I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Some thoughs on level, XP progression, HP and HP-bloat in old school D&D

In old school D&D, as a general rule, you gain 1d6 hit point per level (1d8 for fighters, add Constitution modifier, etc), but only until level 9. After that, you get one or two HP per level.

This makes things a bit more manageable; even a 36th level fighter will seldom have more than 100 HP, for example. A 20th level fighter would have around 60-70 HP (depending on Constitution, etc). In WotC era D&D, a level 20 fighter might have 20d8+60 HP; an average of 150 (this is also due to increased ability scores).

(Don't worry about the exact numbers; I'm just trying to paint a picture in your mind).

HP bloat causes problems for some people, specially those who dislike dealing with big numbers or the fact that fighters might fall 100 feet without risking death.

But avoiding HP bloat doesn't seem to be the intention of the original rules.

Consider that in old school D&D, the amount of XP needed to level up rises exponentially until level 9; after that, it follows an arithmetic progression.

For example, check these experience tables (from AD&D 1e):



Here is a visual representation of the Fighters progression (with Rules Cyclopedia values, XP is divided by 1000; click to enlarge):


So, things get harder and harder until level 9, and get more linear after that. If it didn't, reaching higher levels would be near impossible.

After level 9, the amount of HP you get per level also declines; but the decline is "less dramatic" than the decline in XP requirements.

Here is what I mean: getting more HP is easier after level 9, because it the same geometric progression of levels 1-9 was kept it would be almost impossible to get to 100 HP, even if you still got 1d8 HP + Constitution modifier per level.

Look at the chart below: it compares HP and XP, considering the Rules Cyclopedia progression (blue line) and an hypothetical extrapolation of levels 1-9, where XP requirements double level after level but the HP progression of 1d8 per level is kept (the red line).


Squares represent levels. Until level 9, the two lines are together. When the blue line gets to levels 11-12, the red line reaches level 10 - but both share similar amounts of XP and HP. The same happens around level 14 (blue) and 11 (red). But red needs a lot more XP to get to level 12 than blue needs to reach level 17 - with more HP than red. To get 80 HP, red would need to be around level 15 or more - requiring more than 16,000,000 XP. Meanwhile, blue gets 100 HP around level 36, which requires less than 4,000,000 XP.

It is worth mentioning that this numbers don't take into account the byzantine formulas for calculating XP based on character level and dungeon level that are present in OD&D ("an 8th level Magic-User operating on the 5th dungeon level would be awarded 5/8 experience. Let us assume he gains 7,000 Gold Pieces by defeating a troll (which is a 7th level monster, as it has over 6 hit dice). Had the monster been only a 5th level one experience would be awarded on a 5/8 basis as already stated, but as the monster guarding the treasure was a 7th level one experience would be awarded on a 7/8 basis thus; 7,000 G.P. + 700 for killing the troll = 7,700 divided by 8 = 962.5 x 7 = 6,037.5", etc).

Besides, there are innumerable other variables that could be mentioned. For example, consider that a 5th level Fighter gains XP quicker than a 1st level one, but not enough to even things out between them -  if a 1st level  fighter must defeat 20 1 HD monsters to level up, a 5th level fighter must defeat 128 monsters with 5 HD each to get to level 6 (assuming 100 XP per HD, which is controversial by itself). This also changes after 9 levels - fortunately, because a 20th level fighter has a hard time fighting a 20 HD monster which might have almost twice his HP; so a 20th level fighter can still fight 9 HD monsters, but now more efficiently, which make leveling up EASIER at high level... Which also depends on the amount of gold given by the DM, and so on.

What's the point?

This is a thought experience, mostly. XP in old school D&D was created this way for lots of reasons. Messing with it might have unintended effects.

BUT consider this: if you continue with geometric progression for XP after level 9, you get a few interesting effects. First, you can safely ditch all XP charts and the need to list HP after 9 level, making all the classes a bit more elegant. At the same time, you will likely keep classic D&D level limits - few characters will get to level 15, for example. And those can be de made even more powerful - a few extra HP, one extra ability point per level, maybe add the whole level to all saving throws... 20th level characters would be closer to demi-gods of the "immortals" tradition. The increasing need of XP would make adventuring obsolete after a while, forcing characters to go the domain-management route or look for mythological threats to fight against.

All in all, I see some potential in this idea. Let us see what we can make of it!

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