Hit Points as Spell Points and the 15 Minute Adventuring Day
I received a very helpful set of comments on Microlite75 in email yesterday and, with the permission of the author of these comments (Kevin Donovan), I’m going to post and discuss some of the more interesting/controversial nuggets in a couple of blog posts. Feel free to comment with your own views on the issues Kevin raises. Feedback is good and, outside of my Sunday campaign group, I don’t get nearly as much as I would like.
I also have some concerns, such as spells using up hit points. I remember that concept back when I played Metagaming’s Wizard. In terms of adventuring, rather than magical arena combat, weakening oneself via spell use sort of encourages the dreaded 15 minute adventuring day.
Using hit points as spell points was a concern back when Robin was designing the original Microlite20 four years ago. However, it has worked well in practice. It limits magic-users without going to a pure Vancian Fire-and-Forget system. However, it’s not a modern invention. The Body Point and Hit Point division I using in Microlite75 (and using the hit points as spell points) was something I started doing in the late 1970s as it solved a number of problems with D&D and with using spell points instead of the Vancian Fire-and-Forget system.
Hit points were always a problem in D&D as they represented too many things: actual physical damage, luck, dodging out of the way, training in combat, etc. They were not supposed to represent actual wounds, but they “healed” very slowly as if they were wounds and not treating them as wounds often made describing what was happening in combat in “real world terms” iffy. Spell points were a nice way of freeing magic-using characters from the fire-and-forget system which many players and GMs disliked, but in play, most spell point systems tend to make magic-users even more powerful — often too powerful compared to non-magic-using characters.
Moving to a Body Point and Hit Point system eliminated many of these issues with only a small increase in complexity. Body Points represented actual wounds — damage that required lengthy healing times and reduced the character’s effectiveness. Hit points represented minor nicks and scratches, luck, energy to dodge out of the way, etc. Body Points healed according to the normal D&D healing rules. Hit Points recovered with a full night’s rest.
Once I started thinking of Hit Points as energy, the idea of using them as spell points to cast spells or as energy for fighting classes to use in special maneuvers soon followed. This made Hit Points a resource that players had to decide when to use. Was it better to use your hit points on that Knock spell or Great Blow with your sword, or to have them available to soak up damage in combat later in the day?
At first, players were very reluctant to use their Hit Points for non-combat abilities even with 10-20 points on damage cushion in the form of Body Points. I renamed Hit Points “Fatigue Points” and the reluctance went away. While the system was tweaked over the years (like having critical hits do 1 point of Body Point damage per die of damage roll), the basic system has worked well in my games ever since. The variant I’m using in Microlite75 is working quite well in playtest.
However, this doesn’t answer the problem of “the dreaded 15 minute adventuring day.” I’m going to be honest and say that this simply isn’t a problem I’ve ever seen in my campaigns in all by years of gaming. I think it is a problem unique to certain groups of players and only in games like D&D 3.x where there are a huge number of buff and protection spells that magic-users are expected to cast on themselves and other party members before entering combat. D&D 3.x had a large number of them and the CR “encounter design” system seemed to assume that characters would be designed fairly optimally and would be fully buffed out for combat.
Earlier versions of D&D lacked most of the buff spells of 3.x and the encounter system wasn’t about producing encounters carefully balanced around the character’s current abilities, so the “15 minute adventuring day” problem was far less common. As far as I can tell, it was pretty much confined to groups of players who were adverse to taking any risk and then only happened if the GM was willing to play along and not toss wondering monsters in as they rushed back to town after every combat to rest up.
As Microlite75, like the early TSR games it is based on, does not have very many buff spells, does not expect carefully balanced encounters, and has wondering monsters, I don’t expect the “15 minute adventuring day” to be a problem in most Microlite75 campaigns. It certainly isn’t in mine — nor have I heard of any “15 minute adventuring day” problems in Microlite74 which also uses hit points as spell points and has very few buff spells. However, I’m always interested in hearing how it works in your games. Tweaks are always possible.
Next time: Kevin’s ideas for the Warlord class.
Side Note: The Ancient Auguries supplement for Microlite74 has optional rules for a fire-and-forget magic system fairly close to that of the original 0e. Should I include something like this as an optional rule in Microlite75 for those who perfer fire-and-forget to “spell points”?