Thursday, November 12, 2020

Hit Points: OD&D vs Greyhawk

While working on my revision of Empire of the Petal Throne, I went down a rabbit hole regarding the change in how hit points are generated between LBB-only OD&D and Supplement I. I made a few charts comparing the results. Here's the one for fighters.

Unless my math is mistaken – and it could well be, so please correct me in the comments – Greyhawk clearly increased a fighter's average hit points, by about 15% overall (again, if my back of the envelope math is right). 

Here's the chart for magic-users. As you can see, the differences between OD&D and Supplement I are minimal.

Here are clerics.
At low levels, the two schemes are comparable, but, by the end, there's about a 20% increase under Supplement I. 

I offer no conclusions about this, since I'm not confident that my math is right. Assuming it is, though, there's a noticeable inflation in hit point totals for two of the three basic classes. Good, bad, indifferent, I don't know and I'm honestly not interested in such matters. I can only say that, in my EPT campaign, whose character classes have hit dice progressions similar (but not identical) to those of pre-Greyhawk OD&D, the lower hit point totals have led to shorter, more dangerous combats (including some notable deaths). That, in turn, has led to a greater degree of caution and planning among the characters, who regularly look for non-violent ways around obstacles they encounter. 

I like that and do sometimes wonder whether the fragility of EPT characters played a role in that. Again, I have no idea if my intuition on the matter is correct. However, I can draw upon my recent experiences playing other RPGs, such as RuneQuest, where hit point totals are not only low compared to Dungeons & Dragons but never really increase over the course of a character's life. These facts definitely affected the way our sessions proceeded. We didn't completely avoid combat, but we didn't enter into it lightly and, when we did, there was an air of palpable concern that all the characters might not leave the battle alive. 

Lots to think about.


  1. In the process of develop my own take in the form of the Majestic Fantasy RPG, I noticed that the chances introduced in the Greyhawk supplements does boost the power curve of characters slightly compared to the 3 LBBs. Which is why I decided to retain the 1d6 +/-X system found in the early printings of Swords & Wizardry. It has worked out well for me in the campaigns I been running using the rules.

    1. I'm delving into this more seriously, because I'm debating whether or not to retain EPT's more OD&D-style hit dice, with its irregular progression, or adopting something more akin to Supplement I. Hearing about your experiences is helpful. Thank you.

    2. Sure thing. But there is more :) To expand my view is that a referee should define the setting of a campaign first and then adopt, or make the rules that fits that vision of the setting.

      With your experience with EPT you have a leg up on knowing what the setting is about. At least your take on it at least.

      So for the issue of hit points. You need to decide the following. First I am going to assume that hit points in EPT is a measure of combat endurance because of the system's origin in OD&D. Hit points are one measure of how long a character or creature can endure in combat.

      So the question you need to answer are

      1) How long can a fighter at 9th level last in melee combat? Then consider the other classes.
      2) Does this ability to endure combat improve evenly as one levels, or does it comes in bursts. Think about what it means to be a 1st level fighter a 3rd level fighter and so on in terms of EPT. And how long you view the average character enduring combat at that level.

      So the answer to #1 gives you the maximum, and the answer to #2 gives the progression. Translate to average, figure what die roll will produce that average and that your hp progression.

      Now in my experience, after playing a campaign with my MW supplement + Swords & Wizardry. Being in the ballpark it good enough. Unless there some setting reason that a class get a big boost in progression at some point it best to figure out the max and evenly space the die between that. For me this wound about being 1d6-1 for magic-user types, 1d6 for cleric types, 1d6+1 for some custom classes that were a little better at fight, and 1d6+2 for fighters.

    3. Lots of food for thought here. Thanks again.

    4. Oh and one more thing. I created a tool to use as sort of a first pass effort. It simulates two character whacking at each other 10,000 times. It not definitive obviously but it help to get into ballpark before playtesting.

    5. FWIW, I went through a similar exercise when we normalized Bottle City to AD&D from OD&D---the monster HPs get significant boosts in such updates, along with NPCs as you've already discovered.

      The Monster Manual retains several of these HP-level artifacts from OD&D, too, in particular in the HP ranges for beholders, the HP for unique creatures like demon princes and archdevils, etc.


  2. I think the HP increase was an attempt at doing two things:
    Have a less deadly game
    Balance magic-users with everybody else.
    Attempt which Gygax must have considered only party successful as the trend continued in AD&D (which introduced or consolidated negative hp, and more spells for 1st level clerics)

  3. Actually the Greyhawk supplement both raises the fighter hit points to a 1d8 per level but at the same time increases longsword damage to a d8 as well. It does get rid of the the problem that wizards are sometimes getting a d6 and sometimes getting only a +1. It does, however, start an annoying trend of damage inflation combined with hit point inflation continued in later editions.

  4. I have moved my game to the LBB d6 hit dice and d6 damage. I like the tighter math and lower scale. I also like that magic-users have a little more at first level putting them on equal footing as clerics. Classic EPT hit die progression is a little different than the LBB. Without charting it out it out as you have above, EPT priest look a little weaker than the OD&D cleric which makes sense based on their different flavors.

    Another thing to think about is whether or not you use the damage dice (730), and double-damage and instant death rules (731). Those rules make for a much more deadly game, particularly against a lower hit dice progression.

  5. It feels like there has been a steady evolution towards more hit points, from Arneson's first - one hit = a kill to the latest editions having much higher hit points overall. I like the feeling of danger that exists with less HP. I also like doing less math...

  6. Greyhawk did some things to increase the power of the characters and monsters as well. More HP, variable weapon damage, spells of higher levels, more powerful magic items. Monsters got more damage and hp.