swordgleam said...

I really like the idea of a thief with one hit point. Somehow, it makes me think that perhaps it's not low health that's going on - it's that the character's moral code is such that if any enemy is skillful enough to spot them, or if they themselves manage to mess up badly, that enemy deserves to live, and the thief will stop attacking.

Stuart said...

If you have 3 or fewer hit points then your character will most likely be killed in a single hit (d6). So having 1 hit point isn't that much different than any other roll you'd get for a starting Thief or Magic-User. :)

Vincent said...

There's a pretty big psychological difference between most likely and will.


"With this economy, Stuart, we will likely have to let you go"


"Sorry Stuart, we will be letting you go"


Rognar said...

Having 1 hp has never made any sense to me in game terms. It means anything can kill you, even a squirrel bite, something that a typical infant would very likely survive. The only way I can square it is to assume someone with 1 hp is a hemophiliac.

Zachary The First said...

@Stuart: That’s what I was thinking as well. Really, 1 or 2 HP is all 1-hit 1-kill zone. ;)

@Rognar: Well, it depends. We don’t usually count squirrel bites and cat scratches as a HP detriment. It’s a nick, a cut shaving. Now, most HP scales don’t really allow for that, but if you look at any wound in normal combat being potentially lethal (a dagger to the heart, a fracture from a skull clubbing, a cut nicking the femoral artery), it can work. Then again, playing C&C and working with HP, realism isn’t my #1 concern.

Fabio Milito Pagliara said...

but your justification can be seen as the "simulationist fallacy" it's a game and I should have 1hp only if I want not as a rational of "this is like in real life"

and I have played my share of 1 hp characters specially in 1st adnd, usually it ends with a lot of workaround until you can survive a single hit

to have the sense of being battered and bruised say with 4th ed D&D you could just give a reduced number of healing surge as the result of the shipwreck until they can properly rest and feed for at least a week

(you could start the game with a skill challenge, the number of success before failure will determine the number of healing surge until they get to the proper rest (look at this one as a variant of the lost in the forest skill challenge)

Sturat said...

I understand not wanting to give full HP at first level; but I would and have done it differently.

Either, minimum of Half possible for first Hit die e.g. D8 min. of 4HP, D4 min. of 2.

Or Roll twice, take the higher, for first level. Still a chance of a one but less likely.

RockViper said...

It works great as long as the DM remembers that these PCs are relatively fragile and encounters should be adjusted.

1d30 said...

Also it's probably a good idea to include a delayed death rule, like unconscious to -10 or something, even if it's not in the rules. After all, a Cure Light Wounds is the lowest level magic healing and it completely outstrips the best modern medical science can offer. And they can revive people who are just "mostly dead".

By the way, when I ran an old-school sort of game like that, I used the rerolling of HP rule. But I had you reroll your entire HP when you leveled up. But you couldn't go down.

So a character who rolled 1 at first level would roll 2d6 at 2nd. He's unlikely to roll 1 on both dice, and so effectively he gets an HP reroll.

On the other hand, a character who rolled 6 at first level might roll 2d6 at second and get a total of 5. So he gains no HP that level. At 3rd he would roll 3d6 and would probably get above a 6. But he might not!

Anyway, the chance of getting to level 3 with single-digit HP is far lower that way than just straight rolling a new d6 every level.

Zachary The First said...

@Fabio—well, healing surges don’t really apply, as this is C&C, not 4e. I’m not really much of a 4e fan. Or of the term “simulationist fallacy”, I suppose. I am looking forward to some creative “workarounds” though—from the players!

@RockViper—it works great as long as the players remember these characters are fragile and adjust accordingly. ;)

@Stu—sure, that can work. I went with blind chance.

@1d30—I am a big fan of “mostly dead!”

Jade said...

For me, I'd say it depends on the GM and the level of game he runs. Back in my days of DMing 1e AD&D, I frequently had PCs starting the game with one or two hit points. Most of them survived to 2nd level without any problems. But most of my games focus on roleplaying, not combat.

On the other hand, I'm currently playing in a 3.5e game that starting with one hit point would've been absolutely lethal to any PC. In fact, the DM has a house rule that when you level, your hp roll has to be over 1/2 the die total. Anything less than that, you keep rolling until you get something that fits. Ex: if I'm playing a bard, I get d6 for hp. That means at each new level, I would reroll anything less than a 4.

I'm intrigued by 1d30's rule of rerolling hit points at each level. I'm going to have to give that a try sometime.

Zzarchov said...

I too have use the rule d30 uses, it keeps the fun of randomly rolling HP without making rolling a 1 a permanent curse.

It works great. As for 1 hp at first level, I do switch that a bit. I use the luck point/body point system so 1 lp at first level (or even 0) doesn't make you instant dead, it just makes you instant crippled (and a death spiral is a bad place to be)

If I were to do the "1hp" thing I wouldn't want the players to KNOW they have 1hp, but to just fear it.

I tried to do that once where I dealt a deck with 1/4 black cards and the rest red. I dealt everyone 10 cards in a pile. They had 1hp for each red card and the first black card they flipped over.

A character could have 1 or 10hp. They wouldn't know until they used up the last HP.

Zak S. said...

My girlfriend just started playing a few months ago and so has never played anything BUT old school.

So she's insane.

She thinks nothing of going up against a room full of skeletons with nothing but 1 hp, a torch, and "Comprehend Languages".

It's kind of beautiful.

Zachary The First said...

@Zak: That's a keeper, right there.

Badmike said...

"And I have to think if they manage to contribute and still make it to 2nd level on that one hit point, that’ll be a point of pride in campaigns and sessions yet to come."

That is, unless they roll another "1" at 2nd level!!!

SaxonRaider said...

Hi, I Googled your Darlene map post and I was wondering, would you tell me where to find those giant Greyhawk maps (the links in that post seem to be dead)? I didn't see an email address anywhere so I had to jack a thread, sorry.

Zachary The First said...

Hi Saxon,

Drop me a line at mail.rpgblog(at)gmail.com, and I'll see what I can do.

sirlarkins said...

Although I don't have players roll for 1st level hit points, I really have no problem with the idea, nor with having a player start with 1 HP. I think this is because I tend to look at HP as not just physical damage capacity but also luck and combat reflexes.

So a character with 1 HP, in my view, is simply the type who is last to duck with the artillery starts falling, as it were. The type who shifts a fraction of a second too late; where their fighter companion (with, say, 8 HP) would simply take a grazing stab across the ribs, these folks get the blade right through the heart. As I see it, hit points are not fixed or absolute, but exist on a sliding, relative scale.

rainswept said...

I think starting a campaign in media res with all the PCs depleted to 1HP would really set the tone for some gritty excitement.

After a desperate session or two, they will have a chance to heal to their full points.

And speaking of re-rolling your HP at each level, one might re-roll them at the opening of each session and use the information revealed about each PC to construct that session's immediate backstory.

Tim Shorts said...

A thief and cleric having 1hp is managable, but had it been a front line fighter would you have had him reroll? I'm curious because I fighter with one hit point, you might as well paint him red.

Keep us updated on your C&C campaign. Since I am starting to get more involved with the system and possibly start a campaign soon.

Scott said...

Interestingly, I started my Blackmoor campaign with PCs being washed up after a shipwreck...

But I haven't been cruel enough to make someone start with 1 hp in years.

Zachary The First said...

@Tim: I will. I plan to do regular campaign updates for our biweekly meetings. C&C is a fun system to tinker with.

Had it been a 1st level fighter, the same would have applied. But the fighter also would have been able to add his CON bonus, which is usually some sort of plus.

@Scott: I know. I am a terrible man.