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.

RG, that idea is pretty good, and is something I use myself. However, this argument falls apart in (at least) two cases: alternate sources of damage and non-combat situations.

First, alternate sources is something like a negative-energy spell or poison: the same evil cleric, or poisoned food, does less relative damge to Tarnac, even though it has nothing to do with how experienced a warrior Tarnac is and he won't be able to "dodge" it.

Second, let's say Tarnac is asleep in his bedroll, wearing no armor. someone then shoots him with a crossbow. seems reasonable that he has an easy mark and drives the bolt through Tarnac's chest. Tarnac is asleep and can't "watch his back" or react. How many DMs would say this attack is lethal to Tarnac? For me, 1d8 is still 1d8.

Personally, I'm on the "don't worry about it" wagon. But for all those AR guys (like yourself, as you say), this might be worth thinking about.

That's how I handle damage too, though my players are frequently confused that a max-damage hit is "a scratch". I actually use a logarithmic system similar to the vitality system in Star Wars d20: the first half of your HP is insignificant damage, the second half starts showing wounds, and a hit that drops you to negative numbers is a mortal injury like a gut slash or a cracked skull even if it only deals 1 damage. Basically, the transition from 1 to -1 is a large amount of physical damage packed into 2 HP. Of course, a hit that takes you straight through to -10 is an instantly fatal hit, like decapitation or being shot in the heart*. I also tend to play it (again confusing my players) that someone at negative HP isn't necessarily UNCONCIOUS per se, but they're yelling "Medic!" and unable to perform any actions other than holding their blood and organs in.

*Okay, if you get shot in the heart you're not necessarily dead if magic healing is available. I guess in D&D, severe head trauma is the only truly instant kill...

This interpretation of HP also breaks down as soon as you look at the healing rules. Natural healing doesn't make sense according to Relative Damage theory, as it takes a fighter who lost 50 HP (half his HP) twice as long to heal the same relative damage as a wizard who lost 25 HP (half of his maximum).

Similarly, magic potions would be helping a fighter less than a wizard in an absolute game world sense if the damage is relative, not absolute. A potion that heals the wizard 25 hp helps him a lot more than one that heals the fighter the same.

The bottom line is that there is no consistent, logical interpretation of the Hit Point rules. Whether or not that is a concern is another issue, but a Relative Damage interpretation is at least as flawed as an Absolute Damage interpretation.

The bottom line is that there is no consistent, logical interpretation of the Hit Point rules.

Man, I hate to give you a hard time, RG, but I agree with Mrteapot here. This is one reason why, if I had my 'druthers, I'd be running nothing but GURPS campaigns from here to eternity.

Of course, the unwashed masses that call themselves my players are always clamoring for good old D&D. *Sigh* So that's what I play. I don't worry about rationalizing HP - whenever there's a credibility gap, I just point out that D&D is an abstract, heroic-type system. When people want gritty realism *and* 10-die fireballs, I have to point out that they can't have it both ways.

When people want gritty realism *and* 10-die fireballs, I have to point out that they can't have it both ways.

They can, theoretically. You just need to make it so that damage and hit points don't change over time. 10-die fireballs always do 10 dice of damage, and the wizard always has 25 hit points, both at level 1 and level 20.

Hit points could be a factor of Constitution score plus an appropriate die - 1d4 for wizards, 1d12 for barbarians, etc. Or, more appropriately (to prevent wizards from being tougher than some unlucky barbarians), 1d6 for wizards and rogues, 2d6 for clerics and such, 3d6 for the bulky warrior types.

The variation over time, then, is pushed (where it belongs) into Feats and Saving Throws. Are you a 10th level fighter? Then your Reflex Save is higher and you have more feats, so you can dodge blows more often. If you get hit by a longsword you're taking the same damage a level 1 fighter is, but you're skilled enough that the blow doesn't land as often.

I generally use house rules for poison -- I might use an idea for a poison from a game, but I usually don't use the actual rule. Either it kills ya or it takes X percent of your HP rather than 1D8. Or, it makes ya sick or it doesn't. So forth.

And I use something similar for sleeping. If a thief comes up and slits someone's throat while a character is sleeping, then that character just flat out dies (or maybe saves to loose only half of his / her HP). But, generally, I don't have people getting attacked during their sleep in my games.

Okay, Cocytus...you know I have an answer for everything :P

I think healing can be done in relative terms as well. For example, Cure Light Wounds might give you 1D8 Percent of your HP back rather than a flat 1D8 points. Cure Medium would give you 2D8 Percent, and so on.

Doing this takes an extra step for the math...and I'm sure someone will point out that at *some* point, the relative weights become unfair...but, then, so do HP totals.

I actually don't use relative healing, however. The action in my games is usually long and far enough apart (in terms of game days) that it's not really an issue. We try to spend more time exploring and politicking.

That sure is an interesting suggestion. Have you ever played it that way?

The action in my games is usually long and far enough apart (in terms of game days) that it's not really an issue. We try to spend more time exploring and politicking.

That's how I feel about the whole issue, really. I just accept that the HP system isn't realistic and forget all about it. There's too much fun to be had for me to let such concerns weigh my group down.

Ok, I think this discussion is concluded. Next issue, please!

BTW Aeon, do you actually use your suggestion? does it work? because although it sounds good, I can see it causing all sorts of game balance problems, requiring more rule tweaking, and so on and so forth.

RG and others: i really don't want to be Anal Retentive, but to LOSE and to LOOSE are really two different verbs with different meaning. i'm saying this because lately I've seen LOOSE used mistakenly instead of LOSE in such a frequency online that i'm beginning to think it's not a typo but some deep-seated mistake in the American psyche. Either that or it's a new, slang, use i'm not aware of.


Ok, I think this discussion is concluded. Next issue, please!

Geez, zip. Somebody slip happy pills in with your vitamins or something? ;)

maybe i happily slipped on a pile of happy pills... :)

We try to spend more time exploring and politicking.

Man, I gotta game with your group sometime! We share so many common ideas, it's almost scary. =)

I'm aware of the difference...

...but, not to be touchy...why slap me on the wrist 'cause of a typo when you fail to capitalize your use of "i"?

Well, it's not a concern so much as offering a different mindset on how to approach HP if you're stuck with a D&D-esque system.

Any suggestion in the article that I get weighed down by it was just hyperbole.

And when we DO get caught in combat, I'd rather relay things in terms of Relative Damage than Absolute. It's kinda fun to hit the guyz with a fireball and tell the 12th Level warrior that he's not as badly hurt as the 16th Level wizard...'cause he has more HP. I might point out that this, to some extent, helps demonstrate that a higher level PC isn't necessarily superior to a lower level one.

Besides...we needed a new article to argue over :)

Hey, I'm not complaining about new material. I'm far more hostile to the entire concept of HP per level than I am to your interpretation of relative damage.

Since there's no new topic yet, I might as well add my 2c ...

