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Why monsters have HP

We often hear advice that DMs should just ignore HP or change it on the fly since it’s a narrative game anyway. Now, if that’s how a table likes playing, and the players are on board with this, then yeah, that’s fine.

I’m never gonna do this, though. Why? Because before I started running D&D, I came from rules-less, dice-less, stat-less, splat-less, feat-less, class-less, story games. Pure narrative games.

I went to D&D because I was curious about a game where things was happening beyond just what we decided ought to happen. Where we could play to find out.

To me, all that fiddliness with class features, levels, hit points, math, dice rolls, all that’s a huge chore. What makes that chore fun, for me, is seeing to what extent all those decisions matter when that character is faced with the dangerous world of adventure.

Sure, it’s fuel for our imaginations, but then putting that rubber on an actual road is where the real thrill ride begins. That’s how I feel about it.

That’s why my monsters stick to the HP as prepped.

Some examples

From the Wrath of the Righteous AP forums:

Adding more hit points is just run of the mill for me at this point. Including just adding an X to the front. They die when I feel the fight has gone enough rounds/enough time in the real world to be satisfying (typically reserved for boss fights).

POV: gigachad DM creates the greatest game you’ve ever played:

I don’t keep track of hit points, especially not for Big Boss monsters in campaigns like this. To be honest, I just wait until everybody gets something cool done, like they use an ability or cast a spell or get a hit in, and the lich gets to do something cool, the lair goes off, and then as soon as somebody gets to do something really awesome, like they just absolutely pop off on their turn? Well, then it’s dead.

It’s a narrative game anyways. It lets me control how long the game goes for and well, could you tell the difference?

Should Dungeon Masters Fudge Their Rolls? Here’s The simple Truth.:

So the rogue player stealths up and he springs his attack on one of the guards trying to take him down stealthily!

So at this point as Dungeon Masters, we have three options when the rogue makes his attack.

The first option is to just let him succeed. No roll necessary. It’s a well thought-out plan, no problem, he eliminates at least one of the guards as long as he passes his stealth check and he attacks basically unseen.

Option two is to simply let fate decide. Let the player sneak up on the bugbear and make his attack. He gets to roll a bunch of dice, which can be a lot of fun, and we’re going to just let fate decide. We’re going to take whatever the dice roll is as is. We’re not going to fudge at all.

Now, option three is the one that I would propose. Now before I get into details on exactly what’s happened, let’s take a look at the first two. With option one, the player sneaks up, he takes out the guard, and he has executed a well-thought-out plan. The player feels pretty rewarded for outthinking a challenge. This is a totally acceptable option. Now, option two, where the player sneaks up and makes an attack he rolls really, really high, and everybody at the table gets excited about the dice roll. They get excited that the plan not only works, just like with option one, but they also get the added excitement of the anticipation, waiting for the result of how much damage, and if it was successful. But after the results are rolled you realize as a dungeon master that it leaves the guard with a few hit points remaining. So now everybody rolls initiative and combat begins.

Now option three is the one that I would go with which is to let the player stealth up (just like in the first two options) and let him be rewarded for his critical thinking like option two. I’m going to let the player roll his attack everybody the table still gets all of the excitement from both having their plan come to fruition and the anticipation of not knowing what the result is the only difference is is that when I see that the guard still has just a few hit points left I decide to just let the player kill them anyway.

I’m not. I’m just gonna keep being a hardass about this stuff. In that last example, I think option one is legit but I don’t like option three. I’d more often use option two. Maybe they’ll miss entirely, maybe they’ll make it, maybe they’ll almost make it and a fight will start. It’s a situation where the choice between Assassin Rogue and Scout Rogue will matter, and even the assassin might not always succeed. That’s part of the tension and the edge of the game, for me.

What’s good about all these examples is that they checked in with their players. “Is this how you wanna play?” I’m not actually sure they did check in, beforehand (I get that some of the examples are fictional), but if they did, that would’ve been good.

Why DMs do fudge HP

I’ve learned that whenever I bring up this issue, it’s not constructive to just be all guilt-trippy and gatekeepy.

I believe that the ultimate cause of HP fudging is adventures designed around “first they’ll encounter this, then this, then this” preplanned line of encounters, or, improv: “next they’ll encounter this”, especially when they then also try to make those encounters “deadly”.

I’ve found that DMs who has characters who are freely exploring and acting in a location or situation are less likely to fudge because with that game setup, it’s easier to feel like it’s fate or luck or the characters’ own decisions that lead them into trouble and you’re just as curious as everyone else to see what actually happens.

So with the more linear setup, you on the one hand have some idea what might happen, and that makes it at least a little bit tempting to fudge (“this is gonna be the boss monster and it needs to be epic”) and on the other hand, you have a greater responsibility for the life of the characters. You made them fight this thing so now you’re responsible for the fight to be good.

Instead, with more location-based, situation-based play, what happens happens.

For those that really do want more of a story game, there’s a whole world of amazing story games out there. “But I don’t want them, I wanna use D&D!” You know what? If your players are aware of and onboard with fluid HP, it’s fine. It’s not gonna happen when I run, but this game is all things to all people, and every group is different.