First up is the topic of hit points and what they represent in the game. Here we’ll show what the D&D rules have had to say throughout the years…..
Dungeons & Dragons (1974-1977)
The original edition of D&D is silent on the exact nature of hit point outside of being a “number of points of damage the character could sustain before death”. The various supplement to the original boxed set do not elucidate further, nor does the Holmes introductory boxed set (released in 1977).
Dungeons & Dragons Set, Volume 1: Men & Magic (1974)
Dice for Accumulative Hits (Hit Dice): This indicates the number of dice which are rolled in order to determine how many hit points a character can take. Plusses are merely the number of pips to add to the total of all dice rolled not to each die. Thus a Super Hero gets 8 dice + 2; they are rolled and score 1, 2, 2, 3, 3, 4, 5, 6/totals 26 + 2 = 28, 28 being the number of points of damage the character could sustain before death. Whether sustaining accumulative hits will otherwise affect a character is left to the discretion of the referee.
Dungeons & Dragons (1977)
First generate a random number for "hit points." To generate the numbers roll the special dice in this game — 8-sided, 6-sided, 4-sided. This represents the amount of damage the character can take. For the number of "hit points" roll the proper sided die mentioned below. The die pertaining to players' character type is rolled once per level of experience. (See the section experience points and experience Levels.) Fighters, including dwarves, generate random numbers from 1 to 8, clerics from 1 to 6, and magic-users and thieves from 1 to 4. Elves use a spread of from 1 to 6 as they are both fighters (1-8) and magic-users (1 - 4). Although halflings are always fighters, they also use a 1 to 6 point spread due to their size. Note that constitution can add or subtract hit points, but no character can have less than 1 point per level regardless of subtractions. In combat, if a character receives a blow, a dice roll will be made to determine the number of damage points inflicted. These are subtracted from the character's "hit points." If his hit score falls to zero he is dead. Hit points can be restored, if the character is alive, by a clerical healing spell, a healing potion or some other magical item. Otherwise he must continue on in his wounded state until the game is over and he returns to the surface. Each day of rest and recuperation back "home" will regenerate 1 to 3 of his hit points for the next adventure.
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 1st Edition (1977-1989)
The first edition of AD&D gives us the first real description of what hit points represent outside of a nebulous pool of points from with damage is subtracted—and it’s fairly abstract.
Player’s Handbook (1978)
Each character has a varying number of hit points, just as monsters do. These hit points represent how much damage (actual or potential) the character can withstand before being killed. A certain amount of these hit points represent the actual physical punishment which can be sustained. The remainder, a significant portion of hit points at higher levels, stands for skill, luck, and/or magical factors. A typical man-at-arms can take about 5 hit points of damage before being killed. Let us suppose that a 10th level fighter has 55 hit points, plus a bonus of 30 hit points for his constitution, for a total of 85 hit points. This is the equivalent of about 18 hit dice for creatures, about what it would take to kill four huge warhorses. It is ridiculous to assume that even a fantastic fighter can take that much punishment. The same holds true to a lesser extent for clerics, thieves, and the other classes. Thus, the majority of hit paints are symbolic of combat skill, luck (bestowed by supernatural powers), and magical forces.
Hit points are determined by hit dice. At 1st level a character has but one hit die (exception: rangers and monks begin with two dice each). At each successive level another hit die is gained, i.e. the die is rolled to determine how many additional hit points the character gets. Hit points can be magically restored by healing potions, cure wounds spells rings of regeneration, or even by wish spells. However, a character's hit points can never exceed the total initially scored by hit dice, constitution bonus (or penalty) and magical devices. For example, if a character has 26 hit points at the beginning of an adventure, he or she cannot drink o potion or be enchanted to above that number, 26 in this case.
As an example, let us assume that the character with 26 hit points mentioned above is engaged in on adventure. Early in the course of exploring the dungeon, he or she falls into a 10’ deep pit taking one six-sided die (1d6) of damage — 4 hit points of damage, so the character drops to 22 hit points. Next, he or she takes 15 hit points of damage in combat, so the character drops to 7 hit points. A cleric in the party uses a cure serious wounds spell on the character, and this restores 10 (for example, depending upon the die roll) of his or her lost hit points, so the character has a total of 17. Later activities reduce the character to 3 hit points, but the party uses a wish spell to restore all members to full hit points, so at that time the character goes up to 26 once more.
Rest also restores hit points, for it gives the body a chance to heal itself and regain the stamina or force which adds the skill, luck, and magical hit points.
