Hit Points and damage


Pathfinder Second Edition General Discussion


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Because of the weirdness of hit points I kind of struggle to visualise what damage numbers are meant to mean in terms of real harm.

Take for example a humble fireball you could use that could destroy 20-30 peasants in a blink of an eye. But could do less than 1/5 of an adventures hit points, so it makes you wonder is a fireball a thing that melts flesh or if it is a minor hazard that you can rush through ?

Do you see your high level adventurers as people that can tank being hit by a giants sword head on ?

Your slight wizard being more resilient than the two tonne giant you killed half a dozen levels back ?


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PCs are built different. They're heros

Grand Lodge

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They are mostly an abstraction.

The core rulebook defined them on 459 as :
Your maximum Hit Point value represents your health, wherewithal, and heroic drive when you are in good health and rested.

My guess is they are more meant to represent gusto and determination that actual physical damage.


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What you lose in terms of hit points are in terms of the game world near misses, scratches and glancing blows, with that actual "goes through your guts" blade being the final hit that reduces you to zero. It's an abstraction, always has been.

This also explains why PCs function at full capacity even after losing 99% of their HP.


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It's honestly stuff like fireballs that really give me the most trouble in terms of actualising. I kind of seem them as equivalent the explosives and grenades and wonder how someone can being next to unharmed in the epicentre of an explosion where a bunch of other enemies were straight up killed by the blast.

Dark Archive

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Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Have you ever noticed how the PCs clothing is never burned away by a fireball? So one must assume adventure clothing is fireproof which might explain why the PCs can take more damage from a fireball than NPCs

Liberty's Edge

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siegfriedliner wrote:
Because of the weirdness of hit points I kind of struggle to visualise what damage numbers are meant to mean in terms of real harm.

At the end of the day hit points and damage usually don’t represent “real harm” at all. Real harm is generally represented with conditions like Unconscious, Dying, Wounded, Clumsy, etc..

The instance of damage that takes a character to 0 hp is kind of an exception, but kind of not because the “actual harm” comes in the form of the condition that it imposes, usually Dying or Unconscious.

Until that final instance, it’s all dodging, parrying, and generally avoiding harm.


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If you want something less abstract you would need the stamina variant rule and maybe something like wounds and vigor from other editions. But those will drastically change how the game plays.


Luke Styer wrote:
siegfriedliner wrote:
Because of the weirdness of hit points I kind of struggle to visualise what damage numbers are meant to mean in terms of real harm.

At the end of the day hit points and damage usually don’t represent “real harm” at all. Real harm is generally represented with conditions like Unconscious, Dying, Wounded, Clumsy, etc..

The instance of damage that takes a character to 0 hp is kind of an exception, but kind of not because the “actual harm” comes in the form of the condition that it imposes, usually Dying or Unconscious.

Until that final instance, it’s all dodging, parrying, and generally avoiding harm.

Yep. If one were to narrate the action, it'd involve mostly "avoided getting hit/hurt" moments despite being technically hit. In a bare space, this would get difficult/repetitive in an actual story, yet in a richer environment, one might imagine the PCs making use of terrain, items, cover, etc. to interfere with foes' attacks.

That said, when it comes to spells/magic I work with the non-canon meta that PCs/humanoids become more resistant to magic as they level (and that human physiology operates somewhat different due to evolving/being created/growing in a magical setting). This works as well with healing as those 1st-2nd level Heals become less effective too.
Of course even the earliest D&D editions made note that "no, your hero isn't getting impaled with a sword multiple times", with luck, divine blessing, an overlooked crack to hide in, and most anything fantastical you wish to include working to validate one's hit points.

Tl:dr: It's plot armor.

Shadow Lodge

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This is almost certainly the oldest question in the TTRPG industry, dating back to the first incarnation of Dungeons and Dragons in the 1970s.

Mechanically, it's just a system to allow characters to become tougher as they level up.

As noted by prior posters, PC hit points are typically described as a pool of luck/skill/karma you 'use' to prevent taking real damage (the sword 'hit' that fails to kill you was actually deflected just enough to prevent you from taking 'real' damage). This makes a bit more sense when you consider that prior to D&D3.0, a combat round was one minute long and fights were meant to be a lot more 'abstract' in nature (one round contained lots of swings and parries, but only one or two actual opportunities to hurt your foe).


