hrough the D&D Next playtest, we've discovered that hit points are D&D's mechanic for genre emulation. Genre emulation is the idea that in a roleplaying game, some of the mechanics serve to create a specific type of story.
For instance, the Ravenloft setting focused on gothic horror. It introduced mechanics to D&D that measured a character's fear and sanity. That sort of rule is common in horror RPGs, making it a good fit for Ravenloft. On the other hand, such rules wouldn't make sense in the heroic world of the Forgotten Realms. In Ravenloft, a horrific vampire is scary enough to break a high-level fighter's mind or cause that character to run in terror. In the Realms, a high-level fighter draws a sword and leaps to battle the monstrosity.
Hit points are D&D's genre emulation mechanic because they tell us that some characters, specifically higher level ones, can survive attacks that would slay lesser mortals. Just as an action hero can beat up a dozen mooks at once, a D&D character can survive increasing dangers with increasing character level. Hit points fuel much of that capability.
Time and again, we've seen divergent opinions on what hit points represent, how quickly they refresh, and so forth. When we read comments, we see many views that coincide with this concept of genre. Are the characters in your campaign the main characters in a grand story? You want an easy way to get hit points back. Does your campaign embrace the survival of the fittest, with one bad decision leading to ruin? Then you're fine with an extended period of time needed to regain hit points.
D&D as an RPG has developed a few genres within itself. You can see this in how people talk about the game. Some groups run intricate stories that place their characters at the center of world-changing events. Other groups play characters who are merely one adventuring band among many, delving into ruins in search of treasure and risking life and limb to the vagaries of the dice. When you say roleplaying game, do you emphasize roleplaying or game?
There's no right answer here, and that's why we're embracing the idea of hit points as something that DMs can customize. That said, we do need to start somewhere. Here's where we are.
- Hit points represent an element of physical wear that involves a combination of fatigue and physical injury. As you take more damage, you have more evident wounds.
- To regain hit points, you need to do things that would logically heal those wounds, such as receive a healing spell, drink a potion, or rest for a long while. Right now, we're thinking that a rest in a dungeon or the outdoors can return you to half your maximum hit points. You need to take refuge in a comfortable place, like a tavern or other point of civilization, to rest for a few days and return to your maximum hit points.
- We also like the idea of taking refuge because it makes interaction more prominent by encouraging DMs and players to think about what happens between visits to the dungeon. While resting in town, do you start a business, mingle with nobles, or apprentice yourself to a weaponsmith? That sort of narrative padding can make interaction and relationships in the campaign a more prominent part of the game. By placing interesting things to do in town within the core system, we can create a game that embraces the entirety of an adventurer's life. Urban adventuring can still feature stuff like delving into sewers or battling a wererat infestation, but it can also become the signature form of an interaction-heavy adventure.
Keep in mind that I am fully aware that many DMs are now gnashing their teeth and are ready to take up arms against these bullet points. Remember, this is just the beginning point—the entry spot for people new to tabletop RPGs. Recovery, rather than the total hit points you receive, is our dial because it allows for maximum compatibility between tables. What kind of options can you expect for hit points?
- To enable heroic play, you could choose to have a quick hit point refresh option in your game.
- You could use an option that allows for healing without magic, which supports low- or no-magic campaigns. This option would also allow you to play without a cleric, druid, bard, or other healing class.
- Adding fate points to your game can provide you with a mechanic that allows characters to avoid death but perhaps suffer some other plot-based complication.
- For low-powered campaigns, you could choose to emulate lingering wounds.
In essence, this approach focuses on the different styles of play and genres of D&D that people enjoy. You can imagine that Ravenloft, Dragonlance, and Dark Sun would each have different takes on hit points to better model the feel of those worlds.
Next week, I'll write a bit more on this topic as it relates to save or die mechanics.
Mike Mearls is the senior manager for the D&D research and design team. He led the design for 5th Edition D&D. His other credits include the Castle Ravenloft board game, Monster Manual 3 for 4th Edition, and Player’s Handbook 2 for 3rd Edition.