Your character's class will determine which sort of die you will roll to determine hit points. In some campaigns the referee will keep this total secret, informing players only that they feel "strong", "fatigued" or "very weak", thus indicating waning hit points. In other campaigns the Dungeon Master will have players record their character's hit points and keep track of all changes. Both methods are acceptable, and it is up to your DM as to which will be used in the campaign you participate in.
Dungeon Master’s Guide (1979)Encounters, Combat, and Initiative [DMG, page 60]
Combat is divided into 1 minute period melee rounds, or simply rounds, in order to have reasonably manageable combat. "Manageable" applies both to the actions of the combatants and to the actual refereeing of such melees. It would be no great task to devise an elaborate set of rules for highly complex individual combats with rounds of but a few seconds length. It is not in the best interests of an adventure game, however, to delve too deeply into cut and thrust, parry and riposte. The location of a hit or wound, the sort of damage done, sprains, breaks, and dislocations are not the stuff of heroic fantasy. The reasons for this are manifold.
As has been detailed, hit points are not actually a measure of physical damage, by and large, as far as characters (and some other creatures as well) are concerned. Therefore, the location of hits and the type of damage caused are not germane to them. While this is not true with respect to most monsters, it is neither necessary nor particularly useful. Lest some purist immediately object, consider the many charts and tables necessary to handle this sort of detail, and then think about how area effect spells would work. In like manner, consider all of the nasty things which face adventurers as the rules stand. Are crippling disabilities and yet more ways to meet instant death desirable in an open-ended, episodic game where participants seek to identify with lovingly detailed and developed player-character personae? Not likely! Certain death is as undesirable as a give-away campaign. Combat is a common pursuit in the vast majority of adventures, and the participants in the campaign deserve a chance to exercise intelligent choice during such confrontations. As hit points dwindle they can opt to break off the encounter and attempt to flee. With complex combat systems which stress so-called realism and feature hit location, special damage, and so on, either this option is severely limited or the rules are highly slanted towards favoring the player characters at the expense of their opponents. (Such rules as double damage and critical hits must cut both ways — in which case the life expectancy of player characters will be shortened considerably — or the monsters are being grossly misrepresented and unfairly treated by the system. I am certain you can think of many other such rules.)
One-minute rounds are devised to offer the maximum of choice with a minimum of complication. This allows the DM and the players the best of both worlds. The system assumes much activity during the course of each round. Envision, if you will, a fencing, boxing, or karate match. During the course of one minute of such competition there are numerous attacks which are unsuccessful, feints, maneuvering, and so forth. During a one-minute melee round many attacks are made, but some are mere feints, while some are blocked or parried. One, or possibly several, have the chance to actually score damage. For such chances, the dice are rolled, and if the "to hit" number is equaled or exceeded, the attack was successful, but otherwise it too was avoided, blocked, parried, or whatever. Damage scored to characters or certain monsters is actually not substantially physical — a mere nick or scratch until the last handful of hit points are considered — it is a matter of wearing away the endurance, the luck, the magical protections. With respect to most monsters such damage is, in fact, more physically substantial although as with adjustments in armor class rating for speed and agility, there are also similar additions in hit points. So while a round of combat is not a continuous series of attacks, it is neither just a single blow and counter-blow affair. The opponents spar and move, seeking the opportunity to engage when an opening in the enemy's guard presents itself.
Because of the relatively long period of time represented by the round, dexterity (dexterity, agility, speed, quickness) is represented by a more favorable armor class rating rather than as a factor in which opponent strikes the first blow. Likewise, weapon length and relative speed factors are not usually a consideration. (See Initiative and Charging below, however.) The system of AD&D combat maximizes the sense of hand-to-hand combat and the life-and-death character of melee without undue complication. Because of this, you, the DM, are enabled to conduct such portions of a game without endless resort to charts, tables, procedure clarifications, and over-lengthy time requirements. Players, on the other hand, will not become bored with endless dice rolling and rules consulting, but at the same time will have a reasonable chance to seek escape for their characters should the affair go badly. The steps for encounter and combat are as follows:
- Determine if either or both parties are Surprised.
- Determine distance, if unknown, between the parties.
- If both parties are unsurprised, or equally surprised, determine Initiative for that round.
- Determine the results of whatever actions are decided upon by the party with initiative:
- Avoid engagement (flee, slam door, use magic to escape, etc.) if possible.
- Attempt to parley.
- Await action by other party.
- Discharge missiles or magical device attacks or cast spells or turn undead.
- Close to striking range, or charge.
- Set weapons against possible opponent charge.
- Strike blows with weapons, to kill or subdue.
- Grapple or hold
- Determine the results of whatever actions are decided upon by the party which lost the initiative (as per A. through H. above).
