In various D&D editions, player character durability evolved with the game as did expectations about what a 1st-level character ought to be. In the earlier editions, a starting character could begin play with just a single hit point. Random hit points meant some characters might absorb two or three hits from a monster while other characters fell down if you breathed on them hard enough. One can extrapolate from character fragility that adventurers began as, more or less, normal people who, over time and experience, became heroes.
For many players, starting with 1 hit point sucked. It meant adopting a play style that denied the most exciting aspects of the game: combat. Rather than kicking down doors and slaughtering all the monsters, characters relied on cunning, stealth, and simple robbery to earn their experience points. (After all, characters acquired more XP from treasure than they ever could from fighting.) In answer to the question about character durability, the 3rd Edition rules let characters start with maximum hit points. With maximum hit points, most PCs could absorb a hit or two before hitting the dirt and, with a more generous death and dying system in place, allies could keep cherished companions from moving toward the light. When looking at these rules, you might envision that the starting character was a cut above the ordinary person: tougher, faster, and luckier than most people living in the D&D world. Characters still earned random numbers of hit points as they gained levels, however, and thus even though these heroes might be somewhat tougher at low levels, they still had to contend with higher level creatures that could cause all sorts of trouble if the player rolled poorly for hit points after a few levels.
And so the 4th Edition rules tackled the challenge by making 1st-level player characters heroes right out of the gate. Armed with a bucket of hit points, these characters gained fixed hit points at each level, which insulated players from drifting below expected hit point values and prevented players from gaining more hit points than the game really needs. Add to this the concept of healing surges, and characters became more durable than ever before. It’s possible to wipe out a party using the 4th Edition rules, but it’s unlikely.
Character durability has been something of a moving target in the entire process of working on the game these days. We have some ideas about where we’d like hit point values to sit, but before we commit to this idea fully, we’d like some feedback from you.
Rather than break down a number of systems we could go with, I’m just going to ask you how many hit points a fighter should have at 1st level. Each of the following assumes the fighter has a 14 Constitution. Which one feels right to you?