- Gnome Stew - http://www.gnomestew.com -

“10 Good Hits” An Alternate Hit Point System To Control Combat Pacing And Drama

Posted By John Arcadian On January 26, 2010 @ 12:30 am In GMing Advice | 19 Comments

image 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)

About  John Arcadian

John Arcadian is the head of Silvervine Games, a freelance writer and art director, a website developer, a builder of sonic screwdrivers, and a purveyor of kilted mayhem. When he isn't out causing trouble in his kilt... Well, no, that is pretty much what he does when he isn't running RPGs or or trying to take over the world.




19 Comments (Open | Close)

19 Comments To "“10 Good Hits” An Alternate Hit Point System To Control Combat Pacing And Drama"

#1 Comment By Patrigan On January 26, 2010 @ 6:21 am

I think this system has quite some potential.

A place where it could be used: I once added a boss character to my DnD4E. Due to some unforseen circumstances, the boss was suddenly dead. Worse part is, the boss would have summoned his strongest minion the turn after. My solution was to scribble down the dmg and triple it to get the total health (give or take). This let him stay alive a lot longer.

A system like this could solve that, however I think 4E is not completely suited for it, due to “bloodied”. My players count the damage it took to get the boss halfway, so when they didn’t have to do that much second half (or more than that) they will feel cheated.

#2 Comment By BladeMaster0182 On January 26, 2010 @ 7:44 am

This seems like the idea behind Mutants and Masterminds Toughness system. Instead of HP, you had a Toughness DC (and AC). In order to hit someone, you roll attack, obviously, and you have to break their AC. If you hit, you roll the d20 again for damage. If you beat the DC you “bruise” or “injury” them, depending if you’re doing nonlethal or lethal damage. Being bruised doesn’t do much but lower your Toughness DC by one per marker.

If your opponent being your DC by 5 with nonlethal,you are stunned. If they beat it by 10 you’re knocked out. For lethal it is disabled, then dead. Obviously, if you’re playing a character like the Juggernaut, your toughness will be higher than god, but with enough bruised/injured markers, your DC will be low enough for you to beat the bad guy.

Obviously henchmen have low Toughness and/or AC while supers are high and BBEGs are ridiculous

#3 Comment By ironregime On January 26, 2010 @ 9:08 am

Love it. And seems very scalable. I’d be interested to hear your reactions after some playtesting.

#4 Comment By Scott Martin On January 26, 2010 @ 10:49 am

In many ways, this is White Wolf’s system– since everyone has 7 (or so) damage boxes, any hit that gets through stamina is a good hit, with a greater frequency of multiple damage hits that in your proposal.

I like the idea, and it is inherently scalable… sounds like it’s time for playtesting.

#5 Comment By snej On January 26, 2010 @ 11:01 am

This sounds pretty similar to the damage mechanics of FATE (e.g. Spirit Of The Century) or PDQ (e.g. Swashbucklers Of The 7 Skies). FATE in particular extends this system to different strengths of hits while keeping a simple series of checkboxes for counting them.

#6 Comment By Target On January 26, 2010 @ 11:09 am

This sounds like the 2-hit minions I’d been using. I’ve never thought about using the concept for more difficult foes, definitely something worth trying.

#7 Comment By John Arcadian On January 26, 2010 @ 12:49 pm

@Patrigan – This is definitely a system for less combat focused games. I could see using it in D&D4e in just the situation you describe. The characters did awesome, but the fight might have felt unfulfilling because the uber BBEG went down like a punk.

@Scott Martin – White wolf was definitely one of the systems I looked at for similarity. It is kind of similar, but not really. WW still has armor rolls and modifiers, from what I remember. Then there is the fact that everything has 7 hit levels. I don’t know how the new W.o.D. works, my friends being old school W.o.D. fans and not wanting to give a game a shot.

@snej – I’m going to have to check those out. Do you know of any quick-starts or basic rules sets so I can check out the rules? I know fate is based off of fudge, but I haven’t heard of PDQ (thought it sounds like it would be up my alley from the 3 minutes research I just did.).

