Over the course of my interactions with the community, I've repeatedly encountered the mantra that Stress and Consequences are not HP and should not be treated as such. The comparison can be split into two easily analysable bits:

  • Stress is not HP, in that, unlike HP, Stress is a fuzzy abstracted thing not necessarily mapped 1:1 to the concrete state of a character's health.
  • Consequences are not HP, in that, unlike HP, they can affect the narrative, ability to act etc.

For a long time, I thought they're contrasts against D&D, which supposedly treat HP as a measure of concrete medical facts about the character's state. Because describing the system in contrast to D&D seems to be a big trend in the communities. Admittedly, I have very little knowledge of D&D, having spent most of the time with other systems (like GURPS and Storyteller/WoD, whose HP and Health Boxes are almost completely concrete). But recently I've encountered a definition of HP in D&D, and found that it isn't all that concrete, and largely shares many degrees of abstraction and fuzziness with Stress:

D&D 5e:

Hit points represent a combination of physical and mental durability, the will to live, and luck. Creatures with more hit points are more difficult to kill. Those with fewer hit points are more fragile.

D&D 4e (predating release of the current edition of ):

Over the course of a battle, you take damage from attacks. Hit points (hp) measure your ability to stand up to punishment, turn deadly strikes into glancing blows, and stay on your feet throughout a battle. Hit points represent more than physical endurance. They represent your character’s skill, luck, and resolve—all the factors that combine to help you stay alive in a combat situation.

And even the way things were written initially:

Anyway, keep in mind that the OA/D&D systems were never meant to be combat simulators, and all wise DMs ignored the few portions that lead in that direction. Damage and hit points in any game are most probably based on game considerations that have nothing to do with actual human or animal frailties, if you will. [...] In a game, details of such things are pretty well minor considerations, never to be dealt with in any sort of mechanic that is based on actuality, or else the whole reason for the game form, adventure on an onging basis with a heroic game persona, is lost.

(Emphases mine.)

Even our own tag wiki for states outright that they're an abstraction.

So these descriptions of what HPs are seem to be invalidate my assumption that the former statement is based on overgeneralising HP from D&D to the understanding of RPGs in general or on assuming that the meaning of HP implies D&D HP.

But that, in turn, complicates my understanding of where the second statement originates from. If one isn't to read 'HP' as 'D&D HP', then one can quickly discover that, for example, HP in GURPS or Health Boxes in Storyteller (WoD) do provide effects that affect the narrative, such as making it harder to perform certain actions, just as much if not more than Consequences can.

It seems to me that neither the contrast to D&D, nor to the broader umbrella of the concept of HP in RPGs in general in its many implementations, can account for the origin of the mantra.

My question: How did it originate?

Was it a result of a misreading of the D&D definition at the time of publishing of , or is it based on comparison to HPs in a game where they simultaneously are concrete and yet don't provide the effects that concrete state of being wounded would entail? Or, is there perhaps another explanation for what the statement is meant to compare them to? Or, is it a case of trying to oppose to a DeadUnicornTrope of HP?

Because to understand what 'X is not Y' actually means, one needs to understand what is meant by Y.

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    \$\begingroup\$ regarded the D&D part, see rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/108454/… \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Sep 6 '19 at 13:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ Correct me if I'm wrong — someone from the Fate community said "Stress and Consequences are not HP" and you want us to explain, why did they say that? It is not from the game rules, iirc. \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Sep 6 '19 at 13:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @enkryptor It seems like a thing repeatedly said by different enthusiasts in several communities of the system, so I'm trying to figure out the origin and development of the meme, as well as to decode the actual intended meaning behind using a term that varies by system. \$\endgroup\$ – vicky_molokh- unsilence Monica Sep 6 '19 at 13:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is an interesting history of gaming question. I don't see the dungeons and dragons tag as appropriate, however, since your question seems to be about a different system, or a set of systems that are classified as NOT_D&D. I suggest you remove the D&D tag since you are looking for an answer for non D&D systems. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Sep 6 '19 at 13:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ VtC. Question is too broad and unclear, as can be seen by the first answer. Are you really just asking "where did that phrase come from?" (not really, you go on for way too long for that to really be the question). Are you asking "justify to me why fate consequences are not the same as HP?" (that's what the first answer is assuming, but that's not the question you state... Both? Something else? "I am vaguely discomfited by something someone said on a forum once" isn't really a question. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Sep 6 '19 at 14:50