How to account for all those blows to the head? Eventually, you learn to duck :-)

I agree with the comments about relative damage. Hit Points are an odd way to model the effects of experience on an adventurer's survivability in combat, but it is probably the most elegant way to represent it within the d20 system.

In Rolemaster you can split your weapon skill between OB (to-hit) and DB (AC), but then you are using open-ended d% rolls and it is still supplemented with ranks in Body Dev (hit points). The net effect of this is that RMSS combat involves much more number crunching, which can potentially get in the way of storytelling.

Suspension of disbelief is an important element in fiction, even in the collaborative style of storytelling that we call RPGs. For some groups this will be more of a problem than in others, but it is generally true that the story will be more enjoyable and engrossing if the participants treat it as if it is really happening (for some value of "real"). This is what we really mean when we criticise systems such as Hit Points for being "unrealistic" - they adversely affect our ability to suspend disbelief.

Game Masters should take this into account, and apply common sense to decide if it is possible to describe the action in a way that their players can swallow, or if they should exercise their perogative to override the rules in a specific situation. As long as they apply house rules consistently & fairly, they should be able to adjust the d20 mechanics to suit their particular group.

& they call as they beckon you on:
They say, "Start as you mean to go on..."
-- Coldplay, A Rush of Blood to the Head

Yeah...I think it is about just making it more "real" for the player. If I describe damage strictly as "you loose 10 HP" then that doesn't really mean nothing -- that happened in a game last week and there wasn't really any sense of dread regarding the damange. But, if I consider that 10 HP is a quarter of a guy's total, then I can describe the damange in such a way that might reflect a guy taking a 25% blow...like, maybe a left leg is slashed open and the guy's pants get drench in blood and some of it squirts out and gets on his fellow nearby...or something.

At the very least, I think the Relative HP concept gives an extra layer to the game...it seems to have more character than the old "you loose 10 HP" approach.

The Orc rolls a twenty, does a point of damage with his long sword against a 9th level 50 hp fighter.

"The orc catches you off guard, slams a long sword smack in the center of your helmet, it glances off leaving the helmet with a dent and you with a sore neck and ringing in your ears, take a point of damage"

HP's are an abstract. Luck, dodges, rolling with a blow, a slice on the forearm, the general whittling down of our action hero. It's fuzzy and represents the basic how close to down for the count the hero is. It's nice in that it gives the GM and the players room to improv the nuts and bolts of the action. A 12 pt hit to a 100 point fighter is just a cut in the fighters sleeve a lost lock of hair as the warrior reads the muscle twitch that begins the attack and calmly stands aside. So I'm not sure about the relative concept, a lot happens in a round; it is *so* abstracted that throwing a template of consistent explanation will cause problems. It's where I embellish and sometimes let the players do the same. It's good warm up material for a night of roll playing.

There has to be suspension of disbelief. The hit point concept is the least of what's being asked. If a player gives me lip on it, I'll gladly offer to switch to GURPS.

Well said.

I think we're mostly agreeing...just from slightly different angles -- you say abstract, I say relative...but I think those two are much more similar than relative and absolute. Maybe we should call it relatively abstract damage?

Also, I didn't mean to imply that every loss of HP needs to be accompanied with some flowery descriptive. And, truthfully, if I'm running a fast action sequence, I often don't slow down the pace to elaborate on how the HP is being lost -- I save that for one-on-one duels, confrontations with some "boss" character or to inject some flavor when the game calls for it.

I'm probably asking for it...but...I don't think GURPS is really any "better" when it comes to HP...but, rather, the scale is just a lot more tighter. Granted, the scale is so tight that it's probably meaningless to argue the point...but, still, a sword in GURPS has a base amount of damage it does and PC's may have different HP levels and, thus, one could debate whether the damage is relative or absolute.

I fully agree that HP totals are way down on the list of things to worry about in a game -- just offering different spins on how one could tweak a game. While plot, character development, and such are much more important (to me)...the things that should be focused on...I also think that there's no harm in trying to fine tune the rest of the system to help make the game as good as it can be.

BTW -- I just scanned the article again and realized there's a fair amount of typo's -- I apologize folks.

I'm probably asking for it...but...I don't think GURPS is really any "better" when it comes to HP...but, rather, the scale is just a lot more tighter. Granted, the scale is so tight that it's probably meaningless to argue the point...but, still, a sword in GURPS has a base amount of damage it does and PC's may have different HP levels and, thus, one could debate whether the damage is relative or absolute.

The scale is a LOT tighter. The main difference to me is that characters don't increase their HP as they advance...or they can, but they don't do so as a matter of course, the way they do in a class- and level-based system.

because capitalizing i's is so much work... stopping the typing, moving my hand all the way to the shift key, holding it, pressing the "i" key, releasing it...see where i'm going with this?

anyway, RG, it's really not just you: As I mentioned (note the capitals) i've been seeing this specific mistake quite a lot lately.

I'm dropping the subject, anyway.

"Relative damage" is precisely what vast numbers of hit points are - or more to the point, something other than mere physical toughness. Unfortunately, this abstract approach to hit points isn't very well understood, even though there is incredible realism buried within it. Most people get hung up on the thought that hit points are nothing more than physical in nature, and have difficulty grasping the quasi nature of the majority of a high level character's hit points. As such, they all too frequently discount the system as unrealistic, or feel that in order to use it, one should just not look too hard at it and gloss over those problems.

In my opinion, just taking the time to understand how the system works is a better approach, and after one invests an hour reading a few articles on the matter, not only does it seem far more realistic, but also it makes perfect sense.

Though I hate to toot my own horn, the articles I've written are a pretty good look at the behind the scene justification of D&D's hit point system, and if this link works, you can start such an investment of your time by clicking on the link below, or type it in and go there:


Amongst other things, one will learn why the "relative hit point" argument doesn't fall apart, as suggested in some comments here. For example, not all Tarmac's HPs are from just his prowess as a combat warrior, but as an adventurer. As his levels increase, so does his saving throws, his knowledge, and his skills in many other areas - including things like how to resist poisons, stave off the effects of harmful magic or negative energy, and generally be aware of his surroundings far more than most ordinary men. The argument Tarmac can easily be killed while sleeping, for example, ignores the fact Tarmac is essentially a light sleeper, or may have, by then, almost super natural talents, such as a sort of "spider sense" or advanced warning from his deity (despite the fact he is not a cleric, all adventurers are pretty religious and pay homage to some deity in most D&D settings I've seen).

In any event, my articles cover a lot of ground, including how healing is handled and why it works the way it does - for example, a 10 HP MAX warrior compared to a 100 HP MAX warrior, and why natural healing or magical healing does what it does. Also, why healing (or harming) as a "percentage" of one's maximum is usually a bad idea.

Anyway, I hope interested parties will take the time to visit my site or the above-mentioned links about hit points, and drop me a line if you have any problems with what I've said. Thanks.


- Jim.

