142 Hit Points (or, "How to account for all those blows to the head")
As many of you already know, I've been running an on-going D&D campaign for nearly seven years now. Most of the players have stuck with the same guy, or maybe they've played as many as two guys. The point is, after seven years, any given character is bound to have an excessively high Hit Point total. Eventually, one gets to the point where one must decide how to account for this. I'm in that spot.
Most of my players have HP totals that are well over 100. The main exception, of course, is the wizard. But, as far as wizard's go, this guy's HP total is pretty high - over 50. Part of the challenge I have as a GM is figuring out how to handle these excessively high HPs. Hit Points are an enigma, especially for rules sets like D&D. A starting level guy may have 6 hit points. This means one well placed blow from a long sword can take him out.
Common people are supposed to die when struck by a long sword.
This makes sense. Most humans off the street would likely die if I were to run them through with a long sword. It's a killing tool and most non-warriors wouldn't know how to respond to a blow. Many wouldn't even dodge. People who dodge might simply duck, cover their head, and leave their backside completely ripe for attack. Well, no surprise here. Common people are supposed to die when struck by a long sword.
A 6th level guy might have as many as 40 hit points. And, therefore, four blows from a long sword might do him in. But, more likely, it'll just leave him badly wounded. This makes sense too. Many soldiers from ancient battlefields could take a few blows before going down. Sometimes they were unlucky and got their head lopped off with one blow, but there were some who knew how to watch their backs, dodge, and take the pain should they get struck.
In many games, one can keep progressing on and on and on. Eventually, they end up like my players and reach some level where their HP total is over 100. Does this mean they can take 10-20 blows from a long sword before going down?
Yes and no.
To get around this "problem," I use the concept of Relative Damage. I suspect others do as well. But, for those who don't, let me explain. Let's continue with the notion that a Long Sword does 1d10 damage. And let's assume that we've got a 1st level Dwarf being attacked. Let's call him Tarnac. Okay, at 1st level, Tarnac only has 7 HP. He might get killed by a Long Sword blow, he might not. Let's say that the sword does 3 HP of damage - about half of Tarnac's HP. Tarnac takes the blow like a dwarf, kills his offender, but now should probably go get some help or something. With only 4 HP left, he's not likely to survive another blow from another attacker. And he'd surely die if he went on to face 2 or 3 more villains.
Tarnac does the sensible thing and eventually advances to 6th level, where he has 40 HP. Again, he finds himself in a fight. And, again, he gets struck by a Long Sword. As before, he takes 3 HP damage. But... this time, it's less than a tenth of Tarnac's HP. If the gods are kind, he can take 12 to 13 more of these blows. Does this mean that Tarnac has become so godly that he can just take the pain like a Titan? Maybe. And some people take that approach.
I, however, try to treat this as Relative Damage.
(E)xperience... is reflected, to some extent, in the HP totals.
My take is that a high level means high experience and that this is reflected, to some extent, in the HP totals. If Tarnac has 100 HP, that doesn't mean he can just stand there and laugh off 8 or 9 blows before he needs to dodge. It means he knows how to roll with the punch, so to speak. It's not that Tarnac is more immune to the Long Sword... it's that he's more of a seasoned warrior and that he's learned how to resist the pain, shift his body so that the blow is less lethal. And, sure, his skin is probably a bit tougher too.
My take, quite simply, is that HP loss is relative to the character - it's a reflection of the character's combat experience and ability to survive. This isn't a big leap in logic since extra HP is usually acquiring by go up in level. If a warrior strikes twice with a Long Sword and does 3 HP damage to a 1st level wizard and 3 HP damage to a 6th level warrior, has he done the same amount of damage to both characters?
Well, it the literal sense, yes.
But, in the relative sense, no. 3 HP is a smaller percentage of HP to the 6th level guy than it is to the 1st level guy. So, when describing this action, it might behoove the DM to describe the damage differently. For example, the 1st level wizard may go down, clenching his gut because after taking a 3 HP hit, he only has 1 left. The 6th level dwarf, however, might have only been nicked on the shoulder and can take the blow with a grunt of pain and maybe a rub to his shoulder. It's 3 HP for both characters, but it's Relative Damage, not absolute. It should be treated as a different wound for both characters, not the same.
If a 10th level warrior takes 10 hits of 10 HP each, it should be treated as 10 moderate wounds, scars along his arms, legs, and torso. If a 1st level guy takes a 10 HP hit and manages to live, it should be treated as a major wound, like an open gut or even a lost limb. And if a 10the level guy takes only 1 HP damage, then he barely got hit - not much worse than popping a large zit.
So, this is the approach I try to take. It's not that a Long Sword has become less lethal to Tarnac - his throat could still get slit in his sleep. But, in combat, he's not as threatened by that length of steel as he used to be. He can roll with the punches now.
Incorporating the notion of Relative Damage usually doesn't buy much for the game, overall. But, it is a notion that one can adopte to get over the mental hurdle of how to think about excessively high HP and make them more acceptable. Not worrying about it at all might be the best option... but for you anal retentive types (like me) I offer you this concept and hope that it helps you sleep at night.