Hit Locker

One of the big design changes between 3rd and 4e was the way they handled damage and hit points.

First of all, 4e characters start with a lot more hit points: your average characters starts with roughly 24 HP. Compare that with, oh, 10 for an average character in 3rd. In contrast, 4e characters get additional hit points at an average rate that is slower than 3rd.

Gamer Bling believes these design decisions were made carefully and wisely.

First of all, let’s treat the higher hit points at level 1.

Over the years Gamer Bling has tortured himself with many arcane caster characters. In 3rd, they start out with a measly 4 hit points. Gamer Bling typically puts his top attributes into intelligence, then dexterity (hoping to avoid missiles), then constitution. Given the standard attribute array, this gives a caster a con of 13 for a +1 bonus. Thus we end up at 5 hit points.

5 is not the much. It is well within the damage range of ordinary arrows. Heck, an unerring magic missile has a 25% chance of putting such a caster hors de combat. Two magic missiles, and you’re pretty much done for.

Some will point out that a simple shield spell saves said arcane caster from such an inglorious fate, but doing so has two humungicous drawbacks. First, the spell only lasts for a minute. Second, it saps one of the caster’s few precious spells for the day, putting him that much closer to being an ineffective unarmored archer with a pointy hat. And protection from arrows doesn’t even kick in until level 3.

The buffest character is a barbarian. But even with a 16 Con, he can still be felled with one shot on a critical hit. Not nearly so bad wimpy downright sucky as the casters, though.

And here Gamer Bling remembers the early levels of Crusaders of the Dark Savant, a CRPG of the stone ages. It was so brutal that one saved the game every five squares of movement, or every victorious battle, whichever came first. And believe your humble reviewer, those victorious battles were few and far between. At no point did Gamer Bling feel more tremulous, more scared, more ineffective than he did at those low levels.

But WotC looked at the whole hit point thing, carried forward from the original white-box design, and gave starting characters new life. Sort of like Diablo did; that was the first CRPG where Gamer Bling felt competent at first level. How popular would Diablo have been if your first-level character could die from one shot from a crypt rat?

In 4e, you can take several hits before you go down, plus you get a healing surge once per combat (or more often with power use). Sort of like Diablo; you can take more than one or two shots without snorting sod.

Now people may argue back and forth about this and what’s best, but let’s take a look at the strategic situation by contrasting the durability spread in 3rd and 4e.

The wimpiest characters in terms of hit points are casters in either edition. So let’s track the hit points of such casters assuming a constitution modifier of +1. The most robust characters are barbarians, so let’s use them as the other end of the spectrum, and assume a constitution modifier of +3.

Within 4e, the barbarian has roughly 1.5 times the hit points of a caster, and this ratio also remains fairly stable.

Within casters, the 4e wizard starts with 17 more hit points than the 3rd wizard, and this goes up by a mere half hit point per level. Again, fairly stable.

Within 3rd, the barbarian has roughly triple the hit points of a caster, and this ratio remains more or less stable throughout levels 1-20. It’s stable, but triple the hits is a pretty fierce slope.

But here is the great distinction: 3rd barbarians start with half the hit points of a 4e barbarian, but by level 20, they have 25% more.

Allow Gamer Bling to graph this out:

Time to hit the slopes!

Look at that gap. The hit point gap in 3rd is huge, and, according to this graph, growing. This is a federal emergency! We need congressional hearings! Because if they’re all playing D&D, then they won’t be spending our money!

How does one keep damage fair and balanced? How does one have an attack that is effective against barbarians while not being death incarnate to casters?

In 4e, the answer is obvious: keep the hit points within a manageable spread. But for 3rd?

Gamer Bling believes that in 3rd, this was resolved with the massive damage rule. If you take 50 HP in one shot, you must roll a DC 15 Fort save or die. Seems fair, until you consider that barbarians have a great fortitude save, and casters have wimpy ones.

But even the application of the massive damage rule is hardly egalitarian. A 14th level caster has an average of 50.5 HP, which means that below that level, getting massive damage will just kill him, save or no save. In sharp contrast, the massive damage rule could in theory be applied to a barbarian as low as 5th level, with his average of 53 HP. Wowzer.

Note that a 5th level barbarian would have an average +7 to their fortitude save (+4 for level, +3 for attribute). And a 14th level wizard would have a +5 (+4 for level and +1 for attribute). So even when the barbarian has to start worrying about massive damage, he has a better chance of survival than the caster does at triple the character level.

Gamer Bling draws no conclusions from this analysis, other than to say that from a purely design perspective, this is a hurdle Gamer Bling would not want to jump as a game designer.

You can draw your own conclusions. And when you do, post them here.

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~ by Gamer Bling on 11 March 2010.

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