Thanks, Jim. You've clearly spent a lot of time and put a lot of thought into this.

That said, having read your "Justification" article and skimmed the ancillary ones, I have to say that you are raising points that I have seen on this site before - if not discussed in this thread, then elsewhere.

What it comes down to is that all combat systems are, of necessity, abstracted to one degree or another. D&D - and by extension, most d20 systems* - is probably one of the most highly abstracted systems out there. Its strength lies in its ability to keep combat moving in a quick and enjoyable fashion without getting bogged down in detail for the sake of detail.

To focus on your argument, I've selected the following paragraph:

So when you hear of someone claiming they don't care how many hit points a character has and expresses their view that if such a character got a spear through their heart, they would still die, I can only say they are looking at hit points as something only in the physical realm, and they are unfortunately ignoring many other things hit points could be. To my way of thinking, such a high hit point character simply would avoid the deadliest effects of a spear - unless already reduced to their first hit dice worth of hit points - and would NOT have the spear go through their heart, even if it did hit their AC. This allows for a more heroic style of play while preserving realism.

In other words, the D&D combat system is abstract. HP represent a combination of "combat worthiness" factors that keep the game moving, not literal physical ability to absorb damage.

Ok. I accept that line of reasoning. I don't think it really "preserves realism" - it requires you to supply all the 'realism' yourself, in your own imagination of how the 'damage' is being dealt and what its 'dealing' represents. But that's ok, too. It doesn't really change the fact that the system can be played with great enjoyment. But even you, in attempting to "smarten up" the system with your "How to act when wounded" article (unless my skimming of it leads me astray), admit that the system doesn't realistically show a character's diminished ability to function - as written, it only portrays a character's ability to survive for a certain period and to avoid a certain number of threats before perishing.

My problems with level-based systems are twofold:

  1. The abstract nature of the system doesn't much promote players' imaginations in my experience. Perhaps this simply reflects limitations of myself and my players rather than limitations of the system, but I find it hard for myself and my friends to visualize what is going on in combat. When is a blow parried? When is the hit "palpable," to paraphrase Hamlet? What, in essence, is really going on? The abstract nature of the system requires you to supply your own explanation. If you give it careful thought, you can probably come up with a good one - but doing so hardly saves time in the middle of a lengthy combat session. If you don't, your explanation is apt to be perceived as faulty, and your faulty explanation then throws the rules into an unfavorable light for seeming "unrealistic" (even though the failing was in your description and not in the rules).

    I can't tell you how often I have to remind certain players: "No, it's not strictly realistic. It's an abstract system. You just have to accept it and move on."

    Finally, certain non-combat situations - falling comes immediately to mind - strain the abstract rationalization of HP to its limits. What does a fall represent? If a character falls 80 feet down a pit or off a cliff, it's simple to handle in D&D terms: the character loses 8d6 HP in the fall, barring the application of the Jump skill, the use of Feather Fall, or a Monk's ability to minimize fall damage. But what does it represent? The fall damages the character's 'luck' for the day, in essence, or is there real, physical damage? Most people falling 80 feet will die. Even if they don't, they are extremely likely to sustain broken bones and other debilitating injuries. Do we say the effect is just like a giant's hit in combat - there are broken bones, etc, but it's all abstracted? That works on a certain level, but on another, players want to know: when is a fall just a fall?

    Things like that jar the 'realism' - which I would redesignate 'suspension of disbelief' - supplied by the system. When it gets jarred too often, the amount of fun derived from using the system diminishes. And that's what it's all about, in the end: fun.

    So I'm increasingly interested in using a system where you have a less abstracted and more concrete view of what's going on. The fighter swings, but the orc parries! The orc ripostes, but the blow glances off the fighter's armor! Such details, I think, help enhance the feeling of 'being there' - by providing a little bit more for the mind to grapple, they stimulate the imagination.

    The paradox of fantasy is that unbridled imagination is not as free as imagination working within boundaries. It is also the writer's dilemma: when you don't know your subject, you default to hackdom.

    When you don't know what's happening, you usually visualize something that doesn't do the action justice. It's just human nature - we are mostly very imaginative creatures, but if fatigued or if required to imagine too many things at once, we will start filling in the blanks with what we know rather than what we can conceive from whole cloth for the simple reason of expedience. Given boundaries, your visualization improves.

  2. Large numbers of HP encourage players to charge willy-nilly into combat. Perhaps this reveals my own limitations as a GM, but I find that in D&D characters almost never back down from a fight. The system (particularly in 3.0+) is balanced so that player resources (HP, magic, items, etc) should be at a certain point, and encounters of a given level should deplete those resources at a certain rate. In theory, to force players to run, all you have to do is present their characters with an encounter whose difficulty rating exceeds what the system says they can handle. In theory, it's beautiful.

    In practice, I find it doesn't work as often as it should. At a certain point, characters start to accumulate so many HP and other resources that high-level encounters invariably seem to become less lethal. Certain observers (such as my old nemesis Nephandus) have argued that if the rules as written are applied with exacting diligence, the encounter level system works, or at least breaks down less often. My rejoinder is that it still breaks down - the inherent randomness of certain rules (variable HP, the d20 mechanic itself, and random treasure charts) ensures that it will. And when it starts to break down, it's a slippery slope: once high-level characters attain a certain level of ability, they become nigh-impossible to kill without resorting to "GM cheating." And once the players realize they've hit this point, the jig is well and truly up - they stop ever being worried about combat.

    Other systems I've used - notably the Call of Cthulhu BRP system, which is in its way even more abstract than d20 - don't have this problem. Any time your character must rely on skills rather than a big HP buffer to survive, you become a lot more chary and a lot less flippant about sending him into a situation where he might be killed. That's a good thing.

    Combat is fun - lord knows I've spent hours and hours locked in enjoyable D&D furballs - but after a while I feel it needs to retain a high level of danger or risk becoming ordinary and dull. Since most of us play RPGs as a form of escape, that's a problem to be avoided.

Finally, you address the issue of the HP system providing reliability. HP reliably keep your character alive, you say, where skills in other systems don't. I reply thusly:

  1. The d20 flat 5% success/5% failure mechanic is inherently random, producing results that are too often beyond the control of a player who has carefully designed a character. Though I mitigate this randomness in my own games with "Hero Points" based on the Force Points of d20 Star Wars, I find that the bell curve mechanic used by GURPS is a much better indicator of reliability. When your critical fumble chance is only 2% or so, it's just not going to happen to you nearly as often as rolling a 1 - a basic miss/blown save in D&D even if you don't use fumble rules - which happens all the time.
  2. As I note above, keeping the characters alive too reliably can be a bad thing, whereas keeping them on their toes for a longer period of time is a good thing. I note that a lot of players, particularly experienced roleplayers who have played nothing but D&D, tend to wax nostalgic about the "good old days" of low-level characters. Why? Because the sense of danger was always fresh and the level of challenge always high. I'm not saying a levelless system always answers that need - GURPS can, in its way, be just as prone to highly skilled character abuse - but a levelless system seems to me from a design standpoint to be far more likely to keep combats fresh and dangerous and far less likely, with proper GM attention, to break down.