- Continue each melee round by determination of distance, initiative, and action until melee ends due to fleeing, inability to continue, or death of one or both parties.
Hit Points [DMG, page 82]
It is quite unreasonable to assume that as a character gains levels of ability in his or her class that a corresponding gain in actual ability to sustain physical damage takes place. It is preposterous to state such an assumption, for if we are to assume that a man is killed by a sword thrust which does 4 hit points of damage, we must similarly assume that a hero could, on the average, withstand five such thrusts before being slain! Why then the increase in hit points? Because these reflect both the actual physical ability of the character to withstand damage — as indicated by constitution bonuses — and a commensurate increase in such areas as skill in combat and similar life-or-death situations, the "sixth sense" which warns the individual of some otherwise unforeseen events, sheer luck, and the fantastic provisions of magical protections and/or divine protection. Therefore, constitution affects both actual ability to withstand physical punishment hit points (physique) and the immeasurable areas which involve the sixth sense and luck (fitness).
Harkening back to the example of Rasputin, it would be safe to assume that he could withstand physical damage sufficient to have killed any four normal men, i.e. more than 14 hit points. Therefore, let us assume that a character with an 18 constitution will eventually be able to withstand no less than 15 hit points of actual physical damage before being slain, and that perhaps as many as 23 hit points could constitute the physical makeup of a character. The balance of accrued hit points are those which fall into the non-physical areas already detailed. Furthermore, these actual physical hit points would be spread across a large number of levels, starting from a base score of from an average of 3 to 4, going up to 6 to 8 at 2nd level, 9 to 11 at 3rd, 12 to 14 at 4th, 15 to 17 at 5th, 18 to 20 at 6th, and 21 to 23 at 7th level. Note that the above assumes the character is a fighter with an average of 3 hit points per die going to physical ability to withstand punishment and only 1 point of constitution bonus being likewise assigned. Beyond the basic physical damage sustained, hits scored upon a character do not actually do such an amount of physical damage.
Consider a character who is a 10th level fighter with an 18 constitution. This character would have an average of 5% hit points per die, plus a constitution bonus of 4 hit points, per level, or 95 hit points! Each hit scored upon the character does only o small amount of actual physical harm — the sword thrust that would have run a 1st level fighter through the heart merely grazes the character due to the fighter's exceptional skill, luck, and sixth sense ability which caused movement to avoid the attack at just the right moment. However, having sustained 40 or 50 hit points of damage, our lordly fighter will be covered with a number of nicks, scratches, cuts and bruises. It will require a long period of rest and recuperation to regain the physical and metaphysical peak of 95 hit points.
Recovery of Hit Points:
When a character loses hit points in combat or to some other attack form (other than being drained of life energy levels), there are a number of different means by which such points can be restored. Clerics and paladins are able to restore such losses by means of spells or innate abilities. Magical devices such as potions operate much the same way, and a ring of regeneration will cause automatic healing and revitalization in general of its wearer. Commonly it is necessary to resort to the passage of time, however, to restore many characters to full hit point strength.
For game purposes it is absolutely necessary that the character rest in order to recuperate, i.e. any combat, spell using, or similar activity does not constitute rest, so no hit points can be regained. For each day of rest a character will regain 1 hit point, up to and including 7 days. However a character with a penalty for poor constitution must deduct weekly the penalty score from his or her days of healing, i.e., a −2 for a person means that 5 hit points healing per week is maximum, and the first two days of rest will restore no hit points. After the first week of continuous rest, characters with a bonus for high constitution add the bonus score to the number of hit points they recover due to resting, i.e., the second week of rest will restore 11 (7 + 4) hit points to a fighter character with an 18 constitution. Regardless of the number of hit points a character has, 4 weeks of continuous rest will restore any character to full strength.
Zero Hit Points:
When any creature is brought to 0 hit points (optionally as low as −3 hit points if from the same blow which brought the total to 0), it is unconscious. In each of the next succeeding rounds 1 additional (negative) point will be lost until −10 is reached and the creature dies. Such loss and death are caused from bleeding, shock, convulsions, non-respiration, and similar causes. It ceases immediately on any round a friendly creature administers aid to the unconscious one. Aid consists of binding wounds, starting respiration, administering a draught (spirits, healing potion, etc.), or otherwise doing whatever is necessary to restore life.
