While talking with a friend about a game system development issue, I had the spark of an idea for an alternate hit point system that could easily be merged into almost any game system. It applies mostly to enemies and is aimed at controlling the pacing and drama of combat. Sitting down to think about this, it feels really sound and interesting. I’m going to use it in the next game I run, but wanted to present it here for people to look it over.
The "10 Good Hits" System
Movies rarely use any kind of realism when the hero and the bad guy are having their climactic battle. Instead, the point that one or the other falls seems to be based on when in the scene it is most dramatic. This is usually after a certain number of "Good" or "Solid" blows are successfully landed. This ensures that the action lasts long enough and is fierce enough to keep the audience engaged. To that end, it makes a certain amount of sense to ignore an enemy’s hit point level and merely have them taken down when enough "Good" hits occur. The system for making this happen goes something like this:
- Based on the amount of time that the Game Master wants the enemy to be in the combat, he or she assigns a number of "hits" that are required to take the enemy down.
- Each "Good" hit that occurs takes one hit away from the enemy.
- When the enemy is out of hits, they go down.
- What constitutes a "Good" hit is based on the system that you are playing in and how you want the combat to go. It might be rated by the number of successes achieved on a roll. It might be a hit that deals above a certain amount of damage, i.e. 6 or more damage rolled is a "Good" hit, or any roll that does more than 2 damage is a "good hit, etc. It might be any successful connection with the enemy. It might be an attack that hits the enemy in a specific weak point.
- A "Good" hit can be whatever you want it to be. It just has to work within the system you are playing in and represent the rules for attacking in some way. A "Good" hit can even be character specific. What constitutes a "Good" hit for one character might be a weak hit for another character, no matter if it is melee, ranged, magic, etc.
- Certain attacks might count for more than one "Good" hit. Rolling a critical, getting massive amounts of damage, using a special power on the attack, etc. A truly incredible attack or special power might count for 3 or 4 "Good" hits. This is up to you, as the Game Master, to decide.
- The Game Master is always free to determine that a spectacular attack is a "Killing Blow" on an enemy and remove the enemy from combat.
- This is the type of system that could be used "on top" of another HP system. It could be implemented for some combats and not for others, since it is so lightly designed. A group of 6 sub-creatures could be considered 3 hit enemies while the boss could be using the regular hit point system.
What this system does is let the Game Master control how long it takes for a certain enemy to fall without merely fudging the results. Instead of registering the actual amount of damage done, the Game Master sets the number of hits they want the enemy to take, and thus how long the enemy is in combat.
- 1 to 2 hits for a minion or fodder enemy.
- 3 to 4 hits for a moderate toughness character that should survive a round or two but be gone quickly.
- 5 to 6 hits for a tough enemy or one that should last halfway through a long combat.
- 7 to 8 hits for a very tough enemy or one that should last right to the end of the combat.
- 9 to 10 hits to take out a BBEG, very very tough enemy, or an enemy that needs to take punishment right up to the very end.
- 11+ hits for a BBEG that is meant to be an incredibly tough solo fight or one that is meant to be whittled down slowly.
- 20-30+ hits for an enemy that is supposed to be incredibly hard to take down, or an enemy that has some kind of damage reduction, invincibility, or special protection.
Thoughts On The System
This is definitely, as Kurt  put it, when I threw the idea before the other gnomes, a "’fast and loose’ mechanic". The goal of my original discussion was a way to not nerf combat effective characters, but to create combats that allowed them to use their powers and abilities, but not feel cheated by the quick deaths of their supposedly "uber" enemies. It was also partially to let the non-combat "uber" characters have a chance to contribute to the defeat of enemies.
To that end, I think this system is best implemented only on the enemy side of the combat. It may also be best used "behind the screen", without the players knowing that this is the way you are rating an enemy encounter. The prime benefit of the "10 Hits" system is that it allows the Game Master to control the amount of time that the enemy is kept in combat and how dramatic their time in combat is. Since, the Game Master doesn’t have control over how the players choose to make their attacks, there are still many ways the players can control the combat and utilize their abilities. If they knew they were just aiming for a number of "Good" hits, they might only focus on doing what the Game Master considered a "Good" hit.
I’ll reiterate one final thing. This is merely an idea I had, nothing incredible or fleshed out. It is a framework. I don’t currently plan to build this into anything I am currently developing, and if I use it for a future project, I won’t be sad to see it or something similar incorporated into something else. I did a very quick mental accounting of HP systems that I knew of, and then I did a very quick search  on alternate hit point systems . I can’t think of, or find, anything else that works in this way. I can think of a few that use levels or wounds instead of hit points but none that work with the idea of combat pacing in mind.
So what do you think? Would you use this type of system in your game? Is it something you might use for minor combats or major combats? What games could you see it fitting into well, or not fitting into at all?
(Image: Here  – Public Domain)