@Target – Part of this came from thinking through a new system of damage for the “Huge” enemies system in Silvervine. Think Shadow of The Colossus or God of War type fighting. While I’ve run that system with the regular hit point system, it felt different. If I gave the enemy a HUUUUUGE number of hit points, only the tank or magic character were part of the fight. Too few hit points and it went down like a punk. I might be testing this with the next game I run like that.

#8 Comment By Robert On January 26, 2010 @ 1:32 pm

Decipher’s Lord of the Rings had something like this. By the default rules, characters and creatures had a lot of hp divided into many wound levels. To enable the Boromir’s last stand kind of thing, however, they had a 1-hit and 2-hit fodder optional rule.

What you’ve outlined really is a hp system, just at a coarser scale. I believe the newer Chainmail or D&D minis rules did something similar. Dividing hp by 5 or something like that and just counting a hit as 1 instead of rolling damage. It’s been a while since I read those rules, though, and I never did play them.

#9 Comment By Nifelhein On January 26, 2010 @ 1:34 pm

This sounds like a perfect side system for any a lot of RPG engines, I will probably keep this closehand when GMing my soon to start 4th edition game.

One thing this can help with is the grinding scenarios of many combats, that i haven’t seen yet, but I am already getting ready to counter.

#10 Comment By unwinder On January 26, 2010 @ 3:11 pm

I’ve done this a lot of times on the fly. For a significant boss battle, I’ll frequently let his HP run out, and if the fight seemed too insubstantial, I’ll think “OK, three more good hits, and then he’s going down,” or “OK, two more rounds, and then any hit will kill him.”

It also reduces the problem with high-damage characters landing all the killing blows all the time. If you ask me, every character should have a shot at delivering the final blow on a relatively equal basis, and if it would be more dramatic for a certain character to have the final blow, he should get it no matter what.

#11 Comment By drow On January 26, 2010 @ 5:29 pm

so.. don’t worry about abilities which enhance damage in minor but accumulative ways, better to improve accuracy and hit as many times per round as possible. got it. we’ll call it “deadly octopus style” :)

#12 Comment By Squish On January 26, 2010 @ 5:50 pm

I like this a lot in theory anyways, would love to see how it goes in practice. Would status effects, so to speak, do something? Would setting a Zombie on fire, eventually constitute a “hit” so to speak…?

I am so down for trying this on the player end, and hearing how it goes for others. :)

#13 Comment By SwiftFire On January 27, 2010 @ 6:45 am

This sounds like a pretty fun mechanic! I think it would create a very nice flow in combat. The players could work their way past the minions within a couple rounds and get to the boss in a very dramatic fashion.

My only question,what about pc’s that use weapons with multiple attacks (like a bow) or even a higher level pc with multiple attacks? It might be good to decide to count each individual hit for the smaller enemies, but for the boss count each successful round as a hit. That way players with “deadly octopus style” don’t reduce the boss to a quivering mass within a couple rounds.

#14 Comment By Nephlm On January 27, 2010 @ 10:18 am

I like this system and I use something very similar for my most recent homebrew, however I’m not sure it can just be dropped in any system.

As the last few commenters pointed out this system favors the two weapon agile fighter over the one big hit bruiser. It also devalues damage buffs in general.

This works best with a system where whatever you do you only apply damage once per round and were most of the minor damage buffs have been removed and major ones have bee converted to counts as +1 good hit.

Some of that can be saved by having wound levels (“every 5 points counts as a good hit”), but then your back to a hp system without any of the advantages of character specificity or speed and timing.

#15 Comment By Target On January 27, 2010 @ 10:33 am

You could always set the boss up for 30 hits where one good octupus hit is equal to 1 hit and one good charging rhino is worth 3 hits.

This isn’t a mechanic that has to have hard and fast rules applicable to every group and every system. It strikes me as a pacing control mechanic that can be easily adapted to each group and system.

#16 Comment By Airk On January 29, 2010 @ 10:20 am

This idea sounds good on the surface, but really if you try to codify it, it’s just like having hitpoints, only less granular. (Which is not necessarily better).

What makes this idea _work_ is the fudging factor – the “Okay, that big whammy that you poured all your oomph into actually counts as 5 “hits”, whereas that nimble little octopus who’s been stabbing 6 times around actually needs to hit TWICE to count as one “hit””. Which means that, really, you’re just making it up for dramatic pacing. Which is fine and good, but you need to admit that that, really, is what you’re doing and that the “hits” are just a vague scale to help you along, and not a “system” that can be codified into rules at all.

