DnD without Hit Points, Damage without Math (Part 3)

Picture of Hitpoints

This is part 3 of 3 in a series discussing an alternate way to track damage in 4e DnD. You can find Part 1 here and part 2 here.  ~ Haze

I know, it’s been 3 weeks since my last post. Real life caught up on me. Also Minecraft. Terrible, terrible game but oh, so divine! Many of you have already guess some of my solutions, which enhances my belief that this is a very intuitive and easy-to-grasp system – mission accomplished! But I’m nonetheless delivering on my promise and finishing this series with part 3!

Are you ready? Let’s go!

The Many Roles of Monsters

As we all know, monsters have two types of roles: group/main roles (Minion, Standard, Elite, Solo, etc.) and specialty roles (Artillery, Brute, Controller, Lurker, Skirmisher, and Soldier). Role is a determining factor in monster hit points – a hulking elite brute is sure to have a few more hit points than a measly standard lurker.

Group Roles

Looking at the hit point formulas for creating (or leveling) monsters in the Dungeon Master’s Guide update, a couple of things are quite clear. Brutes have a greater baseline of hit points (10 + Constitution score) than, let’s say Skirmishers (8 + Constitution score). They also gain more hit points per level (10 compared to 8). At the other end of the line we find Artillery and Lurkers (baseline 6 + Constitution score, +6 per level).

The damage threshold for a hard hit is meant to represent 1/8 of a monsters hit points, so let’s look at a 5th level skirmisher as an example. The threshold is 8, which means it should be able to suffer 8 hits of 8 or more damage for a total of 64 damage. A 5th level skirmisher with a somewhat high Constitution score of 16 would then have (16 + 8) + (5 x 8) = 64 hit points. This means the damage threshold is spot on the money for this skirmisher. However, how does this work for Brutes and Artillery/Lurkers that have higher or lower hit points than the average?

My initial idea was to have different formulas for calculating the thresholds, but this would lead to it being significantly more difficult to damage Brutes with low damage effects and way too easy for Strikers to drop Artillery or Lurkers. After looking at the average hit points of monsters of different roles, it struck me that Brutes have about 25% more hit points (ergo 125%, or 5/4 hit points) while Artillery/Lurkers have about 25% less (ergo 75%, or 3/4 hit points). By looking at these numbers as a whole, a solution dawned on me.

For every 4 hit boxes a standard monster would have, a Brute would have one more (5/4), while an Artillery/Lurker would have one less (3/4). So Brutes then have 10 hit boxes (becoming bloodied after 5 have been checked off) and Artillery/Lurkers have 6 hit boxes (becoming bloodied after 3 have been checked off). Simple, right?

Specialty Roles

This part is even easier. The rules for creating Elites and Solos state that hit points are doubled or quadrupled respectively, and it doesn’t make a difference when it comes to hit boxes. Elites have twice as many hit boxes, and Solos have four times the normal amount. This also works out pretty well on graph paper by stacking the rows of boxes under each other, like this for an Elite:

O O O O | O O O O
O O O O | O O O O

And two more sets of rows for a Solo. Then check off each box on the left side of the divider, and the monster becomes bloodied when you’ve done that.

If you are going to adjust the amount of hit boxes (due to the monsters group role) remember to do so before you double up or quadruple the monsters hit points. For example, a solo artillery would look like this:

O O O | O O O
O O O | O O O
O O O | O O O
O O O | O O O

This means that an elite monster has 12, 16 or 20 hit boxes and a solo monster has 24, 32 or 40 hit boxes depending on group role. Easy-peasy. But there’s one more specialty role: Minions.

Minions as One or Two-hit Wonders

This might seem pretty straight forward: minions have one hit box and that’s it. What that suggests though, is that they might become two-hit wonders. Remember, a soft hit is not enough to check off the box – and if the damage dealt is really trivial, it wont take any damage at all. This might not be what you want out of your game. You could leave minions as they are, and not bother with hit boxes for them.

Alternatively, you could say they always take damage and a soft hit will kill them outright. Or you could do as I do, and have them be a bit tougher. I make them bloodied upon taking a soft hit, so I can track which ones that have taken damage (Tip: I use small rings made of red pipe cleaner to keep track of which mini is bloodied, might be useful if you have loads of minions in a fight). A hard hit is still deadly to them, but this means they won’t just wipe out due to just an incidental point or two of damage, and creates room for synergy with traits that depend on creatures becoming bloodied.

Dr. Hit Box, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Traits

On that subject, I better get on with it. I’ll begin with the resistances and vulnerabilities.

Resistances and Vulnerability

This is actually a no brainer – just apply them as you normally would. Then compare the adjusted damage value to the damage threshold and presto – you’re done! It might seem harsh at first and make damaging highly resistant creatures nigh impossible but it works.


I pondered long and hard on this one. At first I wondered if it could modify the damage thresholds, but that ended up being too fiddly. Then I figured insubstantiality technically works out as about 25% more hit points, which means I could just add two more hit boxes and be done with it. But somehow, that didn’t feel right either. So I went back to scratch and thought of having it just work like it normally does, although I’ve never been a fan of it.

Then it hit me: insubstantiality is really just a variable resist all, which is boring. What it does is take out some of the punch of the blows since the target is incorporeal in some way. So why not just turn every hard hit into a soft hit? Thus if you score two hard hits against a creature, they are instead turned into two soft hits. I won’t bother turning soft hits into trivial damage, since I picture insubstantiality working more like shear thinning: the more energy you exert against the insubstantial creature, the less damage it takes as most of it passes through it. I guess it really does the same thing as it would otherwise, I just think this solution is more aesthetic in some way.


