The Madness of Hit Points

The hit point roll is probably the most cheated, most faked, most lied about roll in all of D&D. Even if one fakes maximum first level hit points as a Wizard, one in four second level average wizards should have 5 hit points. One in sixteen third level wizards should have six. I bet there aren’t any third level Wizards anywhere that have only six hit points. And that is if you take maximum hit points for first level. If you take average hit points, a second level Wizard still has less than the average commoner’s wife. And that is just talking about Wizards. How many third level fighters do you know that have twelve hit points? How many do you know that have less than 15? Less than 20?

Like I said, the hit point roll is the most cheated, most concealed, most sneaky roll in all of D&D. When the DM announces that it is time to level up, players begin furtively rolling odds and ends of dice. There is only one roll when you level up folks. It is the ballgame. If a level up happens at the end of a session, there is the player who will roll a few dice and then pack up and head home. He has a lot of work to do, lots of decisions to make during the leveling up process. But, he’ll come back next session with a max-1 hit point gain. Max-1 is the formula of choice for the player who doesn’t want to be seen as anything other than a rule-abiding, good citizen of the D&D universe. I may have a character or two myself with level after level of lucky max-1 rolls under their belts, or in their cumulative hit points.

Why is it that everything about player leveling in D&D is fixed except the hit point roll? We all earn the same EXP and are rewarded at the same time as we pass collectively through the gateway to greatness. Our feats, skills, and abilities are all balanced carefully by the system designers to keep us equal at all times. Yet then we roll a single dice with all its inherent variability to decide something as important as our fundamental resistance to rough treatment. I don’t understand it.

It is interesting that most of human hit point variation comes down to 1d8. That is what commoners get. Go ahead, roll a 1d8 for everyone you know and see how many hit points they have. Some are going to have only 1 hit point. That much variability seems kind of silly. Most people, except the very old and very young have a similar number of hit points. Maybe seven? I’ve got some friends who would definitely soak up 10 or 12 hit points damage before being incapacitated. I have few, none in fact, that I’d consider to have less than 4 hit points.

So, I have a suggestion that would put an end to some of this silliness. Why don’t all characters start with 8 hit points plus or minus their con bonus. First level characters are just embarking on their life of adventure aren’t they? They are just departing the ranks of ordinary humanity right?  If Wizard school really was hard on Zelmar the Wizard and his Con suffered, he’ll have hit points that represent that. Grogundar the Fighter is yet young. He was a strong lad though and his starting hit points, including the bonus for his 16 Con would be 10 – very strapping.

After first level, everyone gains hit points according to their various class based hit dice. This seems fair. Physical types get a d10, the less physical get a d8, and the least get a d6. (Yes, I suggest Wizards get the bump – d4 is for kobolds and other lesser vermin).


2 thoughts on “The Madness of Hit Points

  1. Urien

    Some modifiers to alter your argument: Ned the Sorcerer has suffered from low hit points. Urien has used fate points to max out certain die rolls, including hit points once if not twice. Urien and perhaps other fighters have taken Toughness, twice even, as a feat. This really helps in the beginning, not so much later on. Lots of players realize how important Constitution is in health and prioritize that in character generation.

    I like your idea though.

  2. oguthrie Post author

    Funny – I had written this a very long time ago when Leif was running DND Next. I just found it today and for some reason it was marked “private” I unchecked it and I bet the blog puked it out as a new post to the various feeders… Anyway, my basic sentiment holds true. Hit points shouldn’t be as random as they are.


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