Though if I had to try, what you’re -really- trying to do here is create a system where a given enemy lasts a given amount of time. So what you _really_ ought to be giving them is “X rounds in which they take sufficient damage”. It’s up to you, still, how much damage is “enough” to take a round off their life counter, but if the goal is timing, you really should be counting TIME and not some sort of highly fudgable “hits”.

#17 Pingback By Ravenous Role Playing » Blog Archive » Friday Five: 2010-01-29 On January 29, 2010 @ 7:03 pm

[...] “10 Good Hits” An Alternate Hit Point System To Control Combat Pacing And Drama I’m currently reworking my RPG system in my head. I’ll be putting things down on paper soon, and this post caught my eye. I considered it, briefly, as a core mechanic for the RPG system, but I dismissed it as being too whimsical for the nature of my game. However, it’s still a good lesson to take into consideration. If a combat is dragging on and it’s clear that one side (probably the PCs) is going to win, then allow them to get in a a few “good hits” and call it quits by saying the Bad Guy goes down. [...]

#18 Comment By Spitfire665 On February 25, 2010 @ 9:58 am

To those concerned that this is “still a hp system,” I think that’s the point. My group and I have come to realize that, in 4E DnD, somehow combat is taking longer than it used to in previous editions. The best reason I can surmise is it’s a flaw in the system, itself. When I take stock of the actions around the table, no one really takes any longer than they should to resolve their turn (2 minutes on average).

What occurred to me was that, in order to balance out the overpowered PCs, WotC just lumped a ton of hit points on the monsters. In essence, if you think about it, hit points are just little hour glasses for each baddie. And combat last only as long as those hour glasses do. So, if you take some of that sand out of the hour glass, it stands to reason combat will go quicker.

I haven’t play-tested this theory yet, mind you. But it seems logical enough to me. And the system presented above seems to me to be one of the best ideas I’ve heard to incorporate that theory into.

I also wonder what input anyone would have for the DM side. To me, only running this system on the monsters inherently unbalances combat. Meaning, if the PCs still take regular hit point damage, then combat is nothing more than a battle of attrition the DM will never win. While I understand it isn’t about the DM “winning” the battle, if there is no threat by the monsters (e.g. if the PCs will inherently win every encounter), then there’s really no point to even having combat in the first place.

#19 Comment By Rafferty On August 17, 2010 @ 9:50 am

The Sanguine RPGs, most notably IRONCLAW, implement a system almost identical to this.

When an attack hits in IRONCLAW, a “good” hit puts a bad status on the target called “Hurt” that increases future damage. Hurt can be shrugged off by the next scene, so it’s a lot like how an action hero can get beat up during the scene, but by the next set piece, he’s fine again.

A “solid” hit can add the status of “Injured”, which can’t just be shrugged off. This is when an action hero knows they’re taking a beating. Unlike Hurt, Injured lingers from scene to scene, bringing a “Die Hard” effect for the type of hero who is constantly bruised or bandaged but keeps on going.

Since Hurt and Injured add to future damages, they increase the likelihood of a future solid or killing blow.

Major villians have special edges to resist getting one-shotted. In particular, a gift called “Toughness” can be tapped to reduce damage by almost half … but only once per attack. If a bus falls on them, or if they fall off a 200-foot cliff, it’s not going to do much, but it can help against solid and killing blows. Heroes can get gifts like “Diehard” that actually grant them bonuses when they are Hurt or Injured, not just to overcome the penalties from those conditions but also to drive them to greater heroism.

IRONCLAW takes this idea one step further with an “Afraid” status. A target that gets hit with enough damage that MIGHT kill them, but rolls low enough that it doesn’t, can simply make the target temporarily lose the will to fight. They have to get out of line of sight before the fear goes away, which simulates the action-movie trope of thugs getting hit, backing off, and them re-grouping for another assault.


Article printed from Gnome Stew: http://www.gnomestew.com

URL to article: http://www.gnomestew.com/gming-advice/10-good-hits-an-alternate-hit-point-system-to-control-combat-pacing-and-drama/

All articles copyright by their individual authors. All rights reserved.