Putting Hit Into Hit Points

A big time commitment to any roleplaying game is almost always the combat.

Roll to hit, roll how much was hit, repeat.

While simple in process, this becomes a slog when characters in games have buckets of hit points (HP, the equivalent of life). Each mighty cleave of a sword or bullseye from a rifle does but a chip of damage from the HP block. Again. And again. And again.


Others and I agree – fewer hit points makes for better play. One might even try to put the “hit” back into “hit points” 👀

Premise of Hits

HP represents how many hacks a character can take or effectively avoid to prevent their own demise. Depending on the type of game, 0 HP either means a character cannot prevent others from working their will on them (no fight left) or could mean they are dead (this time, the sword block is too slow, the swing finding mortal purchase).

How many hits a thing can take then can vary. You might have seen the videos of people about to fight, but one clip of the chin puts a fighter down. Remember Julius Caesar? He took over 40 (!!!) stab and slash wounds before finally going down.

Caesar aside, most combatants can only get in a bout for so long, minutes at most. This has been found out by the RPG community: A good rule of thumb is that a sturdy human being without special training can withstand about 3-4 hits before a ‘this-settles-it’ hit lands home.

The Old-School (OSR) RPGs hold this as fact: Fewer HP is better play. Whether that is some max HP of 12 or 20 for a player’s character, it undermines the hundreds of HP even moderate-level play in a game like Dungeons & Dragons can introduce.

Excessive, eh? Some solutions to high HP:

Crafting Better Dungeon HP

Professor Dungeon Master over at Dungeon Craft on YouTube introduces a great rule of thumb for D&D -type monster blocks:

Every attack that lands does 1 hit’s-worth of harm. Sword or fist, all the same. Criticals, heavy weapons, and especially high rolls (e.g. naturally in the top 25%) count as an additional hit. Spells do hits equal to the level of difficulty they are +1 (levels exist from 0 to 9).

As for HP, take a monster’s health, round to the tens-digit, and divide by 10 (minimum 1 HP). Thereby, a monster with 84 average HP can take 8 hits.

Professor Dungeon Master (minorly paraphrased)

This is a great quick-and-dirty way to reach the same conclusions of regular D&D combat, but only faster.

Assuming a group of four adventurers though, 8 HP still requires at least two rounds of combat with every adventurer landing a standard hit (8 HP / 4 hits-per-round = 2 rounds).

Can this be better?


My own homebrew wraps as much as it can into the standard 1-2-3-4-6-10 scale of effectiveness.

Tier 1 characters can only take 1 and give 1 hit (and are easier to hit – that is a separate discussion). Tier 2 gives and takes 2 hits. Tier 6, 6 of each.

Player character weapons and armor also exist on this scale: Tier 1 does 1 hit’s-worth of harm (e.g. knives), tier 4 does 4 hits-of-harm (e.g. halberds, especially heavy weapons). Characters themselves have the ability to sustain ~7 hits of harm on average.

But what if players still want to roll their damage?

Layering on the HP

(The following is a thought exercise – I have yet to test in actual gameplay.)

Keeping the difficulty tiers of BITS, what if HP scaled by double or by 4s?


TierBy 4sBy Double
1 – Minion11
2 – Soldier42
3 – Specialist84
4 – Elite128
Example HP Scaling

This way the chaff of low-level minions can still be swept away, but more bossy characters can take a few blows before being made low.

When players strike, a success gives them 1 hit. When they roll damage, they get an extra hit for, say, every complete 5 or 10 points of damage rolled in the D&D fashion.

Players get to roll more of their dice, folks are rewarded for high rolls, and combat remains quick (but not so quick as to be a wash!).

Simple reduction of HP, HP by tiers, or HP by scaling? Or just keep D&D -style massive blobs of hit points, why does this article even exist? 😜

I am curious: Tell me what you use for HP in play and share what you think could go better in the fictional combat of roleplaying games.

Anyways, stay tuned for from-the-field reports as I experiment with different systems. Cheers to your characters coming out on top!

Published by

Jimmy Chattin

Processor of data, applier of patterns, maker of games and stories.

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