Sunday 26 September 2021

Hitpoints vs Wounds & "Downed" Characters

Most folk know I strongly dislike hitpoints. This is due to early exposure to Battletech and Starfleet Battles as a new wargamer. I swear I spent more time photocopying data sheets and filling in hitboxes than playing the games.

What I hate are hitpoints for human characters. I grudgingly agree that a kilometer-long spaceship or a skyscraper size mech may need to take gradual, incremental damage due to their vast size, but with a human character it is silly. Especially if losing the hitpoints has no actual effect. I.e. you lose 9 of 10HP due to giant axe blow, but 1HP remains = you are perfectly fine, operating at maximum capability. Then a rabbit bites you and you lose the last 1hp = boom - you dead. It's both illogical AND a waste of time

I was excited about the new Kill Team. GW finally breaks free of 40K to make dedicated skirmish mechanics! Then I saw this. Proudly advertising - "Even a humble guardsman has 7 wounds hitpoints? F-- off.

But aren't wounds just hitpoints with a different name? Yeah, but traditionally characters only have a few wounds, and they nearly always have an effect; i.e. 1 wound= -1 to all rolls, -1" move; 2 wounds= -2 to all rolls, halve move; 3 wounds = dead. They often correspond to real life injuries - flesh wounds, serious injury, and incapacitating/lethal damage. Wounds tend to be simpler, more practical hitpoints. I prefer only 3 states (1 wound) - OK, wounded, dead - so you can represent the wound by tipping the model on its side if you want to minimize tokens.

When your infantryman has 7 wounds, they ain't wounds anymore, GW. They're goddamn hitpoints.

And usually, wounds are only for named heroes or big stuff. You know, something to make your hero last a bit longer than the average mook, who is usually just alive/dead. My rule of thumb is:

Is it a rare hero or gigantic monster? = 2, maybe 3 wounds are OK

Is it a average grunt? = nope, no wounds allowed - either alive or not

How many minis have multiple wounds? = if 3-4 or less, then ok I suppose

Does the wound have an actual effect in-game? = if no, then no

Is the base unit a fire team or squad? = then probably no - the individual models are the "hitpoints"

Are the wounds actually needed? As a rule of thumb, I avoid wounds unless the heroes and monsters need predicable survivability that a damage re-roll just won't give them. Or the setting seems to indicate it. I'm revisiting wounds as part of The Forgotten - my homebrew sci fi horror game where wounded soldiers dragging their bleeding stumps away from nameless horrors would fir the mood and style of the game. So right now, I am very interested in wounds.

In re-opening? the discussion on wounds, I'd like to look at two damage/wound systems that have caught my eye. 

The first was Reality's Edge. 

Each side takes turns activating a few models, and any shots place hit markers on the opponents. However, the actual effects are only resolved just before the opponent moves.  The intent was: in the chaos of a gunfight you can pump shots into a target and not know if it actually goes down. Instead of shooting something until it dies, then swapping targets - there is a decision point - do I score a hit and move on to a new target, or do I fire multiple shots into something to have a better guarantee of a kill.

Whilst I love decision poins and thought it was a cool idea (choose: how many rounds do you put into the charging alien) - I felt this wasn't worth the effort of tracking multiple hits of different strengths. The complexity cost was too high for the actual impact of the mechanic. Interesting, but no thanks.

Secrets of the Third Reich. Like Battlefield Evolution, a game that improved on the 40K formula; ironically a Weird War II game is a far deeper and more tactically 'realistic' game than Bolt Action.

Also sitting out for 'reference' was Secrets of the Third Reich. 

This one was much better. Shots hitting targets either "kill" or "down" them. E.g. with a rifle shot against a human roll d6; 2+ to down a target, and a 4+ will kill them outright.  Now downed targets are disabled for a variety of reasons - they could be merely shocked, stunned, winded, or holding their guts in or dragging an amputated leg. Downed targets can't shoot or even defend themselves (they die to any CQC) - they can merely crawl/drag themselves 2"/turn towards squad mates or a medic. A second downed result also kills them.  

But there is still uncertainty as to how bad they are hurt - just like Reality's Edge. Do you keep shooting? At the start of each turn, downed models roll a d6. 1,2 = they jump up and recover. Just a flesh wound! 3-4 = they stay Downed and drag themselves around, 5-6 = they bleed out and die. Having a medic nearby improves the roll. 

Now this is better than Reality's Edge for a range of reasons. First, it is much simpler. Instead of tracking multiple hits and how strong the hit is, you merely need to tip the downed model on its side. There is less complexity and "overhead." And it also gives you the same decision point - keep shooting or move on to a new target?

Secondly, it actual gives a proper wounded effect; a meaningful, ongoing effect in game. (The Reality's Edge 'mystery damage' merely impacted a very small segment of the game turn). So in addition to giving the same decision point, it gives extra decisions (i.e. do I try to carry this model, do I try to move in a medic). With less tracking.

OK, so my space horror game gets wounded models dragging themselves around, vulnerable to being butchered by passing aliens or hellspawn. Sold! Even better, it is so fast/easy to resolve I could probably allow quite a few models (heck perhaps even everyone) to have a 'hitpoint' wound.


  1. Ah crap. I really liked my wound mechanic in my homebrew skirmish but I can't deny the elegance of the 'Reality's Edge' approach.

    1. Did you mean SOTR? Because Reality's Edge has lots of hitpoints (and not the good sort - the ones where you do 9HP and nothing happens, then the model keels over on the 10th!)

      It's actually a good cyberpunk reference though (all 300+ pages of it) - just one I'd never play!

    2. Ah, yup. Secrets, not Reality's Edge.

  2. sotr is just like the orginal necromunda and also to song of blades and heroes

    1. Whilst both had wounds, Necromunda had a few extra steps and is less elegant.

      SoBH (well, 1st ed that I played) had a very different mechanic where you could be killed/messily killed/knocked down/etc which was a mix of ratio of attack/defence (and odds/evens).

  3. I also recommend you look at Black Ops an Osprey game for an interesting shooting mechanic. Here the decision point is on the player being shot. They have a choice to simply avoid them by being pinned, move away from them to avoid them but being out of position, or trying to absorb them with and maybe getting killed. The exact specifics escape me at the moment.

    1. That was actually something like my original rules until I decided to make morale a focal point - you avoided the stress effect by moving or ducking down; but accepted the stress token by fighting back.