In the end, I find myself borrowing so many GURPS mechanics, statistics (weight of a coin, cost of a horse) and so on that I begin to wonder: why not just play GURPS? I'm running out of answers. I've enjoyed D&D and I still respect it for what it is. But even you admit that ultimately, the question of system comes down to a question of taste and playing style.

Thanks for your input, Jim. It's always nice to have someone stimulate discussion here.

*Though the d20 Star Wars system distinguishes between two types of hit points, one of which is more physical and one of which is more abstract, in the type of hit points you define in your article. I think that approach to the level-based system works much better: crits go directly to 'physical' HP, meaning that high-level characters can still be killed easily in certain situations. The d20 systems that are more 'successful' in terms of 'realism,' I note, borrow two essential mechanics from GURPS: the defense roll and the lack of increase in 'baseline' HP.

first, good, thought out response.

further i just want to mention that:

a) the things you mention have not gone unnoticed by WotC. hence the unearthed arcana optional rules (vitality points, wounds, hero points, 3d6 insead of 1d20)
b) the cost of a horse and weight of a coin (50 to a pound, i believe) are both in the D&D rules. just so you know


  1. I have a copy of Unearthed Arcana. All these rules are available for use in D&D, of course, but they aren't standard rules. They're really just a collection of house rules and rules borrowed from other systems for use by people who like them. One standout example is the Sanity system, which is taken wholesale from the Call of Cthulhu BRP. My point is: if you find yourself borrowing consistently from another system, why keep cobbling them onto the one you're using? Why not just switch?
  2. Neither of the values used by D&D for cost of a horse or weight of a coin is very realistic, in my opinion -- especially the latter. That's why I don't use them. GURPS uses a weight of about 250 coins to a pound, which is more like it.


As for your first point: which system would you switch to? CoC for the sanity or SW D20 for the vitality system? or something else for the feel generated by the "racial paragon" classes?

I suspect that people enjoy large parts of the D&D system and thus can "eat the cake and have it too" by both adjusting their D&D game to their satisfaction and staying in comfortable turf.
again, the fact that you could "house-rule" all of these options doesn't mean that everyone would have done it (I, for one, wouldn't have thought of asome of these neat ideas).

Second, as for the cost and weight... if it look more realistice to you, go for it. just remember that a cent coin's weight is very different than that of the 2 euro coin.

As for your first point: which system would you switch to? CoC for the sanity or SW D20 for the vitality system? or something else for the feel generated by the "racial paragon" classes? ... I suspect that people enjoy large parts of the D&D system and thus can "eat the cake and have it too" by both adjusting their D&D game to their satisfaction and staying in comfortable turf.

Depends on what I'm in the mood for. I use the 5ed (will switch to 6ed) Cthulhu BRP for horror/investigation gaming. I don't really feel much pull toward d20 in any of its various forms...I wandered away from D&D for about 15 years, and came back when 3.0 came back. I've enjoyed the 3ed ride, but I'm about done with level-based systems, I think. Future campaigns of mine will use GURPS, or, if I can find one, a better system altogether.

I've house-ruled D&D and enjoyed it. In the end, though, I can't get past classes and levels. These mechanics are a fundamental aspect of d20 gaming, and I'm just not very interested in them anymore.

Cocytus wrote ... after a certain point, characters start to accumulate so many HP and other resources that high-level encounters invariably seem to become less lethal. Certain observers (such as my old nemesis Nephandus) have argued that if the rules as written are applied with exacting diligence, the encounter level system works, or at least breaks down less often.

To be fair, my arguments for extra diligence applied mainly to lower levels up to around 12-15 - which is what the original rule set was designed for. After that point, they do indeed break down into a less lethal slugfest that becomes less tactically challenging, since character abilities begin to vastly overpower environmental and geographical factors that could be used to one's advantage or detriment. Monte Cooke, one of the original designers of the DnD 3.0 pointed out out the 3.5 high level rules break down on his blog, and suggested some alternatives that work for him.

For the lower levels, my feeling is this:

I tend to agree with the "relative damage" argument. I don't like to get into realistic minutia about how exactly the damage is applied, except in a manner that paints the action into the narrative or the game event. That said, I don't have any particular problems with the Star Wars d20 version of combat, except that it might complicate things in a predominantly melee world.

With DnD, I have tended to portray it as more of a fantasy world, akin to Xena or Hercules, where the heroes are able to perform increasingly amazing feats, and suffer greater punishments as time passes. When watching those shows, we don't wonder how Xena can withstand 5 bareknuckle punches to the nose without a sniffle or a bruise, while someone else goes down with a single karate chop to the neck – we simply go with it.

If they we can envision it with Xena, then we can envision it with the game too. If someone strikes a better balance between game/momentum and some approximation of realism, then I'm ok to try, but only if the advantages to the realism outweigh the disadvantages of the extra complication - not only to my players, but to the multitudes of NPC's they fight and that I must operate.

Holy smokes...I'm about to agree with Nephandus! *smile*

In short, I agree with the Xena outlook (or whatever we're calling it). One of the upsides of D&D, to me, is that you get to a point where you play this uber hero who literally *can* take on the hordes of hell. Heck...pure D&D even had rules for how to become an immortal. I've always looked at lower level guys as "heroes in training."

One could argue that you get to do that with point-based systems...but, I've found that point-based systems make it very hard to get to demi-god like status (unless you *cheat* in how the points are given out).

BTW...what's up with the new spelling. Thought you were a spy there for a moment.

Nice to see you around again, Neph.

I moved a couple of times, back to Canada again, and somehow lost my old account. So I started another one with a similar name. It's been a long and tough road, this past year.

Nice to see everyone again!

One of my favorite rpg cliches is the high HP fighter trying to impress the barmaid by showing how many times he can stab himself with the dagger, and the DM who hates any threat to the suspension of disbelief telling the player that his suicide attempt was a complete success while handing him a blank character sheet.

Quite a few good points and ideas presented here going back and fourth on the rather prickly subject of Hit Points. Other than Spell Memorization, I dont think I've heard more complaints against AD&D than on that one thing.

Here are my own thoughts on HP and how the local RP group deal with it...

To me Hit Points could be better termed as Fatigue or Stamina or such. The sword isn't so much doing damage to the character wholesale as it is wearing them down, maybee some nicks, cuts, bruises or worse as it plays out. Sapping the endurance of the combatants until the last and truely fatal blow is dealt and you are brought to Zero or less. HP can cover things like fancy swordsmanship, good use of a sheld, or simple dodging and footwork to avoid getting hit in a telling way.