Any character brought to 0 (or fewer) hit points and then revived will remain in a coma for 1-6 turns. Thereafter, he or she must rest for a full week, minimum. He or she will be incapable of any activity other than that necessary to move slowly to a place of rest and eat and sleep when there. The character cannot attack, defend, cast spells, use magic devices, carry burdens, run, study, research, or do anything else. This is true even if cure spells and/or healing potions are given to him or her, although if a heal spell is bestowed the prohibition no longer applies.
If any creature reaches a state of −6 or greater negative paints before being revived, this could indicate scarring or the loss of some member, if you so choose. For example, a character struck by a fireball and then treated when at −9 might have horrible scar tissue on exposed areas of flesh — hands, arms, neck, face.
The Dragon, Issue 24 (April 1979)
"Hit points are a combination of actual physical constitution, skill at the avoidance of taking real physical damage, luck and/or magical or divine factors. Ten points of damage dealt to a rhino indicates a considerable wound, while the same damage sustained by the 8th-level fighter indicates a near-miss, a slight wound, and a bit of luck used up, a bit of fatigue piling up against his or her skill at avoiding the fatal cut or thrust. So even when a hit is scored in melee combat, it is more often than not a grazing blow, a mere light wound which would have been fatal (or nearly so) to a lesser mortal. If sufficient numbers of such wounds accrue to the character, however, stamina, skill, and luck will eventually run out, and an attack will strike home..."
(For the full article, see my next blog entry, “Realism is a 4-Letter Word”)
Dungeons & Dragons (1981-1995)
In the “basic” Dungeons & Dragons line (or bD&D to distinguish it from the original D&D or oD&D line or the Advanced D&D or AD&D line), hit points are never truly defined in a narrative sense. They are nebulous measure of how much damage a character can take before dying.
Dungeons & Dragons Set 1: Basic Rules, Basic Rulebook (1981)
Hit points represent the number of "points" of damage a character or monster can take during battle before dying. Any creature reduced to 0 hit points (or less) is dead. The combat process is explained in Part 5: THE ENCOUNTER (under pages B24-28). For now, it is enough to realize that the more hit points a character has, the better the chance he or she has to survive a battle. On the average, fighters and dwarves will have the most hit points; clerics, halflings, and elves will have an average number of hit points; and magic-users and thieves will have the least hit points.
Dungeons & Dragons Set 1: Basic Rules, Player’s Manual (1983)
In the game, when any creature is hit (either monster or character), damage is caused. There is a way of keeping track of damage, called hit points.
The number of hit points is the amount of damage that a creature can take before being killed. Hit points can be any number; the more hit points a creature has, the harder it is to kill. We often use an abbreviation for hit points: it is hp.
hit points (or hp) - The amount of damage a character or monster can take before it dies.
Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia (1991)
Your character's hit point score represents his ability to survive injury. The higher his hit point score, the more damage he can sustain before dying. Characters who survive long enough to gain a good deal of experience typically gain more and more hit points; therefore, an experienced character lasts longer in a fight or other dangerous situations than does an inexperienced character.
A character's profession (his character class) dramatically affects the number of hit points he receives. Fighters and dwarves receive a lot of hit points. Magic-users and thieves receive only a few. The other classes receive a medium amount.
Find your character's class on the Character Class and Hit Dice Table, and then roll the type of die indicated in order to find your starting hit points. Note that your character's Constitution score can affect the number of hit points he will have. Look for the Bonuses and Penalties for Ability Scores Table and apply the appropriate number to the number of hit points rolled for your character.
Dungeons & Dragons Game Set, Rule Book (1991)
Hit points represent the amount of damage a character or monster can take before dying. Some kinds of characters can take more damage than others. So, character classes roll different kinds of dice to determine how many hit points they get. The Hit Dice of tough characters like fighters are d8s; the Hit Dice of weaker characters like thieves are d4s. The description of each character class lists the kind of Hit Dice it rolls to determine hit points.
Classic Dungeons & Dragons Game Set, Rules & Adventures Book (1994)
Hit points represent the amount of damage a character or monster can take before dying. Some kinds of characters can take more damage than others. Character classes roll different kinds of dice to determine how many hit points they get. The Hit Dice of tough characters like fighters are d8s; the Hit Dice of weaker characters like thieves are d4s. The description of each character class lists the kind of Hit Dice it rolls to determine hit points.
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 2nd Edition (1989-2000)
Like bD&D, 2e AD&D offers us nor narrative explanation for hit points.
Player’s Handbook (1989)
Hit points - a number representing 1. how much damage a character can suffer before being killed, determined by Hit Dice (q.v.). The hit points lost to injury can usually be regained by rest or healing. 2. how much damage a specific attack does, determined by weapon or monster statistics, and subtracted from a player's total.
