Combat in D&D is abstract

13 posts / 0 new
Last post
Unless you are going to get into the minutia that bogs down combat then it has to be abstract, right?

Hit Points represent the characters ability to rolls with hits, the characters conitioning in combat, the characters actual physical ability to withstand all the nicks, cuts, and bruises that come with being in battle and partially represents the characters prowess in battle in general.

(I've liked this idea and it makes sense to me.)

Armor Class respresents the characters ability to avoid actual hits, the characters ability to allow armor to absorb some of the nicks, cuts and bruises that come with being in battle and partially represents the characters prowess in battle in general.

(I've also liked this idea but here comes my issue.)

To me I've always had the problem measuring what to consider an actual "hit". If a monster makes a successful "to hit" roll against a characters AC, it may not be an actual physical hit because the character could have just had to expend some extra effort to avoid the hit (thus losing some HPs but making him more vulnerable as the fight goes along).

(Quick note: In my campaign I assume any "damage" taken by a character that is 1/3 or more of their hit points is a wound. All other "damage" taken by a character is considered exhaustion or small cuts, nicks or bruises. Wounds acutally have to be healed through days of rest or spells. All other damage is recovered after a few rounds of non-combat.)

Combat in D&D is already assuming that there are feints, parries, probes and dodges included in the 6 second round and the attack rolls and damage are just the culmination of all those actions.

So, I find it hard to conceptualize (maybe it is my own fault or limitation) that there are some actions or feats that assume that every time a "hit" is made it means you are making physical contact when this may not be the case.

Example:

How does everyone else deal with this?

A monk has hit an ogre with his stunning fist doing 1 hp of damage. Clearly the monk has not hit the ogre very hard or maybe the ogre just had to use a little energy to avoid the monks fist yet somehow the monk still has the opportunity to stun the ogre?

It'll be intersesting to see if 4th editon will be able to make this a bit more consistent. The condition track looks like it may help with some of this but I am still not clear how 4th might resolve the above problem.

It not a huge problem (but it bugs me a little) in my mind but I'm just wondering what others think.
IMO, the phrase "you hit" is misleading and not abstract enough: It implies you literally were hit. This does not make sense on a character that "matrix dodges" to represent loss of HP (dodging like that would be stressful and exhausting. You couldn't keep it up for long, so that's why it could represent HP loss). A more fitting term for when your attack roll beats the AC/Def is "your attack is successful" or "you successfully attacked" instead of "your attack hit" or "you hit".

In summary: The fault is not the system, its Player/GM description.
The short answer is that combat is an abstraction and the rules more or less work. Thinking about the literalness doesn't help. ie, why would a rogue's sneak attack work if its just wearing down the opponent.

The best answer I can give is that for attacks that require actually hitting actually hits. Perhaps this is why most are limited in use per day, or special situations.
IMO, the phrase "you hit" is misleading and not abstract enough: It implies you literally were hit. This does not make sense on a character that "matrix dodges" to represent loss of HP (dodging like that would be stressful and exhausting. You couldn't keep it up for long, so that's why it could represent HP loss). A more fitting term for when your attack roll beats the AC/Def is "your attack is successful" or "you successfully attacked" instead of "your attack hit" or "you hit".

Of course, the phrase "hit points" is then also misleading and not abstract enough -- not that I can come up with a better one. ;)

In summary: The fault is not the system, its Player/GM description.

I think part of the problem still rests on the system. Hit points are nicely abstracted, but healing magic isn't. I mean, saying that hit points represent luck and skill in addition to the ability to withstand physical punishment makes perfect sense; saying that you can drink a potion to restore luck and skill seems a little more iffy.
I have it that way, that an attack "comes in" with say 8 points of damage.

Fighters have a lot of training in combat and even when they can't manage to evade an attack completely, their dodging is still good enough to not take the attack with full force.

A low level wizard has no such training and either he evades the blade completely or he doesn't evade at all and can just look down at the hilt in his chest. A fighter has much more training in evading attacks and therefore manages to dodge aside enough, so that it's merely a scrap, but it doesn't do anything to the destructive power of the attack. It's still a 8 points of damage hit. Also it represents the knowledge how to fight without making the wound worse.

A lot of hp means you have a lot of training in dodging attacks so they do only superfacial damage while low hp mean you usually take the full force of the attack. To me, it's kind like reversed damage reduction.

Of course, it fails when the target is helpless and not moving, but all in all, I think it does the trick.
Lands of the Barbarian Kings Campaign Setting - http://barbaripedia.eu
See when you try to make a game like D&D realistic, it loses the fun. D&D to me is a game first and foremost, sure theres tons of flavor to add in but what video game doesn't include that as well?
Hit points don't actually make any sense, as Arrowhen says. HP, AC, and saves all sort of blend together and mean different things in different circumstances. If HP includes your ability to dodge, then why is your dodge bonus to AC so low? If you're "dodging" sword blows, how come you have so much trouble dodging a touch spell? If a barbarian with 300 max hp is down to 100 max hp and this is supposed to represent the same injury as a commoner with 3 max hp who is down to 1 hp, then how come the commoner can be fully healed with a single Cure Light Wounds, but the barbarian needs to have it cast on him 50 times? How does a spell like "Heal" or "Cure Critical Wounds" even make sense, when for the vast majority of the population (level 1 commoners), their most grevious wounds (disemboweled and bleeding to death in negative hitpoints) can be completely healed to full health with a spell called "Cure Light Wounds"?

