Updated: Jul 19, 2020
How’s that for an incendiary title!? Deal with it, Tyler! FACED!
Alright, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s get down to business.
In the world of MNmaxed there is no question that I, David, am consistently the least rules knowledgeable of all of us. In particular Swany’s ability to retain and recall minute rules details is as much unfathomable magic to me as a fireball must be to a commoner. When Pathfinder 2e came out Tyler devoured the rulebook seemingly overnight. When Ted played Pathfinder for the first time a few years ago (his first ever TTRPG) he was breaking mechanics within his first week.
I, on the other hand, struggle significantly to remember to use one of my most powerful class features in Stunning Fist, and the only way I remember its DC is to have the character sheet next to me which reminds me it is calculated as 10+Key Modifier+Class Proficiency (and yes, I had to look at the character sheet before I typed that just now).
As we publish more episodes of our Starfinder campaign, which I am running, the disparities in Tyler’s and my reverence for the rules will likely become more clear. Now that’s not to say a DM doesn’t need to know the rules really well. I find it to be the height of bad DMing to arbitrarily ignore existing or invent new rules. Such actions can mitigate a player’s entire character build, or party strategy. It can also make the players feel as though they have no agency within the story, and it amounts to the DM just wanting to tell their grand tale, game mechanics and PCs be damned. It can also throw off the balance of a game that a bunch of people who know a lot more about game design than you got paid actual money to create over long periods of time.
If you’re a DM, don’t do that.
But here in the following paragraphs I want to talk about a rule that isn’t really a rule. A non-rule rule that you should be ignoring both as a DM and a player. And why Tyler, who knows more about the rules than I do, gets it wrong.
The rule; concept, game mechanic, representation, what have you, is Hit Points.
Almost every physical thing in Pathfinder (and pretty much every TTRPG) is going to have Hit Points. A dragon has Hit Points. A sailing ship has Hit Points. A flower has Hit Points. And every player character has Hit Points (until they don’t anymore and are dead).
Of course there are some things to which the concept of Hit Points simply can’t be ascribed. It would be ludicrous, for example, to think that one might be able to deal enough damage to, say, a hurricane with, say, a nuclear weapon, to destroy it.
Nonetheless, Hit Points in TTRPGs are nearly universal, and if you’re reading this you know what Hit Points are; a numerical representation of what must be done to destroy any given thing. If somehow you’ve found your way to these words and you’re not a Table Top Role Playing Game enthusiast then you may have encountered the concept of Hit Points in video games such as literally every video game.
For many things Hit Points can be viewed, and I promise I’m going to get to the part about Tyler being wrong eventually, but for many things Hit Points can be viewed as a very straightforward representation of an item’s durability. One can put a “Here’s Johnny” sized hole in a door with one or two swings of an axe. However, should that one desire to murder poor Shelly Duval they’re going to need to bash away at the door until something structurally integral fails. The amount of damage said door can sustain before being destroyed beyond its ability to function as a dull boy deterrent could be considered its Hit Points.
Things get a bit more complicated when the concept of Hit Points is applied to a living creature. Just exactly how many gouts of flame and rapier stabs must one lowly Dread Pirate dole out to a Rodent of Unusual Size before the monster is slain? The specific answer to this question is largely irrelevant, the important part being that it’s demonstrably more than one. When the R.O.U.S cries its final pained squeayowl (the distinct hybridization of squealing and yowling common to R.O.U.S’s) it has sustained direct physical injury sufficient to kill it. These injuries are fairly easily seen as the monster’s Hit Points.
But how do we conceptualize Hit Points for we, the people? Well given that humans and humanoids are actually the real monsters, Hit Points could simply be seen to have the same function as they did with our large rodent example in the previous paragraph. A person may sustain multiple injuries and continue functioning; just ask Teddy Roosevelt who delivered a three hour speech after being shot in the chest. However, normally upon being 50 Cented a person is going to require medical aid sooner rather than later.
This then illustrates part of the problem with Hit Points for player characters; it is common for a character to sustain some damage to their Hit Points and continue to function completely unaffected for hours before they go to bed, subsequently waking up with no injuries.
Yea, it doesn’t make sense.
There’s this thing called Suspension of Disbelief. It means that as people we can accept outlandish things such as magic, dragons, and Hit Points, as long as there’s a reasonable explanation. We can easily accept that a monster needs to be stabbed many times before dying, this is realistic to us even if the monster has no real-world allegory. But a person doesn’t continue to function normally with a gaping stab wound to the calf pouring blood. Nor does that same person simply recover from said wound by getting a good night’s sleep.
The concept of Hit Points is falling apart, and here’s where Tyler is wrong.
Commonly in our games Tyler will briefly describe the effects of a character or monster’s actions. We are an audio program, Tyler is very good at making sure to give verbal cues to our listeners about what we, who are all looking at a map and dice rolls, are doing.
One of the things Tyler describes is what happens when either we the characters or the monsters hit one another and deal damage.
An example from an episode I was recently editing:
Tyler: “Kestrel, you are hit in the thigh with a javelin thrown by the Xulgath, and it sticks out of your leg.”
David, in his head: Fuck off Tyler, no it doesn’t.
