This is a quote from some message board that has been cited in an internets conversation that is making the rounds of my inbox:

The first thing our DM told us when we sat down was that we would not be keeping track of our own health. This sounded strange at first but he asked us to trust him and now I’m sold on the idea. The way it works is when a monster hits you the DM describes the hit, “it was a glancing blow.” or “The blade bites deep into your arm and your vision swims.” but never tells you how much damage you took. instead he keeps track of that on his side of the screen. He gives you general ideas sort of like a terrorist threat level. You are winded, bloodied, injured or teetering on death for example.

The person introducing this quote to my inbox is the DM of the current 3.5 e game (a heavily house ruled 3.5e game, I might add) that I am involved in. The idea that the DM ‘keeps track’ of the players hitpoints is an idea I remember hearing about time and time again, but, like the baby in the microwave oven, it is not one of those things that I (nor anyone of my immeadiate acquaintence) has had any direct experience of. Everyone seems to know someone who knows someone who once talked to someone who might have sat at a table in Dave Arneson’s basement when they did it that way, but no one I have met has actually done it that way themselves.

I’d be interested in seeing how it worked out. It does seem odd that the player character knows that information when he / she is trading blows with a troglodyte in a dungeon tunnel. “Oh dear, that troglodyte just clawed me for 3 hitpoints and I only have five, so if he hits me again I am in trouble…” Sometimes suspension of belief just buckles.

On the other hand, D&D is a ‘game’ and knowing your character’s current hitpoints and other vital info can affect your decision making process. Although it is a game where ‘playing’ rather than ‘winning’ is the point, taking that information away from the player will handicap the player’s decision making process and makes the player more dependant upon the dungeon master, which is an aspect that kind of rubs me the wrong way. I really hate it when the DM controls too much of the lives of the PCs; I feel that character decisions, for good or ill (and suspension of belief notwithstanding) should be made by the players, not the DM. By taking away exact knowledge of the player character’s resources (like ‘how many hit points do I have left?’), the player becomes more dependant upon the DM.

I also worry about the amount of number crunching that this requires. It becomes one more thing the DM needs to keep track of, meaning that the DM turns more of their attention to record keeping and less to the players, which may cause the game to lose focus.


6 Comments on “OWCH MY HITPOINTS!”

  1. I prefer the players keep track of their hit points and actually like when the GM has no knowledge of where the players are in regards to health – it stops any possible pulling of punches and helps the dice fall where they may.

  2. LoneIslander says:

    I don't think I would be able to do that kind of system. Sounds too stressful.

  3. sirlarkins says:

    It would work for a game with an intended “grim & gritty” tone. But like you say, I think HP can actually encourage heroics by allowing the player to game the system, so if I wanted a traditional heroic-type campaign I'd definitely keep HP in the hands of the players.

  4. Jeff Rients says:

    There's no way in hell I'm assuming responsibility for PC hit point totals. I'm such a lazy ass DM I can't be bothered to track hitpoints for the monsters some of the time. (Shhh! That'll be our little secret.)

  5. Malcadon says:

    I like the idea of tucking away the mechanics in favor of raw storytelling, but as a GM, I hate the idea of doing all the dice-rolls and paperwork unless is a simple rule-lite system, like Barbarians of Lemuria or Warhammer Fantasy Battles (yes, a wargaming system).

  6. anarchist says:

    I had a similar idea specifically for Western games. Your Hit Points would be called Luck, and when they hit zero 'your luck's run out'.

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