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Totally Not Gorbacz wrote:

What you lose in terms of hit points are in terms of the game world near misses, scratches and glancing blows, with that actual "goes through your guts" blade being the final hit that reduces you to zero. It's an abstraction, always has been.

This also explains why PCs function at full capacity even after losing 99% of their HP.

In PF2e the abstraction does represent "meat points" in a lot of ways, though. Hard to abstract away bleed effects (and persistent damage in general) and features like Dazing Blow or Pin to the Spot or Impaling Finisher or bow critical specialization as "near misses" or "glancing blows."

Heroes in Pathfinder simply shrug injuries like that off (if they're not dropped to 0HP by them) and can recover fully with under an hour of medical treatment; it's a fantasy combat game.

Grand Archive

One thing that I do to help is to math % of hp. So, if an attack does half of one's hp, it is a significant wound.


siegfriedliner wrote:
It's honestly stuff like fireballs that really give me the most trouble in terms of actualising. I kind of seem them as equivalent the explosives and grenades and wonder how someone can being next to unharmed in the epicentre of an explosion where a bunch of other enemies were straight up killed by the blast.

I watched a gas oven explode in my aunt's face on holiday. It wasn't fun and she lost her eyebrows. But she was neither killed or badly hurt (although I am aware of what explosions can do to lungs)

Grenades, well there is a reason fragmentation grenades and claymores mines exist.

Also, think about why daggers and short swords have different damage dice... because legitimately if you get stabbed by a 5"-12" broad double edged blade, you are not taking less damage than 12"- 20" blade.

A great axe connecting with an unarmoured body will generally mean death or pretty nasty wounds even on a glancing blow if you take it to mean hp=damage


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egindar wrote:
In PF2e the abstraction does represent "meat points" in a lot of ways, though. Hard to abstract away bleed effects (and persistent damage in general) and features like Dazing Blow or Pin to the Spot or Impaling Finisher or bow critical specialization as "near misses" or "glancing blows."

Most work just fine as "misses, scratches and glancing blows". For instance, Pin to the Spot and bow critical work just fine as going through clothes and armor as it does flesh, Impaling Finisher works fine as grazing more than one person [nothing says you're attacking though one target just through its space] and Dazing Blow isn't about damage but hitting your head just right [you can get dazed in real life without serious injury or even a bruise]. As to persistent damage, poison and the like, it can be assumed some contact happens but nothing serious until you reach 0 hps [there aren't effects after it ends like you'd have with major blood lose or serious burns]. In essence, we're dealing with Hollywood movie combat, where a good nights rest makes you ready to go even if you got stabbed and shot multiple times the day before [it's was just a flesh wound!].


For Pin to the Spot and bow critical, you're assuming the combatants are wearing armor/clothing; these work the same regardless of whether you're using them on a city guard or a dire wolf. I can kinda see your points with the other stuff, but I think it's a stretch.

It seems like your last sentence is conceding the point, though? That these represent real wounds but you heal up just fine.


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I should also say, the list I gave isn't exhaustive, just what I could think of off the top of my head. I think it's easier to treat them as meat points in a game that's not meant to be realistic than it is to try to rationalize every single feature as representing luck and dodging.


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siegfriedliner wrote:

Do you see your high level adventurers as people that can tank being hit by a giants sword head on ?

Your slight wizard being more resilient than the two tonne giant you killed half a dozen levels back ?

I do, yeah. I like that semi-cultivation narrative of experience points representing some kind of overall strengthening of the body and mind as levels increase. This is also helped along by PF2E's hit points being relatively plentiful and levels being more strongly delineated. I reserve "hit points as near misses" for systems where your HP total may be considerably lower, like in an OSR style game.


I don't try to visualize hit points, level, or statistics in any realistic manner. I make it like an action or fantasy movie and describe killing blows or if the PC gets hit in some kind of descriptive manner the player can see in their mind's eye.


