Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Dice for Accumulative Hits

Recently, an acquaintance of mine asked a question about original, pre-Greyhawk OD&D (1974) for which I had no immediate answer: how are hit points determined when a character gains a level? That may seem like a very simple question, but consider the following chart from Men & Magic:

If you look at the second column, you'll see there's an uneven progression of "dice for accumulative hits" – 1+1, 2, 3, 4, 5+1, etc. Though the chart above is for the fighting man, both the magic-user and cleric charts are quite similar in this regard, which is why I was asked the question about how hit points are determined upon gaining a level.

If the player of a first-level fighting man rolls 1d6+1 to determine his character's hit points, what does he do when his character acquires the 2000 experience points necessary to gain level 2? How many dice does he roll and add to the total? OD&D's rules are not especially clear on this point, as we can see:

The example in the text is rather unhelpful as it does not describe the process of rolling additional hit points upon gaining a level. Instead, it simply presents how to roll the hit points of Level 8 fighting man divorced from any other context. 

Empire of the Petal Throne was first published in 1975 and its rules are clearly a variant of pre-Greyhawk OD&D. Consequently, when I have some question about how the rules of OD&D are to be interpreted, I often take a look at EPT. There's no guarantee that EPT's presentation is necessarily representative of the original intention (if any) of OD&D's rules, but, if nothing else, they usually offer some insight into how one person chose to interpret those rules, which is better than nothing. 

In this case, EPT suggests that, upon gaining a level, the player rolls the number of dice prescribed by the rules and totals the result. If the total is higher than his character's previous hit point total, the new total is used. If it's lower, then the previous total is retained. This approach makes a lot of sense to me, since, among other things, it helps to ameliorate bad rolls for hit points over time (provided the character survives, of course). It also provides a simple way to deal with the uneven progression of hit dice. Whether this approach is what was intended in OD&D, I simply have no idea.

Of course, it's possible I'm simply missing something very obvious or that this topic has been well explained elsewhere. If so, I'd love to be corrected, since it's a question that really stumped me when I was asked about it. Back when I was playing OD&D in my Dwimmermount campaign, I had already come under the sway of the EPT interpretation and made ready use of it. Later, we adopted Greyhawk's one additional hit die per level approach, so I never had to grapple with this area of ambiguity. 

Thinking about it now, I can't help but assume it's a topic that's been examined thoroughly by better exegetes than myself, but perhaps not. Please let me know what, if anything, I've been missing in the comments.


  1. Wow. I've never heard of that approach to hit points before, but when taking into account how the tables are set up even in AD&D, it makes sense. The same wording is used as well: dice for accumulated hit points. So, when a Cleric reaches 10th level, they roll 9d8 and add two to the result. If the result is higher than then previous level's h.p., then that's your new h.p.. If it's lower, you keep the previous level's total. No new h.p. Gotta admit, I don't like it. But if it's true, that means me and everyone else I know have been doing hit points WRONG for as long as we have been gaming. WOW.

  2. Excellent observation regarding "rule interpretation. Just to offer another variation, I have encountered tables that roll hit points at the beginning of each session. Thus one day our 4th level Hero may have started with significantly more hit points (or fewer) than the last time we played. This approach is vaguely consistent with the way an elven character could be played one session as a magic user and as a fighting man the next session, rolling a different hit point total for each.

    1. I know of tables that do that as well and think it's a very interesting approach.

  3. If the plus of the new level is added, but the plusses of previous levels are not, then I can't imagine any way of doing it other than the EPT way.

  4. I've heard of this alternative approach before, but had never read any text that had supported it. Reading through that level 8 fighter example the only conclusion is that you re-roll each level as it doesn't mention all of the other pluses at levels 1, 5 and 7.

  5. Another thought that occurs to me is that if a PC gets to level 8 then the number of dice rolls made will be 8 if it is one dice per level and 36 if it is re-rolled each level. I think that that means that nearly every level 8 fighter would have near-average hit points of 30.

