I’m about to make the switch over to ACKS from AD&D1 or Rules Cyclopaedia versions of D&D for my old school needs. I’ve been thinking about what to do about hit points.
For the longest time, I’ve used Max HP at first level. But, I’ve used a bunch of other schemes too, including a Castles and Crusades campaign years ago when I had the PC’s roll hit points (and had a big stack of replacements at hand).
So, I’m probably going for maximum at first, but was wondering whether anyone just lets the dice do the talking at first. If so, how does it work out. I’m most inclined to use maximum at first, because it seems the most “Fair” to fighters and other d8 classes that they should get some benefit from the die type up front guaranteed. And face it, having 1 or 2 hit points is just blowful no matter who you are.
As an experiment, I’ve not given max and let the dice fall as they may. I do permit all HD to be re-rolled upon leveling with a minimum roll of the previous levels HP though.
This has led to 2 of the party fighters having 1 hp which means they generally spend less time in the dungeon and lots of time resting up, and fights are pretty dangerous.
When I was running ACKS, I gave “roll twice, take the better” for HP at first level. This tends to give people about one extra HP each on average, but greatly reduces the odds of getting a 1 at 1st level while still leaving significant randomness. The GM of the game I’m currently playing in has done with “fall as they may”, and we have some very glass-jawed fighters as a result.
One other approach to preserve randomness while reducing the number of folks with 1 HP would be to give 1d4, 1d4+2, or 1d4+4 HP at first level based on HD. ‘Roll twice, take best’ is fairer across HD type for a similar average HP gain, though.
I did full HP for all PCs and henchmen and the game is still plenty deadly, I assure you! keep in mind any monster can be dealing 1d10 with a 2-handed weapon at 1st level.
I went with max hp at 1st and average hp every level thereafter. In retrospect, I should have just done average hp every level. I hate random hit points, though. It makes damage vs. hit points into an opposed roll, and opposed rolls are so unpredictable that they undermine the players’ ability to make informed choices.
What I would recommend as the "ideal" system is max hit points at 1st level with hit points cumulatively re-rolled at every level (never going less than 1 point + CON mod of the hp of the prior level).
Some level of randomness in hit points can be desirable because it can help balance out a character who didn't roll well at the game's start. We have one character who has been kept from being a "combat god" (STR 18, DEX 16) by a few bad hit point rolls, and another character who might not have amounted to much except for his first three levels yielding really good hit point rolls, resulting in him being the party tank.
I’ve never understood the logic behind random hit points. I know that hit points represent a number of things, but skill is high among them. And frankly, hit points are almost more valuable to a fighter than accuracy or damage. To have their HP be random, which is one of their few combat resources in old school, seems kind of a slap in the face. I mean, your to-hit and saves and spell slots aren’t random. Why is you combat skill/ability to dodge/etc random?
Anyway, rant over. What I did was full hp at level one, and 1d3+1, 1d4+2 and 1d5+3 hp every level thereafter. It has softened the blow of rolling a one considerably since they always have a minimum of half their HD.
I’ve had good luck with rolling hit points per fight. Yes, per fight. As you accumulate damage, you lose HD for the purpose of calculating HP (similar to how carcosa does it). Healing restores the hit dice. Rationale being that hit points are a mix of fatigue, health, luck, etc. in practice, it means that because you don’t “know” your hit points, it makes you more cautious (because you might not be at your peak in a particular encounter. The trade off is that if you’re lucky, you can take damage in a fight, and shake it all off. (I’d typically have the player roll their hit dice (adjust them up for bonuses) and then reduce the dice as they take damage. If you have to reduce a die below 1, you lose that HD, and you can’t distribute damage from one source across multiple dice unless you’ve lost a die.
It encourages players to play it safe regarding combat, with the additional uncertainty.
How does it work exactly?
If my fighter rolls 4,3,6,2 for his HP at the beginning how do you reduce the dice if he receives 1 damage? or 6? Do you keep the rolled results on the table? Do you sum the rolls up and then dedcuct everytime they lost the average of a dice?
Although I recognize the suckiness of having 1 HP, I don’t give max HP. Instead, I give an “upper half” HP roll.
The formula is: (1/2 die roll rounded down) + (1/2 max HP).
Fer instance, a fighter with d8 hit dice has a range of 4-8 HP at 1st level.
This maintains the thrill of getting a high roll for HP (and the “oh noes” of rolling low) without the fear of really handicapping a PC for one unfortunate roll.
The way I’ve done it is they leave their dice out, and use it to track damage. In that example, I’d probably reduce my 2 to a 1. The six could wipe out the 6 HD, or the 4 and the 2, or the 4, and drop the the 3 to a 1.
That’s the one part I don’t love about this honestly. Either I have to keep it on the table, or do some PITA math at the end. The upside is there’s a bit of strategy as to what dice you drop (assuming you can’t split a hit up)