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I see them as "Meat points". Primarily because there's also the issue of environmental damage. Sure you can describe damage from dragons breath or fireballs as "near misses", but what happens when the barbarian or fighter needs to pull a Grog and swim through a river of acid? Or they go through an unmitigated free fall 100 feet onto solid stone and walk it off.

And yes, this means on some level (and at some Level) everyone in the party is going to be superhuman. I understand some people have an issue with that, but personally I'm okay with it. I feel pure mundanity goes out the window when the barbarian can grow 20 feet tall and stomp an earthquake into existence.


siegfriedliner wrote:

Because of the weirdness of hit points I kind of struggle to visualise what damage numbers are meant to mean in terms of real harm.

Take for example a humble fireball you could use that could destroy 20-30 peasants in a blink of an eye. But could do less than 1/5 of an adventures hit points, so it makes you wonder is a fireball a thing that melts flesh or if it is a minor hazard that you can rush through ?

Do you see your high level adventurers as people that can tank being hit by a giants sword head on ?

Your slight wizard being more resilient than the two tonne giant you killed half a dozen levels back ?

It is just one of the abstractions of the game. Hit points is just the mechnism that exists to allow heroes to exist. Yes we know a simple dagger strike can kill anyone.

If this bothers you then try one of the systems that separates it out into real physical damage and temporary stun points. I seems to recall Fantasy Hero did this, Shadow Run too. Its been a while. Then there are wound systems like from White Wolf.

Ultimately most people prefer the simplicity of hit points.

Grand Lodge

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Sagiam wrote:

I see them as "Meat points". Primarily because there's also the issue of environmental damage. Sure you can describe damage from dragons breath or fireballs as "near misses", but what happens when the barbarian or fighter needs to pull a Grog and swim through a river of acid? Or they go through an unmitigated free fall 100 feet onto solid stone and walk it off.

And yes, this means on some level (and at some Level) everyone in the party is going to be superhuman. I understand some people have an issue with that, but personally I'm okay with it. I feel pure mundanity goes out the window when the barbarian can grow 20 feet tall and stomp an earthquake into existence.

George Carlin had it right: "It's not a near miss, it's a "near hit"! A collision is a near miss!


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Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber

You can't really think of it in terms of "realism." For example, a fireball isn't really an explosion; no one is moved away from the center of the blast, and there's no distinction of damage from the actual fire, or the radiated heat from the fire, or the unfortunate few who inhaled at the wrong moment and would clearly have lasting damage to their lungs (not to mention damage to their lungs from the pressure wave of the explosion).

It's best to think in cinematic terms: a fireball goes off, the heroes raise their fleshy arms to protect their fleshy faces, and people look worse for wear.

My table doesn't equate Hit Points as "Life;" it's an irregular countdown timer counting down (and sometimes up) to the hit that "gets you."


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Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber

Superhuman heroes can take superhuman amounts of punishment.

I don't think it really needs to be particularly more complicated than that.


Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber
Sagiam wrote:

I see them as "Meat points". Primarily because there's also the issue of environmental damage. Sure you can describe damage from dragons breath or fireballs as "near misses", but what happens when the barbarian or fighter needs to pull a Grog and swim through a river of acid? Or they go through an unmitigated free fall 100 feet onto solid stone and walk it off.

And yes, this means on some level (and at some Level) everyone in the party is going to be superhuman. I understand some people have an issue with that, but personally I'm okay with it. I feel pure mundanity goes out the window when the barbarian can grow 20 feet tall and stomp an earthquake into existence.

Yeah, that's my personal preference. I have an easier time accepting my characters as super human. It helps that by level 8 characters can run up walls and Suddenly Leap 20 feet up into air. And if you look at the sheer size of the creatures adventurers fight it feels hard to argue otherwise.

I struggle more with how to treat structures, because once you accept the super human thing cutting buildings in half seems like a wierd line in the sand.


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Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber

Side note though: I really like hydra encounters because the decapitation mechanics really make it feel like less of a sack of hit points and more like an actual monster where you can target body parts and inflict wounds. I don't know if the game would be better if all monsters worked that way, but it is a nice change of pace.


Squiggit wrote:

Superhuman heroes can take superhuman amounts of punishment.

