Thursday, January 22, 2015

Unfortunate and Insidious Word Choices

When Hit Points were first envisioned, the point was that they represented luck, fortitude, and energy; with a small core component of actual flesh and blood. Damage taken was a whittling away of that luck, fortitude etcetera to finally get at the good red meat of the core. Until that point, successful attacks didn't draw blood. It was only the last one or two attacks that actually bit deep.

At some point, this changed in the popular perception. Each successful attack was a wound. The inflationary Hit Point Model began to look ridiculous - how could anyone take that many hits and keep standing? Various new models of damage began to be floated about in games - separations into different damage tracks, armor penetration, bruising and wounds.

All of this was a change necessitated by one poor word choice in the initial D&D game. That single word was "Hit".

"I swing my sword at the knight! I hit!"

"Roll damage!"

"A six! plus one for the magic sword and one for my strength is an eight!"

"Your sword bites into her, but she has a lot of hit points left, so that is just a flesh wound.:

That exchange, when pictured in the minds of the players, was - perfectly reasonably - seen as causing a wound. You hit, didn't you? It also brought in the visual perception of two people standing there a pace apart, whaling on each other until one dropped.

This mis-match of the word used and the effect, over a short period of time, brought about the change in meaning where the concept of Hit Points became aligned with the concept of hitting. if you hit, blood was going to flow.

If, instead, the word used were "success", that can mean a lot of things. A successful attack might be a hit, but it might just as well be gaining a positional advantage, or knocking the enemy's guard down, or tripping the foe, and making a dent in the armor. In other words, eroding the luck, fortitude, and energy of the enemy.

The exchange above might be very different:

"I swing my sword at the knight! Success!"

"Roll damage!"

"A six! plus one for the magic sword and one for my strength is an eight!"

"A six! plus one for the magic sword and one for my strength is an eight!"

"The knight - in eluding your sword - loses her balance slightly and wrenches her knee in getting her balance back. You've got a small advantage there!"

A very different picture indeed!

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