The javelin dealt a relatively small amount of damage to Kestrel compared to his total Hit Points, he was not significantly injured by the javelin. In addition, if he did actually have a javelin sticking out of his leg his actions would be SIGNIFICANTLY impeded, but there is no game mechanic in Pathfinder or D&D (on which (SPOILERS) Pathfinder is entirely based) that reduces a character's effectiveness based on injury (or loss of Hit Points).
So why does resting cause wounds to heal? Why aren’t there mechanics to decrease a character’s effectiveness when they get injured?
Because Hit Points aren’t actually meant to be a representation of injury.
Let me say that again, but worded differently: A character’s Hit Points are not a direct representation of their ability to be stabbed over and over.
Don’t believe me? Here it is from the man himself:
“Hit points are a combination of actual physical constitution, skill at the avoidance of taking real physical damage, luck and/or magical or divine factors. Ten points of damage dealt to a rhino indicates a considerable wound, while the same damage sustained by the 8th-level fighter indicates a near-miss, a slight wound, and a bit of luck used up, a bit of fatigue piling up against his or her skill at avoiding the fatal cut or thrust.
“So even when a hit is scored in melee combat, it is more often than not a grazing blow, a mere light wound which would have been fatal (or nearly so) to a lesser mortal. If sufficient numbers of such wounds accrue to the character, however, stamina, skill, and luck will eventually run out, and an attack will strike home…” - Gary Gygax, 1979.
Thus spoketh the King.
As familiar to you as the concept of Hit Points probably are, you may not have heard of the concept of Hit Point Abstraction. Hit Point Abstraction is exactly what King Gygax described. It's seeing Hit points as an abstract concept.
When a character takes Hit Point damage it is not intended to be measured in physical injury, doing so destroys the Suspension of Disbelief because suddenly nothing about a character’s survival makes sense.
“But David!” likely none of the three of you who read this are saying, “Why is the spell called ‘Cure Wounds’ then!? Why does First Aid heal your Hit Points!?”
I would reply to these criticisms thusly:
“SHUT UP, YOU JERKS!”
Truthfully, though, there is no great answer to those obvious plot holes. One finds themselves in the position of either needing to make an internal concession over what heal spells are called, and what Hit Points really means. I find my own Suspension of Disbelief much more readily allows me to imagine a Cure Wounds spell that revitalizes one’s energy and closes small cuts, rather than curing an arrow to the knee by going to bed about it.
Starfinder, a system that Paizo game designers have admitted was a testing ground for many things they wanted to launch in Pathfinder 2e, made an attempt at resolving this conundrum with the introduction of two types of Hit Points: actual Hit Points, and Stamina Points.
In Starfinder Stamina Points are essentially the Abstraction Hit Points while Hit Points are the literal blood and guts type injuries a character might sustain. Stamina Points can be recovered quickly because they’re not actually injuries, where Hit Points often require magic to restore. This system is actually awesome as far as I’m concerned, and is one of the few things I feel Starfinder does better than Pathfinder 1 or 2. There’s still problems with it, it’s not perfect, but it tries. In the absence of such a system in Pathfinder 2e, we’re back to relying on our Hit Point Abstraction and a willingness to ignore a few more minor inconsistencies.
I’ve also heard arguments against Hit Point Abstraction that point out things like area effects.
“How does Abstraction count for someone taking damage from a fireball? They can’t just avoid it because then that breaks the movement rules mechanics!”
This is actually a terrible argument because it can be rebutted with one word.
That was two words, get wrecked, nobody cares.
In addition to the explanation “because magic” there’s also already clear precedent for avoiding AoE damage in the form of Evasion. Since David Blaine doesn’t seem willing to talk we have no real-world examples of actual magic so it’s very easy to account for seeming inconsistencies with our Suspension of Disbelief. I mean, there’s tons of inconsistencies in our own world we don’t understand, just ask the people at the Large Hadron Collider. So don’t @ me with this “you’re not logically explaining the effects of magic” bullshit.
So, Tyler, now that you’ve been THOROUGHLY NERD-HUMILIATED what are you gonna do about it? Gonna kill my character off like a BITCH!? I’LL JUST COME BACK MORE POWERFUL THAN YOU COULD POSSIBLY IMAGINE! Gonna kick me off the podcast!? Good luck, Ted’s too lazy to edit things, while you and Swany are too busy… Spencer is too Spencer, I'm not convinced he even realizes we make a podcast and that he's on it.
In closing I want to leave any reader with these final thoughts:
Absolutely none of this matters at all.
Tyler’s a great DM and if he wants to describe his PCs taking damage then he can. Even more importantly, if YOUR DM does this and it annoys you, maybe talk to them about it, but mostly get over it. It’s fine, everyone is just there to have fun (or at least should be). However you want to deal with Hit Points is up to you and your table, #SocialContract.
But maybe if this concept of Hit Point Abstraction is new to you, and you like the idea, give it a shot at your table, or even just in your own mind. Having one’s own “head canon” as it were can actually be super important for getting into character, and thereby feeling more invested in the game.
Ultimately; however you do, do true to you. Now get out there and have some great adventures of your own.
Tyler: “It’s your turn.”