I don't think it really needs to be particularly more complicated than that.

I probably fall into this category a level 20 wizard is going to out wrestle a low level giant even with 10 strength.

High level characters clearly are built differently.

Mind you I like different views on this, I have a friend who thinks adventures start as awesome heroes and end as awesome heroes and the numbers change purely for the game element. Whereas i tend to go with the semi competent person to demi god view of the levelling system.


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Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber
Captain Morgan wrote:
Side note though: I really like hydra encounters because the decapitation mechanics really make it feel like less of a sack of hit points and more like an actual monster where you can target body parts and inflict wounds. I don't know if the game would be better if all monsters worked that way, but it is a nice change of pace.

I wish large, single encounter monsters were treat with more hit locations.

Like a dragon could have two wings and four legs. For simplicity, the AC is the same, but something like one leg dropped to zero HP: move penalty, 2 legs: -2 AC, etc.

I don't give the dragon more HP, or split the HP; I just track a hit to the leg doing leg damage and main body damage.


siegfriedliner wrote:
Squiggit wrote:

Superhuman heroes can take superhuman amounts of punishment.

I don't think it really needs to be particularly more complicated than that.

I probably fall into this category a level 20 wizard is going to out wrestle a low level giant even with 10 strength.

High level characters clearly are built differently.

Mind you I like different views on this, I have a friend who thinks adventures start as awesome heroes and end as awesome heroes and the numbers change purely for the game element. Whereas i tend to go with the semi competent person to demi god view of the levelling system.

Provided that wizard was at least Trained in Athletics, of course. That said I really love the mental image of a 20th level wizard just up and punching an ogre three times so precisely that all three attacks are a flat crit, while the ogre can't hardly lay a finger on the wizard.


Captain Morgan wrote:
Side note though: I really like hydra encounters because the decapitation mechanics really make it feel like less of a sack of hit points and more like an actual monster where you can target body parts and inflict wounds. I don't know if the game would be better if all monsters worked that way, but it is a nice change of pace.

I like the hydra too. I wish a flaming or acid sword didn't trivialize them, but I guess every creature has a weakness. Even alchemist acid or fire bombs making cauterizing super easy.


Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber
Deriven Firelion wrote:
Captain Morgan wrote:
Side note though: I really like hydra encounters because the decapitation mechanics really make it feel like less of a sack of hit points and more like an actual monster where you can target body parts and inflict wounds. I don't know if the game would be better if all monsters worked that way, but it is a nice change of pace.
I like the hydra too. I wish a flaming or acid sword didn't trivialize them, but I guess every creature has a weakness. Even alchemist acid or fire bombs making cauterizing super easy.

By the time the elemental runes come into play, they are already a pretty trivial enemy. (Though I suppose you could always build higher level versions.) And I can't say I mind the alchemist getting to shine once in a while.


siegfriedliner wrote:
I probably fall into this category a level 20 wizard is going to out wrestle a low level giant even with 10 strength

That is 22 athletics assuming they have training, 20 if they are relying on untrained improv.

They can out wrestle your level 7 and lower giants but given a hill giant has a +19 it is far from certain.
And while that wizard may not have invested in strength, they have training or a special knack already acknowledged by the system. Rather than it just being innately from being level 20 :p / being "built different"

Narratively some level 10 fire giants would reliably pin a level 20 wizard who is relying on untrained improv or a trained rank.

Move up to a huge sized giant and the wizard requires titan wrestler.


If that wizard is untrained, then they are maybe getting a +1 or +2 for strength and that is all. If they left strength at a 10 then they have no bonus. Untrained skills do not add level (barring something like Pathfinder Agent). An untrained level 20 wizard is not out-wrestling much without spells. If they are trained though...


Mellack wrote:
If that wizard is untrained, then they are maybe getting a +1 or +2 for strength and that is all. If they left strength at a 10 then they have no bonus. Untrained skills do not add level (barring something like Pathfinder Agent). An untrained level 20 wizard is not out-wrestling much without spells. If they are trained though...

True but with +7 int modifier there is limited reason to be an untrained wizard in athletics by that level.

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