Power Point Development

All long term readers will know that I am a fan of ‘fixed’ #hits. It gets rid of a DP sink, removes the concept of people being able to be hit several times with a sword and survive just because they are high level and it makes low levels slightly more survivable. My version is based upon Co and SD and racial bonuses, stats do progress up towards their potentials so there is a slight increase in #hits over time.

Thrud posted on the forums yesterday about the reasoning behind being able to develop power points as a skill and then called into question body development as another example. You can read the post in the link above but I have quoted it here.

Stepping away from the rules for a while and instead just going with reasoning alone. 
Some aspects of a person are innate abilities, others are skills learned. 
Innate abilities grow stronger as you mature, but you can’t really practice them. Skills need practice for you to improve. 
Looking at a person quantified as a rpc. What is a skill and what is an ability?
You could easily argue that as you become better/more proficient at casting a spell, it should become harder to resist. 
You could also argue that it’s not a matter of proficiency, but your overall power that grows when you level up. 
Maybe it’s both?
What other aspects of a character should be seen in the same way? IMHO power points, since I don’t see a magician practicing getting more power points…
What about body development? Does it seem realistic that you practice not dying from wounds? Or is it more reasonable to see hit points increasing as you level up and become more powerful all around?
Shouldn’t there be a similar mechanic in place for resistance rolls?
What else share these characteristics?


Power Point Development as a Skill

I can rationalise PP Dev as a skill quite easily. Taking an Essence user as an example, they utilise essence from the world around them. There is essence in everything and everywhere. To cast a spell they gather that essence and then utilise it.

I am going to use an analogy of a juggler. They also gather things from around them and utilise them. An inexperienced juggler can keep control of two or three items whereas a master juggler of far greater skill can juggle chainsaws, chairs, clubs and axes all at the same it. Simply through the training their skill in juggling their ability to gather and control increases.

Don’t like that one? Then here is another analogy.

A biologist may know only a few genes in a specie’s genome. With that knowledge a few medical problems may be addressed. Over time and with study more genes in the genome may be learned and the capabilities in genetic medicine that the biologist has increases with every gene that is understood.

If the genes are power points and the medical treatments are spells you have an example of PP dev as a skill.

Looking at the Skill

I quite like the PP dev skill. As a GM I can tweak the cost to act as a throttle on powerpoints and consequently the prevalence of spell casters in the game. Under RM2/RMC rules one bad stat gain roll on your realm stat can wipe out many or all of your power points for an entire level. Now should anything happen to your realm stat it isn’t good but at least you can function.

I think there is a stronger case for power point development as a skill than there is for body development. You could even go so far as to scrap #hits altogether. Forget them completely even on the combat tables. Just read off the critical from the combat table and roll it. You do real wounds to each other until either one of you is unable to defend themselves or a fatal wound is delivered. Bleeding is simply accounted for after the fight to work out how many minutes you have to live before you bleed out. 20/amount of bleeding would work. By that time your companions have either saved your or you bled out. I am not recommending this but I suspect it would work. Most fights seem to last four or five rounds and end in a debilitating critical. It is relatively rare to grind down someones #hits to zero.

13 Replies to “Power Point Development”

  1. I agree entirely that the argument for making PP Development a skill is a lot stronger than the one for making BD a skill. I have no problem allowing Wizards to gradually develop the ability to cast more spells per day.

    Hit points are a bit of a different story. You rightly pointed out that Gygax specifically said they are not meat, but his explanation also broke down at times (e.g. why does it take more time to kill an unconscious hero than an unconscious minion? Surely the hero shouldn’t be benefitting from ‘skill’ or ‘sixth sense’ when he is unconscious?). The problem was that Gygax envisioned a kind of pulpy, high-adventure game where a single round of combat lasted one minute (remember that in AD&D!) and all PCs got or could acquire plot armor. That doesn’t work in the sort of fantasy Vietnam or Westeros that some players prefer to play nowadays. It shouldn’t take an entire minute for an Orc to cut your head off.

