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DM Dispatches #5: The Hit Points Just Keep on Comin’

Written by Darkwarren - Published on April 16, 2013

DM Dispatches is a weekly column that shares stories and relfections from Darkwarren’s experience dungeon mastering his weekly group’s Rise of the Runelords campaign that started in January 2013. The intention is that other DM’s and players can learn from his experiences as well as enter into discussion and add their two coppers as well.

After a few days of adventuring and heroism, the members of the party was soon approaching that time in their careers where they can reflect on their experiences and learn new skills, spells, combat techniques, and general knowledge. In other words, they leveled up.
I had been toying with a reward for encouraging roleplaying away from the table, on our Obsidian Portal campaign site. Here’s what I first came up with:

If, by the estimation of the DM, a player has made a considerable contribution to the campaign either by posting in character on the message board or privately in character via e-mail with the DM, that player receives the ability to re-roll a hit point roll when their character levels up.

This seemed reasonable to me and added to our standard re-roll any natural 1’s seemed generous. But it opened the discussion for greater clarification and modification. Some of the highlights of the discussion included:

• Earning multiple re-rolls for multiple contributions between leveling up
• Re-rolling until a higher result is achieved
• Combination of the two previous
• Ultimately, just maximize hit points

When all was said and done some of the players and I were uncomfortable with outright maximizing hit points. We felt that some lower hit point totals might lead to creative solutions (necessity is the mother of invention) and perhaps even tactical retreats – which lead to more realistic roleplaying. We also felt that the spirit of the game includes some randomness and we wanted to keep that alive even in our hit point rolling. Admittedly this house rule would skew these rolls slightly towards the maximum, but the risk of low rolls is still there.

So here was my final house rule after player input:

If a player is able to offer quality in-character roleplaying on the forums, or privately via e-mail with the DM, even semi-regularly, then they are rewarded with the ability to re-roll their character’s hit points when they achieve the next level.
• These rewards cannot be banked. (So in this case Gregor and Zindelo, who rolled max hit points, they do not keep their re-rolls.) Don’t think of it as a wasted reward, but as good karma that got you a good roll to begin with.
• If the first roll is a natural “1”, you get one free re-roll.
• If you choose to use your re-roll reward after that, you get to choose the higher of the two rolls.
• You can re-roll all natural “1’s” on a reward re-roll.

So, what do you think? Would you use it? Would you change it?

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Written by Darkwarren

Matt W., aka Darkwarren, has been roleplaying ever since his older brother introduced him to the red box set when he was 7 years old. Since then he has game-mastered SSDC’s Battleords of the Twenty-third Century, WEG’s Shadowrun and Star Wars, and of course Dungeons & Dragons in a variety of forms. At thirty-four years old he takes turns on both sides of the screen with the group that he helped found in 2000 when 3.0 hit the stands and has met every week fairly regularly ever since. Currently they have been running a variety of the Paizo Adventure Path scenarios, so that’s his wheelhouse. He was almost famous when two of his adventures were green-lighted for possible publication right before Paizo relinquished the rights to publish Dungeon magazine.

Matt also has years if experience in improvisational comedy, fiction, and non-fiction writing. He is currently working and studying to attain a master’s degree in theology, to enhance his career as a religious studies teacher. Lastly, his greatest passion is his family, especially the three sons and dog that he shares with his wife in upstate New York.

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8 Responses to “DM Dispatches #5: The Hit Points Just Keep on Comin’”
  1. Fullovstars says:

    I always let the players have full hit points plus stat bonus on their characters. It levels the playing field – takes out any problems re random doom/bad luck. They know what they are getting and seem happier for it. As a DM I have total control over the number and health of the baddies. If I want to engineer more tactical playing from the players then the monsters increase in either number or hit points etc To my groups, the armour class, the hit points, the roll of the dice are just mechanics and tools to provide a shared experience and story. In my youth I played games where a lucky rolling thief had more hp than the party fighter and I find its just not worth the risk leaving it to chance.

  2. Robert H. Nichols says:

    In my games we use something we call greed rolls. When a player rolls for hps, he can take what he rolls. But if unsatisfied, he can reroll, with the understanding that if the reroll is the same or less, they must take that roll. The player can even reroll the second roll (if not less than or equal), but again if equal to or less than the previous roll, they must stop and take that roll.

    It adds an element of chance and also means the higher the roll, the worse chance of having something worse on a re-roll.

    It works for us.

  3. Darkwarren says:

    Fullovstars, that was brought up as a possibility in our group’s discussion. But ultimately many of them thought that a fighter with less max. hp’s could be a fun challenge to roleplay, relying on defensive fighting feats, more creative tactics, etc. Granted, this was not a unanimous view, but the majority.

  4. LonePaladin says:

    I guess I’m doing it backwards.

    When I’m GMing a game with dice-based hit points, I do it this way: determine the lower one-third of the die’s range (so a d10 is 1-3). Any dice that fall within this range are rerolled until all rolls are above this one-third figure.

    This gets rid of the truly abysmal results, while still retaining plenty of randomness.

  5. Darkwarren says:

    Lone Paladin, that’s what we were trying to do in that there are re-rolls available, especially in regards to natural 1’s

  6. Cabled says:

    Nah, too complicated. Roll your hit points and get on with it!


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