I'm reasonably sure I'm the originator of the idea, though I never said "Stress isn't HP". I said it's not damage, in the original post that's saved here: https://fate-srd.com/odds-ends/fate-doesnt-have-damage-system

In D&D, HP is described in very similar terms in most editions, however it's not consistently treated as such. Really, I'd probably say that in Fate, Stress is like all of your HP-as-written in D&D except for the last couple of points, and Consequences (which often are physical damage, but not necessarily so) map well to the last few HP.

Most tables I've seen do not really treat HP as it's written, however, and describe hits as, well, hits, while describing Stress hits in Fate as near misses, etc. is much more common.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer demonstrates a similar enough phrase that was circulated widely enough, and was seen by enough people, to account for inspiring the memetically mutated variants I've encountered. It also elaborates both the original intent and the likely unstated assumption baked into the modified variants of the phrase. This is the perfect answer for the question. \$\endgroup\$ – vicky_molokh- unsilence Monica Sep 7 '19 at 7:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks @vicky_molokh \$\endgroup\$ – kyoryu Sep 9 '19 at 2:45

There is one major difference between many of the D20 combat systems and the Fate systems, and this is where some of the confusion comes in. I have not been able to find a pinpoint origin for the aphorism, however. It's one of those things that has been repeated so often that it's "one of those things" that just gets passed along.

Many combat based D20 systems (such as D&D) have as a possible outcome the death of the character, or indeed, the death of the entire party in extreme situations. HP is a measure of how close you are to that. In Fate, characters generally don't die unless it's demanded by the scene. So, using stress and consequences as a measure of how close the character is to death is meaningless, unless that is an actual comparison demanded by the scene.

That isn't to say that consequences are entirely separate from HP, but generally taking a consequence has no bearing on how close to death the character is.

  1. If you are in a physical fight, then yes, a consequence may mean your character is impaired in some way until they are healed.

  2. However, if you are in a verbal confrontation and lose, you may take a consequence such as "Shamed before friends". It impacts the story, but has no bearing on how close to death you might be. It's more a representation of how important the objective is to you.

If you don't really care about this particular objective, you'd be willing to walk away/drop it before taking any stress or consequences. If it is important, you're more willing to take on some of these burdens. But, those burdens don't necessarily make you that much more squishy. That's where using them as an equivalent for HP will get you sidetracked.

The best analogy is a scene from the movie Rounders (Warning: NSFW language), where the main character is playing poker against a famous world champion, which is arguably the turning point for the mental status of the character. The relevant quote is:

"He raised... and, I... I just decided you know, I don't care about the money, I'm just gonna outplay this guy. This hand."

That is the essence of stress and consequence, in that he is willing to accept Going Broke and Being Shamed and Broken Will as consequences to achieve a goal that is suddenly his whole world, rather than just fold and walk away. That comparison right there is the crux of why stress and consequences should not be treated the same as hit points unless the scene demands it (like in the fight example above).

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for pointing out an interesting angle of approach that I hadn't considered in this case (though have known in general). I think it demonstrates how the big differences are likely to differ from the ones that are conveyed through pithy statements, though I can't say that this demystified the way the pithy statement in question became widespread. \$\endgroup\$ – vicky_molokh- unsilence Monica Sep 6 '19 at 14:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @vicky_molokh - I could not find any specific origin for that. Still looking, but... \$\endgroup\$ – JohnP Sep 6 '19 at 14:59

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