  2. I agree but I would guess that if the character was unconscious then hit points simply would not apply. Dead is Dead.

    I do like the way that Gygax actually envisaged slaying a dragon not as a group of characters beating on it for half an hour but rather a scene full of cat and mouse evasion and diving for cover until the dragon is eventually cornered and a decisive blow slays it.

    In the early Chainmail rules there were no hit points, heroes just got a saving throw vs death when they got hit. Hit points were an extension of the save vs death mechanic.

    1. “In the early Chainmail rules there were no hit points, heroes just got a saving throw vs death when they got hit. Hit points were an extension of the save vs death mechanic.”

      That is fascinating! Now perhaps I know where the designers of DnD 4th edition got the idea for the death saves they introduced for when characters go into the negatives in hit points.

      I remember back in the day I very briefly played a Sci-Fi RPG called ‘Living Steel’, and it had something a bit similar. There were hit points and damage charts, but they were on a huge scale, from 1 to literally thousands. So you could get hit for 3,000 damage, which would mean you were instantly incapacitated… but not necessarily dead. When you got to the hospital or got medical attention, you made a kind of save IIRC to see if you lived or died.

      I also very much liked their action point combat system. I remember that it had sliding scales of weapon effectiveness depending on how long you took to aim — something like RMu’s system of being able to take a quicker shot for less action points at a cost of a penalty to your attack’s potential effectiveness.

  3. I’d like to add an analogy (or two) for Body Dev.

    A novice boxer has low stamina and low constitution and low self discipline and cannot take the same number of blows to the head and body as a more skilled boxer or at the same intensity. A boxer who has focused on core strength, controlled breathing, absorbing a blow to mitigate potential damage stands a much better chance. The boxer who has focused on developing his body for the task at hand (getting punched repeatedly) is going to fare far better than the one who focused on footwork. Mind you, I’m comparing same weight class, started training the same day, worked out for the same number of hours each day. One spent time (DP) on footwork the other spent time in body development.

    Another analogy? Okie doke! One of my favorites, Martial Arts. Two students start the same day. One focuses all on kicks and punches and devastating strikes and crippling blows. The other student focuses on conditioning, flexibility, breathing, body conditioning. Maybe, just maybe, the striker gets a lucky crit and kills the body conditioned fighter in one shot. It’s happened in real life at tournaments with safety gear on. A French fighter was kicked in the chest and it defibrillated his heart and he died on the mat. No amount of body dev can prevent a freak accident. However, the striker will not be able to take a series of attacks for a long period of time, if at all.

    For me, Body Dev is a viable skill. There is a limit to the number of HP, just as there is a limit to the amount of assault the human body can take. American football players, for all the gear, conditioning, safety precautions, are still only human and can only sustain so much damage.

    I like RM2’s approach of “Racial Max + CO bonus” That adds a little diversity to the relative ‘survivability’ of the PCs.

    Given both analogies above, body development means more than simply physical damage. It mean controlled breathing, controlled adrenaline, physical toughness, force absorption, rolling with a punch, mitigating force, etc. A fighter who hasn’t spent time developing that portion of the survival equation will not fare well. Imagine running a sprint or a marathon without developing your body for it. How effective are you at the end of the sprint or race, double over in two, gasping for air, seeing stars and falling over because your legs are numb? You’d be pretty easy to beat up at that point, no? The same is true for fighters. I love when novices come charging in with long series of punches and kicks going hell bent for leather. Very literally, 60 seconds in, they are gasping for air, dropping their hands, the muscles are full of lactic acid, the reaction time is slower. I send punches and kicks in at will at that point, further breaking them down at a much faster rate.

    1. I can see all of that and I agree. What irritates me is the disconnect between the real world examples you give and the way that players use the skill. The character sheet says they are slim, slight frame and rather bookish looking. Then they have 18 ranks in Body development and maximum human #hits by the time they are 9th level.