This is another easy one. Compare the rate of regeneration to the damage thresholds for a hard and soft hit. Depending on which value it is closer to (DM’s call), you simply untick a checked box (if the regeneration was close to the hard hit threshold) or remove a soft hit (if the regeneration was close to the soft hit threshold) at the start of the monsters turn.

And that’s it!

At least I think it is, off the top of my head. If you have any more suggestions or ideas about hit boxes (maybe some rules elements I’ve missed), feel free to post a comment or send me a tweet (@hazemond)! Also, I’ll post a follow-up on this series later on detailing my experiences from playtesting the system.

And before I forget, I’ll attach a table and a spreadsheet of the damage thresholds across the levels for easier reference.

Hit Box Damage Thresholds by levelAn image is to the side, and an Excel version is here.

Thanks for reading!


About Haze

Full-time D&D-nerd, part-time student/worker and regular human being. Disc Golf Enthusiast. May contain trace amounts of sarcasm.
This entry was posted in 4e DnD, Gaming, Mechanics and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to DnD without Hit Points, Damage without Math (Part 3)

  1. Adam says:

    Great conclusion to the series. It’s a nice compact system which I’m eager to use in my 4e game. I do like the aesthetic of the insubstantial idea. It lets players feel like they’re still hitting lots of boxes, just not as effectively.

    I am also interested in designing charged magic items with powers based on hit boxes: say with X charges that can be used to check additional hit boxes on any hit. Something like that. Also, I’m interested in attaching monster power refresh to hit boxes rather than d6s, so a power refreshes after 2-3 hit boxes are checked.

    I’m also keen to attach monster power recharge to hit boxes checked off rather than d6 rolls each turn. I wonder what else hit boxes could allow. I look forward to others’ ideas that stir up from trying this.

    I also use the pipe cleaner rings, and agree that they work amazingly well, are very inexpensive and easy to make, and are variously colored for plenty of different conditions, marks, curses, or whatever you may need. Tough minions, here we come.

  2. John Sussenberger says:

    Looks spot on to the playtests I did although I generally treat minions as one shot kills, I could use your method for a monster that is between standard and minions.

    I’m starting a game for my kids and a few of their friends and I’ll use this so I’ll have some playtest reports for low level characters in a week or so.

    • Adam says:

      Excellent John! I look forward to hearing about it.

      How old are the players going to be? I’m nearing fatherhood and hoping that I will get to game with my kids at some point. I enjoy reading others’ stories and tips about running RPGs with young imaginators.

      • Adam says:

        I used Hit Boxes to excellent effect to run an enormous mass combat siege in a climactic session last Sunday. Hit boxes were essential to tracking regiments of minions, dozens of officers, and huge dragons with 40+ hit boxes. I thought that many would be unwieldy, but it really wasn’t. With some graph paper and lines of 8 I could easily add monsters or swarms with an appropriate width and the relative hitpoints (how long and how much punishment they took to deal with) felt spot on!

        Way to go Haze for this idea. I’m completely sold. I’ll try to scan my graph paper sheet to show you what I was dealing with. It was crazy but manageable, and my players say they loved it. So thanks.

      • John Sussenberger says:

        My son is 14 and my daughter is 10. The remaining kids range in-between 16 and 12.

        My children are more experienced with role playing than the neighborhood kids, so they pick up on things quicker and they are not afraid to try new game mechanics.

      • Adam says:

        Great to hear. I hope that when I have kids we can foster a family of brave imaginators like that. Sounds excellent. Thanks again for sharing your experiences here and definitely let us know what type of material excites you or something you’d like to see explored.

  3. Last weekend I ran three slots of 4E using this system, the event was at 15th level. Everything worked really well and I even started us track the damage using dice. Since I use the tokens from Monster Vault, I placed a 6 sided die on the monster to track the number of hard hits it took. Since the groups were hitting pretty hard, I never had to track any soft hits other than an aura now and then. When the monster was bloodied, I turned the token to the bloodied side, so it works with all of the different monster roles. I also used dice with pips, so they stuck out nicely among the other dice in play.

    This is now my go to system for tracking hit points. Next thing is making conditions easier to track 🙂

    • Adam says:

      That’s great! I’m glad it worked so well for you. That pip die tracking idea is brilliant too. If I use tokens I will definitely consider that. The pips are just a nice visual guide, and then you don’t even need to write anything down. Did you use paper for anything, initiative, conditions?

      For tracking conditions on minis, I highly recommend using little rings of different colored pipe-cleaners (like so: http://continuingclockwise.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/dnd-pics-005.jpg) I’m not sure how well that’d work for tokens.

      I completely agree, Haze’s hit box system has transformed the demands on me as DM in a way I’m very happy with.

  4. Pingback: Improv Essentials: My 0-prep 4e DnD Toolkit | Exploring Infinity

  5. Shreyas Sampat says:

    Thanks for this great idea, Haze! You can be sure I’ll be using it in my upcoming game.

  6. Pingback: DnD without Hit Points, Damage without Math (Part 2) | Exploring Infinity

  7. Nathan Hicks says:

    Dunno if you answered this and I missed it, but what about solos and elites?

    Excellent posts regardless!

    • Adam says:

      Glad you like it. Definitely let me know what you think after trying it out.

      Elites and solos are extremely easy. While I give a normal foe one column of 8 boxes, an elite gets 2 columns of 8 boxes, and a solo gets 4 columns of 8. I’ve also used 4 to 6 columns of 8 for mass units of minion troops to good effect in the past. I write any conditions on a given creature at the top by the name so I remember to apply them and roll saves, etc.

      I aim to take a picture or scan the graph paper pad I’ve been using for the last month’s worth of encounters to give you a visual of it in actual use. The mage has gotten quite explosive lately, so some creature columns are entirely crossed off all at once in her massive supernova explosions. It’s pretty great.

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