Things like spells and particularly fireballs and other spectacular effects are covered this way too. The character runs like blazes, dodges well, parries or deflects some of the harm, or just plain toughs it out and hopes for the best. Poison saves can be accounted to a increased resistance, or a lucky break and not getting hit with as big a dose as one feared, or a growing resistance to the effects either intentional or through surviving repeated exposures.

The old gag of offing the 100 HP character in their sleep is or was covered in the rules under sleeping and/or helpless opponents allowing a killing blow in this case. Though a DM really should allow an experienced character a save and/or stat rolls to wake up in the nick of time.

And if all else fails, point out that people in real life have survived everything from steel rods through the head, to multiple gunshots and lived to tell the tale. A skilled, or more often just damn lucky, person can survive an amazing amount of punishment.

Hit points can just as easily apply to a modern or futuristic setting. Just because a gun can punch holes in a tank doesnt mean its going to kill everyone every time. And most adventure heroes are not just everyone. People have walked away from being at ground zero of a bomb going off and made it with only a few scratches and the loss of their eyebrows...

But in the end it all comes down to what the players and DM are willing or able to envision or deal with. ROLL? ROLE? or something in between?

Just my thoughts on it.


I have to agree w/ Cocytus on almost everything. I got frustrated with class restrictions, hit points, and levels to the point that I almost stopped roleplaying altogether. I got tired of hearing "you can't".
Why can't my warrior learn to read the spell book? Why can't he learn to pick locks in his spare time? Why can't he give the other party members swordfighting lessons, he's specialized at every level that he could and is a master swordsman? Why can't he stealth? Why can't my mage study fencing? Why can't a priest use edge weapons? Why can't a mage wear armour, aren't they the MOST likely to die if hit?

If I call a shot to the throat with a swung broadsword and roll a critical success with max damage, then why didn't my opponent die? Because I'm 3rd level and he's 13th? What kind of excuse is that? Who cares if he has more hits points? I just critically hit him in the throat with a broadsword and I did the maximum damage that the weapon can do. No one can live through that without armour.

I played 15 different systems before I settled on Gurps. I've played 6 systems since I started playing Gurps, mainly because other people don't want to give Gurps a chance. Gurps is by far the best system that I've ever played. Why? Because the system allows you to use as much detail as you want while still being realistic.
If you have a character who has been a mercenary for 15 years (a 15th level warrior) you still have the same chance of dying as the raw recruit next to you (1st level). Hit points are based SOLELY on your attributes. Conan can withstand a hell of a lot more damage than Inigo Montoya, although Inigo would be a much better swordsman after having studied fencing for 20 years.

Side note: That'd be an interesting fight, wouldn't it?

Back to the above example: The experienced warrior would have experience under fire, knowledge, and the skills and tricks that he has picked up over the last 15 years. This would be reflected in his equipment, skills, weapons, and reactions. The recruit will have to deal with all the pressure and uncertainty of his first battle. He will have the standard issue equipment and training. He is much more likely to die than the older warrior next to him.

Gurps also allows characters to have descriptive battles without relying solely on the combat descriptive capabilities of the GM, something that most other games do not. "I roll to hit him with my broadsword" (rolls, misses, rolls again and hits does 12 points of damage, opponent hits you now, rolls misses...) becomes "I'm gonna thrust my broadsword into his throat" (rollls misses, "I duck under his swing and lop off his arm", dodges the opponent's sword, hit's, does 12 points of damage and the arm falls to the floor). A bit more gruesome, but more descriptive as well.

Cobat is quicker, more descriptive, and more lethal. A character who can die easily and still pushes forward into danger is much more heroic than someone who is almost invunerable.

In the Lord of the Rings Frodo and Sam started off as inexperienced newbies (1st level). At the end of the trilogy, they had picked up some fighting skills, matured quite a bit, and learned a lot about themselves, each other, and the difference between good and evil. They were slightly tougher physically and they grew through experience more than anyone else except for Merry and Pippin. However, did they gain any levels? What class would they have been? How many hit points would they have? How can anyone sutify them as level based characters, especially D&D?
I know that D&D has a Lord of the Rings game for their D20 system and that means that they have "stats" for all the main characters including Frodo and Sam. But how much sense do they make?

I once saw the stats for Drizzt Do'Urden and Artmeis Entreri from R. A. Salvatore's books. Salvatore was a D&D player, GM, and writer and I assume that he either wrote out the characters stats or had creative control. For those of you familier with these two characters, these stats came out after the Dark Elf trilogy.

Drizzt was labeled as a high level fighter (17th?) and a 12th level Ranger. he had specialized in paired scimitars and could use a bow and one or two other weapons. He had "special" rules governing his scimitars, special attacks that he could make based on his extremely high level of skill.
According to the books, he was trained from the age of 10 in ALL weapons by the greatest weapon master of the entire city for 10 years and then went to a school for warriors, in which he dominated even after skipping a grade or two. He then spent the next 10+ years alone in the wilds of the Underdark. When he came to the surface, he wandered around in the wildlands for a while before settling down in the arctic tundra where he lived for the next 10+ years.
If I were to go by the book, I would say that he is a ranger through and through. Even the "warrior" school that he went through taught him tracking, stealth, and survival.
This character isn't immune to damage and gets hurt relatively easy. Going by the stats that TSR put out, Drizzt had well over 100 hit points, yet a well placed punch easily broke his nose. (In the books, Drizzt gets his nose broken 3 or 4 times)
Gurps has the capabilty of making this character without having to resort to special feats that no one else can use. Gurps also has the ability to cover this character's skills, moral code, honor, and compassion without resorting to alignments. And most important, Gurps has the ability to cover Drizzt's dual nature. The Killer and the Ranger are flip sides of Drizzt's personality that could be represented by the split personality disadvantage in Gurps.

Artemis Enteri was Drizzt's nemesis and moral opposite. Equally skilled in combat, they made for some some memorable fighting scenes in the books. Artemis is a human assassin. As "assassin" isn't a standard class, TSR had to make one up for this character. I think they combined the theif and ranger classes. He was about 15th level if memory serves. Once again, TSR had to add in special feats and abilities to cover the character's abilities and prowess as stated in the books.
There has never been an explanation as to how a human assassin could become as proficient in combat as an elven warrior who had trained in combat for 20 years, half of those with the city's best weapon master. That's not counting the fact that he survived 10+ years alone in the underdark before killing his (undead at the time) father (the aforementioned weapon master).
This character is also easy to make in Gurps. He also has mental and emotional problems that D&D can't cover with lignments but Gurps can wqith advantages and disadvantages.

I just realized how long this was getting. I apologize for the length.

"The downside of being better than everyone else is that people tend to assume that you're pretentious."

As "assassin" isn't a standard class, TSR had to make one up for this character. I think they combined the theif and ranger classes. He was about 15th level if memory serves.

It was a standard class in 1st edition D&D. As I recall, it was removed in order to make the game more politically correct. cf Demons and Devils....

(If you really want to upset people nowadays try inventing a 'terrorist' character class!)