  6. Here are the rules in my campaign:

    Each PC starts with maximum hp, and with each new HD gained he entirely re-rolls his hp, Empire of the Petal Throne style. For example, here's a character for whom I have rolled hp:

    A 1st-level ranger with a 14 constitution starts with 16 hp.
    At 2nd level he rolls 3d8, totaling 12. Too bad! No hp gained this level, so he stays with 16 hp.
    At 3rd level he rolls 4d8, totaling 22. Now he has 22 hp.
    At 4th level he rolls 5d8, totaling 26. Now he has 26 hp.
    At 5th level he rolls 6d8, totaling 24. Too bad! No hp gained this level, so he stays with 26 hp.
    At 6th level he rolls 7d8, totaling 27. Now he has 27 hp.
    At 7th level he rolls 8d8, totaling 28. Now he has 28 hp.
    At 8th level he rolls 9d8, totaling 40. Now he has 40 hp.
    At 9th level he rolls 10d8, totaling 55. Now he has 55 hp.
    At 10th level he rolls 11d8, totaling 51. Too bad! No hp gained this level, so he stays with 55 hp.
    At 11th and higher levels he no long re-rolls hp because he no longer gains HD. Therefore:
    At 11th level he has 57 hp.
    At 12th level he has 59 hp.

    The above method accomplishes two things that I like:

    1. It makes 1st-level PCs hardier.

    2. It makes 2nd+ level PCs have hp totals that are more likely to be average than ridiculously low or ridiculously high.

  7. The table and text suggest to me that you roll hit points afresh at each level. This means that you could, occasionally, have fewer hit points after gaining a level. The EPT approach is a reasonable "house rule" to avoid that unusual situation (though it might be fun to come up with an explanation of why your character's adventures led to a decrease in their hit points).

  8. I went to as close as possible to the original source as can be found today, and messaged Ernie and Luke Gygax about how this worked when they played with their father as DM back in the day.

    From Luke: "I never heard of re-rolling all the dice at each level. It was to roll the new die gained and add it to the running total."

    From Ernie: "All I can do is say what we did back in the day and that was we rolled and kept track of our levels and as we added a new level it was either plus a die or plus a die plus one; of course, as a magic user I didn't get to see that sort of thing so much..."

    The way it worked then is that when the new level was reached, you simply roll the die and, if any, apply the modifier to the die.

    Thus, when you became a Swashbuckler, you rolled d6+1 and added that to your hit points.

    When you became a Myrmidon, you simply rolled a d6 and added that to your hit points.

    When you became a Champion, you rolled d6+1 and added that to your hit points.

    That was the process to "accumulate hit points."

    Luke also mentioned, "I like the idea of rerolling and keeping the highest number between current and higher level as you go up."

    So, the method of re-rolling all hit dice every level was not Gary's original intent. Of course, many have interpreted it all in their own ways over the years, obviously from the very start with the evidence from EPT.

    I'd say whatever the original intent, whatever works well for your group works well for your group...

    1. I can confirm that ^^^THIS^^^ is 100% what was intended and how it was originally done. But since my opinion is worthless, I'm glad you got the Gygax boys to comment.

    2. ??? Who are you, Norwegian Blue?

  9. I should note that yes, the experience in play, and the intent in advancement, does not match the example given, which based on gameplay means that a freshly minted Superhero should have a total of 8d6+5 hit points. But these kinds of example errors happen far more than one might expect, and as with this case, can spawn a whole lifetime of unexpected consequences...

  10. Another way to make it work would be recording what you got on each individual Hit Die and adding the bonus only on the relevant levels. Thus a swordsman who rolled 4, 2, 6 had 5 hp at level 1, 6 at level 2, and 12 at level 3. I don't think it would be too hard to record AND it would be very handy for when you inevitably get energy-drained.

  11. I think that chart is for rolling a new character, not for when an existing character hits a level. altho, I once played with a guy who did make us roll each level, and we took what it was, which could add a level of anxiety to the process.

  12. I don't think the table necessarily implies that you re-roll all dice on gaining a level. It would have been very helpful had they continued the example and described how, when that character progressed to 9th level, the hit points were calculated. As it stands, the example could very well be for a player rolling a character for use in a high-level adventure, I think.

  13. I think rerolling all hit dice at each level would be a reasonable reading of those vague rules, but I would never play in a game that did it that way. Leveling up should always feel rewarding, and losing hit points—or even just failing to gain any—would instead be a huge letdown.