Friday, October 29, 2010

The Arduin Hit Point System

There was a recent post at The Tao of D&D about how low-level humans are unrealistically wimpy in D&D. Well, David Hargave proposed a solution for this way back in 1978 in The Arduin Grimoire Vol. 3. In fact, he devised a whole new hit point system with the goal of more realistically balancing hit points across levels, races, and classes. Said Hargrave:
"People now have a chance to run any character or characters on any expedition they choose without regard to difference in levels of experience. They can have their 1st level warrior stand shoulder to should [sic] with a 10th level lord and hold the gate together! Just as in real life young and inexperienced Warriors accompanied older, more experienced fighters. They fought and died together.
   Yet the higher levels have their own rewards, more (but not grossly so) hit points, better fighting ability and the like."
Here's a simplified distillation of Hargrave's system:

Base HP by Race:
  Dwarf:     18
  Elf:          20
  Hobbit:    11
  Human:   14

Base HP Modifiers by Class:
  Fighting classes: +5
  Clerics, elves, and dual classes: +3
  (No modifier for magic users)

Base HP Constitution Modifier:
   +1 HP for every point of Constitution
   +1 HP for every point of Constitution over 12 (= the revised CON bonus)

  Fighters, thieves, and similar classes:     +1 HP every level
  Clerics and dual classes (including elf):  +1 HP every 2 levels
  Magic users and similar classes:             +1 HP every 3 levels

NOTE: Hargrave originally presented more extensive lists of obscure races, classes, and gender differences. I have simplified things here to be more easily compatible with classic D&D.


  1. The problem here, though, is that it's entirely possible to kill someone with one thrust of a dagger in real life.

    As a student of forensic science (as part of my anthro degree) I can confirm that it's certainly possible for a totally untrained person to kill somebody with a dagger, a hammer (not a warhammer), a screwdriver, a letter opener.. the list is pretty long.. in one blow. And I'm not talking a wound that would be considered a DnD 'crit' either.

    Will it always do that? No, not at all. But it won't always do it in the game either, since it's comparing one die roll to another, randomly. But it's entirely possible.

  2. Yes that is my concern with this argument as well, it's a hasty generalization in that it points out exceptional cases of survivability but ignores all other cases - especially the exceptional cases where human beings are very fragile.
    Also the original argument being filleted was that in the B/X rules the amount of HP for NPCs was appropriate. The range of HP would not necessarily be appropriate for other versions of D&D or systems with different mechanics.

  3. Yeah, that's a really good point Todd. Also, for someone like a big burly blacksmith I would probably just say they have 4hp instead of rolling.

    However, I've met a couple blacksmiths who were under 6 foot and thin as a rail, so.. hehe.

  4. I played in a group during the early '80s where we used those rules as presented in Arduin. . . Every combat took Waay too long, and the DM wound up having to work up a house rule for crits and assassins to where one hit kills were possible. As I recall, we wound up dropping the idea in the next campaign we played.

  5. While migellito's right, those sorts of blows can kill a normal person that is not common. Multiple stab wounds or other sorts of penetrating trauma is the rule. Certainly if we're talking quick (i.e. "minutes") sort of deaths.

    In real life, location of the hit is critical.
    Blunt trauma is easier, perhaps, if applied to the skull.

    In all of these instances its generally blood loss and shock that kill--"critical hits" like nicking the perocardium and causing a tamponade, or severing the aorta, or the like.

  6. Back when playing 2E I instituted the house rule of everything getting its CON as a base amount of HP and then added amount of hit points normally gained per level after name for every level starting with 1st. (I had to fudge HP for many monster though, as this didn't translate so well)

  7. And remember Arduin has a goodly number of near instant death critical hits in its charts. So, even with these starting HPs a character can go down in one to a lucky blow.

  8. In Arduin III folks get all the HP mentioned in the post above AND 1 point per point of CON, as per page 14. So A CON of 15 would give a character 18 Hp (15 for CON and 3 bonus points).

    @Malakor, wayyy too slow and you needed special quick kill rules? There are crits in Arduin that result in death about 2% of all blows regardless of level and HP total. One result is "body split in twain,immediate death" and then the coloumn over indictaes an additonal 10-100 pts damage (which is sorta pointless if one is insta-killed)
    Hideous crippling wounds aren't too unlikely either.

  9. I use a variant of Hagraves HP system in my Basic Fantasy campaign and leave out the con bonus. I find this really works out better and puts first levelers around 20-30 HP rang as I keep my games on the no/low power scale.

    @ Malakor,

    The rule works better where if you kill someone with the additional damage then you DO cut them in twain, or close to it, depending on the size of the thing.

  10. So, like 4th Edition then...

  11. It has always been my belief that this HP system in Arduin was the inspiration for the HP system in D&D 4e. You start with a base amount modified by CON bonus and get a flat amount per level. Given the fact that WoTC has been doing this "retro" D&D thing lately, it wouldn't suprise me that Arduin had something to do with their design.

  12. I'm okay with using a d4 for 0-level human hit points. I prefer combat to be quick and deadly, expecially at lower levels.

    Hargrave's solution is good, though, for inserting first level characters into an existing campaign. I'd have no issue using that solution in that case.

  13. The question is not how much damage you can take and like, but how much damage you can take and still fight effectively.

    By this standard I'd prefer a system that was generous to players below 0 hits, than one that gave them loads of hit points up front.

  14. Now that's exactly the one Arduin Grimoire I haven't got yet. Funny to see the hit point discussion again. It was a really hot subject in the 80ies. Tried to solve it by not using hit points but wound boxes per location instead in my own games. And even that's not the best solution I think.

  15. Other then getting a few more hp's as 1st Level, there's no real comparison between either systems. Infact you can have less Hp's using the Arduin rules as you progress in levels compared to what you could possibly get if you were playin in any version of D&D. Plus, using the crit charts give about 35% of seeing your PC die in a single blow.

  16. I'm coming into this rather late, but that's exactly how Hit Points work in a game out of the 80's, The Atlantean Trilogy.

    WotC had an association with the creator of the Atlantean Trilogy through their publication of Talislanta. A group of supplements intended for D&D was in the works at one time. It sounds like they lifted the system from the A.T. wholesale.

    Someone should sue...


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