Oh, and I think that 15th level was the maximum level for the old 1e assasin class - the 'Grandfather of Assasins'

There has never been an explanation as to how a human assassin could become as proficient in combat as an elven warrior who had trained in combat for 20 years

The whole issue of elves and their long lifespans is a pretty big one that I don't think is adequately dealt with by D&D (though I can't speak with much authority on how 3e+ deals with this). 1e gave them level limits but this was frustrating for the players and perceived by some as a somewhat racist mechanic. I certainly don't think it was intended as such, actually; I think Gary Gygax simply wanted a rationale for why Elves, Dwarves etc wouldn't just be so much better than humans that they'd take over the world - and he wanted to encourage players to take human characters because he wanted a humanocentric flavour to the game.

Regarding assasins, in 3E the assasin is a prestige class and had several special abilities.

Calamar, we all know you like GURPS :)
Seriously, i'm cosidering trying out a GURPS campaign (or even one of WoD or Paranoia) just to try something different, but my group of friends can't really be bothered learning a completely different system (heck, they can hardly be bothered to know D&D 3e very well).

any suggestions? (just thinking of making them read the 388-page thick Mage book is giving me shivers).

This would have been D&D 2nd ed. I was in highschool at the time and that's what me and my friends were playing. Several of my friends were REALLY impressed with the characters of Drizzt and Artemis. Thus when we found the characters' stats, in a heroes and vilians book I think, we argued intensly over why and how TSR came up with what they did.

Afterwards, TSR did publish the Theive's Handbook which had an option for making an assassin.

As for the elven problem:
I usually keep elves as an NPC race. Most players are happy with half elves. If you do allow players to play elves, one way to counter the skill level is the fact that they live so long. If I KNEW that I had 300+ years to live I wouldn't be very motivated to shed sweat, blood, and tears becoming the best swordsman in the world. You could say that elves are the world's worst procrastinators and only really go up in levels when something interesting is going on.

One thing that I found completly usefull is putting in the time to make an elven culture based on their longevity, history, and love of nature.
I combined Taoism and the Apache Spirit World to make their religion and used the elements of both cultures to shape their way of life. Because of their longevity, I shed the conception of class and gender difference in favor of uniform respect and politness. Nothing is done in haste. Ceremonies and major decisions can take months or years. Meditation and prayer occupy a large portion of their time.

But that's just my take on things...

"The enemy of my enemy is my friend."

The thing that I found that works the best is to take the burden on yourself. the best way to learn a system is to make a couple of characters and roll out a fight between them. Once you have the basic combat down, throw in a mage and have the first two characters fight him. Start with swords, try it again with a more unusual weapon and some armour, then try it with ranged weapons. It's best if you can get someone to help, but this can be done alone.

Once you feel pretty confident about the combat and character creation you need to make charaters for your players. I know that you are used to them making characters for themselves, but that'll have to change just this once.
You know your players, so think up characters that you think they'll like to play. Fudge the points a bit so that they are relatively powerfull starting characters (6th level in D&D terms).
Write up a short but fun adventure or use a well written premade adventure. I'd recommend Caravan to Ein Aires, you can download it for free from Steve Jackson E-23 website, follow the link from his Gurps page.
Otherwise, try to get your hands on the D&D 2nd ed. Challenges. Fighter's Challenge I & II, Theive's Challenge, etc...
After every session ask your players what they liked and disliked about the game. Make sure to study up on the game as much as possible. If you need further advice or help, let me know and I'll give you my email address.

I'd agree with most of the above. With reference to GURPS specifically --

What I've found effective in teaching players GURPS is to run a few sessions of "boot camp" using pregenerated characters.

These sessions are combat only. They serve one purpose: to teach my players the system.

Once they've got a good handle on how it works, I let them create characters. In my experience, this is one of the system's biggest selling points. Once you've got them creating characters, they're hooked. It's a bit of a more involved process than creating a D&D character, but it sure is fun. Some complain about the lack of dice involved ("...but how can I roll an 18?!?") but they quickly get used to it.

A word of caution/advice: there are loads and loads of skills, advantages, disadvantages, etc in the system. Before you start play -- before you even let anybody create a character -- make sure you've gone over the rules thoroughly and made (at a minimum) a list of the advantages & skills that are appropriate to your setting and adventure. It's a bit of work, but the payoff is big.

If I KNEW that I had 300+ years to live I wouldn't be very motivated to shed sweat, blood, and tears becoming the best swordsman in the world. You could say that elves are the world's worst procrastinators and only really go up in levels when something interesting is going on.

This is pretty much the same sort of conclusion I came to.

I have an aquatic elf character who was 4th level when the party first met him (he was an NPC I took over as I had no character of my own in the adventure at the time). The rest of the party were all 2nd level.

The other characters in that party (that are still alive) are now all 10th going on 11th level now. My aquatic elf has just made it to 7th - for precisely the reasons you cite! He's just not career minded. He tends to spend a lot of his time pursuing various romantic interests actually. The party often don't see him for months.

Not all players take this line, however. Sorry for blowing my own trumpet - it just bugs me when some players say 'Well, my elf happens to be one of those unusual ones that has a very driven personality - and happens to be quite materialistic, just as an interesting character foible'....

This perspective is an extremely important one when considering extended conflict (like war). Even if the Elves won a conflict by taking fewer casualities they can be outbred forty to one over the next human generations. The losses that they took forty years ago are still evident. This is a tactical consideration that is highly important whnever considering how the Elves behave.

I was going to start a thread on the Elven longevity and the problems it introduces into a campaign, but I have been beaten to the punch.

In a roleplaying group a mixed set of races would have a diverse perception on what is "old". Long lived Elves force and extreme telescoping of the timeline in order to make things "old" for all the characters in the group. I have often wanted to reduce the typical Elven lifespan, but I don't get many opportunities to re-start the scenarios. For good or ill I have been running the same campaign for twenty years.

Thanks, C and C.
I'll start by getting a good working knowledge of the rules myself while I wait for our 3E campaign to wind down (not that it's showing any signs of doing that).
I'll try your suggestions by myself first and let you know how it went.

anyone know if the new GURPS FAntasy is any good, BTW?

I found that most people play elves as humans with pointy ears. That kills me, as is obvious by my rant on non-humans.

I did play with a player once who decided that elves are like Vulcans from Star Trek, only really into nature. Different races of elves take it to different extremes. Grey elves were the most extreme while wood elves were the most... passonate. But even they were somewhat cold and distant.

While I didn't fully agree with the elven culture (I already had my own ideas at the time) I loved it because it made elves different from humans. The GM was even able to show everyone examples of how Vulcans, I mean Elves, acted and some of their religious ceremonies. That was cool.

I like the fact that you played your aquatic elf differently from the norm. That shows your creativity and individualism. It may also change how other people in your group play and run games. I used to play in a group that was so creatively static that I had to introduce new ideas and concepts through NPCs before I was allowed to play them myself (Obviously, I switched GMing duties with someone on a regular basis).