      Are they pumping iron or are they not, figuratively speaking?

  4. Spectre’s examples are very good and definitely on point.

    There are still times though when the concept of hit points breaks down a bit. Most of the things Spectre mentions involve conscious thought: the boxer or martial artists’ advantage over the novice is based on the presumption that the professional is conscious and actively bracing for a punch, controlling breathing, pacing herself, etc. But in many RPGs, the professional still maintains this vast advantage even when she is unconscious. Some systems suggest just allowing characters to ‘coup de grace’ unconscious enemies, which would solve that issue… but my players generally don’t like that when it is applied to them, and a level 2 kobold is able to instantly kill their level 18 Paladin when he’s sleeping, simply by slitting his throat.

    This isn’t a knock against the idea of hit points. It is just to say that if you want a more realistic game, the difference in hit points between the level 18 Paladin and the level 2 Kobold should be on the smaller side, whereas if you want a more heroic game, you probably want a larger difference.

    1. It actually makes the save vs death mechanic look even better. If you are aware and prepared you get a bonus, unconscious gives a penalty and magical protection type spells also mod the save.

      You can improve the save by race and by stats and even by level if you wanted.

      It has a lot of potential granularity and easy to conceive what is happening, unlike hit points.

  5. If the PC or NPC is unconscious is unconscious, we didn’t bother with HP loss and crits. The attacker simply killed them outright if that was the intention.

      1. We have played it that way at times too. But usually it is the PCs doing the throat-slitting, so they have less of a problem with it. I am hesitant to use it nowadays because I’m not sure how my players would react if I allowed an Orc to just slit an unconscious player’s throat in the middle of a battle, without any save.

        1. We use Fate Points to help with that. I’ll usually make it so at least player makes a sense ambush roll or an orc will screw up. PC death happens, but I prefer the player to be actively involved in their demise. The GM can always devise whatever story line needed to explain why the PC didn’t have his throat slit in battle. Using your example, Orcs are blood thirsty and less likely to do something with finesse like slitting a throat in the middle of battle. If the meat puppet he was pounding on suddenly dropped from hit points, it would probably look for another fighting target. It’s more orc-y.

  6. For my evolving modern rules I’m using a combination of Strength and Willpower to represent hits, based on the idea of physical hits being a combination of the ability to take damage and deal with trauma and shock. I don’t find the save vs. death mechanic appealing at all for non-magic settings. It seems far too arbitrary and would require quite a bit more in the way of shading to deal with various weapon calibers and the like. When you don’t have lifegiving in any form, things change.
    Since players can improve their stats, hits can and do go up. But they remain firmly tied to physical abilities and not a skill that can be developed independently.

    1. I am also a fan of semi fixed hits.

      Just for more information… The origin of the save vs death rule came from table top war games where one hit equals death is the norm.

      Save vs death only applied to heroes on the battlefield.

      It was discussed again recently in light of research by the US military in what kills soldiers. One soldier could walk into camp holding their own severed arm and seem otherwise fine. Another soldier could take a seemingly minor injury and yet die from it.

      The save vs death mechanic was suggested as the most realistic representation of wounds and dying in games.

      The problem with realistic combat is that the Dragon would win every time.

      I wrote a rules light rpg that used the mechanic for injury and death. Armor protected you or it didn’t, wounds killed you or they didn’t. That is very realistic but not particularly fun as it lacks an amount of player agency. The missing key ingredient was an economy of fate and fortune points. Fate points were the same as RM fate points and could save your life. Fortune points were a group resource and could be used to nudge dice rolls.

      The mix meant that combat was realistic and deadly and constantly riding your luck would probably get you killed. When a player ran out of fate points every one looked at them as if they were a marked man.

      As to calibre you had two levers you could pull. The first was the armor save roll where armor piercing or different weapon types could be easily reflected. The next was the death save.

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