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(Sorry for the long winded intro. Since this is about a game nobody is familiar with, I'm trying to ensure that there is some amount of context before asking the actual question.)

So I've got a system I'm designing in my limited spare time. Two of its features are experimental and I don't really have a good basis for judging how they'll play out together.

First off, instead of dice I'm using expendable willpower points for pretty much everything. This idea is a response to a couple Deadlands sessions where the PCs and GM threw dice at each other and used fate chips to negate each other's attacks. It seemed like the pools of fate chips were controlling the game more than the dice, so I wanted to abstract away the randomness and see what happened.

Secondly, instead of hit points I'm treating everything as a hit location. I've never really liked the hit point abstraction, so I wanted to see if specific injuries worked.

Anyway, I've reached a point where I feel like I need there to be a way to do some sort of generic damage. Not every swing is targeted at a specific location, so they should just kind of hurt instead of causing injury. I was also struggling with a good mechanic for head wounds, but treating them as lots and lots of generic damage seems reasonable.

So what I've come up with is that generic damage will simply cause players to expend some of their willpower points. It's simple and elegant. Fluff-wise I think it makes sense that as characters get beat up they lose the will to keep fighting. But for a game, I'm not sure it makes sense to have a single resource represent a PC's ability to do awesome stuff and the PC's ability to not be dead.

Are there any examples of other systems like that that I could look at? Could anyone who has played such systems tell me how they worked out?

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The question at the end of your post doesn't really match the question you ask in the title. It's gonna result in two different sets of answers. Can you clarify which you want? – Adam Dray Dec 1 '10 at 16:03
All of them. I'm sorry I wasn't able to narrow it down into one set, but I really just want to hear everything about the topic I can. – valadil Dec 1 '10 at 16:32
Having a single pool for "do awesome stuff including shrugging off that nasty hit" is totally legit. Best advice to find out how this effects play is playtest it a lot. – SevenSidedDie Dec 1 '10 at 17:17
up vote 8 down vote accepted

Hit Points, in general

Hit point systems abstract survivability, not damage. Though most pure HP systems call reducing HP "damage," they take the analogy no further: there's no pain, no bloody wounds, no foul effects. Let's face it, most real fights aren't about inflicting numerous wounds on your opponent until they bleed out. Most real fights are about one good punch that dazes or drops that jerk; or about positioning and parrying and riposting until you risk everything with a lunge that pierces your enemy's heart.

There are two good reasons to abstract survivability.

  1. Combat is too complex to model. As hard as you might try to get "realism" or even "verisimilitude," you're not going to achieve this with an elegant, playable system. You'll end up with Phoenix Command or something like that if you push it too far. Too much "realism" actually isn't that much fun to play out.

  2. Hit points create a binary condition: you're alive or you're dead. Eliminating wounds and other conditions of damage prevents a death spiral. The more you get hit, the more likely you are to get hit again. Thus the advantage goes overwhelmingly to whomever hits first.

Look at the games mentioned in the two "death spiral" links for examples of wound systems. Look at D&D 4E for an example of how status effects can pile up, bog down play, and create that death spiral effect, especially at high levels.

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Well stated. One of the things I found is that when combat is too quick or too lethal everyone at the table begins to find something else to do. Even though everyone wants combat to go 'quicker' they don't want to miss the general melee and the give an take of movement and combat decisions. Players don't really mind the grind of combat as long as they feel they can effect it in some solid way. – Acedrummer_CLB Dec 1 '10 at 16:27
I was unfamiliar with death spiral as a term, though I've definitely seen it as a flaw in a few other games (namely Shadowrun). I think I can avoid it with this system though. There are actually different willpower pools for each stat. What I was thinking for damage was that the character receiving damage would be able to choose which pools to use when spending willpower. So the warrior might spend all of his intelligence willpower, but still have strength willpower left for his next turn. Whether that leaves him playable or out will depend on how I tweak the numbers, I think. – valadil Dec 1 '10 at 16:49
Not everybody dislikes Phoenix Command. Sometimes, realism (particularly the ability of the game to simulate life accurately and in detail) is more important than anything else. I'm not one of those people though, so I can't say much else. – the dark wanderer Nov 8 '14 at 5:59

There have been a few systems out there were hit points weren't used, a hit location system was used and a will power based resistance system as far as combat effects go was used. The one that comes to mind for me is Phoenix Command by Leading Edge Games. This system used the characters Will score (3d6) as a way to handle what happens when you are hit.

