Game Designers Tackle Hit Points for 5th Edition D&D
The most recent May 21st Legends and Lore article by Mike Mearls describes hit points and how they will likely work in fifth edition. He states that hit points and hit dice are an abstract representation used to model more than just a character's physical durability.
He then goes on to state that creatures with more than half their hit points might be a bit tired but are more or less unharmed with only a few superficial tears in their armor or clothing; creatures with less than half their hit points are noticeably cut and bruised; and creatures with 0 or fewer hit points have suffered a direct hit that has knocked them unconscious.
His narrative for how hit points addresses physical damage works for the most part, though it does have a few inconsistencies and problems. Most of these problems, though, to be fair, are the same problems that have plagued D&D from 1st edition all the way through 4th.
Furthermore, as has been experienced in past editions as well, Mearls’ explanation of hit points also comes into direct conflict with the idea of special attacks like poisons, diseases, paralysis, ongoing damage, petrification, and anything else that requires a successful wound to cause further harm.
According to his explanation for hit points, creatures don’t really receive wounds until they are knocked down to half their hit points. Well, that is great. But then if that is the case, this is a wonderful opportunity to add an additional rule that will finally address what has been an ongoing problem for all previous editions: that is, the discontinuity between special attacks and hit points and defenses like AC. By inserting a rule of this nature, one that states a special attack like poison does not take effect against a target unless that target is also reduced to half or less of its hit points would go a long way toward maintaining "theater of the mind" when imagining injuries or taking damage. It still won’t take care of the conflicting imagery one gets from competing terms like hit points and other defenses, though.
I’m not saying I have all the answers to these problems, but it would be nice to see if 5th-edition designers can somehow solve them and do so in a believable, consistent, and hopefully simple, manner.
How about you? Do you have any ideas on how 5th edition should better address hit points and other defenses like AC and reflex? Or how they should deal with special attacks like poison and disease? My ears are open.