Hit Points, Health, and Life Total
What are hit points?
How hit points work
The difference between hit points, life total, and damage points
The valiant Sir Cerwyn (a player character) is facing a wretched ghoul in combat. The ghoul’s claws hit for 5 points of damage. Sir Cerwyn has a total of 18 hit points and is wearing chainmail armor, which provides a protection of 3 points of armor. The armor points reduce the attack’s damage from 5 to 2. Consequently, Sir Cerwyn’s hit points are reduced by 2 points of damage down to 16.
Healing, treating wounds, and resting – regaining hit points
Armor can save lives
The better the armor you’re wearing, the more armor points it has. For example, a shark bite causes 7 points of damage and a character wears chainmail that provides 3 points of armor, so the damage would be reduced from 7 points to 4 points.
The better the armor you’re wearing, the harder it is for your opponent to inflict damage to you at all. Let’s say your opponent has a 50% chance of hitting you while you’re not wearing armor. With a coat of chainmail, this percentage would be reduced to a 35% chance.
Hit points are commonly used in 95% of all roleplaying games
A safety net for the player characters
Here’s an idea to increase the tension a bit: Have the GM track the hit points for the player characters secretly without the players knowing the exact numbers. Instead of talking numbers, the GM only narrates the health condition of the characters to the players.
Hit points show how deadly a system is
a) In Dungeons & Dragons, a Level 3 fighter has approx. 25 hit points and the average damage per hit takes is around 4 points.
b) in Cthulhu any character has around 10 hit points and getting hit by a bullet causes around 8 points of damage.
Some criticism about the hit points system
Alternative mechanics for wounds and damage
1. Fate: Stress and consequences
2. Middle Earth RPG / Warhammer Fantasy RPG: Gory wounds
3. Indie systems: Wounds as plot hooks
Further reading on hit points
Get rid of hit points?
Wikipedia on hit points
This Wikipedia article covers health mechanics in video games and tabletop games. It also features a section about the historical development of the hit points mechanics.