"Live long and prosper."

If you do restart a campaign I highly recommend that you read the Shannara books by Terry Brooks for short lived elves or Tad William's Memory, Sorrow, Thorn trilogy for long lived elves (Sithi).

Both sets of books will give you a massive amount of information on the histories of elves and introduce you to the pitfalls associated with each.

In the Shannara books elves live to about 80+ years. They are still really into nature and have some magic-like abilities, but otherwise they tend to look and act like pointy eared humans.

In Tad Williams books the Sithi are very long lived. An average Sithi is well over 1,000 years old. As a race they are obsessed with death. All of their songs are sad, their artwork, their gatherings are influenced by death. They long for it knowing that they will not achieve death naturally for thousands of years. This hads and interesting flavor to their otherwise bright and colorful culture. A must read.

"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one."

3rd edition Fantasy is a pregenerated worl called Yrth. It's pretty decent. The premise is that there is a world called Yrth which is connected to Earth through something called Banestorms.

Banestorms account for some of the mass dissapearances that have occured throughout history. (Bermuda Triangle anyone?) These mass dissapearances are people who have been sucked up by a Banestorm and deposited into a fantasy world.

There are human cultures, religions, and languages as the humans are from earth from different times and places. I never used this world for more than ideas as I have a world that I've made up. However, if you want a pregerated world, this one isn't bad. The adventures written for this world, Caravan to Ein Aires and the Fantasy Adventure book, are extremely well written and a lot of fun to play (except the Sahudese adventure, that one is stupid).

The 4th ed Fantasy book is a book that helps you design your own fantasy world. This book is more more to my liking and I will use it extensively once I get it. Like all Gurps products, it is extremely well written and informative.

If you want to go another route try Gary Gygax' World Builder Series. Or you can use whatever pregenerated D&D world you like. Take the descriptions of creatures and things and translate it into Gurps terms and you're good to go...

"Hard work often pays off after time, but laziness always pays off now."

calamar, note that i asked about the NEW GURPS fantasy book (i.e 4th ed.).

has anyone read that one?

I have perused Gurps Fantasy 4th ed. and it is an awesome asset if you are trying to create your own fantasy world. If you are going to use a pregenerated world, than this would be an expensive addition to your library. If you are going to make up your own world, this book would be invaluable. For those world building GMs, I would highly recommend Gurps 4th ed Fantasy, Martial Arts, Magic, and Religion. Gurps Low Tech is nice but not required.

As I have stated, Gurps Fantasy 4th ed is primarily for creating your own world. The book, as all Gurps are and you'll find that for yourself, is extremely well written and informative yet still entertaining. Pay attention to the sidebars as a lot of pertinent information is there. This book has everything from different types of government, some races, levels of magic, levels of technology, law, heraldry, and more. A must have book, even if you don't play Gurps.

"GURPS Fantasy gives detailed, concrete advice -- from the basics of the landscape itself, through its inhabitants and cultures, to the details of believable histories and politics. It also examines the nature of supernatural forces, and discusses the impact of wizards, monsters, and gods. And, of course, it looks at the many different ways that magic and users of magic can work in a fantasy world. Perhaps most importantly, it advises GMs and players alike on the kinds of characters appropriate to fantasy -- including ordinary folks, people with fantastic powers, and nonhumans.

Whether your model is Tolkien, Jordan, or Leiber, this book will let create a town, a country, or an entire world. Like all Fourth Edition books, it's a full-color hardcover."

Gurps Martial Arts (2nd ed) has something like 50+ martial arts in it including 3 fantasy martial arts (the elven martial art is severely lame, but the Orcish martial art Smasha is VERY effective and the Dragon Man Kung Fu is sweet as hell) and a couple of Science Fiction Styles. Real martial artist are represented in the side bars (including Myamoto Musashi and Bruce Lee) and well as some fictional characters. Each martial art has a brief description a couple of paragraphs long, detailing the martial art's history, origins, and style.

This book is a little difficult to digest as the rules differ a bit from the main book (and it is using 3rd ed. rules), however, it is definately worth it. This will add a whole new dimension to combat (and suck up a lot of character points) that will definately enhance you gaming experience. You can order this book off of the E-23 website, but I'd recommend going to a hobby shop or something that sells used roleplaying games. I got my copy for $5 that way.

"The ultimate hand-to-hand combat book! The 160-page GURPS Martial Arts Second Edition, covers over 50 different armed and unarmed fighting arts, including the historical and modern styles of both the East and the West, as well as fantasy and science fiction styles, presented in both realistic and cinematic forms. From the French fencing of swashbuckling cinema to Kendo down at the dojo, from Kung Fu at the Shaolin Temple to Savate on the piers of Marseilles, Martial Arts has it all (not to mention a convenient lie-flat binding). "

Gurps 3rd ed had two magic books, Magic (basic spells) and Grimoire (advanced spells and new spell colleges). Each book had 200+ spells in it. 4th ed Magic combines those two books, adds some more spells and slightly modifies existing ones. You can find the 3rd ed books used for pretty cheap, however I think that I'll get the Magic book right after I get the 2nd basic book even though one of my players already has it.

If you do get either the Grimoire or 4th ed magic and the Martial Arts book, invest in a simple striking martial art like boxing or karate combined with a necromantic spell called Evisceration. I completely surprised my players when they fought a couple of Drow Elves which were lead by a powerful preistess of Lolth. The meanest fighter in the group attacked the preistess and she ended up ripping out his lung! Ah... good times....

4th ed Magic took "The core magic system for GURPS, expanding on the material presented in the GURPS Basic Set . . . rules for learning magic, casting spells, enchanting magic items, and more! Complete alchemy rules . . . creating magical elixirs, using them, and even researching new ones . . . with an extensive list of known elixirs and their powers. Alternatives to the core magic system, including complete, updated rules for improvised magic and rune magic. There are also guidelines for the GM who wants to change how magic works in particular worlds in a multi-world campaign.Plus special material from the Magic Items series and Wizards.

This is a powerful book, indeed. Use it wisely."

Gurps religion is another informative yet enteraining and well written book, this time discussing adding religion to your world. It discusses our world's major religions without bias or judgement. The religions are organized by size and alphabetically more than anything else.

Each religion is explored through its origins, history, sects, major leaders and adventure seeds are given for each. This book does tend to lean towards the fantasy players but is a handy reference guid to playing on earth, especially in the present day. There is also a very detailed and helpfull guide for creating your own religions here. Sadly, I do not have access to this book anymore although I will get it in a month or so. This book can also be found is used book stores.

"Back in print! Everything you need to delve into the mysteries of creation and divine power. Players can create gods from fantasy and myth, or design their own pantheon. Also covers design of clerical characters and rules for the magical powers granted to the faithful."