Dungeons & Dragons, 3rd & 3.5 Edition (2000-2008)
3e D&D finally offers a narrative explanation for what hit points describe in an aptly titled subsection “What Hit Points Represent”. Like 1e AD&D, in 3e D&D hp represent an abstract combination of physical endurance and, skill, divine favor and/or inner power. 3.5 condenses the explanation into one paragraph, but stays with the definition that 3e used.
Player’s Handbook (2000)
What Hit Points Represent: Hit points mean two things in the game world: the ability to take physical punishment and keep going, and the ability to turn a serious blow into a less serious one. A 10th-level fighter who has taken 50 points of damage is not as badly hurt as a 10th-level wizard who has taken that much damage. Indeed, unless the wizard has a high Constitution score, she’s probably dead or dying, while the fighter is battered but otherwise doing fine. Why the difference? Partly because the fighter is better at rolling with the punches, protecting vital areas, and dodging just enough that a blow that would be fatal only wounds him. Partly because he’s tough as nails. He can take damage that would drop a horse and still swing his sword with deadly effect. For some characters, hit points may represent divine favor or inner power. When a paladin survives a fireball, you will be hard pressed to convince bystanders that she doesn’t have the favor of some higher power.
A 10th-level fighter who has taken 50 points of damage may be about as physically hurt as a 10th-level wizard who has taken 30 points of damage, the 1st-level fighter who has taken 5 points of damage, or the 1st-level wizard who has taken 3. Details at this level, however, don’t affect how the dice roll. When picturing a scene, just remember that 50 points of damage means different things to different people
Player’s Handbook (2003)[PHB, page 145]
What Hit Points Represent: Hit points mean two things in the game world: the ability to take physical punishment and keep going, and the ability to turn a serious blow into a less serious one. For some characters, hit points may represent divine favor or inner power. When a paladin survives a fireball, you will be hard pressed to convince bystanders that she doesn’t have the favor of some higher power.
[PHB, page 309]
hit points (hp): A measure of a character’s health or an object’s integrity. Damage decreases current hit points, and lost hit points return with healing or natural recovery. A character’s hit point total increases permanently with additional experience and/or permanent increases in Constitution, or temporarily through the use of various special abilities, spells, magic items, or magical effects (see temporary hit points and effective hit point increase).
Dungeons & Dragons, 4th Edition (2008-2014)
Continuing the trend of 1e’s and 3’s abstraction, hit points in 4e D&D represent a combination of physical endurance, skill, luck, and resolve.
Player’s Handbook (2008)
Over the course of a battle, you take damage from attacks. Hit points (hp) 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 skill, luck, and resolve—all the factors that combine to help you stay alive in a combat situation.
When you create your character, you determine your maximum hit points. From this number, you derive your bloodied and healing surge values. When you take damage, subtract that number from your current hit points. As long as your current hit point total is higher than 0, you can keep on fighting. When your current total drops to 0 or lower, however, you are dying.
Powers, abilities, and actions that restore hit points are known as healing. You might regain hit points through rest, heroic resolve, or magic. When you heal, add the number to your current hit points. You can heal up to your maximum hit point total, but you can’t exceed it.
Dungeons & Dragons Next (2012-2014)
D&D Next takes the previous editions abstraction and adds in mental endurance to the list.
How to Play (10-14-2013)
Hit points represent a combination of physical and mental durability, the will to live, and luck. Hit points are an abstraction that represent a creature’s ability to survive the many perils lying in wait.
Hit Point Maximum: A creature’s hit point maximum is, simply, the number of hit points the creature has when it is has all of its hit points.
Hit Dice: Every creature has 1 or more Hit Dice, short for Hit Point Dice. Player characters have 1 Hit Die per level.
A creature’s hit point maximum is determined by rolling each Hit Die (or taking its average) and adding to it the creature’s Constitution modifier, but at 1st-level, a player character takes the Hit Die’s maximum result, rather than rolling it. A creature has a minimum of 1 hit point per Hit Die.
After a creature rests, it can also spend Hit Dice to regain hit points (see “Resting” below).
Current Hit Points: A creature’s current hit points, or just hit points, can be any number between the creature’s hit point maximum and 0. This number often changes. As a creature receives healing or takes damage, its hit points rise or fall.
Describing the Effects of Damage
Dungeon Masters describe hit point loss in different ways. When your current hit point total is half or more of your hit point maximum, you typically show no signs of injury. When you drop below half your hit point maximum, you show signs of wear, such as cuts and bruises. An attack that reduces you to 0 hit points strikes you directly, leaving a bleeding injury or other trauma, or it simply knocks you unconscious.