The Red Box Blog

Ramblings about D&D.

50% HP Playtest Results

As I mentioned six weeks ago I have a 4E game that is in the planning stages, and one of our intended house rules is to cut the hit points in half. We are doing this with the duel purpose of speeding up combat and increasing the danger to the PCs. As we didn’t have enough players for our current game this past weekend, we decided to run a playtest of 50% hit points.

How bad could losing 50% be?

Short Party vs Short Monsters

We had a few limitations for the playtest; we only had three players, two of them hadn’t played 4E in over a year (nor have I DMed 4E in over a year), and it was really just thought up on a spur of the moment. Still a group consisting of a Ranger, a Bard, and Shaman squared off against three goblins and a fire beetle (basically the 1st level goblin group listed in the Monster Manual, minus one beetle to make up for the lost player).

First Fight Goes to the Goblins

Our first go at it went absolutely disastrously for the party. They were picked off in short order; a total party kill with no losses for the monsters. But it was very easy to see that the dice had really gone against the party during that fight. I don’t think the goblins ever missed (and scored one crit), while the party only managed a single hit.

Second Fight Goes to the PCs

Even though I was suddenly feeling really leery about this rule of mine, the group talked me into a rematch. However, rather than let the dice be king (possibly requiring many rematches to get a feel for things) I decided to have the rematch be fought with math; on every declared attack that did straight damage we calculated the average damage then multiplied the result by the odds of the attack hitting. For attacks that did not do straight damage they would succeed if the chance of success was over 50%.

This time the results were completely reversed. The party mopped the floor with goblins, taking only a few scratches along the way.

So where does this leave the rule? Well I am actually quite happy with it at this point. It seems to be having exactly the intended effect, namely increases the speed of the game and the danger to the PCs without changing the relative balance of power. The one lesson learned from the first playtest was that given some bad luck, things can go south really fast; but that is exactly the way it should be.

This Makes 4E More Dangerous Than 3.x

Its too soon to say for sure, but I think for front line characters, this game will end up being a little more dangerous than 3.x; they have only slightly more hit points than 3.x but are facing monsters with much better to hit bonuses and who frequently have some way to add extra damage to their attack. For characters who avoid being up front, this will likely be a far safer game than 3.x because even with their hit points cut in half they still have two or three times what an equivalent character would have in 3.x.

Too Soon To Say How It Scales

The other thing I am aware of is that our testing was setup to test how this will work for first level characters. As a result, even if my conclusions are correct for first level characters they may not be true for higher levels. But I don’t think the system will fall apart instantly (i.e. I don’t think its possible for it to stop working at level 2), so if there is a point beyond which it is broken we should see that point coming, and be able to prepare for it.


November 1, 2010 - Posted by | 4E, Dungeons and Dragons, RPGs | , , ,


  1. I have been updating the monsters to the new damage progression chart and attack and defense stats they released in the July eratta and reducing the hp in the solo and elites to help with speed of combat and reduce grind. it has also brought the threat level back in line with the encounter level so an n+1 or n+2 encounter level can be tense and challenging, while prior I was finding I needed to go to n+3 or n+4. the monster manual 3 and dark sun creature catalog incorporate these changes already and you really notice a difference.

    Comment by middleagedm | November 1, 2010 | Reply

  2. Interesting, though its going to be a while before I can pick up any new books or get a new subscription to DDI.

    Good to know that thing are looking up. Thanks.

    Comment by The Red DM | November 1, 2010 | Reply

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