On a hit, a hit location is determined and from that a number of damage points are determined based on the weapon type and impact(how hard was the hit). Once you knew this, you could easily determine body effects (limb loss, movement restrictions, physical combat handicap), and you rolled against your Will to see if your character to overcome the shock to the body and remain combat capable. Since your Will is fixed, on another hit you just took into account the total points of damage for each will roll. It got harder and harder to stay conscious the more damage you took. No points expended.

The system handle both 'called shots' and random hit location based on combatants posture and relative position to each other.

It sounds very complex but was actually very smooth to run, requiring only 2 dies rolls, and was one of the most realistic systems I've ever played. It lent itself to miniatures and RPGs well, but it resulted in quick, short combats that left the characters in a bad way more often than not.

As source for your research it would work well, but as a system I found it too lethal.

Your 'point pool' sounds very cool. As you spend you points you get tired and have to rest. Many systems have done this successfully.

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The system in Phoenix Command is also notoriously slow to use due to table-heaviness. Really, that rep is exaggerated slightly, but only slightly; it's still cumbersome. I've run it once (actually, Rhand, but same mechanics), and the light version (Aliens RPG) a couple sessions. – aramis Feb 3 '11 at 12:26
I found a couple of things that helped speed up play to the point where I ran it as a session at GenCon and am planning to do a retro thing this year at GenCon also. I can run 2 Vietnam era 6 man teams and run the whole thing in 2 hours. – Acedrummer_CLB Feb 3 '11 at 14:33

I wrote a one off game based around the concept of slasher movies once. In that game instead of Hit Points each character had a "body" grid which strikes could be recorded against. Head wounds did have special rules. The point of the system was to simulate the slasher genre's obsession with the minutiae of personal injury.

You can have a look at a copy here in the PDF of the Core Book we wrote last year. The rest of what's in there may interest you, but is starting to creep into the area of obsolescence we're considering a new version in the next couple of years but, hey, free PDF!

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Can you describe how does your system deal with attacking? If attacking takes willpower points and damage removes points, doesn't the system basically descend into who has the most points? Eg, if I have 12 willpower and you have 10, don't I always win by investing 12 points in an attack?

My point is that a single pool for action and reaction, I think, just becomes a question of comparing two numbers and declaring a winner.

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There are different willpower pools for each stat. Different attacks target different stats. I'm hoping that combat will be about prodding your enemy until you can figure out where you have the better stat, but that will really depend on making sure the attack options are balanced with respect to each other. The other restriction is that a characters skill limits how many will points can be spent on any one check. I think it'll be interesting to see how someone with more points goes up against someone who can burn points quicker. – valadil Feb 3 '11 at 15:29

you may want to look at Mouse Guard, for the Disposition based combat system. Damage is done to disposition, when it's 0, you lose the conflict, and they get their victory condition (Intent).you might get part of yours if you did enough.

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Runequest (and others like Judge Dredd) has specific location-based injuries. You had a few hit points for each body part (head, chest, arms, legs etc) and armour covering for each that absorbed damage (6hp damage - 2 point armour = 4 hp to you).

The result was that combat was a lot more 'serious', if you went into battle, there was a good chance you'd get hurt, the penalty could likely be a permanent/semi-permanent injury (well... until you got enough magic) and not just a few hit points lost until they were restored. That made the gameplay different, more emphasis was on tactics (you don't charge into the horde of broo like a D&D character would to a horde of kobolds for example), and when you did, you made sure you didn't take on too many opponents - 1 on 1 is usually enough, 2 baddies v you meant you were going down (as it is in real life)(and even in stories like Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, you see them struggling against 4 or 5 opponents unless they can disable a couple immediately).

I think it came about partly for realism, but also partly to have characters that were not superhuman, who had few hit points, and yet could still play without getting killed. eg. If a character took 5 hp damage it would result in incapacitation and a dead arm. If you play D&D (say) character with 10hp, you'd just be killed outright.

It certainly encourages games where advancement is more in terms of equipment, skills and abilities rather than being able to soak up damage.

But.. to get rid of hps altogether, you could have (say) 4 levels of damage - scratch, cut, maimed, severed - but at what point does x scratches become a cut? You're almost back into the world of hit points again, just you have fewer.

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