Hit Points Don’t Represent Physical Wounds (Necessarily)

Posted by on May 24, 2017
by Frederic C81

by Frederic C81

What does a loss of Hit Points mean?

Some of you already “know” the answer to this, but it bears repeating, and there’s a hidden message.

As the 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook puts it:

Hit Points measure your ability to stand up to punishment, turn deadly strikes into glancing blows, and stay on your feet throughout a battle. Hit Points represent more than physical endurance. They represent your character’s luck, skill, and resolve–all the factors that combine to help you stay alive in a combat situation.

Indeed, some prefer to play under the notion that there is only one successful strike as you lose Hit Points: the one that brings you to zero. Every loss of HP before that point simply represents your gradual loss of stamina, mental acuity, and luck, until finally a blade penetrates your armor and you fall.

Some of you have heard this before. But wait a moment.

If Hit Points can mean more than their surface meaning, what does that imply for your role-play of it? How do you act when your character loses Hit Points? Do you? How might this other interpretation add depth to your actions in combat?

How about healing? Or a nature check? What if those don’t represent exactly what you thought they did?

What existing mechanics can you reframe in a way that adds depth to your character and story?

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