Gurps Low-Tech is an arms and equipment guide for technologocal levels that include everything from the stone age to the early renaissance. This book details the weapons, transportation, power supplies, food, health care, clothing, and armour for each age and Tech Level. A bit drier than the other books, and not quite as usefull, in my opinion.

"From the dawn of civilization to the Middle Ages . . . or in any fantasy game . . . GURPS Low-Tech is a universal resource for any campaign set before the age of gunpowder and the printing press. It's 128 pages of detailed research and game ideas:

Weapons: Cleave an enemy's skull with a stone axe, stab him with a bronze sword, or impale him on your obsidian-tipped spear.
Armor: Whether it's the crudest leather or the finest iron chain, any armor is better than none. Plus new rules for piecemeal armor!
Vehicles: Steer a dogsled across the Arctic, sail a trireme across the Mediterranean, or ride your chariot over the battlefields of Asia.
Equipment: Yokes and plows, adzes and hammers, sundials and locks; everything it takes to build a town or a nation.
Plus shelter, science, and civilizations . . . from the Stone Age to the Middle Ages.
Whether you're playing cavemen fighting to stay alive, armored knights jousting for honor, or time travelers searching for the truth about history, GURPS Low-Tech brings the past to life!"

I hope this is enough information for you ;-)

"Leaders are like Eagles. We don't have any of them here."

Thanks, Calamar.
I'm actually not totally unfamiliar with GURPS as I've got the 3rd Ed's basic rules, time travel, supers, and space (which is awsome).

As i understand from what you've written, the new Fantasy book is "GURPS Space for elves", which is a very good thing, to me.

now, all i have to do is save some money and buy on Amazon the two basic books and Fantasy...

If you already have 3rd ed then you can make do without the 2nd Basic book. If money is an issue (and it should be, these books are expesive as hell), then I'd recommend getting the Fantasy book, followed by the 1st Basic book.

The Fantasy book will help you create your world. The 1st basic book will let you create characters. If you know the 3rd ed rules, then the information provided in the 1st basic book will allow you to extrapolate on rule changes in the 2nd Basic Book. For example, there is no PD listed for armour. Therefore one can assume that PD has been tossed. Likewise, the sample characters have a much higher dodge than you'd expect. This is because dodge is figured as per 3rd ed rules but with a +3 added on.

Are you pickin' up what I'm puttin' down?

I've been running Gurps 4th ed. rules for about 4 months now and I still don't have Fantasy or Basic 2. So it can be done. I won't even get them till after xmas.

Hope this helps...

yeah, it does.
BTW, I found the 4ed books (and even the 3rd ed. Religion) rather cheaper on ebay (http://stores.ebay.com/Busy-Bee-RPGs-games-and-cool-stuff)

just between us, I got a pdf of both 4th Ed books, but i'll buy a paper copy.

If you have them as a PDF I'd recommend printing them out at Kinko's and paying to have them bound. It'll last longer that way and still be about the same price.

Zip - buy the paper copy. Calamar -- support the game industry over the copying industry.

I have been reviewing the 4th Edition GURPS rules and overall I am quite impressed. There are some weak areas - especially in the area of combat, but I was intrigued by the threads on this boards and thought I should be able to intelligently talk about GURPS. I still feel that Epic Fantasy Roleplaying has a far superior basic game mechanic and opens up far more possibilities than even a well-designed game like GURPS.

Zip -- I am thinking about putting my money where my mouth is on this point. I have a few revisions that I am working on for Epic which should be done soon. If you are willing to sign a non-disclosure agreement (with proof of identity) I'll ship you the core Beta-tester manuals -- free. Go out and buy GURPS and run a couple of games in each system to see which your players like better. Epic is a little more work for you the GM -- I don't have enough source material yet (something that will be mandatory before I can really put it to market). Your honest feedback would be highly welcome. If anyone else would be willing to take the Epic Challenge you can let me know.

I wasn't really ready to post this yet, as I haven't finished reviewing the GURPS stuff, but Calamar forced my hand with a post that I had to respond to.


"What I've found effective in teaching players GURPS is to run a few sessions of "boot camp" using pregenerated characters."

Always a good idea, but I would start with a chase through the back alleys, a game of Rugby, or any other exciting non-combat scenario. This allows them to understand the structure of the rules and see that there is more to a role-playing game than just combat.

Thanks. I have read both, but don't remember much about them apart from the fact that I enjoyed Tad Williams more. I should probably do a re-read of them sometime. So many good books ... so little time. Sigh...

Sorry, I didn't mean to force your hand there. I am all for supporting the gaming industry as a whole and I spend a pretty penny to do it, but I hate shoddy craftmanship or products. The Gurps books, while extremely well thought out, written and designed, have crappy bindings that allow the pages to fall out VERY quickly. That sucks. It's the only thing that I really have a problem with in Gurps.

I'd like to try out your new system if possible. I always like trying new things. Let me know, I've gotta go...

Not only am I willing to take the Epic challenge, I'd also be interested in helping you develop source material -- if you're interested in that.

Though, frankly, GURPS is quite a lot of work for a GM in its own right.

I run combat-only "boot camp" because combat is the most difficult part of the average system, and this is definitely my experience with GURPS. The use of skills and other non-combat-specific maneuvers is pretty intuitive. The idea of a back-alley chase is a great one, though; I might start incorporating that, or a mountainside ambush, just to vary the rules exposure in such "sessions."

Fantastic! I would be honoured to have your help.

No worries Calamar. I be very glad to have you look at the system. I really don't like to blow my own horn -- but, you will find that the overall mechanic that permeates the game is very fluid and intuitive. Once you have used it you won't want to go back to any "turn-based" games.

The topic of the thread was about how to make sense of hit-points in D&D. We wandered into GURPS after a number of bright, creative people couldn't quite make D&D's model make sense. GURPS was presented as a logical transition to the player who was bothered by artificial statistic. My problem with hit-points is that at best it is a mixed measurement -- once you mix skill, luck, stamina, and size and melt them down into a single measurement they can never be extracted as single elements again. Any attempt to do so will result in the game "breaking". You can't get to that level of detail. The mechanics of the game won't let you. Unfortunately, this means the game provides no framework from which to effectively narrate the action. A clever GM will be able to creatively induce the action. The D&D system doesn't deserve any credit for that.

Is GURPS a strong alternative? Yes. The GURPS rules are consistent from a storytelling point of view. The players can have a consistent vision of the action. The action is formulaic though, so at the risk of hijacking the thread I put out an alternative.

I apologize for coming off as a commercial. I really am trying to be on topic.

I have emailed you at the address given on the EFRP site. If you don't receive anything, or if I have mailed the wrong address, just let me know.

staying slighly on-topic, what thoughts do you people have on the WoD system in genral and its task resolution (and combat) in particular?
It has a "wound" mechanic similar to shadowrun.

Gilgamesh, i'll be happy to try out your system, although it could take me a while as i'm learning my way through Mage and GURPS 4th ed. right now.

You can reach me at b3rl1oz@yahoo.com