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The (Dungeon World) Hit Point Narrative

For the longest time I hated Hit Points. I mean, where's the fun in the characters just hitting each other with pointy implements until one suddenly falls dead. The problem was that I, like probably many others, have seen HP as the "meat" on a character. If someone rolled a hit it obviously means that their pointy implement connected with that meat and some blood came out or something. This approach is pretty much default. Many RPGs make you believe that's the case, often by how the mechanics work. Video games double up on that and any protagonist is able to take numerous hits with swords, bullets and what-have-yous, before they will fall. Yet, this always bothered me, because it wasn't either realistic or fun. So for the longest time I used systems without HP, or removing them from the games I was playing. This has changed once I discovered Dungeon World.

Dungeon World aims to be a narrative take on D&D. Because of that, it takes as much from the original and translates it to a more narrative approach. This includes Hit Points, which I was not crazy about, but because how the rest of the game is played, it also changed my view to hit points...



Hit Points NOT Meat Points

Dungeon World gives the GM a lot of options what to do when it comes to handling player failure of any kind. One of them is dealing damage to the player character, yet the description of the "Deal Damage" move is somewhat lackluster. Once you run couple games where the enemies will "put someone in a spot" or "use up their (PC's) resources" and get into a rhythm of narrating those actions you might notice the difference between those and simply stabbing someone for d8 damage.

To change that we need to get in a slightly different mindset. First of all, don't think of hp simply as health, but more of combination of stamina, willingness to fight AND finally health. Secondly, a successful "hit" does't have to mean that the pointy implement reached someone's flesh. This "hit" shows that for this small amount of time, you got some kind of advantage over your enemy. Enough advantage to do make that enemy less of a threat. So you might have stabbed him in the arm, but you might as well have tired him as he was dodging and blocking your multiple lunges. You might have also forced him to move against a wall, or kicked him through a window to the streets outside.  We see it all the time in the movies when someone is shot at, not wounded, but definitely tired, gasping for air and force to hide behind a cover. Well, that character just lost some hit points.

With all that in mind let's make a new version of the Deal Damage move:

Deal damage

When a source of damage is fictionally threatening a character, the player whose character is affected rolls the appropriate damage die. 
The GM describes what happens based on the amount rolled. This description can be as severe as cleaving someone in half (damage rolled is far greater than the HP of the character) or minuscule as tiring and disorienting someone with multiple lunges that had to be parried (1 or 2 damage). It all depends on the outcome of the roll and the creativity of the narrator (GMs are free to ask for narrative input from the players).
As HP is an abstract of characters ability to stay fighting, you are free to narrate anything that would hinder this ability in any way you want. Whatever you describe will add to the "narrative positioning" which can be used by other players or the GM to trigger moves. 

This move aims to help rule-ify the cinematic feel that narrative combat can have. Requiring to describe the attack AND its outcome separately helps with keeping the narrative flowing and never ending on a mechanical sentence (e.g. you receive 8 damage). Knowing how much damage you dealt ahead of time will help you with your description, and using narrative positioning will kick the combat narrative forward. Once you get in the mindset that the source of damage doesn't have to be a single connecting punch/stab/slash/whathaveyou, you will have much more fun with narrating the outcomes. Think cinematic and have fun!

In reality, what it boils down to is deal mechanical damage AND narrative damage. You received 8 damage from an Ogre? He has tossed you against the wall. You got 1 damage from a goblin? It slashes madly with his sword, and while you manage to parry and block his puny attacks, he forced you back few steps and your arm feels more and more tired from all this blocking. What's even better, is that the more cool narrative is created during those "deal damage" moments, the more narrative there is for the next player to interact with.

I know that for many seasoned narrative GMs all of this will seem pretty obvious. The idea behind this move change is to help people new to Dungeon World (and narrative games in general) to understand the flow and "always end on narrative." I hope you will find it helpful.