I think at some point you just need to accept the abstraction in all its nonsensicalness, and just play the game as it is.
Hit points don't actually make any sense, as Arrowhen says. HP, AC, and saves all sort of blend together and mean different things in different circumstances. If HP includes your ability to dodge, then why is your dodge bonus to AC so low? If you're "dodging" sword blows, how come you have so much trouble dodging a touch spell? If a barbarian with 300 max hp is down to 100 max hp and this is supposed to represent the same injury as a commoner with 3 max hp who is down to 1 hp, then how come the commoner can be fully healed with a single Cure Light Wounds, but the barbarian needs to have it cast on him 50 times? How does a spell like "Heal" or "Cure Critical Wounds" even make sense, when for the vast majority of the population (level 1 commoners), their most grevious wounds (disemboweled and bleeding to death in negative hitpoints) can be completely healed to full health with a spell called "Cure Light Wounds"?

I think at some point you just need to accept the abstraction in all its nonsensicalness, and just play the game as it is.

Good points. Though there must be a way to make it more consistent. If it is too complex to make that happen then yes, we will just have to accept the abstraction and enjoy the game.

This may be where the condition track will come in handy.

In my mind it would work like this:

Cross the threshhold where you are down by 1/3 of your hit points and you are wounded. Cross the threshhold where you are down by 2/3 of your hit points and you are bloodied. 0 hp equals unconsciousness and -10 equals death.
I like the way we have our combat set-up. I took the wound/vitality concept from UA and altered it to suit my desired effect, although we kept the term 'hit points' instead of vitality because its more D&Dish.

Visually, we describe hit points as scratches, scrapes, bruises, and a measure of battle fatigue. They increase by level being a reflection of training and experience. Hit points are a bit like battle endurance whereas wound points are true injuries.

Wound points are based on a character's CON score and represent substantial injuries. WP are relatively static, increasing only slightly every couple levels or by feats like Toughness. Normally you don't lose wp until all your hp are all gone. Once you lose any wp whatsoever you are fatigued; i.e. your battle endurance is waning and further 'hits' will cause 'real hurt'. This is the only opponent's health condition I give to players as visible to their characters (such as "You see the orc breathing heavy as that last attack on him made good contact and opened a nasty gash".) Should a character go to 0 wp but still have hp left they are exhausted.

However, I also changed criticals and sneak attacks to apply to wp directly. Criticals now cause extra di(c)e instead of multiplying. Only the extra di(c)e goes to the wp, while the normal damage and modifiers go to hp as normally. Sneak attack damage works the same as criticals but I obviously reduced it substantially (remember that my wp don't increase much through the game). So, while a 2nd level rogue may only do +1d4 sneak attack damage, by taking damage to his wp, his target is fatigued.

This all has worked very well for us in visualizing combat. As a side note of interest to those that are, we don't use iterative attacks either. Instead, anyone can attack multiple times; two times at a -5 penalty for each attack or three attacks at a -10 penalty for each attack.

Visually we see 'one' attack as being like carefully sword-playing your opponent to give you a good chance of at least wearing him down some. 'Two' attacks (or more) is like trying more 'hit opportunities' that are less likely to succeed.

Btw, power attack reduces your AC in my games. This means you're going more aggressively on the offensive to overpower your opponent but leaves you open to a counter-attack. We find it more useful as a 'desperation' type maneuver when you find it difficult to hit your opponent anyway. You could use it on easier foes but that just makes it easier for them to take advantage of your newly opened up weaker defenses. It all works nicely in my games so far (since roughly last winter).
The Piazza A renaissance of the Old Worlds. Where any setting can be explored, any rules system discussed, and any combination of the two brought to life.
but healing magic isn't.

Yes it is. Its an abstract mechanic restoring another abstract mechanic.
saying that you can drink a potion to restore luck and skill seems a little more iffy.

Think of them as instantaneously acting energy drinks: They restore the exhaustion facet of HP.

On dodging and HP and AC. The way I see AC dodging is you gliding out of the way of a poorly aimed attack: It doesn't take much effort at all. HP Dodging is you forcing yourself out of the way of a solid blow at the last moment: This would be very straining and exhausting (HP Damage).
I feel that if a "hit" results in HP loss, then it should represent some sort of physical damage. If for no other reason than to avoid pointless arguments that try to use "logic" to circumvent rules While making the hp system more abstract might seem more realistic, it also makes it much more convoluted. If a high level fighter gets hit for 8 point of damage it's not going to slow him down much, interpreting it as a small scratch or a wound that doesn't bother him very much seems a lot easier to deal with then saying he used some sort of intangible reserve of energy and luck to avoid an other wise fatal blow.
I let my players describe how they're losing HP however they like, provided that it's coherent with mechanics and fits dramatic sense. In the case of a poisoned arrow, for example, and the character fails his saving throw, then he would have to have been at least scratched. If he makes the save (and thus the poison did nothing), it could be a clean in-character miss.

If it fits a character's image (say, the nimble swashbuckler), he's perfectly free to describe every single 'hit' as a parry, block, dodge, or other form of miss until he finally gets to the one that takes him to negative HP.
Another day, another three or four entries to my Ignore List.
I just like to think that characters are supernaturally tough and can take a beating that would kill any normal person. A high level fighter can not only survive a direct hit by a train, but not even have any broken bones or internal hemmoraging. They jump off cliffs, swim through molten lava, walk through walls of fire, and dive into the stomach acids of large beasts because they know they can walk away from it.